My previous post was a bit grim. The good news is that the situation with my beloved Lulu has stabilized and we are in somewhat welcome holding pattern. It’s a wait-and-see time which I prefer to a make-a-tough-decision time. She’s comfortable now and her personality is starting to flicker through her sickness. Cam and I are managing fairly well. It’s good to have a solid team when dealing with situations like this.
Aside from the recent drama surrounding Lulu’s health, I have been experiencing increased pressures with deadlines and ongoing responsibilities as well as the realization that our wedding is quickly approaching and there are still many things left to complete. All of these interests competing for my time and attention make me want to go face down in a vat of french fries. But emotional eating is never the solution to a stressful situation. In some ways it exacerbates it. You get stressed out, you imbibe in food that is horrible for your health in great measure, you feel remorse then guilt yourself for overeating and then stress out about over doing it and the cycle repeats itself. At least that has been my experience from time to time. Somehow the justification for doing this hinges on the busy factor. “I’m too busy to make dinner. Let’s just get takeout.” or “A pizza would be here sooner than I could cook something and I can use that time to do something else.” Well I am trying to face those negative behaviors and modify my approach. I have a few little tricks that have helped me shave a few minutes off my time in the kitchen here and there and lessen the desire and justification of ordering out too much or relying on heavily processed food too frequently when faced with a busy schedule. I can tell a difference–I feel better and would argue that I am less stressed over all when I eat better. The more control I have over what goes into my food, the better able I am to give my body exactly what it needs.
These suggestions may not be appropriate for everyone, I am just sharing the tools I have acquired to manage my own situation.
1.) Buy in quantity. I do not advocate over-buying to a point where things might go to waste, that would be contrary to the spirit of having a healthy kitchen. What I mean by this is to always have the necessary staples on-hand to make a delicious, quick meal that is good for you at any given moment. Vintage Eats over at Fair Food Fight has some helpful thoughts on this. For myself, I am always sure to have some whole wheat pasta, frozen spinach, olive oil, tomatoes (frozen from the previous year in the winter time), garlic and onions. These items together make a great quick dinner. I keep other things on hand all the time as well, but you get the idea. When you purchase pasta, get enough for two meals and keep in an airtight container, always have brown rice on hand in the same measure and you’ll have the building blocks for a great meal waiting in the cupboard.
2.) When you make, make more. Take advantage of the times when you have the opportunity to make something a bit more labor intensive and make extra. Lasagna is the perfect example–it is a hassle to make but it freezes well. The added cost in terms of time and money of making two as opposed to just the one is minimal relative to the reward of not having to cook but still having a home-cooked meal on a busy day. The same is true for prepping veggies. You generally want to use whole foods when preparing meals, so if you are cutting one onion for tonight and you have some extra time, why not cut a second and put it away for later in the week? Take an hour over the weekend and cut up the veggies you will need for the week and portion them out according to the recipes you will be making and store them in the fridge until they’re needed. Spending an extra hour over the weekend can save you a precious hour during the week.
3.) Economize your time. Learn to multi-task in the kitchen. This is difficult for some people, but it can save a lot of time. Try to time your meal according to what needs to be done and stagger tasks accordingly. Here is an example: dice a potato (sweet, red, yukon gold) and toss it with olive oil that has been salted and peppered to taste, roast in the oven at 425 degrees F until the edges are crispy and the little bits of tuber are soft when pierced with fork. It should take about 15 minutes. In that time, you can saute some greens and tofu or throw together a salad. Baking/roasting veggies is a great trick for a quick meal because it affords time to do other things while still preparing a healthy meal.
4.) Cut smart. Veggies can be annoying to prepare because there are so many that need to be cut in order to be properly used for a meal. I mean, one can’t really saute an entire onion skin and all and expect it to yield the same results as a diced one. So what’s a cook to do? Get smart about how to cut veggies. Here are a few tricks that cut my time and frustration in the kitchen:
Onions: Cut the top and the bottom off then cut the whole bulb in half (skin on!) and you can just peel the skin off of either side like a little jacket and the discarded bits can also wait for their next appearance in the stock pot.
Bell peppers: Cut the top with the stem off completely, just under the bumps on top of the veggie. Take it clean off. Then you can reach in and pull the entire core with the seeds and everything out all at once. The stem should pop right out of the little top when applying pressure from underneath. Viola! Your pepper is now ready to cut!
Kale: I love kale. This is one veg that is almost always in the fridge at my house. In early spring it is replaced with spinach and other tender early-season greens, but as long as it’s available, I am eating it. The hassle with kale is the thick, stringy stalks. They are not the sort of texture one wants in their meal. I find that I like lacinato kale because it is crazy nutritious and adds a beautiful green color to any dish. However, it is a PAIN to de-vein. Here is my time-saving trick: snap the stalk in half lengthwise and pinch the leafy part with one hand while pulling the stalk away from the leaf with the other. This is easily the fastest way to de-vein kale. I have tried every method possible and I swear by this one. For the smaller, more tender leaves, you can just grab the stalk by the end and pull it away from the leaf, too. Then, roll the leaves together in a bundle and cut the bundle into slices and there you have your ribbons of kale! Super quick and super easy.
5.) Limit grocery store visits. Keep a running list and go once during the week. Pick the day that works best for you and go during an off-hour. I like early on Saturday mornings because I am able to get all of my shopping and food prep done for the week in one swoop. Also, most people are not ready and willing to be out and about much before 10 am on a Saturday. It’s also easier to keep track of your grocery budget when only shopping once a week. The more you go, the more you will tend to spend. Also, if you are haggard and rushed after a long day at work, you may not make the same decisions that you would when you’re fresh, have a list and some time to make the right choices. Too many times have I gone shopping on a Wednesday while famished after work and get home with a jar of mallow fluff, a wad of kale, kombucha and some ketchup. (BTW, that’s not a meal) Just do it all at once when you’re in the right frame of mind, get it out of the way and get back to your life.
Alright, so there are a few ideas to speed up quick and healthy cooking time. I have a quick and healthy meal recipe I will be posting this week, so stay tuned!