Will you be making a New Year's resolution to cook more, eat out less and/or eat more kale? Here are a few ways to bulk up your kitchen arsenal and help you avoid the mid-week take-out trap, plus our favorite way to cram more kale into our diet.
Freeze cooked grains! We've discussed this before, but it's enough of a lifesaver that we'll risk being repetitive: brown rice and quinoa (and, apparently, millet) freeze beautifully. Once you've cooked your grains, just cool to room temperature and seal in plastic bags or tupperware in 1-cup portions. Retrieve when you're starving, transfer to a bowl and nuke 'em for 2-3 minutes while you stir-fry some kale.
Freeze other stuff you use a lot! Pesto in ice cube trays! Mass-caramelized onions! Your favorite soup! Anything else you want to be able to pull out of your back pocket at the end of an arduous day! If you're in the middle of a butternut squash avalanche (and hey, this time of year, who isn't?), try making and freezing this pie.
Make vegetable stock with your trimmings! If you eat and chop a lot of veggies, you'll probably have accumulated enough carrot tops, onion skins and parsley stems by the end of the week to make vegetable stock. Homemade stock is cheaper--you were just going to throw that stuff out, anyway!--and more delicious than powdered boullion cubes and freezes very conveniently (a yogurt container's worth tends to be just the right amount for a soup that serves 4).
To make your own stock, save whatever trimmings you accumulate in a container in your fridge. (Try garlic and onion skins, carrot/parsnip/sweet potato peels, celery bottoms and leaves, stems from fresh herbs, leek and scallion tops, mushroom stems--anything except potato skins, broccoli, kale, spinach or cabbage trimmings, since they won't taste good in stock. If you eat meat, save chicken or turkey bones and throw them in too). When you have a little time at home, cover the trimmings and a handful of whole peppercorns with water in a large stock pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain, salt to taste, and cool to room temperature. Freeze in whatever portions are convenient for you and your amount of freezer space. In addition to being a soup base, this stock can be used instead of water to cook rice, quinoa or other grains.
Bow down to sprouts! We try to always have a container of sprouts handy so we can throw them into salads and stir-fries for quick protein without all the fuss and time-sucking of soaking dried beans. We love making lentil sprouts, but you can sprout whatever suits your fancy OR you can also find mung bean sprouts in almost any grocery store in the produce aisle.
Realistically menu plan! Taqueria dependence is usually the result of (a) not having anything else planned or (b) having something elaborate and unrealistic planned. As veterans of cooperative living, we've been menu-planning for years (indeed, this blog is the result of wanting to just archive our menu ideas somewhere safe and fireproof!), but sometimes even having something planned and having all your ingredients handy isn't enough to ward off the desire to throw up our hands and succumb to the prepared section at Whole Foods. We've noticed that this generally happens to us on Wednesdays, when whatever labor-intensive dish we gleefully planned on Saturday suddenly seems like an insurmountable struggle of chopping, roasting and otherwise not getting dinner for an hour. So get in touch with your burn-out schedule and plan accordingly: we've started either making a double batch of whatever we have on Sunday and eating the leftovers on Wednesday, or having Wednesday dinner be chilaquiles, miso soup, Wheeler greens (below) and defrosted quinoa, or something else that can come together quickly.
About a year and a half ago, we went to visit our friend Little Phoebe (both smaller and younger than the original) and when lunch time rolled around, her roommate, Wheeler, went out into their garden, picked some dark leafy greens, and made us a simple, delicious lunch: swiss chard, sugar-snap peas and sunflower seeds over brown rice with fried tofu. We make a variation with winter ingredients as well. The beauty of Wheeler greens is that, so long as you have some cooked rice or quinoa on hand, you can make a satisfying meal with complete protein and lots of calcium without breaking a sweat.
2 teaspoons canola oil (or other high-heat oil)
7 large leaves of dark leafy greens (swiss chard in summer, kale in winter, or anything in season)
1-3 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (summer) or chopped walnuts (winter)
1/4 cup fresh sugar snap peas (summer)
or 1/4 cup sprouted lentils or bean sprouts (winter)
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa
Before you start chopping your veggies, put a few cups of water in the teapot to boil. Smash unpeeled cloves of garlic with the bottom of a jar or crush them under your knife with enough force to bruise, but not destroy them. Remove the skin and chop each clove into a few large pieces. (It sounds picky, but big bruised hunks are the key to making your stir-fried garlic taste fresh, not stinky.) Chop the peas in half (or thirds, if they're mutantly huge sugar snap peas) and slice the greens finely. Put your sliced greens into a colander in the sink and pour the boiling water over, steaming the greens ever-so-gently. (This will get rid of the bitterness in kale or collard greens).
Heat the canola oil in a wok over medium high heat. First add the garlic and stir a few times. Next, add your sugar-snap peas. When they are just getting warm (Wheeler greens are served al dente) add the seeds, nuts, sprouts, salt and greens. Stir until the kale is wilted, then serve over rice. Voila, complete meal for two in 15 minutes or less.