From Integrated Questions

Experimenting with Dinner

Food is something I constantly struggle with. Be it getting enough of the right type, not eating too much of the wrong stuff, or even just finding something I can be bothered cooking for myself.

I live alone and try to get away with as little expenditure of time and money on food as is possible. But at the same time I want to enjoy the food that I’m eating and whilst my budget feels tight, it’s a lot roomier than a lot of peoples.

Recently, I’ve been trying to experiment a bit with my cooking. I’m looking to find a good dozen or so meals that I like, that require minimal effort, and that can be cooked in batches to provide me with three or so dinners.

Having been inspired by Lifehacker’s recent Mastercheap series, I thought I would blog about my successes and failures. With any luck, this will be a semi-regular series…

To kick things off, I’m going to talk about last night’s attempt at a meatballs and noodles dish.

The original plan was a deceptively simple one – add some Woolies meatballs to some Tuscan Meatballs recipe base, heat up some hokkien noodles, mix together and eat.

This plan survived for about a minute before it became obvious that there were flaws. For a start, the sauce only claimed to cover 350g of meatballs and I had closer to double that. It very quickly became apparent that this was going to be a problem. So I added some tomato and Worcestershire sauces and a few spices I had lying around. Mixed it all together with the noodles on a salad bowl and sat down in front of some first season NCIS. It took about five seconds to decide that I wouldn’t be cooking this the same way again.

You know those tins of spaghetti in tomato sauce you can get? The ones most people love as kids? The ones we used to eat as poor-uni students? The ones that we rarely touch now that we have a stable income? These ones? That’s what the noodles tasted like. It was less than brilliant. Fortunately the meatballs were substantially more palatable, almost good…

There were three other notable downsides to this meal – it only made enough for two nights, it was on the slightly more expensive side of things, and it has a substantial lack of vegetables.

Expense wise, the two meals I’ll get out of it will have cost me about 6.50 each. The meatballs were about $7.50, the recipe base $3.50, and the noodles $2.00 for a grand total of $13.00 plus a few spices and a little bit of tomato and Worcestershire sauce. Not overly pricey, but there are other options that are tastier, healthier, and make more for a similar price.

Health-wise, I often struggle to get my daily allotment of vegetables. I tend to be fine with all the other groups (well, maybe a little heavy on the sometimes foods), but I struggle to get much past two or three serves of vegetable. To make matters worse, almost all the vegetables that I do eat are found in my dinner and whilst the Tuscan sauce included was labelled as 24% vegetables, that would’ve been lucky to be a single serve…

There are two sizable advantages to this meal that has me contemplating ways to make it tastier. It’s incredibly simple to prepare and there’s hardly any clean-up. In fact, eating out of the salad bowl I mixed it in, the sum total of dishes is: a frying pan, a fork, a salad bowl, and a spatula.

Overall, a valuable learning experience and a meal that I might try again with some significant changes. In fact, as I’ve written this post, I’ve become more and more convinced that this meal could actually be quite tasty, with just a few small changes. So much more convinced, that next week I’m going to try it again but this time I’ll add some vegetables to the mix and, I think, I’ll replace the noodles with rice. I’ll also make a tomato-based sauce at home. All things considered, this is only slightly more preparatory work and slightly more clean-up than yesterday’s attempt. It will be a little more expensive overall, but I’m hoping it will bulk out enough to get an extra meal or two out of it – with any luck it might even work out cheaper per dinner!

Does anyone have any hints or tips for making a good tomato-based sauce for meatballs?

Meatballs & Noodles in Tuscan Tomato Sauce

Cost: $6.50 per dinner.
Taste: 2 /5 – I’ll eat it, but I’ll never to out of my way to do so.
Ease of Preparation: 5 /5 – the only way this gets easier is of it was simply a reheat job.
Ease of Clean-up: 5 /5 – anything easier would just be disposable…
Nutrition*: 3/5 -well, it’s not bad for you…

* I’ve ummmed and ahhed about giving a nutrition rating, given as how my actual understanding of the science of nutrition is quite limited. Ultimately, I’ve decided that I will still give it a score. Please note that I have no formal training in anything to do with nutrition and that my score is based purely on my subjective understanding gained from reading a little bit around the topic and high school health classes…

2 thoughts on “Experimenting with Dinner

  1. Another tweak that might help would be to replace the hokkien noodles with spaghetti.Up sides: It's cheaper (where on earth are hokkien noodles only $2?!)They have a less canned-spaghetti-like textureDown side: You have to boil them, rather than just run hot water over themLovely to see you posting again, by the way!

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  2. Woolworths, apparently.Actually, having double-checked my receipt and the Woolworths website, it would seem that I was wrong.I used about $1.50 worth of hokkien noodles…Wokka Noodles Hokkien Shelf Fresh 440g are listed as $2.95These come as two smaller packs in the one big pack. For something like the meatballs, one smaller pack was a little on the light side but quite passable. For most meals, I do think that I'd want to use both smaller packs though.Not only do you have to boil them, but you've now added an extra saucepan to the cleaning list!The noodles were in the salad bowl when I poured boiling water over them, drained it and added the meatballs.Sometimes I question the amount of effort I put in to being lazy…The texture point is well worth considering and would likely extend to any form of pasta. Having said that, I still think that just from a taste perspective, rice would be the best way to go.

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