Instant meals

Chopped salad base with beets, green beans, walnuts and goat cheese

We all have to eat. And the higher the quality of food we put in our bodies, the better we will feel. In response to our very busy lives, meal subscription services have taken off in popularity. Despite the criticisms that they are expensive, have too much packaging, and don’t quite give you the choices you’d like, they are still a great way to get reasonably healthy meals without the planning. Grocery stores are beginning to carry instant, complete meals as well, both cooked and ready to cook.

Make your own instant meals

But, instead of paying high prices for ready-to-cook meals, how about making your own. They will be fresher and certainly taste better. It just takes planning, and even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, you can learn to prepare fresh wholesome meals without a lot of prep time or a lengthy list of ingredients. Cooking can become an interesting part of your life instead of a chore. 

Planning is key but keep it simple

Planning is always the hardest part, but if you get in the habit of going to the market once or even twice a week, whether farmers market or grocery, it’s not so hard. Simply purchase whatever vegetables look freshest for the week. Or grow your own. Maybe you take a day on the weekend and prep everything. And most of all, keep it simple. Save the elaborate meals for when you have time on the weekend to spend more time in the kitchen.

Pantry basics

First, make sure to stock your pantry with basics so you don’t have to purchase herbs, spices and seasonings every week. Here are some staples to start with: 

  • Good quality olive oil
  • Balsamic and cider vinegar, rice vinegar and mirin if you like to cook Asian
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper for grinding
  • Onions
  • Maple syrup – try to find grade B. Deeper flavor, less expensive
  • Fresh garlic
  • Grains: rice, quinoa, other grains you love
  • Pastas: couscous, orzo
  • Broth – chicken, vegetable, beef, bone
  • Canned beans of your choice – garbanzos, pintos, black, navy

Seasonings on hand

Seasonings: chili powder, cumin, dried basil, smoked paprika, garlic powder

Perishables

For perishables, keep basics on hand such as ricotta, plain yogurt, cheeses of your choice. 

Chopped Salad

Broccoli, plentiful this time of year is a good start

Let’s get started with this chopped salad. Shop and prepare it on the weekend, and use it through the week for a quick healthy lunch or dinner side.  

The key to this salad is to make the base of any vegetables that will hold up for a few days after being chopped. 

  • 1 c. finely chopped broccoli
  • 1 c. finely chopped cauliflower
  • ½ c. slivered brussels sprouts
  • ½ c. chopped sweet peppers
  • ½ c. grated carrot

Mix and put in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

When ready to eat

Take out a half cup of the chopped salad and add onion, cucumber, nuts, dried fruits, seeds, cheese or any other ingredient that you have in the fridge. You can add cooked chicken, rice or even leftover pasta. Different ingredients can make it a totally new salad every day.

Dress with your favorite vinaigrette or creamy dressing. Or, simply brighten with a splash of lemon, lime or orange juice.

Chopped “salad” in stir-fry

Or, make a stir-fry

Even though the recipe is for a fresh salad, you can also stir-fry the mixture. Add protein of choice to make a complete meal.

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted mushrooms
Roasted Broccoli

Nothing is happening in the garden today because of the cold. So, I get to cook – my favorite recreation. I love looking in the crisper to see just what’s there, and then pulling out vegetables like mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and even one of the last eggplants of the season. I’m going to roast vegetables!

Roasting brings out the flavor

Roasting vegetables makes them sublime, giving them that rich “umami” flavor everyone is talking about. All you need are fresh-picked vegetables, good quality olive oil, salt, a sharp knife and a roasting pan. Depending on the vegetable, most will roast to caramelized goodness in about 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Drizzle them with olive oil first, roll around, and then salt when they come out of the oven. Then slice into chunks and add to rice, pasta or simply enjoy plain – a perfect side or main dish. A sprinkling of feta or Parmesan cheese and maybe a drizzle of sriracha sauce complete the dish.

Roasted Broccoli and Carrots with Farro

1 c. broccoli florets

½ pkg. baby carrots

3 T. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

½ small onion, sliced

½ c. cooked farro, quinoa, rice, bulgur or millet (cook according to package instructions)

1 t. balsamic vinegar

¼ c. Parmesan cheese

1/4 c. toasted pecans, pepitas or sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 375. In a sided roasting pan (broiler pan works well), add the carrots and drizzle with 1 t. olive oil. Roast until a fork inserts with ease, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, salt generously and put aside in a bowl. Add broccoli to pan, drizzle with 1 T. olive oil and roast until crisp-tender, about 30 minutes. Salt and add to carrots.

Add the last tablespoon olive oil to a saute pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the farro and heat through. Coarsely chop the vegetables and return to the bowl. Add the farro mixture to the vegetables, sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar and parmesan. Top with nuts or seeds and serve warm or at room temperature.

                                                                                ©Kate Jerome 2019