This is the second in a series of posts about how I run my dino-chow kitchen to keep Dave and I fed without making me (too) crazy.
You know how when you’re daydreaming about packing a little travel case and hopping on the Concorde to Paris (because in your daydream the Concorde still exists and you can get to Paris in three and a half hours), you think about how if you take black boots and a black skirt and a black turtleneck and a black silk blouse and, like, six different scarves, and pink AND red lipstick and a newsboy cap AND a beret, you can make, like, a million outfits and won’t that be chic and fun and so Frenchie!
Well, that’s what I do in the kitchen.
I make a food LBD and accessorize! And I’m going to tell you how to do it, too.
First, a few disclaimers:
1. I don’t mind leftovers. Never have. In fact, when I find delicious, pre-cooked food in my fridge, it makes me feel like someone else made me dinner. I HATE making food then immediately sitting down to eat it. Chopping and stirring and figuring out the timing of getting everything to the table at once is a completely different mindset than eating – and I strongly dislike the collision of the two.
2. I love Cooking and hate making dinner; see above. Cooking is art and love and experimentation and relaxation and fun. Making dinner is “If I don’t get that food from its ingredient state into dinner state and into my mouth soon, I’m going to murder someone.”
3. I tend to really like what I like. I never grow tired of listening to Social Distortion on my iPod. I ALWAYS cry at the part of When Harry Met Sally when Harry runs through New York on New Year’s Eve – in that really terrible jacket and lame sneakers – to get to Sally to tell her he loves her. And I can eat the same thing for a long time, especially if it’s delicious. Who gets tired of delicious?!
NOTE: If you differ on the points above, you can still learn from some of my tricks – just think about how you can modify them to work for you.
You need BPA-free containers with tight-fitting lids. Over the summer, when we had our food epiphany, we got rid of all the mismatched containers and bought rectangular ones that stack neatly, allow us to see what’s inside, and fit inside our not-very-large refrigerator. I know it’s nerdy, but you should do it. Really.
How Long Can You Keep Food In The Fridge?
I get asked this question a lot. I keep my cooked meat and veg about 5-6 days. That makes some people nervous; it is a personal choice. Here are some other articles that offer guidelines for how long to keep cooked food in the fridge:
Food Safety 101 from TheKitchn
Leftovers Guide from The Daily Meal
Planning Snacks & Meals
Every week, I eat almost the same snacks every day. That way, when I go shopping, I know I need to buy a bunch of X. For example, my snack for the last few weeks has been a salad made with cucumbers, olives, and olive oil, with some kind of protein on the side – and sometimes, an additional vegetable either on the side or thrown into the salad.
I calculated how much of the ingredients I needed to make it every day for five days (That’s a LOT of cucumbers!), so when I go shopping, I know I need 10 cucumbers, a few cans of olives, and “support veggies” that I can choose on the fly. Sometimes I add green pepper or tomatoes, or eat a pile of snap peas on the side. The spontaneous veggies help me from getting bored, and the consistent veggies mean I don’t realize at 6:00 a.m. that I don’t have food to pack for a work snack. The added bonus is that I also know I’m hitting good nutrition: I’ve got at least 2-3 servings of vegetables, some quality protein, and two sources of quality fats in each snack pack. Score!
I build most of my meals from the protein up… so I grill a TON of meat at once. You might have seen my previous post about how much it takes to keep both Dave and I fed. It’s a lot of meat, and grilling means I have raw materials for lots of kinds of dishes. I’ll do a few pounds of chicken thighs and turkey sausage and pork chops on the grill – and then I’ll sauté a few pounds of ground beef or lamb with garlic powder and salt. I just package it all up in the containers and stack it in the fridge so we have a base for our meals.
Cooked meat can be served “diner style” with veggies on the side… or diced for a stir fry… or simmered in a quick coconut milk curry. We also often eat what we call “Piles.” I sauté cabbage or broccoli or green beans with some kind of ethnic seasoning (Ras el Hanout or Italian herbs or Mexican chili powder), then pile the meat on top.
That’s my strategy for lunch, too. I put two vegetables in a container, pile the right amount of protein on top, and bring along some tahini dressing or Moroccan dipping sauce to drizzle over the pile. Homemade condiments are magic; see below.
Vegetables in Advance
We eat a lot of fresh veggies, but I almost always prepare them in advance. On Sunday, I take an hour, and I become a Veg-O-Matic. I chop and sauté a bunch of different veggies with garlic powder and salt: cabbage, zucchini, snap peas. I roast heartier veggies in the oven: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spaghetti squash. I chop cauliflower in the food processor so it’s ready to be turned into cauliflower fried frice or cauliflower “couscous.” And I steam green beans and broccoli so they can be sautéed with olive oil and garlic later. Same rules as the meat apply: I mix-and-match the veggies to make all kinds of dinners and flavors.
Some veggies are “special”… like lettuce, fennel, snow peas, and kale. Those I prepare just before we’re going to eat them, but because everything else is usually good-to-go, my earlier rules about cooking vs. making dinner don’t apply.
I always have chopped frozen broccoli, spinach, and collard greens in the freezer. I like all of those for breakfast. They’re great to throw into eggs with some protein. You can add herbs to make it like a French omelet (thyme is good), or coconut aminos (or homemade substitute) and then it’s kind of like egg foo yung.
The frozen veggies are also great for a quick packed lunch: I just throw the plain, defrosted veg in a container and top with diced, cooked protein. In a pinch, I’ve been known to throw FROZEN veggies into my lunchtime container. They defrost by noon in the fridge and then the microwave heat-up process makes them tender. Once the tahini sauce hits the veggies, it doesn’t matter too much that they were frozen.
Breakfast for Dinner
By Thursday or Friday, we’re often starting to run low on stuff and no one wants to go to the grocery store on Friday night. That’s when breakfast for dinner saves the day. Eggs with veggies (I like well-done fried eggs on a bed of greens with chopped tomatoes on top) are super filling and nutrient-rich – and pumpkin-almond butter pancakes taste like a treat when actually, they’re really very healthful. Bacon on the side is a super bonus. Dino comfort food!
Pumpkin Almond Butter Pancakes with Grilled Chicken Thighs
Condiments and Spices: The Accessories of the Food World
If you always have tahini, coconut milk, sunbutter, and almond butter on hand, you can make a lot of flavorful food from basic ingredients.
And here’s a giant post about the spices I always have on-hand to make sure my food is an international whirlwind of flavor fun.
Chicken Coconut Curry
Even I, the least spontaneous girl you know, like to shake things up once in a while, so Dave and I usually pick a new recipe every other week or so. I like to choose a non-dino recipe and adapt it or test out others’ paleo recipes. But I only pick one new dish at a time because those usually take longer, and I think it’s really important to balance time spent in the kitchen against the result. (If I was at work, we’d be calling it ROI.) Grilling a ton of meat takes about 15 minutes from start to finish; I made a fish recipe once that was delicious but had me fussing in the kitchen for an hour. That’s not a good ROI for the week.
But sometimes experimentation really pays off.
For New Year’s Eve, we made a smoked and roasted pork shoulder that kept us in meals for a full week. It was delicious and easy and all-together wonderful. And now it will be a staple that I’ll probably make a few times a month.
And that, dear friends, is how I make sure we don’t run out of food or spend way too much time in the kitchen. I hope this is helpful to you. Post questions to the comments section.
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