Born Pinner, Budding Chef | Quick Meals for Busy, Tired Mamas
Three Fast, Healthy and Most Importantly, Tasty Recipes For Those Nights You Just Don't Think You'll Make It Out Of The Kitchen Alive
I love to cook and recently, as she approaches her third birthday at the end of this month, my daughter has developed an interest in helping me in the kitchen.
"That's so brave!" My mom said to me when I shared our newfound shared passion, "it requires so much patience to cook with a toddler."
I agree to a degree, but I would argue that it requires less of my patience to include her in the process than it does to deal with her pulling on my leg, whining and getting underfoot in an attempt to capture my attention while I chop and sauté.
"I can choppa vegables!" she told me last week, standing on her tippy toes atop the chair we pull up to the counter for her, grabbing the large kitchen knife waiting on the cutting board near a pile of veggies. Thankfully she grabbed it properly by its handle, and more thankfully, I was only standing two feet away to swiftly remove said knife from her small hands. Err, maybe not the solo chopping, baby girl.
But she can place her hand on mine and hold on while I chop, and move the cut-up vegetables from the cutting board to a bowl and stir them up, ready to cook. We can talk about what "vegables" we are preparing, and what we are going to make with them. And she can sit on the counter watching them "on the fire" while I cook them.
My daughter eats a lot of veggies and I dare say that it has much to do with the fact that she is a part of the preparation process. The fact that I'm eating the same vegetables as her seals the deal.
I love to play around with the mish-mash of recipes in my mind. As an avid Pinner (a social media vice I'm not ashamed of!), I'm constantly scanning recipes (along with design ideas, "flair" and bucket list destinations). I read a ton of different recipes for a dish I'm interested in cooking and then I close the computer and head into the kitchen, armed with a mish-mash of ideas to craft my own way to delicious. Thus my "Born Pinner, Budding Chef" and "Trailer Feast" series'.
The peace and quiet of creating and experimenting in a kitchen (even the 2x3 foot kitchen we had in our old RV trailer) is a happy, zen, therapeutic place for me. Except when I'm in a hurry. Or exhausted. Or battling a brokenhearted monkey mind.
Every passion has its exceptions, and sometimes serving a home-cooked meal is just a little more than the weight of the day can bear as it draws to a close. Cue the boiled pasta with butter and cheese. But even boiling pasta with butter and cheese takes fifteen minutes. No matter what (unless you're pouring cereal) the quickest of quickie meals will take you fifteen minutes.
So I've been perfecting a roster of quickie meals that are still very tasty, healthy and filling. And by "quickie," I mean racing-Rachael-Ray style. Thirty minutes, tops, but sometimes closer to fifteen.
My three favorites so far (on ridiculously high rotation) are: Homemade Soy Miso Ramen, Homemade Sushi Rolls, and Fish and Roasted Veggies. So, I thought I'd share! As you tackle your food prep this weekend, put at least one of these in the mix on a night you know you'll be cramped for time or exhausted from a busy run-around, and let me know how it goes.
** Please remember a key note about me and recipes ** I like to experiment, so I encourage you to do the same. I don't do exact measurements, so scale the ingredients to the number of people you are cooking for and most importantly, trust yourself! It's a good exercise in self-compassion and patience. If it doesn't come out perfectly, eat it anyway, learn from what you'd like to change, and try again. I'm guessing you will rock it.
Homemade Soy Miso Ramen
What You'll Need:
- Large saucepan
- Ramen noodles (I prefer Lotus Foods Millet & Brown Rice noodles, which I get for a steal from Thrive Market, but you do you!)
- Vegetables (I prefer some combination of garlic, red onion, mushrooms, scallions, red bell pepper, carrots, asparagus... or any leftover veggies I find in my fridge. But you do you!)
- Protein (... if you'd like one. I prefer shrimp or adding any leftover fish from the fish and roasted vegetables recipe below, but you could also add meat or a meat replacement if you'd like. It should be already cooked and ready to toss into the mix.)
- Water (two cups per sheet of noodles)
- Miso paste (about a tablespoon or two per serving of noodles)
- Fish sauce, Tamari soy sauce and Sesame oil (a splash of each, which is really probably about a teaspoon of each if you forced me to measure)
- Sunflower or Grapeseed oil (or an oil appropriate for high-heat sautés)
- Garnishes (chopped up scallions, sesame seeds, herbs)
What You'll Do:
- First, gather up all of your ingredients and chop up your veggies, both the fresh and the rescued fridge leftovers;
- Sauté the onion and mushrooms (my requisite base, along with garlic, because it gives an incredible flavor to the broth, but you do you!) on medium high heat until both begin to brown but are not fully cooked;
- Add the rest of your veggies and cook everything on medium high heat, stir-fry style until all are cooked through and a little browned;
- When I am adding shrimp, I add them now to quick sauté with the vegetables;
- Add your garlic last, so it cooks but does not burn;
- If you are adding already cooked meat, or a meat replacement, do it now;
- As soon as veggies are done, pour in water and turn the heat to high to boil;
- Add miso, fish sauce, soy and sesame oil while water is heating, so they will melt and meld, and start flavoring the veggies;
- Once boiling, add the noodles and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they break up and are soft;
- Remove from heat and serve;
- Garnish with chopped scallons, sesame seeds and any fresh herbs that suit your fancy!
Homemade Sushi Rolls
What You'll Need:
- Bamboo sushi mat(s)
- Bowl of warm water
- Very sharp knife (to cut your roll into pieces without it smooshing into a mess!)
- Sushi nori seaweed sheets
- Sushi rice, brown rice or quinoa (cooked to instruction for the number of mouths you intend to feed)
- Vegetables (I prefer avocado, cucumbers, carrots and zucchini, but you do you!)
- Protein (I usually go vegetarian, or add shrimp, but you could add sushi-grade fish, crab meat, smoked salmon, canned tuna or salmon, tofu or whatever your heart desires!)
- Sesame seeds
- Dipping sauce (soy sauce, thai peanut sauce, sriracha or a spicy sauce, etc. — try for low-salt and low-sugar dipping sauces to keep it healthy)
What You'll Do:
- First, cook your rice or quinoa to instruction. It is the heat of the rice that helps the nori to soften and roll easily;
- Slice your veggies and the contents of your rolls. Aim to slice everything into similarly-shaped thin matchsticks;
- Set up your rolling station: cover your bamboo mat in plastic wrap to prevent sticking, and place your rice and fillings, as well as a bowl of warm water and a towel within an arms reach (or you will be washing and drying your hands at the sink constantly!);
- Place a nori sheet on your plastic-covered bamboo mat;
- Cover the sheet with a thin layer of rice or quinoa (don't layer anything too thick or you won't be able to roll it up!) leaving about an inch at the bottom (closest to you) rice-free;
- About 1/3 of the way up, place a modest amount of each of your fillings, closely side-by-side. Again, don't overstuff this burrito, or it won't roll!
- Pick up the end of the bamboo mat closest to you and begin to roll away from you. Beware never to tuck the bamboo mat into/under roll. Just roll over the top, and pull the contents toward you, then repeat until it's done (see below);
- Slice your roll down the middle, and then into even(ish) pieces.
This video will help walk you through the process, if it's your first time rolling sushi. My most important tip is to pay attention while rolling, not to tuck your mat in with the roll. Follow the roll-tuck-roll-tuck process she demonstrates here. Most importantly, don't worry if it's not "pretty!" I guarantee it will taste better than it looks the first few times, and that's what's most important.
One Pan Fish and Roasted Vegetables
What You'll Need (... admittedly, this one is a little obvious):
- Large roasting pan and tin foil
- Fish (I choose whatever is on sale and wild-caught, never farm-raised, but I prefer salmon, cod, haddock or swordfish)
- Vegetables (I prefer onions, mushrooms, broccoli and asparagus, because they all roast nicely in the same time frame as the fish bakes, but you do you! If you choose a vegetable that needs a longer roasting time, just put the vegetables in before the fish)
- Fresh minced garlic
- Olive oil
- Fresh and dried herbs to taste
- Salt and pepper
- Nutritional yeast
- Fresh side vegetable (such as avocado, carrot or tomato slices)
- If you'd like to serve with a grain, such as rice or quinoa, please do!
What You'll Do:
- Set your oven to bake at between 400-425 degrees (double check the specifics depending on what type of fish and vegetables you are cooking);
- Cover your roasting pan with tin foil and a drizzle of olive oil to prevent your fish and veggies from sticking to the pan;
- Cut up all of your veggies;
- Using a small separate bowl, make a "dressing" with a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt (light on the salt!), pepper and the fresh herbs you like. I toss my olive oil with a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast, a pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper, thyme, parsley and sometimes oregano;
- Toss all of your veggies in your dressing until they are coated;
- Using your small separate bowl, toss minced garlic with olive oil and again, your choice of herbs and seasonings.
- Lay your fish on the roasting pan and cover with the olive oil/garlic/herbs mixture. Lay 3-4 lemon slices/rounds on the top;
- Spread your vegetables out on the pan surrounding the fish. Try to spread them out evenly, so there are no (or few) layers, allowing them all to roast;
- Pop the roasting pan in the oven for anywhere between 15-20 minutes (again, double check the specific recommended timing depending on the type of fish and vegetables you use. Where? Pinterest or the Google, of course!);
- Remember to occasionally stir and toss the veggies while they roast. Don't touch the fish!