Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Great Meals Fast

This is the time of year when stresses really kick in. Long leisure summer days are definitely gone and everyone is trying to manage a multitude of "first priorities". Whether you're in school or in the workforce trying to manage all your projects and extra curricular activities, or even more demanding, you have a family you have to juggle as well, it's always a challenge to serve great meals during the week. There are conflicting schedules, the need to be in ten places at once (and time travel only happens in the movies) and all those old movies and TV shows of the 40's and 50's that make it look so easy and make us all feel inept.

So I'm often asked how to make something great for dinner without the fuss. Here are some ideas that I hope will help you out. But first you have to ask yourself this basic question...are you a planner or more spontaneous? Both are perfectly fine, but each will handle the week differently.

For the Planner....
  1. Choose the menu for the upcoming week;
  2. Create the grocery list and do your shopping early on the weekend;
  3. Just remember that some ingredients are more perishable than others, so plan to make dishes that include them earlier in the week;
  4. Make big batches of sauces, soups, chili, etc... that freeze well and are handy during the week for those nights you're too tired to think about what to do, some emergency keeps you from getting home on time, or you just don't have the energy to start something from scratch (or to follow the plan you so diligently created).

For the more spontaneous person...

  1. Use the weekend shopping run to stock up on staples like pasta, herbs, great mustards and jellies (more in a minute), eggs, cheeses;
  2. You too should make big batches of one or two dishes that can be eaten during the week and, even better put in the freezer in individual portion-size containers for the next time you're in the mood for some particular taste or other;
  3. During the week, hit a grocery store (or butcher, etc.,) to pick up some fresh fish or whatever else you might fancy for dinner.

Since everyone - planner or not, still needs some simplicity when you actually get home and start to make dinner, here are some of the tricks I use at my house.

1. Always have a variety of hot mustards and great jellies on hand. Nothing turns boring into fabulous like a mix of hot and sweet that you just slather on a chop or boneless piece of chicken or fish. And if you add some fresh herbs to the glaze, even better. Use the broiler in your oven, or a grill pan on top (or if you're like me, you'll fire up the gas BBQ even in the winter). What the mix will be is entirely up to you. Just taste as you combine - I usually like a half and half mixture (mustard to jelly) and depending on my mood and what's on hand - rosemary or thyme are great with chicken and meat and I love cilantro/coriander or oregano on fish.

2. Or you can coat the meat, chicken or fish with some pesto or fresh cilantro/coriander or some of your favorite seasonings (I love something spicy like a Cajun mix). I always have some dried herb mix in the pantry and pesto in the fridge. It's easy to whip up and lasts for a long time as long as you cover the pesto with plastic wrap to keep the air out of the container. As for herbs, well....life without them is toooooooo boring for words. If you need proof, check out Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging recaps.

3. Use the microwave to steam vegetables or cut them up into small pieces (broccoli and cauliflower really do well) and sauté or roast them. Using a hot oven - 400°F/200°C gets the job done in 10 minutes or so - asparagus, even less. Just toss with a little olive oil and a favorite herb and you're done.

But I think my favorite prep actually happens after supper or during cooking time (it really doesn't take very long) to get ready for tomorrow. Plus it gives me great joy to know I'm actually ahead of the game - at least when it comes to dinner. In case you haven't figured it out, I'm talking about marinating. Just remember to only do this with meat (any kind) and chicken. Fish only takes a few minutes because the flesh is delicate. If you marinate it the day before you will have a rubbery, already "cooked" fish - think overdone ceviche!

Another plus for marinating the night before - if, by chance, you don't end up eating dinner in, the marinade will keep on working for another day. I just wouldn't leave it for more than that.

Last tip for great meals fast....make extra so you can use some of the elements for other meals later in the week. Grilled flank steak or chicken added to rice, pasta or salad is a perfect meal and takes five minutes to put together.

Please check out my other recipes for other easy meals to prepare.

And don't forget to check out Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging this week Fiber of 28 Cooks will be hosting and join in the fun.

If you have any other quick and easy ideas, share them in the comments or send me an email . I'll keep a running addition of all our wonderful choices.

Please email me any of your questions, and if I don't have the answer, I'll certainly try find it for you.

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1 comment:

Kalyn Denny said...

Great post! We can all use help with this. Thanks for mentioning Weekend Herb Blogging.