Cooking takes valuable time, but there are plenty of ways to make efficient use of that time, which can also boost your mental health if you choose to cook light.
Take some time you normally spend cooking and use it for planning. Choose a time when a few interrupted minutes are available. If possible, choose the same time each week to create a routine that develops into a habit.
Think about the foods you and other family members like to eat.
Always start preparation with a clean kitchen, including plenty of work space that is not cluttered. Clear dirty dishes from the sink, so you can have a sink full of hot soapy water as soon as you start preparation. This saves time when cleaning up, and it gives you a place to immediately put dirty cutting boards, utensils, dishes, etc.
Also, have an empty trash can available, or place a disposal plastic bag, such as a produce bag, on the counter to immediately hold food scraps such as peeling, cores and stems of fresh vegetables and fruits. All you have to do to clean up is tie the bag and put it in the trash. So much time is wasted by moving things out of the way when preparing food.
Prepare ingredients that can be used for several meals. For example, if planning for a family of two, you might start with three pounds of skinned and boneless chicken breasts and choose several ways to serve them after they are cooked. An ideal way to cook them is in a slow-cooker, which can produce a lot more than soups and stews.
Using moist heat by cooking in a liquid increases the tenderness of low-fat poultry and meats. It also takes minimal preparation time.
To start cooking the three pounds of chicken breasts, simply place in slow cooker, cover with hot water and put the lid on the cooker. Slow cookers vary in cooking time. Generally, cooking on high about four hours or on low for seven to eight hours is sufficient. Test the doneness of the chicken breast by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken breast. It should register 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to be certain the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
When the chicken is done, remove from the pot and allow the chicken and stock to cool a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, divide into three equal portions. Each cooked portion will be about 12 ounces, because some water weight is lost in cooking.
Take one portion of the chicken and slice crosswise in approximately ¼-inch slices.
Grind one-third of the chicken in a food processor or chop finely; dice or shred the other portion of chicken.
Freeze chicken that won't be eaten within a couple of days in plastic bags or containers designed for freezing. Label each bag with its contents and the date.
One great way to use the sliced chicken is in this chilled chicken with cucumber and lime sauce recipe.
Chilled Chicken with Cucumber and Lime Sauce
Makes 4 servings
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 cups chopped peeled cucumber
12 ounce cooked chilled chicken breast, cut in ¼-inch thick slices
¼ cup chopped cilantro
• Gently fold in chicken slices.
• Chill until ready to serve.
• Fold in cilantro just before serving.
Serving suggestions: Serve on a bed of mixed salad greens, stuffed in a whole-wheat pita pocket or stuffed in a hollowed-out tomato.
Chilled Chicken Spread In A Wrap
The ground cooked chicken breast is great to make a spread for a wrap or sandwich, and it is so simple to make.
Makes 6 servings
¾ cup light mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
6 whole-wheat tortillas
Red bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips
About 16 chive leaves (each leaf is a long, hollow, slender grasslike leaf)
• Spread one-sixth of the chicken on each of six tortillas.
• Divide red bell pepper strips and chive leaves by placing in the same direction on each tortilla.
• Roll tightly.
• Cut in half diagonally and secure each half with a decorative toothpick.
Serving suggestions: Fresh chopped herbs such as cilantro, basil or thyme can be added to chicken spread if desired.
Learn with Brunch
Becky will teach Learn with Brunch at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and May 15 at Uptown Grocery Co., 1230 W Covell Road in Edmond; and Learn with Lunch at noon May 14 at the Gourmet Grille inside Buy For Less, 3501 Northwest Expressway, and May 21 at the 10011 SE 15, Midwest City, location. Class size is limited. Call 302-6273, ext. 332, for reservations.