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Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Only Five Ingredients You'll Need for Sunday Meal Prep

If you're like me, Sunday meal prep is really hard.

Pinterest makes it look easy to pre-package a dozen meals into a neatly organized set of Tupperware, but when you get down to it on Sunday afternoon, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How do you know in advance what you’re going to want each day of the week? And when you hit the grocery store to get ingredients for five different meals, it’s easy to rack up a huge bill with too many one-time-use ingredients. Sure, this crostini starter calls for a little goat cheese, but do I really need a whole log of it?

The trick to effective Sunday meal planning is to make the same foods in bulk every Sunday. With the versatility built into these ingredients, you can switch up your lunches and dinners so you don’t have the same thing twice for months. Plus, it takes some of the pressure off the last day of your weekend, so you can still have plenty of time for Sunday Funday.

Quinoa/Farro/Bulgar

Whether you prefer the red, black or the white kind, quinoa is a superfood packed with protein, vitamins and fiber. Same goes for the other types of whole grains, which you can easily find in any grocery store. Boil a few cups of this good stuff with water or chicken stock, fluff it up and refrigerate until you need a quick carb with dinner. You can also make a flavorful and filling quinoa salad with chopped veggies, beans, herbs and cheeses. Try a Mexican-inspired version with black beans and cilantro, or a caprese with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Throw on top of a salad or use as a side dish for the week.

Here's a bulgar salad I threw together last night with avocado, peppers, mozzarella cheese, cucumber and lemon juice. Refreshing on a hot day, and great with some grilled chicken!



Eggs

Eggs get a bad rap for its high level of cholesterol, but the fact is that the health benefits of the egg far outweighs any preconceived heart risk. It’s even been argued that the egg is the most nutritious natural food we have! Hard boil a half dozen on Sunday and slice them up in salads, add them to ramen-style soup or just pack them whole for a quick workday snack. If you’re feeling ambitious, make yourself deviled eggs, or whip up egg salad with olive oil-based mayo or Greek yogurt.

Chickpeas

Even straight out of the can, chickpeas can add flavor and dimension to almost any meal. Add them to chili, cook them up with eggs or fry them in oil ‘til they’re light and crispy. For a quick Sunday prep, try a simple chickpea salad of lemon, olive oil, parsley, parmesan and garlic and use as a salad topper interchangeably with the quinoa. Or blend up a batch of hummus to snack on all week.

Veggies

Peeling, chopping and slicing when you’re in a pinch can feel like an annoying chore, but getting into it on a Sunday afternoon is almost meditative. Ready up your carrots and other snacking veggies for the hummus, wedge potatoes to roast later, and prep your greens with a good rinse and spin. You’ll be more likely to eat your veggies if they’re all sliced and ready to go.

A Whole Chicken

In the wintertime, I love to roast a whole chicken with fennel, carrots and onion. This definitely is not ideal for the summertime, as I think most people would hate to turn the oven on at all, let alone for a long stretch. Instead, grill a bunch of chicken breasts and/or thighs and slice them up to add to salads for the rest of the week.


And there you have it! You can still come up with a ton of different weekday lunch and dinner ideas with these staples. You get to be lazy and creative at the same time!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Pasta Stra-sha-na-da

There's pasta primavera for the springtime, but what's an Italian to make in the summer? The answer is this: Pasta Stra-Sha-Na-Da.



As a kid, my mom always whipped up the same quick pasta dish in the summertime: Long fusilli pasta with a garlicky herb oil sauce. It was quick to throw together: she'd boil the water while my sister and I snipped the herbs from the back deck. We'd have dinner quick before getting back to the pool or playing with the neighbors or whatever else we did on long summer days when the sunlight filtered in long past bedtime. 

To be honest, I never really loved pasta stracchianata (taking a stab at the spelling here because I've never seen it written down). I guess the browned garlic was a little strong for my young tastebuds. It was just a means to an end: get the pasta down your throat and then you can get back to pool noodles instead of egg-and-flour ones. 

I hadn't thought about pasta stra-sha-na-da in a long time. But when my mom briefly mentioned she'd made it for dinner the other night before going on to tell me about the rest of her summery evening, I interrupted her mid-sentence: "Wait! Pasta Stra-sha-na-da. How do you make that?"

She was pleased I asked. Maybe she knew one day my taste buds would grow into it.

Basically, it's just an aglio e olio with a handful of herbs thrown in. But when you add some grilled chicken like I did, and use fresh pappardelle from the refrigerated part of the grocery store, it becomes so much more than the sum of it's parts. And you can still get it made quick so you can spend the rest of the evening gardening, reading, and having a cold beer on the deck.



Pasta Straccianata

Ingredients:
2 TBS butter
2 TBS olive oil
6 gloves garlic, chopped
dash of red pepper flakes
lemon juice
Parmesan cheese
1 spring fresh oregano
about 6 basil leaves
a handful of fresh parsley
a few mint leaves
1 package fresh refrigerated pasta (tortellini works well too)

Instructions:
Get a pot of cold water boiling for the pasta. In the meantime, heat equal amounts of butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat -- about two tablespoons each is good to start. When the butter melts, add the garlic and red pepper and turn down the heat to low. If you're worried about the garlic browning too much, turn it off entirely and just let the spicy garlic flavor infuse the oil.

Make a chiffonade of oregano, basil, parsley and a little mint. Chop coarsely. 

When the pasta is done, add to the oil and garlic. Turn the heat up to medium. If needed, add a little of the pasta water.

Sprinkle with the herbs and mix well. Off heat, add a little lemon juice and Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Foraging for Morels in Elk River



It was about mid-May when my friend finally said: It's time to go foraging!

I'd been asking repeatedly when we could go hunting for morels, which grow locally around the inland Northwest. She kept telling me that it had to be above freezing at night, but not too hot during the day. We hit that sweet spot a few weeks into May, and packed up a few cars with friends and dogs and supplies on the first nice Sunday.

The two-hour drive to Elk River, Idaho gave me time to think and reflect. In New York, morels were among the most coveted and rare items on a menu. We'd had them (and by "them" I mean two, cut in half, or maybe it was just one big one) with trout at Recette, and I think we found them on the menu at Dressler, too... maybe with that giant pork chop they used to have? Anyway, we used to think ourselves lucky to have access to that special fungi, and to take a day to forage it yourself -- isn't that the Brooklyn foodie dream? I mean, anyone can eat a mushroom soaked in butter at a city restaurant and nod approvingly, but not many can say they've strapped on their boots, rolled up their sleeves and found some themselves. 

Recette's Fancypants Trout w/ Exactly 3 Morel Morsels

We pulled into the secret woodsy area that I was threatened with my life not to share. And then we let the dogs loose to channel their inner truffle pig and be our mushroom muses. Only Honey Badger the corgi actually used her sniffer to actually find us any, but the rest of the pups were good and stayed close as we spread out.


It was a little slow finding the first morels, but we stuck to the rule: Look for lady slipper flowers and morels typically grow nearby. This was usually near a big tree, where the ground was still a little wet. At first, we would shriek with excitement when we found one. And then it got quieter as we secretly filled up our little laundry bags with as many as we could find. They seemed to be everywhere once we moved past an area that had obviously already been picked over. I was overwhelmed by the abundance.


After a few hours, we were all exhausted and hungry. So we headed into town and got huckleberry ice cream at the general store. TripAdvisor says it is world famous, but of course that's the only site that you can find that it even exists. They don't do much of a Web presence out here. But after hearing about it the old fashioned way, I was excited to get a giant cone and sit out on a bench enjoying the sun.

When we got home, it took a long time to cut, clean, soak and store our morels. The rest of the week there were sauteed morels, morel omelettes, morels with trout as a replication of our New York days past. But that night I made something to truly celebrate our hard work: a risotto! We bought a few scallops from the store to add to the asparagus and morel rice that I stirred constantly in chicken broth for 45 minutes. It was worth every stir. Having morels in this sort of homemade luxury made me scoff at our old ways of overpriced stinginess.


I'm not saying I'm a country girl now and won't move back to the city eventually. But a day like May 17? It changed my perspective in a haunting way that I can't shake. Where will we end up living, when we can finally decide for ourselves again? I'm not certain anymore. But in the meantime there will be morels in the freezer that I can thaw out at any time, and remember what I've learned.