(The Ranty Bride} Being Domestic: Cooking for Two

I preface this with the following: I love cooking, especially for crowds. The more complex and fussy the menu, the better. And – while I still maintain people either like to cook *OR* bake, rarely both – I am one of those who legitimately likes doing both. I collect cookbooks and rarely make the same thing twice. I take cooking classes in things like macarons because I a) already can figure out how to make most things and b) it doesn't get much fussier, except for maybe tamales – and I took a class in that, too.

My point? I know how to make food and I do it well.

That said, cooking for me + the boy has thrown me a total curveball.

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Image Courtesy of: Bangor Daily News

At this point, I should confess that daily eating for just me has primarily meant frozen dinners. While I can cook, I get really sick of leftovers, and even more sick of pitching food that goes bad before I get a chance to eat it. Also, I like the instant portion control and the variety. So, for years, I've been living off of frozen meals 90% of the time for those reasons.

The boy? He wants home-cooked meals. Nightly, because he hates leftovers. Why doesn't he cook, you say? Because, if he did – and when he did, for himself – his (and therefore, OUR) diet would consist of frozen chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, french fries, crescent rolls, and corn, if a vegetable is required. Repeat as necessary.

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Image Courtesy of: Shut Up Foodies

Not only is he pre-disposed to eating CRAP, he is P-I-C-K-Y. Like, I'm occasionally embarrassed to have him eat at friends' houses picky. His food dislikes include, but are not limited to:

  • any vegetable that isn't starchy and/or white
  • anything with cheese
  • anything creamy
  • any soups or soup-like meals (unless it's chili, which is ok, unless it has beans or isn't red)
  • anything with tomatoes that aren't sauce or huge chunks that he can pick out
  • anything with onions
  • anything with gravy or a gravy-like sauce
  • anything that is remotely similar to curry (so anything that falls into the 'Thai' or 'Indian' category)
  • anything he associates with hummus (bye bye, Greek and Mediterranean food)
  • and anything commonly associated with mushrooms.

I, on the other hand, eat pretty much anything. I could cave to his pickiness, but what he loves, I've tried to cut out because I grew up on Kraft dinner, frozen nuggets, and canned ravioli and had a huge weight problem. Compromise has meant eating out A LOT, but it's a) expensive and b) often unhealthy. Cooking at home more often makes sense for our budget and our arteries.

So, what's a girl to do? I can't go to my family for help – if my mom cooked it, and it wasn't out of a can or box, chances are it was bad. Like, soggy cornflakes thrown on frozen, unseasoned chicken and 'how can you mess up frozen french fries?' bad. I asked him what his mom made that he liked, figuring maybe I could grab an idea or two there. His diet was even worse – various things in a Fry Daddy, corn dogs, burgers, and some ungodly concoction that involves throwing pickles and Oscar Mayer Bologna in a food grinder. Sorry, my sister ate so much Oscar Mayer Bologna as a kid, the thought of it alone makes me gag.

(On a semi-related note, I decided in the car ride to work this morning that both of our mothers? Worst stay at home mothers ever. Neither can cook, both are pretty much hoarders – so insert your own estimation of cleanliness – and I doubt either have done any sort of physical activity in probably 30 years. My husband and I have had the conversation that if *either* of us was to stay at home, we'd be cooking, cleaning, and looking hot like FIENDS. Just saying.)

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Image Courtesy of: Life123

I'm sharing with you, dear readers, because if you're reading a wedding blog, you are probably headed on your way towards marriage or some other form of domestic bliss with another person. And if you, like me, would like to cook more and eat out less, I have some resources and gadgets that you might find useful as well! **Disclosure – I bought all this stuff with my own money and am getting no compensation from these companies – just sharing stuff I think is useful!

First off, you can join me (and Cris and some like-minded friends) on my 'Dinner Tonight' Pinterest board. We share our favorite dinner recipes on there, so maybe you'll find a few new dinner ideas! Plus, you can comment to ask the pinner questions, so you're not going in blind. If you want to be added as a contributor, just let me know via email or Twitter.

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Image Courtesy of: Tasty Kitchen

I love Tasty Kitchen for recipes. There are a lot of recipe sites out there, and many are bigger, but my favorite recipes seem to always come from this one started by Ree of the Pioneer Woman fame. A lot of the recipes are posted by food bloggers, so they often have more detailed tutorials available on their sites.

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Image Courtesy of: Cook's Illustrated Magazine

I got a subscription to Cook's Illustrated Magazine. It's not cheap, but I've found the price is well worth it. You get recipes that are proven successful in their test kitchen, but I've found the cooking tips they give you are even more helpful! For example, did you know that you can make SUPER crispy oven baked potatoes by parboiling first with baking soda? Trust me – A-MAZ-ING. (note: they also make Cook's Country which has more down-home recipes, in my opinion. if you're newer to cooking or prefer that style, you might want to start there!) If you like the site and don't like leftovers, they also make a Cooking for Two cookbook.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

I took a leap of faith and bought a rice cooker. And, let me tell you, it's changed my life, or, at least, dinner. I could NEVER make rice without burning it. Seriously. It seems simple enough, but I could never make it work. SO frustrating. This thing lets you dump the rice in, add water after a quick rinse, and press a button. An hour or so later, your rice is done. That's it! It keeps it warm when it's done. In theory, this can also steam and saute as well, but I haven't used those features yet [Cris's Note: I use my rice cooker all the time and frequently cook entire meals in it. Toss in flavored rice, some frozen veggies, and shrimp. Boom. Dinner.].

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Image Courtesy of: Pampered Chef

We're trying not to fry as often, yet oven fried foods can turn out soggy and not so good. Enter: the Pampered Chef large bar pan. Season it once to make it nonstick. How does one do that, you say? By cooking a CRAPLOAD of BACON in it. Yum. After that, use it for anything that you want to have a crispy outside, or you can just use it for everything like I do. Any baked goods are even better on stoneware – when they're brown on top, they're brown on the bottom, and you don't have to worry about burning anything. Fries, chicken, etc. are all made crispy because the stoneware absorbs the extra moisture from cooking. Love this pan.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

Another leap of faith: I bought a new slow cooker. The boy and I both have older versions in varying sizes. While I love the concept of hot-food-when-you-come-home, everything was often more of a hot mess. Tasted fine, but chicken was always overcooked, any anything with a sauce was just…goopy. How different are the new ones? Check out this bad boy. Ignore the bad reviews – I love this thing! The probe is awesome for any meats. Once everything is at the appropriate temperature, the slow cooker sets itself to warm, so there's less risk of overcooking. In fact, the auto-warm is one of the greatest features of any newer slow cooker and makes a WORLD of difference in your recipes. If you like your slow cooker but don't like the results, consider investing in a new one, and you may find yourself using it a lot more. Also, consider checking out the Cook's Illustrated Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook. It gives you recipes and techniques that can really improve what you're able to make.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

Speaking of probes, get yourself a probe thermometer like this one. The cord comes out of the oven or grill and attaches to a digital timer/thermometer that will alert you when your meat reaches a safe temperature. It's been a life-saver when it comes to avoiding Sahara dry meat, especially when cooking leaner things like chicken breasts or pork chops. A tip: set it for five degrees LESS than the safe cooking temperature. After removing the meat from the heat, let it stand five – ten minutes. The meat will keep cooking and will come up to the appropriate temperature.

And, now – cookbooks. I LOVE them. Also, I rarely use them. See, I love reading recipes with online reviews so you know what you're going to get. However, I have a ton of cookbooks, and there are some I use and would recommend to y'all.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

The Good Home Cookbook. This has a little bit of everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. Like, 1,000 recipes everything. It focuses on dishes that are "the foundation of American cuisine." If you're looking for a basic recipe, this is a good resource.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

The Six O'Clock Scramble. The tagline is, "Quick, healthy and delicious dinner recipes for busy families." It's organized by season with a goal of only having you grocery shop once a week. Therefore, it uses a combination of fresh and pre-packaged ingredients. Everything can be made in 30 minutes or less, too.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook. This is another absolute monster of a cookbook. I love it because, like the typical Bon Appetit recipe, it's focused on fresh, local ingredients. Admittedly, in the CLE, we have several months where "fresh" and "local" would consist of "snow" and "seasonal affective disorder", but I appreciate that this book aims for healthy, quick recipes that don't use a bunch of processed ingredients.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

Quick Fix Meals. This book is split up into 3 categories: Meal Kits, which involve prepping parts of the meal in advance for cooking at a later date, Morph It, which uses leftovers from the previous day to make another dish, and Dinner Express, with recipes made in 30 minutes or less. For someone looking to get out of eating "leftovers", re-inventing them into a new, fresh meal may be a great option.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

Betty Crocker's Healthy New Choices. I've bookmarked a lot of the recipes in this book to try at a later date. For the most part, I'd say it contains a lot of simple, comfort food type recipes.

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Image Courtesy of: Amazon

Express Lane Meals. Ok, people seem to either LOVE or HATE Rachael Ray. I get that and I'm not a huge fan myself…but, I do like this book. You get a list of items to keep on hand, in the freezer, fridge, or pantry, and then brief additions to add to the grocery list for the recipes you pick. It's a good choice for those who like to keep a stocked pantry (me!) but have a tough time actually, you know, planning in advance.

I hope some of these suggestions are helpful! What have you found useful in your domestic cooking adventures?

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  • I actually have the Rachel Ray book and some of the ingredients seemed expensive and difficult to find. I had to purchase corriander and tumeric for one recipe (lo mein) and figured I could find the remaining ingredients somewhere else but I never did so it was a waster and never used those ingreditents in any other cooking 🙁

  • That is a good point. I use coriander a good amount in soups and on chicken, but I do not use turmeric often. I end up buying a lot of my less frequently used spices at a local Amish bulk foods store – they sell them by weight, so a small bag of Turmeric might be 50 cents. If I throw the remainder away, it’s not a big deal in that case.