There are a lot of reasons why people don’t cook, but the reasons I hear most often are related to three big factors:
Currently, there is also a cultural obsession with perfection, and being The Best at All The Things, including cooking. Being the best at cooking supposedly requires making everything from scratch, using only whole, fresh ingredients, getting every detail just right, and plating like a professional food stylist.
But most of us just want to feed ourselves, our families, and friends something tasty, that looks good to eat and doesn’t affect our health in too many awful ways.
I know many of you reading this blog are in the kitchen frequently, and I know there are some of you out there who don’t cook for yourselves often, if at all, and I also know you secretly would love to, but just can’t see yourself being successful.
But the whole point of this blog is to GET ALL OF YOU COOKING. So, I’ve developed a system I want to share with you that will get you started, no matter where on the cooking continuum you find yourself.
We’re going to start with Chicken Noodle Soup. Between the can and the stockpot there is a wide range of options that will get you closer to homemade without requiring a lot of time, money, or skill. With just a little more time and effort than it takes to open and heat a can of soup, you can make your own Chicken Noodle Soup with better flavor, lower cost, and ingredients you can feel confident using. From that beginning, you can work your way closer and closer to homemade by making simple substitutions for each ingredient.
Here are some canned “Homestyle” Chicken Noodle Soups. They all look about the same, and they all taste about the same. Each can holds about 2 1-cup servings, but they vary widely in cost, from $1.50/can for the grocery store brand, to $2.50/can for a nationally available brand. That means you’re paying between $0.75-$1.25 a serving for these soups. Only one is a condensed-style soup, which you add water to in the pot. The other three are “ready-to-serve” so you are also paying for water in those cans.
Doesn’t that soup look tempting, full of chicken and vegetables and noodles? The ingredients were all canned or frozen, except for the two superhero ingredients that give this soup a richer, homey flavor – butter and flour. I made it for only about $0.54 a serving, the recipe makes 4 1-cup servings, not 2, and there are still ingredients for more soup in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. It took maybe 10-15 minutes more time to make than it did to open and heat a 2-serving can of soup, and I never picked up a knife.
Sound like something you could do? I think so. I believe in you.
Here’s your shopping list:
- all-purpose flour (Buy a small bag and store in the refrigerator, if you don’t bake.)
- 1 10-oz bag frozen chopped onions
- 1 15-oz can mixed vegetables, or a bag of frozen mixed vegetables (plain, not those sauced/seasoned ones, you’ll pay more for stuff you don’t need)
- 1 9.75-oz can white meat chicken (or larger, my store’s brand was 12 oz)
- 1 jar bouillon powder (I used Herb Ox, it was the best buy)
- 1 bag dried egg noodles (I used medium, but if you like large, go for it)
Store brand ingredients are just fine, and they will save you some money. I took pictures as proof.
These are name-brand and store-brand canned mixed vegetables and canned chicken. The only difference between the two canned vegetables is which vegetables are in them. The only difference between the two canned chickens is how much fat and water are in the can. Their flavors are indistinguishable. So the choice is yours.
Here’s your recipe:
Pro Tip: ALWAYS READ A RECIPE ALL THE WAY THROUGH TWICE BEFORE YOU COOK.
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup frozen chopped onions
1 cup canned or frozen mixed vegetables, drained
1 cup canned chicken, drained and broken up a bit
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons bouillon powder
1/2 cup dried egg noodles
- In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, 1/2 cup mixed vegetables, and 1/2 cup chicken, and cook, stirring frequently, until everything is warmed and softened a bit. (Save the rest of the vegetables and chicken for the end of the recipe.)
- Add the flour, and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.
- Add the water and the bouillon powder, stir everything together, and bring to a boil over high heat (big, active bubbles are a boil). Stir in the egg noodles, lower the heat to medium-low (there should be a few bubbles – this is a simmer), and cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are just getting tender. (How will you know? Taste one or two at the 5-minute mark. You’ll know how close you are by how much chewiness is left in the noodle. Also check the package for recommended cooking time for a clue.)
- Once the noodles are nearly tender, add in the rest of the vegetables and chicken you have left, stir gently so some chicken stays in nice chunks, and warm through.
- Taste the soup, and if it seems bland, add a bit of salt and pepper. Careful, some of the ingredients are naturally salty. Don’t overdo it.
You can double this recipe to make 8 1-cup servings. Store all your unused ingredients in the refrigerator for up to three days, or in the freezer for a few weeks, and make more soup.
If you feel confident with a knife, here’s your next step closer to homemade: chop your own onion and carrots into small pieces, and use frozen peas, corn, and green beans.
If you have more time, here’s your next step closer to homemade: Before making soup, place 1 1/2 lbs. raw chicken breasts or thighs into 5 cups of water in a 3-quart saucepan, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is fully cooked and no longer pink. Remove from the heat, and remove the chicken from the pot to allow it to cool so you can handle it. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken, discard them, and chop, tear, or shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. If you’re not making soup right away, put the broth and chicken in the refrigerator. Use the broth and chicken when called for in the recipe. Store extra chicken and broth in the refrigerator, and make more soup in a couple of days.
If you’re feeling adventurous, add two teaspoons of your favorite dried herbs and spices to the soup at the same time as the butter and vegetables. Try an Italian spice blend, or an all-purpose salt-free seasoning blend.
What are you waiting for? Start today. Get in your kitchen, and get closer to homemade.