Plans for Preparing Easy Weeknight Meals

Yesterday morning, Billy, Gianna and I were supposed to go strawberry picking. I received an email notification last Tuesday stating that the berries were ripe and ready to be picked as of Memorial Day, which meant I needed to get my butt over to the farm as soon as possible while they were still looking their best! I asked Billy to make sure he’d have Sunday off of work so we could head out as early as we could be ready, since this particular farm is over an hour away. I planned to pick as many strawberries as we could stand to carry, so that I could make dessert after dessert with those tiny, perfectly red berries. I was going to make strawberry pie, roasted strawberry gelato, strawberry and lemon cake scented with basil, little trifles with strawberries and cream, strawberry tartlets, and eat just plain, fresh strawberries straight out of the bowl.

Sunday came, and we have no strawberries. Of course, that’s my fault for staying out late the night before. A friend is moving to Prague and I never get out as it is, so I couldn’t pass up this going away party! We rented a school bus, which took us down to Detroit to watch the Tigers play the Yankees. I’m not a sports fan, but I wore the perfect dress that happened to have the Tigers’ colors, and though my tolerance is far, far beyond what it used to be (it really is just zero, at this point), I allowed myself a few beverages on the ride down and once we got there! I was severely sleepy and dehydrated, to say the least, when I woke up at 7 am Sunday morning. I told Billy, “We’re not picking strawberries today…” which is exactly what I predicted to many people Saturday night 🙂

No loss, though, because the farms closer to home haven’t had their berries ripen just yet! So, I got to have a fairly lazy Sunday at home. While Billy and Gianna were out to breakfast, I worked on this blog. We spent the afternoon at her Godparents’ house, playing in the yard, chasing the dog (as fast as a ten month old can while her momma helps her walk), and having a nice little barbecued meal at the table.

We left our friends’ house just in time for Gianna’s afternoon nap and a short trip to the bookstore and grocery store before dinner. I’ve had a mission to find the best cookbooks for busy, working moms. Fast, simple, yet delicious recipes with accessible ingredients, tips for utilizing leftovers or freezing make-ahead meals, anything that can help make the few hours between work and sleep lean more toward enjoying some down time with my family than rushing around the kitchen. I’ve looked up books online, read reviews, and though I haven’t found that perfect book that has everything, I’ve found some things that I think will be helpful.

So, home with a cookbook and some freshly purchased chicken in hand, I was ready to indulge myself in some new recipes. I didn’t actually end up making one from any of my books, let alone the one I’d just purchased, but did find inspiration! In Dorie Greenspan’s, “My French Table,” is a recipe for balsamic glazed duck. It involves scoring a duck breast and cooking it in its own fat until your desired “doneness,” then making a glaze of balsamic vinegar, honey, and lime juice. Sounds delicious!

I, however, did not have duck breast on hand…not surprisingly. As I said, though, I had some nice chicken breasts, bone in, skin on, as well as leftover basmati rice in the fridge from dinner a few nights prior. So, I deboned one breast (they’re large enough for Billy and I to share), seasoned and sautéed it, and then cooked down some grape tomatoes in the remaining fat, threw in the rice, and essentially stir-fried it with the vinegar, honey, and lemon juice (I don’t usually have limes on hand, either!).

What a simple, quick dish! Even if I hadn’t had the rice pre-cooked in the refrigerator, it would have taken the same amount of time to cook as the chicken; I’d have just had to dirty an extra pot to cook it. Though, another method could have been to put all of it together in the oven until done…a nice, simple one-pot meal. Love those!

And I have to say, the flavors hit the spot quite well. The sweetness of the honey balanced the acidity of the vinegar and lemon juice perfectly. Normally, I’m very careful about cooking with honey because it can sometimes overpower the flavor of a dish and I’m not actually the biggest fan of it, though I use it often as a sugar replacement. However, if I didn’t mention it, you’d have no clue I used honey at all. It was quite refreshing; no too-sugary bite at all. And the softened tomatoes were the perfect accompaniment. Though, I’m biased…I find sautéed or roasted tomatoes the perfect accompaniment for almost everything savory. I can’t get enough!

A similarly quick dish that I made the previous week was Giada DeLaurentiis’ Chicken Meuniere, a variation on the traditional French Sole Meuniere. It was just as easy! The boneless, skinless chicken was pounded thin for even quicker cooking, coated lightly in flour, and sautéed. While it rested, a sauce was made with the juices, some more grape tomatoes (go figure), black olives, and white wine. Now, this wasn’t exactly Giada’s recipe; hers included more ingredients like capers and lemon juice, but I had to omit anything I didn’t have on hand. The tomatoes and olives with a little wine deglaze created a wonderful sauce anyway! We served it over rice, again, and had ourselves the perfect, quick weeknight meal. I was very excited.

Dinners like this are a necessity when you have only a few hours between work and bedtime. Arriving home around 5 pm most nights, I have about three hours to make and eat dinner, prepare food for work the next day, play with my daughter (and make/feed her dinner), and “relax.” Let’s not even think about trying to fit some cleaning in there because it rarely happens. So, I really don’t have time to stand there peeling and chopping, working with two or three different pots, or cooking anything that takes longer than half an hour after whatever amount of time it took to prep. If I could cut out the prep work, period, that would be amazing.

One of my solutions was to make freezer meals. I made a batch of Coq au Vin, chicken cooked in herbed tomato sauce, and apple cider glazed chicken to keep in the freezer for easy weeknight meals. Each was prepared only until the point of cooking. I softened onions, browned meat, and mixed together all of the liquids, dividing two-person portions into Ziploc bags and leaving them in the freezer for a time in the future when we’d need them. It’s a pretty good method! Leaving a meal to defrost in the refrigerator overnight, the only thing left to do is drop it all into a pot and cook! Sometimes I have to thicken the sauce (such as with Coq au Vin), but that’s extremely minor effort. However, I wasn’t able to make enough meals for this to really have an impact and found that I’d feel bad removing one to eat because that would mean I’d have even fewer left for later! I’m a bit of a food hoarder, but with no time or money, can you blame me?

While I absolutely still plan to keep up with this practice as much as possible, I also need those fast, easy meals that can be cooked all at once, assuming I may not having anything in the freezer for us to eat. What I’m hoping is to find the ability to make those fast meals in bulk, freezing anything that’s not yet going to get eaten. I also make larger batches of Gianna’s baby food to keep in the freezer, so I figure I should be able to kill two birds with one stone doing that, as well. If I make her some lemony roasted broccoli, why can’t I make some for myself? If I make her buttercup squash and tomato quinoa, why not make some adult portions as well? A tip I learned from Tyler Florence, concerning making baby food for children over nine months, is to simply make dinner for yourself and lightly puree a portion for the baby. Instant baby food meal! It may not work with some meals, but most that we eat would be perfect. And, in that case, I assume I can do the opposite as well! Make large batches of food, pureeing some, leaving others in adult portions, and freezing everything. And, as I work on this more, I’ll continue posting my endeavors here. Then one day, hopefully, I and many others will have this routine pegged down 🙂

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