{the lessons} Don’t Chop an Onion, Save the World

by Rachel on April 9, 2012

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.

{ 33 comments }

1 Laura April 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm

I’ve never been able to find tubes of tomato paste or chipotle either. However, I have discovered that the chipotle at least keeps for a VERY long time in the fridge… ;)
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2 Mary April 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm

frozen onions? tomato paste in a tube?

brilliant!

3 lily April 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Great title!
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4 Kali April 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I never knew frozen, pre-chopped onions were a thing.
I just told Anthony (my Eric) about them. He agrees that our lives have changed forever. Neither of us will ever chop an onion again.
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5 Laura @joyful shimmy April 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm

I love tomato paste In a tube it’s the best. Thanks for the tip about frozen onions I have seen them a few times on trader joes and wasn’t sure what I can do with them I might even try them this week

6 Annie April 9, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Seriously, respond to my request, because it is the very first time I’ve ever posted on a blog I read (which means it is a momentous occasion, despite the fact that you’ve never heard of me before): in which aisle did you find the tomato paste in a tube? I have been searching in vain for this. If you can find it at Kroger, I can certainly find it in DC!

I love your writing – you use such strong verbs! (as an 8th grade English teacher, I relish writers who use good verbs).

- Annie

7 Rachel April 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Ha…respond, I shall, because that is momentous! (And also because I really appreciate your compliment on my verbs!)

I found it in the canned tomato aisle, before I got to the actual cans of tomatoes. I think it was with some other vaguely tomato-related products, on the top shelf of the aisle.

Hope that helps! Let me know if/when you find it!!

8 Megan @ MegGoesNomNom April 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Chipotles in adobo are one of my very favorite ingredients. I’ve never seen bottled crushed chipotles in adobo sauce, but now I will be on the lookout.
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9 Liz @ iheartvegetables April 9, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I always keep a bag of frozen onions and chopped peppers in my freezer! They always come in handy!
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10 Lara April 9, 2012 at 10:15 pm

I’ve never tried cooking with frozen onions, but I’m all over it now.
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11 Nikki April 10, 2012 at 3:53 am

slow cooker question: can you overcook something like chili? Say it calls for 8 hours, and I want it to cook overnight for 9.. does that work? Oh man, this feels like a dumb question.

12 Rachel April 10, 2012 at 10:27 am

You can! I think it really comes down to what you’re cooking. I burned up some orange chicken in there once, but I think it was just because the sauce had a lot of sugar and reduced down a lot. And ground chicken/turkey/beef can get mushy after too long. But other things, like pot roast, just get more tender. So it ultimately depends on the recipe, I suppose!

13 Jessica April 10, 2012 at 9:09 am

Bottled chipotle in adobo sounds perfect! What I do when i need one, is open the can and individually wrap and freeze what I don’t use. It’s a lot of zip-lock baggies, but they last in the freezer forever. I purchase about one can a year.
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14 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie April 10, 2012 at 9:25 am

Great ideas, thanks! I always wondered about the garlic and onions, I was worried that the texture would be different/weird.
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15 [removed at the user's request] April 10, 2012 at 10:20 am

I was annoyed the stores were closed on Sunday too. I don’t celebrate and it annoys me that it’s pushed onto me. I understand Xmas and New Year’s but Easter? Bizarre.

16 D April 10, 2012 at 11:11 am

Wow

17 Lauren April 10, 2012 at 11:40 am

So people that work in stores don’t deserve to celebrate a holiday with their family just because you don’t want the holiday pushed on you?

The world? Does not revolve around you.

18 D April 10, 2012 at 11:53 am

+1

But of course, since SHE understands Christmas, that one is okay. Never mind the millions of people that don’t celebrate it. And how is Easter PUSHED on you? Yikes.

19 Rachel April 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Wow. These are some of the most disrespectful, bigoted comments I’ve read in a long time (Rachel’s and Lisa’s, that is). No one is pushing Easter on you by closing Krogers. They aren’t dragging you to church service or pressing bibles into your hands. They’re just taking the day off of work so that they can observe the holiday how they choose. I’m Jewish, but have never once felt offended that businesses close on holidays I don’t observe. It’s their right to do so–it’s THEIR business, not yours.
Have some respect for other people and their beliefs, and accept the fact that the world does not revolve around your need for tomato paste.

20 [removed at the user's request] April 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I used to work in retail and I LOVED working on the holidays! I got extra money. There is nothing bigoted in Rachel’s or my comment at all. Have some respect for people who don’t believe what you believe too. Sheesh.

21 Di April 17, 2012 at 10:38 am

The funniest part of this, to me, is that you don’t understand stores being closed on Easter but you understand Christmas. They’re (for many) both secular holidays that have their roots in Christianity. I’m a non-practicing Catholic, but if you’re a practicing Catholic…Easter is a more important holy day than Christmas (the day Jesus Christ was born). Without Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead, you have no Christianity. If he didn’t rise, according to Christianity, he’d just be another dead guy.

I respect that you don’t believe in it and that’s your choice, but imagine pushing someone to HAVE to work on the most important day of their religious lives. It goes both ways. Have some respect for shop owners who may have chosen to close to observe the day that provides them with their faith.

But since you don’t celebrate the religious holiday, I guess what you’re really saying is it’s okay to close stores for Santa Claus and binge drinking, but not the Easter bunny? Poor bunny.
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22 Rachel April 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm

@Rachel I apologize for being disrespectful. I didn’t mean to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to spend the holidays with their families; they absolutely should! But there are plenty of employees who don’t get “their” holidays off without having to actually take a day off. You’re right that no one is pushing their beliefs on me — and I never said they were — but it bothers me that there is an assumption that no one would want to work that day and that no one would want to shop that day. Was I offended? No, I wasn’t. I was just annoyed, as I typically am when people assume that all their employees or customers are a certain way. But again, I do apologize for how it came across.

23 [removed at the user's request] April 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I never said the world revolved around me.

24 Christina April 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Sorry I’m not sorry that you’re offended?
I found this exchange hilarious.
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25 Rachel April 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Lisa:

You do realize that what you’re saying is, you have a right to make bigoted generalizations about Easter and the people who observe it, but far be it from others to exercise their rights to observe a holiday? You can do and say what you want, but others can’t? That’s pretty hypocritical.

And for the record, I don’t think I did disrespect your beliefs. I don’t have an issue with Rachel’s paganism, or with whatever you believe or don’t believe. I simply pointed out the bigotry in your and Rachel’s comments , and suggested that you approach the world in which you live with a more open mind. (And I, too, loved working the holidays. That’s not the point here. :) )

26 Rachel April 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Sorry for the new response–it wouldn’t let me “Reply” to her comment. :(

27 Marissa April 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I couldn’t reply to Rachel’s comment either – but this:

“You’re right that no one is pushing their beliefs on me — and I never said they were — but it bothers me that there is an assumption that no one would want to work that day and that no one would want to shop that day. Was I offended? No, I wasn’t. I was just annoyed, as I typically am when people assume that all their employees or customers are a certain way.”

strikes me as silly. No one is assuming all their customers are a certain way, and I seriously doubt being closed for one Sunday is causing them major financial turmoil. Sometimes, businesses close for a holiday. Sometimes they don’t. The grocery store is telling you because you’re pagan, you don’t deserve to eat? Seriously… no. Go grocery shopping the day before, or drive an extra ten minutes to another grocery store. It’s such a minor inconvenience, there’s no need to get dramatic.

28 Rachel April 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Sorry about the reply thing — nested comments only go so deep, unfortunately!

Anyhow, you’re right that it was dramatic; the whole post was overdramatic. In this case, I was rolling my eyes as I typed that because sometimes when major corporations do certain things that makes me feel like they are saying I’m slut, a pagan, an angry black woman, or some other thing they see as negative. It was really just meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

29 Marissa April 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Gotcha – and I appreciate your clarification. I agree that sometimes it can seem that business owners are making decisions about “what is best” for their employees and customers, and they often fail miserably in those situations. But in this case, I think it can be legitimately hard for owners to make any decision without being criticized. There are always employees who are made to work when they don’t want to, or who want to work but aren’t allowed to, and then there are customers who want to buy ingredients and aren’t able to! When it comes to making decisions around how to appropriately acknowledge religious holidays in front of the general public, it seems no one really can agree or can win. In my opinion, as long as no one is coming into my house and telling me how I should celebrate or what I should celebrate, I’m more inclined to live and let live, as it were.

30 Rachel April 10, 2012 at 2:46 pm

To your comment above: But there are plenty of employees who don’t get “their” holidays off without having to actually take a day off.

Well, yeah. I had to use up my sick days throughout school to attend services at my synagogue mid-week. I have worked in restaurants during Hanukkah, though the kitchen closed for Christmas. I have had to take finals on Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. Is it fair? No. But it’s not because people “assume” I don’t want to work on Christmas, it’s because this is a Christian country, and majority rules.

And am I inconvenienced when the grocery store is closed on Easter? Yes. I was this year, like all the others. But the way I see it, I don’t care as long as no one is forcing anything upon me, which is more than can be said for many countries. I try not to take that for granted by complaining about Target being closed on a Sunday.

But I will say this: I appreciate your replies and responses to our posts. It’s nice to see a blogger who doesn’t “delete” every comment that disagrees with the OP. This clearly struck a nerve with some of us, ironically who aren’t all Christian, Easter-celebrating folks–I’m in the same inconvenienced boat as you. But this discussion is interesting and engaging. I appreciate your remarks, and I commend you for letting it continue.

31 Shannon April 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Hi Rachel! I’ve been lurking for awhile but was inspired to comment today. I’ve been desperately searching for the frozen onions. Where did you find them. I’m going to be looking for the tomato paste in a tube too..just brilliant! Love your blog!

32 Rachel April 10, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Thanks! I’ve found them at Walmart, Target, and HEB!

33 Jon-Erik April 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Do frozen onions have the same texture and flavor as fresh? I have a hard time believing that they would. I guess for throwing in a frying pan or crock pot they might be okay, but for certain dishes I think you need fresh. That said, nothing beats the aroma of sautéing onions!
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