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6 Easy Steps to Start Cooking at Home

I used to eat out almost every night. I felt that I just did not have the time to cook at home. If I did eat at home it was take-away from the grocery store or convenience foods purchased at a premium. It wasn’t until I realized how much money I was spending that I decided to turn things around. I was surprised at how easy it really was! If your goal is to start cooking at home more to save money there are several ways this can be achieved with relative ease. A few easy steps are all you need to guide you to saving money while cooking at home.

Step One: Make a list of the restaurants or fast food joints you frequent the most. If you can’t remember where you last ate out just look at your bank account. Chances are if you are anything like I was every third line will have the name of a restaurant on it. Jot them down. Tally up at least a month or two and pick out the ones that you frequented the most. The top three will do for now. Want to get really depressed? Add up how much you spent at the restaurants too. Yeah, I know. Pick your jaw up off the floor and go on to step two.

Step Two: Make a list of your favorite dishes at your top three restaurants. When I went to Chili’s it was always for the steak. When I went to the Thai place it was always for the Tom Yum Kung and sticky rice with mango. Chances are you have a few favorites meals ate each restaurant that keep you coming back. Write them down.

Step Three: Check for any patterns in your food choices. Do you find you order mostly chicken entrees? Are burgers or subs more your style? Are you a sucker for Italian food? I discovered that I liked places that had good salads or salad bars. I also discovered that I liked soup and frequently ordered it when we were out. Some of my choices were the result of cravings. My favorite steak at Chili’s was number one on my list when I was craving beef. It occurred to me that my beef craving could have been satisfied with a well made burger just as easily as with a steak.

Step Four: Pick out five top meals or food categories. If you discover that you love Italian food almost exclusively, or that subs are your go-to favorites focus on making those foods the subject of your first home cooking experiments. When I started cooking at home I focused on burgers, subs, salads, soups, chicken and steak. These were my family’s hands-down favorites. My daughter realized that no matter where we went for dinner she usually ordered chicken fingers. That was the first thing I learned to make. I developed a great burger recipe next, and then salads and soups, and I’m still working on creating the perfect steak!

Step Five: Gather recipes and experiment. Now that you know what it is you go to restaurants for you can start to provide yourself with those treats at home. Surf the internet for recipes to try. Look for simple, quick foods at first. Chances are you will discover that your favorite foods are actually very easy to prepare! If you are focusing mainly on Italian don’t try chicken parmesan right out of the gate. Start with something easy and tasty. The boost of confidence you get when you master it will propel you to great heights later on! I love allrecipes.com for recipes. You can focus on the ones with the highest ratings (five stars) to make sure that you have an excellent chance of making a real crowd pleaser. Get to know a few of the celebrity chefs and see if you can find one who has the same style you do. If you like to keep meal prep to 30 minutes or less try looking at a few of Rachael Ray’s cook books or her recipes on foodnetwork.com. They are also rated with stars so you will be able to pick out the cream of the crop. Remember to always read the reviews before preparing any new recipe. I always find helpful advice that usually saves me time and money and helps me make the dish right the first time. If you’re like me an love fried foods you can try a healthier option such as an oil-less fryer.

Step Six: Make a family cook book by printing out all the recipes you have tried. That way you can have a handy reference tool to grab for a quick meal any day of the week. Take note of what your family liked, didn’t like, and what you would like to change next time you prepare it. That way if you don’t make it again for a while your last cooking session will be fresh in your mind. Finally …. I realize that one of the main reasons people eat out is that it is convenient and there is no clean up afterwards. It isn’t just our lack of cooking skills that drive us towards the drive-thru window, it’s sheer exhaustion. So let me give you one more thing to ponder. If you eat out because you are tired of working too hard get organized and educated enough to start cooking at least one or two meals at home each week. Funnel your savings into paying down a few debts. Then you won’t have to work so hard to make money and can actually work less. When you work less you will have more free time to cook more. This will net you more money to pay down more debts. This will in turn mean you can work less! Get the point? You don’t have to jump into cooking at home with both feet right away. I would guess though that if you find a way to start freeing up even some of the money you spend eating out you will be so pleased with the results you will want to do what is necessary to free up even more money! Who knows, you may find you have a real knack for cooking and discover that you actually enjoy it! Give it a try – I know you can do it!

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The Best Ways to Simplify Your Cooking

Cooking at home is both cheaper and healthier than eating out, and recently more people have started trying to cook their meals themselves. Bravo everyone! But cooking at home is also a lot of work. It’s hard to choose recipes – with thousands of options from cookbooks, recipe blogs, and recipe websites, and it’s hard to keep all the ingredients you need in stock. Having been a home cook for many years, here are some of the things I’ve learned to keep cooking a simple and enjoyable daily activity!

Choose a Cuisine

This is not advice that I’ve read anywhere else. Cooking resources nowadays almost always feature dishes from many different cuisines. Which is great. I love food from all over the world, and as a novice cook, I’d make a Thai dish one night, a Greek dish the next, then something French the next. This meant that I had to stock lots and lots of specialty ingredients, including expensive sauces that I would very rarely use. I used to read gourmet budget cooking blogs that would price all of the ingredients, which would include things like “a dash of truffle oil – 10 cents.” But the bottle doesn’t cost 10 cents, and I wouldn’t know what to do with the rest of it! So I eventually decided to choose a cuisine and stick with it. I chose Italian food, because my husband is Italian and that is what he likes. We also make typical American foods, because I like them and the ingredients are mostly the same. To my surprise, this helped me become a better cook. By focusing on one cuisine, I am able to perfect techniques, and try dishes more than once to get them right. I’m also able to use more specialty ingredients, because I know that I will keep coming back to them. I’m able to buy expensive items like real Parmesan cheese and dried Porcini mushrooms because I know that I’ll keep using them, and our grocery bill has actually decreased!

Plan a Menu

If you want to keep it really simple, write down a menu for two weeks on a calendar, and repeat it every two weeks. Make a grocery list based on your menu. Don’t forget breakfasts and lunches! Choose dishes that your family likes. Choose some that are harder to prepare, some that are quick. You can generally switch nights around if you find yourself pressed for time on a given night. If any of your meals have very perishable ingredients, plan to make them right after you go grocery shopping. If you need to do something overnight, like soaking beans, note that on the previous calendar day so you don’t forget. This is the best way to keep both cooking simple and your grocery budget small. When you are feeling more confident, look through your cooking resources and choose different recipes that you’d like to try, but not more than 2-3 per week so you don’t get overwhelmed. Remember to plan for dessert sometimes! Enjoy! Italian recipes are generally quick to prepare, and I can usually make a three-course meal in about 30 minutes, if I plan ahead. If your chosen cuisine involves different cooking techniques, be sure to invest in whatever tools you need – a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a pressure cooked. And remember, enjoy!

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A Guide to Basic Cooking (You Gotta Start Somewhere)

I heard it on the Today Show. Beyonce admitted that she can’t cook. She said she would learn to in the future. If you are like Beyonce, have no fear, cooking is not quite as hard as you think.

Let’s start at the very beginning.

Boiling Water

This is so incredibly easy. Find a pot to boil the water that is big enough to hold the water, and the food that you’ll be adding to it. If you don’t have a big enough pot, what you are cooking-say pasta will boil over. Next, place the pot on the stove burner and use a measuring cup to pour in the water. You can also just fill up the pot with cold water at the tap. Place the pot on the burner. Turn the heat up to the hottest position, and cover the pot with the lid. After a couple of minutes, you can check the water to see how it is doing. Keep checking to see if there are large bubbles that rise from the bottom of the pot to the top of the pot. At this point, the water is boiling. Keep the water at the same heat point the entire time. Do not let the water boil until there is no water left in the pot. It could ruin the pot.

Cooking Rice

If you soak your rice, it will take less time to cook, and it expands the grains of the rice. Usually the time for soaking is 30 minutes, but their are often other times.If you are going to cook it as is, you’ll need 1 1/2 cups of water or less. If you use more water, then you will get softer rice. You can add a little salt, and olive oil, so the rice will not stick. Once you have all the ingredients in the pot, set it to boil,cover it, then it must simmer. Cook for about 12 minutes. If you find that your rice is hard, just put about 1/4 cup water in the pot with the lid on, and cook on low for about five minutes. If you burn your rice just let cold water hit the bottom so the burnt taste on the bottom won’t get to the rest of the rice. Don’t put water in pot, just over the bottom of it. Any problems cooking rice can be avoided if you just don’t open the lid.

Boiling Eggs

When you boil eggs, you don’t want to use the ones that have cracks. Set them out on the counter so they will be at room temperature.This makes the eggs not crack when you boil them. Put the eggs in the pot in about a little less than two inches of water. Boil the eggs, remove from the heat, and put a lid on it. Let them sit for about 15 to 20 minutes. When boiling, watch for cracks, and overcooking them. After they are done cooking, run them under cold water. Medium eggs that are hard cooked should boil for 10 to 12 minutes. Large eggs that are hard-cooked should be boiled for 12 to 15 minutes. Extra large hard-cooked eggs should boil for about 18 minutes.

 

Get a big enough pot to hold the corn that you will cook, fill with water and turn On the heat. Shuck the corn, and use water to remove the silk if needed. Let the water boil. Then add the corn on the cob. Cover the pot and let it boil for about 10 minutes. Remove from your pot with tongs, then season it however you like. When you know how to do these cooking basics, then you are pretty much well on your way to becoming a good cook. Practice makes perfect if you don’t get kudos, the first few times around.

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Cooking Substitutions – Help, I’m Out Of…

It’s easy to forget about some items when shopping because they are so commonly in the pantry, but it happens. I’ve often found myself either calling mom or frantically searching on-line how to get around this problem.

My biggest problem used to be thickeners. I now have so many memorized methods I doubt the problem will recur, but it took a lot of time. Here is what I’ve found to be useful: Corn starch and water: This will add very little flavor, making it an ideal method. It can thicken things too much, but if that happens all you need to do is add a little liquid. It also rarely clumps.

Flour: Making a roux at the beginning of the dish is the best way to use flour for thickening. It takes some time to thicken up, allowing you to cook a dish longer. Uncooked flour does have a distinct flavor, so if you need to use it later on, it’s best to use it in a fifty/fifty mix of flour and butter, mixed until smooth. Flour does tend to clump if not mixed properly.

Arrowroot: Not many cooks have this on hand anymore, but it makes a superb thickener. I don’t recall it having any flavor, but it may be noticeable to others. It should be used like corn starch. I’ve never had this clump on me.

Buttermilk: I rarely use buttermilk, so when a recipe calls for it I don’t have it. The only time I buy it is when I’m planning to make Boston brown bread, and not always then. However, there is a way around it. This is done by mixing whole milk with vinegar. You can use reduced fat milk, but it doesn’t come out as good. I use about a half teaspoon of distilled vinegar to a cup of milk. Don’t use any other type of vinegar, as it will bring other flavors to the dish that may clash.

Baking Powder: Baking powder and baking soda can be used as substitutes for each other. They aren’t the same chemically, but they do have the same job — leavening. If your recipe calls for salt, use about two times the amount of baking powder as you would baking soda. To substitute for baking soda, you’ll need baking powder and cream of tartar. Use two parts cream of tartar to one part baking powder.

Whole Wheat: If you want to substitute whole wheat for white flour, you have to be very careful. You will still need some white flour or your bread will be much closer to a brick than a soft, springy, tasty loaf of bread.

Milk: Many people recommend substituting soy milk for cow’s milk. However, there are some hormone problems with using a lot of soy, so most recommend using almond milk. There are all kinds of cooking substitutions. If you find yourself in the middle of something, many cookbooks have a table of them in the back of the book right before the index.

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Cooking on a Budget

I recently cooked dinner for 4 adults (very big eaters) for less than $15.

Things you will need:

  • 2- 1lb rolls of Jenny-O
  • ground Turkey $1.88 each At Walmart
  • 2- boxes of Great Value stove top dressing $1.00 each at Waltmart
  • 1- box of chicken broth aprox. $1.50 at Walmart
  • 3-4 tblsp of flour maybe .50 cents from your cuboard
  • 1- large bag of Great Value mixed vegetables about $2.00 from Walmart
  • 1- package of wide egg noodles cheap brand about $1.50
  • 2-tblsp of butter maybe .25 cents from your fridge

Put the ground turkey in a large bowl and add about half of one package of stuffing and mix together. Add a litle pepper but no salt (stuffing is salty). In another bowl mix stuffing with hot water and butter according to directions on the box. you will want the stuffing moist and firm not wet as this is not going to be baked. next take an amount of turkey and flatten it out in your hand (you will need to experiment to get the size you want. I make them a little big to save time) take a smaller amount of stuffing and place it in the middle of the flattened turkey and fold the turkey around your stuffing. place on a broiler pan so drippings will drip away from the turkey balls. Bake @ 350 until brown about 20-30 minutes once the stuffed turkey balls are done remove from the oven and set aside use the chicken broth, butter and flour to make your gravy and season to tast a cook your mixed vegetables according to package directions next boil your noodles per package directions and drain place your meatballs in the gravy and simmer very low for about 15 minutes to heat through serve over egg noodles with mixed vegetables on the side One terrific meal on the cheap P.S. the meatballs freeze very well so make plenty.

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