turn daily cooking chore to every day pleasure: an oldie (but mostly) goodie

The following is an “article” I’d written for a (small local) publication a while back. It offers some good tips and recipes, although it could use some updating (as we continue to navigate the ever changing and evolving world of healthy eating)!

I love to cook. But I have to admit that over the years, as my life has become busier with kids and work and everything else, daily dinner preparation can seem more a chore than an enjoyable experience. Through my efforts to cook my family healthy homemade meals that all will enjoy and in less time, I have learned a few tricks along the way that save time, reduce stress, and make the process a lot easier (and more fun)! 
A few (rather random) tips: 

Prepare a Weekly Meal Plan. 

Although this may sound a bit boring, it really improves the quality of your meals to have a general idea of what you’ll be cooking for the week before you go shopping. You can adjust your menus depending on what you find at its seasonal best. 

Maintain a Well-Stocked Pantry and Refrigerator. 

If your pantry and refrigerator are stocked with the following staples you will always be able to prepare a delicious and healthy meal in no time: 

In the pantry: olive oil, sea salt, pepper, your favorite spices (cayenne pepper, turmeric, and cinnamon are a must in mine), rice(brown), pasta, dry beans & grains, (never refrigerate) fresh tomatoes (or stewed in jars only, or parmalat brand), flour(organic whole wheat), Quinoa (my personal favorite), organic unrefined coconut oil, fresh ginger, organic raw honey, agave syrup (or non processed brown cane sugar), no sugar added jam, & wine. 

In the refrigerator/freezer: onions, garlic, shallots, celery (organic is a must with this one), carrots, (organic)eggs, dijon mustard, fresh lemons & limes, cheese, milk (we prefer coconut or almond milks), yogurt, potatoes, butter, good vegetarian/chicken/beef broth (preferably home made), (lots of)fresh herbs. 

Keep It Simple. Plan uncomplicated meals with fresh whole foods and let the food taste like what it is. If you buy good quality, (and preferably local) seasonal ingredients, you can easily prepare simple meals that are quick and delicious. Visit your local Farmers Market and let the produce inspire your menus. Grill some fish or chicken and serve it with a baked sweet potato, a simple salad, or roasted vegetables. Try to enjoy the shopping and cooking as much as the eating. 

Quick Pasta with Tomato sauce: 

  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil(un refined organic coconut oil is another good option)
  • 5-6 medium ripe tomatoes, or 1 medium can of stewed Roma tomatoes (Parmalat brand or in a jar) 
  • 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped(or fresh basil)
  • 1 small bunch fresh (or dry) oregano,finely chopped
  • 1-2 Teaspoons crushed red chili peppers
  • Sea salt (to taste)
  • 1 package pasta of choice (whole grain or brown rice is a healthier choice) 
  • Good Parmesan cheese.

Boil the water to cook your pasta while you prepare the sauce. Sautee onions and garlic in olive oil until golden (not brown), add tomatoes, salt, and red chili pepper. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or so, add the fresh herbs and simmer for 2-3 minutes more. Add a dash of olive oil before serving. You can also add sautéed vegetables to this recipe (sautee them along with the onions) – zucchinis, mushrooms, or bell peppers work really well. 

Shop When You Have Time to Process Meats and Vegetables. 

Clean, season, and marinate your proteins before you wrap and refrigerate them. Clean and prepare your vegetables before storing them in gas-tight containers. Wash and dry your fresh herbs and refrigerate them in a jar with water at the bottom-they will stay fresh (and ready to use) for a longer time.

Homemade Pesto Sauce: (From your staples above) 

  • ¼ cup walnuts
    ¼ cup pine nuts(I prefer to use walnuts only, so 1/2 cup)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 6 cups fresh (packed) basil leaves 
  • 1 Teaspoon sea salt 
  • 1 Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups good extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup) 
Place nuts and garlic in a food processor with a steel blade, process for 30-40 seconds, then add basil leaves , salt, and pepper. While processor is running, pour olive oil in through the feed tube. When pesto is finely pureed, add Parmesan cheese and process for 1 minute.
Serve with pasta or as a spread on your sandwiches, as a topping on your baked potatoes or soups, or add a few teaspoons to your stews for flavor. To store in refrigerator or freezer, cover with a thin film of olive oil.   

Buy a Microplane Grater.

Easily zest a lemon or grate your cheese, chocolate, or ginger right over your pot or bowl. They are very handy kitchen tools- easy to use, and easy to clean. 

Cook Extra
when you have some time on your hands.

Prepare stews, sauces, casseroles or soups and freeze them for use later in the week. I often double or triple a recipe and freeze the additional portions for later use. It is always nice to know you have a few good meals in the freezer that are ready to go. A good bolognese sauce-click here for recipe freezes well.

Butternut Squash Soup (also freezes well): 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1/2 cup diced celery 
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 1 medium butternut squash cubed(another good variation is to roast the squash in the oven first, then scoop it out)

  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 to 6 cups low-sodium organic chicken broth(or vegetarian broth) 
Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste 

Heat olive oil in a deep pot. Add celery and onion. Cook until onion turns translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add butternut squash and thyme. Stir in chicken (or vegetable) broth and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash is fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree soup. You can add a dollop of crème fraiche, sour cream, or coconut milk for additional flavor and creamy texture. 

Make (any) Broth to Freeze in Ice Cube Trays.
You can use a few cubes at a time to quickly add flavor to your favorite recipes. 

Roast Your Vegetables in the Oven with a little bit of olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and some rosemary or thyme.

This is one of my favorite, (and one of the easiest,) ways to prepare carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, & cauliflower in the winter, and zucchinis, tomatoes, fennel, and bell peppers in the summer. You can roast or grill vegetables ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 days. 

The following is a great recipe for a salad that calls for roasted vegetables you can adjust with the seasons (a great crowd pleaser that travels well–perhaps a better choice for your not-so-busy days): 

Grilled Vegetable Couscous salad with Cumin dressing 

Grilled vegetables: 
In the summer, grill mushrooms, cherry or Roma tomatoes, zucchini, onions, and fennel. In the fall or winter months you can grill carrots, eggplants, parsnips, and butternut squash. Arrange the vegetables in the roasting pan or sheet pan, sprinkle with herbs and olive oil. Toss everything around in the oil to get a good coating and season with salt and pepper. Place the pan on the highest shelf of the oven for 30 minutes or until they are toasted brown at the edges. 
Couscous: Boil 8 ounces of salted water or vegetable stock. Place 10 ounces of medium couscous in a heatproof bowl and pour the boiling liquid over it. Add some salt and pepper, stir with a fork, and leave it for 5 minutes to absorb all the stock and soften.
Dressing: You will need extra virgin Olive Oil (3 ounces or so), a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 2 tablespoons of ground cumin, 1/4 cup of tomato puree(or 2 tbsp tomato paste), and 4 tablespoons of fresh lime juice (2 limes). Whisk the ingredients together.
To assemble and serve: Place the couscous in a large, wide salad bowl and gently top with the roasted vegetables. Next arrange 3 ounces of mixed salad greens (optional) over them. Just before serving, drizzle a little of the dressing over the top. You can pass the rest of the dressing around separately.

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3 comments on “turn daily cooking chore to every day pleasure: an oldie (but mostly) goodie

  1. These are very helpful tips. When you say “store the clean and dried herbs in a jar with water”–do you mean some water in the bottom of the jar or a lot of water? I always have a problem keeping basil as it seems to go bad so quickly…

    • yes, just some water at the bottom of the jar. you may consider buying the basil potted (in soil) and keeping it near a window in the kitchen. it lasts much longer this way as long as you water it only when the soil gets dry. thyme, rosemary, parsley, and oregano last longer in the refrigerator in a jar with a little water at the bottom.

  2. Pingback: did you say veg·e·tar·i·an? a simple {green} dinner for a gathering of friends: curried vegetable rice & fire roasted eggplant salad | Cooking Minette

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