Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Changing Your Diet Series: Scratch!

One of the quickest ways to improve your diet is to wipe out the processed food.  Think of all the time you'll save not having to read the labels!

I was thinking about this the other day as I cooked dinner.  I roasted a chicken last Tuesday, while I was working (it takes about 2 hours but not a lot of attention) and then used the chicken on Wednesday to make chicken curry and rice.  The rice took 20 minutes and the curry sauce about the same; the chicken was already cooked so I just added it in.  All told I spent about 15 minutes in front of the stove that night for a completely from scratch meal. The great part is that then I stuck the chicken carcass in the crock pot with some water and veggies, and let it cook on low for 2 days.  Amazing homemade chicken stock, which I used to make soup on Friday.

Mushroom risotto - steamy goodness!
Yesterday I made mushroom risotto, which is more time intensive because it requires constant attention but actually only takes about 25 minutes. It may seem intimidating, but it's actually very easy to cook and it's a hearty meal.  I've developed a pattern of planning a week in advance and cooking certain things ahead of time.  I also use my crock pot a lot - there's nothing like a pork tenderloin that's been cooking on low all day.  It makes the whole house smell wonderful, and leftovers make great sandwiches the next day!

Vegetables can be an afterthought when you are trying to put a meal together quickly. Often I will cut up a bunch of raw veggies - carrots, red and green peppers, cucumbers - and we will just add them to our plates.  Quick roasted vegetables are also nice - zucchini spears topped with olive oil, salt, pepper and grated parmesan take about 15 minutes to brown in the oven and make a nice finger food.

One of my son's favorite things to prepare is chicken soft tacos.  He takes the precooked meat I have in the fridge, shreds some cheese and lettuce, adds a little rice and salsa in a tortilla, done!  Less than 10 minutes.  We need to be creative, which is not easy - sometimes just finding a recipe and figuring out what's in the icebox is overwhelming.  You should have a couple things up your sleeve that you can make in a pinch - and always keep those ingredients on hand.  It helps to cook a little extra if you can, and freeze it for later.

My go-to meal for dinner in a hurry has always been eggs. I make a mean omelet, and frittatas (see below) are great as well.  Try these Southwestern Omelet Muffins - they are fabulous.  Pop them in the freezer to use when you're short on time.  Loads of flavor and the recipe makes about 18 so you know you'll have a couple meals out of it.

I have a friend who cooks every weekend, freezing meals for the week so she doesn't have to think about it. I wish I could be that organized.

What recipes do you use to pull together a quick dinner?

Quick Fritatta Recipe 
(a good way to clean out the veggie drawer in your fridge)

4 eggs
Dash of milk or water
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Half an onion
Cheese - parmesan, cheddar, swiss...whatever you have
Whatever you have on hand - I've used (and combined) mushrooms, bacon, sausage, ham, red or green peppers, jalapenos, tomatoes, etc.

Beat the eggs, adding a dash of milk or water, then salt and pepper.  Heat a cast iron or oven proof skillet, add some olive oil and let it heat.  Add the eggs and cook for a moment until the bottom is finished.  Then add the other ingredients in a layering fashion.  If your bacon is raw, cook it in the pan, then add the eggs on top and continue.  Top with tomatoes and/or cheese, pop in the oven for 10 minutes at 400F.  Done when golden brown.  Serves 2-3.

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