I love to cook, but even so, creating a complete balanced meal every night is not a task I look forward to. Shopping, planning and cooking can take up precious time. That's why I prefer to cook a week's meals on the weekend when there's more time and more help at home. It takes preparation and extra time in the kitchen on cooking day, but once-a-week cooking makes weeknights a breeze, when children are coming and going from activities and parents have busy schedules, too.
If you have a friend or neighbor who likes to cook, do it together-it's easy to double most recipes and save even more time. You can change kitchens from week to week and even share childcare while you cook.
I've broken down my cooking system into four easy steps, and I've included some of my favorite make-ahead recipes.
1. Planning-Pick the meals you'd like to make that week. Pick a main dish and a side dish for each day you are cooking (you don't have to make a different meal for each day if you plan for and like leftovers.) On certain days, you may want to just have a fresh or frozen vegetable as a side dish but don't forget to add it to your shopping list.
There are certain types of food that keep better in the refrigerator than others. Dishes with sauces, soups, casseroles, or pasta dishes all keep very well. Freshly cooked vegetables will keep better if they have a dressing or a sauce on them. Green salads are best made right before eating and some vegetables are best steamed and eaten right away-but you can wash and prep them ahead of time.
You can find recipes using your favorite cookbooks and magazines or look online. The Vegetarian Resource Group vrg. org, is a good starting point, and a quick entry of "Vegetarian Recipes" in a search engine will get you hundreds of sites. Many of those recipes are vegetarian or are easily adaptable.
2. Shopping-Once you've identified your recipes, make a shopping list for all the recipes so you can do all your buying at once. A chart of ingredients works well, and some recipe computer programs will even build your shopping list for you. A well-stocked pantry with canned or dried beans, non-dairy milks, a good organic vegetable broth, plenty of herbs and spices, and a variety of whole grains makes shopping easier.
You may want to consider finding a food-buying club or co-op in your area where you can buy organic goods in bulk or case-lots at a discount. You can call 800-334-9939 for names of buying clubs in your area.
3. Food Prep-This is a step that can be done the morning of your cooking day or even the day before. Prep involves washing and chopping vegetables, soaking beans, or handling anything in your recipe that benefits from advance preparation. For instance, wet and dry ingredients in baked goods can be mixed (separately) and set aside for when you're ready to bake. Sauces can often be made a day ahead; tofu may need to be drained or marinated or frozen.
Almost all vegetables can be washed and chopped a day ahead but a few require a little special handling: potatoes need to be stored in water overnight to keep them from turning brown, and cleaned mushrooms, greens or herbs should be wrapped in a paper towel or cloth and stored in the refrigerator. Most fruits need to be peeled and chopped just before using but berries and citrus fruits can be prepared ahead of time.
4. Cooking-Since you've taken time to prep, cooking is a snap, and you can feel like a pro on a cooking show, pulling your little dishes of vegetables out of the fridge and tossing a bowl of onions into the frying pan. It's important on cooking day to think about which recipes to do first. Start dried beans or stews or anything that takes a long time to cook first. Think about how you may have to juggle burners or oven time and have plenty of sturdy containers with tight-fitting lids ready to store your food. I prefer glass dishes to plastic-glass containers don't change the flavor or leech chemicals into your food. Most dishes will keep well in the refrigerator for up to a week, but if you've got freezer space you can even make extra and freeze some.
Sloppy Joe Wrap with Tangy Green Beans
Veggie Pecan Burgers and Carrot Raisin Salad
Sesame Tofu Cutlets with Fried Rice
PB & J Surprise Muffins
Sugar-Free Orange & Oatmeal Cookies
Carrot Raisin Salad Amount Measure Ingredient Preparation Method 1 1/4 pounds carrot peeled and grated 1/2 cup raisins - or more if needed 1 1/4 cups soy milk 1/2 teaspoon sea salt - to taste 1/3 cup parsley chopped 1 tablespoon lime juice - to taste
Whisk together soy milk, lime juice, and salt. Add grated carrots and raisins, and refrigerate. Allow to marinate at least 1 hour before serving.
Fried Rice(Adapted from The Accidental Vegan, by Devra Gartenstein, chef and owner of Lucky Palate.) Amount Measure Ingredient - Preparation Method 2 cups brown rice 2 medium onions -- chopped 2 teaspoons fresh ginger -- grated 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 cups broccoli florets fresh or frozen 2 whole red bell pepper -- seeded and diced 4 cups water 1/4 cup soy sauce or to taste
Saute the raw, uncooked rice, onion, and ginger in olive oil over medium heat until the onion is soft. Add broccoli and red bell pepper and cook another 5-10 minutes. (If you are using frozen broccoli, don't add until 5-6 minutes before rice is done). I've also used canned roasted red peppers in this recipe and they work great. Add water and soy sauce, cover, reduce and simmer until liquid is absorbed, (about 40 minutes).
Veggie Pecan Burgers Amount Measure Ingredient - Preparation Method - 3/4 cup lentils 1/2 cup pecans - roasted and chopped 1/2 cup rolled oats 1/2 cup brown rice 3/4 cup canned tomatoes 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 2 teaspoons coconut oil or other heat-friendly oil. 8 whole hamburger buns
Cook rice, lentils, separately. Chop pecans. Combine rice, lentils, rolled oats and pecans. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Add canned tomatoes and tomato paste, if mixture seems dry, add a little more tomato until you can form a nice patty. Taste mixture for seasoning, and add more salt or pepper as necessary.Heat oil to medium-high in a non-stick or cast iron skillet. Form 3-4 inch patties with your hands, or use a large ice cream scoop and flatten with a spatula. Fry on both sides until nicely browned.Serve hot on warmed buns and top with your favorite burger toppings.Burgers will keep in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to 1 week. They also freeze very well in freezer bags, so this is a great recipe to double and save for later.
Sugar-Free Orange Oatmeal Cookies Amount Measure Ingredient Preparation Method- 2 cups orange juice, frozen concentrate thawed 1 cup water 3 tablespoons coconut oil - melted (or non hydrogenated margarine or shortening) 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 3 cups oat bran 3 cups rolled oats 2 tablespoons baking soda 3 tablespoons cinnamon 2 1/4 cups raisins 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Combine the orange juice concentrate, water, oil and vanilla. Whisk together dry ingredients (except raisins), Add to wet. Stir in raisins. Use an ice-cream scoop to portion cookies onto tray and flatten with your hand. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, but still soft inside (about 10-15 minutes). Keep in an airtight container. The cookies freeze very well. Makes about 1 dozen.
PB & J Surprise Muffins Amount Measure Ingredient - Preparation Method - 1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 3 tablespoons rapadura sugar - or sucanat, or other organic dry sweetener. 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup soy milk 2 tablespoons coconut oil (or non hydrogenated margarine or shortening) 1/3 cup maple syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 1 medium banana - mashed 1/3 cup rolled oats 1/3 cup raisins 1/3 cup peanuts 1/4 cup jelly 1/4 cup peanut butter -organic, creamy (or if you use chunky, omit peanuts from recipe)
Sift dry ingredients with whisk. Mix in oats, raisins and the peanuts. Mix wet ingredients in bowl until blended (soymilk, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, vinegar, mashed banana). Combine wet and dry and stir until mixture is smooth. Fill each muffin cup 1/3 full. place 1/2 teaspoon of peanut butter and 1/2 teaspoon of jelly in cup, then continue to fill each cup with batter until 3/4 full. Bake muffins at 350 until done--muffins should be springy, not soft to the touch and have a nice golden color (12-15 minutes). Peanut butter and jelly will make them gooey inside even when done.
Sesame Tofu Cutlets(Adapted from The Accidental Vegan, by Devra Gartenstein, chef and owner of Lucky Palate.) Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method - 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste found in health food stores or middle-eastern markets) 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (not bakers or brewers yeast) 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 3 pounds firm or extra-firm tofu, drained 1 cup water 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together tahini, soy sauce, yeast, vinegar and water. Cut each block of tofu into 8 slices. Arrange tofu slices on a baking sheet and cover generously with the sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 minutes, or until sauce becomes thick and tofu starts to brown.
Sloppy Joe Wrap Amount Measure Ingredient Preparation Method - 6 10 inch flour tortilla 2/3 cup brown rice cooked 1/2 pound Seitan (a "wheat-meat" found in health food stores) - grind in food processor or chop fine 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil 3/4 cup onion diced fine 1/2 cup celery diced fine 1/2 cup green pepper -- diced fine 3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce 1/2 cup catsup 3/8 teaspoon tabasco sauce - or to taste 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste 1 cup water -- as needed
Cook brown rice in 1 1/3 cups water. Sauté onions, celery pepper and seasonings, add seitan brown rice, cover and simmer adding water as necessary. Fill tortillas with up to 1/2 cup of filling. Fold the bottom of the tortilla up, fold the sides in, and then roll over tightly. Wrap each tortilla individually in plastic wrap. If freezing. place wrapped tortillas in freezer bags. This filling tastes just as good on a hamburger bun, if you want to have a "regular" SloppyJoe.
Tangy Green Beans with Toasted Almonds Amount Measure Ingredient - Preparation Method - 1 cup almonds toasted and ground 5 cups green beans ¼ cup green onion ½ cup balsamic vinegar 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/3 cup fresh parsley ½ teaspoon sea salt ½ teaspoon black pepper
Toast the almonds in the oven oven at 425 degrees until the nuts start to become aromatic (about 4-6 minutes), then chop coarsely by hand or in a food processor.Cook green beans in boiling water for 3-6 minutes, or until they reached your favorite level of tenderness. If you're using frozen beans, just blanch for 1 minute to un-freeze.Combine green onion, vinegar, oil, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss the dressing with the beans. Mix in almonds. The longer this dish marinates in the fridge, the tastier it gets. You'll want to strain off some of the marinade before serving--but don't loose all those yummy toasted almonds.
Written by:Amy O'Neill Houck. Amy O'Neill Houck
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