The new hot restaurant is not far from you at all, it starts with your own kitchen. I recently was reading an article that noted how the new hot trend in dining out is dining in. Of course for the culinary challenged or time overburdened it's more likely to be take-out brought to you or picked up on the way home.
Fifty years ago eating out was not the everyday occurrence it is now, it was viewed more as something special. Now we've become so accustomed to our $1 burgers that it's actually more exceptional to have a full home-cooked meal.
How do you make your new hottest restaurant exciting, yet not have to spend your entire day like June Cleaver, cleaning and cooking in high heels with flawless makeup? One quick pass through food network and with the number of shows whose emphasis is speedy cooking and you can see there's plenty of people asking that same question. Answers are out there, it's a matter of what works well with your schedule and your level of cooking skill / experience. Here's a few ideas to give you a jump start:
1. Remember your old friend, the crock pot? It's time to dust it off and use it again. Beef or pork roasts can cook all day while you work, as well as all the veggies you need to make a full meal. Bone-in chicken can be slow-cooked, as well as uncooked whole or half hams.
2. Cook a little extra. Cooking that extra piece of chicken will only add a minute or two to your cooking time but can save you time later when a recipe calls for "one cup of cooked, shredded chicken."
3. Re-invent a dish. Last night you cooked chicken and have leftovers. Chop it up and toss it on top of a salad, mix it into a Mexican chicken casserole or season it appropriately and mix with the leftover rice from two nights ago.
4. Make menus. It sounds like a tedious task. If you jot down a few meals that sound good and check to make sure you have all the ingredients you need on hand, that week all you have to do is glance at your menu to see what you'd like for dinner. It also can streamline your grocery shopping.
5. Use your freezer. It's not there just to hold ice and frozen pizza. If you put in the extra time to make that giant pan of lasagna, why not slice up the leftovers into portion-sized pieces and freeze them? Here's a website with tips on what items freeze well and can save you from an unpleasant discovery later.
It's all about making the best use of the time you have. Doing a little prep work in advance can make having friends over for a meal a simple and fun evening. It doesn't have to be a fancy gourmet dinner. Try a taco buffet. Build a beastly hoagie. Finger foods can be nibbled on all evening while you chat. Just step into your kitchen and give it a try.
Remember, if all else fails, you can always order pizza.
A few more recipe sources worth checking out:
All Recipes - The name says it all.
Cooks.com - An insane amount of recipes.
Copykat Recipes - Replicate at home your favorite restaurant meals.
Food Network - As seen on TV? Find it here.