Proteins for Quick Meals – TFT
Well, I did say Transition from Takeout was going to be a sporadic series… But really, I’ve been writing for it (and tagging.) As I said in Planning For Meals I make sure I have the ingredients of a good meal available at all times, and many of the foods I have written about give me one meal right away – and then ingredients for several more quick meals. I always have some selection of protein, in amounts appropriate for individual meals, such as…
- Cooked meat – from a roast, or the slow cooker, or browned meat prepared for this.
- Raw meat in a form I can cook quickly – individually frozen chicken pieces (either purchased as such, or frozen by me in zip bags,) individual pork chops, ground meat frozen in single serving chunks.
- Cooked dried beans – I cook a whole pot at a time, keep some in the fridge, freeze some. I always have lentils, which cook in under an hour – not fast enough for some days, but workable for others. I always have a few cans of beans around, too – and, if you haven’t been cooking much, that’s probably the best place to start.
- Tofu or tempeh – They cook quickly in a stir fry.
- Eggs. Can’t get faster than eggs…
- Well – except for cheese… I usually add cheese to something else, rather than eating it alone – Over the beans, in the eggs, shredded over the chicken… adds a lot of flavor, as well as being a dense protein source itself.
I did a check of my freezer, just now – this is literally what is in my (apartment size, top-of-the-refrigerator) freezer right now.
I have cooked meat – a container of cooked chicken, and a zip lock of browned ground meat (in this case, beef.) The chicken is in a pint container, which is more than I want in a single meal – but I may cook a double meal, to have leftovers for meals to carry, or I may just thaw it and have it in the fridge, and eat some cold for lunch (especially in summer, when I’m eating salads.) The cooked ground meat is in a flattened zipper bag, because I can then break off chunks as large or small as I want, to add to a sauce, a pot of beans, a pan of sauteed vegetables, or whatever. Another time, I may have shredded pork, or leftover pot roast (or Swiss Steak, which essentially is a pot roast,) or sliced roast pork (apparently I need to write about roast pork loin…) any of which reheat well, and can be eaten alone or added to other foods.
I also have cooked meat that’s ready to eat just as it is. (Well – thawed..) As I said, I can use the cold chicken plain in a salad or on a sandwich. I often have meatloaf muffins, which are good either hot or cold. I send some with Rich when he’s going to gaming (and I didn’t have a chance to precook for it… oops.) And, worst comes to worst, he doesn’t need instruction from me to microwave a few of them and some frozen vegetables, butter some bread, and serve dinner, when I’m totally disabled.
Raw meat. The object on the right is a nifty hamburger keeper – Tupperware. It lets you divide your ground meat into individually sealed patties. (Their happy thought appears to be that you buy many of them, and have them ready for your next barbecue…) But it means single serve discs of ground meat. I can of course, just pop them (still frozen, even) onto a pan or grill, and make hamburgers. We’re not that fond of burgers, though. I’m more likely to pop out a disc or two, brown it in a pan, and add sauce, or vegetables, or… (I just used one in the chili I will write about soon.)
On the left, I have frozen single serve containers of bulk sausage. I don’t use it every day – but I can take one out for breakfast tomorrow, and know the rest are still safely sealed and frozen, even if I don’t use any more for a week. Or I can take one out, brown the meat, and use it to make a week’s worth of egg muffins for breakfast… or sausage gravy… or sausage stuffing for a winter squash.
I usually cook my own dried beans. They are less expensive than canned, I can get a greater variety, and I, personally, find them more digestible. I’ll often cook a whole pound at once in the slow cooker. Then I use some that night, and put some away in the fridge, to use in the next day or two, and often some in the freezer. Beans, I frequently just freeze in pint containers – that’s a good amount for one dinner for us, with some meat or cheese added… but sometime I use muffin tins to give me half cup increments, which can easily be tossed into other things. (That would be much more useful for families who need different foods for different people. We’re able to eat the same foods.) In this case, I froze them in an ice cube tray – these are (3/4 cooked) adzuki beans. The next time I want Japanese red bean rice, I’ll just drop a couple of them into the pot of water and rice, before it comes to a boil. And, yes, we eat beans a lot, usually in combination with other foods.
I don’t usually have soy foods in the freezer. They’re in the fridge, or in aseptic packs in the cabinet. They cook quickly enough that I usually use them as is, but I do sometimes bake a pan of tofu or tempeh to use in salads (that’s an old post… no pictures) and the cooked tofu can also be added to other foods and reheated.
I don’t keep eggs and cheese in the freezer, either. These are all in the fridge. I don’t usually use only eggs or cheese as protein for a meal (cheese strata notwithstanding – that’s the exception to the rule) but they give me great versatility in combination with other foods – hard cooked eggs sliced over a bean soup, an omelet or huevos rancheros with refried beans, cheese tossed into… almost anything… (parmesan over pasta, cheddar with chili, feta in a salad, just to start.)
The single serving packaging is a great technique for the families that need to cook different foods. As I’ve said, I’m fortunate that Rich and I eat much the same, which does make cooking easier. But with this – a sauce can be made, then divided – and already cooked meat added to one portion, already cooked beans to another. Or tofu to one, and eggs to another. Or… This makes quick meals with individual variations easier, as you’re not having to cook several pans of food – just adding already cooked additional ingredients at the last minute – even on the plate, in some cases.
This is probably the most important method that lets me throw meals together quickly. Add some vegetables (frozen or a pre-made salad, in worst case) and then microwave cooked grain or a potato, or even just slice some bread or open crackers – and I have dinner. And it even tastes good!