July 31, 2011

Recipe - Quick and Easy Summer Meals and Snacks

I have a confession to make... I love to cook. That is such a weird thing for me to write! Growing up I had absolutely no desire to try my hand in the kitchen (though my sister and brother both always loved to cook and are both fabulous at it). When I moved out on my own, I existed on Trader Joe's prepared foods and dinners out with friends. Cooking a full-on meal just for myself always seemed like such a hassle: the grocery shopping, the dishes, the leftovers that inevitably grew mold and got thrown away. Not to mention there was no one there to tell me if my meal was great or sucked - like the whole "if a tree falls in the forest" scenario, ya know? But when Johnny and I moved in together, some dormant June Cleaver-ish part of me awakened and I found myself wanting to cook more. WEIRD.

In the beginning, I relied heavily on recipes. I had a cookbook called "How to Boil Water" and I pretty much needed that level of instruction! There were definitely some failed meals in those early days (most involving undercooked meat which I no longer have to worry about!), but over time I became SO much more confident in the kitchen. Through trial and error, I figured out how to cook a great batch of rice on the stovetop and how to substitute spices if I ran out of something seemingly crucial. Our bank account thanked me for easing off of expensive take-out meals and it's always made me feel accomplished to cook a great meal and actually look forward to eating the leftovers the next day!   

That said, there are more nights than I can count where I go into the kitchen thinking I'll have dinner prepared in an hour, and by 9:00pm I'm still not done. This does not make me happy and Johnny wisely asks once if he can help and then scurries away when I bellow "NO." So I'm going to start making more of an effort to plan one or two easy meals each week that can be ready to go in 60 minutes or less. I have come to terms with the fact that this means I may need to rely on prepared foods sometimes. I love cooking everything from scratch, but honestly we all have days where we've pushed ourselves to the limit in the 10+ hours preceding dinner prep. Routinely adding an extra 2-3 hours to that just so you can feed your pie-hole is no fun.

Here are some ideas for quick meals and snacks that I've been loving for the past few weeks:


Johnny is in the early stages of giving up diet soda (yay!) so we tried out an alternative last night. We mixed up some chopped mint, some peeled and diced ginger, a sliced up lemon, and a few packets of stevia with sparkling water and ice in a big pitcher. He was so in love! So much healthier than diet soda and super refreshing for a summer day. 


Brown Rice Cakes and Nut Butter

I'm the type that gets home from work and has to have a snack before I start dinner prep. Quite often, I'll turn to chips or crackers and get carried away and before I know it I'm not even hungry for dinner anymore. My nutritionist made a great suggestion: brown rice cakes with nut butter. The portion is controlled and just one is super filling and satisfying. It has that salty/sweet taste that I love and is so easy to throw together. I am a big fan of Lundberg's Organic Lightly Salted Brown Rice Cakes and Brad's Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter (I love everything by both of these companies, actually!). You can jazz it up by topping with jam, bananas or other fruits, raisins... you get the idea.

Hummus and Crudites

Hummus is an institution in my family. For realz. We take that shiz seriously! My mom's hummus is widely regarded as the best in the world, so I'm always trying to recreate hers. It is so easy to whip up a big batch of hummus and snack on it all week or use as a spread on sandwiches and wraps. It's way cheaper than buying the not-as-tasty pre-made stuff from the store, too.

Here's the quick recipe: in a food processor, chop 2 cloves of garlic into tiny pieces (use 3 if you really like garlic!). Add two cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas, the juice of 2 lemons, 4 tbsp tahini, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 tsp salt. Begin blending and pulsing and get things as mixed as you can. Continue blending and start adding water a few tsps at a time. Don't overdo it, but add as much water as necessary until the hummus is creamy and very well blended - about 1/2 cup. Taste and adjust as needed. You can eat it right away, but hummus is best when it's been chilled overnight and the flavors have really had a chance to mingle. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and some dried mint and serve with fresh veggies, crackers, or whole wheat pita bread. Variations on this recipe are endless - add in some kalmata olives, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, pickled jalapenos, mushrooms, etc. Just decrease the oil and water a bit if you add any of these.


Crispy Chick'n Salad with Creamy Dijon Dressing

I came up with this super easy and simple salad one night when I really didn't feel like cooking, but I also didn't want to order take-out. I didn't want dinner to be a big production, so I sent Johnny to the store for some veggies and I broke out a pack of Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders from the freezer. 20 minutes later I had an awesome vegan salad that I loved! Pretty sweet. 

To make this, prepare the Gardein tenders according to package instructions. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Chop up some lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers and divide between two bowls. Top with the Gardein strips. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tbsp Vegenaise and 1 tbsp dijon mustard with a small whisk or spoon until combined. Drizzle over your salad and enjoy!

Disclaimer: Johnny was not a fan of the dressing because he's got an aversion to Vegenaise. He's on the fence about mayo to begin with and lots of people are even more suspect of mayo made without animal products. For the record, the ingredients in Vegenaise couldn't be more normal: Non-GMO Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, Brown Rice Syrup, Apple Cider Vinegar, Non-GMO Soy Protein, Sea Salt, Mustard Flour, Lemon Juice Concentrate. I can guarantee those ingredients are WAY more appealing than what's in regular mayo! Anyway, if you're cooking this for a non-vegan who isn't into Vegenaise, just sub in some of their favorite dressing.

Soft Tacos

These crazy kids just can't stand still for a picture!
One of my friends is trying to be gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free and I'm also trying to cut down in the gluten in my life. We all got together for dinner and I put my thinkin' cap on. We had a medley of foodstuffs including a watermelon and cucumber salad and some fresh and delicious corn my friends got from a farm that morning (summer!!!). The main course was  soft tacos and they came together in a flash. 

I started with some pintos using the quick method of soaking: boil 4 cups of water, add 1/2 lb of dried pintos, cook for two minutes, then remove from heat and allow to soak for 1 hour. I then drained and rinsed the beans and added enough water to cover, then brought it all back to a boil and simmered for about 1 more hour. (That sounds like a long time, but it's mostly inactive and you can be doing other things while they cook.) I tossed those with some salt, pepper and chopped green chiles. I then cooked up some Yves Meatless Ground with a tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 chopped onion, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1 tsp chile powder, and 1/2 tsp ground cumin until hot. This all got wrapped up in Ezekiel Sprouted Corn Tortillas, homemade guacamole, salsa and hot sauce. Nom nom nom!

What are your favorite quick and easy summer treats? 

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