Monday, October 04, 2010
Yesterday, I wrote "The Sunday Sous Chef" where I explained how I do all my veggie/fruit prep work on the weekend when I have time. When I want to make something during the week, I just throw it in a pan and go. You can read more about it here:
Today I'm going to blog about stir-fry. Not so much my recipe, but my technique for making it come together in a snap using all the prepped veggies.
First, my new kitchen toy. A cast-iron Le Creuset wok. I bought it as a present to myself for getting a promotion at work! Well, that's not really true. I got a 40% off coupon from them last month, so I was planning on getting it anyway. I've been wanting it for a long time. With the coupon and the good news at work, it seemed like the right time!
I marinaded short ribs in soy sauce, sugar, green onion, and garlic earlier. I sliced it into strips and added it to my hot wok.
Once browned, I added my sliced bell peppers and onions. Remember when I sliced them up earlier? Just grab a handful of each.
While my stir fry, err...fried, I boiled water in a saucepan. I lightly wilted spinach, rinsed briefly in cool water, then set aside.
My rice was started in my rice cooker hours ago, and was ready to go on the plate! So just a scoop of rice, stir fry, the romaine lettuce I reserved for wrapping, and spinach lightly seasoned with a tiny dab of sesame oil and soy sauce.
Took about 15 minutes to finish cooking. In between my beef and veggies browning, I put all my dishes into the dishwasher and wiped down the counters. No piles of dishes to groan at - it's all done! Just sit down and chow!
Once dinner is done, dish goes in the dishwasher and the dishwasher is turned on. Spent the rest of my night writing blogs, reading messages, and kicking back.
15 minutes to dinner, start to finish (thanks to veggie prep and the miracle rice cooker). As fast or faster than Chinese takeout. Healthier - I didn't use much oil, and there's no MSG or funny food coloring. Why not eat at home?
Sunday, October 03, 2010
One of the most important keys to my weight loss and maintenance is making home cooked meals. I work 40-50 hours a week at a full time job, so I understand all too well the feeling of, "I'm too tired to cook. Maybe I should order a pizza".
While I learned to cook fast meals by watching Rachael Ray's "30 Minute Meals" on the Food Network, it takes me a lot longer than 30 minutes if I have to prep and chop everything on the fly. I'm just not as fast as Rachael chopping, or something!
One of the things I do to shortcut things is to do all my veggie chopping on the weekend when I have more time. I typically do my grocery shopping on a Saturday. I put on a "sous chef" apron on Sunday and chop them up.
I usually have an idea of what I want to make for a week ahead of time, but sometimes I change my mind or get an inspiration to try something on the fly. Having ingredients already prepped and ready to go makes this a snap.
Here's my veggies for the week all chopped up, put in containers and ready to go!
I have bell peppers sliced into strips and into rings. I'll use the strips for stir-fries, and the rings typically go into salads.
Romaine lettuce chopped into salad bites. The bigger leaves I reserve for lettuce wraps for my stir fry I'm making for dinner tonight.
Sliced onions are for stir fries. Diced onions are so versatile, they go into just about anything. Always handy to have ready, even if I don't have a menu planned.
Celery chopped into pieces for salads. Cut into sticks for snacking. I've reserved the celery hearts for a soup, stew or roast.
Chopped green onion. I like to have these for marinades as they give a nice mild oniony flavor without being too strong. Also great for sprinkling as a garnish, if I'm so inclined.
Carrots for either snacking or recipes. I like baby carrots because they are a great size to throw into a pot without a lot of prep work. Or ready to go for healthy snacking.
Half a cabbage head shredded for spring rolls. The rest of the cabbage may be steamed for wraps.
Brussel sprouts. I may sound weird, but I love brussel sprouts! There is an 'Iron Chef' challenge on the Culinary Artists Sparkteam this week for brussel sprouts as well, so these may come into play with some inspiration.
Everything is sealed and ready to go in the fridge!
If this looks like a lot, it is. We eat a ton of veg at my house though. I eat a salad for lunch and dinner, so there's at minimum 10 salad portions, just for me. I eat big salads, not puny 'side' salads. The fiance usually eats a salad for dinner, so there's an additional 5 veg servings.
If there's any leftover veg at the end of the week, it will get thrown into a pot either to make a stock/broth, or a soup/stew. Nothing will go to waste, promise.
The veggies are done, now the fruit is prepped. Cubed watermelon, diced fresh pineapple, grapes, bananas, oranges and limes. Not pictured here are frozen blueberries I like to put in my yogurt and cereal in the morning for breakfast. I prefer the frozen kind because I can buy a big bag, and just use small quantities when I want them.
My limes and orange "tree". I like having a lot of limes on hand for flavoring my water. I also use them for marinades and other flavorings. Oranges are eaten as a snack, or used as marinade flavoring as well.
This took about half my Sunday to get done, but I don't mind. I had plenty of goof off time. I actually look forward to the Sunday chopping. I find it a great time to be alone with my thoughts. I listen to music, or just reflect in silence. Making all this ahead of time will save me the hassle during the week, where it's too easy to say, "I'm too tired to cook". All I have to do now is throw stuff in a pan and go. That's time well spent, in my book.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
One of the most common themes on the message boards is, "I'm so busy with work/school/kids, and I don't have a lot of money. I don't know how to cook well. How can I make meals at home?"
Many of us still have the image of a home cooked meal from our grandmothers or moms who slaved away in the kitchen all day. They made pasta sauces that slow simmered all day, or a pot roast that slow roasted in the oven.
The modern age has made it difficult for most of us to make the traditional recipes, the traditional way. We replaced home cooked meals with fast food, packaged processed meals, and restaurants. For many of us, this resulted in weight gain and health issues.
Making meals at home can be easy, fast, and delicious. You can even make your grannie's/mom's all day meals without using the stove or oven. You just need a few essential kitchen tools.
Good quality knife
There are fancy slow cookers and rice cookers with timer features and what not, but you don't need them if you're on a budget. A basic rice cooker can be bought for $30. You can probably get one for $10 on craigslist. A basic slow cooker is about the same price. If you're just making food for one or two, get the smallest model you can find. Large models will be more likely to burn food if you put in small quantities.
Here are some of the things you can make with a rice cooker:
Rice of all kinds
Anything you can steam
Things you can make in a crockpot:
Spaghetti sauce (slow cooked just like grannie used to make!)
Pot Roast (just like mom!)
Jerk Chicken (I posted this on my blog a few days ago)
Ratatouille (also posted on my blog a few posts down)
Chili con carne
Slow cooked ribs in BBQ sauce
Anything that uses liquid!
There are all kinds of crockpot cookbooks. It's not just for Sunday church brunch or potlucks. Avoid the ones that use "Cream of xxx soup" as an ingredient, though.
With your knife and cutting board, just chop your ingredients and drop them directly in the pot. Set the crockpot on low, add rice and water to your rice cooker, and turn it on. By the time you come home from work or school, dinner is ready! It really is just that easy.
And cheap. A cup of cooked rice comes out to about $0.20 per cup in my area. A crockpot of veggie stew shouldn't cost more than a dollar per serving, even if you use organic veggies. It only starts getting pricey when you add meats. Cheap cuts of meat like London broil when slow cooked get very juicy and tender. A bag of chicken breasts are always an economical choice.
When using meats in a crockpot, though, make sure to start your crockpot on high and let it full boil until cooked through, before turning on low. Or you can quick saute in a fry pan first. Low setting on a crockpot is usually a slow simmer just below the boiling point, and may not be hot enough to kill food pathogens. Just start it on high when using raw meats, or quick cook first, to be safe.
Don't overfill your crockpot. If you put in too much, it may not get to a safe cooking temperature. Read the instruction booklet, but as a general rule, don't fill more than 2/3 full.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I just got back from a birthday vacation and I'm totally inspired by Caribbean food. This is why I love to travel. I love tasting FOOD! Since I've started to feel more confident with my cooking skills, one of my favorite hobbies is trying to copy fabulous meals I've had somewhere else. That's a gift that gets recreated every time! Way more lasting than tiki masks cluttering the mantle!
Most recipes I found for jerk chicken marinate the chicken. I just got home, have to work, I can't be bothered to make a marinade then cook it later. I just want to set it and forget it. Enter the trusty crockpot.
Here's the ingredients going into the crockpot this morning. Diced onions, red bell pepper, some chicken stock, and Jamaican jerk seasoning.
I cut 2 large chicken breasts into 8 pieces and layered them on the bottom of the crockpot. 2 cups of chicken broth, the onions, bell pepper, and 1 tbsp of the seasoning go in the pot, mon.
Set on high for 1 hour on fast boil, then set on low for the rest of the day. Pot of rice is made in my rice cooker. Now I work, clean dishes, unpack, pick up the cats, etc.
It's chow time! No fancy plating this time, just food in a bowl. Scoop of rice, scoop of chicken.
And that's as easy as a healthy, home cooked meal!
It's delicious and oh so tender, but not quite a replica of the jerk chicken I had in the Bahamas. I'll have to continue to practice! I think they might have used coconut milk. Or was it a tomato base? I'll try both ways, next time.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
For the final results round of "Fiance bought eggplant From Costco and there's more eggplant than I know what to do with - HELP" edition of Iron Chef Spark, we have the following dishes.
Dish #1: Grilled Eggplant with goat cheese tomato terrine, and red pepper/tomato sauce. Topped with goat cheese wrapped with pancetta.
Dish #2: Involtini de Melanzane (eggplant rolls) with goat cheese wrapped in pancetta and basil.
Dish #3: Ratatouille
The winners in the following category:
Grilled Eggplant and Red Pepper Terrine. The blind taste test judge gave it two awards of 'fancy'. A clear winner in this category. I would make this as an elegant and delicious main course dish when having vegetarian friends over for dinner.
MOST YUMS IN A SINGLE SERVING:
Involtini di Melanzane. This is the best appetizer/side dish I have ever made. The goat cheese, pancetta and basil blend together like you'd expect from a fine restaurant. The eggplant is low calorie and holds everything together. I will make this again, count on it!
Ratatouille. Delicious, filling, and takes like 5 minutes to put in a crockpot. Set it and forget it. It's a busy woman's best friend.
In conclusion: I'd like to give a warm and special thanks to MaestroMagro, Thinronna, and IrishLady for the suggestions. I've never made any of these three dishes before, and I had an absolute ball trying to make them 'Iron Chef home edition' style. It's great to explore new dishes because it gives you a base on which you can make other things. Or you know how to deal with impromptu situations. Vegetarian best friend is coming for dinner at the last minute - what do you do? Busy night? What can you do in a flash in the same amount of time it takes to order a pizza? Don't know what to make for dinner? Ask your spark friends! It worked for me!
Thanks for reading my "Iron Chef Spark" edition of "Battle Eggplant!"
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