I love cooking. I mean… LOVE LOVE cooking. Everything about it. In fact, most of the time I don’t even mind the time and effort it takes to clean everything up. I figure it’s a great opportunity to use up a few of the calories I just consumed.
Yesterday, my husband and I were out of town most of the day and went to a local restaurant for supper (more about restaurants in a minute) when we got back in town. Last night, it hit me… I missed my kitchen time.
Having said all of that, however, I find that some nights (usually once… sometimes twice a week), I just want everything to be as simple and easy as possible. I don’t want to be in the kitchen for 30 minutes to an hour making the meal, followed by another 30 cleaning it up. I want food on the table fast and dishes that can either be tossed or washed in record time. Basically, my comfortable chair in the den is calling me and I want as few obstacles as possible before I answer the call.
I call these my “nights off” because instead of the normal, full-fledge, photo-worthy meals I make, I either pull something out of the freezer I had made and frozen previously or I pull out something ready to roll, pretty much as is.
Everyone needs nights or days off, right? Can anyone who works 5 days a week imagine not having a day off?! No way. Having days or nights off keeps you sane, keeps you rested, and most definitely keeps you from burning out.
Reasons for Eating Home More and Eating Out Less
I have nothing against eating out on occasion. I mean, let’s face it, it can be fun. Letting someone else do all the work while you sit and let them bring it to you… sweet luxury!
However, eating at home is almost always healthier – especially if you have food allergies, are on a special diet, or have any of the many diseases that can be greatly effected by the wrong food. Even trace amounts of the enemy foods build up and can be very bad for you.
Add to this the fact that we are in a pandemic AND coming up on cold and flu season (not to mention all the bugs that show up as soon as the weather cools) – even the biggest fan of dining out has to admit – you are safer at home.
I honestly hate to say it, but my experience lately is that many restaurants are kind of “going down.” I don’t know if they’re having trouble getting or keeping good help or if cooking is a dying art but, just in the last year, four of my five favorite restaurants (two locally-owned and two chain restaurants) have gotten so bad I don’t care if I ever go back. The one of the five that’s still as good as ever is a local authentic Mexican restaurant.
Stay strong, guys, stay strong!
Another reason to keep your pantry, refrigerator, and even freezer stocked is that (as this global pandemic has taught us) you just never know what lies ahead. It’s always better to be able to take care of yourself and your family without having to count on others. You never know when their doors will close.
Tips for Nights Off Meals (As Many Times a Week as You Want Them!)
You may be like me and actually love to cook, but simply are human and want a night off every now and then. Or, you may be like one of my daughters who had (literally, y’all) rather go to the dentist than cook! Whichever group you fall into, the following tips and ideas will, hopefully, help you as much as they do me.
- When you make soup, chili, or casseroles, make a little extra to freeze for a future meal. I have perfected this routine to where I always have at least two soups and one chili in the freezer and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Amazon has countless sizes and shapes of freezing containers (link to Amazon) – you’ll want to find a set with different sizes. This has been such a wonderful system for me. Soups and chili, in particular, taste like they were made that day.
- Don’t think the freezer has to have just food you’ve made! As you can see from the sample pictures here, I’m a huge fan of Amy’s frozen meals, as well as her burritos. While I keep them on hand, primarily, for my lunches while my husband is at work, I have often fixed them for both of us on one of my luxurious “nights off.” The burritos are excellent with rice, a salad, eggs, or (simpler, still) tortilla chips and salsa. The frozen meals are even easier because the only dishes you mess up are your forks and glasses! Frozen pizzas, corndogs, fries (top with a can of heated canned chili and cheese and call it a meal)… the choices are limitless. Just be sure to always have your “night off” section of your freezer locked and loaded.
- My favorite night off meal is actually one of my husband’s favorite meals – bacon, eggs, and a few vegetables cooked in the same pan (broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers… whatever combo you like). The one pan strategy helps with clean up considerably and, let’s face it, it doesn’t get any simpler than bacon and eggs.
- Oatmeal or grits is another filling, warm, comforting, and delicious meal. I could eat either of these all by themselves, but my husband loves a couple of fried eggs with his.
- Never, ever underestimate soup and sandwiches – they’re filling, healthy, and most definitely perfect for your night off.
- When possible, keep salad makings on hand and your favorite salad dressing ready to pour. Simply adding chicken, beef, boiled eggs, or bacon to a great salad makes a healthy meal.
- Have you seen those little packets of instant potatoes? They cook in less time than it takes to brush your teeth and, frankly, taste darn good. They come in lots of flavors and varieties and are outstanding. Keep plenty of these on hands for accompanying deli chicken or soup or chili from the freezer. Soup and chili, both are great served over these guys.
Some people think certain foods are only “acceptable” for breakfast or lunch and wouldn’t consider them for supper. Well, that’s just nuts. Breakfast suppers are downright addictive and traditional “lunch” suppers are right there with them.
I have seen some people schedule these types of nights and call them things like “cheat nights” or “lazy nights” – and scheduling them is certainly an option. For me, personally, however – I never know quite when the “My chair is calling me and I don’t want to be on my feet another minute!” mood is going to hit until it does… so, I simply have my options on stand by.
One final word about restaurants…
I actually put this post together because of something that I experienced last night at what was once a favorite chain restaurant. I ordered the grilled catfish as I normally do (along with greens and pinto beans). I took a bite of the catfish from the end… all seemed normal… ate some of the greens and beans… then picked up my fork and knife and tried to cut into the catfish. It would not cut… it was completely undercooked… as in raw. I literally could not cut through it.
Undercooked meats can host a whole world of trouble for a person – salmonella, food poisoning… and if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of either of these, you know how horribly sick they make you. I am very, very lucky that I only took a small bite of this fish that was all but flopping around on my plate.
Now I know for certain that, in the future, whenever I order meat, I will never again assume that restaurant cooks use food thermometers as I do in my own kitchen. I’ll also cut into the middle of the meat before even thinking about taking a bite.
As I said before, I don’t know why it is but a lot of restaurants are, collectively, getting worse. You just can’t be too careful – certainly not when it comes to your health.
Stay safe and stay well!
~ Joi (“Joy”)