Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Imperfect, okay

You can't tell from this photo, but all my contemporary pottery is cracked, chipped, imperfect. That's how I've been able to acquire handmade pieces for a dollar, a quarter, ten cents. An expert would say they have no value; I think their color and texture adds all the warmth without the any of the worry.

So why do I have such trouble applying this same philosophy to my meals? I get hung up on my idea of the perfect meal: a juicy roast meat with two separate vegetables, plus fruit for dessert.

My crockpot makes the chicken rubbery; the beef, ropy. Yet I know that if I leave for the day without a meal in the works, we'll fall back on peanut butter sandwiches or worse, fast food. With my husband out of town, we've eaten spaghetti more times than I care to count. It's like I'm stuck on all-or-nothing mode.

The frugal thing is to accept that less-than-perfect is still better than nothing at all. The frugal me is putting chicken in the crockpot this morning. It's not perfect, but it's family friendly. Our house will smell good at dinner.


Jenny's Vegcafe said...

Someone else who understands that if Daddy isn't home it's hard to get yourself to put together a decent meal? I need to get over the 'pat on the back' I get from making a nice dinner from Hubby and just do it for myself and the kids when he's out of town. When he's gone it's mac-n-cheese, pbj's or spaghetti if we're lucky. Oh yes, and McD's.
I think we need a back up plan for those times when we're single parents. Hmm. Maybe this could be a new Frugal Hacker blog. What do you say, Meredith? Quick, healthy and kid friendly meal ideas that let you skip the drive thru.
Love that you're using your crock pot.

~Babychaser~ said...

If it's nutritious (and I mean at all ~ hey, there was a vegatable and some bread) then it was a perfect meal. :) My husband really hates carbon on his food, so if I didn't burn it black... I'm ok tonight. :) Chicken sounds like a good start! We've had grilled chicken more times since June than I can count! :)

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why your meals are not GOOD when cooked in a crock pot. My chicken is not rubber and my roast is not string..Could it be you are cooking it on high heat for too long? Just a crock pot is my best friend. Right now I am cooking pinto beans with a big ham bone (left from Sunday dinner) for tonight. We will have Mexican food tonight, enchilidas, beans, and a salad. We will have an apple crisp for snack later...The left over beans will be put into chili for Friday night's dinner with friends and poker. (we play Texas Holdem Poker for fun, no money changes hands)

Amy said...

I am the same way when dh is away.

As to the rubbery chicken (which I've made plenty of! LOL), I've found that you don't need to cook chicken as long as other meats. When I did the "all day cooking" I'd always come home to rubbery chicken. Of course, I'm no good at telling you just HOW long it should be, I haven't mastered that yet!

Anonymous said...

meridith, i have issues with my crock pot burning things, i think its too hot even on i tend to put things in the oven on really really 175 or 200 while i'm gone and it makes a diff...and i'm also huge on perfect or NOTHING but take out or sandwhiches or worse, hot dogs.....

something is better than nothing and i need to figure that out SOON

celina in canada

It's a Mom Thing said...

I get stuck in that rut on occasion, as well. Or worse, the "I don't want to fix dinner at all."

My go-to meals are spaghetti, soup and grilled cheese, or anything wrapped in crescent rolls and baked.

Hope your chicken is good tonight.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're back on the track you'd like to be on! Good job!

SchrefflerFamily said...

Um. What's wrong with hot dogs, spaghetti, pbjs, and mac and cheese? As long as you stay away from fast food, seems to me you ARE fixing dinner for your family.

TJ said...

Maybe you should look at replacing your crockpot. Sounds like something isn't right. My crock makes the most tender roasts and corned beef (bought on sale in March and thrown in the freezer). Chicken is tender and falls off the bone. Unless you are using high heat there shouldn't be those problems.

Another crockpot goodie: pinto beans. Very frugal and very yummy. Just soak overnight and throw in, in the morning with 1 part beans to 2 parts water. Add some garlic and onion powder (not salt) and cook on low all day. It's a favorite at my house. We serve topped with chopped onions, and a choice of ketchup or hot sauce with cornbread on the side.

Anonymous said...

I don't have problems with my crockpot cooking meat, so no advice there.

However, a meal that my now 12 year old daughter still enjoys is "appetizer night". A few cubes of cheese, sliced fruit (apples always taste better sliced), some veggies with dip, maybe 3 or 4 meatballs in spaghetti or other cause if you really want to get fancy... Pretty much anything that can be eaten with the fingers goes, although the meatballs do require a utensil. You shouldn't need more than 10 minutes to fix this, especially if you prep the veggies and cube the cheese the night before or sometime during the day. As a single mom, this was my fall back meal for years.

Saralyn said...

After years of eating dried out chicken cooked in the crockpot I was enlighted by Amy at Elevate it over its juices. She suggested putting three golf-ball sized balls of foil in the bottom of the cooker and putting the whole chicken on top. This makes wonderful chicken for eating with mashed potatoes, cutting up for casseroles, or shredding with BBQ sauce for sandwiches (don't forget the slaw.) Also helps to use the shortest cooking time suggested.

Mary said...

Have you ever tried a pressure cooker?
They are quick, easy and safe.
Just finished a post about our affinity for the one I have used for years with success.

Anonymous said...

Rubbery chicken? Stringy beef?

Aren't those still better than what you get at fast food joints?

-- Jora

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

I've never liked chicken cooked in a crockpot. I'm not sure what it is, but it's never good, IMO.

My beef, pork, beans, etc. always turn out wonderfully, though. Perhaps it's your crockpot?

Anonymous said...

Ooo I hear ya! I recommend saving pennies for a good crock pot. It will save you $ since it won't ruin your food. I've been there, and believe me when I say it makes a huge difference having a new crock.

Someone Beautiful said...

Meredith, do you think it's the crock pot? I had to get a new crock pot, and everything is tastier now.

This is sort of on topic, and I'd love your advice anytime you get the chance. :) I have a dear friend who is graduating in my town next month. Neither she nor her family live here. So I am having them all (there will be 20 of us) over after the graduation. I really want to make it a special beautiful party with tasty treats and food on a budget--without it *looking* cheap. I know they all drink iced tea, and they love good southern food. A few are on restricted diets (fresh would be safe); so I thought you'd be the perfect person to give advice for a frugal but beautiful party. I will need to make everything a day ahead, and the party will be at lunch. :)

Thank you! :)

Jennifer @ Fruit of My Hands said...

I have found a way to monopolize about cooking better when DH is home. I cook extra & we have delicious leftovers while he's away. I also try to make one new recipe each trip while he's gone. We still have mac & cheese on Tuesday nights, because its tradition now though.

To quote the Flylady-even housework (cooking) done imperfectly still blesses your family.

Anonymous said...


I can see it now....a blowdryer last Christmas, a new crockpot this one!! Maybe you could watch the sales and let your husband know which one you'd like. My husband is always THRILLED when I give him a gift idea like this!


pomo housewife said...

sounds like something's amiss with the crockpot. I don't use mine as much as I'd like, as it is a large family-size one - though it will be better when the kids are older and have teenage appetites. It tends to burn the edges if it isn't full enough.

Slow cooking, and foods cooked with water, are healthier for your heart than quick-cooked foods. I was just reading about it - 'advanced glycation end products' - AGEs - aptly named as they contribute to aging. They are increased by high temperatures, decreased when water is used.

"Despite the ubiquity of AGEs, Dr. Vlassara and her team offer simple, safe, and economic solutions that echo the recommendations given concerning trans fats watch what you eat. New methods of cooking to reduce AGE intake, particularly steaming, boiling or making stews, can make a difference. "Keeping the heat down and maintaining the water content in food reduces AGE levels," Dr. Vlassara says. A 50 percent reduction in AGE intake could have a significant and positive impact on overall health and may even help extend one's lifespan, according to Dr. Vlassara. In other studies, the team has found that cutting AGE intake in half, but maintaining a diet comprised of the same calories and fat, increased the lifespan of animals when compared with animals fed their usual diet."

Carrien Blue said...

Have you tried roasting your chicken in the crock pot?

Make a rack of potatoes or other vegetables so the chicken is up high out of the liquid. Rub it down with butter and rosemary and salt and pepper.

Cook on LOW for about 5 hours. It browns quite nicely and comes out tender.

Lots of people make the mistake of thinking that you need to fill the crock pot with water to cook in it, that's not true. The less water the better.

To make a roast, brown it in a frying pan before putting it in, add only liquid necessary for flavor, like wine or other sauces. The crock pot doesn't let liquid escape so it will always be moist, if you add too much liquid it's the same as boiling meat, which doesn't ever lend to a pleasing texture. Hope that helps.

One other thought, have you tried doing all of your dinner prep in the morning? You can season and prepare meat to roast and even put it in the pan, you can cut and peel vegetables, and then just pop them into the oven in time for dinner, It's the same amount of effort as a crock-pot, but it makes the evenings run smoother. If your oven has a timer you can even go out and have dinner ready when you get home.

Don't over cook it though