Health & Wellness, Time Management, Uncategorized

The UnFancy Recipes

This is the second post in my Home Cooked with Takeout Effort series and it is going to focus on what I call Un-Fancy recipes. Too often, when we look for recipes online we find something that sounds too complicated, has too many ingredients, and takes too long to make. We don’t have an hour and 10 minutes on a weeknight to juillene carrots or chop up 10 different vegetables. We don’t have the time to brown the roast on all sides in ghee before cooking it for 20 minutes per pound. Then on “good days” where we actually do make a recipe we found online, we end up with too many dishes to wash, portions that were too small, and specialty ingredients that we don’t know how to finish before they go bad. So we feel like we wasted our time and money. All this often has a detrimental effect on our confidence in the kitchen “I’ll never be able to do that” or “I definitely don’t have that kind of time” or “Its ultimately a waste overall”

Here’s the secret though: most of us who cook regularly do not make things that are listed on a foodie blog. We cook in an Un-Fancy manner. We cook in a way that doesn’t seem worthy of posting online because the ingredients and steps are so simple. We use a standard “formula” to answer the “what’s for dinner?” question and go from there. It’s all very unglamorous. But it’s also very easy to learn, to implement, and to keep doing regularly.

This is my standard formula for a meal: make one protein, one starch/grain, and one veggie. I try to make sure the veggies are double the weight of whatever protein I am making. Thats it. The table below lists out examples of what falls into each of these categories.

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Now that we understand the formula, how do we keep it from getting “boring”? The secret here is keeping a few staple ingredients on hand and having several go-to spice blends. A huge hang up with recipes in general is that they cal for 1/2 teaspoon of 4 different spices, 1 teaspoon of 2 additional spices, and a tablespoon of 3 different sauces. Measuring out all of that (and even having all of it on hand) is a huge PITA (pain in the @#$) and time consuming. Having staple spice blends on hand eliminates this problem, while keeping your food super flavorful and delicious (and healthy to boot!). Here’s what I keep on hand in our kitchen:

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In addition to the spice blends, you want to have a few staple cooking ingredients on hand. These are a way to flavor your food without a lot of hassle. Keeping this list short helps you to use everything regularly. Using these regularly also has the added benefit of helping you learn how to use them efficiently and effectively to add flavor to meals. Here is a list of our family’s staple ingredients: olive oil, avocado oil, jar of minced garlic, apple cider vinegar (ACV), basalmic vinegar, lemon juice (get a glass bottle for way less hassle and many more uses than squeezing lemons), lime juice (optional, lemon works in most cases), amminos (healthy substitute for soy sauce), and avocado oil mayonnaise.

Ok, now how do we make this all work out to be easy meals that take you less time to make than takeout or delivery? Well, if you have a convection oven at home, you’ve hit the JACKPOT of easy home cooked dinners. In a convection oven, you can cook items on every rack in the oven at the same time. I will often place whichever baked chicken thighs we are having on the top rack, a pan of veggies on the middle rack, and a pan of carrots or potatoes (for the starch) on the bottom. The whole meal takes 35 minutes to be done once its in the oven, but it takes YOU only the 5-10 minutes of prep time to be actively “cooking” in the kitchen.

If you don’t have a convection oven, never fear! You can either roast your chicken and veggies side by side on the same rack and use an “instant starch,” OR you can use a steamed/sautéed veggie option. And if all else fails, a bag of salad is a great go-to option for the veggie choice (just be careful with the dressing, since they are often loaded with excess sugar).

Here are a few pictures showing how we usually combine items from the Un-Fancy Recipes. I encourage you to try this out ONE TIME this week. Swap out ONE take out or fast food run with one of these. When you do it, let me know how it worked!

Recipes

Un Fancy Grains

There are two main types of grains that we love to eat in our house: brown rice and quinoa. They are both delicious, whole grains so they provide long lasting energy without blood sugar spikes and drops. They aren’t the fastest grains to cook up on a busy weeknight however, so here are the ways we “hack” cooking these grains so we can enjoy them regularly without a huge time investment.

The first easy grains hack we use is the simplest: We always have a couple healthy varieties of pre-packaged options on hand. These can be reheated in 3 minutes or less as a quick side. I use these options when we are having a “takeout effort” kind of night (the ones where I have less than 15 minutes to get dinner on the table). When choosing “instant” options, it’s important that you pick items that have high quality ingredients. Make sure that they do not contain a lot of vegetable oils (soy, corn, safflower, etc.) and are preferably organic. Read the labels carefully!

The next level for cooking grains is to make pre-soaked quinoa. This will cook in about 15 minutes, so it is pretty easy to incorporate in on a weeknight, but requires a little bit of pre-planning. In the morning before you leave for school/work, you place the dried quinoa you will be cooking in a container and cover it with water. You can then leave this soaking in the water until dinner time (in the fridge covered if fine). When you are ready to cook, you drain the quinoa with a strainer and add it to your pan. Add 2C of liquid for each 1C of dried quinoa and bring to a boil. Once the pan in boiling, turn the heat to low and cover the pot. The quinoa is done when the liquid is absorbed.

You can use plain water, chicken or beef stock, vegetable stock, or even coconut milk to cook your quinoa. Whichever liquid you use will give some extra flavor to the grain. You can also season the quinoa with any of your spice blends after it is cooked. Mix it up so that it doesn’t get “boring” and so that it matches whatever style of protein you are making for the night!

The last option that we like is brown rice. We always use brown rice instead of white because it is a whole grain and has a lower Glycemic Index (GI) than white rice. This means it will help to keep your blood sugar steady rather than change it drastically. Brown rice takes the longest to cook (up to 45 minutes) so you will need to plan accordingly if making it from scratch.

The “hack” that I like to use with brown rice is to cook a large batch of it using a rice cooker. I then save half or 2/3 of what we cooked for use later in the week (reheating it for the win!) It keeps in the fridge for 5-7 days when cooked. You cook brown rice with the same 1:2 ratio as the quinoa (one cup of rice to 2 cups of liquid).

Recipes

Un Fancy Baked Chicken

As a part of my Un-Fancy Recipe series, I talked about baking protein for a main course. The basic recipe involves a package of boneless and skinless chicken thighs, your oven preheated to 375F, and a pyrex dish. You place the chicken in the dish and cover with whatever “toppings” you want to use to make it flavorful. Then bake uncovered for 35 minutes and voila! Delicious chicken!

Here are some of our family favorites for “toppings” for the chicken

Artichoke chicken: Cover with a jar of marinated artichokes. You can actually dump the entire jar on the chicken, liquid and all

Greek Chicken: Cover with a jar of pitted Kalamata olives. You can dump the entire jar over the chicken as well, but if there is a lot of liquid, you may want to drain a bit of that first

Curry Chicken: Drizzle chicken with about 2 TBSP of avocado oil. Sprinkle 2 TBSP of curry powder over the chicken. You can use your hands to make sure the spice and oil evenly coats the chicken.

Summer Herb Chicken: Drizzle chicken with about 2 TBSP of Olive Oil. Sprinkle 3 TBSP of an herb blend over the chicken (we like Herbs de Provence, Sunny Paris Seasoning, and Fines Herbes)

Italian Chicken: Cover chicken with some Italian Seasoning (Past Sprinkle Seasoning). Add a half jar of marinara sauce over the chicken.

Pesto Chicken: Cover with a jar of pesto sauce.

You can also make some great baked chicken options using chicken breasts in much the same way as you do with the chicken thighs. When using chicken breasts, I like to cut them in half first so they are not as thick. This ensures they will cook correctly in the 35 minute timeframe.

 

Recipes

Un Fancy Roasted Veggies

Roasting veggies is definitely a family favorite and can be the key to learning to like a LOT of vegetables that you thought you hated. Often when we were kids, we may have been served veggies that were boiled, steamed, or overcooked. They don’t take great that way! So we go through life thinking we hate zucchini when really, we hated how it was prepared. Learning to roast veggies could be the game changer your family needs to start eating more of these nutritional powerhouses.

The hardest part about roasting veggies is getting them cut into pieces that are the “right” size for roasting. You want to make sure that your veggies are cut into bite sized pieces. This helps them to cook faster and makes them easier to serve. Some vegetables are generally easy and quick to chop up (like zucchini and summer squash), some are easy but not as quick (like brussels sprouts and carrots), and others can be more challenging (like sweet potatoes and inter squashes). There are a couple of ways to approach this: if you have time to pre-cut your veggies on a day off definitely do that (they will keep for 5 days in the fridge) OR go ahead and buy the pre-cut veggies from the store.

Another great option for roasting veggies is to get frozen veggies. Yes, FROZEN. A lot of people shy away from frozen vegetables thinking that what is in the “fresh produce” section is better for you, but this is not necessarily the truth. Frozen vegetables are picked when they are ripe and frozen right away, which preserves their nutrient content. A lot of the time, the fresh produce in your store was picked when it was still green and ripened using gas on the shipping trucks/vessels on it’s way to the store. This means it can have fewer nutrients than the frozen veggies! (This is particularly true if you life in the icy north in the winter time.)

The general veggie roasting recipe is as follows: Preheat the oven to 400F. Place 2 lbs of chopped veggies into a large bowl (if using frozen veggies, you can put them in the bowl still frozen). Toss the veggies with oil (we like light olive oil for this, but also use avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil sometimes as well). Spread the veggies out of a cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper or a spice blend of your choice. Place in the oven until they begin to brown slightly.

TADA! That’s it. I made a chart below with some suggested cooking times for different types of veggies. Additionally, if you are cooking a chicken recipe with the veggies at the same time, it’s ok to cook them at 375F (it just takes a little longer).

  • Asparagus – 20-25 minutes
  • Brussels sprouts – 30-35 minutes
  • Butternut squash (cubed) – 20-25 minutes
  • Cauliflower – 30 minutes
  • Red potatoes – 30-35 minutes
  • Sweet potatoes – 25-30 minutes
  • Zucchini/Summer squash – 20-25 minutes
Recipes

Simplest Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups of flour (gluten free baking flour works great here)
  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2-3 TBSP water (ice water works best)

Instructions

Mix together the salt and the flour. Cut the butter stick into 6-8 pieces. Add the flour and butter to a blender or food processor. Pulse the food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Place the meal into a bowl for the next step.

Add the water one tablespoon at a time and fold and press the dough until it comes together. Form the dough into a ball and place in the refrigerator for an hour.

Roll out the dough into your desired shape. You can use a sprinkle of additional flour on the rolling surfaces while doing this to prevent sticking.