Monday, January 5, 2015

How to Make Three Real Foods This Week

It only takes cooking three foods this week to kick-start eating real foods all year.  They say habits take a few weeks to take hold and this is an easy one to incorporate into your routine.  Here is how to have more home cooked, real food ready when you need it. Pictured above, Potato-Corn Chowder with pre-cooked chicken breasts and bacon.

The key is to use passive cooking methods and to cook these pure, real extras while you are already in the kitchen doing something else.  Measuring coffee and bringing water to a boil or waiting for the coffee maker to do its thing?  Measure out some rice or a whole grain and slip it into boiling water to simmer on low.  Most grains cook within 30 minutes and can be stored in the refrigerator for tonight's healthier dinner.  Reheat in the microwave while you steam or stir fry some veggies.

Is the oven being used for dinner tonight?  Use the energy and space wisely-- add some chicken breasts or a fruit crisp to the oven and enjoy real food for dinner tomorrow night too.

Pick easy recipes that require a minimum number of ingredients and a passive cooking technique like steaming, roasting or baking.  Match the recipe's cooking temperature or cooking time to what you are already making, eg use the same oven temperature for several items.   Avoid recipes that ask you to stir, add ingredients midway through the cooking process or transfer from one cooking method to another (steaming then stir-frying). 

Make a big batch, one that can be used in different ways during the whole week.  Make eight half-cup servings of grains, four 6- to 8-ounce portions of protein or one pork tenderloin, even a whole chicken can be roasted alongside tonight's dinner and used in any recipe calling for rotisserie chicken (for half the price!). 

I. Cook a Grain
Rice, whole wheat pasta, barley, bulgur (cracked wheat), buckwheat, oats and more can be made ahead and served at dinner or form the basis of whole grain lunch bowls with steamed spinach, leftover veggies, beans and pre-cooked proteins. 
Hint: if you own a rice cooker it will also cook other grains, even oatmeal.

II. Cook a Protein
Chicken, pork tenderloin and fish can bake alongside tonight's meal in a low or medium oven.  If you are not sure how to prepare, place the protein in a shallow lightly oiled dish, season with salt, pepper and herbs and spices you like and cover with aluminum foil.  Check on fish after 8-12 minutes, chicken and pork 20-30 minutes.  Use a thermometer to make sure the food is thoroughly cooked.
Cooked proteins can be reheated gently by steaming or microwave on low power.  Or make paninis, main dish salads and quick pastas using these pre-cooked proteins.  

III. Cook a Fruit-based Dessert
Fresh or frozen berries, plums, peaches and cherries or fresh apples and pears can each be baked up in a buttered pie plate with a little honey or cinnamon sugar and topped with a combination of quick cooking oats and almond flour that's been tossed with equal parts vegetable oil and maple syrup.  Eat this for dessert or in a breakfast yogurt parfait.

Bonus Round:
Make a pot of soup the way cooks in past centuries did-- on the back burner while you are doing something else.  Simmer broth, vegetables, grains and beans into a pure, homemade soup flavored with herbs, salt and pepper.   The soup pictured above was made with extra boiled potatoes mixed with chicken broth and last summer's frozen corn.  Some chicken added protein and chopped avocado, jalepeño, cilantro and precooked bacon made it a meal.