When we first got together, Amos decided to do the cooking, while I’d do the obsessive cleaning, organizing, and getting rid of things. Play to your strengths, right?
And when he joined me in California, I was delighted with his full English breakfasts and packed lunches, his Chicken Cordon Bleu and borscht and plov for dinner. I’d married a chef. Things were fantastic.
…but then he found work, and life got busier. I cleaned less often. And he found planning, prepping, and cooking for a household less rewarding than the spontaneity of a bachelor cook.
Now, we’ve both hit quarantine cooking fatigue and Amos has started fasting. This means I’d like to feed myself without wafting tempting smells around the house.
After browsing online, I posted on FB in amused frustration:
“I looked up healthy eating tips for people who hate to cook, and it’s either tips on prepping meals a month in advance… or recipes for how to pair storebought bread and butter, or carrots and ranch. Sadly, not one post suggested the most evident solution: hire a cook.”
But I was looking for ways to keep not cooking, only better.
Bare Minimum Cooking
I kept looking. Maybe someone had written about mindless cooking? No. Apparently you are supposed to watch heating implements. Bare minimum cooking? No, all I got was bare minimum parenting (which does suggest a market for un-cookbooks).
Even the easy recipes I found would still mean taking time to sort through others’ favorite foods, plan, shop, pull out instructions, and try new things… for up to 21 meals a week.
Which isn’t really the point of not cooking.
So I’ll have to write my own primer.
The goal? Minimize time and energy spent in food prep, make it routine to the point that you can mentally work out physics, philosophy or parenting dilemmas while you’re doing it, and use whatever food you have on hand.
My carefully-vetted and detailed recipes:
Spread it. Get out spreads, put them on breads. Anything that can adhere to a bread-like surface will do.
Stuff it. If you’re fancy, put things between breads. Now you have a sandwich, or a toasted panini. (But the latter takes two steps, which really isn’t worth doing for one item.)
Dip it. Cutting is the first step to meal prep, so try to avoid. Instead, buy pre-cut, let kids tear things apart with their tiny hands, or dip fruit and veg whole into various condiments.
Pop it. Always keep a few cans of ‘food’ on hand. You can transfer to a bowl to nuke it… but you can also pop the top and eat directly out of a can.
Spoon it. If it’s creamy or sweet, a simple open-and-spoon action will do.
Nuke it. Any food that’s not made of metal can probably be microwaved. (I can confirm that 3-2-1 Cakes and scrambled eggs are not great in the microwave, but they can be done.)
Broil it. I was skeptical, but Amos convinced me it’s barely cooking. Cheese on a tortilla turns into a crispy quesadilla with one minute of high heat. It’s like nuking, but in an oven. (That’s still too much work for me regularly, so I put the ‘dilla in the microwave for a few seconds until it’s lukewarm. But you do you.)
Stab it. Lots of things come in jars (pickles, tiny sausages) and all you have to do is stab them. Pre-mixed salads can also be stabbed. A+ hand action, would recommend. Look for the tiny Poseidon’s triton on the label in the grocery store (if there’s not one, there should be).
Slice it. Grate it. Pro cooks like Michael Pollan and Samin Nosrat might say that freshly sliced bread and cheese tastes best. And that may be true. But our goal is not to be pro cooks. It’s to have time to be pro… everything else. Buy pre-sliced when possible.
Grill it. I suppose grilling could be bare minimum cooking… if you have a grill lying around stocked with fuel, and someone brings you spiced meat or veggie kebabs, and turns on the grill for you. Then you can just read a book while it cooks.
Place it. Similarly, if someone hands you a frozen meal and you must place it in the oven at 350 F and take it out when you smell burning, that’s pretty close to no cooking.
Blend it. Place cold fruit or veggies and liquid in a blender. Mix into a smoothie. As long as you’re using whatever is slightly freezer-burnt and already in your house, I’ll let it pass.
Boil it. Wait, why are we boiling things? Watched pots take forever, and just when you forget about the pot and go into the other room and start organizing things, the pot overflows onto the floor. Bad idea.
How to non-plan your minimal meals:
I realize the recipes above are exhausting, but it does get easier. Just use the same motion every mealtime and vary the ingredients. For instance:
- Every morning: Spread something on something else.
- Every lunch: Dip something into something else.
- Supper: Place something near heat for nearly enough time, then eat.
- Late night snack: if you’re up past midnight, stabby is a good motion. Or with ice cream, spooning.
Things to avoid:
These are some of the kitchen verbs and culinary terms that I did not use, because why would you do this to yourself?:
Bake, Beat, Blend, Carve, Chop, Coat, Drizzle, Fry, Garnish, Grind, Knead, Marinate, Mash, Measure, Mix, Peel, Pinch, Roast, Saute, Scramble, Shred, Simmer, Sprinkle, Squeeze, Steam, Steep, Stir, Strain, Toss, Wash, or Whip.
Remember, when in doubt, ask yourself:
Does this require one step, or two?
If it requires two, put it back.