I am the type of person who thrives on planning. Thus, I would love to plan each and every meal, stick to a strict shopping list, carefully use up leftovers…
You get the idea.
However, there is my partner.
He is a foodie like me, but he is also very impulsive. Every night after dinner I sigh (DRAMATICALLY) and ask him what he wants for dinner tomorrow and every night, he surprises me. He is also apt to change his mind the next day which a planner like me finds annoying to say the least. I’ve been training him throughout the lockdown to let me plan better but there are still days where he pivots and wants something else. Now mind you, I have been known to say an emphatic NO if a meal is already in the works but most often, I’ll pivot right along with him. What can I say, I like a culinary challenge.
I can usually pivot because I always use the old prep and relax strategy. Every week I spend less than 15 minutes making my culinary life easier. I usually do this while making dinner on Sunday. As dinner cooks, I also use my veggie chopper to dice up a couple of onions, a fist full of sweet colorful peppers, celery and carrots. I do this so I have handy the foundation for nearly any dish I am bound to make. This also strips down prep time to the bare minimum, just a quick sauté, seasoning and the base of any dish I want to prepare, is off and running. I also prep a couple of veggie side dishes by chopping up broccoli, cauliflower and other fresh veggies that I have in my crisper. As I do this, I will also boil some eggs because I use hardboiled eggs often in dishes like tuna, chickpea and green salads. I generally stop short of dicing the pickles for sandwich spreads but for the most part, the base of many dishes has commenced. I will also roast off the occasional beets and cook artichokes (the Insta-pot makes short work of this) and while my partner still changes his mind frequently about what to have for dinner, I know I will always have at the ready the foundation of most dishes. The goal is to cut my weekday time in the kitchen by more than half. After a long day of working, knowing that I can pull the basics already prepped provides a welcome mental respite. In addition, if there is anything that needs a proper roasting, I will fire up the oven, bake off a batch of biscuits or muffins and toss in a sheet pan of whatever needs roasting, usually veggies. In the summer I roasted off freshly picked tomatoes from my garden every single week. Finally, if there is a pesto, salsa or other condiment I vaguely plan on using in the coming week, I will create that in advance as well.
All of this takes place while I am preparing Sunday dinner. If I am feeling ambitious, I will cook up a freezer batch of something I know my partner loves like chili, Pork Verde or one of my warming, cozy soups, see my 16 Bean-Tastic soup, recipe below. If the freezer is already full of these meal gems, I will do a quick inventory to double check to make sure I still have a batch of freezer-to-oven-to table dishes like lasagna, and meatloaf which my partner loves and I keep in handy for days that I just cannot face cooking a full meal. Everyone needs those favorite meals on hand, and I am diligent about making sure I have a few always prepped and frozen, ready to stick into a preheated over any day of the week.
16 Bean-Tastic Soup
1 half package 16 bean mix (I buy bags of 16 bean mix at the discount grocery store for a dollar or two and keep them in the freezer) soaked overnight in water and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups tomato sauce, whole tomatoes blended in the blender or crushed tomatoes
2-3 bay leaves
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup each diced carrots, celery and sweet peppers (red, yellow or orange or any combination thereof)
1 teaspoon each of salt, garlic powder, onion powder and paprikia
2 teaspoons pepper
Parsley for garnish
Sauté the vegetables in about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan for 7-10 minutes until the onions are translucent. Turn off the heat and let cool a bit. Meanwhile, place all other ingredients but the salt in a slow cooker and stir well. Add about 1/2 cup water if needed to adjust the consistency of soup and then add the cooled veggies. Stir well. Cook on low for 8-10 hours until the beans are the correct toothsome consistency and remove the bay leaves when done. Salt to taste (doing so before the end can make the beans tough so hold off on the salt). Cool to freeze or serve immediately topped with sourdough bread slices that have been toasted with butter, parmesan cheese and sprinkled with garlic salt. Garnish with chopped parsley. The addition of a simple green salad rounds out this meal nicely.
Optional: To make this soup more robust, you can sauté up a pound of ground pork, chop it into bite-sized chunks as you cook; drain well and add to the soup in the final hour of cooking. If you use ground beef, it is fun to shape the beef into tiny meatballs before frying. You can also cook up 1/2 pound of cooked tubular shaped pasta (boil until minus three minutes until done), drain and add that to the soup about 20 minutes prior to serving. Strips of shredded chicken also works as well. All of these save for the pasta can be added to the soup before freezing. If you want to add pasta, wait until you have defrosted the soup and are heating it up before adding otherwise, the pasta can get gummy or overcooked and nobody wants mushy pasta in their soup. If I am freezing the soup, I like to par-cook the pasta, coat it with a scant teaspoon of olive oil and freeze it alongside the soup and defrost both for an easy, frugal and delicious meal.