I love to cook (and even more so love to eat!) but as a working Mom I often don’t have as much time as I’d like to have for planning and cooking meals. So, one of the tricks I’ve developed over time is to keep ready to use ingredients, so the prep-time of cooking is shortened, without a loss of flavor.
I’ve found one of the easiest ways to be prepared for whipping together a quick dinner is to have ready to use herbs in a tube. They are handy – and you don’t have to worry about a big clump of herbs going bad quickly in the fridge.
Here is tonight’s dinner that I put together using all ingredients I had handy which took under 20 mins from prep to table:
- Quick cook chicken breasts
- 250g Spiral pasta
- Sun dried tomatoes, sliced
- 1 cup aged parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons Gourmet Garden minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons Gourmet Garden minced basil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Pasta:
Cook your pasta per the directions and your own tastes. I generally add a dash of salt to the water when cooking, my spiral pasta takes approx 13 mins to cook. Cook and drain.
For the Red Pesto Sauce and Chicken:
At the same time, start 1 pan for the red pesto sauce and another to cook the chicken. Divide the olive oil and Gourmet Garden minced garlic between the pan for the pesto sauce and the chicken – turn both to medium heat.
Once the two pans with olive oil and Gourmet Garden garlic are heated do the following:
Red Pesto Pan (in which there is heated olive oil and garlic)
add the sun dried tomatoes, stir, and then add the can of chopped tomatoes and stir. Add in the Gourmet Garden minced basil and 2/3 of the grated cheese, stir and turn heat to low.
Chicken Pan (in which there is heated olive oil and garlic)
add the chicken, cover, after about 4 mins turn the chicken over and cook another 4 mins until fully cooked and golden brown and the internal temp of the chicken is 165 F or 71.1 C
On your plate put one chicken breast, pasta with red pesto sauce and garnish with the remaining parmesan cheese and you can add a breadstick.
Total prep time, about 2 mins. Total cooking time, about 13 mins.
Disclosure: While the recipe, opinions and cooking are all my own – the Gourmet Garden herbs were provided to me free as part of a cooking competition.
So I was very inspired by last week’s #MumsNight – Slow Cook / No Cook lazy cooking ideas. Everyone shared so many fantastic recipes and ideas! While I only intended to spend about half the time on slow cooking – it became the conversation focus. Having not been a big slow cooker previously – I realized I must be truly missing out. But that’s not what sealed the deal for me. You see – with my husband and I working all day, someone else picks up our kids and serves them tea before we get home. Quite frequently my husband arrives in time to feed them too, (if he wanted to). It was at the end of a very long week last night that I learned my boys 4 & 6 had had Ramen noodles for tea, EVERY night.
When I expressed my displeasure to Hubs he said “But they love Ramen noodles!” My response? “They love chocolate and crisps too, but they aren’t for tea – these boys need some whole meals, protein and veg!” It was definitely time to change my meal planning and take action!
Previously my meal planning mostly consisted of me sketching out what we’d eat for dinner each night (making more for lunch leftovers) and putting in the order for grocery delivery, then also doing a few quick shops during the week for bread or butter or milk, minor staples that may have run low. But clearly just having a full fridge and a plan aren’t cutting it.
So, my new plan is to involve the boys in the menu planning – and then to prep the dinner the night before and to slow cook it during the day so it’s ready for their tea and our dinner.
For the meal planning I decided to change it up a bit. They are very hands on and visual so the written sketched out list wouldn’t cut it for them. Luckily I came across this great idea on Pinterest, to photograph family meals and make each meal into a magnet. Children can then help choose the weekly meal by placing the food magnet into that week’s calendar squares. (via heartofwisdom.com )
I explained it to the boys and they are very excited about it. We’ve already photographed three meals from this weekend, Lumache Carbonara (told the boys it was Mac & Cheese), Slow Cooker French Onion Soup and also Roast Chicken and Vegetables (our Sunday standard).
Of these – I was most surprised and delighted by the Slow Cooker French Onion Soup. The flavor was spot on and it was sooooooo easy! I think I’m a convert to slow cooking, it only took once!
So for the Lumache Carbonara, we served this with a side of salad and garlic bread. The entire meal for 5 people was less than 5 pounds (and made leftovers!)
Of the three dishes this was the quickest and easiest. I bought the Lumache pasta (any other shell type pasta will work too), and the sauce (Sainsbury’s fresh Carbonara sauce) along with a fresh garlic baguette and bag of salad on my way home from work. The pasta took about 11 minutes to cook, the garlic baguette about the same – and I mixed the salad while it cooked. The sauce I microwaved for about a minute – and mixed after draining the pasta. Meal accomplished in under 15 minutes and for less than 5 pounds.
Next up was the Slow Cooker French Onion Soup – I took a look over a few recipes online but wasn’t completely happy with them so modified them a bit for a richer tastier version.
Ingredients you’ll need:
- 1 slow cooker (duh)
- 3 large onions sliced thinly
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- 3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (or more if you like)
- 1/4 teaspoon of seasoning salt (or half salt/ half garlic salt)
- 4 beef bouillon cubes
- 8 measuring cups of water
For the toast:
- 1 baguette
- Gruyere cheese
Thinly slice the onions and put the onions and butter into the slow cooker on medium heat for about 20-30 mins to sauté until a bit brown around the edges. Add the flour, Worcestershire sauce, seasoning salt, bouillon cubes and water and cook on medium to low for about 5 hours. (You can actually eat it about after 2 hrs once the onions are soft – but the longer you leave it the better the taste) Check the taste throughout – you may need to add more water if it’s a little salty for you or a little more Worcestershire sauce if it’s not flavorful enough for you.
For the toast on top, once you’re ready to serve the Slow Cooker French Onion Soup, slice the baguette, grate the cheese and put the cheese on top of the bread slices in a pan. Put under the grill for about 4 minutes until the cheese is bubbly. Remove from the one, serve the soup and put the cheesy bread on top.
Serve with a fresh green salad.
For 5 people this meal again came in well under $5
So next up is our weekly Sunday night staple, Roast Chicken and Vegetables. The vegetables vary by season, but the general ones include potatoes, celery, carrots and onions.
- 1 large roasting chicken
- 1 lemon
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 2 garlic cloves or about 1 teaspoon of garlic puree
- 1/4 teaspoon of seasoning salt
- 4 large carrots
- 2 jacket potatos
- (2 celery stalks and 1 onion optional)
Each week when we order groceries it includes 1 large roasting chicken. I like to do it on Sunday evenings so we have a good meal to start the week, and leftovers of chicken and roasted veg to incorporate into dishes throughout the week. The large chicken is 5 GBP itself so with the vegetables and or side of bread/yorkshire pudding and salad comes to about 7GBP and makes several more meals out of leftovers. This is probably the best bargain meal you can make for a family in terms of flavor, fillingness and frugality!
This meal, is definitely one of the easiest and tastiest. First take the chicken and place it in a large baking dish. In a small little bowl, gently heat the butter in the microwave until soft and then add the garlic (either pureed or pressed) along with seasoning salt. Be sure to mix thoroughly. Then around the neck of the chicken, reach your hand underneath the skin but above the chicken breast from the neck end – break through the small membrane around the neck so your hand reaches under the skin over the top of the chicken breast from the neck end. Take the butter/garlic/spice mixture and spoon it under the skin over the breast from the neck end – being sure to get it all the way towards the back. After this under the skin breast area has been saturated massage the butter/garlic/spice mixture into the outside of the chicken on all sides.
Cut the lemon in half and put the 2 half pieces into the internal cavity of the chicken from the rear.
Slice the vegetables and put them around the chicken. Place the whole thing in a fan oven pre-heated to 180C and cook for about 1 hour 20 minutes, turning it halfway through front back and stirring the vegetables around a bit.
Poultry is cooked if the juices run clear when the deepest part of the bird is pierced with a thin skewer. If the juices are pink continue cooking for a few minutes and retest Adjust times according to your particular oven. We always use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. ( You don’t want to mess about with undercooked chicken.)
You can serve this with a side salad or even Yorkshire Pudding
So those are some of the main meals we had over the weekend and I plan to put the slow cooker to good use this week with a selection of slow cooker meals to provide the boys with a more nutritious tea and have dinner ready and waiting once we return home from work. Here’s the plan for this week, which we’ll photograph and add to our visual menu plan. What’s not listed below is that each night we also have some type of green salad, either romaine or spinach based. What do you think? Any suggestions?
Mon – Chicken sundried tomato and rice
Tuesday – stroganoff and noodles
Wednesday – Gnocci & Marinara, side salad or garlic bread
Thursday – Chicken and dumplings
Fri – Chicken, noodles and peas
Sat – Italian pesto bean pasta
Sunday – Macaroni & cheese
Leftovers throughout the week for lunches etc
We will ill also have chicken salad / egg salad/ tuna salad for lunch fillers amongst other groceries and snacks etc.
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.