Category Archives: Kitchen

A Step-by-Step System to Meal Plan Like A Wizard

01 - Dinner Table

Editor’s Note: While I’m busy putting the final touches on my podcast (launching NEXT WEEK!) this is an EPIC guest post from Deron Bos, professional organiser and Apple Coach at Bos Organization. Enjoy!

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Look, I’m a dude and yes, I’m a professional organizer and Apple coach, but I’m not Felix Unger. Meal planning did not look like an immediate utopia for me, but when I commit to it, these are the benefits:

  • Grocery shopping ceases to be the game of “What new frozen meals are available?” and instead becomes intentional and focused: a lot more fresh produce, grains, and beans end up in the cart on meal planned trips. (Okay, yes, the sea salt potato chips still to manage to jump in there on these trips, but they are the sirens of the healthy grocery ocean!)
  • At 5pm, I’m excited to start cooking rather than shovelling a bowl of chips and a jar of salsa in my mouth and hoping for the best.
  • Learning meals by repeating gives me confidence in the kitchen. Confidence in the kitchen begets more cooking. Cooking almost anything almost always beats eating too much pre-prepared processed food.
  • If I’m all set up to cook specific meals through the week, I start to really enjoy cooking. It feels fun, it feels creative, which is how you want it to feel, not like you’re taming your stomach.

Healthy, fun, confidence boosting, it has it all – just needs a bit of work at the beginning.

A workflow for geeks, a workflow for everyone

Brooke has already shown you how to meal plan with a paper and pen, so today I’d like to show you how to do it digitally. There’s some real pluses about working with this stuff in pixels rather than ink:

  • Grocery lists! Throw a few recipes into the meal plan and the app spits out a list: easy peasy.
  • Easy capture: the internet is ripping at the seams with recipes, a digital app allows you to collect them quickly and in a much more compact way than a counter full of cookbooks or a bursting binder.
  • Easy to repeat menus: as we’ll discuss in a moment, repetition is a good thing in meal planning and once you find a rhythm to this thing, you’ll be able to repeat weeks that work no problem in the digital realm.
  • Access anywhere: aka, once you set this up, if you need to throw together a meal plan in 5 minutes in the store parking lot: you can do it.

I’ll be talking about how I use Paprika, an app voted by The Sweet Setup as The Best Recipe Manager for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac but the basics of my workflow could translate to other recipe software and even the pen and paper. As Brooke says, “You can do something. We can do something. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.”

Note: I’ve also created a 10 minute bonus video of this process that will show you exactly how I do my week’s meal planning with Paprika.

First Step: theming

Theme that week: This is without doubt the meal planning hack that’s helped me the most. Brooke highlights it in her “M is for Meal Planning” post and the format for my own is heavily inspired by her simple living colleague Tsh Oxenreider’s spring plan. And surprise! this is the one part that I do on paper. Here’s what it looked like for Winter:

02 - Theme Notebook

This works so well because it helps you avoid decision fatigue right at the beginning, instantly brings variety to your meal plan, and ensures a regular place for your favorites. Want to have curry every week this season? So do I, so it’s my Wednesday theme.

The delightful dozen: You’ll notice on my plan that Saturdays are reserved for “something new” but the rest of the days are cuisine category and “something easy.” Within those cuisines I put a lot of tested favorites, recipes within those categories that I’ve grown to love after making them multiple times. This is the delightful dozen. I’d recommend coming up with your own 12 or so staples and audition new up and comers once or twice a week.

Step two: capturing

This won’t always be step two, because if you’re using Paprika for the first time, you’ll want it fill it with some options the first time and after your first successful week you’ll continue to fill as needed. But I wanted to share it with you after going over the theming step, because it’ll help to have those decided before beginning the captures.

Also, while I’m presenting a number of different ways to gather recipes, my advice: go slow on the collecting. Pick stuff that’s simple, that you can image cooking at 6pm after a long day. And if you make something and it’s just “meh” – you have my permission to delete that recipe and move on.

Paprika’s browser: There’s a web browser built right into Paprika and it makes it super easy to capture online recipes right there.

In most instances you can just hit the blue “save recipe” button and “poof!” you’ll instantly add it to your collection like a fourth year Hogwarts student.

On sites where Paprika can’t figure out the formatting, it’s still pretty quick you just highlight the different parts of the recipe (title, ingredients, directions, etc.), click the corresponding button at the bottom, and keep pulling together all the elements till you have the full recipe.

Here’s a shot of capturing Brooke’s Slow Kitchen Lentil and Vegetable Chili for later. (Mmmm…chili).

03 - Paprika Browser

I feature steps like this one in my video too, so you can see them in action.

Copying and pasting from documents, eBooks or PDFs: Any recipes that you already have in digital text format are simple to add into Paprika by just doing a bit of copying and pasting. A lot of my cookbooks these days are in Kindle format, which thankfully supports copying and pasting – although it will always bring over the author and title metadata with each paste. This is easy to delete of course, just paste, delete and you’re on your way.

Room at the party for books made out of paper: Don’t worry, I heard you saying that you don’t want to leave the old school books behind and no fretting needed, there’s some great options for the traditionalists out there:

  1. Just go to the recipe tab in Paprika, hit the “+” button to start a new recipe and transcribe it like Hemingway with your fingers and the keyboard.
  2. To up your geek game: use a scanning app on your smartphone (for iOS I like: Genius Scan), convert that recipe into a PDF or other text document and then copy and paste away.

Bonus idea: Create a super index with your Eat Your Books

One of the advantages of working from the web is that when you sit down to do your planning and you see that Tuesday night is themed as “soup or stew” you can just search soup or stew at your favorite site and be hit with numerous options. (Sometimes too many, alas.)

But what about the books you invested in, you don’t want to leave them behind, right? Why keep them around if not to use them?

Well someone came up with a brilliant idea with the web app Eat Your Books. At its simplest: you add books that you own into your virtual bookshelf by entering the ISBN, author, or title and then you can go to it and type in “stew” and it will list all the stew recipes that exist in your physical or eBooks. A super powered index! Use it for good, if it seems too overwhelming, you can also adopt a Julie & Julia approach and cook your way day by day through a single text.

04 - Eat Your Books

Third Step: Scheduling

Check your day to day calendar: That date night on Friday with your spouse might mean you just want to leave some mac and cheese for the babysitter. Having your friends over on Sunday for a potluck may mean you’re just making Slow Kitchen’s Packed Salsa instead of a whole meal. Looking at the events of the week will allow you to build the plan accordingly.

Now your meal calendar: This is where theming really helps me knock out a plan in minutes. I just go to the Meals tab in Paprika (it has a calendar icon) and drag and drop in meals from my collection.

It looks like this:

05 - Paprika Calendar

Final Step: creating a list

Again, the ease of this step in a recipe manager like Paprika may be the biggest benefit of going digital.

It works like this: once I have my plan in Paprika’s calendar I hit the share button at the top of the left, select “add to grocery list” and then “entire week” and a box comes up listing all the ingredients. I review this list, removing anything that I already have (like pantry staples like salt and spices). Looks like this:

06 - Add To List

Once I’m satisfied it, I click “done” and it’s all added to the “Groceries” tab like this:

07 - Groceries Tab

Paprika has its own sync engine so the exact list that I create on the Mac app will be available to me in the iPhone app as well. (Turns out it’s easier to walk around the store with a phone than an open MacBook Pro. I learn these things the hard way and then pass on the knowledge to you.)

So, quick review, just four steps needed to completely transform your week:

  1. Theme
  2. Capture
  3. Schedule.
  4. Create a list.

Brooke writes, “the reason we do things like this is to make life simpler, not harder. We want to free up time for what is important: like drinking cocktails and chasing unicorns.”

For me bringing this process to the digital space has netted me more important cocktail/unicorn/satisfied tummy time than ever before so I’ve produced a free video showing you my exact process.

I’ll show you everything we covered today: capturing with the in-app browser, copying and pasting from other sources, simple scheduling with the calendar, easy list making, and more.

For access to that free video, click here.

Deron Bos is a professional organizer and Apple coach that teaches folks how to remove physical and digital clutter from their lives and organize what remains so they can enjoy the good stuff whether it be an Old-Fashioned or unicorns. Grab his free video here.

3 Bomb-Awesome Salads: The Slow Kitchen

It’s the last month of summer here in Australia (in terms of the official seasons anyway – it tends to stay warm here until late-April at least) and that means it’s the season of salads. Since I stopped eating meat I found I need more from my salads than just leafy greens, cucumber and tomatoes, so I’ve pulled together three of my favourite salads that won’t leave you gnawing on the tablecloth once you’re done.

Aside from satisfying, these awesome salads all accompany other dishes really well and are also great to keep for work lunches and those hot lazy nights when leftovers are just what the doctor ordered.

Plus, like all other recipes in my Slow Kitchen series, they’re simple, easy, healthy and full of real ingredients. Enjoy!

3 Bomb-Awesome Salads: The Slow Kitchen

Packed Salsa
(Makes a big bowl – enough for 4 people as a side)

You’ll Need:

  • 2 ripe avocados – diced
  • 2 corn cobs – steamed, kernels sliced off
  • 2 large tomatoes – diced
  • 400g tin red kidney beans – rinsed and drained
  • handful fresh coriander – roughly torn
  • lemon juice
  • glug of olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Simply:

  1. Combine all ingredients and top with good squirt of lemon juice and a glug of olive oil.
  2. Mix.
  3. Eat with abandon.

Try serving with:

  • A baked potato topped with melted cheese, natural yoghurt and baby spinach.
  • Chilli con carne or my lentil and vegetable chilli.
  • Steamed fish or a BBQ.

 

Garden-in-a-Bowl Salad
(Makes a huge salad – enough for dinner and lunch the next day)

You’ll Need:

  • handful brussel sprouts – shredded
  • medium-sized beetroot – peeled and grated
  • 1/2 small head broccoli – chopped into florets
  • a few handfuls baby spinach, kale or other leafy green
  • avocado – diced
  • 2 cobs of corn – steamed, kernels sliced off
  • cucumber – sliced
  • tomatoes – sliced
  • 1/2 small head cauliflower – chopped into florets
  • handful green herbs – coriander, basil or mint
  • cup of cooked quinoa or other grain
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Simply:

  1. Combine all ingredients (if you aren’t eating immediately, keep the beetroot out until just before serving).
  2. Add or subtract ingredients based on seasonal availability and add more pulses or legumes as desired. (Black beans or kidney beans are also a great inclusion, as is crumbled goat’s cheese).

Try serving with:

  • Pita bread, felafel, pickled jalapenos and natural yoghurt
  • Grilled field mushroom
  • A piece of fish or BBQ

 

Quinoa and Roast Vege Salad
(Makes enough for 8)

You’ll Need:

  • 400g packet quinoa – cooked
  • 1/2 butternut pumpkin – roughly chopped (skin left on – it’s quicker)
  • 3 large beetroot – peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2-3 handfuls kalamata olives – drained (I love olives but you can leave them out or have less in your salad if you’d prefer)
  • goat’s cheese
  • baby spinach
  • baby rocket
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Simply:

  1. Preheat your oven to 220C / 420F.
  2. Place the pumpkin and beetroot on a roasting tray in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes or until bottom of vegetables begins to colour.
  3. Pull the vegetables out of the oven, flip and add a few handfuls of kalamata olives to the tray. Return to oven for another 20-ish minutes or until the veges begin to caramelise and crisp up.
  4. Remove vegetables from oven and leave to rest for a little while.
  5. Combine quinoa, vegetables, baby leafy greens and goats cheese in a large bowl and combine well. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.
  6. Enjoy!

Note on cooking (and pronouncing) quinoa:

It’s pronounced KEEN-wah, and the best way to cook it for most savoury needs is:

  1. Rinse in a fine sieve under warm water. Use your fingers to swirl the seeds around and ensure the water runs clear from the bottom of the sieve or there will be a slightly bitter, soapy flavour.
  2. Put in a saucepan on high heat and add double the amount of liquid to quinoa. That is, if you’re cooking 1 cup raw quinoa, add 2 cups of liquid.
  3. You can cook it in water, but I prefer to cook in vegetable stock. Gives it a little more flavour.
  4. Once the quinoa comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until liquid has been absorbed.
  5. Remove saucepan from heat, put the lid on and set aside for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Quinoa should be nice and fluffy, with the white ‘germ’ visible in the cooked seed.

Try serving with:

  • Tortillas and natural yoghurt.
  • Lamb or chicken skewers.
  • Felafel and pita bread.
  • Nothing! This is a delicious meal on its own and keeps very well for weekday lunches.

 

Feeling hungry (and strangely virtuous) just writing about these. Bon appetit, my friends!

M is for Meal Planning: A-Z of Simple Living

Meal Planning Image via Kyla Roma

{via Kyla Roma on Flickr}

 

This January, we’re taking an in-depth look at the why and how of simplicity with the A-Z of Simple Living. If you want to make 2015 the year you create a simpler, slower life, why not join us?

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Meal planning.

You understand the benefits. You know it’s a good idea. You can see it helps save both money and energy.

But, honestly…

  • Thinking of endless new recipes?
  • Keeping everyone’s preferences in mind?
  • Finding good, seasonal produce?
  • Remembering what you have on hand already?
  • Shopping for specific ingredients?

Who has the energy?

But the reality is that without meal-planning, you have to do this each and every day.

Simple living is all about reducing unnecessary stress, and focusing on the good stuff. And a good meal plan will set you up for a week or more, meaning you only have to think about the dreaded question, “What’s for dinner?” once.

The trick? Think of meal planning like a good, hard work out – when you’re in the midst of it you curse the decision to ever start, but once you’ve finished and are benefiting from the results, you can see that the short-term pain was worth the long-term gain.

If You Don’t Know Where to Start:

1. Decide how often you will write out your meal plan.

Weekly? Fortnightly? I have a friend who plans her family meals 10 weeks at a time. It’s just important to establish what works best for you.

2. How will you write the plan itself?

I use the age-old method of pen and paper, but there are multiple apps, beautiful printables and online programs you can use if you prefer a more high-tech solution. Just make sure it doesn’t distract more than help you.

3. Write out the plan.

Take a piece of paper, write out the menu for the coming fortnight on the bottom half. Make sure to include lunches too, as well as any baking you plan to do.

4. Write out the grocery list.

On the top half of the paper write your shopping list for the week/fortnight. It’s easiest to do this at the same time as the meal plan – to ensure no ingredients are missed – and reduce the need for last-minute trips to the shop.

Meal-Planning Hacks to Make Your Job Even Easier:

 

Hack #1: It’s Perfectly Fine to Cook the Same Meal – Frequently.

If you have a family favourite there is no problem in repeating it consistently. My kids love these salmon patties (bonus Mum Points for their incredible vegetable-hiding ninja-skills) and we have them once a week at least.

I haven’t had a complaint yet.

Hack #2: Have the same ‘type’ of food on particular days of the week.

For example:

  • Monday: Pasta
  • Tuesday: Slow cooker meal
  • Wednesday: Left overs
  • Thursday: Seafood
  • Friday: Homemade pizza
  • Saturday: BBQ
  • Sunday: Soup

This simply reduces the stress of what to choose for each day when writing your plan. Obviously you can find a huge variety when it comes to each type of food, meaning you’re not locked in to the same seven meals every week.

Hack #3: Know your schedule.

You know your family’s work, play and school schedule better than anyone. Do yourself a kindness and use this knowledge to plan quick and simple meals for your busy days.

Hack #4: Try new things.

Set yourself a goal of trying one new recipe per plan.You’re certain to discover some new favourites, some not-so-favourites and to keep growing your repertoire over time.

All You Have to Lose is Time Spent at the Shop.

Meal planning really doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. After all, the reason we do things like this is to make life simpler, not harder. We want to free up time for what is important: like drinking cocktails and chasing unicorns.

 

 

 

The Slow Kitchen – Lentil and Vegetable Chilli

I’ve been eating a vegetarian diet for about 6 weeks now, and this hearty lentil and vegetable chilli (spice optional) has been on my menu every one of those weeks. It ticks a lot of boxes: it’s healthy, it’s easy to make, it pairs perfectly with lamb or chicken skewers so is great for those nights when I can’t face cooking two meals, it freezes very well and is also great for breakfast.

In short, this recipe is a winner that should satisfy most tastes in your home, and like all other recipes in my Slow Kitchen series, is simple, easy, healthy and full of real ingredients. Enjoy!

Tasty Vegetable and Lentil Chilli

Lentil and Vegetable Chilli

(Serves 6, Ready in 40min+ depending on simmer time)

You’ll Need:

  • 1 onion – chopped
  • 1 clove garlic – crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 large carrot – grated
  • 1 cup mushrooms – sliced
  • 1 large zucchini – grated
  • corn cob – kernels only
  • 1-2 handfuls broccoli – roughly chopped
  • 1-2 handfuls cauliflower – roughly chopped
  • 2 cups leafy greens – roughly chopped
  • tin of black beans, red kidney beans or similar – rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup dried red lentils – rinsed
  • 1/2 cup passata
  • tin crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper
  • Natural yogurt, chopped coriander/cilantro, to serve

Note: This is another of my “use any vegetables in the fridge” recipe, so feel free to change up the vege mix to suit.

Simply:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic with some olive oil. Cook until onion has softened.
  2. Add the cumin and chilli powder and stir for a minute.
  3. Add your chopped vegetables and cook for a few minutes, until they begin to soften.
  4. Add your rinsed lentils, combining well.
  5. Add your passata, tomatoes, stock and beans. Bring to the boil.
  6. Cover and simmer on medium heat for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Serve with yoghurt and coriander.

Note: This keeps very well and makes a great mid-week leftover meal or a healthy, substantial breakfast or lunch to take to work. 

Variations/Additions:

Need Meat?: Serve with a piece of steak or lamb cooked with some garlic and coriander. Marinated chicken skewers are also a good accompaniment and popular with kids.

More Vegetables: This recipe will work with virtually any vegetables you have on hand. Pumpkin, squash, kale, potatoes, carrots – they all cook up beautifully. Just note that you may need to add more crushed tomatoes or vegetable stock if you up the vege content by a lot.

Vegan: Leave off the yoghurt and you’re good to go with this dish. Try some sliced avocado on top instead.

Gluten-Free: This is a gluten-free dish, happy days!

Why I decided to stop eating meat

Why I decided to stop eating meat

This month I challenged myself to go vegetarian.

Truth is, I’ve always been curious about going vego and over the past few years I’ve been less and less likely to eat a lot of meat. But convenience and compromise got the better of me and I really, really didn’t want to be cooking two meals per night to accomodate for myself and Sparky and the kids. So I went along eating meat and cooking 2-3 meat-free meals a week simply because I enjoyed them more and it boosted the amount of vegetables we were all eating.

But I came to the realisation that it wouldn’t be too much of a change for me to shift to a vegetarian diet, so come the beginning of October I thought I’d give it a shot: 31 days of meat-free eating.

In the interests of complete transparency, there has been one bacon-related misstep. But aside from that (which I was surprised to discover wasn’t all that enjoyable anyway) it has been a simple and easy transition for me and I’ve decided to keep going with it beyond the end of October.

There are a few reasons why it’s been such a simple switch for me, and I want to be clear about them because they’ve definitely made life easier as I’ve made the change.

  • The kids are a little older now and I can find an extra 15 or 20 minutes to prep my meals every few days.
  • I’ve always enjoyed vegetarian food and was never a huge meat-lover anyway. If given the chance to cook what I wanted, it was almost always vegetarian or meat-lite. When we go out to eat, I always opt for the vegetarian dishes. So I was primed for the change anyway.
  • I’m more than happy to eat repeat meals and leftovers.

Moreover, I realised I wasn’t enjoying the meat I was eating. I have no real problem with the idea of eating meat but I recognised that resources were going in to producing this meat that I wasn’t even enjoying. Which really is the driving force behind my change. Why should something die for my food if I don’t actually want or enjoy it? It seemed wasteful and the opposite of mindful living.

Making the change to vegetarianism is not, strictly speaking, making life simpler. It is undoubtedly making the food I eat much simpler though, and that is agreeing with me.

I feel lighter and healthier. My digestion is better than it has ever been. I have lost a little weight. I’m eating more vegetables than ever before. I’m also making an effort to eat a much more balanced diet and not relying on meat to provide me with protein. I’m mindful of things like my iron intake, and eating a wider range of foods as a result.

I’m reading a lot more about nutrition and thinking about my food in a new way. Some resources that have been helpful are:

Later in the week I plan to ressurect my Slow Kitchen series, this time featuring some of the vegetarian recipes I’ve been eating a lot of lately. This week – lentil and vegetable chilli as given the thumbs up by a dedicated omnivore!

Are you currently eating a vegetarian or vegan diet? Or are you interested in trying it? Let me know if you have any questions about the transition or how to feed a meat-eating family while maintaining a vegetarian diet and I will try to drop some of my limited knowledge on you.

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