Archive for the ‘Meal prep’ Category

Egg Roll Cravings

December 28, 2016

Sometimes we have cravings.  For me, that craving is often Chinese food, and not just any Chinese food, but the old-school greasy appetizers that barely qualified as any sort of nutritious meal, but were so delicious and addicting.  One of those favorites of mine was egg rolls: deep-fried flour-wrapped ground pork, cabbage, carrots, and green onions.  I’m not sure what else was in these exotic delicacies of my youth, but as I grew older and my taste buds matured, I learned how to make a variety of versions of various rolls.  All were delicious, and all were very time-consuming.

Recently during a craving for these Asian flavors, I decided that it was time to go the easy route.  The easy route is also a bit healthier as it requires no flour wrappers and no deep frying which also meant much easier clean up as well!  What I’m talking about here folks, is a big pan of egg roll filling.  Yup, just the good stuff.  In a big bowl. Comfort food at its best.  So here you go:

Egg Roll Bowl

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 12 oz shredded cabbage*
  • 6 oz shredded carrots*
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
  • 1-2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp minced ginger
  • 2 achopped green onions

*shortcut alert: One 12 oz bag of cole slaw mix which is primarily cabbage and carrots can take the place of manually shredding cabbage and carrots

Method

In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, white part of chopped green onions, ginger, and garlic. Set aside.

Brown ground pork, then add a third to half of the sauce mixture**.  Add cabbage, carrots, and the rest of the sauce mixture.  Cover and cook on low until cabbage is softened.

Serve in a bowl, as is or over rice. Top with green part of chopped onions and a drizzle of toasted sesame seed oil.

**shortcut alert:  Prep all veggies and sauce in advance.  Cook pork and refrigerate up to a day in advance.  When it’s time for dinner, heat up pork and add veggies and sauce.  Pork mixture can also be made ahead and frozen for a future meal – just add veggies and sauce!

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What’s in Your Fridge?

August 14, 2016

Cooking healthy meals, while important, is not all there is to healthy eating.  Snacking is a part of life and we just need to accept that.  For some people who eat many small meals each day, it’s a very big part of life.  So how do you keep from reaching for a candy bar or bag of chips when you get the munchies?  Well, for starters, don’t buy those things (duh!).  Ok, so even if you don’t keep junk in the house, you still need healthy snacks to be just as easy to grab when the moment strikes.

When you organize your refrigerator and pantry to make snacks easy and appealing, the battle is half won.  You will also want to keep a variety of sweet and savory snacks.  You may crave either one at any given time so be prepared.

Consider your cravings.  If you’re craving chocolate, it’s likely your body needs magnesium.  Grab a handful of raw almonds instead.  Craving salt?  Salt isn’t a bad guy.  Your body needs salt to help control the balance of water and other fluids in the body. You could be dehydrated, try drinking some water.  It could be the actual sodium your body wants, so try celery with natural, salted almond butter instead of a bag of chips.  Sometimes it’s oily foods masking as a salt craving.  Halve an avocado and mash with a little salt and pepper for a super healthy and filling snack.  Add a dash of Sriracha for a super flavorful kick!

One of my favorite snacks is cheese chips. I’m not talking about the fish shaped cheese crackers or any other commercially prepared snacks.  This is just cheese, baked to crispy goodness.  You can use most any cheese you like.  My favorite is a 3 or 4 cheese blend often used in Mexican cooking.

Cheese Chips

Ingredients: shredded 3-cheese blend, or other cheese of your choosing

Method: Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or use Silpat silicone baking mats).  Place small “haystacks” of shredded cheese on paper or Silpat as if you were baking cookies.  You can fit 9-20 per cookie sheet depending on size (9-12 on a quarter sheet pan that fits in a toaster oven or up to 24 on a half sheet that fits in a regular oven). Be sure to leave space for the cheese to melt and spread a bit.  Bake in preheated oven at 400 F for 10-12 minutes. Let cool, chips will crisp once cool.

While I don’t have a microwave, I’ve heard that this can be microwaved as well.  You can also use sliced cheese, cutting each square cheese slice into 4 smaller squares.  Try different cheeses for a variety of flavors. Pepper jack is another great flavor especially dipped in guacamole!

Honor your cravings and keep healthy snacks on hand for whenever the urge to much strikes.  Being prepared will help you stay on track with healthy eating habits.

Brown Bagging It

July 19, 2016

Something that comes up a lot is packing a lunch for work.  Even the best local dives, while relatively inexpensive, still add up.  Consider that a quick takeout salad or sandwich lunch downtown runs about $10.  Five days a week and 4 weeks per month takes your lunch expense to $200 each month!  I don’t know about you, but I can certainly think of a few other things I could do with $200.

Of course, brown bag lunches often bring visions of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold leftovers in Tupperware, or the ubiquitous cup of noodles.  It doesn’t have to be that way though.  Consider first what you like to eat and how that might be prepared in a to-go situation.  There are a variety of thermos type containers to consider, as well as thermal lunch bags that keep your hots hot and your colds cold.  One of my favorites is the Bento thermos .  imageIt’s a large-ish thermos with 3 smaller containers inside and it comes in a thermal tote bag.  There’s a larger version as well for those who have a bigger appetite than I do.  And a bonus, my thin coffee thermos fits in the same tote bag!

I like the three containers for breakfast, lunch,  and snack.  I leave super early in the morning so don’t eat breakfast until I get to work.  Instead of opting for the nearest mc-breakfast sandwich, I scramble eggs, chopped bacon, and cheese before I leave and pop it in the smallest bento container.  Lunch is often leftovers from dinner the night before, heated before I leave home and put in the largest container.  The medium container gets a snack or another lunch item.  Breakfast is still hot when I get to work (after an hour and a half train ride), and lunch is still warm at noon.

Ok, so you’re still thinking “leftovers”, ugh!  Just hold on a minute.  Let’s take a look at some of the recent recipes we’ve created.  Chicken enchilada bake with a little extra salsa makes a perfectly nice lunch, or you can take some of that leftover chicken and wrap it in a tortilla or lettuce leaf for a taco/wrap.  How about that shredded pork?  Put some in one container and some lettuce and tomatoes in another container.  With a dollop of salsa you’ve got a taco salad for lunch.  Quick and easy!

So what if you don’t have any leftovers, or really don’t want leftovers 5 days a week?  Then make up some other lunch options when you’re doing your weekly meal prep on the weekend.  Planning on chicken stir fry one night for dinner?  Cook a couple of extra chicken breast tenders at the same time and make chicken salad.  Dress it up by using wasabi mayonnaise or mashed avocado.  My favorite is adding turmeric and black pepper.  You can even make a couple of small batch variations for variety during the week.  Toss some in a lettuce leaf for a healthy wrap or serve some with tortilla chips for a fun variation.

Chicken Salad (the basics)

Base Ingredients: chicken breast tenders, mayonnaise

Options: wasabi mayo and chopped green onions, turmeric and black pepper, celery and onions, or cranberries and walnut pieces.  Just use your imagination!

Add-ons: lettuce leaves for wrapping, chopped lettuce for salad, tortilla chips, whole wheat crackers

Planning and Meal Prep

July 13, 2016

I’ve touched on prepping ingredients for meals a bit in the past, but what does this really mean?  It could be just chopping vegetables ahead of time for quick assembly when it’s time to cook.  Or it could mean assembling the entire meal so it just needs to be popped in the oven when you get home from work.  Depending on your available time and the type of meal, you can even go so far as creating the entire meal and freezing it.  When it’s time for dinner, all you need to do is heat and eat.

Since we’re getting back to basics and finding time to create whole food healthy meals instead of pre-made store bought meals or ordering takeout, let’s focus on saving time by prepping as much as possible for a week’s worth of dinners.

Planning your menu will help you plan your grocery trip.  Cooking meals with similar ingredients is a start.  The frozen chicken tenders gave us an Enchilada Bake and an Asian inspired stir fry by just switching up the add-ons.  We can do the same with a pork roast.

A 3-4 pound pork roast can give you a couple of chops and some shredded pork for tacos or BBQ sandwiches.

Back to your basic shopping list. For the previous recipes we’ve focused on some frozen chicken breast tenders.  Let’s add some variety to the list and get a pork loin roast.  Let’s say you want chicken stir fry on Monday, shredded pork tacos on Tuesday, chicken enchilada bake on Wednesday, and Pork chops on Thursday.  You’ve shopped for your meats and veggies this week and you already have your pantry staples from previous shopping trips.  Now just set aside an hour on the weekend to prep for the week.

I cook for two people and try to allow for leftovers to bring to work for lunch.  If you are feeding a family of 4 or more, just adjust the amounts.  Take your pork roast and cut two 1/2-3/4 inch chops off the end.  Put these in a zip lock Baggie and toss in the freezer for Thursday. The rest of the pork roast goes into either a crock pot or electric pressure cooker. Add a splash of water, broth, or a couple of tablespoons of salsa for moisture while the pork cooks down. image

I highly recommend getting an electric pressure cooker, like the Instant Pot.  Like a crock pot, you can turn it on and walk away, but the IP will only take about 1/4 of the time of a crock pot to cook that pork roast.  You can even cook from frozen!  The 3 pounds of pork roast left after the chops will cook down in about an hour in the pressure cooker.

While the pork is cooking, cut your chicken tenders into cubes and store in a sealed container or zip lock baggie in the fridge for Monday’s stir fry. If these are too frozen to cut, just toss them in the bAggies and they’ll be thawed for Monday’s dinner and you can cut them up then. Chop your stir fry veggies and store as well.  Next place your frozen chicken tenders for the enchilada bake in your baking dish, top with salsa, and store in the fridge until Wed. Pyrex baking dishes (like these) imagewith plastic lids are great for pre-prepping meals as they go straight from the fridge to the oven.

If you’re leery of storing meat in the fridge in advance, you can keep it the freezer, but remember to put it in the fridge the morning you will need it so it will be thawed for dinner.

You now have three meals prepped!  Once the pork roast cooks down, shred it using two forks.  Store the pork in a covered container in the fridge for tacos on Tuesday.  Depending on how many people you are feeding, you might split it into two portions and freeze one for another time.  Shredded pork is not only great for tacos, but also on nachos or with BBQ sauce for a BBQ sandwich.

So here you go.  With minimal ingredients and a little time on the weekend, you now have four home cooked meals prepped and ready for your busy week ahead!

It’s Been A While

July 3, 2016

Yes, this project fell by the wayside.  There are so many activities to keep up with: weaving, spinning, hiking, kayaking, and even work.  This is what got me thinking again.  People are busy. I am busy. You are busy.  Because of this, many young people never learn to cook with whole food ingredients.  Many older people just stopped cooking at all and rely on heat-and-eat meals from the grocery or eating out.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good restaurant meal, especially if it’s at a locally owned and operated, non-chain establishment.  But as busy as we are, real food at home is a necessity. And learning how to cook real food is a crucial life skill.

As busy as we are, it can be done, it just takes a little planning, both at the grocery store and in the kitchen.

When I first started writing and really getting in to cooking, I was working at home and raising my children.  My time was more flexible and without a commute to work, I had a bit more of it. This made for an easier transition to a whole food cooking life.  Now that I’m back in an office with lots of extracurricular interests, my time is limited, but there is still time for cooking and eating well, and that’s what I plan on sharing with you!

For you who have gotten away from home cooked meals due to lack of time and you who are young and just learning how to fend for yourselves in the real world, I have tips and recipes to share to get you (back) in then kitchen and enjoying preparing your own healthy meals.

No more chatter for today, let’s get to a recipe.  One of my favorite stand-bys, Chicken Enchilada Bake.  This is not a traditional enchilada recipe.  In fact, technically it’s not enchiladas at all as there are no tortillas.  It’s just a quick and easy 3 ingredient meal that can be made for one person or six with no extra effort.

Grocery Store Tip:  Purchase large bags of frozen chicken breast tenders (boneless, skinless, not breaded, just chicken). Trader Joe’s sells them in a zip lock bag.  If you only need one or two or six, just throw the rest back in the freezer. They thaw quickly and can be cooked from frozen.

Ingredients

  • chicken tenders (however many you need for the people you are feeding)
  • salsa verde (enough to cover the chicken in a baking dish)
  • Monterey jack (or pepper jack) cheese, shredded

Directions

In a baking dish large enough to fit the chicken in a single layer, place the chicken and cover with salsa.  You want to be able to see the chicken through the salsa, so not entirely covered or you’ll end up with soup.  Cover and bake until chicken is cooked. These don’t take long, maybe 20 minutes for 6-8 tenders if thawed.  A bit longer if frozen.  Remove cover and generously top with cheese.  Bake until cheese is melted.  Voila!  Dinner is served.

Add a side veggie or salad if you like.  Spark it up by seasoning chicken with cumin before baking.  Add extra chilies or chopped sweet peppers.  You can customize this as you wish.