What’s Cooking?

I did something I haven’t done in ages.

It’s been so long, in fact, when I started doing it again I thought I might wither and die from the stress and strain.

My head was spinning, my breathing was labored, and by the end of it all I was pretty worn out.

I created… (drumroll) …a menu.

Hubs had made a Costco run to get our first stash of food for the month, and came home with the biggest pork loin I’ve seen in my life. I’m pretty sure it came from some unknown breed of dachshund pig, for how long it was. There were other groceries as well, but they weren’t near as impressive as the giant slab of meat.

Looking at my countertop covered with fresh bounty, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. How could I be entirely responsible, efficient, and effective, with all this food? We’re battening down the hatches with regards to our budget, so keeping a strict reign on our groceries is imperative.

“I know,” I thought. “I’ll make a menu to get us through the next couple of weeks, working around the food we’ve got on hand.”

Brilliant! … Right?

Probably, yes. But also very time consuming. And requiring my brain to function at full-capacity at the end of the day. Brilliant, but dangerous.

I sat down and started to make a list of everything I knew we had on-hand. My initial mistake was thinking we didn’t have much. When I started making a list of all the meat we had (including a pork loin as big as Little Man), the list kept growing. And growing. And growing.

We have so much meat.

It turns out, though I’ve spoken against it for so long, I was approaching my food with a scarcity mindset. Though we had cupboards, freezers, and a fridge full of food, I always told myself we “didn’t have anything to eat”. I’d think of something I wanted to eat, we’d make another run to the store for that meal’s ingredients, and each month we were spending inordinate amounts of money on inordinate amounts of food, and all the while I was thinking we didn’t have any, didn’t have enough, or needed different foods from what we had.

I was wasting my time, wasting my family’s resources, and blowing beyond our budget.

With a list in hand of what we currently had in stock, I started writing down meals I wanted to eat and knew I could make. Before I knew it, I had 10-days worth of dinners planned out.

Since school started last August, my daily routine has been something like this: Around 3:30, I think to myself, “Oh crap. What are we going to have for dinner tonight?” I walk to the kitchen, open a cupboard, and stare. This staring lasts for several minutes. I then close the cupboard and message my husband something like, “Anything in mind for dinner tonight?” to which he rarely provides a helpful answer. By 4:00 I’m in crunch-mode to get something thrown together so we can all eat a hot meal once he gets home from work.

It’s a stressful routine. Most often, we end up having only a main dish with no sides, because I haven’t thought that far ahead in my panic to put food on the table that night.

Hubs has been suggesting for a while we go back to planning a menu, to which I always scoffed in reply. I always manage to get dinner on the table one way or another. I don’t need anyone telling me what to cook my family! Except, I absolutely need someone telling me what to cook my family.

We used to subscribe to a menu service which provided the week’s menu and the accompanying shopping list. Some meals were hits. Some were total disasters. It did save us money each month, though, only buying what we needed for the planned menus.

I had a fresh Costco haul before me, though, with half the month’s budget spent, so I needed to get creative in a hurry. It was an exhausting process, but when I was done, I felt powerful! Capable! Superhuman!

Yesterday was the first day of putting my menu to use. I had dinner ready by 9:10 a.m. God bless the crock pot. We had beef roast, carrots, potatoes, and mushroom gravy. It was delicious. It wasn’t the least bit stressful. We polished our plates in no time.

For the next several days, dinner will be so much simpler. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Southern Comfort To The Rescue

This would have made a great video, but I still don’t have a voice and am battling this cold, so a lengthy post will have to do. I’m one who never understands why people who post recipes have to go through some kind of historical-account dialogue before they tell me how make the daggum meal, but now I find myself needing to tell a story about this dish.

Many (many) moons ago, when I was away at college, I drove from Tennessee to Arkansas for the weekend to visit a family near and dear to my heart. The wife was about to start making dinner after I arrived, and asked me a few questions. The conversation went something like this:

Her: “Val, do you like tomatoes?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Do you like chilies? Like, green chiles?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Well what about mushrooms, do you like those?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Shoot. I was going to make Rotel casserole, but if you don’t like those things…”
Me: “Make what you want to make! I’ll eat around it if I have to, but don’t worry about what I like.” (thinking: because if it’s not Taco Bell, I don’t like it.)

She whipped up this Rotel casserole and I fell in love. IN. LOVE. So much so, that I made it all the time for the rest of my 20s, and I even sang a song about it. When I almost died hiking up the mountain, I would break out into a song that kept me going, because when we got back to town that night, I was going to make this for everyone for dinner. The thought of serving this after a grueling day in the wilderness was absolutely delightful. I couldn’t think of a better way to heal my bruised ego than to shove my mouth full of “Ro-teeeeeeeeeeel Cass-uh-roooooooooole”.

I don’t make it often now. It’s rare when it makes an appearance. It’s far from healthy. I’m sure there are some changes I could make to make it a little healthier, but…. why? So even though I don’t like 50% of its ingredients on their own, this is a southern-comfort-food that quickly became a favorite.

As we’re preparing over here in North Dakota for snowpocalypse this weekend, I thought this would be a great warm dish to share on those freezing cold evenings.

southern rotel

Ingredients:

1 lb. hamburger (or ground turkey)
1 can Rotel tomatoes & chiles*, undrained
1 can corn, undrained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 c. minute rice**
1 (big) bag of nacho cheese Doritos, or plain corn tortilla chips
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (at least!)

In a large skillet, brown and season your meat. I always season my meat the same way: with onion, garlic, and chili powder. Add the can of Rotel, the can of corn, the mushroom soup, and the rice. Stir to mix well and let simmer together over low to medium heat for 20 minutes. In the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan, crush some Doritos in a layer to cover. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese to cover. When meat mixture has heated through, add half of meat mixture to pan. Layer more crushed Doritos on top, sprinkle more cheese, and add the remaining meat mixture. Top with more crushed Doritos and more shredded cheese.

If you have cheese or Doritos left over, you’re doing it wrong. Live a little.

Bake at 350* for 20 – 30 minutes until cheese is melted through. Voila!

*I am at a stage in my life where my sensitivity to spice is worse than it’s ever been. I can’t even use mild Rotel anymore. So I use petite diced tomatoes. They have to be petite diced, because regular diced tomatoes are really just “lazily cut huge chunks” of tomato.

**We don’t buy minute rice. So I cook rice ahead of time and add it to the skillet mixture to simmer with the rest. I guess that’s one way I improve the nutrition quality of this meal. Look at me, being an example.

Warm up, and enjoy this delish dish of good ol’ southern comfort food. You’re welcome.