FOOD POST: Cook Smarter, Not Harder

Every week I follow the same routine: Cook four out of the five week nights, have one night of left-overs, grocery shop either Friday after work or Saturday morning, try something new on Saturdays, and end the week on a hearty family meal. Like clock work the weeks seem to fly by. Luckily, I have been blessed with a career that allows us all to sit down together each weekend to a good meal and great conversation.

I mentioned before that dinner is a sacred time in our house, and I cannot stress that enough. Something special happens during dinner, and I can’t even describe it. It’s like time freezes but our girls age dramatically all at the same time. I really enjoy these moments the most when the food tastes good, everyone will eat it, and there is minimal clean up at the end.

Therefore, I believe everyone should Cook Smarter, Not Harder. What do I mean by this? I mean, find those recipes that taste like you slaved all day over a hot stove, are hearty to feed that “meat-and-potato guy” in your life, but also have flavors that entertain the taste buds of the toddlers who want to help you with every step. Oh, yeah Whitney, because that’s super easy. NOT. I have a handful of these recipes that are not categorized as healthy, light, clean-eating, or any of the other up and coming food categories. But, if you practice those balanced diet habits during the week, one good hearty meal on the weekend won’t ruin you.

So today I present you the basics of making a cheap ham taste like the $60.00 version. I have made this meal in several different ways and will provide you what I have learned from each approach. On this particular hearty meal day last week, I decided to cook the basic Ham and Cabbage with Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes in a roasting pan. Every time I hear this meal, I will never forget the first time I made it, just after my husband and I were married. My brother was at our house and he said to me, “Really? Isn’t that like a nursing home meal? I’m pretty sure no one under the age of 70 eats Ham and Cabbage.” LIES! He clearly has never sat down to this meal.


This meal is pretty straightforward. I use two heads of cabbage because, seriously, you can’t have enough cabbage in your life, and for those clean-eaters, I know you love the immense benefits to eating more cabbage. That’s about where the healthy stops, but also where the flavor begins. I chop up the cabbage into about 2-3 inch chunks. Place your ham in the center of your roasting pan and almost create a wreath of cabbage around your ham. Add about two cups of water, place the lid on your rpasting pan and place in a preheated oven set to 350 degrees. Pop that baby in the oven and check back in 1-2 hour increments. I usually put this in the oven after the girls finish up lunch… so around 12:30 or 1:00 and let the magic happen until about 5:00.

Every  1-2 hours check the water levels of your roasting pan. I usually like to make sure the cabbage starts to immerse in the liquid. If you are a fan of ham gravy, this is the richest ham gravy base you could ask for. This is my favorite way to prepare this meal.

I have also cooked this in the oven for 2 hours and served it, as the majority of your hams are already cooked. It does not absorb as much of the flavor from the cabbage, so if you aren’t sold on the cabbage this might be the best approach for you.

I have also prepared this using the standard size crock pot. It has turned out good and bad. (well, that’s super vague, isn’t it?!) The critical parts to consider when using a crock pot is that your ham isn’t too big, making sure you have plenty of room for the cabbage. It’s also really important to watch your water levels. The last time I put this in a crock pot and left for work, I returned to a dried up ham and crisp cabbage. That was super disappointing. The crock pot is a great way to do it as long as you are able to monitor those water levels.

I frequently talk about my little ladies loving to help in the kitchen, and when you have a “slap-it-in-the-oven” meal, it’s very difficult to find those little tasks for little hands. Both of my girls love raw potatoes. I find it very strange but their father also makes a habit of eating raw potatoes as I peel them for mashed potatoes. Weird. I usually peel a tiny one for each of the girls to munch and crunch on and as I peel and slice. They love to toss them into the pot once I’ve finished. My mom also recently introduced our oldest daughter to the task of setting the table and she LOVES it! Each night, she gets the silverware out of the drawer like a big girl, arranges the plates around the table and gives everyone a napkin. She gets so excited to help, that I can’t help but love to watch this new stage of “big girl.” And if all else fails, let them rock-on while you cook!


I also need to confess, that while I might be able to decorate sugar cookies with ridiculous little details, I cannot make good mashed potatoes! I literally CANNOT. MAKE. GOOD. MASHED. POTATOES. Thank goodness for husband food critics! He will be the first to tell you how lumpy… stiff… or whatever else can go wrong with my mashed potatoes. Good thing I married a man equipped with mad hand mixer skills. We were browsing through the isles of Target this past weekend on our date day out and noticed a new sunbeam Stand AND Hand Mixer. He says, and I quote, “I bet that’s awesome. It probably makes the best mashed potatoes.” Because what else could you need a hand mixer for?? God I love that strange man.

Hopefully you find yourselves immersed in the flavors and smells of this hearty, family pleasing meal. Share unforgettable memories with your loved ones around the dinner table tonight.


  • Whitney

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