Sunday, January 2, 2011

eeking out an extra hour by making meals ahead

New York Magazine says that "vegetables are the new meat". Meatless Mondays is a popular catch-phrase with a celebrity studded site to boot. And chances are, as we enter the New Year, you are either aspiring to eat more veggies, hoping to eat more meals as a family, or maybe both!

If you've kicked off your new year with a juice cleanse then you may find yourself drooling over my upcoming posts, because while my meals are always simple and healthful, I am not doing anything so extreme. My resolution was more of a macro one: focusing on getting a little more the hopes that my overall health and happiness (and, achem, a svelte body) will follow.

If I am going to get more balanced, I am going to have to find another hour in my day. One area I know I can gain some of this time back in is the cooking department. The key is to figure out a few go-to recipes that freeze well or can be stored in the fridge for a few days. Once you get in the rhythm of cooking this way, you'll be able to enjoy homemade most meals, but you won't have to cook each meal each day. Sounds too good to be true? Here's my example from the past 5 days. Note that when we came back from vacation our fridge and freezer were bare. As in, no backlog of meals whatsoever, so I am starting this cache of meals right along with you this week:

Wednesday (cooked lunch)
We arrived home from 24+ hours of travel in time for lunch (which is another whole blog post...)
Breakfast: whatever my kids picked out with their $6 food voucher from the airline...gross
Lunch: Cilantro-Walnut Pesto over Whole Wheat Rotini
Dinner: Take-out pizza & salad for dinner

Thursday (cooked breakfast & dinner)
Breakfast: Make Ahead Oatmeal
Lunch: choice of pizza or pasta from Wednesday
Dinner: Polenta & (Soy) Chorizo Lasagna

Friday (cooked breakfast)
Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs
Lunch: choice of Polenta & Soy Chorizo Lasagna or PB& J
Dinner: (New Year's Eve) Local gourmet shop Aux Delices' Mac & Cheese for the kids, and a decadent cheese, cured meat, dried fruit and nut selection from Darien Cheese Shop for the adults

Saturday (cooked breakfast and lunch)
Breakfast: Frittata loaded with broccoli, zucchini and kale
Lunch: Giant pot of 21 Bean Soup
Dinner: Out to a friend's home for dinner, where I brought a hearty homemade dip...and as an added bonus, she sent us home with a big plate of kid-pleasing fried chicken

Sunday (no cooking)
Breakfast: Frittata loaded with broccoli, zucchini and kale (which I made ahead on Sat morning)
Lunch: choice of Cilantro-Walnut Pesto Rotini or Fried Chicken with the last of the Mac & Cheese
Dinner: Bowls of the 21 Bean Soup and some of Saturday night's dip I kept around here for snacking

Still in my freezer to be enjoyed in coming weeks:
8 servings of the bean soup
8 servings of the Polenta & (Soy) Chorizo Lasagna

As I prepare more meals going forward, I'll make extra of some and tuck them in my freezer. As the meals build up, I'll get more time off. Also, we'll have more variety to choose from. (In the beginning, you may only have one or two things in the freezer to choose from...) It's a simple solution to that "What's For Dinner" question. I'll be sure to highlight when recipes I share are freezer-friendly so you can join me in "cooking ahead". This Polenta & Soy Chorizo freezes beautifully, and is actually a re-post of the very first recipe I ever shared on this blog. Here's the recipe in step-by-step photos:

First, one onion and two packages of soy chorizo were sauteed in a bit of olive oil. The soy chorizo is found in the produce section, because it's a vegetable product. (Trader Joe's has their own brand, and I also saw it at another supermarket by the brand, Frieda's.) That said, you can always substitute real sausage if you'd like, or you can use ground beef or ground turkey with your favorite herbs/spices if that's more your speed. The recipe is totally adaptable to your tastes.

I used ready-made polenta this time, which can be found in the pasta aisle of most supermarkets. If you want, you can make your own polenta using cornmeal and water or broth, but adding another step definitely isn't going to help my whole balanced gig so I'm sticking with store bought for this recipe!

The first layer is simply thinly sliced polenta...

next some dollops of Fage 0% Greek Yogurt...

and a layer of sliced zucchini.

Then, a thin layer of the sauteed soy chorizo and onion mixture,

and a sprinkling of mozzarella or Feta, your choice.

Topped by another layer of thinly sliced polenta and

a layer of canned diced tomatoes (partially drained).

Then I added a sprinkling of Feta

and a little more soy chorizo & onion mixture.

One last layer of thinly sliced polenta and a last sprinkling of Parmesan, mozzarella or Feta before it goes into a 350 degree oven for a half hour or so.

There you have it! Dinner is ready, house smells amazing, and the second dish of this I made at the same time gets popped into the freezer* for another day when we want a homemade meal but don't have time to cook. Now that is a beautiful thing!
* You can freeze the make ahead meal uncooked or cooked. If you freeze it uncooked, just double the cook time, and put the frozen dish into the oven as it is heating up so you don't shock the glass going freezer to oven. No need to defrost. Just enjoy the hour it is cooking!

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