Thursday, November 14, 2013

Simplifying Supper: Food Prep

Welcome to Part III of my "Simplifying Supper" series.  If you missed the first two parts of this series, you might enjoy checking out these previous posts on creating your own recipe binder and meal planning.

Today I'll be sharing with you my favorite tip for de-stressing the dinner hour: prepping foods in advance.  I mentioned previously that in my house -- and many other households I know -- the thirty minutes leading up to dinner is possibly the most chaotic and cranky time of the day.  I have found that spending a little time on the weekend prepping food for the week saves me a lot of time during the weekdays, thus making the dinner hour less stressful!

I typically do my grocery shopping on Friday evenings.  My hubby and I have an at-home date night every Friday for which we always order take-out.   As soon as my Mister comes in the door from work, I scoot right out and hit up the grocery store(s).  While he is at home feeding J&A dinner and putting them to bed, I am completing our shopping for the week.  On my way home, I swing by to pick up our take-out and usually cruise through the front door just in time to give the kids a kiss before they drift off to sleep.  (Gotta love that 7:30pm bedtime!)

Sometime over the weekend, I then spend an hour or so prepping foods for the week.  I know, I know: weekend time is precious.  It is hard to give up an hour to prep food, but that one hour saves me several hours of work during the week, so for me, it is well worth it.

Here is a typical list of what I get done during my hour of food-prep:
  • Make dressings and marinades:  If any of my meals for the week call for a marinade, I make it over the weekend and store it in a mason jar until I am ready to use it.
  • Cut vegetables:  We have a vegetable side dish almost every night with dinner and I find that a lot of my veggies can be prepped in advance.  If we're having artichokes that week, I will trim them over the weekend so that they are ready to use.  If we're roasting carrots and parsnips or making sweet potato fries, I will peel them, cut them, and store them in a Ziploc bag.  If we are having a recipe that calls for diced onion, I will go ahead and chop it up and store it in the fridge. (Warning: this can sometimes cause a lot of odor -- I will often put it in a Ziploc bag and then store it inside a Tupperware container).  
  • Wash lettuce:  I used to always buy the bagged, pre-washed salad greens, but lately I have been buying the three-pack bag of organic hearts of romaine from Trader Joe's.  To prep in advance, I tear and wash all of our salad greens in my salad spinner and store them in a Ziploc bag lined with a paper towel to keep them crisp.  (You can use this same method for washing and storing fresh herbs -- basil, parsley, cilantro, etc.)
  • Grate cheese: I really hate pre-grated cheese. I know it is super convenient, but it has some powdery film that really disturbs my taste buds.  I buy the big block of cheddar cheese at the grocery store and then have my food processor do all shredding work.  I keep the shredded cheese sealed in a Ziploc bag or Tupperware and store it in the fridge.  
  • Wash and cut fruit:  Ninety percent of the time, if I have to wash and cut up fruit for a snack, I will find myself reaching for the box of crackers instead.   Of course, not all fruits are good to wash (i.e. berries ) or cut (i.e. apples) ahead of time, but there are lots of options that can be prepped in advance.  Our current favorite fruit is grapes.  I pull all the grapes off of their stems, rinse them in a colander, let them dry for a bit,  put the grapes in a open bowl lined with a paper towel and store them in the fridge where they will last for at least a week.  Watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple can also be cut up and stored in Tupperware containers in the fridge.
  • Make weekly snack(s):  I prefer snacks that are grab-and-go, but most of those handy snacks are processed/boxed food which we are trying to avoid.  In an effort to try to keep our snacks both healthy and convenient, each week I pick one or two snack recipes that I can make at home.   J&A love to help "cook" in the kitchen, so we make our weekly snack together.  Recent snacks have included hummus, muffins (here and here), and homemade lara bars (here and here).  Now, before you go thinking I some kind of super-mom for making homemade snacks, I need to keep it real with y'all and tell you that these snacks are deceptively EASY to make.  The lara bars come together in less than five minutes of hands-on time -- seriously!  And the best part is that all of these snacks can be stored in the fridge or freezer and so we eat them throughout the week.
By having foods prepped in advance, my weeknight cooking time is typically cut in half, which in turn means dinner is on the table faster.  And for some reason, eating dinner seems to be the magical cure for that dreaded "witching hour" -- hallelujah!

Does anyone else prep foods in advance?  What is on your typical "prep list"?  Any tips or tricks that make this process easier for you?

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Cilantro Lime Fajitas
Source unknown
Serves 4-6

2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (about 2 bunches)
1¼ cup olive oil
½ cup lime juice
4 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. chili powder
4 Portobello mushrooms, caps removed, cut into ¾ inch slices or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
3 large poblano peppers, seeded, cut into ¾ inch wide strips
3 large yellow or red peppers, seeded, cut into ¾ inch wide strips
2 red onions, sliced into ½ inch rounds
8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
Grated cheese (optional)

1.   Puree first 5 ingredients (cilantro through chili powder) in a food processor.  Season with salt and pepper.

If using mushrooms:
1.   Place all vegetables on a large rimmed baking sheet or in a Ziploc bag, pour 1/2 of the marinade over vegetables.  Reserve remaining 1/2 of the marinade. 
2.   Grill vegetables on the barbeque over medium heat until tender, turning frequently, about 12-15 minutes.  (A grill basket makes this easy work). 
3.   Warm tortillas in microwave or on barbeque.  Fill tortillas with vegetables; drizzled with reserved marinade.  Add grated cheese, if desired. 

If using chicken:
1.   Place chicken in a glass baking dish and pour 1/3 of marinade over; turn to coat.  Place vegetables on a large rimmed baking sheet or in a Ziploc bag, pour another 1/3 of the marinade over vegetables.  Reserve remaining 1/3 of the marinade. 
2.   Grill chicken on the barbeque over medium heat until cooked through, about 7 minutes per side. 
3.   Grill vegetables on the barbeque over medium heat until tender, turning frequently, about 12-15 minutes. (A grill basket makes this easy work). 
4.   Transfer chicken to cutting board and slice into strips. 
5.   Warm tortillas in microwave or on barbeque.  Fill tortillas with chicken and vegetables; drizzled with reserved marinade.  Add grated cheese, if desired. 


Vegetables may be cut in advance and stored in a Ziploc bag in the fridge.  (I often double-bag the veggies to help contain the smell.)  Marinade may also be made in advance and stored in the fridge.  Vegetables and chicken may be placed in marinade up to one-day prior to cooking.  

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