Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cook ahead staples save time and money.

Time is the number one reason cited by people to explain why they eat out instead of cooking at home. Healthy food takes a while to cook properly and the busier our lives get, the harder it is to find the time to cook. Rather than giving up on cooking, learn to cook smarter--convenience foods are convenient because they are precooked and we can use that simple concept to make our own food shortcuts.

Brown rice: I love brown rice and it is probably one of the healthiest things you can eat but let's face it--that stuff takes a minimum of 55 minutes to cook. If your tired and hungry, brown rice isn't going to be on the menu unless you plan ahead.

Brown Rice
Boil-In-Bags of rice are showing up in the market and these are a great idea but way too expensive for my kitchen so I make my own heat and eat rice. Scale up your favorite method for cooking the rice so that you have 4 cups or more of cooked rice. Let it cool and spread it out on a cookie sheet and put the whole thing in the freezer. After a couple of hours, the rice is frozen. Spray the frozen rice with non-stick spray like Pam, put it in a freezer container and keep it frozen for up to 6 months. To use it, scoop out the amount you need and microwave it or put the frozen rice in a colander and run hot water over it, drain and serve.

Standard Brown Rice Recipe
2 cups Brown Rice
5 cups water
Start by bringing the water to a boil. Add the rice, salt and butter, and give it ONE stir. Cover the pot.

Return the pot to a boil, then turn the stove down to simmer and set the timer. It can take 45-55 minutes to cook brown rice. When cooking any and all rice, never stir the rice while it is cooking or you will end up with very mushy rice!

Beans: Beans are another super-healthy food that takes way too long to cook on a daily basis. Frozen beans cooked ahead of time make it much quicker to use beans in hurry-up meals.

Basic Beans
2 cups of dry beans
6 cups of water
Bring the beans and water to a boil in a heavy pot. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak for at least an hour or overnight. Drain and rinse the soaked beans and put them back into the pan with enough fresh water or vegetable stock to cover them. Cook at a simmer for 1-2 hours until they taste almost "done" but still a little firm. Avoid stirring too much since that will break up the beans. Dip beans out of the cooking liquid and put them into a muffin or cupcake pan with just enough liquid to fill up the space between the beans. Freeze for a few hours, then pop the beans out of the pan and store in an airtight bag in the freezer. Don't make too many at once and try to use the frozen beans in 2-3 months.

Potato Short Cuts
Potatoes are fairly quick to cook so they do make it to the dinner table regularly as boiled, mashed or baked potatoes. Because of the starch content, potatoes change consistency and flavor if they have been cooked, cooled and then cooked again allowing for a much wider variety of potato dishes. When you do cook potatoes, always make a point of cooking twice as many as you need so that you have cooked and cooled taters on hand for the next recipe. Cooked potatoes can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days and can be frozen for 2-3 months.

Smashed Potatoes
This simple alternative to baked potatoes makes an excellent side dish. Take a cooked and cooled potato, place it in a baking pan and use a spatula or coffee mug to squash it to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle with a tiny amount of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and spices to taste. Brown under the broiler for 3-5 minutes until crusty brown.

Slice cooked and cooled into wedges. Toss in a bowl with a teaspoon of oil, salt and spices to taste. Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes until browned, turning at least once during the cooking.

Hash has an interesting history in the US including the fact that hash was so popular at times that restaurants, called Hash Houses, opened all over the country and served nothing but hash--not bad for a food that is basically leftovers and potatoes!

Breakfast Hash
Chop 1/2 of an onion and 2 slices of bacon. Start frying together and add a large cooked and cooled potato that has been diced. Cook everything together, add salt and pepper to taste, until the potatoes are browned nicely. Crack 2 eggs on the top and stir them in. Put a lid on the pan and cook the eggs for a few minutes. Eat as is with toast or roll up in a tortilla for hash to go!

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