Busy Bees

Hello again!  This week we will be talking about how to make eating fit into your busy schedule.  If you’re like me and have about a billion things to do a day, cooking sometimes gets pushed to the bottom of the totem pole.  However, this does not have to happen!  We will discuss slow cooker meals, simple meals you can just whip out quickly (what I like to call a throw-together supper), and make-ahead meals.

Slow cookers can be your best friend when your schedule is more full than your sink of dirty dishes.  They require minimal preparation time and you can prep your ingredients the night before and just throw it all in the pot the next morning.  I don’t have much experience with slow cooker cookery, but I have been excited to get into it, which is my favorite part about cooking.  There’s always something new and interesting to do (or at least attempt)!  Here is a slew of recipes from Food Network.com for you to try:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/topics/slow-cooker/index.html

Here are some tips and hints from the Rachael Ray magazine about slow cooking:

http://www.rachaelraymag.com/food-how-to/cooking-tips/all-about-slow-cookers

Next, I will discuss, as I have termed them, throw-together suppers.  These are recipes that have very few ingredients that you love and can just whip out of your back pocket.  These recipes come in handy when you don’t have time to put together either a slow cooker or a make-ahead meal and need something fast and easy. This recipe is my favorite for when I make a quick lunch or dinner for myself.  If you want to use this recipe for two, then just double the amounts of ingredients.

Throw-Together Dijon Shrimp and Rice*

Throw Together Dijon Shrimp and Rice (Original Photo)
Throw Together Dijon Shrimp and Rice (Original Photo)

5-7 medium sized cooked frozen shrimp, thawed

1/2 cup of instant brown rice

1 Tbsp. oil

1 clove garlic, grated or minced

3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp. parsley

Black pepper

Thaw shrimp according to package directions.  Prepare rice according to package directions and set aside.  Heat a small skillet and oil over medium heat.  Add shrimp, garlic, and Dijon to the pan.  Cook for about a minute until slightly thick and add lemon juice, parsley, and black pepper.  Stir and remove from heat.  Combine with rice and sprinkle with more parsley for garnish. (Who says you can’t make your food pretty for yourself?)

*Note:  If you are using this for a meal, I would recommend blanching some green beans or asparagus for a side dish.  Just trim the ends off your veggies, bring a small pot of water to a boil, salt it, drop in the veggies for a couple of minutes, and drain.  I would season with a drizzle of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and a little lemon juice.

Finally, we have the make-ahead meals.  These are meals that can be made hours, days, and weeks in advance.  There are many recipes out on the Internet for freezer meals, which are usually some sort of casserole.  These can be made in large quantities and then kept in the freezer.  There isn’t really a great time line on these because food kept in the freezer is typically microbially inactive.  The quality of your food will deteriorate before it becomes unsafe to eat.  Here is a great website with lots of ideas for freezer meals and tips for how to make them work.

http://fabulesslyfrugal.com/freezer-meal-recipes-master-list

Personally, my experience with freezer meals is that you have to find time to cook multiple meals all in one day.  In my little apartment, I don’t have the equipment (multiple sets of pans) or physical counter space to make all this frozen magic happen.  Therefore, I prefer to make meals a little ahead of time, about a few hours or so, or I like to make really quick and simple meals that don’t require a lot of effort (or dishes, for that matter).

For meals I make ahead of time, they are usually fairly simple and are baked in the oven.  I typically work an evening shift at the nursing home, so when I have an hour or two in the midafternoon between school and work, I like to put together my casseroles.  This is simply because I have a fiance who can operate the oven and put the casserole in at a specified time and follow simple directions, like removing foil part way through cooking to prevent overbrowning on the top.  My two favorites are a lazy lasagna and tuna noodle casserole.  Today, I will share with you my tuna noodle casserole recipe.  I particularly like this recipe because it contains fish, which in a Midwestern diet can be very difficult and expensive to incorporate.  It also contains LOADS of veggies, meaning you don’t have to spend additional time making a side dish.

I’m Out of My (Tuna) Noodle Casserole

Out of My (Tuna) Noodle Casserole (Original Photo)
Out of My (Tuna) Noodle Casserole (Original Photo)

1/4 lb. fresh mushrooms, diced (white or Portobello, whatever’s on sale)

1 red pepper, diced

1 medium onion, diced (red onions give the casserole a nice color, but whatever you have on hand will work)

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp. oil (I use olive oil, but canola works just as well)

1/2 lb.  whole wheat rotini pasta (any short cut pasta, like penne or elbow macaroni will work)

1-12 oz. bag of frozen mixed vegetables OR half of a 16 oz. bag(I like to use the one with peas, carrots, corn, and lima beans, but as long as you have some green, it’s ok)

1 can of cream of chicken soup (I use the kind that has lower fat and sodium so I have more control over the nutrient content of the recipe and so the casserole doesn’t taste overly salty)

1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

1 1/2 tsp. basil (dried or fresh)

1 tsp. thyme (once again, dried or fresh)

2-5 oz. cans of tuna (I like water-packed because then there is no added fats)

Salt and pepper

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees if baking immediately.

Start a pot of water boiling for your pasta.  While that is going, dice up all your fresh veggies and grate your garlic.  Once your water boils, drop in the pasta and salt the water.  Put mixed vegetables in the microwave and defrost.  When done, drain off any excess water and set aside.  Heat a medium straight-sided skillet (make sure it has at least 1 inch sides) over medium to medium-high heat.  Saute the fresh veggies until crisp-tender and season with salt and pepper.  Add garlic and cook another minute.  Add the can of soup, about half of the cheddar cheese, basil, thyme, and tuna.  Heat just until the cheese melts slightly, then remove from the heat.  If you are storing the casserole to bake later, let the mixture cool as much as possible and occasionally stir to cool.  Pour into a 8 x 8 baking dish and cover with the other half of the cheese.  Cover with foil and either stow it in the fridge until you are ready to bake or put it in the oven and bake for 20 minutes with the foil on.  Remove the foil and bake another 5-10 minutes until cheese is melted and a little brown.  Garnish with a little additional basil.

That’s all for today.  Until next time, keep your mind sharp and your knives sharper!

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