Sunday Cooking Warrior!

If you follow my Instagram account you’ve seen my Sunday meal prep effort. Making or prepping food ahead is the only way to eating ‘healthyish’ in this household. Investing a couple of hours on the weekend shopping, cooking, and prepping ahead makes it much easier to eat well balanced meals during the week. And by well balanced meals I really mean less take-out and more homemade.

This week was a fail for me on the “homemade dinners” department. Too tired. Too lazy. Now I’m paying the price. I’m feeling it in my gut, pocket and conscience–there was a lot of guilt that came with last night’s take-out.

So to shake the crap out my tired and lazy self, I’m sharing some of my favorite dishes to make ahead.

Whole Chicken Roast

Roasts are easy to throw together. You can roast a whole bird, juicy piece of pork or beef loin. Some potatoes and root veggies on the bottom and sides, meat on top, herbs+spices+liquid (lemon/orange juice, wine, beer…) and that’s as effortless as it gets in the homemade dinner business. Fridge to oven to table.

Belluga lentils

Lentils don’t need to be soaked and they cook quickly. Can be done on stovetop, slow cooker, and even pressure cook. It’s healthy. It’s filling. It taste even better the next day…and the following. It keeps for over one week in the fridge and It’s the perfect leftover for lunches. I like any kind of lentil but the Beluga is our family favorite. Cook it in chicken broth, crushed coriander+cumin+mustard seeds, bay leaf, onion and garlic. Serve with a scoop of steamed rice. I can eat this for days!

Lasagna with Spinach and Sweet potato layer

Lasagna! The best thing about lasagna is that you can make so many variations of the same dish. Of course we love the rich cheesy kind but I try to make healthy substitutions. My apologies to my true Italian friends but I like to alternate a layer of noodles with a layer of thin sweet potatoes, replace ricotta with cottage cheese, add spinach and other veggies to the sauce. Whatever the flavors are, lasagna is always a family pleaser and a favorite leftover for lunch too.

 

Make ahead Stuffed Bell Peppers with curry couscous

Stuffed bell peppers, eggplant, squashes…any chubby veggie goes. I’ve stuffed vegetables with couscous, quinoa, leftover rice, and even falafel mix. Think about a thanksgiving stuffing recipe but replace the bread part with some cooked grain and you have a ‘dealicious’ filling for any vegetable that can handle to get stuffed!

Vegetables ready to roast

Roast vegetables and keep it in the fridge ready to side any protein or add to pastas and salads. My favorite combo is eggplant, bell peppers and zucchini. Dress it with plenty of olive oil, salt, pepper, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a couple of whole garlic cloves. 430F for 15 minutes. Not too mushy. Not too raw. Perfect!

What I learned from Martha Stewart

Stuffed Chicken Breast Rolls

When I first saw Martha Stewart on TV many years ago after I just moved here from Brazil, I  thought it was something seriously wrong with her. The slow talking, slow moving, the half smiles, the irritating hair in the eye, the missing sense of humor. What exactly is she? A baker?Designer? Not a chef, not a decorator…Wedding planner? I learned later that boring Martha was is an American icon and everyone loved loves to hate her.

I’m not exactly a fan but she has my respect. After all she has survived fame, prison, divorce, building an empire twice, and she has taught me how to pound a chicken breast properly.

Now, since I couldn’t find a video of Mrs. Stewart herself pounding the chicken breast here are the non-illustrated directions:

  1. Take a full chicken breast and place it on your cutting board.
  2. Take a piece of plastic wrap 2X bigger than the breast itself and put it over the chicken breast.
  3. With a meat mallet start pounding the chicken. Start from the center and work your way out. Use short and even strokes.

I use this method frequently to make chicken piccata, chicken scaloppini and chicken rolls. Stuffed chicken breast rolls is a quick ‘make ahead’ recipe. I usually stuff it with sauteed spinach, mushrooms, fresh mozzarella and basil, ham and provolone, and even stuffing. First you need to pound the chicken breast like you were Martha and then:

  1. Season the thin fillets with salt/pepper/garlic powder.
  2. Place a mound of stuffing on each breast.
  3. Wrap and roll the fillets over the stuffing.
  4. Secure breasts with toothpicks.
  5. Place rolls, seam side down, on a greased baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 380F for at least 40 minutes (depending on the size of the rolls)

Wrap the rolls in bacon or prosciutto for extra flavor. If we could only do the same to Martha Stewart!!!!

 

Menu Planning

Although I’m not a hard core meal planner, I can’t deny that every time I do it I succeed feeding my family better meals and I manage to have a less stressful “what’s for dinner?” time.  Planning at least part of our weekly meals saves us much needed money which we end up allocating to much needed wine and ‘take outs’ when meal planning doesn’t happen.

I don’t have a formula or “steps to successful meal planning’. The one thing I’m consistent with is basing my planning on what’s on sale for the week (mostly main ingredients like poultry, meat or fish) and cooking ahead at least 2 dishes on Sundays that I can serve on a busy day. Most of the times I just rely on quick fixes with easy prep.

This week I’m sharing some of our meals with a friend who just had a baby so planning is a must.  Today I made some simple veggie and tofu curry, which we’ll eat for dinner with brown rice on Monday and it’ll be lunch for me throughout the week.

Have I mentioned how much I love my Pressure Cooker? Made this curry in 15 minutes (including prep time)!

Tofu Veggie Curry

Ta-da!

Tofu Veggie Curry After

Tuesday: Using the Foster Farms Drum Sticks (89c/lb. @Smart and Final, ends 03/04) to make for the first time this quick and easy Apricot Chicken from Jessica Seinfeld with veggie fried rice (using leftover fried rice from Monday)

Wednesday: We’ll have and share ‘Ropa Vieja’ with roasted potatoes. I’m not using any weekly deals for this one since I need to cook a big batch so I’m going to Costco later for the meat. Here is a really good recipe similar to how I make this dish (minus the pork).

Thursday: It’s Costco time again. Chicken Caprese. This is one of my client’s favorite (personal chef gig) but I’ve never made it for my family.  I’ll post recipe here soon.

Chicken Caprese with Angel Hair

Friday is blank for now.

I’d love to know if you have some staple dishes you make often and/or make ahead. How about meal planning? Do you plan your meals or cook/prep/buy as you go?