Jul 3, 2008

Mastering Quick Easy Meals

Think you have no time to cook? Does looking in your cupboard stress you out? Are dinners often fast food or take out because you haven't gone to the grocery store? If the answer to these questions is Yes, read on.

Quick healthy meals are not as hard as you may think. As long as you have some basic ingredients on hand, you'll be prepared to whip up a meal for your family, or even surprise impromtu guests with some delicious apps.

So what should you routinely have "on hand"? Well, this will vary based on your culture, habits, and taste. The items I personally keep around are listed to your right -- Must-haves for the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Of course I am out of some of these at any given point, but if I stock my small kitchen with many of these items, I can prep yummy meals in very little time.

Here are a few tips to help you stock your kitchen & make quick meals:

1) Don't worry about using a recipe.
Just put things together that you think will "go." For example, if you have chicken breasts, canned tomatoes, some fresh herb, and a type of cheese...you have an entree! If this is too far out of your comfort zone, then at least don't worry about following a recipe exactly. If you don't have something, especially an herb or fruit or veggie, you can just substitute with something that you do have. For example, let's say a recipe calls for parsely, and you only have basil, then just use the basil. No one will know the difference and it will still taste fine.

2) Only buy a few fresh things at a time.
People are always telling me how it's so expensive to cook with fruits & vegetables. Not true. What's expensive is when you buy the entire produce department and then let it all rot in your fridge. To avoid this, just buy 1-2 veggies, 1-2 fruits, and 1 kind of herb, and cook with these things the whole week. It may sound boring or repetitive, but when you add these ingredients to items from your pantry & freezer (frozen veggies, meats, pastas, beans, rice) -- you can make all sorts of different meals with the same fresh produce.

3) Prep fresh ingredients on weekends (or when you have a little time).
Wash lettuce, carrots, celery, apples, etc. when you have a moment, then wrap them in thin kitchen towels & store them in your produce drawers. When its time to make a quick salad or sautee some veggies -- all you'll have to do is a little chopping. A few things shouldn't be washed ahead of time: like berries, tomatoes, & mushrooms.

4) Don't forget to season, and err on the side of undercooking, not overcooking.
One of the reasons many restaurant meals taste so good is because chefs add plenty of salt & pepper to their food, and they make sure not to overcook it. There's nothing worse than a bland baked chicken breast with a side of flavorless, mushy steamed veggies. But for some people, this is what cooking at home means! So don't be afraid to salt your food (within reason) during the cooking process. And when it comes to cooking times, aim for a little less rather than a little more....you can always cook something longer, but you can't uncook something.

5) Make enough for leftovers.
This doesn't mean you have to eat the same thing every night for a week. But if you make extra of a dish & store it in containers in the freezer, a few weeks down the line you'll have a ready-made dinner. Your family or friends will have forgotten it by then & the only thing you'll have to do is reheat and serve.

6) Keep presentation in mind.
"We eat with our eyes first" as they say. So even when you're making a quick home meal, don't just plop tupperware in front of your family or forgo serving platters. Sure it might mean another dish or two, but making a pretty dinner is the first step to enjoying the cooking process, and making sure that the people you're cooking for are happy recipients.


Deana said...

Great tips Meels! I definitely need to work on #2 and #3...

Terri said...

my friend , Diana, just sent me your newsletter for the first time. I like your tip about putting the salad dressing at the bottom of the bowl with the salad ingredients on top, so it can be tossed at mealtime with no fuss! Thanks! I would like to receive your future newsletters.