Sunday, November 15, 2009

Meal Rotation

My mom is 76. If your brain is too tired to do the math, that means she was born in 1933. She was actually the youngest of 3 children, so that means that her family lived through and survived the Great Depression. My Grandma - her mother - was very thrifty and creative with everything in the household, much like I suspect everyone's parents or grandparents were back then.

My mom's first store-bought dress came after she got married and had a job of her own. Before that, my mom & grandma would take the streetcar down to the flour mill, buy old flour sacks, and take them home to make into dresses. Even in primary school, my mom had one blouse to wear with her uniform, but the blouse had collars that could be switched out so that she wore a crisp clean collar every morning. Even at her wedding, my mom made all the bridesmaids' dresses and my grandma made my mom's wedding dress.

When it came to meals, NOTHING ever got wasted or thrown away. The worst cuts of meat from the butcher were seasoned and stewed until palatable. Every part of the fryer chicken was used - no part was considered inedible, including the neck, the heart, and the "gizzard". (To this day, I'm not sure I know what body part that refers to. Not sure I want to know.)

I've certainly inherited my mom's thrifty gene, but I would rather eat an old shoe than be forced to gnaw on a chicken neck. (I can't even count the number of times I've come into the kitchen while my mom was cooking Thanksgiving dinner, to find her chewing on the turkey neck. BLECH. I can just hear her saying, "Mmm. It's so good." BLECH!) But, no matter what kind of food my mom would make, she always made it taste pretty good. If it was just fried fish fillets, my mom would season them really great and fry them up just right. If it was just spaghetti, my mom would make the sauce from scratch and roll up some meatballs to add to the sauce. Breaded pork chops were one of my favorites as a kid, because she would put just the right amount of breading on them and bake them up so moist and tender.

But me? I am stuck in a rut. Well, I guess I can't technically call it a rut, since I've been stuck in it since I started cooking and never been able to get myself out of it. I love food and love to cook, but I loathe the idea of spending 1 and a half to 2 hours in the kitchen, just to hear my kids say, "Do I have to eat this?" or turn up their noses and say, "I'm not hungry tonight." Cooking should be a task that I enjoy for myself, but I am cooking to feed and please my family so if they don't like it then it seems like a waste of time for me. Plus, I try to cook on a budget. And, seriously, I mean a budget. Like we have 6 people in our family (almost 7) and my monthly grocery budget is around $600. So, fixing meals that are NEW! and HEALTHY! and DELICIOUS! may be a great idea, but if I need to splurge just to pay for the ingredients for one meal, I probably won't even try that recipe.

Also, Texan Papa has decided to swear off pork and all pork products since his Lyme Disease diagnosis last year. He was determined to eat better and start exercising to combat the Fibromyalgia, which he suffers from as a result of the Lyme Disease. So, to add to my frustration, now I cannot prepare anything that contains pork products or is pork. That means I basically have beef or chicken to work with. My beef mode of choice is ground beef (a.k.a. hamburger) because regular beef scares the bejeeses out of me. I never know what cut to buy, how to prepare it so that it's not chewy or tough or bland. Also, we're not big grillers since we only have a Weber kettle charcoal grill and it's a bit of a pain in the butt to get it going.

My basic meal rotation pretty much consists of: meatloaf, tacos, Hamburger Helper, chicken breasts grilled in a grill pan, homemade chicken-noodle soup, spaghetti, and breakfast for dinner. Occasionally I will fix fish, but NOT very often.

The other day my husband said something to me that really stung. I didn't let him know how much it hurt me - I wanted to just drop it, I guess - but it really did. He was talking about sushi, how I should learn how to roll sushi. I told him, "I don't even like sushi." and he said, "Well it might be nice to have something other than Tuna Helper for dinner every once in a while."


I really do try to make nutritious meals, and I always offer lots of healthy side dishes. But I'm not very creative when it comes to cooking. I know my family, and if a recipe calls for chopped green peppers or mushrooms or curry, etc., I might as well not even waste my time. And, if I leave that particular ingredient out, often times, all the recipes end up tasting the same! With the new baby due to be born any time now, the possibility of me trying new recipes has gone entirely out the window.

So, what am I to do? Well, if nothing else, I'm going to share with you a recipe that tastes so yummy every time I fix it. And, it is probably the SIMPLEST recipe I have. Every time I make it, I say to myself, "I've forgotten how good this is!" Here we go:

about 1 1/2 cups dry macaroni
1 lb ground beef
1 can condensed tomato soup
Sliced REAL American Cheese (not the fake Am. Cheese product crap)

1. Boil the noodles in water till done; drain. In a separate pan, brown the ground beef until done. In a third bowl, combine the tomato soup with one can of water and mix well.
2. In a 13x9 pan, put the macaroni on the bottom. Then put the ground beef on top of that. Then put the soup-water mixture on top of that. Then cover the top with American Cheese (it usually takes me 7 slices - 6 full slices plus one cut in half).
3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes.

This is kinda like my own version of Hamburger Helper, but it's so cheap to make and so delicious.

But, I am curious to know, how often do you make a full-out meal for your family where everyone sits down together and eats the same food off of real plates, using real utensils? Does this change as kids are small or kids are grown up? I'd say that we eat like that probably 4 times a week. The other 3 days are when Texan Papa is at work in the evening so the kids and I eat pizza or hot dogs or something with pork in it. ha ha. Usually once a week we have leftovers.

What about you?


Janie at Sounding Forth said...

Wow. Just to encourage you, you are WAY better than me on cooking. We might eat a home cooked meal 1 time a month.

Thought I'd share some quickies with you that take minimal time and ROCK the tastebuds...

Chicken breasts & thighs - potatoes - 1 large can of cream of mushroom soup - little salt - pepper - 1/4 stick of butter - cover w/ foil baked for 1 hr in a casserole dish at 350. Complemented w/ biscuits. Cream of mushroom soup makes a gravy to die for.

You can do same thing w/ pork chops(don't kill me.)

Another venue I use tons - ye ol' crock pot. Roast, potatoes, carrots, onions. Or, roast and pinto beans...together. (whoda thunk it)

Janie at Sounding Forth said...

PS - noone EVER gripes around here when I make King Ranch chicken or Green Beef Enchiladas - both casserole dishes served with salad and chips and salsa. Also, they rock for leftovers.

Stephanie said...

You know what? This is the perfect beginning to hosting, post your simplest recipe..the one your family loves...swap thing. Or whatever.

One of my favorite things is Beef Roast...cut up some carrots, some potatos, season the roast with salt and garlic, a little water in the bottom, put over on 275 for about 3, 3 and half hours. Yummy.

Another one is parmesan chicken. All you need is italian bread crumbs, an egg, garlic salt (i like to use garlic salt for lots of stuff!), and I use parsley, but its not required. One bowl, bread crumbs, garlic salt, other bowl, egg and chopped up parsley..dip chicken in egg, dip in bread crumbs. Put in pan. My Mom puts a little tiny piece of butter on the top of each one to make it a little moist. Bake. Delicious with mashed potatos and green beans...well thats how momma cooked, but it was good and pretty fast to prepare :)

Foursons said...

Can you please tell me why your hubby doesn't eat pork because of his Fibromylagia? I have Fibro and know nothing about this.

Mama B said...

Well the only reason we eat a great dinner every night is that my husband is an awesome cook!

However I am trying. Two hints, Everyday Food (you can get it online) and CROCK POT. Seriously. I am afraid of cooking meat, especially beef, but I made an awesome roast beef in the crock pot. And if you have a recipe, just take the name of your cut to the butcher. Even at a grocery store the person behind the meat counter can actually teach you a lot. I have learned a ton that way. You just have to ask!

Gigi said...

Wish I could help you - but I don't cook - at all. But one of my favorite things that Hubby makes (and is probably very easy) is tortellini in pesto. Just buy pre-packaged tortellini (I like either cheese or spinach) and a jar of pesto. Cook the tortellini - drain and pesto to taste. YUMMY! I can eat my weight in this stuff.

Karly said...

I'm kinda like you when it comes to meats. We are big chicken and ground beef eaters. I do make a pot roast once every couple of weeks though, because it's soooo easy and so delicious. Check out PW's recipe...its the one I use and it always turns out perfect!

Check out for some inspiration! Love that site!

Jennifer said...

The key to a good beef roast is to sear it first. Just buy the leanest cut you can, season it and then sear it in a little bit of hot oil in a dutch oven. Slice up some potatoes and carrots, quarter an onion, and throw all of that in the oven with a lid at about 350. Cook it until you can pull it apart with a fork. And when you do decide to grill, HEB has these little filet mignon steaks that are preseasoned and they are awesome. We just throw them on the grill and they are super cheap.

One other thing we've been doing lately is roasting a chicken in my stoneware baker thingee. The great thing about that is we can eat a half as a family for one night and then I can debone the other half and use it for something else later in the week.

Oh, and the other day I made red stew (that's what we call it). Precut stew mean, seasoned, put in a baggy with some flour, browned the meat in a little oil, added potatoes, carrots, two cans of tomatoe sauce, a bay leaf, and some water. I let it cook for a couple of hours. The broth is awesome with some cornbread mashed up in it.

And I'll stop the cookbook now.

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

I think because I love to cook, we have all three meals together (Mike works at home). Even if Mike is gone, we still have music (I have dinner playlists) and candles for dinner-I know it sounds crazy and my kids do complain about the food but hey 'they get what they get and don't throw a fit'.
It is my relaxation though so I am sure not very normal! (My kids would know I was taken over by an alien if I served cereal one morning :0 )
For easy meals, trying twisting what you have now to start--taco salad instead of tacos, stuffed manicotti instead of spaghetti and a variation of veggies in the chicken noodle soup. Chicken breast can be very versatile--add with some sauce (cheese based, tomato based, etc) and top with veggies or add noodles. My favorite thing for chicken breasts is sliced cherry tomatos, asparagus, rosemary and white wine--wrap in foil and bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Dinner with the veggie already added!
I am actually trying to revamp my cooking site --feel free to check it out ;)
Hope this helps!

Cascia said...

Our meals are very similar. We always use ground turkey instead of beef. My husband does most of the cooking but I make pancakes for dinner about once a week.

Jen said...

Now keep in mind, we still have very young children but we sit down as a family every night of the week. Two nights a week, I am not there but Jeff still sits down with the kids to eat.
Expect for those nights, I cook every night. We do eat pizza or go out maybe once a week.
That's what works for us.

Small Town Mommy said...

I make a lot of BBQ enchiladas. I use leftover whatever meat I had the night before (depends on what's on sale). Mix with BBQ sauce, cheese, and rice (and veges if your kids will eat them). Roll into tortillas, cover with more BBQ sauce and cheese. Cover with foil and bake until cheese is melted.