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Healthy Stir-Fry in a Snap

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?

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

THINRONNA 10/6/2010 2:01PM

    You are truly inspiring me to get down that Wok we have up above the stove! (I've been reading your blogs backwards!)...(date wise, not literally :)

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TIGERJANE 10/4/2010 10:38AM

    wow, you're completely impressive! Are you for hire? :)

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VHALKYRIE 10/4/2010 8:56AM

    Literal LOL! That's so funny, Anne!

Stayed tuned for the next episode...

Comment edited on: 10/4/2010 9:00:36 AM

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55WALKER 10/4/2010 8:55AM

    Cathy, since I don't own a television your blogs are my one stop shop for cooking and reality tv!

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The Sunday Sous Chef

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.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

THINRONNA 10/6/2010 2:14PM

    This is just amazing! I had asked the team earlier for ideas on getting meals ready or meal planning...you have just topped even what I expected from you lady! So impressive! I'm going to have to try this to some degree now that I am starting to feel better. We have kitchens the sizes of broom closets here and dorm sized fridges but I can still do a couple of days worth I bet...Thanks for the great idea!

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SNOWHIT 10/5/2010 12:26PM

    This is a great idea!

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VHALKYRIE 10/4/2010 4:33PM

    SCHENPOSSIBLE: I agree! I try to eliminate the excuses for the things I should be doing. Exercising, eating at home, etc. Speaking of which, I better get my butt to the gym tonight! ;)

COCACOLACUTIE: If you're short on space in the fridge, you can use bags like KYEM2007 commented below. I prefer reusable containers because we don't have recycling in my area.

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COCACOLACUTIE 10/4/2010 11:25AM

    That is phenomenal! I would like to do something like this. I have to figure out a way to organize my fridge to accommodate that!

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WOMANCHEF 10/4/2010 7:42AM

    This is such a great idea. I bow down to your organization and veggie consumption. Good for YOU!!!

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SCHENPOSSIBLE 10/3/2010 11:36PM

    my boyfriend and I both have depending jobs. Usually I get my workouts done in the mornings and dedicate my evenings to preparing dinner. Twice a week my boyfriend cooks since I go to the gym in the evenings on those days. Prepping and chopping sounds like a wonderful idea because there really isn't any excuse not to prepare dinner at home when most of the grunt work is done already. Great thinking!

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TIGERJANE 10/3/2010 10:01PM

    wow, my husband and I really need to up our veggie consumption. There is NO WAY we're eating that much produce in a week - and we should. Salads for dinner need to start happening more often! I showed your blog to him (thank for putting pictures and being so specific about what each item was destined to be!) and he was floored! Thanks for posting this!!!

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MUSKWA2 10/3/2010 9:37PM

    Wow!!!! What a great idea!

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KYEM2007 10/3/2010 9:37PM

    This is an awesome idea!!!! I do the same thing, but put all my chopped veggies into bags. Keep up the good work!!

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Essential Kitchen Tools for a Busy Life

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
Cutting board
Slow Cooker
Rice Cooker

That's it!

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
Steamed veggies
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)
Braised Chicken
Chili con carne
Cowboy chili
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.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

VHALKYRIE 10/3/2010 11:22AM

    It depends on your crockpot. As long as the food temperature reaches the safe internal temperature for the meat, then it's fine. I just start mine from high until it reaches boiling temperature, then switch to low. If you want to test whether your crockpot on low reaches safe temperature, heat a pot of water on low. After 4 hours, if the water temperature is 160F or higher, then it should be fine for all day cooking.

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WINE4GIRL 10/3/2010 8:59AM

    Awesome info! Good to explain about killing the pathogens. Lots of folks think that if you simmer all day it'll be fine. Great clarification.

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THINRONNA 9/30/2010 1:37PM

    Great list and great tips!

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DIANE7786 9/30/2010 11:41AM

    Good ideas. I love my mandolin because it makes slicing food for even cooking quick and safe.

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SNOWHIT 9/30/2010 10:32AM

    I love my crockpot.

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ARCHIMEDESII 9/30/2010 9:54AM

    I've used a wok on a portable electric burner. I gave my brother the BEST electric wok for his birthday one year. Check this out. It's a fabulous wok from Breville. I love their cookware.


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VHALKYRIE 9/30/2010 9:44AM

    Good call on the cast iron skillet and wok! I was just thinking back to my college days when I had a dorm room and no stove. I had a crockpot and a rice cooker to make meals outside of the cafeteria.

Comment edited on: 9/30/2010 9:45:28 AM

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ARCHIMEDESII 9/30/2010 9:39AM

    You know, I have an extremely well stocked kitchen. But do you know what I don't have ??? I don't have a crock. Can you believe it ? I do slow cook, but I have a wonderful old pot my mom used to use. It may be older than me. I love it. That's my version of a crock.

I would also add to your list, a good cast iron skillet of some variety. Cast iron lasts forever. I like my WOK too. WOKs are wonderful things.


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Jerk Chicken in a Crockpot

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.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

VHALKYRIE 9/29/2010 10:26AM

    When putting raw chicken in a crock pot, don't forget to start it off on the high setting and let it cook completely through, before setting on low. If you can't set it on high before leaving, then saute the chicken until cooked through in a pan first.

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MYTURN11 9/29/2010 7:21AM

    I miss so many blogs – I really need to make an effort to get on SP more. I really have tapered off. We are making some renovations to our home and will be happy when it is completed.

Thanks! This recipe looks delicious - I would make this for my husband and I. Also, I like to prepare meal in the crock pot when we go skiing and rent a condo. It would be super great having a spicy dish like this waiting for us after a day on the slopes! WooHoo - will not be long now! Here is “wishing” for a great ski season ~ need to here on the east coast.

By the way I want to wish you a belated but very Happy Birthday!

emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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VHALKYRIE 9/29/2010 6:53AM

    Jerk seasoning is always very flavorful! Mine is spicy hot as well, but you can buy jerk seasoning that is more mild.

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DANADORNBURGH 9/28/2010 10:43PM

    Loks awesome! I want to try this. Is the jery spicy hot, or just spicy flavorful?

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Iron Chef Spark: Battle Eggplant Final Judging

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.

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!"

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

WINE4GIRL 10/3/2010 8:51AM

    Great ideas and beautiful photography as well as the plate presentation!

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VHALKYRIE 9/28/2010 8:46PM

    I give all the credit to the wonderfully talented people on the Culinary Artists spark team. I never would have thought of making these dishes without them inspiring me!

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SNOWHIT 9/24/2010 5:52PM

    I had never thought about making ratatouille in a crockpot. I think I'm much more likely to make it now. I'm completely impressed and hope I can find some eggplant at the farmer's market tomorrow.

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THINRONNA 9/22/2010 3:44PM

    YAAAYYYYY! This has been so fun! Your Iron Chef Spark edition of Battle Eggplant has been just outstanding! Thank you for including all of us! Have a wonderful trip! Picture that eggplant emoicon here_____and this one is for you! emoticon

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