A Convenient Holiday Season Dinner
This is the busy time of year for many of us. I do retail sales support professionally, so I have more gigs than usual, and the ones I do every month take longer than they do at slower times of year. I’m regularly getting home later (and more tired) than usual.
And I watch my friends running around like mad – shopping, cooking holiday foods, going to school pageants, shopping, going to Holiday Concerts, going to see lights and window displays, shopping, traveling to visit family while carrying gifts and homemade Christmas goodies… They get home late, and go out more in the evening. And when they do have time in the kitchen, they tend to be making all those Christmas cookies, and spiced nuts, and mini-pizzas for the party, and…
But we still all need to eat dinner.
I haven’t been really talking much lately about my Convenient Foods – but I’ve certainly been using them. And one day, when I got home right around dinner time and started pulling things out of the freezer to toss in a pan, Rich grabbed the camera and started taking pictures… “Isn’t this the kind of thing you write about? Shouldn’t you do a post about this?” Well – yes, in fact, I should.
Back last summer I wrote about browning ground meat in quantity, sometimes with onion, and then freezing it, to cut that step of a quick meal. I had a zip bag with just a small chunk left from the last time I did that.
And I had lots of vegetables… The last couple of CSA pickups were a race against a sudden frost after an unusually long warm season. We got a ton of both bell and hot peppers, and tomatoes that were almost ripe, but started softening in our warm kitchen. I’d chopped and lightly sauteed peppers and onions, because they take less space cooked, and frozen them in an ice cube tray (I’ve been dropping them in omelets.) I’d put tomatoes in a blender, drained them in a strainer, froze the liquid and the pulp separately. I wouldn’t usually have that – I might use a can of diced tomatoes, though.
And I routinely do have what we have dubbed Green Muffins. The typical bunch of cooking greens is larger than the two of us want to eat in one meal. It makes more sense to just cook it all at once, though. I’ve discovered that a muffin tin is perfect for freezing leftover vegetables. Each space hold about half a cup (in this one – they do vary a bit) which is a rational single size serving (usually with another serving of a different vegetable in the meal) and it makes a flat disk, which reheats easily without overcooking the edges. And I can use a heavy knife to chop them to add to soups and omelets, where I don’t want long strings of kale. I keep a gallon zip bag in the freezer, and we’re constantly adding to it and using them up. Extremely convenient indeed.
I’d also cooked a large squash, and done the same with the extra from it.
So… I pulled frozen cooked meat and several kinds of vegetables in serving size chunks out of the freezer, and a container of cooked rice out of the fridge. (I know I keep assuming rice is Always Available. We have a rice cooker, which is very handy… and we always cook a triple batch, so we will have more for the next few days. It also has both a timer and a Keep Warm feature – I can set it up before I leave the house. And if I haven’t, Rich sets it up, if I seem to be running late – when in doubt, cook rice… Brown rice is a staple in our house. and the cooker makes it very convenient.)
Anyhow – I tossed the meat and two cubes of peppers and onion into a heated pan. While they thawed and then browned a bit more, I chopped the green muffins. Then I put the greens and the tomato pulp in the pan, and stirred. After everything was thawed, I stirred in the cooked rice.
While it all heated, and the flavors melded a bit, I microwaved the winter squash. And I cut up some cheese – there wasn’t really quite enough of the meat for both of us, and I wanted to add a bit of protein. Once the food in the pan and everything in the microwave was all hot, I put it all on plates (well – I’d microwaved the squash on the dinner plates – and added food from the pan.) I sprinkled the cheese on top, to melt in, and served dinner.
And it was good, too…
It actually took longer to write this up than it did to heat it up – but it tasted and felt like a Home Cooked Meal – not like reheated leftovers (even though, essentially, that’s what it was…) It’s just that the parts had been freshly assembled, and that seems to make a difference.
I hope your holiday season is joyful and not too hectic – and that you make time to have good meals, while you are at it! I can’t maintain this schedule, and any sort of calm, unless I have real food… but with my pre-prepared food in my well stocked freezer, I can have a good meal without that, itself, adding stress to my day.