My mom is not a cook. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her signature dishes – her shrimp creole, crawfish etouffee, and artichoke cheese squares are out of this world! But for the most part, we grew up on “hamburger casserole,” spaghetti and meat sauce, and roast beef (the kind with the grains of fat running through it that is very difficult to chew).
This may sound mean-spirited, but I actually have a great deal of respect for my mom, in and out of the kitchen. She raised 10 kids on a pretty tight budget, so she just learned to work with what she had, and we all grew up to be healthy, well-fed individuals. However, we did not grow up to be chefs.
Ever since I got married I’ve done most of the cooking, and my husband’s family is Italian so they are just born knowing how to cook. Needless to say, I don’t invite them over to eat very often. Fortunately for me, my husband is very kind and not a picky eater. He also enjoys cooking whenever he has the time.
When our girls were very young, I was getting frustrated with my lack of cooking abilities, the cost of food, and the regular rotation of meals we went through every couple of weeks. I tried looking through cook books, but it was hard to know what would actually taste good when I was finished. It was then that I discovered my saving grace – www.allrecipes.com. I feel like a walking ad for those people now (an unpaid walking ad, I might add, but grateful nonetheless).
When you go to Allrecipes, you can search by ingredient, by recipe, and by other things like “healthy meals” or “kid-friendly meals.” My favorite part is the ratings and reviews section under each recipe. It not only tells me if the meal was good (if there are 562 reviews and the meal got 4.5 stars out of 5, I know it must be worth a try), but the reviewers often talk about things they did to improve the recipe or substitutions they made when they were missing an ingredient.
It takes the experimentation out of cooking for me, which is a huge help when I’m trying to feed three kids without a fight. I’m also not afraid to try a new dish if it’s gotten good reviews, and it helps us avoid mealtime monotony. Now that I’m used to using it, I often tweak the recipes I find to fit my own ingredients and I have come up with some great successes of my own.
Just to get you started, here are a few of my favorites:
1. ROASTED CHICKEN:
This has been the inspiration for a thousand variations. I don’t always have celery so sometimes I skip that part. Sometimes I add onion, when we have fresh herbs in the garden I add those, or perhaps Italian seasonings. Occasionally I add chicken broth, or I may stick with just butter. It has never failed me.
It is also my “go to” dish when I’m cooking for friends who’ve just had babies because it’s pretty kid-friendly, generally a crowd pleaser, and if you add raw carrots and potatoes before you stick it in the oven, it’s a one dish meal. So easy and so good!!
I often shred the leftovers to make chicken salad. My husband often cooks down the chicken carcass to make his own chicken stock, which he then uses as the base for his red beans and rice (as I mentioned, he’s more of a real cook than I am).
I’ve used this one for many years, usually adding beef stock instead of water (I boil one beef bouillon cube in some water and pour it in there). This shreds up nicely for roast beef po-boys as well.
I know the recipe says something obscene like cooking for 22 hours, but I’ve never cooked it for more than 10 and it’s easily shredded at that point. I also throw the beef in the crock pot frozen – couldn’t be easier!
My mother-in-law actually gave me this recipe but I lost it, so I just googled “strawberry bread” and found it on Allrecipes! I usually leave out the nuts as per my own personal preference, and I had a friend add chocolate chips to hers once – what a treat! I realize this might not work as a dinner, but sure is great for breakfast!!
My other cooking secret? My crock pot. Of course they are all the rage now, but eight or so years ago I didn’t even know what one was. Now I use mine on a weekly basis. In fact, my husband and I joke that we need to just cut a hole in our counter top and permanently install one so that I can stop taking it out and putting it away all the time. It’s wonderful and everything in it seems to come out tender, juicy, and delicious. Of course, I take no credit – it’s all the cooking prowess of the crock pot.
Though I’m not very likely to win a cooking show, I can very honestly say that my family (with the exception of my 2-year-old who is in that picky eater stage) gobbles up dinner every night. Maybe one of these days I’ll even invite my in-laws over to eat.
What are your go-to meals for your family and for when you have company over? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Thanks, y’all!
If you liked this article, you may also like Getting Your Kids To Try New Foods by KMom.