This post is the first in a series that will explore my journey to implement the Stock Chop and Boil cooking method in my life.
When Morgan and I first moved to D.C. I knew we faced a dilemma. Our lives were about to drastically ramp up.. We were planning a wedding, looking for a place to live, and searching for jobs. Morgan had already started graduate school classes, and well, we needed to eat. I sat down and put some serious thought into how we could manage that last task. How were we going to maintain our commitment to eating natural, from-scratch food when we barely had time to go shopping? The answer: A three step methodology I call Stock Chop and Boil.
This first step is all about preparation. I usually cook on Sundays, so, on Thursday or Friday I begin to take stock of what we have in the kitchen that needs to be used. I also start jotting down recipe ideas. With this step the goal is to create a game plan. Think of it like a puzzle. This curry calls for 1 1/2 onion. It might be a perfect fit with that quiche that needs half an onion. Got loads of carrots and celery? Maybe soup should be on the agenda. How many meals will you need during the week? Will there be nights you’re busy? Make a list of everything you need and go through your pantry. Cross everything off that you’ve already got. Now you’ve got you’re grocery list! Run to the store and strictly adhere to this list. The junk food and frozen aisle? They get enough love; they don’t need you!
It can be easy to bypass this step and just dive into the fun (or chore depending on your attitude) of cooking, but please don’t. It doesn’t take long and with a little forethought, your weekly meals will be much easier to prepare.
After planning and shopping, it’s chop time. This step is really the heart of my method. Pick a time during the week that you can set aside for cooking. I like to reserve Sunday afternoon. Now comes the fun part: cook your meals! That’s right, cook each and every one of ‘em. After the Stock step, we should have everything on hand. Lay it all out and measure what you need. Chop your veggies, prepare your meat. If you’re making a casserole, assemble it up until the moment it would go in the oven and then cover and refrigerate or freeze. Stews and soups can be finished, stored in the fridge for simple reheating. For stir-fry and other dishes that don’t lend themselves to pre-cooking, simply assemble everything so that on the planned night, everything is ready to grab and go. This step does take work. On an average Sunday I average about 2.5–3 hours of cooking and cleaning time. Divide this out over the week, however, and it’s really not that bad. Of course, you’d save even more time and have extra fun if you found a cooking buddy to share this task. Make it a social event and invite a friend or family member to collaborate! As busy nights come and go, I know that dinner is already in the bag (or Tupperware), ready to either heat and eat, or a few minutes of cooking away from ready to eat. One last note: I sometimes make the mistake of rushing through step one and discover that I needed to soak beans Saturday night, or have something marinaded the day before. Don’t rush through step one. Learn from my mistakes and take your time to make sure you understand the timeline of your meals!
This is where you reap all the reward. Execute, execute, execute! Monday rolls around and you’ve got other plans? No worries, just toss that casserole in the oven and heat. Tuesday leaves you with only minutes to eat? Reheat a bowl of stew and your belly will be bursting. A couple minutes of down time on a Thursday? Pull out your stir-fry veggies and spend five minutes on sauté. Boom. Dinner is served.
Each week I’ll be following this plan of attack. I’ll share my highs, and yes, I’ll share the lows. Stock, Chop, and Boil is all about economy of action and your pocketbook. Buy in bulk when necessary to save money and cook in batches to save on extra cleanup. I love cooking, but I also love living. Let’s get some healthy delicious on your plates and then get you back to whatever else it is that you love to do! As I explore and test my action plan, I’ll provide weekly recaps of what I’m cooking and how it played out. I’ll also post the recipes I used as well as the total time spent on prep work each Sunday.
- Saag paneer – Cooks Illustrated recipe
- Thai stir fry – from Extending the Table
- Cordoba chickpea stew with saffron – from Real Stew
- Wild-caught Salmon cakes – Adapted from a recipe in The Primal Cookbook
I shopped on Sunday early in the afternoon at a local Latin grocery story called Best World and at our neighborhood Giant. Normally when I have enough time we shop at the splendid Florida Ave Market, but that’s a post for another time. Ingredients on hand, I took stock of my recipes and began chopping and measuring things out.
2.5 hours later, I had a stew simmering, Salmon cakes shaped and resting in the fridge, Stir-fry ingredients chopped and stored, and a delicious Sag cooling. I’d also gotten through an excellent This American Life episode on Dogs and a Radio Lab on Inheritance. Who says cooking and expanding the mind can’t go hand in hand?
Monday arrived and dinner was only a matter of pulling the Saag Paneer out and heating it up. Morgan found this recipe especially delicious. I believe she actually directed me to “make sure this recipe goes on the blog.”
Let me preface that I left the cheese making out of this recipe and opted to substitute instead. I’ll explore cheese making in more detail at a later date.
- One 10 oz bag spinach
- 3/4 lb Mustard or Collard Greens
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and diced
- 1 can (15oz) diced tomatoes (I used the same quantity of crushed tomato to the same effect)
- 1/2 cup roasted chopped cashews, peanuts or almonds
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1-2 cups salty dry cheese (Queso Seco, an aged Mexican cheese works well. Feta would do as well. If you can find authentic Paneer, go for it!)
- 3 tbsp chopped cilantro
Step One. Place spinach in bowl, cover and microwave until wilted, about 3 minutes. Chop enough spinach to measure 1/3 cup and set aside. Transfer remaining spinach to blender. Microwave mustard/collards until wilted about 4 minutes, chop 1/3 cup and set aside. Transfer remaining greens to blender.
Step Two. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add spices and cook 30 seconds till fragrant. Add onion and 3/4 tsp salt; cook stirring frequently until softened about 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and jalapeno – cook while stirring frequently until slightly browned about 2-3 minutes more. Stir in tomatoes and cook until pan is dry and tomatoes are beginning to stick to pan, 3-4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat.
Step Three. Transfer half of skillet mixture to blender with greens. add cashews and water. Process until smooth. Return puree to skillet.
Step Four. Return skillet to medium-high heat and stir in chopped greens and buttermilk and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer until flavors have blended, about 5 minutes, Season with salt and pepper, add cheese and toss. Add cilantro and a few nuts on top. If you’re cooking this in advance, save the garnish for the day you serve.
Next up: Thai Stir Fry!