Top 6 Ideas for Easy Preparation of Weeknight Meals (and even packing lunches too!).

My sister and brother-in-law are very busy career folk with 2 dogs, a house under renovations, and a million other things to do, and freeze a lot of meals for quick dinners on busy weeknights.  After a recent conversation, I was inspired to share what I do for quick and easy meals, and how this preparation and routine has helped me maintain a healthy, whole foods diet (for the most part, haha!).

1. Have cooked or thawed protein in the fridge at all times.

I like to buy in bulk and freeze meat, and there is nothing worse then being hungry for dinner and having to defrost something before you can even cook it!  I like to bake 5 or 6 chicken breasts in the oven, with a simple seasoning such as salt and pepper, or some herbs.  This way, they can be doctored up later.  Add a drizzle of oil for extra flavour and juiciness.  Chill in the fridge in a container for later use.  P.S. Cutting cooked and chilled chicken is so much easier and slices SO nice.  Now you can add it to a salad for an entree-style salad, make a quick wrap, or pasta.  You could also cook a whole chicken, bone-in chicken, etc. and do the same thing.  For pork and beef, I prefer to have them thawed and even marinated for a day or two in spices or whatever, or even cut up and put on kabobs for quick grilling.  This works with chicken too.  Or with thawed meat you can cube it or slice it when raw and store in the fridge.  Sometimes cleaning and cutting the meat takes awhile, but this way, it is already done.

 

2. Make a big batch of homemade tomato sauce.

When you have tried this, you will never go back to the canned store bought kind again.  I freeze it in batches and always have one ready in the fridge.  Chicken parm sandwiches, english muffin or pita pizzas, or pastas are made super quick easy.

 

3.  Triple recipes, or just make a TON of something at once.

Put on the radio, and spend some time in the kitchen on the weekend and cook up a favourite dinner.  We love pasta dishes in our house and make huge batches of them.  Mac n’ cheese is really delicious for leftovers, and can easily be healthified.  We will make a pasta that has 4 or 5 chicken breasts in it and a mound of veggies is on the cutting board waiting to go in.  Pasta is good for leftovers and re-heats well too.  If you have a microwave at work (or like cold pasta) you will have lunches for several days, or leftovers to eat anytime.

 

4. Prep all your produce.

Wash, cut, and prepare all the fruits and veggies (including lettuce and greens) in your fridge store in containers (which also makes for easy snacking, I find I am much more likely to grab them if they are ready to go).  For lunches, I even take it a step further and portion them into baggies for small lunch containers for the week.  That way, all the work is done and I plop them into my lunch bag.  And having peppers and mushrooms sliced and washed already, and lettuce clean and dried, cuts dinner prep time way down.  I even sometimes do things 2-ways, for example, I will cut carrots into sticks for snacks and side dishes and also shred some for salad toppings.  Words cannot describe how useful it is to have a fridge full of washed and prepped fruits and veggies.  If I have edamamme, I will cook it and do the same thing (it is good hot or cold, or added to salad or stir fry).  Or I will have a can of beans or chick peas rinsed and ready in a container for salads and topping any dish basically.

 

5. Cook up a batch of rice.  A big one.

With your veggies already prepared and meat thawed, you can stir fry it all together and then serve over rice for such an effortless, yet delicious dinner.  I find rice re-heats well, in my opinion.  Or make a curry, which is really easy, yet really hardy, and serve with rice.  And combine leftover cooked rice with leftover cooked chicken, you get an amazing homemade chicken fried rice.  I even like our homemade, healthier version better then take-out now.  We almost never buy it out anymore.

 

6.  Use the slow cooker for everything.

Casseroles, meat, roasts, sauces, etc.  It does the work all day and you come home to a delicious meal!  For extra fast meals, do something all-in-one, like pork loin with potatoes/onions/carrots, seasoning of choice, and voila.  You could even add a side salad or corn on the cob for something extra.

Now I bet all of this sounds like a ton of work, and just really not do-able at all.  But I don’t have every single example above ready in my fridge.  My rule of thumb is: always have cooked or at least thawed protein available and abundant, and prep all produce.  One week I might have a ton of cooked chicken breast and rice in the fridge, the next week might be more grilling with side salads, and the next week might be making loads of 1 or 2 dishes for leftovers.

I pick a day when I have some time, put on my favourite radio station (oldies or NPR usually) and head into the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. It’s very relaxing, because there is no time frame, I am not starving, and can putter around.  Or the Artist and I will do it together one night, and catch up, be silly, or have really great talks about life, or all of the above.  Being in the kitchen together is one of our favourite ways to spend time together.  Sometimes we even take it a step further; the Artist will prepare a big dinner with tons of leftovers, and I will prep all the produce for the week, and we will pour drinks, turn up the tunes, eat the dinner by candle light, and make a mini-date out of it.

When these are all prepared, and I even pre-portion for lunches (so I literally grab my lunch from the fridge and plop it in my lunch bag in the morning), I eat a lot healthier and a much more balanced diet.  We are less likely to resort to junk or take-out when we get home tired after a long day because we can make something delicious and homemade in minutes.

The fastest meals, I would say in 15 minutes or less, would be: entree-style salads, tacos (using already cooked meat or beans), quesadillas, wraps, and grilled kabobs.

On the more medium side of things, in about 20 minutes, you could have: grilled meat, stir fry (less time probably if you use cooked meat instead of sautéing), pita or flatbread pizza, or grilled paninis.

And in about 30 minutes, you could make: spaghetti, chicken fried rice, any pasta dish, prepare pizza dough ahead of time by rolling it in desired shape(s) and freezing (you could even cook it for a few minutes to help it hold its shape) for taking pizza at home to the next level, spicy orange chicken with cashew nuts (or any Asian dish that doesn’t involve battering and frying the meat before starting), or larger cuts of meat including larger cuts of bone-in meat either grilled, or oven roasted.

In 30+ minutes: mac n’cheese casserole, sweet and sour chicken (or Asian dishes that include battering and frying meat), Mongolian style stir fry with Sriracha sauce, and of course things in the slow cooker.  These just mostly require time for cooking and don’t need as much attention other then checking or stirring during this time.

And for all of these examples, having prepped produce will come in handy for easy and quick side dishes and salads.  For example; grilled peppers, corn on the cob, steamed broccoli, roasted asparagus, raw veggie platter with hummus, and never ending combinations of salads.  And to keep things as healthy as possible, choose whole wheat options, make your own marinade instead of using a bottled one, and be aware of how much sodium and sugar you use so that you can adjust to fit your needs/wants.

I hope this was helpful 🙂

 

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Latest Knitting Project

When I was in high school, I learned how to knit.  I didn’t really do it much, just sort of learned how, and that was that.  When we were living in Toronto, I picked it up again.  But, this time, I did it more often.  I still knit, but it comes in phases.  I will go through a phase where I knit a lot- while watching TV, in bed, etc. and phases where I am busier and don’t make too much progress.  I was trying on winter headbands in Target, and seeing how goofy I looked.  But in the Artist’s words, I looked “good-goofy”.  But to stay on our tight budget, I decided to use the yarn I already had at home to try and make one.  I don’t have any knitting in the round needles, so I had to knit normally and attach the ends.  I chose the stockinette stitch, which is K1-P1 and repeat.  It is not totally free of mistakes, but the Artist’s says that is better, because it is wabi-sabi- the beauty in flaws and imperfections.  I always loved the “shabby-chic” style, and old furniture, and vintage things.  Always.  The best I could articulate it was that I liked things that had a story.  But, as I said in my last post, the Artist is amazing with words, in all aspects you could possibly think of.  His art involves a lot of the concepts of wabi-sabi, and when he first told me about it, it clicked- that is the perspective I take on things.  That is why I love the old, the worn, and the vintage.  I see the beauty in it, where it’s previous owner may not have.  Just one of the many ways, my life has been so enriched by the wisdom, talents, and artworks of my Artist.

Here is my headband 🙂

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I am pleased with my creation.  I think I might make more.  The key is to find good deals on yarn, so you pay significantly less then if buy it in the store.

I l ove knitting with “big” yarn and large needles.  Not for aesthetic appeal, I mean, it looks good and everything, but I use these for visceral reasons.  When I am knitting with big yarn and large needles, it is addicting.  Sometimes I can’t stop.  It just feels good, and satisfying.  Smaller yarn and needles are fine, and I have used them, but I don’t get addicted to my project and it takes forever to complete.

Some nice things the Artist has done for me: picked up all the movies that were being held for me at the library, because he knew I was anxious to watch some of them, made homemade wings and homemade pizza recently because he knows I love his cooking, and talked with me and supported me and calmed me when I got a little overwhelmed about the million dollar question I keep getting asked, “what are you guys going to do after he graduates?”.  I started looking into options, and quickly got overwhelmed.  But, he repeated our mantra.  One person says, “but, no matter what….” and the other person who is upset about whatever, say, “….we always have each other”.  Because really, no matter what happens, we will have each other and that is the most important thing.  We will figure it al out at some point.

Some nice things I have done for the Artist: made him the General Tso’s chicken he had been craving, printed several copies of his assignment because I knew he was running late and feeling rushed, and I agreed to watch a movie of his choice- because the “Artist-movies” as I like to call them, are usually strange, hard to follow, or really absurd and hard to watch, haha.  But I know he is craving something like that, some guilty pleasure time because he has been working so hard.

Doing nice things for each other, makes all the difference in life.  Every day, we are showing each other that we care and are thinking of the other.  That sparks a continuous circle of giving, thoughtfulness, and support.

Happiness, really is, contagious.

More Copycat Chinese Food Dishes!

I decided to experiment with more Asian inspired recipes over the past little while- and with huge success.  I will definitely be making these again, and they taste just as delicious as take out!  The major difference is that I don’t have a deep fryer, but both pan and oven cooking work great 🙂  I start by looking at some recipes online, and reading comments and reviews to see how it worked for others, noticing trends, and see what the most popular ingredients are.  Then, I go into the kitchen, and sort of follow a recipe, but mostly I just wing it.  Usually, I don’t have exactly the ingredients, especially if they are not cheap or economical to buy, so I substitute similar ingredients with no problems.

Spicy Szechuan Chicken and Vegetables

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First I browned the chicken breast, which was cubed, in a pan with some minced garlic, a tad of oil, and some of the sauce.  Then I added an assortment of veggies and the rest of the sauce.  The sauce contains: low sodium soy sauce, rice vinegar, water, chill sauce, cayenne, ground ginger, and a bit of paprika for colour.  I poured that on the chicken and vegetables and let it come to a boil, and it starts to thicken a bit, and I added a spoonful at a time of cornstarch and water mixture.  I served over rice with chopped peanuts.  The peanuts are a great accompaniment, the dish wouldn’t be the same without them!

Orange Chicken:

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Sauce contains: orange marmelade, teriyaki, rice vinegar, water, dried and de-seeded red chilies, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and slowly adding a spoonful of cornstarch and water mixed together at a time until it thickens.  I added some vegetables, and served it as is!

General Tso’s Chicken:

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Sauce contains: worcestershire sauce, teriyaki, water, rice vinegar, minced garlic, hoisin sauce, sugar, and a spoonful of bottled General Tso’s sauce.  Dried and de-seeded red chilis, as well as onions go well in there too.  And same procedure with the cornstarch and water mixture, adding small bits at a time until it gets thick.

The trick with adding the cornstarch, is not to add too much.  I add a spoonful, stir, and let it sit on the heat for a minute to thicken.  Giving it a minute, it will usually thicken up with only a spoonful or 2 of the mixture.  In the beginning, the sauce may look like it won’t be enough- but it will be.  You just want a coating on everything, not having your chicken and toppings sopping in it.  Well, I don’t anyways.  I didn’t serve this over rice, just as is!

These were all amazing!  The chicken and vegetables can be cooked pretty much however, you can use whatever vegetables you want.  It is the sauce that is the best part 😉 AMAZING.

I am about to take a bite…..

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Here I am after tasting a bit of each, and so proud!  And yes, I was cooking in my jammies.

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The Artist loved these as well, I would have like more spice flavour in the orange chicken for next time though.  But none the less, it was all delicious!!!!  The Artist was impressed with me trying new dishes and succeeding to well on the first try.  He is so sweet.  He was waiting and waiting while I was preparing this.  I hadn’t prepped anything, so I was cutting the chicken and mixing the sauces- but he said it was WELL worth the wait and he was so glad he didn’t miss it.

I am definitely in a copycat recipe phase.  Check out my Copycat Butterfingers, and Copycat Cheddar Bay Biscuits!  Mmmmm, biscuits.  Cheddar Bay biscuits are probably one of the few foods that “moved” me.

Yes, food moves me.

I love food.