Meal Prep is my Life Saver

Meal prep is my life saver.  Seriously.  I know a lot of people groan at the thought of taking time out of their weekend to plan for the week.  I get it!  You want to spend your weekends with loved ones and friends and relax, not think about your work week.  However, prepping for the week on Sundays has become something that I simply cannot live without.  It does not have to consume your entire day, either.  What it most likely will do is set you up for a week of healthy eating choices.  To me, that is worth the hour or so that I take every week to prepare.  If I have pre-portioned lunches and snacks, plus a few meals started for me, I make healthier choices and feel better all week long.  So, I am going to give you a few examples and tips that I use to plan healthy meals and snacks to save time during the week.  Mix and match what works for you.

I always do my grocery shopping on Sundays.  I keep a Note pad list on my phone for my menus and I use a grocery list app to get ready to shop (I am a fan of the “Buy Me a Pie!” app – weird name, but I can color code items based on their location in the store to make grocery shopping more efficient, and I like that.).  I know there are people out there who also use meal planning apps that basically pull from a database of menus and give you the grocery lists, but I like to freestyle it.  If you do use one of those apps, let me know which one(s) you prefer!

Some menu examples:

IMG_3798[1]IMG_3797[1]*freedom – this week we start spring break, so I am definitely not cooking the first night of break.

Where do I get my meal ideas?  Lots of places:  Pinterest, my cook books, my Cooking Light daily calendar, etc.  When I come across something that would be great for an upcoming week, I note it at the bottom of my weekly meal list.  Then I look at my schedule for the upcoming week.  Do I have any meetings that mean I will be home late?  Do I already have dinner plans?  I am fortunate to have an awesome boyfriend who usually works from home and is willing to “slave over the crock pot” (i.e., turn it on when I ask him to), so I like to use crock pot meals on my later work nights.  I mix and match my recipes to the days of the week based on my projected time/energy levels, and then make my grocery list.  I also list lunch options and snacks.  I am out the door by 6:45 each morning, so it helps to be able to glance at my list and say, “Oh yeah, I’ll just grab this quinoa salad and these snacks for the day.”

I also look at my ingredients.  Does one recipe that I am dying to make call for a small amount of something?  How can I use that ingredient again later in the week (if it is perishable)?   You may have noticed that I made both chili and 3 pounds of taco meat during one of the weeks above.  We get beef from my parents, and it is time to start using up the ground beef.  That week became “Operation: Cook all of the Meats” week, so I made a huge batch of chili on Sunday, ate some of it for dinner, and froze the rest.  Same thing with the taco meat.  Now, I will have weeks in the future where I can just pull those things out of the freezer for a super quick dinner.  Score!

So, here is where my Sunday prep comes into play:  as soon as I get home from grocery shopping, I start my prep.  I find that if I sit down or do something else, my momentum is shot.  I am that weird person who actually enjoys grocery shopping, so I usually come home excited about all the things I can cook (I told you I’m weird).  Some of the things I may do to prepare my meals and snacks in advance:

  • hard boil eggs
  • chop and portion out fruits and veggies (I am big on berries and occasionally forget that I don’t really like carrots, so I will portion those every now and then)
  • make a big salad (usually a quinoa salad) and portion it out for my lunches
  • prepare a casserole or quiche
  • make spaghetti sauce, taco meat, etc. so it is ready to heat when I need it
  • prep the parts of a crock pot meal so I can just set it all out with directions for boyfriend

You get the idea.  I want to be clear that I do not do all of this every week – it varies.  For this week, all I had to do was pop a quiche in the oven and chop some berries.  Some weeks I do more.  Do what works for you.  I get that children take up a lot of time and you like to hang out with your offspring, so if you have little ones running around you may only get eggs boiled or fruit chopped.  Hey, that’s a start!  After awhile, prepping may become second nature like it is to me.

Do you have any great meal prep tips?  Share them!

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Recipe: Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Tahini Sauce

Last week I was really in a lunch rut.  I was sick of my usual options (even quinoa, which is practically unheard of for me), so I made up this little dish.  It was THE BOMB.  Seriously.  You can use any vegetables that you like – really, anything that you need to use up in your refrigerator would work (carrots, bell peppers, onion, etc).  I used leftover roasted chicken from my chicken and broccoli pasta earlier in the week.

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Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Tahini Sauce

Makes 2 servings

  • 2 c. broccoli florets
  • 2 c. cauliflower florets
  • 1-2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2/3 c. chopped kale
  • 6 oz. sliced or shredded chicken, cooked
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. tahini
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper to taste

Preheat over to 425.  Toss broccoli and cauliflower with minced garlic, 1 tsp. olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Roast for 20-25 minutes, shaking halfway through.  While the vegetables are roasting, chop kale and chicken.

Go ahead and assemble these in your lunch containers of choice.  In each container, layer 1/3 c. kale, 1 c. roasted vegetables, and 3 oz. chicken.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper.  Add a dash of salt and pepper and divide into two small dressing containers.

At lunchtime, heat chicken and vegetables and top with sauce.  Healthy and easy!

Recipe: Chicken and Broccoli Pasta

This pasta dish has long been a part of my weeknight rotation.  I generally either use a rotisserie chicken or bake the chicken ahead of time to help the meal come together quickly.  Add a side salad or some French bread and you’re set!  It also keeps well throughout the week for a grab-and-go lunch.

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Chicken and Broccoli Pasta

Serves 4

  • 8 oz. whole wheat angel hair pasta
  • 3-4 c. broccoli florets
  • 12 – 16 oz. cooked chicken (depending on how much you like chicken)
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced (trust me, it isn’t the same if you use the bottled garlic)
  • 1/2 – 1 t. crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  While you are waiting, cut a head or two or broccoli into florets (or use the pre-cut broccoli – I do that sometimes) and reheat chicken.  Then, prepare the “sauce”.

For the “sauce” (because it really isn’t sauce), heat garlic and olive oil in a small skillet.  When garlic begins to “speak” (as Rachael Ray calls it, meaning it just starts to sizzle), turn off heat and move skillet to a different (cold) burner.  Add crushed red pepper and let the flavors meld.  Do not turn burner back on.

When water is boiling, add pasta and cook according to package directions.  With about 3-4 minutes left in the cook time, add broccoli to the pot and cover.  Drain pasta and broccoli and then return to pot.  Add chicken, olive oil mixture, and salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with a little shredded Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

*You may want to play around with garlic, red pepper, and olive oil amounts to your taste.

Review: The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

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The Conspiracy of Us is a fast-paced, action-packed YA book.  Avery is a teenager who has never known her father.  She and her mother have moved around a lot, and as is typical for a lot of YA plot lines, she tries not to get too close to anyone.  Here is where it gets interesting: a cute new boy at her school seems to be spying on her.  When she goes against her mother’s wishes to go to prom with him, Avery is whisked away to Europe.  She finds out that this mysterious stranger works for basically a secret society of families that run the world behind the scenes, and that she is part of one of those families.  Of course, once she makes it to Europe she realizes her life is in danger.

The good:  tons of action.  Enough plot twists to keep the reader engaged.  A cliffhanger leaves the reader wanting more.

The not-so-good:  Underdeveloped characters.  The book really just jumps right into the action, which from a librarian perspective is actually not bad.  Honestly, when it comes to reading for pleasure a lot of kids want something that keeps their attention from page 1.  They will not mind underdeveloped characters.  I, however, would like more information on Avery and her mother.  You get a lot of information (kind of) about the society of families, but nothing about the mother.  I am hoping she plays a larger roll in the sequel.

Overall, this book is entertaining enough and my students are hooked. This might be something to throw in your beach bag!

Recipe: Mexican Quinoa Salad

Quinoa salads are my lunch jam.  Lately I have gotten tired of my usual rotation, so I have started experimenting.  This week’s creation is not too shabby.

mexi quinoa salad

The picture really does not do it justice.  However, I also created an awesome quinoa salad last week and did not blog it because I didn’t think to take a picture of it.  Since I made this up directly in the plastic container I take to work, you are just going to have to deal with a not-so-pretty picture (I am quite sorry).

Mexican Quinoa Salad 

Makes 2 servings

  • 1 c. cooked quinoa
  • 2/3 c. black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 c. frozen corn, thawed (Trader Joe’s fire roasted corn is amazing)
  • 1/2 c. tomatoes, chopped (I just had grape tomatoes around so I used those)
  • 2 T. chopped green onions
  • 1 T. chopped cilantro
  • cumin and chili powder
  • 1/2 c. salsa (I used my own)

In a bowl, layer 1/2 c. quinoa, 1/3 c. black beans, 1/4 c. each corn and tomatoes, 1 T. chopped green onions, and 1/2 T. chopped cilantro.  Sprinkle with cumin and chili powder to taste, and top with 1/4 c. salsa.

Evidently, people eat these “salads” cold, but that weirds me out so I heat them up.  Eat it at whatever temperature you like!

Recipe: The Best Tomato Salsa EVER

salsa

This salsa is legendary.  I’m not kidding.  Growing up, we always had this in our refrigerator.  To this day, some of my childhood friends have been known to walk into my parents’ house, open the refrigerator, and look for this.  Still.  The funny thing is, this is by far the quickest and easiest recipe ever.

I did have to specify that this is a tomato salsa in the title because ever since my sister moved to Mexico, my mom has strayed from the original recipe in this post.  Now she is all about some fancy tomatillo salsa, salsa that requires roasting of things, etc.  Not me.  I am not trying to roast things all day or really venture past the canned tomato aisle.  Which, of course, is why I just eat all of her new fancy salsa when I visit.

As always, these quantities are approximate.  I always mix it once, taste, and adjust.  If you do this, keep in mind that the flavors intensify as it sits.

The Best Tomato Salsa Ever

  • 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeno, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 green onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 T. lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. – 1 tsp. salt

Are you ready for this?  Just throw everything into a food processor or blender and let it go until the texture is to your liking.  THAT’S IT.

Told you it was easy.  Enjoy, friends!

Recipe: Puff Pastry Brunch Cups

breakfast cup6

First off, these things don’t have a real name so I am not married to the one I gave them.  Boyfriend was very set on naming them something with the word “Bomb” in them.  And they are the bomb, so I guess that would be fitting.  Anyway, if you have any awesome names for these, just let me know.

Per usual, this is based on one of my mom’s recipes.  I changed it up a bit for brunch I hosted.  I regularly use these same ingredients to make what we call a breakfast braid, where you put the filling on a sheet of puff pastry and braid it together.  So, you can take the same ingredients and do that if you do not want to do all the cutting of the puff pastry dough.  I was just going for something that you can easily eat while you mingle.

My brunch had a Valentine’s Day theme, so I added cutesy heart cut outs to the top of each cup.  You could just do a circle, or braid together a few small strips.  You will definitely want the top layer of puff pastry because there is no such thing as too much puff pastry.  That is a real, scientific fact.

Puff Pastry Brunch Cups

Makes 12 cups

  • 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 1/2 c. potatoes O’brien
  • Additional bell pepper and onion as desired (I always add more)
  • 1 – 1 1/4 c. diced ham
  • 6-8 eggs, scrambled with 1-2 T. cream cheese, 2 T. milk, and 1 tsp. or so salt + pepper (the eggs should be just barely set)
  • 1/2 c. shredded Colby Jack or nacho blend cheese
  • 1/2 c. shredded Parmesan

As always, my quantities are estimated.  You can always combine any leftover ingredients to make an omelette filling or scramble them in with eggs.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Start by rolling out the pastry dough on a floured surface.  Use a glass (naturally, I used a wine glass) or cutout tool of your choice to cut out 12 circles of dough.

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Place the dough in the bottom of a muffin tin sprayed with cooking spray.

breakfast cup2

You may as well go ahead and cut out the shape of your choice for the tops at this point.  Set those aside.

If you are doing this the morning of, go ahead and saute the potatoes and extra bell pepper and onion (if using) in a skillet sprayed with cooking spray.  If you are prepping this the night before (which works just fine), you really don’t even need to thaw the potatoes.  You may want to saute the peppers and onions (again, if using) though.  Layer a little bit of the potato mixture on top of the puff pastry circles, like so:

breakfast cup3

It takes a lot less than you think, so if you are a chronic over-filler like me (I am a terrible taco/burrito maker because I think I need all of the things in it) just resist the urge to over-stuff.  I am talking a tablespoon or so of the potatoes.  Anyway, then go ahead and add a little ham, like so:

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Next comes a sprinkling of Colby/nacho/cheddar cheese, then a scoop of scrambled eggs, and then a sprinkling of Parmesan.  Top that off with your top shape of choice and you’re ready to bake!

breakfast cup5

Bake for 20-22 min. at 400 degrees.  Let cool slightly and enjoy!

breakfast cup6

And I really am serious about the name suggestions.

Review: The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

red queen

I have been anxiously awaiting The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.   I ordered a few copies for my library and took one home last weekend to preview it.

Mare lives in a world divided by blood: those who bleed red (Reds) and those who bleed silver (Silvers).  She is born a Red, and all Reds are forced to live in poverty, scraping by and succumbing to the king’s will, whatever it may be (obviously, he is a Silver).   At the age of eighteen all Reds who are not employed are conscripted, or forced to join the army.   They are fighting a centuries-old battle for the Silvers.  Mare is simply waiting out the clock until she is inevitably conscripted.  However, one night she meets a mysterious stranger and the next day she is offered a job at the palace.

As it turns out, Mare has a certain power that she did not know about; and, it is a power that could bring Silvers to their knees.

That is all I am going to tell you about the book.  Seriously.  It is a decent YA dystopian novel, albeit not terribly original.  Mare reminds me a little of Tris in Divergent, Katniss in The Hunger Games, and America in The Selection.   The darkness of the whole plot was reminiscent of Marie Lu’s Young Elites.  It has a ton of action and plenty of plot twists, but does not develop the background story or the characters all that well.  It is an easy (as in you will get really into it and not realize that hours have passed) read and I devoured it, and will probably even read the second installment, which is very rare for me with YA series.

And I mean seriously, HOW GORGEOUS is that cover?

Recipe: Asian-Inspired Julienne Vegetables

I accidentally made this recipe up one night when I was attempting a different one.   Let me just say that beef with julienne vegetables rolled up inside of it is way easier than it looks.   I improvised and ended up with this awesome side dish.   It is super quick to cook (the chopping really takes most of the time) and adds a ton of color and flavor to any protein.

Asian-Inspired Julienne Vegetables

  • 1 bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 carrot (or 5-10 baby carrots, depending on the size), julienned
  • 1 zucchini or yellow squash, julienned
  • 1/4 onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. (or so) soy sauce
  • a dash of crushed red pepper (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

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Start by chopping the vegetables, keeping them as close to the same size as possible.  Then, heat a skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.

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Add vegetables to the pan.  Sautee for about 1 minute, and then add soy sauce and seasoning.  Play around with the quantities to your taste.  Sautee for about 4-5 more minutes, and serve alongside your favorite protein.  I actually baked some chicken in the marinade from my pulled chicken sandwiches.  I marinated the chicken overnight and baked at 375 for about 35 minutes.

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Happy Monday!

Recipe: Western Frittata

I hate wasting produce.  Like, I really hate it.  So I often find myself using up produce on Sundays in omelets and recently, in quiches and frittatas.  I have been on more of a frittata kick lately just because it is a lower carb option.  I also didn’t have any pie crusts lying around and was not in the mood to attempt one from scratch.

I like making frittatas on the weekend just because that means I have leftovers for lunches during the week.  Are you seeing a theme in my lunches?  Anyway, I like to pair a green salad with a slice of frittata for an easy, filling lunch.

I vary my frittata ingredients based on what I have lying around.  I have been known to do a “BLT” version with bacon, spinach, and tomatoes; however, this week I had some leftover peppers and diced ham so I made up this “western” (or is it “Denver” that uses ham and peppers?) frittata.  It came out wonderfully and the best part is that you can adjust a lot of the ingredients to what you need to use up in your refrigerator.

Western Frittata

  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1/2 c. chopped bell pepper, any color (I had yellow and red so I used that)
  • 3-4 eggs + 3-4 egg whites (I used 3 full and 4 whites)
  • 3/4 c. skim or unsweetened almond milk (believe it or not, almond milk is just fine in this)
  • 1 c. diced ham cubes
  • 3/4 – 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I use the Go Dairy fake cheese shreds and it’s fine)

Preheat oven to 350 and spray a pie dish before you dice your vegetables.  Saute peppers and onion in a skillet until softened.  While your vegetables are cooking, whisk eggs and egg whites with your milk of choice.  Stir in ham, cheese, and salt and pepper (to taste).  When peppers are ready, stir those in as well and then pour into pie dish.

quiche uncooked

Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  Allow frittata to cool a bit and then cut into 6 slices.  It goes great with toast for breakfast or a green salad for lunch/brunch.

frittata cooked