Yesterday’s kimchi post is an example of big projects that I take on during the weekend or a day off that will pay off over the long haul in terms of making meals cheaper and easier down the road. A number of the foods I’ll be highlighting this month will do that as well. (Plus are fun and satisfying to make/create).
On the other hand, I found myself doing a few things yesterday evening while I was watching TV to make some of my meals easier for the week. These aren’t things that will keep for a long time, but for a few days to a couple of weeks. They make preparing meals faster and tastier!
There are a lot of things that I make ahead of time that are time consuming that might fall into this category- veggie broth, rice, bread, etc- but those are too time consuming for this. I’m talking the kinds of things you can do during the commercials while you watch TV in the evening, no fancy equipment necessary, with the kinds of things you might have in your fridge/pantry anyway.
- Chop and toast nuts/seeds.
If you know where your cutting board, knife, nuts and a pan are, you can probably do the whole thing on one commercial break (or over two, at most). Simply rough chop your nuts, and drop them into a hot pan over medium heat, stirring frequently so they don’t burn. Drop them into an airtight container when cool, and you have toasted nuts you can sprinkle into other dishes for the week. Clean up the kitchen during the next commercial break! This works great for peanuts, walnuts and sesame seeds, and saves you the extra mess when you’re trying to put together a meal quickly after work.
Bonus on the seeds: no chopping necessary.
- Slice some scallions. Simple, no cooking required. Scallions are a great garnish and add a nice, subtle flavor to a number of dishes. This of course, won’t take more than one commercial break. Also, if you use only the green parts and put the leftover roots in water, they’ll grow back!
You can put a container of chopped scallions in the freezer if you won’t use them in a few days, and they’ll stay fresh. They won’t freeze into a block, so you can still just grab a handful. They won’t be quite as nice as non-frozen ones, but work well when they’re going to be lightly cooked or folded into a warm food.
- Make a reduction. So this one won’t work as well if your kitchen isn’t near your TV, as it requires leaving something on the stove, but it’s perfect if you’re just in the next room (and of course don’t have to worry about little ones wandering into the kitchen and pulling a pan of hot liquid off the stove). The usual reduction I make is balsamic vinegar. Measure out a cup into a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and let simmer for the next 20 minutes or so, until it’s reduced by half. Do all the prep during one commercial, and come back a couple breaks later to check on it!
This also works with wine! Combine equal parts wine and veggie broth and prepare as above for a nice sauce for seitan sandwiches.
- Chop an onion. Okay, so I already said scallions, but this is different. It takes longer, for sure. I’m pretty fast with a knife, but I’m not sure I could chop a whole onion during one commercial. I might do this over two commercials, or I’d pause the DVR just as the commercials are starting, and then catch up when I’m done. Chopping an onion (or three) ahead of time can save you so much time when you get home the next evening and want to make dinner, but are just way too hungry to go through the nuisance of chopping veggies. It may just save you from eating junk food instead!
- Marinate some tofu or tempeh. This is an easy one that can make things tasty the next day. You can use a store bought marinade, or you can throw one together yourself- a good marinade has something acidic (vinegar, wine, juice), something salty (soy sauce, tamari, Bragg’s, or well, salt), and herbs and spices, with maybe something sweet (sugar, mirin, maple syrup). I like a combo of rice wine vinegar, tamari, mirin, ginger and garlic, myself.
Bonus: press your tofu during an early commercial, marinate it during a later one. If you have something like a Tofu X-Press, press your tofu and prepare your marinade, but leave the tofu in the press (in the fridge) until morning and then add the marinade for ultimate flavor absorbing abilities by the time dinner rolls around.
This also applies to other sturdy veggies that can be chopped and will keep in the fridge without browning or drying out too much for 3-4 days, like cabbage, peppers or carrots. Also, garlic and ginger!
A few little things can make life a lot easier in the long run. I know that Once I’ve been able to veg for a little while in front of the TV in the evening, I’ll often feel a little more energized. Well, I might also feel not so motivated, but knowing that I can make thing easier down the road helps!
A couple of do ahead tips- marinade, chop an onion, and you can have this meal ready after work in 20 minutes. No lie! Marinate your tempeh ahead of time, steam it in the microwave and then sear it on a pan, and in the meantime a pressure cooked risotto with veggies folded in at the end. Pressure cooked risotto idea from Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure.