Regardless of age, everyone hears the hoopla on how important a balanced diet it. That’s fine and dandy if you have a lot of time, which most of us in this INBETWEENERS age group don’t seem to have enough of.
Oftentimes we are in a power struggle between 1) work, 2) home and what always comes last 3) health.
There are a few tricks that help offset the pitfalls of this battle between wellness and reality. The best way, I’ve discovered, is to make batches of healthy soups, chowders or chilli in advance and invest in great freezer to microwave containers.
Correlle’s containers take the gold medal for me because of the snap lock lid and the glass bottom that is their trademark for not breaking. I’ve learned by trial and error that the investment is worth having soup spill out and is plain ugly.
Leftovers are usually not something that I’m a fan of so instead, I will pop leftovers like chicken or beef it in the freezer for pulling out on my energetic cooking days.
Granted it takes planning. Yet you can make a plan to have back ups and that is just as awesome.
Make a deal with yourself that you won’t resort to take out or dinner outs — it is something your health will thank you for in the long run. Making the easy to go or easy to eat containers is also cheaper. Then again, we INBETWEENERS aren’t necessarily pinching at the pocket book so we can form bad habits without pause.
Soups and chowders are especially hardy and filling. I have found a few tricks to help speed up the preparation time so that you can’t fall on the excuse of not having anything. Just yesterday, I was making home made lasagna for my adult kids to come over and have a little chat and some quality times. I sure miss those times. You’d think that this would take a long time to make, but it really didn’t. Setting a lovely table and choosing a wine took more thought.
The only canned item in my pantry is canned tomatoes and sauce, on the ready in a pinch. I also buy fresh baby spinach, wash it and put in a bag and yes, you got it, put it into the freezer. I have consciously made that a habit that has expanded to fresh cilantro, parsley and basil from my garden days, each into a bag, on the ready for my culinary creations adding great flavour, but more importantly healthy ingredients.
I found these lasagna in a new Italian Supermarket fairly close by in my neighbourhood. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of shopping for groceries. Yet take me to a cool store like this, and I can wander around and pick up a few things to inspire me to try something new. Going to a specialty supermarket or farmers market to me is relaxing and enjoyable. I don’t chose to do it when I’m on a shopping mission, because that just destroys the pleasure. I’m open to new ideas by wandering around in the crowd of anxious shoppers, feeling I have one up on them, that I’m not in a hurry and it is an excursion, not a chore.
To make my lasagna, I had 3/4 of the ingredients on hand. First up was creating my always new sauce, which I go by appeal and color:
- A can of 28 oz cubed tomatoes (I like Roma = best for italian)
- A can of 28 oz ready made tomato sauce – Hunts tends to be on sale
- I tossed in a couple of small containers of pizza sauce in my fridge
I found this brilliant must have when one of our largest department stores was closing down. In the meandering mood of wandering around to discover anything I may not buy at full price to try. This gadget has been the wunderkind in my kitchen. So much so, that I did pay full price to give to my daughters for Christmas. Talk about chopping onions and tears? Not with this, you just peal the onion, cut it into quarters and plop it in, yank the puller as many times as coarseness desired. It turns chopping hassle into speed fun! They can be found in your department store kitchen gadgets area and cost no more than $20. It is a gift that keeps on giving.
I put on a largish pot with water and a tsp of olive oil to come to a rapid boil before I begin the sauce. I then start with the canned cubed tomatoes and tomato sauce in a medium saucepan to start a slow simmer while I pulled out and washed what I could find in my vegetable container: fresh mushroom, small onion, orange pepper, and a full garlic. 30 seconds to rinse and plopped in to pull the string and voila, minced ingredients. In a separate smaller saucepan, I plopped in a blob of Becel margarine (that tastes like butter) and set the minced ingredients to soften to a bubble then added it to the sauce. Great color and texture already unfolding and the aroma enveloped the house.
This is when I pulled out a handful of frozen bagged spinach rinsed it and added to sauce for health smart zest. Along with it went a half a cup of frozen cilantro (Italian parsley).
I tend to judge by color, texture and aroma when I am adding spices: flaked oregano, basil — I’d say a good tablespoon of each. I let the sauce simmer and the water for the pasta to boil.
I did have to run out to the grocery store to get important ingredients for the lasagna – but it is always better that way, in my opinion, because you have a list, you have dinner half way done, so there is no time to add temptations or uncalled from items. What I bought was:
- 1 container of cottage cheese (low fat is my motto whenever possible)
- 1 container of ready flaked parmesan cheese
- a container of Romano dry cheese from Kraft
- pre-shredded mozzarella cheese package (about 1.5 cups)
- a heaping handful of frozen spinach rinsed with warm water to soften
It took me maybe 20 minutes to zip out and get those ingredients along with a case of Coke Zero that was on sale! Another 5 to the liquor store next door for a Black Tower white wine (I know red wine is usually best but I had two adult kids that may want a glass of wine with dinner and I was working within a budget). It cost $20 Cdn. Sadly, they didn’t have my favorite wine from Australia BIN555 (below).
When I returned home to the still boiling water (my son was home from work so, no, I didn’t leave the house unattended while the stove was on), I preset the oven at 375 F for one hour.
I gently added about 8 strips of the lasagna to the boiling water for no more than 7 minutes, just enough to soften, long before mushy.
I combined the cheese mixture (above) in a glass bowl. Then it was time for assembly:
- Drizzle some olive oil along the bottom of the glass dish and use washed fingers to smooth it around so that stickiness isn’t an issue
- Place a heaping spoonful of sauce on the bottom, don’t be shy but don’t be too generous
- Gently place take one pasta sheet and lay it on one end of dish, repeat with a second one at the other end so they overlap.
- Add the cheese mixture and drop in on top of the pasta. (Don’t worry about making it smooth or if it appears in a clump, because when it bakes, it will even out.) Use all of the cheese mixture.
- Add another couple of the pasta sheets over the cheese mixture, then add generous amount of sauce, leaving a bit for the last.
- Add another couple of the pasta sheets again over the sauce.
- Finally add a generous amount of mozzarella all over the lasagna, ensuring that there it covers all the sauce, end to end in the dish.
- Sprinkle some parmesan shredded chips all over, top with Romano cheese and a few sprinkles of dried parsley for color
Pop goes the lasagna into the preheated oven, noting that it probably says 30 minutes left. You have a generous allowance of time to set a beautiful table. I usually have lemon on hand, and today I had some red grapes. So I put crushed ice with the rinsed lemon and grapes into a glass pitcher, adding water. I’ve seen people do it with a sprig of mint and a fresh cranberry for color and taste, but I was working with what I had on hand.
Once the 30 minutes passed, my daughter had arrived, candles were lit with my son was drooling at the aroma, I pulled the lasagna out of the oven. 15 minutes is the right of time to exchange pleasantries and being seated, pouring either wine or nutrient rich water. (Go figure, they were both being responsible and stuck to water — the cook had three glasses as a reward to creating the treasured moments.)
The secret to the best lasagna, is letting it set for 10-15 minutes before serving so it comes out in cut pieces instead of slop if you’re too impatient.
This isn’t the most calorie conscious menu, but it has a strong combination of nutrients with the spinach and garlic. You can ease back on the cheese layer and topping if that appeals to your waistline, but remember if you go for a brisk walk for a good 30-45 minutes, it will allow you the freedom to eat balanced without depriving yourself a delicious food.
BIN 555 Shiraz from South Australia’s Wyndham Estate is a safe bet for me most of the time. Rate as a 4-star, you can’t go wrong, especially in the pocket book because it prices around $15 Cdn.