Resolutions are part of every discussion when we head into the new year. But, this year, rather than citing all the expected resolutions, I thought I’d focus on simply spending more time in the kitchen. By cooking just a bit more and thinking about the types of ingredients you select when you shop, a few simple resolutions should be relatively easy to keep. Plus, the result will be a happier, healthier, and more cost efficient new year! The resolutions below are meant to be used as a guide. If you choose one or two of them and just modify the current way you consume just some of the time, you might be surprised at the result near the end of 2011.
A pretty standard rule of thumb is that if you spend more time along the perimeter of a grocery store you’ll probably end up with healthier items. Fresh produce, meats and fish are more commonly found in those areas versus the packaged goods items in the aisles. Try to avoid overly processed foods that have high sodium levels and high sugar content. There are many low sodium brands out there and frozen foods and beverages that contain no additives. Take a little extra time reading labels and shopping for those. As an easy alternative to packaged and prepared foods, I’m a big fan of simply prepared dishes using fresh ingredients like a stir-fry or grilled meats and vegetables. Most of those ingredients are once again along the perimeter of the store.
Cook At Home At Least 1 More Day A Week
This is an easy resolution. For those of you who dine out quite a bit, think about taking one day a week more than you currently do to dine in. Make a simple dish like a hearty soup or salad. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But, through the course of a year, the cost savings and the quality time spent at home with family and friends really adds up.
Cook At Least 4 New Recipes A Month
Tied into the resolution above is the goal of experimenting to broaden you culinary skills and tastes. Whether you try one of my recipes or not, explore a new or old cookbook or even search recipes on the internet, challenge yourself each month. Also, don’t be afraid to create variations on any recipe that you see and like. I’m a firm believer in tweaking every recipe to make it your own.
Cook In Bulk and Freeze for Multiple Meals
I did a segment recently that focused on working moms creating meals on the weekend and then freezing them in portions that can be served throughout the coming week or whenever needed. This is another idea to consider in the new year. There are efficiencies to be had by buying in bulk. So, by making large meals and them portioning them out, you not only save a bit of money on food items, you also are able to make multiple meals together and save kitchen time. For more details on my previous segment, click here.
Start A Recipe Exchange Club
My friend Mitch Pennell and facebook friend Shelia Wallenius both inspired this idea. Sheila and her friends have a monthly cookie club in which they get together and share recipes. Each member brings a large batch of one type of cookie and distributes “take home” portions among all attendees. All members then leave the evening with a nice sampling of every variety.
Mitch and his friends do a similar thing with soups. Each of a group of 4 to 6 people makes a large batch of one type of soup or chili. Everything is divided into smaller freezer safe containers and then each person takes home a 2-4 serving batch of each offering. This is a wonderful social opportunity for family and friends to simply gather together over a meal. But, the byproduct is additional meals you are able enjoy in the future. I created two soups below to get your started if you want to try a similar club with your friends. Challenge yourself by changing the theme on a regular basis, too. Perhaps you focus on casseroles one month and pasta sauces another.
An extension of this idea is to create a blog with your friends. Starting a blog is very easy these days. Giving all members the ability to contribute recipes as well as write evaluations on recipes that have been tried is a terrific way to exchange ideas and expand your recipe collection.
Brew Your Favorite Coffee At Home
No matter which coffee shop you like to call your favorite, there are savings to be had simply by buying the beans and preparing your coffee at home. I recently did a segment on the best way to brew coffee at home. You and review that information here.
Vegetable Beef Barley Soup
1 1/2 lb Lean Beef, cut into small cubes
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1 tbl Olive Oil
1 tsp Fresh Thyme, minced
1 tbl Fresh Marjoram, minced
1 med Onion, chopped
5 cu Beef Stock
5 cu Water
1 Bay Leaf
1 lg Carrot, chopped
2 Celery Stalks, chopped
1 lb Plum Tomatoes, chopped
1 cu Pearl Barley
1/4 cu Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, roughly chopped
Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add beef and sauté until beef is browned, about 3 minutes. Add thyme, marjoram and onion and sauté for an additional 3 minutes, until tender. Add beef stock, water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer for 40 minutes. Skim excess fat off the top and add carrots, celery and plum tomatoes. Simmer for an additional 30-40 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Add barley and cook for about 45 more minutes, until barley is tender. Add parsley and stir until wilted, about 2 minutes.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
2 lb Butternut Squash, about 1 medium squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 lb Turnips, chopped
1 lb Parsnips, chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, peeled
1 1/2 lb New Potatoes, chopped
2 tbl Olive Oil
1 tbl Fresh Rosemary, finely minced
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1 tbl Fresh Ginger, finely minced
10 cu Chicken Stock, preferable homemade
Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, roughly chopped
1 tbl Whole Grain Dijon Mustard
2 tbl Balsamic Vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Arrange squash, turnips, parsnips, garlic and potatoes on a large baking sheet. Mix together rosemary and olive oil and sprinkle over vegetables. Toss to combine. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Place baking sheet in the oven for 30 minutes, until vegetables are crispy on the edges and cooked through.
Put chicken stock in a large stockpot over high heat while vegetables are cooking. When vegetables are done, remove them from the oven and sprinkle ginger evenly over them. Let vegetables rest for 5 minutes and then transfer them to the hot chicken stock. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
At this point you can either use an immersion blender to blend the soup smooth or transfer the ingredients to a blender and blend in small batches. If you use the countertop blender method, be very careful to not overfill the blender and risk hot liquid spraying from the top.
Once blended, add more chicken stock if necessary for your desired consistency. Season to taste. Serve in individual bowls and garnish with fresh parsley. Additionally, you can mix the mustard and balsamic together and drizzle a few drops into each bowl of soup.