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As much as I love cooking, there are days (particularly the long and busy ones) when time spent in the kitchen feels like just another chore. After a long day of work and school, Jared and I finally roll in the door some time around 6. Then he has about an hour-long window before he needs to hit the books for some of that good old-fashioned brain building (grad school is a time zapper for sure). That means that when it comes to weeknight dinners, there isnâ€™t a lot of time between when preparation can start and when the meal needs to be on the table. And did I mention how long and busy these days have been? Yep. Chore.
I think the easiest way to get stressed out about cooking is to wait until youâ€™re tired and hungry to figure out what youâ€™re going to make. To keep our weeknights from getting too stressful too quickly, here are a few tips I like to keep in mind:
â€¢ Make a meal plan. This can definitely be one of the less glamorous, more tedious aspects of kitchen duties, but a little work ahead of time saves a lot of time down the road. Sit down as a couple, and try to plan out five meals to get you through the week. That doesnâ€™t mean you have to make all the meals yourself; plan a freebie night out if itâ€™s something you enjoy. The goal is just to have some sort of plan (along with the needed groceries) so youâ€™re not left to panic when dinnertime hits.
â€¢ Not all leftovers are created equal. I know the word leftover can make a lot of people cringe. Day-old pot roast and soggy casserole arenâ€™t the most exciting fare. But there are plenty of meals that are just as good the second time around. Think of one or two meals you can make during the week that you can revisit a day or two later: the kinds of meals that make enough to feed a crowd, even though youâ€™re just cooking for two (or a few). Soups and chili are great options, especially with the weather getting cooler. Just make sure to reheat it on the stove instead of in the microwave; that way it doesnâ€™t feel so leftover-y, and everyone can eat at the same time.
â€¢ Take shortcuts when you can. I love, love, love a good risotto, but it takes at least an hour to make, which isnâ€™t too practical on a busy night. The good news is, there are almost always short-cut versions of some of your favorite meals. For us, orzo pasta is a great alternative to the takes-forever-to-make risotto. Itâ€™s quick to throw together, but tastes like it took a whole lot longer.
Adapted slightly from Giada De Laurentiis (Everyday Pastas)
(Photo by Katrina Tauchen)
â€¢ 1 pound orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
â€¢ 2 tablespoons olive oil
â€¢ 1 large shallot, finely chopped
â€¢ 1 garlic clove, minced
â€¢ 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, juices drained
â€¢ 1 Â¼ cups heavy whipping cream
â€¢ 1 to 1 Â½ cups frozen corn (the original calls for 1 cup frozen peas), thawed
â€¢ Â¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
â€¢ freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large heavy saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the orzo, and cook (stirring often) until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid.
In the meantime, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, and sautÃ© until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and cook until they are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cream and corn (or peas). Add the orzo, and toss to coat. Remove the skillet from the heat, add the Parmesan to the mixture, and toss to coat. Stir the pasta mixture until the sauce coats the pasta quickly (add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to maintain a creamy consistency). Season the orzo with salt and pepper, and serve.
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