Thursday, September 24, 2009

Busy Evenings and Quick Meals

I feel like a broken record, as if the same thought keeps echoing in my head... "Things have been so busy here!" Have you heard yourself saying the same thing?

Our challenge is to keep providing healthy meals for our families despite the busy-ness. Be encouraged... It can be done! And, be encouraged... even if you have to get take out once in a while. I am positive that your efforts the other 97% of the time will still count for good.

So what do you do when you arrive home at 5:20 and have to be finished with supper by 6:00 for the next evening activity?

First, it really helps if you have some already prepared meat in the freezer that you can pull out to thaw the morning of a busy day. For example, you can brown a few pounds of beef, add taco seasoning and freeze it in one-pound portions. The morning of a busy day, you can pull a pound out to thaw and then make some beefy quesidillas and a salad for supper. (Try sprouted wheat tortillas!) With lettuce already washed and ready, you could make these two things in just fifteen minutes.

With plain ground beef already browned, you can use the thawed meat to make a quick spaghetti sauce. Finely chop onions, peppers, garlic, squash, zucchini, greens... any vegetable you have on hand... and saute them with the browned beef. Then, add two cans of Crushed Tomatoes and some Italian Seasoning for a fifteen minute spaghetti sauce to serve over whole grain pasta. Like with the lettuce, if you have already chopped veggies, you can really save time. I keep diced onions and peppers in my freezer and can pull those out and put them directly into a skillet to saute. (You can chop and freeze fresh onions and peppers without any other preparation.)

Or, have some cooked chicken in the freezer. I have gotten into the habit of cooking a few chickens at a time and then freezing the meat in meal sized portions. The ready-prepared meat and stock came in really handy yesterday! In the morning, I threw ingredients into a crock pot... and when I arrived home at 5:20, I had Arroz Con Pollo ready to dish up for supper.

So here's how I made Arroz Con Pollo, which might just be the easiest meal EVER. This meal serves 8-10.

Add each of these ingredients to your crock pot in the morning... I add them in this order:
  • Meat from 1/2 a cooked chicken. As I mentioned before, I like to make our meat stretch, so I just use half, but if you wanted this meal extra meaty, you could use a whole.
  • 2 diced onions
  • 2 diced green peppers
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. of Italian Seasoning (make sure you use a natural seasoning mix so that it contains no added, unwanted ingredients)
  • Cayenne Pepper... I just add a few sprinkles, but if your kids like spice you can add more.
  • One can of Crushed Tomatoes
  • One can of Petite Diced Tomatoes (on the tomatoes, it is preferable to use organic or home canned tomatoes, but use what you are able to buy)
  • 2 cups of brown rice
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 cups of chicken stock or fresh water

Give the pot a few gentle stirs. Then let it cook on low all day long... say from 8-5pm or 9-6pm, give or take, which is what is nice about crock pot meals. When you're ready for supper, you'll have a tasty, hearty, healthy meal for your family!

We will all have extremely busy days. If we think ahead, we can still put a nourishing meal on the table. Think ahead, work ahead... and next time I have a quick meal idea, I'll be sure to pass it along too.
Enjoy your days!


Milkmaid said...

Amy Ellen,

This looks so good. But I have a question. Years ago I tried making some concoction in the crock pot that included rice and tomatoes, and the rice never cooked - even after hours in the crock pot! Finally I heard or read that the acid in the tomatoes would prevent rice from cooking. So now when I make such dishes, I add the tomatoes at the end, mix together, and call it good.

Your rice looks like it cooked fine, though. Have you ever had crunchy rice when those ingredients were cooked together? Why did mine turn out that way? Maybe you started with cooked rice?

Thanks for your insights.

Amy Ellen said...

Hi Milkmaid!

I have read the same thing about tomatoes preventing foods from getting soft... I had heard it in reference to beans... and usually wait until the last third of the cooking time to add tomato products to my bean dishes.

But, I had not even thought of applying the same idea to this recipe. I first read about it in a slow cooker cookbook, but had to make substantial changes in the ingredients to suit our whole foods goals. The only same things are chicken, rice and tomatoes. Since the original recipe said to cook all day, I have always done it that way... and haven't had hard rice... although it does cook ALL day.

It seems reasonable to me to add the tomatoes at the end... especially considering your experience with hard rice.

Glad to hear from you again!
Amy Ellen

Noel said...

I love Arroz Con Pollo! It's a classic dish I've been determined to learn how to make. There's many more of those I haven't quite gotten to, yet. If I can find time on Saturday, I'll do much of my baking for the next week and get ahead. If I don't, I regret it during the weekdays. Thanks for the recipe. I'll have to try yours!

lady m said...

Dear Amy Ellen,

Your Arroz con Pollo looks delicious ~ but it does look very different from what we make in our country. We add the same amount of chicken and the rest of your ingredients...

except for the italian seasonings, we use adobo and cilantro for ours.

Anyway you make it, it is one of the most delicious recipes we have shared with the world ;-)

ps: by the way...I am colombian and we make it all the time.

lady m

A Gracious Home said...

Yum, your food sounds great. I will have to make those. You are right that health begins with Mom. I'm glad you are a great Mom. Doylene

WiJoyMom said...

Yum, looks delicious! If I wanted to use cooked rice, how much/what measurement would I use instead of 2 c. of uncooked rice?

If using cooked rice, would I need to adjust liquid?

Amy Ellen said...

Hi WiJoyMom,

Usually, one cup of cooked rice will yeild 3 cups of cooked rice. So, if adding cooked rice, you'll want to use 6 cups. Yet, be careful not to overcook the rice. You're cooking time will be greatly reduced.

And yes, you will also want to reduce the water. I've never tried it that way, but I am thinking you would need to omit 2/3 of the water.

Hope this answer helps! I've never done it, so I"m not sure.