Today I want to talk a little about time – not the herb, but the clock variety – and how it often feels like we don’t have enough to do the things we want to do in a day, like cooking nourishing meals at home for ourselves and our families. I don’t know of any miracle cure that makes time go by more slowly, but I do know a few tricks for using time more wisely in the kitchen and enjoying homemade meals more often.
The first trick is to set aside a few hours during the week or on the weekend to cook up a bunch of food, and prepare raw ingredients for the week, in advance. For example, just taking the time to cook a pot of rice, put on a crock-pot of beans and wash some salad greens could give you the base ingredients for quite a few meals including, rice and bean burritos or a rice and bean bowl; fried rice; bean soup; a nice black bean salad; and a week’s worth of green salads. When some simple ingredients are washed, prepped, cooked and ready to use, making meals at home during the week can really be quick and easy.
After all, if you have food prepared and waiting for you at home, you’ll save a bunch of time by not running to the grocery store or the local fast food restaurant every night to pick up something for dinner!
And, just as important, you will enjoy better health by preparing more of your meals from fresh and nutritious ingredients at home.
Before we dive in and start preparing food for the week, let’s talk about the second trick for using time more wisely in the kitchen – making a plan for the meals you would like to prepare. Having a plan will help you shop more quickly and economically and will save you time and energy as well. After all, it’s tough to think of something to make for dinner on the fly, at 6 pm, after a long day’s work.
So here’s a sample plan I put together for the week.
Prepare on Sunday:
- Baked Chicken
- Black Beans (Start soaking beans on Saturday night)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Salad greens
Meals for the Week:
- Baked Chicken with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli
- Smashed Black Bean Tostadas with Roasted Broccoli, or Broccoli Tacos
- Black Bean and Rice Bowl
- Yamadillas (Sweet Potato Quesadillas)
- Green Salad with Chicken
- Quick Chicken Soup with Rice
- Healthy Fried Rice with Loads of Vegetables
OK! Let’s get started.
Because chicken can be one of the most hazardous foods in the kitchen, for causing food-borne illness, it is a good idea to prepare all of the other foods first, to avoid cross contamination.
I like to cook a pot of some type of bean every week. In addition to lowering blood cholesterol, beans also lower blood sugar levels for hours after you eat them and can even lower blood sugars after your next meal, even if you don’t have beans at that meal. So, for many reasons, beans are a delicious and simple way to protect your health.
Beans should be soaked overnight to speed the cooking process. After soaking and before cooking, rinse the soaking liquid off the beans. Place beans in a crock-pot with water, bay leaves and garlic cloves and cook. You can also add epazote, onion, chillies, whatever you want to flavor your beans. I like adding lots of garlic, like 8 or 10 cloves, and a dried chili. I especially love these dried and smoked jalapeño peppers I bought at the Prescott Farmers Market from Whipstone Farm. They add just the right amount of heat and a nice smoky flavor to a pot of beans.
Adding salt to beans is optional, but not everyone agrees on the timing for when to add salt. Some feel salt makes beans a little tough if it is added at the beginning of the cooking process, while others don’t think it matters much. I’ve tried both ways and don’t really notice a difference. If you want to compromise, add salt ½ way through cooking time if you remember. It doesn’t take much salt to flavor a pot of beans, just about ½ a teaspoon, but if you are on a salt-restricted diet, you may not want to add any salt at all.
These beans should cook in 4-5 hours when set on high.
The best pot for rice is one that is heavy and has a lid that seals well. If the lid on your pot doesn’t seal well enough to keep steam inside, line it with a bit of foil. If your rice comes in a package with cooking instructions, follow those instructions for the amount of water to add to your rice. Otherwise, a ratio of one cup of rice to two cups of water generally works pretty well. For this brown jasmine rice, we will follow the directions and 1 cup rice and 1 ¾ cups water to our pot, bring it to a boil, then turn in down to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 minutes. Rice doubles in volume when you cook it, so one cup of dry rice will make about 2 cups cooked.
While your rice is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next, you can wash your salad greens and spin dry. Place your greens in big plastic bags with a sheet of paper towel and store in refrigerator.
Now for our broccoli – I like to use the whole broccoli, including the stem. The stem has a tough outer skin, so, after rinsing your broccoli well under lots of cold water, peel the tough outer skin off the stem.
Then, you can slice the stem into thin coins, about ¼ inch thick, and then cut the crown into florets. Spin your broccoli dry, just like you did with your salad greens, put it in a big plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator.
Wash and dry sweet potatoes and wrap them in foil. Put your sweet potatoes in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Now let’s work on our wonderful baked chicken that will be used in several of our batch cooking recipes. For time’s sake today, I’ll just describe how I prepped and cooked it. There are about a million different recipes for roasted chicken out there, so here is just one.
Before I put the chicken in the oven, I checked inside the chicken for the neck and giblets, removed them, and then washed it, inside and out, with lots of cold water. Next, I patted the chicken dry with paper towels, inside and out, lightly coated the chicken with olive oil and sprinkled the outside and inside cavity with salt and pepper. Finally, I placed whole garlic cloves, thyme and ½ of a lemon inside the cavity and placed the chicken in the oven for about 30 minutes. If you have one, a heavy baking dish or cast iron skillet works very well for roasting chickens. Otherwise, most other baking dishes will do.
Don’t forget to wash your hands well and sanitize your cutting board and other surfaces when working with raw chicken.
Once your chicken is in the oven and you have a little time, you can check your rice. If it’s done, remove it from the heat.
After checking the rice, you can also see if your sweet potatoes are done. Simply slide a knife into the center of the largest potato. If the knife slides in and out easily, the potatoes are done and you can remove them from the oven.
After baking for about 30 minutes, I pulled the chicken out of the oven and basted it with a little of the fat that had gathered in the pan, then placed it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.
Once your chicken has been in the oven for about an hour, you can check it for ‘doneness’. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, after pulling the leg gently away from the body, there should be no blood, and the juices should be clear. If the chicken is not done, put it back in the oven. If the skin is getting too brown, you can lightly cover it with foil, and tear a hole in the foil to let excess steam escape.
And viola! We did it – lots of food for super nutritious and delicious meals all week.
Don’t forget, these recipes are available for download at the links right below. There are lots of other recipes and healthy cooking tips here, along with a link to another easy way to roast a chicken.
Tune into our next post, where we will turn more lovely ingredients into wonderful meals. See you soon, in Your Healthy Kitchen!
Download the Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe: roasted_sweet_potatoes-1.pdf
Download the Crock-Pot Black Beans Recipe: crock-pot_black_beans-1.pdf
Download the Roasted Chicken Recipe: roasted_chicken-1.pdf
Check out Mark Bittman’s Simplest Roast Chicken Recipe