07 January 2014

Your Food New Year's Resolutions Made Easy

January blogs, magazines, and newspapers are littered with self-help style recipes and exercises tips.  I could scoff, but after the gluttony that was late November through December, I feel the same way: it's time to simplify, clean up, and get back to normal.  It's also time to go back to working long days without breaks in the middle of the week now that the holidays are over, which makes cooking those halo-bequeathing meals a little more challenging.  So, here's my plan for making separate ingredients ahead and adding various flavors quickly and easily throughout the week.  I can knock out these basics on a Saturday afternoon if I multi-task and stay focused by not drinking too many work beers. I'd love to see some of your ideas/favorites to have on hand, too--add to the comment section, please!

Goal: Eat healthy, filling breakfasts with a minimum of time in the morning.

Make-ahead fixes: 

  • Keep at least 6 hard-boiled eggs in the fridge--just peel and season in the in the morning.
  • Keep fresh or frozen fruit on hand (freeze fresh fruit by laying out on a baking sheet in a single layer and placing in the freezer at least 4 hours; then toss in a zip-top bag and keep frozen until ready to use).  You can use these in smoothies or as stir-ins for your yogurt or oatmeal.
  • Make overnight steel-cut oats. All you have to do is dump everything into a container before bed, give it a stir, and it's ready in the morning.  
  • And of course, revisit my "Cook, freeze, and pack it for later: breakfasts" post for more healthy recipes you can make ahead.  I always have breakfast burritos and muffins in my freezer.

Always have in the pantry: multi-grain bread for toast, mustard and capers for the eggs, nuts and seeds to stir in to oatmeal and yogurt, Greek yogurt

My favorite way to start the day!

Goal: Eat more fiber

Make-ahead fixes:

  • Make a big pot of beans with minimal seasoning: black beans, garbanzos, pintos, mung beans, and lentils are particularly versatile and fiber-rich.  Freeze portions (for two people, I usually freeze 1 cup servings) in small zip-top bags and you can toss them straight into stir fries, soups, or just serve with seasoned rice and hot sauce. Keep a small amount in the refrigerator for up to a week to toss into salads. 
  • Make a big pot of grains to replace white rice in your recipes (though you can also do this with white rice). Quick-cooking quinoa, bulgar, millet, and couscous can be "cooked" overnight by soaking in equal parts grain and water, so those don't need to be cooked far in advance.  But wheat berries, farro, barley, and the like all freeze beautifully as described in the bean method above.  
  • Keep plenty of fresh and frozen veggies on hand.  Freeze fresh veggies by blanching them in boiling water for about 30 seconds to a minute and spreading out on a tray as described above with fruit. 
  • Single portions of grains, beans, and veggies can be combined in a bowl and heated quickly in the microwave, then seasoned to taste, for a quick, filling, and very healthy lunch or dinner.  In fact, you can even pop the frozen stuff in a container the night before, refrigerate until you head to work the next morning, and then everything will be thawed and ready to eat as a cold salad by lunchtime.  Hot or cold, you can toss everything with a dressing below for a really brainless meal when you're exhausted...
Farro with asparagus, almonds, feta, and Mustard and Caper Vinaigrette.
The farro and asparagus were frozen and reheated together in the bowl. 

Goal: Use less salt without sacrificing flavor

Solution: Make dressings!  These may have originally been intended as salad dressings, but they can be used over veggies and pasta, beans and rice (or other grain), and just about anything else you can think of. These are some of my favorites right now--they'll all keep a couple of weeks in the refrigerator:

Tahini-Lemon Dressing: whisk together

1/2 garlic clove, smashed and minced
1 scant tablespoon tahini (for a milder flavor, use almond butter)
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

I love this on steamed potatoes, green beans, and kalamata olives.

Mustard and Caper Vinaigrette: whisk together 

1 garlic clove, smashed and minced
1 teaspoon capers, chopped
1 teaspoon mustard
pinch sugar (optional)
4 tablespoons vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

This keeps for weeks on the countertop; refrigerating makes it gloppy. Different vinegars will give a different level of acidity, with apple cider being the most intense I ever want, and balsamic being the mildest, so experiment. This is clearly a standard salad dressing, but it is also delicious on hot foods.  I like it on pasta with steamed broccoli.

Miso-Ginger Dressing: blend in a food processor

1/4 cup peanut oil 
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mild or sweet miso, like yellow or white
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
1 inchlong piece fresh ginger, chopped OR 1 heaping teaspoon minced ginger form the jar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Obviously, this works well in stir-fries, but it's also surprisingly perfect over steamed greens like kale or collards, along with a little hot sauce on the side. 

"Ranch" Dressing: whisk together

1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup milk (any kind will do)
½ teaspoon dried summer savory
½ teaspoon dried dill
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon dried onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

If you're from the Midwest like me, you already know that Ranch dressing is not only a salad condiment, but a replacement for sour cream, a dip, and a general salve for life.  

Dinner tonight: quinoa, frozen Sante Fe veggie blend, 
and Tahini-Lemon Dressing