I was preparing dinner on my lunch break today when I realized, Holy shit. This is the most convenient meal ever.
Because it was. I was making Real Simple’s Smoky Beef and Bean Chili (made with bison this time around!) and utilizing the majority of my favorite time- and money-saving tricks in one meal. It’s a good day for me if I can use one of these tricks when I’m prepping a meal. But five? What did I do to deserve such luck?!
The Five Things That Made for the Most Convenient Homemade Dinner Ever
The Crock Pot. OK, well, duh. Everyone knows this is an amazing invention, designed for max convenience, right? Right. To me, it’s one of the best things you can buy for your kitchen if you’re trying to cook at home more or eat healthier. Every time I walk into my apartment and am greeted by the fragrance of the food I made and then forgot about, it makes me so happy. A lot of the cooking I do on my nights to cook is done in the Crock Pot, even though that feels like cheating somehow.
Minced bottled garlic. There are times when I’m willing to mince up cloves of garlic for a recipe; most weeknights do not qualify as one of those times. If the recipe relies heavily on garlic or I’m just feeling like taking the leisurely route (if, say, I’m pissed off), sure, I’ll go crazy on a few cloves of garlic. Most of the time though, I opt for the bottled stuff and don’t think twice.
Frozen onions. I had read that frozen onions were a thing a long time ago, but it took me a couple years to actually find them in stores. Now I stock up regularly. They are cheap (about $1 a bag) and because onions are present in so many recipes, it’s really helpful to have them on hand. (Another way to use frozen onions to save time: cook 2-3 lbs. ground beef with a bag of frozen onions, divide among 2-3 freezer bags, and save for a I-have-nothing-to-make-for-dinner day.) It’s also one less knife and cutting board to wash. Bonus: it keeps me from bursting into tears while making dinner, which I most definitely do whenever I’m chopping onions.
Bottled crushed chipotles in adobo sauce. When I saw this at Target, I was really surprised; I had never heard of such a thing before. Canned chipotles in adobo sauce are enough hassle to find, not to mention the fact that most recipes only call for one pepper. One pepper, yet they are sold in cans of 6-8 peppers. What a waste! But this squeeze bottle contains a ketchup-like puree and it works great when you just need one pepper and a little sauce for a bit of smoky flavor.
Tomato paste in a tube. This was, for me, an urban legend of the kitchen. I had read about it in Cooking Light but never found it in stores. And oh, I looked. I mean, this is a brilliant concept. Wasting tomato paste sucks; it’s not expensive, but just knowing that I will never, ever use a full can that really gets to me. I’ve tried freezing the leftovers, but this…this is even better. I actually found it at Kroger last night, which was the third grocery store we went to (all the stores were closed because apparently, there was a holiday yesterday? And my pagan self didn’t get the memo that I don’t deserve to eat this week?) and when I spotted it on the shelf, I was beyond excited. Now I no longer have to deal with a can opener — and if you heard my can opener, you’d know why this is a big deal to me. (I’m pretty sure Eric’s mom and my mom were in agreement that their kids were doing all right for themselves here in Houston until they tried to use our sounds-like-a-dying-cat-and-oh-hey-watch-your-finger-that-thing-has-a-mind-of-its-own can opener last weekend.) I also don’t have to worry about buying tomato paste as often and I won’t waste the leftovers.
Clearly, this chili is some kind of miracle chili. Well, really, I like to think of it as career chili. It’s chili for the modern woman who has better shit to do with her evening than standing around cooking chili. Next to having someone cook for me (which is a nice option but not something I can/should count on every single night), this is the best thing I can ask for when it comes to doing healthy living in a way that allows me to get on with my life. I never knew frozen onions and a change in tomato paste’s packaging could be so damn liberating, but seriously, now that I know my dinner is taken care of, I’m off to go change the world in all the extra time I have because I didn’t have to chop an onion tonight.