I LOVE food and planning ahead. I’m a Type A Virgo who admittedly gets my rocks off on stuff like organizing and planning, but I’ll still vouch for meal planning (of sorts) for everyone because it makes life easier.
Take mis-en-place cooking, for example. Investing the extra x minutes into preparing ingredients so they’re completely ready to use – washing, peeling, chopping vegetables, toasting and chopping walnuts – makes the actual cooking time shorter and more efficient. Waiting to haphazardly grab ingredients one-off can be more stressful and delay your end product. Plus, mis-en-place cooking makes it a lot easier to take pictures of the process 🙂
To be honest, meal planning seems like a planner’s OR a lazy person’s dream! A procrastinator might disagree on the merits of meal planning, but I’ll have my dinner made first 😉
Some people, like my bestie T, admirably think so far ahead as to marinate meat in individual containers and store them in the fridge at the beginning of the week. When dinnertime rolls around, they can just pull something from the fridge and slap it on the grill. That’s impressive! For me, I fell in love with thinking ahead veggie prep.
A couple of days ago, my husband and I were hungry and dismayed with the lack of food in the house (despite plenty of ingredients, of course!) and I decided to “kitchen” a meal, as my Grandma taught me. I set about creating a yummy farro salad and, since I had already decided on a few menu items for the week, I knew I’d need certain chopped veggies for this delicious veggie-packed Bolognese recipe. With that in mind, I washed and finely chopped all of the celery and carrots we had and added some to the farro salad, and put the rest in Tupperware.
When last night rolled around and we set about cooking the Bolognese, those pre-washed and chopped veggies saved us a good few minutes! And why does that matter? The joy of cooking for me lies in three elements of the act: the tactile, sensory parts of handling raw ingredients; the fabulous finished product and getting to savor my creation; and straightforward, mostly easy to follow recipes. If the steps are too numerous, complicated or extensive, I can get frustrated – especially on weeknights! I don’t have hours to spend on dinner on a Wednesday.
This veggie-packed Bolognese recipe from Cooking Light specifies 35 minutes of hands-on time and 48 minutes total. I cut that down by preparing the carrots and celery the day before, and using all fresh mushrooms. Important note – despite my mushroom-abhoring husband (“you want me to eat fungus?”) and his previous protests, we both agreed to try the recipe with the mushrooms included. He ate all of his and we loved the recipe!
Cooking for us can be a true joy, when we find straightforward, yummy recipes to create food we feel good about. Last night was no exception. He chopped the onion and added it and the pre-chopped celery and carrots to a heated pan while I cleaned and chopped mushrooms. I took over the saucy mixture while he impressively created butternut noodles (or “boodles”, as CL says!) using our julienne peeler/mandolin. I hope this recipe brings you joy – and heads up, I know it’ll bring you a LOT of food! It says this serves 4, and perhaps we made too much pasta (used the whole box instead of just 4 oz) but we each had hearty helpings and now I have 4 more tupperwares-full of it in the fridge. Yum!
2/3 cup boiling water
½ once porcini mushrooms
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 ½ cups chopped onion
¾ cup finely chopped carrot
2/3 cup finely chopped celery
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 ounces 90% lean ground sirloin (Whole Foods has great free-range, antibiotic free options)
3 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano (we subbed Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute – YUM)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 (8 ounce) cans unsalted tomato sauce
12 ounces peeled butternut squash
4 ounces whole-grain spaghetti
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved (about ¼ cup)
1. Pour boiling water over porcini in a small bowl; let stand 15 minutes. Remove porcini with a slotted spoon; finely chop porcini, and reserve soaking liquid.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, carrot, and celery; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cremini mushrooms and garlic; cook 6 minutes or until mushroom liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Add beef; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in porcini, oregano, salt, pepper, and tomato sauce; pour in porcini liquid, stopping before grit at bottom of bowl reaches sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 12 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally to keep sauce from sticking.
3. Run squash through a spiralizer to create noodles, or cut into long noodles with a julienne peeler; set aside. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat, and adding butternut noodles during last 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain.
4. Stir walnuts into sauce; spoon over pasta mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.
I highly recommend checking out the rest of the Cooking Light More Plants, Less Meat Recipe Makeovers. For health or environmentally-conscious reasons, plants are repeatedly proven to be better for our bodies and for society than meat. If you’re a vegetarian, that’s awesome! I’m not at this point in my life, but I do make a big effort to bring plants to the center of my plate and honestly, Cooking Light does a great job in helping me do that in a delicious and easy way.
A Happy Wife 🙂