SingleParentChef.com

This site is geared toward providing easy recipes, tips and tricks for parents who are on their own.

Living Healthy?

I don't think of myself as an especially healthy eater. In line with that I've been putting off having a blood test - y'know the standard stuff - cholesterol, triglycerides, blah, blah. I figured I had so many eggs, red meat and beers (high quality craft beers, mind you), that my numbers would be pretty nasty.

That being said, I needed to have those tests done. My health insurance that I had through my soon-to-be-ex's plan was going to stop and I wasn't sure how much this kind of thing would be with my new plan. So I dragged my fearful butt to the hospital and had the blood taken, expecting some bad news in a couple of days.

About five days later I get a call from my doctor. I'm nervous, I work hard not to end the doctor's sentences and I prepare to tell him that I'll make all these changes to my diet, etc...

Well, it turns out my cholesterol is 202. I say, "is that bad?" He said "it should be 200 - you're almost exactly there!" I'm like wha??? me??? He also tells me my triglycerides are a bit high - 299 on a scale of 0-1000. He tells me that I'm eating too many carbs - (sounds like beer, bread and rice to me). Oh, and I need more vitamin D in my life. Being a studio rat and living in front of a computer most of my life - I can see that I might have a deficiency with regard to sun light - one of the major sources of D.

So I'm thinking - that he must be reading the wrong results, these aren't my numbers! But the doc assured me - my numbers were pretty damn good.

So now that it's been two weeks since I got that news, I've been thinking why is it that my numbers were as good as they were with all the 'bad' habits I thought I had. And then I started going though my daily eating habits and reviewing in my head what I eat habitually from day to day and I realized a some important things that I've been doing that are healthy:

  1. I eat 90% home-made food or food that's not processed with tons of chemicals, etc... I do eat ice cream from time to time, but only the good stuff (Americone Dream FTW). I rarely eat fast food and if I do get take-out it's from a place that makes things from scratch.
  2. I make my own bread. Since 2010 I have purchased store-made bread about 5 times. Every loaf of bread other than that has been made by yours truly with all natural - high quality ingredients. I'm very proud of this and I am certain that it goes a long way toward keeping my body healthy. BTW, I do not make white bread, I always make sure that my breads are at least 2/3 whole wheat.
  3. I don't drink soda or energy drinks.
  4. I don't put sugar in my coffee, I do put honey in it and for my tastes that is by far the better tasting sweetener.
  5. I eat freakin' Triscuits for almost every lunch with a bit of cheese (not American) and some Frank's Hot Sauce or sriracha on top.
  6. I drink high quality craft beers (Lagunitas Maximus and Founder's Dirty Bastard are my current faves). It's been determined that craft beers have the same effect on one's cholesterol as red wine, so drinking in moderation seems to be helping.
  7. I only use EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) or canola oil when I cook although I recently got some grape seed oil and it tastes great - might add that to my repertoire.

So I guess what I'm saying is that when I got my numbers from the doctor, it gave me pause to reflect and I discovered that I've actually been eating quite well and that I should keep up with what I've been doing although perhaps in smaller quantities. I do have to lose at least 20lbs.

Cheers - Rob Houghton

I Feel Like A Hypocrite (a bit)

Since I started this blog, I've been:

  • single - check,
  • A parent - check!
  • making homemade meals almost every night - check,
  • Cooking for three kids with a wide range in ages (21, 18 and 13) and tastes (don't even ask) - check!

But lately with my oldest still living with me, my middle child away at college and my youngest spending a lot more time with her mom, I don't feel so much as the Single Parent Chef as I feel like the Single Person Chef. Because of this, I've been hesitant to post any more recipes because I've not been making them as much.

Now, bear with me, I'm working this out as I type... So should I abandon this site, should I change the focus of the site or should I just continue on as before, calling on my twenty years of experience, cooking for my kids? The other wrinkle that's come up recently is that I've been counting my calories and have discovered that many of the meals I've put on this site are not ones that I would be eating now. Does that make me a hypocrite in yet another way? To quote Dr. Smith from Lost In Space - "Oh, the pain!"

So here I am, posting on a site dedicated to showing single parents the cooking basics and yet, I'm not sure I should.

I know, let's look at why I should continue 'as is'.

  • I do have many years of experience cooking for my kids
  • I have a better sense of nutrition and could lace that into some of my recipes
  • I like helping others, especially those who've been through the trauma of getting divorced/widowed, etc...
  • Hell, that's the name of the site!

Okay, I think I've worked it out. I will continue! I will make new recipes based on what I've done before with an eye on keeping the calorie count lower (whenever I can) and the foods healthy (with an occasional jump into extravagance land).

How does that sound? Let me know with your comments or send me an email from the contact page.

The Jury is adjourned!

 

 

A Change of Course

I must confess, I'm overweight. I've got your arch-typical middle aged belly and double chin in training. To give you an idea, on a good day I'm 5'4" and weigh almost 200 lbs. My weight is also the source of health problems - I have high blood pressure and have developed sleep apnea - YAY!!! I take three meds for my BP and am about to get one of those CPAP machines. 'What a drag it is getting old, and fat!"

If you've taken a gander at any of my recipes, you'll notice that I've espoused the Food TV approach of "damn the calories, this tastes good!" There's been little to no health compass in my choice of recipes. And for that, I'd like to say "yes, these foods taste great, but unless you run five miles a day, you will gain weight consuming them."

Recently, I've started using an app that I mentioned in my last posting - Lose It!. This app is great for keeping track of what you eat and how much you exercise. I've been using it consistently over the last 17 days and already it's easier for me to put my socks on.

The key, though, is to use it consistently over a long period of time. I'm not going to reveal my long term plan but suffice it to say that it will be over a span of months, not one of those "eat this for 10 days and lose 50 pounds!" diets. 

So here's the thing that I've discovered that's working for me in terms of staying on task - I've made a game out of it - 

For example: I like pan popped popcorn a great deal, I have it as a snack a lot. Sometimes when I've had a bit too much food during the day, my popcorn's calories will interfere with what I was planning on having for dinner. So out comes the calculator, the web and the scale and I whittle away, swap out and come up with some surprisingly tasty results. AND I can have my popcorn! This has become a game for me, an enjoyable one at that!

Apparently, I'm not the only one who likes to make games out of life affirming pursuits. In fact, now that I've watched her video again, I suppose that what Jane McGonigal had to say probably stuck in my head and helped engender my calorie game. Her TED talk about her concussion and the game she played to help her out of her life threatening condition is very inspiring and here it is: "The game that can give you 10 extra years of life" Perhaps this will inspire you to come up with games that work on areas of your life where you'd like to grow or improve.

I am not an animal!

I am not an animal!

So, my friends, as of today I am still playing this game - making sure that I'm totally honest about what I enter into my Lose It app and have hopes that perhaps in the future I won't have to take all those meds, that I'll be able to put my socks on with abandon and not look like and elephant when I go to bed.

 

Cheers!

 

Some New 'Discoveries'

Well hello! It's been awhile, hope you all have been well! I've been busy writing music and tending to issues with my job. I'm a teacher so I end up being very busy once September rolls around. Never the less, I've still been cooking. In fact, there's something about the Fall months that get my cooking juices flowing. As soon as that first brisk Autumn day arrives, my mind is drawn toward making casseroles and baking. I figure its part of the hibernation impulse that we inherited from our out-in-the-wild forefathers.

So here's some things that I've happened upon that are making my cooking life a bit more interesting.

I like to take pictures of breakfast for some reason, or maybe I like to take pictures on Saturday morning, not sure...

I like to take pictures of breakfast for some reason, or maybe I like to take pictures on Saturday morning, not sure...

1) Sopresseta Salami - you can get this at your local grocer. I usually get a loaf that is approximately 1.5 to 2" in diameter. There are many, many brands and types but the basic idea is that it is a dry Italian salami made from pork. What I've discovered is that when sliced thinly and fried for a few minutes on medium heat, you've got a wonderful alternative to bacon for your breakfast. It's almost like Canadian Bacon or Taylor Ham on steroids (not literally, mind you.) In addition, I use it sliced match-stick thin in salads for that little porky-spicy surprise (sounds like my wedding night) Oops! did I say that?

Lose It! Dammit!

2) Lose It! - this is an app for the Internets, Android and IOS that helps you keep track of your calories and if you're so inclined, your fat and carb intake also. I've been using it for the last two weeks to help lose weight, mainly because I was approached by an employee of a local aquarium, asking why I had escaped the Whale Pool.

There's some cool things about this app that keeps me using it:

A) any entries I make on my Android phone will show up almost immediately on any other device that uses that app, including the website LoseIt.com.

B) You can create your own foods and save them for reuse.

C) you can use previous meals that you've taken the time to painstakingly enter into the system for that day's log. In addition, you can deselect foods from that meal if you're not eating that particular item that day.

D) It also keeps track of your exercise and subtracts those calories that you've burned from your intake that day. Rode your stationary bike for 30 minutes? You've now made room for that Almond Horn. Yum!

3) Sortedfood.com - my daughter turned me on to this web site/YouTube channel and these guys from England are not only funny, but they show how to make great food! Although I'm on a diet, I'm going to be making their version of the Cronut real soon. What's great is that one of their presenters is actually a trained chef so it adds a level of credibility. Of course, that doesn't mean you should stop coming to this site...hey! WAIT! STAY!!!!  ;)

See, they have nice teeth too!

See, they have nice teeth too!

So that's a bit of what's been going on in my food world. If you have any thoughts about great food sites, please let me know so I can check them out too - Best!


Gimme Dat Recipe!

Get me the Lysol!

I've been collecting recipes off the web for almost 20 years now (can you believe it?) and I have a large collection of crusty pages from over the years that are becoming unmanageable and I have to throw them out. Unfortunately, the recipe sometimes isn't available any more which requires transcribing the recipe while wearing a haz-mat suit or attempting to find a suitable replacement.

Thankfully, I've found a way to store my recipes without relying on printed pages or web browser bookmarks. This boon to cooking-kind is Evernote!

Evernote is an app that can run on your desktop, in your browser and on your phone or tablet. It's got versions for Mac, PC and Andriod (haven't checked Windows Phone yet). In addition to Evernote proper, I'm particularly fond of an add-on app called Evernote Web Clipper. This little gem will take a web page and parse out all the unnecessary stuff and leave you with a nice, clean presentation. It then archives the clipped page it in your Evernote cloud storage (free of charge) - available whenever and wherever you need it. And you can print it out too!

Here's and example of what this beauty does:

  • Here's a screen shot of a recipe I'd like to snag (notice all the promos, etc... - 
recipe I want
  • Article Clip: here's a picture of the page grabbed with just the main article. Notice the extra junk is faded out but there's still that annoying promo stuff in the bottom left in the black box.
Full Article
  • Slimplified Article (best): Here's the simplified article. This is the one that I usually grab - don't need that other stuff. Beautiful, is it not? (note: the screen capture that I used for this doesn't show the entire recipe. Trust me, you get the whole thing when using Evernote Web Clipper)
  • Full Page Clip: There's a full page grab which I'm not going to bother showing you. The whole point of this process is to separate the wheat from the chaff and the full page view is full of chaff - natch?
  • Bookmark Clip: Here's what the Bookmark grab looks like. This one would not work if the page was taken down, so I'm not a big fan of this type of 'clip'.
bookmark clip
  • Screenshot Clip: Lastly, this is the screenshot clip. This isn't useful unless the whole recipe is on one screen or if you use multiple screenshots. What is cool about it is that you can markup your screenshot with highlights, arrows and the sort. Also, if you have a pic of someone stirring their gumbo in the nude, you can pixelate their nasty bits with the pixelator tool.
Oh, those naked tortellini! What's this world coming to? But seriously, check out the helpful arrows and highlights. I might find this useful somewhere along the line.

Oh, those naked tortellini! What's this world coming to? But seriously, check out the helpful arrows and highlights. I might find this useful somewhere along the line.

So this is a taste of what Evernote and it's Web Clipper can do. Now-a-days I store all my newly found recipes in Evernote; all pared down into the needed content and it's always available whenever and wherever I want.

BTW, basic use of Evernote like I've described in this article is totally free. You can upgrade to a premium account and that's less than $7/month.

If you already use Web Clipper and Evernote and have some cool uses for it, please let me know.

When You're Alone...

For some of us, we're seldom by ourselves. We have accepted the responsibility of taking care our kids most of the time with occasional breaks in the action. As your kids get older, 'me time' will happen much more often. Regardless of how much time you've got to yourself, you need to take advantage of it.

This can be both enjoyable and miserable at the same time. I know that when I am suddenly alone there's an initial pang of sorrow. I get so used to being called on to help with the myriad activities of my kids that the vacuum left by their disappearance leaves a void. Thankfully, I have learned that this feeling quickly passes and I realize this time is a valuable space to recharge my batteries and believe it or not - HAVE FUN!

SPOIL YOURSELF (occasionally) - For me, that fun often comes in the form of making a meal that I wouldn't necessarily make for my kids. I'll go out and buy a nice juicy steak, saddle up with some fresh Brussel sprouts and concoct a luscious, over-indulgent meal that if made on a regular basis, would both bankrupt me and eventually kill me!

Believe it or not, these meals will become memorable events and guide posts for how one will be able to pay more attention to our own needs in the future - a future that will eventually arrive, trust me, it will!

SELF EXPRESSION - Another thing that I've come to enjoy when alone is this blog! You may notice that I've been contributing on a more regular basis as of late. This is a byproduct of my youngest (12 years) spending Saturdays with either her Mom or friends. Blogging allows me to reaffirm thoughts that I've had and share them with others who might be going through similar situations. Kind of like an exhibitionist's diary.

What you might be able to glean from this is that taking time to write down whatever is going on inside your head is an extremely powerful form of expression. Even if no one reads your words, simply expressing them in this form is very healthy. It's a kind of pressure valve that keeps one on an even keel.

If you're not a 'words' person, then get your sketch pad out or play your guitar...do something that expresses yourself and do it for yourself and no one else.

So let's see... indulging yourself with a fantastic meal, self-expression, what else is there? Oh, friends! I forgot all about them.

FRIENDS - Many of us are so involved with our day to day family adventures that we can loose touch with our friends. Making a point of getting together with them is one of the most important things you can do. Especially if one or more of them have been in a similar situation. Talking it out is incredibly healthy. And outside of that, just hanging out and having fun is crucial to a happy self.

I'm sure I've missed many things that we can enjoy when we're alone. The main idea, though, is to make sure you take full advantage of your time by yourself - you deserve it!

Shishka Wow!

Just a quick one regarding my posting on Shish Kabob.

I had some leftover uncooked kababs in the fridge one morning and I didn't want to go to the trouble of firing up the grill pan, etc.. So, instead I simply unsheathed the kabobs into my 10" cast iron pan on medium high heat with some olive oil to coat, sprinkled some of my favorite paprika seasoing and let it fry until the chicken was done and the lightly veggies browned.

I then put the ingredients into a bowl, doused lightly with soy sauce and crumbled some 4 cheese Cheez-itz over the top. Let that sit.

Then I quick fried an over-easy egg and put that on top with some sriracha sauce. Be sure to break the yoke right away so it mixes with its friends underneath.

OMG!!!

Give it a shot, it's GOOD!

 

Money Money Money!!!

Ok, first off, suffice it to say I'm no Donald Trump. Not only do I not have a teased out guinea pig on my head, I don't have poop loads of money. In fact, as time progresses, I have less and less money to throw around let alone spend on fun stuff.

I also have a feeling that many of you are in the same boat. As one's week progresses there can be unforseen expenses that can throw off your budget. 

This is where creativity comes in. This is where thinking outside the box occures. This is where help from others comes into play.

For this posting I'd like to show you some of the resources I use to get through the week when things are tight. This is where I've gotten many of my all time favorite and inexpensive recipes.

allrecipeslogo.jpg

1) Allrecipes.com - this site is great for finding many work week recipes that don't need exotic ingredients that cost an arm and a leg. From here I've found some of my favorite recipes that are both quick to make and inexpensive. I recommend that you make an account so that you can have their recipe box to store any recipes you might want to try.

2) MyFridgeFood.com - this site is fantastic! I've just recently found it so that I'm not completely familiar with all of its features. Never the less, with just a few visits, it has been very useful.

The whole idea here is that you check off ingredients that you have in your Fridge (actually you whole kitchen) and then ask the site to find recipes that use all or most of those ingredients. In addition to your results, you can filter it with regard to calories and budget. I particularly like the "College Corner" filter. It gives me recipes that are both age appropriate for my kids and inexpensive.

3) Cooks.com - Although not as cloud friendly as Allrecipes.com, it has many simple recipes that work great if you're in a hurry. It doesn't take a lot of searching to find a recipe with a few ingredients that works great. You'll have to bookmark the stuff you like since it doesn't have any account features. Never the less, definitely worth searching.

4) MountainMommaCooks.com - this site has great recipes. I use her bread pudding recipe often and its the best bread pudding recipe (not to mention the home made caramel sauce) EVER! She's also got a great sense of humor and seems to care a great deal about health and fun. It's nice to have a human attached to recipes. Take that, algorithms!

 You know something? I think that's enough for now. Chew on those sites for a while. I'd really recommend going to MyFridgeFoods.com now if you're tight on money and you need to use what you've got on hand.

Keep on keeping on and be the best Single Parent Chef you can!

Cheers!


I Like Alton Brown (doesn't everyone?)

I have been a fanboy of many TV cooks/chefs over the years. My first fandom occured back in the late 60's/early 70's with Graham Kerr. I simply loved his sense of humor and his deep love of food. His infectiously fun-loving manner has reinforced my approach to cooking, music and teaching.

Then there was Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. Although his memory is somewhat discolored by events that came to the fore near the end of his life, I never-the-less enjoyed his show and his love of food and community. Many of his recipes are still part of my repertoire.

And then came Alton Brown. What can I say? The man loves technology, as I do, loves food, as I do, loves humor (not to mention Monty Python) which I do and loves the intellectual, investigative aspect of food and it's history - something that I didn't know I love, but do now.

I'd have to say my fandom of Alton rivals that of Graham Kerr. Although imprinted with Graham as a young duckling, Alton's volume of work and variety of approaches to food on TV has pretty much sealed at least a tie.

Good Eats first came into my world in the early 2000's. At the time I was a full time teacher and stay at home dad the rest of the time. That meant that especially during the Summer, I found myself glued to the TV watching Food Network. I had been used to the usual cooking show format where the chef/star would do a small lead-in and then get to cooking. The production values were mediocre at best, particularly in those days, and your knew what your were going to get.

Emeril Lagasse has broken that mold to a certain extent by making a talk-show/party out of the format. But it still was: set-up, cook, taste, bye bye! format.

And then came Good Eats. First off, the procudtion values were big-network quality, or very nearly, there was obviously some good writing as the backbone of the show and time and effort was made to get a point across along with showing us how to cook - very often in creative ways.

I was excited. This was a cooking show format that transcended the usual and blazed new territory for cooking shows to come (or at least I thought so). Over the years I have watched almost all of the shows except for the last season, I can't seem to bring myself to watch the last few shows...weird, huh?

Many of the techniques and approaches that Alton has taught are now part and parcel of my kitchen - wooden cutting boards for veggies, plastic for meats - multi-taskers only in my kitchen (fire extinguisher excluded, thank you) - doing things from the ground up where possible so as to avoid unwanted ingredients and invite good taste - the list goes on.

And then there's the Feasting series! I have watched all three repeatedly. Along with the DVD's of Feasting on Asphalt I I have my cherished DVR copies of Feasting on Waves and Feasting on Asphalt II. Alton's approach to and embrace of the home-grown cook is on full display here not to mention his motor cycling skills. BTW, does anyone know why the second and third series aren't available on DVD? Oh, well.

Since Good Eats has come to an end, Alton seemingly has moved up to NYC to do Iron Chef and his new show Cutthroat Kitchen one which shows off his food knowledge and the other his propensity for being a mischeivious mixer. Both are entertaining but neither smack of the kind of ground breaking genre busting fun that came from Good Eats.

That being said, I still am excited to see where this giant of the TV food world will go next. He's currently touring with a one man show about food - The Edible Inevitable Tour. In it not only does he do comedy and cooking, he SINGS and plays guitar. I have yet to see this show and don't know if I'll get out to it this time around. Hopefully it'll be a success and we'll see more from Alton on Broadway in the near future.

Who would have thought that all this would come from a film student that decided to change careers in mid-stream? Rarely does the world cough up such a talented, driven, inspired artist, yes, artist as Alton Brown. But boy am I happy that it did!

Deconstruct and Declare Victory!!!

With three kids ages 19, 16 and 10; one finds that there's a wide variety of appetites and palettes.  It's virtually impossible to come up with meals to make all three happy.  As I continue to explore the possibilities for a solution, I've come upon an approach that works. 

 The basic idea behind this approach is you make a base food, usually a starch like rice, spaghetti, mashed potatoes and then make groups of foods from which your kids choose.  Often I'll make a deconstructed stir fry.  What this entails is making rice.  I then make a sautéed veggie blend of some onions and peppers with chicken broth which is thickened with corn starch in soy sauce which makes an Asian 'gravy'.  Lastly, I prep the protein, usually steak or chicken, sometimes pork.  Then it 'soup's up' time - the kids simply choose which 'topping' they want in their meal and job's done.  A variation on this is with spaghetti.

Also, the way you separate the prepped foods depends on what combinations your kids prefer.  If I were to describe what foods my kids like and don't like and how they intersect, I be tempted to draw a very complex Venn Diagram.  Suffice it to say that through the years, a parent knows darn well what food which kid likes and this system does cut down on the level of effort compared to making three separate meals.
 
Another approach which is closely related but does require a bit more effort is to make two of the usual components of dinner - a starch and vegetable that all three will agree upon and then prep different proteins.  This usually ends up as rice or linguine with peas, corn or broccoli and the girls getting the more adventurous food (fish, shrimp, etc...) and my picky boy getting some kind of chicken or beef entrée.
 
Again, this is not as streamlined as preparing just one meal for all three and some folks may suggest that I'm making unreasonable concessions to the demands of my 'spoiled' children.  I think otherwise and say that as long as the growth of their palettes of is on the upswing, and it is, I'm willing to accommodate them from time to time. I don't regard the dinner table as a place to make some kind of stand, rather its a place where we all can be nurtured and reconnected from the day's often fragmenting influences.  So if you're so inclined, deconstruct a meal or two and see if your kids end up enjoying  what would otherwise be a dinner disappointment as a supper surprise.

 

I Don't Buy Bread!

Ever since I found myself as the weekday meal maker , I've taken on the cause of making from scratch as much of the food my kids consume as possible. Although I've not taken on making ice cream yet ( actually I have since writing this - ed.), I did commit to making my family's bread 'from scratch'.

I'm not really sure why I chose bread as one of my 'from the ground up' foods, maybe it was the smell of the bread as it bakes or the fact that I knew exactly what was going into the damn stuff that moved me to spend indespnsible 'me' time producing it. Never the less, about one to two times a week I find myself in the kitchen taking the temperature of hot water, activating yeast, measuring flour, adding those special ingredients that only a home baker could, kneeding the dough as my arms ache... WAIT! I don't kneed the dough, I have my bread machine do it!

That, my friends, is why I even consider making bread on a regular basis. I did try making bread without the help of technology and it was too involved for me to consider it as part of my regular cooking regimen. What I have found though, is that I only use the bread maker to do the tortuous mixing/kneeding. I set the bread maker to 'dough' mode and in 90 minutes I have dough that is almost ready to hit the heat. All I have left to do is take the dough out of the bread machine's bin, remove the paddle that makes that stupid hole in the middle of the crust, kneed it a couple of times, place it in a bread pan lined with parchment paper, let it sit for and hour, bake it at 325F for 25-30 minutes and there ya' go - FRESH HOMEMADE BREAD.

My kids love the stuff and I get to experiment with different recipes. My last 'success' was a hybrid combination of a bread machine white bread and a honey whole wheat bread. It's good!

So, I guess what I'm saying is - take the plunge! If you can mix ingredients and take the temperature of water, then you are all good to go with making your own bread for you and your kids.

A Possible Cross-Promotion?

I'm a fan of PeaPod.com.  When I place my bi-weekly order, I sometimes browse the new product area for an infusion of variety.  On my last excursion to this part of the site, I came upon HotPockets Snackers. Curious to a fault, I ordered a bag.

Upon their arrival, I put some on a plate and heated them up right away.  When I took them out of the oven I noticed that these little morsels had arranged themselves into a familiar design, one that is very reminiscent of something I've seen many times in Nintendo's Zelda Games.

Could this be a cross-promotional tie-in in the works?  You tell me.

Pick A Day & Cook Away!

One of the tenants of my approach to feeding my family is to make fresh food as often as possible. Granted, trips to fast food joints are not completely avoidable, but these excursions should be the exception, not the rule.

Now that sounds great in concept but in practice, this is not as easy as one would like. Some days you're the taxi driver, others you're the homework helper and in general weekdays are just too busy for one to spend hours in the kitchen. So how does the single parent get food on the table that's made from scratch and as healthy as one would prefer? The answer is "pick a day and cook away!"

What I mean by that is set aside a day where you have time to prepare two or three large meals that you can reheat during the week and to which you can add variety with your choice of veggies and other side dishes.

Here's an approach I like to use on Sundays (my day of choice). First off, I find a dish that I can prepare in a slow cooker.  For instance, I like to make a Short Rib Recipe that even my picky son will eat.  When it's done, I've got some very tender rib meat with a lot of sauce that goes great with rice, pasta or even fries. The other great thing about this recipe is that the prep time is pretty short and once it's off and running, I can make something else while the ribs are filling the house with an other-worldly smell.

Another great recipe to make that the kids absolutely love is Shepherd's Pie. This one does require some time - you need to make home made mashed potatoes and prep the chop meat; but this one is a guaranteed home run and you need only add a veggie to make the meal complete.

At this point, I've got enough food prepared to take care of Sunday night and probably 3-4 more days of good eating.  One last recipe that I like to sneak in is a Bisquick Quiche that is quite versatile. In fact, I often make this using left overs from the last few days. The beauty of this bad boy is that you don't need a crust to make it so there's no running to the store for a frozen crust or negotiating the perils of home made crust. And again, just add ruffage and you're good to go!

By the time I've finished making the quiche, it's time to eat and I let the kids choose which dish they'd like for dinner.  I then pack away what's left and I'm all set for the rest of the week.  This way, when my daughter has thirty minutes to eat or my youngest it getting picked up early by my ex, I'm not running to Burger King for an order of childhood obesity.  Instead, I'm providing them with a well-balanced meal of food that I've prepared with ingredients that I've picked. Oh, and I've got a bit of time for myself - fancy that!

Kitchen Fasting

I have a friend that periodically fasts in order to clear out her system.  She drinks certain teas and eschews chewing for at least a day or so in an effort to rid her body of toxins.  Now, although I don't do this, I do see the benefit and I've started to apply this approach to my kitchen...yes, my kitchen.

You see, from pay period to pay period I collect food in excess of my family's needs and find myself with something like eight cans of French onion soup, twenty plus almost ready to expire snack bags, more Bisquick than I can shake a stick at and a freezer with half-bags of frozen veggies, one pork chop, three opened bags of French fries and a bevy of plastic wrapped chicken thighs randomly tossed about.

When this state of affairs gets to the point of storage anarchy I decide that I need to clear things out and go on a food buying fast.

This may seem easier than it really is.  One of the problems is that there may not be enough of a particular food to make a whole meal for the family.  Another is that a lot of what's left in the fridge is food that the kids either didn't want to eat in the first place (experiments) or grew tired of.

This is where the creativity comes in (either that or the dogs). For instance, I had about a half pound of frozen chop meat, a jar of mac and cheese sauce whose twin the kids didn't like, three partially used boxes of linguine and a dusty (unopened) packet of chili mix just sitting in their respective storage areas waiting for the grim chucker to send them on their way to the land fill.

Then I remembered a dish one of my friends at work mentioned: a chili-cheese casserole which he thought my kids would love.  Now, I didn't have the macaroni or twirly pasta that he recommended, but I did have linguini and I did have my quest for ingredient frugality. So I thawed and fried up the chop meat, added some water as per the chili package recipe, added the chili seasoning and added the cheese sauce.  After cooking the linguini, I put the pasta in a bowl and generously covered it with the chili-cheese concoction.  Along with a quickly thrown together salad of lettuce and cucumber and my frugal feast was a hit!

This is just one example of many creative combinations that I've come up with when pressed with the limitation of using only in-house ingredients.  It may not be haut cuisine, but it does take care of two important needs - feeding the kids and using up food that would otherwise would have been thrown out.

So I encourage you to occasionally put the breaks on that food spending compulsion, take stock of what you have in the house and push those boundaries of culinary coupling.  It's fun and it's good for your fridges digestion!

 

Just Like An African Grey

There are birds that live so long that you need to include them in your will.  Well I've come across a tool in my kitchen that I'll have to put in my will - the cast iron skillet!

For years I've used either Caphalon or non-stick treated pots and pans. They served their purpose but even the Caphalon eventually went the way of the albatross.

In addition, my daughter recently bought a bird and as you may know, these critters can be made ill and even die when a pan treated with Teflon becomes overheated. Apparently, when reaching a certain temperature, the pans emit a gas dangerous to the bird's lungs. 

So now I'm in need of some new gear and don't have the bucks for Caphalon and can't use Teflon treated stuff, what's a house-dad to do? Look on Amazon for the untreated pan bargain of the week, that's what!

Armed with my Amazon Prime account and an inkling as to what I'm looking for, I come across 13" and 10.5" cast iron pans made by the US company Lodge, both under $20!  I figure, heck, I'll give it a try.  If they don't work out, I can always leave them in the garage with the old rusted Dutch Oven my Dad put to pasture.

Two days later, my little friends come to the door and I immediately put the small pan to work. I decide to cook up some eggs over-easy. This should inform me as to whether or not they'll be a suitable replacement for my old non-stick pans.

Well, things didin't turn out as well as I would have liked.  The eggs stuck a little bit and left that plasticy residue on the pan. Never the less, I followed the instructions that came with the pan and scrubbed it clean with a soft brush and hot water, dried it immediately and rubbed vegetable oil onto every surface (of the pan, that is). 

At this point I was leary of these pans and was tempted to run to the local Target and pick me up some Teflon bird-killers.  Thankfully I restrained myself and the next chance I had, I cooked me up some liquid meat (eggs) and this time they stuck less, in fact they were almost perfect!  Repeated attempts were more successful than the last and I would say that at this point these beauties work just as well if not better than their non-stick counterparts.

Not to mention, the way these bad boys retain heat due to their dense construction, food browns much better and create more of that carbon-based flavor of love than those hipster non-stick abomonations.

The only drawback I can think of is that these mofos are heavy!  My 13" pan is destined to give me Arnold Schwarzenegger forearms.  I'm talking Terminator one guns, no middle-aged bags o'flab.

In conclusion, I love my new pans made by Lodge.  As far as I can tell, I'll never need a non-stick carcino-plated parrot-polluter for the rest of my life.  And even if I live to the obnoxious age of 100, I'll still be adding that line onto my will that'll bequeath good ole 10" and 13" to my next of kin.

Where Have You Bean?

Well, I'll tell you. Not only am I a single parent chef, but I'm also a single parent fix-it guy and I've spent most of the Summer restoring a bedroom and living room.  So, other than making meals for my crew and experimenting here and there with various new recipes, I've been in dormancy mode with regard to imparting words of cooking wisdom.

That being said, I'm going to start dipping my toes in the podcast waters once again and I hope to have a new video up within the next couple of weeks.  So stay tuned, and keep your eyes peeled for more 'nuggets' of culinary expediency and wonder from The Single Parent Chef!

Welcome to SingleParentChef.com

Hi! My name is Rob Houghton.  I'm a newly seperated father of three and enjoy making quick, healthy meals for my kids.

Upon getting separated, I fortunately had been the main meal maker for the family, so I wasn't particularly shocked or unable to make good food for my kids.  That being said, along with all of the other adjustments that came along, I started to think about the difficulties parents who didn't know how to cook were facing.  Meals that I may regard as easy, 15-minute throw-together dishes probably seem like insurmountable tasks for someone who had never boiled water or cut an onion.

So, here I am, comfortable with the ways of the kitchen - embarking on the unfamiliar arena of blog posting and video production, hopefully providing you folks with information that's useful and entertaining.

So, without any further blather, LET'S DO SOME COOKING!