Cooking vs Arranging: Why Ariel is better at not cooking than Megan

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The simplest lunch

You all know I don’t cook, right? In my house, my husband Andreas does most of the cooking, vacillating between elaborate terrines and simple stir-fries. But whatever we eat, chances are very good that I had nothing to do with cooking it.

Last night, however, I cooked. Well, that’s the thing: I didn’t really cook. I prepared. Most of my cooking involves melting stuff or boiling stuff, and then artfully arranging stuff. Last night I actually baked stuff. Yes, I poked three potatoes with a fork, and put them in the oven. FOR AN HOUR! Thanks to my excellent fork-poking, the potatoes did not explode their skins in the oven.

Then, I diced half a tomato, some green pepper, and green onion. Then I boiled two pieces of corn. Then I put the potatoes on a plate, cut them open and put butter and the veggies on them with grated cheese. Corn went on plates, and just to make it fancy, I sliced a couple thin spikes of green pepper and arranged it carefully. Oh, and we each got half a pear sprinkled with cinnamon.

And that was it. Potato, corn, pear. But with some artful green pepper arranged on top! Unlike my parents (the people who tried to entice a child by calling lentil stew “poop soup”) or Andreas (“it all looks the same in your stomach”) I’m a big fan of the food always looking good. When it’s pretty, it conveys the love.

This distinction between cooking and preparing is one that always comes up when I talk to Megan about her inability to cook. I’m always like, Bitch, I don’t cook either! That still doesn’t mean you have to eat frozen pizzas for every meal!

Like most Americans, Megan defaults to packaged food… while my hippie parents with their poop soup taught me to default to cutting up produce and cheese and setting them on a plate. Megan’s food might taste better, but my food is infinitely cheaper and definitely healthier.

Sometimes my meals are literally what you see in the photo above: cheese melted on toast, microwaved frozen veggies, sliced fruit, string cheese. It’s simple, it’s healthy, I can prepare it in less than 5 minutes. Some day I’ll convince Megan that she doesn’t need to learn to cook: she just needs to learn to arrange.

So, in the interest of teaching Megan to ARRANGE, what are your favorite whole food meals that taste great? If it takes more than 5 minutes or has more than 5 ingredients, I’m giving it the side-eye.

Comments on Cooking vs Arranging: Why Ariel is better at not cooking than Megan

  1. Totally Megan-simple recipe thanks to lack of groceries while trapped in an ice storm yesterday.

    Take one of those low-carb wrap things (or not low carb, just needs to be plain), and put 2 T. of peanut butter on it. Core and slice an apple, arrange it in a pretty circular pattern. Drizzle a t. of honey over the top. Can be eaten plain, or toasted in the oven at 350 for 5-10 minutes or so.

    First comment on Offbeat Home, and of course it’s about food. -sigh-

    • And this is the difference between arranging and cooking. If it had been me, it would have been the same wrap, with peanut butter and honey smeared on, and rolled up into a log for easy one hand eatings. We eat the same thing camping half the time because it’s so fast and high energy.

      How have I not thought of putting an apple on this yet? I don’t know. But it will now happen tomorrow.

    • I do the same thing with the peanut butter and tortilla, but instead of apples and honey, I put dark chocolate chips in it, put it in the toaster oven until the chocolate melts, and roll it up into a little burrito. Apples and honey is probably a bit healthier, but the chocolate is what gets my kid to eat it, lol.

  2. Do hard boiled eggs count? I mean they take more than 5 minutes initially, but then you just keep them in your fridge and they’re ready for instant-lunch. Egg + lettuce + bread = sandwich. Maybe throw on leftover salsa if you’re feeling fancy.

        • Those are the best things ever, because I am too lazy to boil them myself, and too unskilled to peel them! I mainly chop them up to put in salad, or put them in meatloaf.

          My sister buys them too; we call them Lazy Eggs. πŸ˜›

    • My current favorite snack is making hard boiled eggs & cutting them in half, taking out the yolks & replacing them with hummus. All hail our benevolent overlord Pinterest for teaching me the easiest, best snack of all time.

          • It may sound weird, but there are some DELICIOUS cookie recipes that use hard boiled egg yolks. They give the cookies a unique, silky, rich texture.
            Well this is definitely not in the “arranging” folder thou πŸ˜‰

        • You could mash them up into mayo based salads, like a potato salad, tuna salad or chicken salad. Egg-y potato salad with green apples was always my favourite, and tuna & egg salad has become a favourite at my house.

  3. My favorite hack: Dry Parsley. I put that on absolutely everything just before serving and bam! instant fancyness.

    (In the summer, switch to a leaf or two of basil. And for desert, a leaf of mint.)

  4. My husband and I always have taco Monday because we never feel like making anything fancy or elaborate at the beginning of the week. In an effort to be healthier, we’ve been ditching the tortilla though, so it’s taco salad Mondays now. Just put a bunch of lettuce on a plate (we get the pre-washed stuff in the box because we hate cutting up lettuce), throw some canned black beans (heated up for a few minutes) on top, shredded cheese, tomatoes and avocado. Done.

    • One time on vacation, it was the last day and we were pretty much out of food, so my aunt designed “gringo tacos” out of whatever we had left, which is basically taco salad but with saltine crackers crumbled up in the bottom instead of chips/taco shells. We had ground beef and some taco seasoning and lettuce, cheese, sour cream… whatever other toppings you want πŸ™‚ We continued to eat them the rest of my childhood… I should make them for my husband… Dinner ideas! πŸ˜‰

    • Have you ever used a lettuce leaf as the tortilla? A friend got me onto this recently and it is really fresh and tasty- never again shall I use a taco shell…

      • I also enjoy asian style lettuce wraps. Stir fry some veggies and meat or tofu or edamame or whatever with a little soy sauce, honey, chile sauce, and rice wine vinegar and then wrap a few table spoons of filling in the leaf. Butter lettuce works best for this.

        • I love these, such a great meal – messy and sensual too. Sometimes it’s so fun to eat with your hands, and it’s fun to build your own wraps. It reminds me a little of “build your own tacos/pizzas” which was something we did a lot as kids πŸ™‚

      • Been eating what we call ‘lettuce tacos’ for years.. It started when hubs and I figured out that carbs make our asses fat, and I tended to demand Mexican food at least once a week.
        We generally use large romaine leaves but butter lettuce leaves work great too.

  5. Burritos. Refried beans from a can, cheese, left-over rice if you have it, roll in a tortilla and nuke for a minute. If you’re feeling ambitious, make 3 or 4 more to use up the beans and roll in wax paper and freeze them in a ziplock bag. So easy. So good. So much cheaper than buying individual ones at $2.50 a pop.

    • Related recipe: if you roll these types of fillings or leftover vegetables or meat in corn tortillas and bake them in enchilada sauce and some extra cheese on top, it’s a a fancy dinner for company. Only 5 minutes of work, but this recipe does require about 40 minutes of waiting (oven on 350).

  6. Crackers (my current favorite are nut-thins), cream cheese, maybe a sprinkle of seasoned salt or cayenne pepper if you are feeling spicy, maybe a slice of cucumber or red pepper for color and crunch on top. Also delicious with a smear of pepper jelly.

    In my post-college summer, my first time living alone, I’d slice up some kielbasa, microwave it for a minute (pan-fry if you are so inclined), cube up some cheddar cheese, and grab some pickles, and eat everything dipped in grainy mustard. A hard boiled egg would be good sliced on the side, too.

    • The first of your recipes we don’t even construct; we just put all the pieces on a plate, dips/spreads in bowls, and call that “Build Your Own CanapΓ© dinner.” Base, couple spreads, couple toppings, and voila.

      The second is called Pickle Plate in my house :). Pickles, various cheeses, and either pre-cooked meats or canned fish (like the sardines or kippered herring in a can), maybe a spread of some kind, maybe some crackers if we have some. That’s one of my favorite date-night dinners, it’s very sensual and because it’s a communal dish that we serve basically our next bite into our hands, it feels very… bonding-y.

      Just, you know, if you wanted some names for them.

      My partner learned early on that I have general names for things. Taco night might not even be tacos, and the toppings vary. Spaghetti may or may not have noodles, if I decide to make it with kale strips, though it always has fresh mozz or I’m very sad. Pickle plate has pickles & cheese, but what flavors & formats that comes in, who knows? Stir fry could be anything though it’s usually East Asian influenced. If it’s stir fry with noodles, it’s noodle bowl and good luck guessing ahead of time what I’m putting in it, though there’s a better-than-even chance that it’s going to be vinegary and covered in sesame seeds–there’s not even a guarantee what kind of noodles it will be!–if we’re out of soba noodles I just use spaghetti.

      So, yeah, we have names for things, but that doesn’t actually answer the question of what’s in it, really. They’re just general ideas, flavor profiles, and prep or plating methods.

  7. My husband refuses to eat my favourite 5 minute meals because he doesn’t consider them meals or doesn’t eat what’s in them (i. e. leaf vegetables, eggs, mayonnaise, vinaigrette, etc.)

    Ex :
    – Cottage cheese with fruits. Add a slice of whole grain bread and you’re golden.
    – Feta cheese “melted” on whole-grain bread with tomato slices, pepper and olive oil. Add sundry chopped veggies on the side and voilΓ !
    – tomatoes + avocado + goat cheese + bread –> toaster over –> emulsified pesto (pesto with a mayonnaise texture you can find at the grocery store) = heaven! (even better if you can scrounge up somme nuts to sprinkle in too)
    – Oignon, bell pepper, salsa and egg cooked scrambled eggs style in a tortilla for an egg burrito

    *sigh* how I wish I could have these for supper…

    • My favorite summer lunch is a whole tomato, cut up and salted, with a scoop of cottage cheese on the top. But it is essential that the tomato be very ripe and flavorful, hence it’s a summer-only lunch.

      • All we eat in the summer is freshly cut up tomato and cucumber, with a bit of salt….if only winter tomatoes would taste half as good…

  8. Avocado + hot sauce (+ Lawry’s seasoned salt, optionally). BUHBAM best afternoon snack ever.


    Fresh fruit + old fashioned oatmeal + kefir + almond milk + overnight in the fridge. Cool, delicious, high-protein breakfast.


    Apple + unsweetened organic peanut butter.



    • Why have I never thought of avocado+ hot sauce?! Those are literally my two favorite things ever. Now I’ll be dreaming of an avocado drowning in Cholula hot sauce all day…

    • Avocado and hot sauce would be amazing! I tend to take out the stone and fill the hole with either mayonnaise or Thousand Island Dressing.
      Apple is also good when you mix the peanut butter with cinnamon and natural yogurt.

    • I pick up salad shrimp, and make an avocado shrimp salad. Rinse the shrimp under warm-cool water until thawed, dry sort of, mix with mayo (so optional) or your favorite vinaigrette & hot sauce. Halve the avocado, pop off the skin and seed, put half into a bowl & top with shrimp. Toss a couple tomato wedges in for a nice side–by the time I’ve finished the rest there’s usually a little dressing in the bowl, and I can scrape the bowl clean with the tomato wedges so not a drop goes to waste.

  9. Bag of mixed frozen veggies; boiling water from kettle; couple teaspoons powdered stock/stockcube = vegetable soup (cook for maybe 15 mins). This is, er, arranging things in a pan? or is it already too complicated?

    Then once you have mastered the art of emptying a bag of frozen veg into a pan and boiling it, you can get fancy with e.g. rice, mini-pasta for bulk, a can of drained beans or chickpeas for protein, and tomato puree or spice paste or pesto from a jar for more flavour. Still on your table in less than 20 mins. It might not be arranging, strictly speaking, but you can’t dignify this with the term cooking!

      • Plus these days, there’s lots of variety. I recommend roasting frozen cubed squash with just a little olive oil and salt. Roast on 450 for 30 minutes, stir once halfway through cooking. I generally leave the kitchen for the first 15 minutes and during the second 15 minutes, I’ll cook some frozen green beans (3 minutes in the microwave with a little water or on the stove, dropped into boiling water) and maybe heat up some chickpeas (toss with a little Indian simmer sauce or Korean barbecue sauce during cooking for extra oomph).

    • I do this, too, but since I’m extra lazy I just throw it in my crock pot and leave it on while I’m in classes all day. Boom, instant, no-cook dinner, ready straight when I’m home.

        • I just toss a little baking soda into the crock with a pot of hot water, and by morning it rinses clean without effort. Unless I’ve charred the crap out of something that was originally supposed to be chili. That took two days & three batches of soaking water to get clean.

    • Most of my go-to easy meals include frozen mixed veggies. I like a rice and veggie mix: Boil 2 cups of water in a pan, add a dab of butter and 1 cup of rice, turn down heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the rice is fluffy. Maybe ten minutes before the rice is done, I dump a cup of frozen veggies on top so that they’ll steam on top of the rice. Once the rice is done, I stir everything together and now it’s like a rice pilaf, kinda. Oh, sometimes I put a couple of cubes of chicken bouillon in the water for flavor.

  10. One of my absolute favorite no-effort meals is Japanese-style soup. You can make store bought chicken stock taste awesome by boiling it with garlic, onions, mushrooms, all of which come pre-sliced in the produce section, along with some soy sauce. Then add some frozen meat tortellini and, once it’s cooked, ladle it into bowls with some raw baby spinach. The heat of the soup wilts the spinach without making it too soggy. That’s it! Maybe grate on a little Parmesan and enjoy.

  11. Chop up potatoes, onions, bell peppers and put them into a baking dish. Add oil and a little salt, get your hands in there to make sure everything is coated. If you’re feeling fancy, add half a packet of onion soup mix powder instead of salt (ok that’s not really a whole food – oops). Bake in the oven till everything is cooked. For carnivores, you can also add sausage, either cut into bits ahead of time or cooked whole and cut up afterwards (but be warned they’re dang hot if you cut them up afterwards).

  12. My default meal since childhood has been Brie cheese with grapes (I even took it for snack time because apparently I was a child cheese snob) it made up a good 75% of my meals in college too. I have also since upgraded to pouring honey on it and possibly almonds. Grab some crackers and you’re in business

    • Bake some Brie in the oven with brown sugar. Dip a cracker in it and top with a slice of a green apple. It’s my new favorite “fancy” snack.

      • You can kick that up another notch by baking the brie with a handful of chopped nuts and a teaspoon of whisky (I use Crown Royal because Canada). Makes a good thing great πŸ™‚

    • OOH I do that “meal” all the time!!! It was actually a staple for me during college — talk about a weird time to be a cheese snob. My college friends used to come over for “brie meals” all the time. But my grapes were in the form of champagne. That’s nutritious, right?

    • Do a Google image search for “ploughman’s lunch”. Traditionally cheese, chutney, and bread, but basically a plate of cold finger foods. Zero cooking involved. Bonus: no utensils to clean.

      This is what I eat pretty much every day – with variations of granola, yogurt, nuts, maybe a veggie wrap (avocado, spinach, tomato, mushroom, cukes, and pepperjack rolled in a tortilla = SO GOOD!). If I turn on an appliance, it’s to fry an egg, bake a potato, or boil water for quinoa, rice, or tea. Or bake chocolate chip cookies. πŸ™‚

  13. I love the freezer veggies intended for microwaving! Freezer food usually bums me out so hard, but I have nothing but love for the ability to have steamed broccoli in less than three minutes total.
    I also love my steamer pot. Because I’m clumsy, having a steamer pot makes steamed veggies (and to keep it real, steamed hot dogs) incredibly easy (steamer baskets and those weird circle things always lead to disaster with me.) A little shredded parm and some cracked pepper on top of some steamed veggies? Y’all, that looks culinary as fuck.

  14. This is exactly how I serve meals. Every. Single. Night.

    Step 1: Prepare in the simplest possible way (raw, pan-fried, broiled, whatever)
    Step 2: Put on a plate in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
    Step 3: ?????
    Step 4: PROFIT!

    Seriously though, this is my cooking tip for anyone that tells me they don’t cook. Cooking doesn’t have to mean elaborate recipes and four-dish meals every night. Keep it really simple: two or three veg, prepared minimally (steamed is fastest/tastiest), a bit of protein, whether it be beans, fish, meat, whatevs – broiled or cooked in a pan, maybe some rice (throw it in a rice cooker! you can’t go wrong) or bread. Done! Have fruit for dessert! You don’t have to make elaborate courses for it to count.

  15. Cover a plain chicken breast in pesto sauce, top with sliced tomato and mozzarella slices. Bake till the chicken in cooked through. Bam. That’s my my-husband-isnt-home-to-feed-me meal.

    Steam-in-bag edamame covered in parmesan.

    Can of black beans, can of corn, can of Rotel, cubed avocado…combine and keep in the fridge. It works with cheese as a quesadilla, with chips as a dip, baked with cheese as nachos. Sometimes I toss it in canned soup to bulk it up.

    • Ooo! That sounds similar to my oh-crap-I-forgot-about-dinner dinner, only I dump a can of crushed tomato on top of the chicken instead of pesto.

  16. Chop up some fresh vegetables (broccoli, carrots, etc.), put out some olives if you have any, and serve with hummus – instant lunch or snack! I bring this to work all the time – I actually just leave a container of hummus in the work fridge, and when I don’t feel like making a “real” lunch, I just toss an assortment of whatever raw veggies we have in the house into my backpack and I am good to go.

  17. Chunk of cheese, hunk of French bread, apple slices, and a few almonds.

    Ramen and half its seasoning packet in a bowl with a handful of frozen veggies and a little bit of sesame seed oil. Pour boiling water over it and let it absorb/steam, then chop up a boiled egg over it when it’s ready.

  18. My favourite lunch hack, courtesy of Chef at Home’s Micheal Smith:
    Open tin of sardines and leaving them in the tin, spread. grainy mustard over top of them. Sprinkle sprouts on top and drizzle with olive oil. Finish with freshly ground pepper.

    I wish I could find the video where he makes this – I just love how how he prepares it right in the tin and makes it look so appealing.

  19. Veggies and crackers dipped in hummus.

    Takes more time but is simple: bake a sweet potato. Sautee kale, garlic, and canned white beans. Stuff in potato. Sprinkle with salt and red pepper flakes.

    And I totally eat popcorn as a meal all the time.

  20. Oh man, I am big on lunches like this. If we are lacking in leftovers, I put some fresh veggies, a few crackers and a pile of hummus on a plate (this is even ridiculously easier if we can get our shit together and prep a container of fresh veggies each week). So simple, so pretty, and so nutritious. Also, a fried egg, a piece of toast and some veggies go a long way, too. For suppers, cook up some grains, roast some veggies, mix the two and dump on some kind of sauce (mmm, peanutty ones are good).

  21. I love arranging assortments of food! Days when I don’t have school are usually the best because I can chop up some veggies, grab the tub of humus, and go to town.

    I remember most of my meals growing up were like this. It was nice because we always felt like we were having snack time or just grazing all day. I was never hungry though! I remember making lunches and dinners that were just the things we had around the house. Let’s share a bag of popcorn, chopped veggies, and split last night’s left overs. Then there are apples in the fridge for dessert. As long as it is arranged nicely: boom. Insta-meal.

  22. We buy naan at Costco and top it with cheese and tomatoes or a spoonful of pesto or leftover spaghetti sauce and whatever veggies are lying around for 5 minute pizzas. It’s infinitely more delicious than a frozen pizza, better for you, and faster than most.

    I’m also a big fan of a baguette cut in half, topped with sliced tomato, fresh basil, olive oil, and mozzarella toasted in the oven. Fancy sandwich faster than a pb&j.

  23. Toast, smeared with avocado, topped with a fried egg, sprinkled with black pepper. Maybe sprinkle on some goat cheese if you want to be fancy.

    Tortellini/ravioli (so, okay, takes longer than 5 minutes, but you’re just boiling water), lightly coated in olive oil and poppy seeds.

    Mango (chopped), black beans, avocado (chopped-ish), cilantro, limed onions, +/- chickpeas, +/- chopped jalepenos. This is our go-to potluck dish — easy and quick, SO PRETTY (purpley-black + green + yellow), absolutely delicious. Salsa that eats like lunch.

    Sliced pears with goat cheese, dried cranberries, chopped pistachios, and drizzled honey.

    Caprese: tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil. All sorts of ways to put ’em together, all of them fantastically tasty.

  24. Count me among the hummus enthusiasts! Spread it on pita bread, crackers, and/or veggies and you have a filling meal. You can put the hummus and veggies IN the pitas to make a pocket sandwich, but that level of fanciness is optional.

    I also love microwaved baked potatoes topped with broccoli (fresh or frozen) and black beans (fresh or canned). Add some butter, cheese, hot sauce, and/or red pepper and you’re in for deliciousness. Using a sweet potato is equally tasty and more nutritious.

    A less-healthy variation is to cook frozen hashbrowns, broccoli, and black beans all together in a skillet to make a hash. Adding eggs, cheese, peppers, or bacon is optional.

    Veggie fried rice is also soooo easy. Just put cooked rice (dry, old leftovers work best) in a skillet along with a bag of frozen mixed veggies, an egg or two, and some sauce (soy or hot). It looks pretty and impressive despite its simplicity; my relatives are blown away every time I bring it to the family Christmas chow-mien feast.

    And let’s not forget breakfast for dinner: oatmeal, cereal, or pancakes with a side of fruit or jam. Add an egg if you want to get fancy.

  25. Quesadillas. tortillas and cheese. fry pan or microwave. your call. Cover that Mofo with lots of salsa (which is VEGETABLES) and you are In there like swimwear.
    Nuke in a few wedges of tomato or pepper if you want to get fancy.
    If you’re making dinner instead of lunch, melt a boullion cube in some water and dunk youir quesadilla in it. Soup and a sandwich. BOOM. DONE.

    For another smoosh-it-together dish: Asian tuna salad. chop up a can of water chestnuts. Stir into a can of tuna. shake in dried chives (or chopped fresh) cover it with soy sauce and sriracha, and sesame oil if you have it. eat with spoon or stuff in a tortilla with some crunchy on-hand veggies. Mayo is an optional stir in if you want a little creaminess and cohesiveness, and I’ve been known to add cashews.

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