J and I have a wonderful group of friends here in Lafayette who took turns bringing us dinner for a month after BB was born. (And as we were enjoying some of the delicious recipes provided by our friends, I remarked to J that maybe we should have a baby more often. He didn't laugh until he was sure I was joking.)
For a month, we dined off of the generosity of our friends, and then off of the contents of our freezer (thanks to family who cooked while visiting, our overabundance of bagels, and a trip to Trader Joe's). We have now gotten back to the point where I need to be doing my usual meal planning.
As I mentioned several weeks ago, cooking post-baby can be a bit of a chore, even for someone who normally loves to cook. Not only is it difficult to cook one-handed while juggling a baby, I also tend to lose my caffeinated momentum by about 5:00 in the afternoon, making it very difficult to face the task of cooking. Unfortunately, easy-to-prepare convenience foods tend to be both expensive and less-than-healthy.
However, I have two go-to fast recipes that can be put on the table quickly, have (mostly) non-perishable ingredients that I try to keep on-hand, and are inexpensive. I know if ever I'm having a particularly tiring day that I can throw one of these two meals together in under 15 minutes:
1. Meatball subs
I only added this recipe to my repertoire recently, when J woke up one day with a sudden jonesing for a meatball sub. We happened to have frozen turkey meatballs, marinara sauce, and mozzerella in the house, as well as the tail end of a baguette, and our new favorite quick meal was born.
- Pre-cooked frozen turkey meatballs
A bag of about 30 of these cost me $7.50 last time I purchased them. We keep them on-hand to send for LO's school lunches, and we put 6 meatballs (aka one serving) in each sub.
I can always find a jar for about $1 whenever I go grocery shopping as long as I am not brand loyal.
This is the only ingredient that we can't keep indefinitely in the house, although we almost always have it available since we are a fairly cheese-intensive household. I can get an 8 oz package of shredded mozzerella for $2.50, and we generally put about 2 oz on each sub--meaning it does not look like the sub in the above picture.
I can generally get these on sale from the store bakery for $2.50 for six. I freeze them in bags of two as soon as I buy them so they keep for when a meatball sub day strikes.
This is not actually an ingredient for the subs, but I like to serve the subs with a side of something green so we don't get rickets. I like the steam-in-bag variety, which are usually $1.25 per bag.
15 minutes. I toast the hoagie rolls
under the broiler while I heat up the meatballs in the marinara sauce,
either on the stovetop or in the microwave. I then throw the meatball
mixture on the hoagies, top them with cheese, and throw them back under
the broiler to melt the cheese. During all this, I'm microwaving the frozen veggies. As long as I have remembered to defrost the hoagie rolls at least an hour ahead of time, I can have dinner ready in literally under 15 minutes.
Total Cost: $14.75
Cost per serving (six): $2.46
Since we generally only get two to three servings from a bag of frozen veggies, the cost-per-seving is actually slightly higher, but this is still a very quick and inexpensive meal.
2. Black beans and rice
This happens to be one of J's favorite meals, which means I can pull off the "I'm such a loving wife that I made your favorite dinner" ploy, when in actuality it's more like "I'm so tired that I need to throw something together quickly or else just accept that we'll be eating fruit roll-ups for dinner."
The nice thing about beans and rice is that it doesn't require a specific recipe. You really can just throw things together, provided you have beans, canned tomatoes, and rice, and it will turn out. For the sake of this exercise, though, I'll use this Cuban-style Black Beans and Rice recipe.
I actually just use whatever rice we happen to have on hand. We can generally get rice for $4 for a five pound bag. There are about two cups per pound, so the rice for this recipe would come to $0.80.
We always have olive oil on hand, and I generally can buy a 25 ounce bottle for $7.00. With two tablespoons per ounce, each TB costs $0.14. (Frankly, having done this calculation makes me feel like I should be stingier with my olive oil usage...)
You can get a pound of onions for about $1.29
These tend to be $1.89 each, unless I can find a killer sale, or we can improve our pepper patch in the garden.
1 red bell pepper, chopped
This is generally about $1.60 per pound.
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
I already have this in my spice cabinet. So even though it's not free, I'm calling it that.
I can usually find this for about $1.
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with their liquid
3 cups (cooked) black beans, drained
As I've mentioned before, I believe that any claims that it is possible to make dried beans edible are nothing but lies. However, even though canned beans are more expensive, you can actually eat them. 3 cups of beans would be about two 15 ounce cans. I can generally find cans for $0.60 each.
As long as I remember to put the rice into our rice cooker approximately one hour before we'd like to eat, this recipe otherwise takes just about twenty minutes total, from initial sauteeing of the onion and veggies to allowing the beans, tomatoes, and other goodness to simmer.
Total cost: $7.92
Cost per serving (four): $1.98
We will often add some garnish/toppings, like cheese, cilantro, or lime wedges, or some sides, like corn bread, which means this meal is not quite as inexpensive as it appears. However, considering the fact that I always have every ingredient available in our pantry and the fact that the meal comes together very quickly (and in only one pot, not counting the rice cooker), this is one of my favorite go-to meals for days when I'm wishing Alice from The Brady Bunch would come cook and clean and provide hilarious insight for me.
What are your favorite "I don't feel like cooking and why isn't life more like a fershtunkiner sit-com?" days?
Meatball sub photo courtesy of jeffreyw
Beans and rice photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman