Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every one of us had our own personal chef? You know…some amazing cook (in my dream world he’s a really cute, slightly hunky 40 year old guy) who prepares all my meals, so as soon as I walk in the door dinner is ready. Yes, even cookbook authors fantasize about not cooking. But, let’s face it….it ain’t ever happening in my life.
Yes, there are slow cookers, but they aren’t quite as sexy as having a real life chef in my kitchen.
Truth be known, I’d even settle for someone to do all of the prep for me, so as soon as I walk in the door I can start cooking.
Most of us want to make homemade dinners, but chopping, dicing and mincing is a huge deterrent when it comes to made from scratch meals. I’ve got some short cuts to help you out.
First of all plan your dinners ahead of time, ideally before you hit the grocery store.
Read the flyers and plan at least 5 dinners for the week, write a list and then go grocery shopping based on that list.
Cutting, bagging then freezing protein like pork, poultry or meat can help you during the week. I buy Club Packs of skinless boneless chicken thighs, chop them to fit a specific recipe (sliced thinly for a stir fry, chunks for a braised dish) and then freeze them. The night before all you have to remember is to take it out of the freezer and place it in the fridge to thaw. The next day you walk in the door and start cooking. The same thing applies to other proteins, plan ahead, chop or slice and freeze.
Hate chopping onions, garlic or mushrooms? You can freeze them. The night before take them out of the freezer, place in the fridge to thaw and you have pre-chopped ingredients just waiting to jump into the pot. Professional home economist tip: thawed onions are always an ingredient not a star in a recipe. Want fried onions on a burger? Don’t use the thawed version – they will be watery (is that a word?) Use frozen and thawed onions, garlic or mushrooms as ingredients.
Freezing onions: The quick way – Peel and quarter onions, place in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Label resealable freezer bags with the amount and date, scoop about approx. 1 cup (250 mL) to equal 1 chopped medium onion, place in bag, press air out as you flatten the onion in the bag, seal and freeze. The not as quick way – peel, quarter and chop by hand, wearing onion goggles to prevent crying! OR Professional home economist tip: place onions in the fridge for about an hour before chopping to reduce your tears.
Freezing garlic: peel garlic, place in a food processor, add cold pressed canola oil or extra virgin olive oil, and pulse until it looks like minced garlic. I usually peel about 60 cloves at a time and use ¼-½ cup (60-125 mL) of oil. Label resealable freezer bags with the date, scoop the garlic into the bag, and press air out as you flatten the garlic into the bag, seal and freeze.
Freezing mushrooms: Slice mushrooms. Label resealable freezer bags with the date and amount, place mushrooms into the bag, flatten the bag, seal and freeze.
Professional home economist tip: A flattened bag takes up less room in a freezer.
Stir Fry Chicken with Asian-style vegetables
Serves – 6
1/3 cup (75 mL) lower sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup (75 mL) orange juice
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced or approx. 1 tsp (5 mL) frozen garlic paste per garlic clove
1 tbsp (15 mL) grated fresh or frozen ginger
1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey
1 tsp (5 mL) Chinese 5-spice powder
¼ tsp (1 mL) red pepper flakes
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs
One- 750 g bag frozen Asian style vegetables, I used Arctic Gardens
1. Place all of the marinade ingredients onto a resealable freezer safe bag, gently shake.
2. Chop chicken into bite sized pieces or into long thin slices. Place in bag, seal, and massage the chicken! Professional home economist tip: the thinner or smaller the slices the quicker they will cook. Date and freeze.
3. To prepare on serving day: remove the chicken from freezer the night before and thaw in the fridge until dinner prep time. Forgot? Place frozen bag in a sink of cold water to speed up thawing or gently thaw in the microwave….don’t cook in the microwave.
4. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat, add the chicken in small batches and cook until no longer pink inside. Discard any leftover marinade. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a clean plate.
5. Add frozen vegetables and stir fry according to package directions. Add chicken back to pan when vegetables are cooked, toss and serve.
Mediterranean-style Chicken Stew
Serves – 6
10 skinless boneless chicken thighs – cut each thigh into three equal pieces
2 onions, chopped OR 2 bags frozen chopped onions
1 tbsp (15 mL) dried oregano
1 tbsp (15 mL) dried basil
¼ -1/2 tsp (1-2 mL) red pepper flakes
½ tsp (2 mL) iodized salt
One pkg. = 1 lb (454 g) pre-chopped sweet potatoes
One – 28 fl. oz (796 mL) no salt added chopped tomatoes
4-6 cloves garlic or approx. 1 tsp (5 mL) frozen garlic paste per garlic clove
One – 7 oz. (198 g) pkg. Delallo Jumbo pitted olives, drained OR 1 cup (250 mL) pitted olives, drained
One – 12 oz. (340 g) pkg. Barilla Plus pasta, rotini
1. If you are using frozen chopped chicken thighs remove from freezer the night before and thaw in the fridge until dinner prep time.
2. To prepare on serving day: Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
3. Heat a large skillet (it needs a cover) over medium heat. Add chicken and brown. Push chicken over to one side of the pan.
4. Add onions, oregano, basil, red peppers flakes, salt and sweet potatoes. Sauté for 1 minute.
5. Add tomatoes and garlic, stir in. Cover and place in the oven for 35 minutes or until the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) when the food thermometer is inserted sidewise through the thickest part of the thigh and the sweet potatoes are tender. Remove from oven and let sit while the pasta cooks.
6. Heat a large pot of water. Cook pasta according to package directions minus 3 minutes. Drain. Add olives and drained pasta to chicken, gently toss in. Cover and let sit for 3 minutes. Serve.