Heidi’s Hints: Easy Cooking Methods and Recipes

Cheesy vegetarian casserole

image credit: pixabay

Originally I was going to talk about meal planning, but realized that I needed to give you some suggestions for quick, easy recipes and cooking methods so you could start picking your favorites. As an added bonus, all of these meals can be prepped in advance and frozen so you’re already well on your way to having a meal plan.

Here are some of my favorite cooking methods and recipes in no particular order.

Get Your Grill On

I absolutely love to grill! You get to be outside, the food tastes great, and the cleanup is minimal (win, win, WIN!). Grilling is a great method for busy weeknight cooking because once you have your meal prepped, there is hardly any cleanup. Say goodbye to washing multiple pots and pans! Since I prep most of our meals in advance and freeze them, I have virtually no cleanup other than a pair of tongs, a few plates, and possibly a basting brush when dinner is over. Check out some great grilling recipes.

The Slow Cooker

There’s a reason these are so popular: they essentially make cooking dinner a spectator sport. Turn on the slow cooker, dump in your meal, and six to eight hours later, voila! Dinner. For those of you who think you don’t like your slow cooker, I’m guessing you don’t have any good recipes or the unit isn’t cooking your food properly. Here are some ideas and tips to make the most of this cooking method:

  • One of the key components is to add a few fresh ingredients at the end. For example, add fresh herbs to a soup or chili or you can cook taco seasoned chicken, pork or beef in the slow cooker and shred it to make delicious tacos with fresh toppings. This adds another dimension/level of flavor to brighten up the meal.
  • They aren’t just for winter cooking. They are great to use in the summertime because they won’t heat up your kitchen like the stove or the oven.
  • Make sure that your slow cooker isn’t too big/small for your meals. The food should fill up approximately 2/3 of the unit in order to cook properly (Too full? The food won’t cook. Not full enough? The food will dry out or burn).
  • When cooking meats and vegetables at the same time, always put the meat on top of the vegetables for more even cooking.
  • Here are some great slow cooker recipes!

One Dish Wonders

Another way to make meal time quick and easy is to pick entrees that only require you to use one pan or dish for cooking. With two young and unpredictable kids, the stovetop is not my preferred method of cooking, so I have some great one dish recipes to make in the oven. I don’t have to worry about any little hands touching a hot cooktop, and the oven is much more forgiving in the event that a “toddler situation” breaks out right in the middle of cooking dinner. I find that the majority of the mischief and the meltdowns in our house occur right around the time I am trying to cook dinner.

You can get great flavor from a roasted chicken or pork tenderloin in the oven if you marinate it in advance. You can also cook your vegetables right alongside your meat and use the same flavors to season the vegetables. Once again, I usually prep my meals in advance and freeze them, so they marinate while they are freezing and also as they are thawing. If you don’t have anything prepped in advance, you can toss your meat in a gallon size food storage bag, add your spices and oil or prepared marinade, mix it around, and then dump it into your dish to eliminate additional prep dishes. Here are some of my favorite one dish recipes!

The Finishing Touches

When I meal plan, I pick the entrée but leave the sides open so I can choose whatever looks the best at the store. For easy sides, I opt for a salad or a vegetable that I quickly & easily marinate with an herb or flavor-infused oil. These herb-infused oils are commonly sold as dipping oils for bread, but they make an awesome marinade for vegetables because you get your oil and seasoning in one, convenient bottle. My favorite oils to use are a Mediterranean Balsamic Dipping Oil and a Tuscan Dipping Oil; both pair very well with the spring/summer vegetables that are coming into season (e.g., asparagus, green beans, peppers, zucchini, summer squash, etc.) as well as mushrooms and onions. Shopping in season gets me the freshest vegetables at the best price.

I try to prep my vegetables when I get home from the store to save time and cleanup during the week. Keep in mind that you can freeze most vegetables without changing their texture or flavor if you are planning to use them in a cooked preparation. Find a good sale on vegetables – buy extra, clean them, cut them, marinate them (if you want to), and then toss them in the freezer to use whenever you need a quick side.

If you want to add a starch to your meals, consider preparing these in advance and freezing them. I usually have a few quart bags of cut, uncooked redskin potatoes, cooked rice, and cooked quinoa in our freezer for an easy addition to any meal. Having the grains already cooked saves time and cleanup, plus you won’t be waiting on the rice to cook while the rest of your food is getting cold (Am I the only one who always used to have this predicament?). I don’t usually season my grains in advance because I like to add the flavor when I am heating them up. To reheat the grains, I usually put them in a vegetable steamer and then toss them with a little oil/butter and seasoning once they are heated through. In a pinch, you can always use the microwave as well.

I hope you really enjoy these tips and recipes. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new family favorite!

Meal Planning Advice? Questions? Recipes? Resources? Feel free to email me at wilsonswildtree@hotmail.com.

– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy

2 Responses to “Heidi’s Hints: Easy Cooking Methods and Recipes”

  1. 1 Anonymous May 15, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Love your tips! Can’t wait to try recipes. Thank you, Heidi!

  2. 2 Becky Bibbs May 29, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Those grill recipes look delicious! I make a black bean salsa similar to the recipe you shared, but haven’t paired it with chicken. Will give that a try for sure! How long should I let the lime chicken defrost before cooking?

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