While I believe that Kitchen Witchery and other sacred acts related to food need not take up any more than a few extra minutes in addition to the cooking, cleaning and eating that you already do, I realize that there are many of us who have difficulty finding time to cook at all. This is a shame because home cooking is good for us; it is kinder to the environment, it saves money, it provides our bodies with the best quality of fuel and building materials, it helps us connect more fully with our food sources and it just feels like you’ve accomplished something positive and creative today. So I have compiled some tips for you to help you find the time for cooking, whether it’s every day or once in awhile, and to help you save some money along the way.

The Weekly Meal Plan

Pre-Meal Prep

You can save a lot of time each week by adding some meal prep to your shopping chores. If you don’t have time immediately after shopping, carving out a half hour once a week of so will be well worth it.

  • Chop up your onions, bell peppers, celery and carrots right out of the grocery bag and store them in the fridge, so they’re ready to sweat when you’re ready to cook.
  • Boil some potatoes in the skins and store them in the fridge. They’ll peel easily if you’re into that and heat up quickly for whatever use you put them to.
  • I also like to boil some eggs for quick snacking and sandwich/salad additions.
  • If you’ve got cauliflower, broccoli or other vegetables that come in a big bunch that needs to be trimmed, go ahead and trim them right out of the grocery bag and put them in the fridge- if you wash them, make sure they are thoroughly dry before refrigerating and wash them again right before eating them.
  • If you brought home dried beans or rice, go ahead and rinse them and start them soaking now if you plan to use them in the next 24 hours. Even if you don't, you can still cook them tomorrow and put them in the fridge for future meals.

The Well-Stocked Kitchen

Keeping your kitchen well-stocked goes a long way toward time-saving. If you have a variety of staples on hand, you can quickly throw together a meal, not just on those busy days when you know you’re not going to have time to cook anything elaborate, but on those days that you planned something really involved only to find that some everyday life drama has eaten up your time or a hungry teenager has eaten up your ingredients.

The Bare Bones Pantry

Your basic meal staples are as follows - Potatoes (and/or sweet potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, peppers(sweet, hot or both), canned or dried beans, rice and/or pasta, canned tomatoes, flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, vinegar(any flavor), fat (lard, butter, ghee or vegetable oil) canned or frozen meat and/or fish(optional) and eggs(optional). I also like to grab a cucumber, a cabbage and some greenbeans or frozen peas, because they're usually really cheap, and some mushrooms if they're on sale. You can have a minimal stock of these for under $50 in most places and feed a family of four for several days while also providing some cleaning materials. (See Chapter Lotions and Potions for more about this.)

With these basics (depending upon your specific choices) you can make- Potato pancakes, meat and potato hash, gravy over rice, creamy mushroom noodles, biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, various pasta dishes, chili, almost goulash, Middle Eastern style chicken and rice, stew with dumplings- cabbage stew with dumplings or chicken stew with dumplings, vegetable fried rice and all manner of soup.

Herbs and spices and other seasonings will, of course, make your meals more interesting and allow you to vary their energetic qualities according to your needs. Some stock or broth of your choice will make soups, stews and gravy taste much better. Luckily, you can make stock and broth with kitchen scraps for no extra cost. Just toss them in a pot and simmer.

The Well-Stocked Pantry

You will probably want to get more creative with your meals than a bare bones pantry will allow. Here is a list for a well-stocked pantry. If you have everything on this list, you will be able to make anything in this book. Those items with an asterisk(*) are items you won’t use very often, but are nice to have on hand. For those with food sensitivities and special diets, I am providing alternatives, but I am not an expert on every special diets- Please feel free to improvise where necessary to suit your own needs and your family’s preferences.

Fruits Vegetables
Apples/Apple Sauce broccoli and/or cauliflower
bananas salad greens, lettuce and/or cabbage
apricots, mangoes, berries, dates, figs || green beans, fresh, frozen or canned ||
Canned fruits - fruit cocktail, peaches, pears, apple sauce, pineapple Soup beans, canned or dried - kidney beans, black beans, white beans
Frozen fruits - strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple green peas, frozen is best and dried split peas
root vegetables - carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and maybe also turnips and/or rutabagas and parsnips
mushrooms, fresh, canned and/or dried
Fat and Dairy
Olive Oil
Butter
Cream
Milk (Inc. Fresh, canned, powdered) or non-dairy alternatives
Coconut Milk and/or Coconut cream
Coconut oil
Grapeseed oil or other high smoke point oil
Cream cheese
Cottage Cheese and/or ricotta cheese
Parmesan cheese
feta cheese
Mozzerella cheese
Cheddar cheese
Meats Whole Grains
Thickeners Leavening Agents
Seasonings Condiments
salt ketsup
black pepper mustard
cayenne [[[food:mayonnaise]]
garlic powder pickles
italian seasoning relish
curry powder apple cider vinegar
cumin
cinnamon
sweeteners
[[[food:sugar
brown sugar
honey
molasses
maple syrup

Buying in Bulk

I like to buy in bulk because it means less packaging and less travelling back and forth, which lowers the ecological footprint of the product. Buying a 50 pound bag of wheat, beans, rice or flour directly from a farm also means I get the freshest product and support small farmers, though it rarely saves money. It does save time because my staples are in my pantry more reliably and I like having several weeks or months worth on hand, in case an of an emergency which could interrupt my supply. But buying in bulk isn’t practical for everyone and it doesn’t always save money.

The first thing you need to ask yourself before you decide whether buying in bulk is right for you is whether you have the means to properly store the food you won’t be eating right away. Everything degrades over time, its nutritional value and flavor gradually diminishing as time goes by. Even things that say they are shelf stable eventually deteriorate, especially when exposed to heat and light. If you don’t have a cool, dark basement or an extra freezer to store your bulk items in, buying in bulk might not be a good choice for you. (See individual items in the Magical Food Ingredients section for long-term storage.)

While buying in bulk may save you money in the long run, it is can also require more of an upfront investment than the weekly grocery budget may allow. One possible solution to this issue, if you can swing it, is to buy one bulk item a month. Say, you buy 25 pounds of beans this month, and 50 pounds of rice next month. You’ve cut into your weekly budget for one week out of the month, but next month you don’t have to buy beans, and the month after that you don’t have to buy beans OR rice. You could stash away a small amount, say $5-$10, from each week’s budget until you have enough to buy several pounds of something.

If you have a group of friends, a coven perhaps, that would like to pool resources to save money and lower your collective environmental footprint, buying bulk might be a great way to go about it. You can meet periodically to buy large quantities of food and divvy them out into mason jars or freezer containers for each member to store in their own home. You can even make a party of it.

It is important also to keep in mind that because things are packaged in larger quantities does not always mean that they cost less. Pay attention to the cost per pound.

Cooking in Bulk

If you have the freezer space, doubling or even tripling your recipes and freezing enough for one or two future meals is a great way to save time and money. Even if you don’t make extra, leftovers can go into the freezer in single meal sizes for anyone to heat up and eat when they’re going it solo, or need something to get them through a midnight writing session.

Because I have a very big garden, I tend to make a bunch of stuff in the summer and freeze it for winter eating. My birds produce a lot of eggs in the summer that I have to use up, so I make lots of pasta and freeze it for use in the winter, when they aren’t laying much at all. We have eggplant and zucchini in quantity in the summer, greater quantity than we are frankly interested in, but these can be fried and frozen and crisped up in the oven later, or layered into a vegetable lasagna and frozen for an easy winter comfort food. I also tend to make huge pots of soups, which can be frozen and used as a first course or a quick winter warm up later.

You can do this also with ingredients that might take a long time to cook. I prefer to use brown rice, which I soak and rinse before cooking, which can take some considerable time. So I make more than I need and freeze the extra to use for a later meal. I do the same with beans.

Freezing foods for later use does require some up front investment in the form of a freezer containers. The sort you use will depend on how you intend to heat them up again. If you have a microwave, many things can be stored in microwave safe containers, which are often also freezer safe (check the label to be sure). I do not have a microwave. Anything that is going to go into the oven is stored in aluminum foil pans that can go straight to from the freezer to the oven- though it is best to let them thaw overnight in the fridge first. Soups and sauces and individual ingredients I store in plastic deli containers (I buy them in bulk from restaurant supply). They are freezer safe and recyclable, though, like the aluminum pans, I reuse them till they fall apart before they go in the recycling.

For the best results with your frozen items, you’ll want to make sure they are quite cool before freezing them. Let them sit in the fridge overnight, label them with the contents and the date, and then freeze them for six months or so.

10 Meals in 20 Minutes

Not quite goulash
Insta-Chili
Quick Chicken Soup
Creamy Mushroom Casserole
Quesadillas with Tomato Soup
Black Bean and Quinoa Salad
Greek Salad With Grilled Chicken or Salmon

Homemade Convenience Foods

Kitchen Tools that Speed Things Up

The InstaPot
The George Foreman Grill
The Rice Steamer
The Crock Pot
Stand Mixer
Food Slicer
Submersion Blender
Food Mill
Microwave