There are times when the tide is high and sometimes low; the moon is full, the moon is new, the trees leaf out, the leaves…well, you get the idea. My cooking and menu preparation is pretty much the same. There are times when I get quite involved in the kitchen and love spending time creating delicious dishes. Then there are times when I just want things as simple as possible. Lately, I have been much less menu-driven and more spur-of-the-moment, easy meals. I used to think that was more difficult, but not anymore. I have been implementing a few “tricks” to keep our kitchen and meals humming with very little work or preparation. I hope you find these tips and recipes, some old and some new, helpful, regardless of where you find yourself.
Keep soaked beans in the fridge at all times – I like cooking my own beans, but I never could remember to soak them the night before. Now, on Sunday nights, I fix a few containers with different types of dried beans, rinse them, and then fill them with water. The next day, I drain the soaked beans and fill the containers again. The beans will last a whole week in the fridge waiting to be freshly prepared. If I don’t use them within 3-4 days, I replace the water again. (When you cook your beans, remember to never add salt until they are almost done, and add a tiny bit of oil to keep them from foaming while cooking. We also add a little slice of kelp – it makes the beans much more digestible and adds valuable iodine.) We always keep garbanzos and pinto beans soaking. We use the garbanzos, after they are cooked, on our salads or we make spreads such as hummus or mock chicken salad with them. We use our pintos each week in bean/oat waffles, refried beans or simply cook them and eat them over rice or cornbread topped with sautéed peppers and onions and salsa. Sure, I could use canned beans (and sometimes do), but cooking my own is so easy (and so much cheaper too).
Always have cooked brown rice on hand – This is such a staple in our house, that I always try to have some on hand, but it never seems convenient to make it right before we eat it. We use it throughout the week in fried rice, apple/curry rice salad, stuffed portabellos or peppers or in homemade rice milk. When the weather turns cooler, we really love it in rice pudding!
Whole wheat tortillas – a great solution when the bread has run out and you need a quick or portable meal. I try and make bread once or twice a week – and without a breadmaker, I often don’t have the time at home to sit and wait for the bread to rise. So, I always keep a stack of whole wheat tortillas on hand. Ones from the store aren’t as good as homemade bread, but they keep a long time in the refrigerator and make great easy meals, like quesadillas or try stuffing them with your favorite bean dip and veggies, like kidney bean spread, hummus, eggless egg salad or mock tuna salad.
Breakfast makes a great evening meal – bean/oat waffles, whole wheat pancakes, scrambled tofu, or healthy “sausage” gravy is always a hit. We don’t often take the time to fix a special breakfast in the morning, so the whole family loves it when we do it in the evening. There just seems to be a certain mystique about flipping the day around and having breakfast last.
Don’t be afraid to recreate your leftovers into wonderful and exotic new dishes. Sometimes we have a buffet – which the kids love – where we take all of the leftovers out of the fridge, place them on the counter and have a “feast”. I also will take leftover white potatoes and dice them and fry them with onions; leftover sweet potatoes and mash them with Earth Balance, brown sugar, vanilla and soy or rice milk for a nice “sweet potato casserole”; steamed greens and mix them in with leftover mashed potatoes and garlic for a new tasty treat; or let the kids be totally creative with their own plates and food choices and combinations – they come up some interesting ones!