Survival Tips After Your Marriage
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Now that the ceremony is over and the gifts have been sorted, the thank you notes have been written and your living quarters have been set up—what now?
Chances are, you’re both working and in today’s economy, that means you both are working long and hard hours. What has to be done at home must be done quickly and efficiently—and that means you will have to perform two dirty tasks first: organize and prioritize. If you don’t, you’re going to end up working all the time.
Personally, I come from a school of thought that says shopping before December 23rd takes all the thrill out of it, so you can imagine that those two things, organizing and prioritizing, strictly go against my nature! Even my free spirit had to recognize, though, that not giving the whole process at home some thought and organization meant I was spending more time than I had to at tasks I hated. So even I became a convert! I can tell you, it almost gave my mother a heart attack, but she learned that miracles really do happen.
Believe it or not, the very first most important task you have every day are decent meals. A permanent diet of fast food brought home is simply not good enough. Yes, I know that it will feed you, but over a period of a few months it will start sapping your strength, and that’s the last thing you need to lose. Sit-down restaurant meals are nourishing, that’s true—but even if you have the money—do you have the time? Do you realize how much eating out every night amounts to in a month or a year? Why give your hard-earned money away? Do you want to take an extra hour or two out of your free time to eat?
You may also consider that if you’re hungry, you’re probably going to eat snacks late at night. If you do that, you’re both going to be a blimp in no time. Every wonder why some couples (especially the husband) seem to gain a lot of weight after the wedding? What people perceive as good cooking can actually be poor nutrition!
You can put a decent meal on the table if you know the tricks and are willing to plan. At the bottom of this article, I have even included two no-fail recipes that take very little time for either preparation or cleanup. The most essential ingredient is planning, and that should be done during the weekend. If you have an idea of the meals you’re going to serve during the week you can shop with them in mind. Before you go, make sure you’re not hungry, take an inventory of what’s on hand, and make a list. You need to plan what you’re going to buy for your meals during the week, but you also need to make sure the extras that go into the preparation are on hand as well. What about flour, milk, sugar, coffee, butter? Running to the grocery store during the week is a big no-no if you value your time. Get into a routine and do it sometime over the weekend, and you’ll succeed.
If you don’t have these, purchase both a slow cooker and a pressure cooker. You’re probably familiar with a slow cooker, but a pressure cooker can be the top gun in your arsenal. They’re easy to use and the modern pressure cooker has built-in safeguards. It has an emergency relief valve that eliminates any possibility of blowing up. Pressure cookers will not only cut the cooking time of meats, stews, soups greatly, it will tenderize the meat in a way that simply can’t be done any other way. As an example, you can cook a 2 ½ lb. roast, which is far more than you two even need, in 40 minutes, and the results will be tender and wonderful. You can cook stew meat in 20 minutes, and then add the vegetables for another five and it’s done.
So now you've planned for your meals for a week—what about preparation? Your next essential is a freezer. The freezer compartments of some refrigerators are substantial, but if yours isn’t, consider the purchase of a small freezer. There are freezers available that are small enough to fit into the smallest of kitchens—and you need one. Consider the cost savings of eating at home for a moment, and you’ll realize that a freezer is a much cheaper alternative. Oh, and you will buy a frost-free one, won’t you? I have had a number of sales people try to talk me out of a frost-free freezer, but unless they’re willing to show up at my house every three months to defrost it, that is what I’ll buy every time. You don’t have to shop around in person; every major appliance manufacturer has a web site that lists the models they have available for sale. You can order it through an appliance store, and it usually takes between one and two weeks for delivery. Just be sure and get what you want and don’t let anyone else’s opinion deter you from your choice. You are the one who’s going to have to live with it for 10 or 15 or even more years. By the way, remember that a more expensive model isn’t much more expensive if you think about the difference in price over the span of 10 years. An appliance you want that costs $100 more than the one that doesn’t have all the features you want amounts to $10 more a year. I can live with that!
You will need storage/freezer bags (get the store brand—there’s no difference) and a few containers—but go light on the containers. They’re not nearly as flexible as storage bags, and the tops tend to get lost.
Ok, so you have the food for the week as well as the appliances you need—what’s next? Well, you should prepare your meal the night before and put it in the refrigerator until the next morning. Yes, you heard me! Preparing anything in the morning when you’re trying to get out the door to go to work equals a meal not prepared, and an hour or more at a restaurant that night. You will find that you can prepare a meal, even potatoes, the night before. You’ll find that potatoes will keep without darkening if you cover them in a pan of cold water, cover, and put in the refrigerator uncooked. You can even cook your potatoes, let them cool at least to lukewarm, and then put in the fridge until the next night in the same pan. Don’t put hot things in the fridge—it can ruin it over time. To serve, just bring the potatoes to a boil to heat them, and you’re done!
Brown and cook the meat you’re planning to use for the week on the weekend, let it cool, then freeze. The night before, put your meat or meal in the refrigerator and it will take no time to heat it up the following day. If you’re making something that requires mixing, like meat loaf, consider making more than one—it’s about the same amount of time to do one as two or three or four, but now you’re ahead more than a week! Along the same lines, if you’re doing, for instance, a pot roast that you add carrots and onions to, consider chopping more than you need then freezing the rest. It doesn’t take much more time to chop more, and you’re ahead of the game. I like to put finely chopped onions and green bell peppers in my meat loaf and meatballs, so once in a while (say about every three months), I will buy a lot of these and put them in a food processor and then freeze them up in a freezer bag. A food processor is a hassle to clean, but if you do a lot at once it saves a lot of time when you’re preparing a meal. Are you starting to see why a freezer is essential?
If you’re planning to use a slow cooker, you can put the ingredients in the cooker and then put the whole thing in the refrigerator for the next day. In the morning, you simply take it out, plug it in (making sure to turn it on low—now, how would I know to mention that?), and go out the door. When you return, your meal is done, and all you need to is set the table. Chicken and beef stews, beef roasts and pork roasts do very well in slow cookers, but be sure and brown the meat before you put it in. It doesn’t seem to make a difference in the taste, but the meat looks better when it’s done. It doesn’t take very long to brown, and of course, you’re can do it at night during television commercials and between other things you want to do. Incidentally, put something like a plate, large pot, or cookie sheet under the slow cooker. They often “sweat” while they’re cooking and can soak your counter and even your floor.
Slow oven cooking is just coming back into vogue—and it should. Physicians have recently found that diabetic patients do much better with their insulin requirements when eating meats that have been slow cooked. You may prefer to cook your beef roasts, stews, pork roasts, chops, chicken, and even meatballs in an oven rather than a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. You do not need to brown the meat in advance with this method. You can buy cooking bags in the grocery store in the same area where freezer bags are sold. They will prevent the meat from drying out and becoming tough during long cooking. The night before, spray the inside of the bag with no-stick cooking spray (I prefer the butter-flavored ones, that that’s a matter of preference). Then drop about 2 teaspoons of flour inside the bag, hold the neck of the bag closed, and “swish” the flour around so that it coats the bag. This is done to prevent the bag from sticking to the meat. Place the meat in the bag, and the bag in a pan—any kind that will contain it. Add about ½ cup to a cup of water or broth and any vegetables you want to cook with it including potatoes and place in the refrigerator. Close the bag with a twist-tie or the ties that came with the bags, and--this is the most important thing—be sure you put four or five small holes in the bag! Do not cover the pan.
If it’s a beef roast, put the meat in fat side up, so that during the cooking process, the fat will “trickle” into the meat and give it flavor. You can use the tip of a pair of scissors to cut slits about ¼ to ½ inch in the bag. If you don’t do this the bag will swell up and explode in the oven, leaving an unholy mess that can take an hour to clean up in addition to ruining your meal! The next morning, set the oven to about 275o and put the bag in the oven. Don’t let the bag touch the sides of the oven; it can stick there, possibly explode, and also possibly melt on the sides of the oven, making even more of a mess! When you return home, take the bag out of the oven, let sit for about 2 minutes to let the steam escape, cut the bag open, transfer the meat and vegetables to a serving plate and serve the meal. You’re done! By the way, turkeys and chicken cook beautifully this way.
Occasionally, instead of cooking several meat loaves in advance, I mix them up in a large batch, freeze in a loaf pan, then put them in the fridge the night before and then the oven the next day. I found that they slow-cook in the oven beautifully and don’t require browning in advance, but 8 to 10 hours is just too much, and they seem to get too wet when you use a baking bag.
Meat loaves also don’t seem to do well for me if I put the meat in the oven frozen; it needs to be at least partially defrosted overnight. For that reason, I will often either put a frozen meat loaf in the refrigerator for two days, or leave it on the counter the night before. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that ovens are heavily insulated, especially the newer ones that are self-cleaning. Insulation is insulation—cold or hot. The newer ones also have a timer so that you can set them to go on at a certain time at a set temperature and a certain length of time, then shut off. I came up with the idea of putting the thawed meat loaf in the oven in the morning with a bowl of ice underneath. Even in very hot weather, six to eight cubes in a bowl will keep it cold until 4:00, when the oven is timed to go on at 325 for two hours. When the oven does go on, the rest of the cubes simply melt. You might also think about putting a couple of baking potatoes in the oven as well—but pierce them with a fork—they can explode too. Dinner is ready when I walk in! Other vegetables only take about 10 minutes or less, and I can even manage rolls, since the oven is usually still on.
Most of the methods I’ve talked about only require that one pot be used for the actual cooking. If your selected cooking method calls for browning and pressure cooking your meat (like beef stew cubes, swiss steak, etc.), be sure to buy meat for more than one meal—it doesn’t take much longer. You can freeze the extra browned meat to cut down on preparation time for another meal. As a matter of fact, you can do a large pot of beef stew, chicken stew, spaghetti sauce with or without meatballs and freeze the portions. Now you don’t have anything at all to do in the mornings! As long as you’re going to dirty another pot for browning—why do it for one meal?
There are several simple solutions to the clean up issue. The major solution is to divide the responsibilities. After all, if you cooked the meal, should you be solely responsible for clean up? As you cook and prepare, make yourself aware. As your meal is cooking, you should be washing out any used pots and cutting boards. Yes, you can use paper plates for serving, but two plates are not much to wash—and so much nicer with a prepared meal. If you have cooked a one-pot meal, there really should be that much to clean up, but remember, there is the two of you for chores!
Now, before I end this, just a word about housework in general. I have been a working wife and mother for over 40 years. I am now a widow. I have worked every day of my life since I married, with the exception of a total of six months—one month before I had my daughter and five months after she was born. Sometimes, I have had to work two jobs temporarily--a full time and a part time job. I have learned that housework is not at all like a plane you have to catch at 8:05 am—I have never seen it get up and walk away—it will wait for you! The world will not die if your bed isn’t made when you go out the door. Housework is not your sole responsibility—two people live there. An added bonus to this philosophy is that if two people have household responsibilities, they both become more aware of what they’re doing around the house—it cuts down on the mess created in the first place.
It helps a great deal if you both have a routine that’s not too rigid and restricting. Start to think about loose moments you have while you’re home. For instance, you’re watching a program you enjoy—how about bringing out the vacuum cleaner during the commercials? How about folding some clothes while you’re watching TV? Much as I hate to say it, you do need to fold them—they don’t store well any other way. How about looking around the living room to see what can be brought back to the kitchen if you’re on your way there? Just being more aware can radically cut down on the tasks you have to do in your precious free time.
I hope this essay has been of some use to you as you start out your lives together. I have enjoyed sharing with you as much as I hope you have enjoyed reading this. Now, here are the recipes I promised.
Steak in Brown Gravy – for a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or on the stove.
Dump all these ingredients in—you don’t have to brown the meat first. If you’re preparing the night before, put in fridge, then take it out the next day, plug in, and turn on low for 8 hours or more or high for four hours (more only if you add ¾ can water rather than ½ can—the gravy starts to dry out, and the cooker starts to “sweat” all over your kitchen counter on high). Eat.
On the Stove
Brown the meat, then add the ingredients. Cook for about 1 hour. Eat
In a Pressure Cooker
Brown the meat in the cooker, then place the liner in the bottom. If you don’t, the meat will stick to the bottom of the pot. Dump the ingredients in and cook for about 15 minutes and eat.
The gravy this makes is absolutely terrific. Great with mashed potatoes and corn or peas! Consider adding mushrooms if you like them and/or quartered onions. Freezes beautifully!
Meat Loaf – feeds at least two, usually with a few slices left over for sandwiches to take to work
Mix the ingredients together before adding the ground beef. You want to reconstitute the oats, and you’re aiming for a thick mix. It should look a little thicker than oatmeal you would eat for breakfast, but the oats should be wet. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before adding the ground beef or meat loaf mix.
Add the ground beef and knead the mixture into it. Go around the sides of the bowl, put your hands under the meat and turn towards the center. Rotate the bowl. That’s the fastest way. This step is very important, but should not take very long to do. You should not see individual oat flakes any more. If when you fold it the fold disappears, it’s wet enough. If the folds stand out, it should be a little wetter.
Put in a loaf pan and shape into a loaf. There won’t be enough meat to fill the pan, so; push against one side so that the loaf is roughly square when you look at it from the front. Put in the oven and cook at 325o for about an hour and 15 minutes, or up to about 4 hours at 280 o. If you try to cook it any longer than that it can form a hard crust and be difficult to cut, but it doesn’t affect the flavor. The slow cooking time is actually the best.
The meatloaf has a wonderful texture. It will be firm enough to cut but not hard and rubbery as it would be if you didn’t mix in any ingredients at all, and oatmeal is very, very good for you and is low in calories as well!
This recipe works well in a “batch.” You can mix up two, three, or four pounds, adjusting the ingredients accordingly, of course, divide them up into loaf pans and either cook and freeze, or freeze before cooking. It can take a while to defrost from scratch if it’s cooked, though, so be sure to put it in the refrigerator in the morning or even two days ahead to thaw.
This recipe makes wonderful meatballs as well. Form into individual balls. Spray your broiling pan, both the bottom and the rack, then place the meatballs on it. The pan usually comes with the oven. Make sure you spray the pan or the meatballs will stick. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes, then either cool, wrap in plastic wrap individually and freeze, or add to spaghetti sauce and freeze with the sauce. If you’re adding the frozen meatballs to a sauce, they take about 15 minutes to thaw and heat up.
If you froze the meatloaf uncooked, put out the thaw late the night before, or put in the fridge two days ahead, then put in the oven in the morning with a bowl of ice and set the oven timer to go on about 2:00 at 280 o. Should be ready by 5:00. You could put in a couple of baking potatoes at the same time. Don't forget to prick the skin with a fork in a few places, or they'll burst in the oven.
You'll have your potatoes ready too!
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