Help Me Cook With One Leg Tied Behind My Back
November 30, 2020 6:49 AM   Subscribe

I've recovered enough from my broken knee to get around the house on one crutch. Yay! This means I can also get into the kitchen and COOK STUFF. Yay! But I'm not all the way there and need to remember that. Boo! Help me meal plan!

What I mean is: ordinarily I am a fairly ambitious home cook, who would think nothing of making Moroccan tagines and lasagna and cassoulets and such as part of my regular meals. However, that also involves a lot of twisting and turning and pivoting and crossing the kitchen multiple times to get this spice out of the cupboard or that thing out of the fridge; my ability to mise en place is a little limited due to a dearth of counter space, so I'm used to just fetching things as I need them. I also like to have some kind of vegetable component with every meal - even if it's just a handful of mesclun as a salad.

Now, though, that kind of pivoting and turning and walking a lot is hampered by my knee still being really weak. I also am prone to wanting to sit down after an extended standing-up, so nothing that would require me to stand at the stove and be constantly stirring something for a full 20 minutes.

I can handle simple soups that are a puree of some root vegetable - mainly that takes standing in one place for a spell and chopping/slicing the vegetable into a pot and then adding water, and then bringing the pot to the oven (or asking my roommate to do it for me) and then cooking it. So I'm thinking "cup of soup plus [x]" may be the way to go; I'll just make big pots of whatever and dole the soup into single-serving containers, so I just have to heat one up when I make [x].

So I need ideas to solve for [x]! I've tried a toasted open-face cheese sandwich, and that worked; I think I can also handle a simple tuna noodle casserole for one (the cream sauce would be from scratch, but that would only be about five minutes of stirring, I think). Omlettes have also worked.

Or, if you know some kind of stew that is dump-in-a-pot-and-turn-the-oven-on easy to make, and I could just serve over rice, that would work as well.

Looking for ideas that are:

* Simple, or only have a few easily-assembled ingredients (I tend to forget my "new normal" when I look for recipes on my own)
* do not require standing for a long period of time to prepare it
* are not too heavy for someone to carry to an oven or a stove
* would pair nicely with a cup of a homey cream-of-something soup

Assume a lot of kitchen experience and decent access to different ingredients. bonus points if it uses sweet potatoes (we have a SHIT-TON from my CSA).
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Smashed sweet potatoes with some butter or heavy cream is easy and delicious, if you leave the skins on and top generously with walnuts it's fairly healthy and filling. Add cinnamon/allspice/nutmeg if that sounds good.

You can also mix the mash with an egg and form into patties and fry them a bit like latkes for extra fun.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:56 AM on November 30, 2020

I think sheetpan meals are super easy and versatile. And sweet potatoes are amazing when seasoned and roasted in chunks. For example, I'd make these Harissa Veggies, and throw a protein on the sheetpan at the appropriate time. You can do a chicken breast if you like, or some pre-cooked sausages chopped into chunks (cut-side down on the pan for delicious browning).
posted by hydra77 at 7:22 AM on November 30, 2020

Can you do your food chopping sat at a table? Work out what will be added to the pan together and stick that in a Tupperware, then say the onion that goes in first can be in a bowl nestled on top? Your mis-en-place can be stacked like this (I also have limited space and ability to stand!).

I make a lot of roasted meat/fish and veg traybakes. So roast the veg for 15-20 minutes then stick the fish or chicken on top and roast for an additional 15-20 minutes.
posted by ellieBOA at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

And before I was gluten and dairy free I did filo pastry with pesto, veg, in the oven.
posted by ellieBOA at 7:31 AM on November 30, 2020

Cheese Spinach Pie seems like it would fit your requirements, and will probably end up being a favorite even when your knee is better. There's a short list of ingredients, it's ready to bake after just a few minutes of prep, and the leftovers are excellent reheated.
posted by DrGail at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2020

Good suggestions above, but mainly I want to say kudos to you on a really clever question title.
posted by Dolley at 8:38 AM on November 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Would something that enabled you to sit in front of the stove be helpful, to extend possible stirring times? I find a shower stool helpful when I'm trying to cook on a tired day (post viral fatigue) when I can't stand up for more than a few minutes. Something with wheels might be even better, but it's handy being able to perch as necessary.
posted by FifteenShocks at 8:43 AM on November 30, 2020

Best answer: My go-tos have been sheet pan type meals (for me that means throwing 2 racks into the air fryer, but otherwise similar in composition and timing). My protein is mostly chicken, sometimes fish (which will cook from frozen in the same time as root/dense veg, more or less), sometimes frozen meatballs or hamburger patties or veg patties.

For chicken: I buy family packs of chicken breasts, pound them out fairly thin, cut those in half (separating top from bottom rather than making two tenders - this is critical for fishing them back out of the bag with the least mess and fight), and stash in a gallon bag covered in a basic-flavor marinade (pepper or chili powder, garlic, onion, cumin) mixed in mayo, so that it coats without being drippy. This can be done more or less standing in place, and stashed in the fridge to use over 5 days.

A protein and two veg is sufficient for many meals. We keep 2-4lb bags of broccoli florets, brussels sprouts, and zucchini on hand at all times. If you eat starches, little potatoes or quartered larger potatoes will more or less cook in the same time as the other components; see also carrots, parsnips, radishes, other hard/root veg. We get our novelty from sauces - I've got a large stock of pouch and jar simmer sauces, packet gravy and sauces, plus you can punch up your marinaded protein at cooking time with sauces, mustard, citrus or other acid, hot sauce, butter, cheeses.

It's getting cold here now and I'm starting to hoard slow cooker/instant pot recipes that aren't horribly carby. Buzzfeed (also The Kitchn, but less so) routinely curates lists of sheet pan/slow cooker/instant pot/"dump" meals (which seems like still slow cooker/ instant pot but entirely without pre-cooking any component) that I find a lot of good bookmarks from. Yesterday's interesting keepers were Sweet Potato Cauliflower Soup, Beef Kimchi Stew, and this Spicy Creamy Pumpkin Soup that I'm certain you could use sweet potatoes for instead. (Also, my autumn go-to, Sweet Potato Groundnut Stew vegan or chicken versions, both of which are very good at using up CSA greens of any kind along with those sweet potatoes.)

I have found quickbreads to be a fairly easy "stand in place" thing I can do for homemade-y feel to flesh out soups and stews. My current obsession is getting as many olives as possible into a quickbread, but I have also found out that the oily nature of olives makes a strangely greasy bread that doesn't rise much - but it toasts like whoa, I highly recommend. Really good for vaguely Italiany soups, like the internet's favorite Olive Garden copycat Zuppa Toscana (slow cooker, instant pot); it's actually really good - another one for using up CSA greens too.

I'm still not at 100% on my own bad knee - the little break has healed great but all the soft tissue damage I did in the process is really apparent now, and cooking feels like it's made entirely of dangerous pivoting. I'm trying to accept I'm not going to be doing my "real" style of cooking for months yet lest I keep re-injuring, and I'm aiming at recipes simple enough that I can pause in assembly to sit or rest, or tag in my spouse to finish throwing things in and hit the go button.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Addressing two points I neglected to mention about a) my knee and b) my kitchen:

Can you do your food chopping sat at a table?

Not really - only because I can't really sit at a table yet, not without a second chair at a weird angle that would let me prop my foot up. I'm better at bending my knee, but I think having it bent for as long as I need to for chopping things would be hard on it.

Plus standing in one place and chopping would actually be okay - the problem comes if I do "chop these eight carrots and then turn around and go get the measuring spoon and then turn back around to go get the flour and then turn around the other way and bend to get the eggs out of the fridge and then turn back around in the other direction and get the rice and then turn around the other way and....." Compared to that, "stand still for ten minutes while you chop eight carrots, three beets and a couple potatoes" is much more do-able.

Would something that enabled you to sit in front of the stove be helpful, to extend possible stirring times?

This is also a no, but only because of the layout of my kitchen. My "kitchen" is in a nook off the living room, separated by a partial wall - the fridge and sink and cupboards line the outer walls of the nook, but the stovetop is against the partial wall, directly facing the fridge. (and the oven is built in under it.) There's only about four or five feet of clearance between the stove and the front of the fridge, and I'm not sure there'd be room to get a chair in there. I can't stand directly in front of the oven either - I have to stand to one SIDE of the oven, open it, and bend over and sort of slide things in around from the side.

Speaking of which, that probably means that sheet pan dinners, while an excellent idea as far as ease goes, may not be the best idea for my particular kitchen. Lyn Never, you're getting a favorite so far only because it sounds like you are in exactly the same situation as I (it's pretty much just the muscles and soft tissue I need to work on as well) and because the olives-in-savory-quickbread idea actually sounds damn good, and would use up a backlog of olives I have in the fridge.

I do have a toaster oven, and it's in a much more accessible place. Is a "toaster oven sheet pan dinner" a thing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:51 AM on November 30, 2020

Response by poster: OH. I just realized I could add some anchovy, capers and sun-dried tomato to that quick bread.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on November 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I only have a toaster oven and make sheet pan dinners a lot! Things take longer than expected but come out fine.
posted by ellieBOA at 12:21 PM on November 30, 2020

Toaster oven should be fine, especially if you're just cooking for yourself. Or cook for two but plan on most of your veg portions to come from salad or microwave (I also keep a substantial supply of steamer-bag vegetables), if it's one of the smaller toaster ovens. I think the bigger ones will hold a quarter-sheet pan, which would handle a crowded meal for two.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:58 PM on November 30, 2020

White Chicken Chili is mostly opening cans, but it's highly versatile and quite delicious. This recipe is for a slow cooker, but if you don't have one, you can easily use a dutch oven on the stove, or adapt to a pressure cooker.

This white beans with sausage and spinach is way better than the sum of its parts. It comes together very quickly if you use canned white beans (1 can is plenty, unless you really want 2 cans).

One-pot spicy sausage pasta. I've added kale to this very successfully.
posted by hydra77 at 2:33 PM on November 30, 2020

Two principles.

1) Simpler recipies. Classic example is baked ziti instead if lasagna. A good strategy for finding simple recipies is to go to the websites of food companies.

2) Have someone else do the work, Buy prepared food. Example: buy peppers and other veggies already cut up. Use frozen instead of fresh.

Two suggestions. For a dish to go over rice, try sausage and peppers. For accompaniment to cream soup, try garlic bread from the frozen food section.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2020

Response by poster: Oh!

Does anyone have advice about freezing homemade biscuits, and then reheating them from frozen? I could make a batch of sweet potato biscuits and freeze most of them in separately-wrapped pairs, so that "making dinner" could be as simple as pulling a pair of biscuits out of the freezer and throwing them in the toaster oven, while a serving of soup heats up over the stove.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:45 PM on November 30, 2020

Best answer: Yes, here's both options - cook and freeze, or freeze raw and cook from frozen. You can do this with any quickbread, like the olive one or biscuits or scones.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:08 PM on November 30, 2020

I had ankle surgery and it's only been a few weeks since I've been fully mobile. I'm also am ambitious cook and really enjoy spending hours in the kitchen, so it was really hard not being able to!

When I was in the in-between stages, where I could move around but it was awkward as hell (especially in my small kitchen) and tiring to stand for too long, I relied a lot on semi-prepared things:

Frozen ravioli or tortellini with a quick sauce
Bolognese from the fancy grocery heated and poured over spaghetti
Roast chicken (not too hard to season and stick in the oven, but I got a rotisserie when it was hiarder) with frozen veggies or a super simple dressed green salad on the side
Storebought pizza dough + quick tomato sauce + pre-shredded cheese
Soup or stir-fry started with veggies someone else (my partner who visited once a week, or the fancy grocery again) had cut for me earlier

I also ate a lot of baked potatoes topped with fridge findings.

As it started getting easier but still tiring, I started spending more time cooking less frequently. I'd take half a Sunday to slowly (with lots of breaks) put together a casserole or more complicated stew, and eat that through the rest of the week.

Good healing!
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:10 PM on November 30, 2020

Re: frozen biscuits

I can't remember any terrible results from freezing bread-like products. We froze some homemade English muffins to use much as you describe. You might want a quick defrost in the microwave if you want to slice them before heating in the toaster.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:29 AM on December 1, 2020

Response by poster: Right - I have some initial ideas.

* First: I'm going to load the fridge with single-serve soup containers. My very first thing I made was a very simple French-style carrot soup, letting the food processor do the chopping. Then, My roommate and I cleaned the fridge and the freezer out this weekend (the last time I cleaned it was....before my accident), and we unearthed a lot of extra salsa; I have a lentil soup recipe that uses salsa and we're adding lentils to the next Instacart order. We also found a cups' worth of frozen pumpkin puree in the freezer, which was thawed out and added to this amazing squash soup with chorizo-style seasoning. We also found three single-serve frozen containers of other various vegetable soups I stashed back there last year, which I'm going to pull down to the fridge. Finally, I am adding to what I'm calling the "rainbow of soups" tonight with a beet soup that uses up some of the random root veg I got from the CSA two weeks back, just in time to clear the decks for another box this Saturday. Those will all live in the fridge and be ready to go.

* This weekend, I'm going to bake up a batch of sweet potato biscuits and a batch of that quick bread, loaded with cheese and bacon and olives, only in muffin form. I may also look into muffin-sized crustless quiches that can also live in the fridge and be used as catch-alls for random things.

* There are also a couple of chicken breasts that were chucked into a marinade and stashed in the fridge, and those can simply be moved from freezer to fridge one night to thaw, and then baked the next night.

This should all set me up for next weeks' meal planning being nothing more than "pull things out of the fridge and heat them up". If I am ambitious I will maybe make a simple bowl of pasta with a cup of soup, and if not then it's soup and some bread item.

It's a start; do keep things coming. (Also anything I can lure my roommate into maybe making might work; I may lure him into helping do the prep work chopping for me for a batch of homemade lo mein.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:25 PM on December 1, 2020

Response by poster: Update:

This helped, and so did a months' worth of healing. And - so did a new oven, which we got when our old oven gave up the ghost a week before Christmas (the super delivered it the day before New Year's and it is PRETTY).

I'm now getting back to normal and am much more able to feed myself. Thanks!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:35 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]

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