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This is a series on beginning cooking, emphasis on beginning. My purpose is to encourage reluctant cooks to rely more on their kitchens and less on prepared foods and take-out. Thus, I am talking in these diaries not about the authentic or gourmet, but the simplest and fastest--while still being good-tasting and affordable. I am not a professional chef, merely a homemaker/writer and proprietor of a longtime homemaking website.

Here are two more basic templates for all three meals--though I'll tell you honestly, the best lunches are leftover dinners. The. Best.

Baked Eggs
Other names for this are shirred eggs or coddled eggs. I just like the word "coddled," I mean, how often do you get to use it? Not enough people make these. They're dead simple, infinitely variable, cheap and good for you. You can eat them plain for breakfast or fancy them up for emergency dinner.

Equipment:
Oven-proof cup, custard cup or ramekin
Baking (cookie) sheet

Ingredients:
Butter
Cream
2 eggs per ramekin
Salt
Pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 F. Butter the inside of your ramekin. You can also use bacon fat. Pour about two tablespoons of cream in the bottom of the ramekin--I just cover the bottom. Break two eggs into the ramekin. Salt and pepper them. When the oven is at temperature, put the ramekin on the baking sheet. Bake for about ten minutes if you like your eggs softer, twelve if you like them harder. Remove from the oven, let them sit for two minutes--the heat carries over and they'll continue to cook. Eat hot and praise the universe for such a delicious meal.

Variations: put leftover rice, potatoes, stale bread, or other grain in the bottom of the ramekin. Sprinkle crumbled bacon or cheese over the top. Put leftover vegetables (a classic is spinach, as in Eggs Florentine) in the bottom, chopped meat, leftovers of all kinds. Any combination. My favorite is plain with green onions. SO good.

For breakfast: serve with toast and fruit
For dinner: serve with steamed potatoes and bagged salad

Refrigerator Soup
Here's a good emergency dinner, perfect for winter nights, and a great way to use up leftovers (including takeout or meal-out leftovers--always take home a doggie bag). If you don't have leftovers, no worries, we'll just raid the pantry.

Equipment:
Chef knife
Peeler (if you need it)
4 qt pot or stock pot
Big spoon, wooden or otherwise

Ingredients:
One qt chicken, beef or vegetable broth (one aseptic pack--we'll cover how to make your own soon--remember those baggies of bones and trimmings I had you start in the freezer?)
Leftovers--Chinese food (I've been known to throw all of it in the soup together), meat, cooked rice, cooked potatoes, stir fry/skillet dinner, whatever you've got
AND/OR from the pantry--a can of diced tomatoes, carrots, celery, chopped onion, bacon or other meat, potatoes, frozen vegetables, canned creamed corn, whatever you've got

Leftovers are my favorite way to start this, but let's say you don't have any. Let's say you've got bacon, carrots, onions, potatoes and celery, and the broth. And some frozen corn or canned creamed corn. Okay. Chop the vegetables, set aside. Save the skin, tops, roots and other bits (from all non-cruciferous) veggies in the gallon plastic freezer bag you've got going.

Chop up some bacon. I leave it to you how much. For four of us, I use about a half-pound. Brown it in a soup pan. You may want to add a very little fat--bacon fat or oil; it depends on how fatty the bacon is. When it's browned, use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and set it aside. If you have a lot of bacon fat, drain some off into a storage jar; bacon fat is useful, don't throw it out.

Throw the chopped onion into the bacon fat and sauté over medium-low heat till translucent. Remember to stir now and again to keep it from sticking. Add the rest of the veggies except canned creamed corn and sauté till the onions are just turning brown.

Now add your creamed corn and top off with broth until you've got the consistency of soup you like. You can keep it thick or thin it out--entirely up to you. Bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat, then turn the heat down to low. It's ready to eat when the potatoes are soft.

So that's how to make a chowder-y kind of soup. You can heat up leftovers and add broth to make soup as well--chop up meat and so on. Add fresh ingredients to pad it out. Leftover stirfry and rice work very well as a backbone for fridge soup.

In future installments: what to do with rice, and how to make homemade broth.

Note: I am not going to discuss diet as opposed to cooking in these diaries nor will I engage in such discussions in the comments. If you are paleo, or vegan, or whatever, I'm sure you can take what you need from these diaries and leave the rest. No one needs anyone else's permission to eat as they see fit--including me. Please, whatever your preferred eating regimen is, don't argue about the One True Diet in the comments. I can't stop you, but I'd consider it a great courtesy. Thank you.

Also note: If you like these diaries, please consider supporting me through buying one of my books. I write fantasy novels under the pen name MeiLin Miranda; books are available there or at Amazon (including non-US Amazons), Barnes and Noble and most fine ebook stores near you. Paperbacks are available via Amazon only. Thank you!

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