Stacey Explains It All #1: Capsule Cooking

During a recent conference, it was suggested to me that I start sharing my life skills with other young, single, women ministers (and maybe make them available to other people who might be interested, too) in a blog or video series called “Stacey Explains It All.” Those who know me well may immediately realize (and be amused/irritated at) how much this plays into my desire to be a generalized expert in all things, but the fact is, if I am an expert at anything it is living my own life. Sharing that knowledge here instead of dispensing it spontaneously and unsolicited seems a wise choice.

Eating healthy and delicious food when you are a single person with an extremely full and variable schedule is hard. People with spouses and children also have challenges, I know, so do not come for me with your competition over who has it hardest. I simply don’t know anything about feeding households full of people, so my blog isn’t about that. I’m confident you can find about a million that are. My diet, if I’m not careful, turns into a series of takeout and fast food, and having access to UberEats has not helped that in the least. That’s not good for my health or my wallet. The busy single person’s particular needs tend to be food that is quick or can be prepared in advance and reheated, and easy to either make in small portions or split into servings that can be used later. About 90% of this is having the right things on hand. Bonus points if meals require minimal planning or decision-making.

Blame my solidly Midwestern upbringing and my northern European heritage; unless I am making something very specific, I tend to think of meals in terms of a meat/protein, a starch, and a vegetable or blend thereof, followed by seasonings/sauces/condiments. The staples I keep in my house reflect that. Fortunately, this makes for the meal equivalent of a capsule wardrobe: capsule cooking. Few decisions, and everything matches.

In my freezer:
– An assortment of meats in single and double portions. When I find a good sale, I like to order Omaha Steaks packages, which send beef, chicken, pork, and fish packaged as single servings. Alternately, I buy large packages of chicken breasts or thighs, chops, etc., and then split them by twos into quart freezer bags.
– If I have time immediately after shopping, I cook 4 chicken breasts, split it into two portions, and season each batch differently – usually one with a fajita seasoning, and the other with Italian spices or a more general blend of salt, pepper, and rosemary/thyme/paprika/whatever I have on hand. Then I put them in quart bags and freeze them. When I want a meal with chicken, it only takes a few minutes to thaw it and mix it together with vegetables, put it over rice or pasta, or throw it on a tortilla or sandwich.
– Frozen vegetables. I’d love to rely more on fresh, but my schedule makes buying fresh produce an exercise in throwing away money. I’ve basically given up on buying it unless I know exactly what I am making and when. I particularly like blends like these:

Microwave, mix with chicken, pour on rice or pasta, eat. With the sauced varieties, there’s no need for additional seasoning.

In my cupboard:
Ah, apartment living. I used to have a full pantry; now I have a single cupboard for non-perishables. But I always try to have in it:
– 2-3 types of pasta,
– A variety of rice (brown, jasmine), some in microwaveable packets for when I’m especially rushed,
– Assorted other grains/starches; I usually have some combination of quinoa that I forget to eat, grits, polenta, and potatoes,
– Beans, both dried and canned (dried are cheaper, canned are faster…you know which gets used more in this house).
– Olive oil for cooking things.

In the fridge:
– Eggs. I use eggs constantly, and have panic attacks when I run out. Like right now, I have no eggs, and it feels like I have NO FOOD, even though I have all the other things I just listed. In a later episode of Stacey Explains It All, I will share with you my quest to perfect every possible egg preparation.
– Milk.
– Butter. The real stuff. It lasts a long time and margarine is terrible.
– Cheese – almost always Parmesan, cheddar, and Colby-jack, usually some fancier kinds too.
– Duck fat. What? Okay, you aren’t required to have this, but I highly recommend it.

Basically, to feed yourself things that taste good, you only need salt and pepper. None of your food will taste good without these things.
– Garlic in some form that is usable to you is a big plus. I usually use fresh, whole cloves, but even for me this is sometimes too much work. Thus I also have a jar of already peeled cloves, and another jar of minced garlic, and garlic powder, and garlic salt.
– I usually have an onion or two around, but once you get into chopping and sautéing things, then you’re Actually Cooking, and this is just about what to keep around so you can make things with minimal effort. I’ll cover Actual Cooking later.
– I also have a drawer full of spices and blends, and a window of herbs. You don’t have to do that, but if you’re inspired to have these things, it makes it easy to zip up your meals a bit and feel like you’re being fancy even if it actually took you five minutes. Chives are super easy to grow and snip up over your food, and suddenly it looks like you “plated your dish.” Magic.

Single Secret
I don’t actually have all these things at all times.

But it doesn’t matter in the least.

Everything matches. Even if you only have one thing from each of these categories, you can still make a delicious and reasonably healthy meal.

On Friday, I was a jet lagged mess who was trying to pull together a sermon and catch up on all the work I missed while I was away at a conference. Technically I had time to cook, but the energy was lacking. So: chicken breast with fajita seasoning, brown rice, fiesta vegetable mix. For the first meal, I layered it, melted cheese over the top, poured on some salsa, and called it a fiesta bowl. That was so good I ate it for two meals. Today the mixture went into a tortilla and became a burrito. There’s kind of an awkward amount left – not quite enough for a meal, too much to give to the dog – so tomorrow I’ll scramble it with an egg for breakfast. If you have greens, it’s also good as a salad.

This works for almost any combination.

Steak/pork/chicken, Asian vegetable mix, rice? Stir fry! (or faux fry)

Chicken (or ground beef, or pork, or sausage), peas, angel hair? With some butter and parmesan, a pasta dish strongly resembling those I had in Sicily. No chicken? Get your protein by mixing an egg into the hot pasta, or throw in some white beans.

Mix it with an egg, it’s a scramble. Put some broth or stock in it, it’s a soup. Chop it up with some lettuce, it’s a salad.

Basically any meat/starch/veg combination can be either served like a traditional meal with the elements separate, or mixed together and served as a bowl or stew. Usually a mix of two portions of meat, a bag of frozen vegetables, and a microwaveable packet of rice or similar amount of starch make 3-4 meals, which I portion out into plastic containers and either eat throughout the week, or freeze for a fast meal option later.

The capsule cooking approach is also really easy to adapt for Actual Cooking by using more fresh ingredients and interesting seasoning combinations, but its real strength is that you can have everything on hand to prepare satisfying, nutritious food in about ten minutes, with leftovers for lunches ready in three minutes. I like to cook, but when time is tight, capsule cooking gets me by on many days.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Not Perfect says:

    You just described my cooking life. Weird. The only difference being that I am currently addicted to bagels with real butter and cream cheese at this time. Sigh.

    1. Stacey Midge says:

      Funny! It just shows we are both people of good sense.

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