With the Operation Do Better spending pause in full effect for the entire year (gulp), cooking and eating are a big focus at the Thrifty Palace. We’re not big, traditional breakfast eaters, unless it’s brunch at the house, but we still need to have something for lunch and dinner, (or is it dinner and lunch considering our leftover habits?).
We are always trying to maximize our food dollars and we seriously don’t believe in wasting food or spending too much time in the grocery store. We’re eat it until it is gone kind of girls, so we make a lot of big, one pot dishes that last at least through one lunch and two dinners.
We know what you’re thinking: doesn’t that get boring? Well, yeah. Real talk. It does. But over the first quarter of Operation Do Better we’ve learned a few things that help us stretch our budget and beat the leftover blues.
Cooking is a process — a fun one. At the thrifty palace, we cook with our whole hearts, our whole selves and our whole kitchen. Sometimes we drink wine and sometimes we crank up the music and slide across the kitchen floor. The place usually looks like ground zero when we’re done. But at the end of the day we always have fun and that fun comes through in our food and the things we’re excited about making and eating.
Practice, practice, practice. So here’s the thing. We both could do a lot more than boil water coming into this process. We can cook, but our cooking skills were often about the necessity of having something quick and easy to eat. Quick and easy doesn’t always mean tasty. In fact, a lot of time it means functioning. But the more we’ve been about the aforementioned process of cooking the more opportunity we have to practice our skills. We get to experiment almost daily with what to cook and how to cook it and then we get to eat it all. And we do.
Spices, spices, spices. Cumin, chili powder, salt, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Our spice rack runneth over and so should yours. Trust us.
Recipes help you branch out. We are both the product of a long generation of women who cook with no recipe. A pinch of this, a handful of that is how these women measure things. But recipes are a good way to get started in cooking and learning how to pair different seasonings and flavors, especially if you are straying far away from the food you were raised on. The way we make Indian and Mexican food, you’d swear both of us grew up eating it. Recipes also help you see the possibility of how to increase the kind of food you can make, even if you buy the same things at the grocery store all the time.
Real cooks wing it. Once you’ve tried a few recipes you’ll see that the flavors are usually based on the palates of the author of the recipe. You might taste the final product and find it bland, or just missing something. We are quick to throw our favorite spices in anything, even if the recipe doesn’t call for them. Why? So glad you asked. If you generally like the food you are making and all it’s ingredients, adding your favorite seasoning probably won’t make it taste worse.
Have some quick and easy dishes. Even the Thrifty Chicks get burned out on cooking and eating leftovers. At some point, usually in the middle of the week, we’re sick of eating something, or in fact, we’re not sick of it, we ate it all. We’ve learned to make pizza, pasta dishes and generally have some kind of quick meal that we can pull off in the middle of the week or heading into the weekend. But just because it’s quick doesn’t mean that it can’t be delicious. We flavor our pizza dough with fresh herbs and garlic. We make our own pesto and add it to pretty much every pasta sauce we make. It requires a little extra time, but boy is it good.
Fresh is best. Buying fresh vegetables and herbs can be expensive and it can be a pain, but it really does taste better and the flavors are more vibrant. Yes, we use stuff in jars, but we make it a point to get fresh or frozen when we can.
Cooking with friends is lots of fun. This fact is kind of not a fair one to share, but we will anyway. We clearly have a built in cooking support system because we live in the same household. Cooking together is a shared experience and a cathartic process. Sometimes we cook with noise and sometimes we cook in silence. While we do have occasion to prepare a meal solo — if one of us works late, is out racing, or parked on the couch working on freelance stuff — it’s not as much fun or as meaningful if you’ve only got you to focus on. If you’re a singleton, invite your friends over and cook together. Make enough so that everybody has leftovers for lunch the next day. Win-win.
Make it meaningful. Making a meal for yourself or someone should be about more than the function of feeding one’s self. It should be about love, care and breaking bread, whether solo or not.
Now that we’re moving into warmer months, we’re reevaluating what cooking and eating will look like going forward. Neither of us is into heating up the house by firing up the stove more than necessary. We also both tend to gravitate toward lighter foods in the warmer weather. We tried pasta salads, and while we liked a couple, we know we don’t want that all the time. We’ll keep playing around with ideas and share them with you!
Until next time,