Thursday, November 16, 2023

Shortcuts: Cooking quickly and cheaply

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During these trying times in Israel, we've all been forced to give up so much. It's unfathomable how much the people in this country have sacrificed. It's heartbreaking and gut-wrenching whenever we stop to think of the hostages and the murdered and the soldiers who've given their lives (which, frankly, is all the time).

And so, it seems trite to worry about my finances, and some days - I honestly don't want to worry about it. I just want to do whatever I feel I need to do - to give, to support, to survive, and even perhaps bring a smile to the face of a loved one.

And yet, it would be irresponsible of me to not acknowledge the severe economic crisis that we're facing or will be facing. On a personal level, our main source of income is not operational at the moment, though we do hope it will be able to get back to some level of functioning soon. And while we are trying to make sure we have some income during this time, it's not exactly the financial upswing I was hoping would end the fiscal year. (If you want to be supportive at this time while our main business is closed, please check out our Bagels & Locks Studios games and curriculum! I hope you'll like it!).

And besides the finances, let's face it - it's just plain hard to muster up any energy some days. My desire to cook can be completely nonexistent on any given day! And while some of my family members don't mind spending time in the kitchen, they only have energy for baking cakes and cookies.

Don't get me wrong, cakes and cookies are GREAT. But after too many cakes and cookies, I start to feel guilty, and eventually decide we need a healthy-ish, balanced-ish meal.

Of course, there are certain requirements for these meals, including minimal cost and minimal time spent prepping. Also, it's always best if it can be popped into the oven - I don't have any energy for dealing with stovetop cooking, and many people I've spoken to are feeling the same way. 

If you need some good baking pans, and ant to order from a local store, be sure to check for deals on Wallashops! I live way out in the boondocks, but my orders have always arrived quickly!

So here goes - some of the foods I've been making home-cooked, minimalist meals:

Some of you asked for 5-minutes of prep. So here are my ideas for that:

1. Spicy Rice & Beans - in order for this to be a true 5-minute prep, you'll need to keep some shortcut ingredients on hand. Like these:

I used 1.5 cups of brown rice, 2 small cans of chili beans, and additional spices, including the fried onions and dried garlic chips pictured above (I added some smoked paprika and coarsely ground black pepper, you might want some salt too), and 3 cups of water, all combined in a casserole dish, covered tightly with foil, and then set it in the oven to bake for about 1 hour. (Oven 200C) 

Came out great. And in a pinch it's practically a full meal. And the cost is minimal - I got those beans on sale for ahout 2 NIS per can.

Note: I make this with long grain brown rice, but really you can use any rice.

2. Baked Pasta dish:

You'll need 1 bag of pasta (any kind), 1 can crushed tomatoes, dried spices (garlic, salt, pepper, basil flakes, and whatever else you want like oregano, parsley, hot pepper flakes), 1 container of cottage cheese, and about 250g of shredded cheese.

In a large pan (lasagna sized), mix the crushed tomatoes, spices, and cottage cheese. Fill the crushed tomato can with water and add that too. Now carefully mix in the dry pasta. Make sure it's basically covered - add more water if you need. Top with shredded cheese. Cover with a sheet of baking paper (I usually tear 1 sheet in half, actually) and cover that with foil. Bake at 200C for 45-55 minutes.

Note: I have made this with white pasta, whole wheat pasta, and whole spelt pasta. GF pasta is an option, too. 

Cost: This is definitely more expensive that the rice and beans, but I don't think it's exorbitant.

3. Ptitim with chicken: 

This could potentially take a a little more than 5 minutes - depends on how fast you are at cutting up chicken. You'll need: 1 tablespoon or so of oil, 500g chicken breast, half a bottle of BBQ sauce (or a small can of tomato paste, sugar, and spices, including those fried onions and dried garlic pieces mentioned above), ptitim (called "Israeli couscous" in other countries), and about 1 cup of water. First dice the chicken - you'll want small pieces. Put everything in a casserole dish - the oil goes in last. Add more water if your ptitim aren't all covered. Lay baking paper over the top and then cover tightly with foil. Bake at 200C for about 45 minutes. 

If you prefer spicy flavors instead of BBQ sauce flavor, you can use a small container of spicy matbucha instead of the BBQ sauce.

Note: Use any ptitim - regular, extra fiber, or spelt ptitim all work.
Cost: Depending on where you shop, chicken prices vary. I try to stock up when it's 20 NIS/kilo and keep it in my freezer. So 500g of chicken breast can be 10 NIS, and the rest of it - the BBQ sauce is the biggest splurge! I still think the cost is reasonable for feeding 4 or more people.

4. Ptitim with chick peas and vegetables: You'll need a bag of ptitim, a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, 1 full size can of chick peas,1 tablespoon of oil, salt, pepper, turmeric, and any other spices you like, including and the onion and garlic pictured above. First, drain the can of chick peas. Mix everything together in a large casserole dish. Add water till it's covered. Bake at 200C for 45 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed.

Note: I prefer the mixed vegetables for soup (that is sold under Rami Levy's private label) for this recipe, but any mixed vegetables will do.

Cost: frozen veggies are likely the most expensive part of this - so the cost is probably similar to the chicken and ptitim above. I think it's reasonable and goes a long way - the frozen vegetables at Rami Levy are usually about 10 NIS per bag.

Also check out my super easy lentil soup recipe!

Now, please tell me about your 5-minute meals! I'd love to get some fresh ideas!

Stay safe and strong everyone.


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