Columnist Kelly Burgess is on vacation this week, so we decided to run last year's New Year column because the advice is timeless.
The New Year traditionally brings resolutions, and the most popular are to lose weight, improve health, spend more time with the family, get organized and save money. Getting more comfortable in the kitchen can help you achieve all five of these goals.
1. Lose weight.
People who cook for themselves tend to make food with fewer calories than restaurant or packaged food. So, even if they don't actually eat less, the chances are they're ingesting fewer calories.
2. Improve health.
Cooking for yourself allows you to control the ingredients and make healthy substitutions, such as whole wheat bread for white, ground turkey for ground beef, and whole-wheat or low-glycemic-index pasta for white. Also, restaurant and packaged meals are loaded with salt. I always recommend the home cook leave out the salt and let people salt to taste at the table. They tend to use less that way.
3. Spend more time with the family.
Years ago I interviewed cookbook author Tom Lacalamita and one thing he said has always stuck with me. "When I'm in the kitchen," he said, "Everyone's in the kitchen." He went on to say that he realized he felt lonely being the only one cooking for the family while the family was off doing their own thing. He instituted a rule that because everyone eats, everyone cooks. Even if it's simple stuff like setting the table or finishing homework nearby, everyone's there. Sounds like a resolution anyone can embrace.
4. Get organized.
One of the best ways to start getting organized is to have a meal plan. Take a few minutes on the weekend, or whenever there's free time during the week, to make a menu plan. It doesn't have to be difficult. Make a list to go with it and do a shopping trip for at least the basics. Then, during a busy week you don't have to worry about what's for dinner because you'll already know. Check your menu plan every evening as you clean up from dinner to see if you need to take something out for the next night or make a quick store run for a perishable ingredient. Hang the meal plan on the fridge and anyone in the home who's old enough to cook can at least start dinner because they know what the family is having.
5. Save money.
This is a no brainer. People think fast food is cheap, but it's not. Think about it: Four fast-food burger "combo" meals come in at $6 to $7 each — a total of $24 to $28. A pound of ground beef, bag of frozen fries, a bag of whole-wheat buns, a six pack of pop and package of cheese cost less than $20 and you'll probably have leftovers of at least some of the items. A pasta meal at a middling restaurant is at least $11 — not including salad or a drink. You can make a lot of pasta for $11. And one more word about pasta: Most of our local stores carry a brand called Dreamfields. It's a low-carb, low-glycemic-index pasta that is much healthier than white pasta and yet tastes just like traditional pasta.
So this New Year, tweak your resolutions and just make one — start cooking. And you'll have all the others taken care of.
It's the new year, so we're all broke from Christmas, of course. Plus, it's cold and dreary outside, which doesn't help. These soup recipes use leftovers and are cheap, filling and delicious.
Beef and Vegetable Soup
The base for this tasty soup is the leftovers from the pot roast recipe I gave in last week's column. Two cheap meals in one.
Leftover meat, potatoes and broth from Pot Roast recipe — cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cans beef broth — 10.5 ounces each.
One package frozen, mixed vegetables
1/2 cup catsup
2 cans water
1 can corn, drained
Put everything in large saucepan or Dutch oven, stir and heat thoroughly.
Ham and Bean Soup
This soup uses leftover ham, as much or as little as you have.
There are two versions: The stovetop version uses canned beans, the crock pot version uses dried beans, which are soaked overnight. For version two, if I have a hambone, I toss that in as well. Just remove it before serving.
Both versions are delicious with Jiffy cornbread — available in boxes in the baking aisle — which takes just 20 minutes to bake. Try a swirl of syrup on the cornbread — it'll cure those winter blues.
Pat of butter or a swirl of olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, sliced
2 cans navy or great northern beans — 15 ounces each — rinsed and drained
2 and 1/2 cups water, more if needed for more ham or beans
leftover ham, cut into bite-sized pieces
Instructions: In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, sauté onion and carrots in butter or oil until softened. Add remaining ingredients and heat through. To make it even easier, the onions and carrots can be left out. It's still a fine soup.
Crock pot version:
1 pound dry navy or great northern beans, soaked overnight
4 quarts water, or enough to cover beans
Leftover ham, also ham bone if available
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, sliced
1 bay leaf
Soak beans overnight in crock pot. In the morning, drain them into a colander and return to the crock pot. Add remaining ingredients, except water. Then add water to cover ingredients. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Remove ham bone and bay leaf before serving.
Kelly Burgess has been cooking, eating and writing about it since at least 20 pounds ago. This column will emphasize quick, healthy food from (sort of) scratch, using ingredients that are easily obtained at local markets and stores.