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Posted on August 27, 2015 at 6:00 am
For some reason, the end of August always feels rushed, frantic, and pretty stressful for me. I have a lot of catching up to do after three months of action-packed summer programs at the library, not to mention a fair bit of planning for this coming fall. In fact, I even have the pretty lofty goal of digging out my desk by the end of the month (if only so I have some empty space to fill up with new things by the end of September).
During this busy time, planning any sort of elaborate meal is off the table for me. I usually default to cooking the kinds of food my family had growing up near the end of summer—slow cooker, casserole, and one-pan meals.
As a kid, this time of the year was particularly chaotic with back to school being a big deal for the whole family, mom and dad included. As the high school custodian, my dad would spend most of August waxing floors, patching walls, and fixing any last minute things teachers needed as they started setting up their classrooms. And as one of those teachers, my mom and her cheap labor (also known as my siblings and I) spent weeks getting her classroom ready. Between all the work and nervous excitement over starting school again, the whole family was usually wiped out by the end of the day, so we kept meals simple.
For those who prefer a good casserole, Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock have got you covered with The Casserole Queens Cookbook. What I like best about this cookbook, aside from the delicious pictures and tempting recipes, is the diversity of the recipes. From breakfast to dessert, you’ll find a little of everything, including an entire section of lighter casserole recipes. And for the kids (or kids at heart), make sure to try the “Corn Dog Casserole”, which is certain to remind you of your favorite trip to the carnival. Most of the recipes are written for a full 9×13 casserole dish. If you decide to scale the recipes up or down, you’ll have to adjust your cook times so you don’t end up with a cold, soggy middle or a dry, burned outside!
If you want to truly embrace comfort food, Kendra Biley Morris’ The Southern Slow Cooker will help ease the chaos of a crazy week. She features over 60 affordable and low-prep meals that will take you right back to childhood. Her homemade “Frito Pie with Chili Con Carne” is miles above anything you might make with canned chili, and “Mom’s Fully Loaded Potato and Onion Soup” may actually be better than my own mom’s. With these recipes, I generally put it all together the night before, stick the glass insert portion of my slow cooker in the refrigerator overnight, and then pop it in to cook in the morning before I go to work. I love walking in after work to the amazing aroma and completely finished dinner. And even better, if you use slow cooker liners, your cleanup will be a breeze.
Rather than lugging my cookbooks around, I like to use my tablet to view recipes when I cook. I just tuck it into a gallon-size baggy, plop it on the counter, and continue on without having to worry about staining a library book, or getting greasy fingerprints all over the screen. If that sounds anything like your style of cooking, then you’ll definitely want to try our ebook version of Carla Snyder’s One Pan, Two Plates. With a goal of speed, taste, and as little cleanup as possible, these tasty recipes are a great way to spend more time eating your meal and less time preparing it. She even includes a section on helping you cook with speed that will assist you in making amazing recipes like “Lo Mein Noodles with Chicken, Snow Peas, and Peanut Sauce” in less than 30 minutes.
The fantastic thing about the recipes featured in these books is that most, if not all, of the prep work can be done ahead of time. Chop all your vegetables at one time, prep and cut your meat, and even boil noodles or mix batter a couple of days in advance. If you want to prep it all at the beginning of the week, you can even store most of the meals in the freezer. Just move them to the refrigerator the night before you plan to cook them, and then put them in the oven or on the stove when you get home.
While these aren’t all of the amazing cookbooks out there to help keep your cook time (and stress levels) down, they are a few of my favorites. What are some of your favorite low-prep, easy meals?
Other great reads:
One Pot, One Bowl – Kim McCosker
Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution – America’s Test Kitchen
The One Pot Gourmet – Pat Dailey
Year-Round Slow Cooker Recipes – Better Homes and Gardens
The New Indian Slow Cooker – Neela Paniz
One-Dish Vegetarian Meals – Robin Robertson
Weight Watchers One Pot Cookbook – Weight Watchers