Fast Food from Scratch

It seems the whole world has gotten into a rush and there is no time for simple home-cooked food anymore. Everything we eat seems to be ready made, conveniently packaged, pre-washed or prepped in advance. Making food from scratch isn’t all that difficult and it costs much less – usually it tastes way better and is made with more wholesome ingredients.

As a student I have very little time to prepare all my meals from scratch. Yet that is my goal. I want to save money, eat healthy, and enjoy every bite. Here are some ways that I prepare meals daily considering my limited time for standing around in the kitchen:

Breakfast

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Why buy instant oats unless it’s for convenience? I use rolled oats, but if you really wanted to you could buy quick oats.  All my grains come from the bulk section of my grocery store, so there is less packaging and lower costs. I’ve also been known to purchase 10 kg bags of rolled oats, rice, or lentils – all staples in my home.

Instant oats works the same way as quick oats, if all you have is a kettle in your dorm room. Add to that raisins, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, and brown sugar or maple syrup and voila! Most instant oatmeal flavors can be easily copied at home. Need to take it to go? A wide mouth mason jar works great – just mix everything together dry and add boiling water later.

Lunch

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An easy healthy lunch I make all the time is green salad with canned salmon (or leftover salmon from dinner) and homemade dressing. I make all my dressings from scratch because I want to use fresh cold pressed oils for their omega fats. I’ve made larger batches of dressings that are ready to go – much healthier than store bought and less expensive too. For a simple dressing mix 2/3 oil with 1/3 vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, and salt. Shake well!

As much as I like the convenience of ready to go, pre-washed mixed baby greens, I know that whole heads of lettuce are fresher and cheaper. Yes they require more work because they have to be washed and chopped, but they taste much better and I believe that it’s worth it! Compared to a store bought salad at a take-out which I will reluctantly buy once in a while, and usually because I’m stuck, I get exactly what I want in this meal. Salmon is easily replaced with leftover grilled tofu or chicken from last night’s dinner. I like to add pumpkin seeds, soft unripened goat cheese, and fresh cucumbers. Preparation time is about 5 minutes.

Dinner

Most nights I will make a pot of whole grain like millet or brown rice to go along the main dish. If I don’t make a grain I will usually cook some lentils and I will always make extra. Leftover grains/legumes makes a simple to heat meal or snack for the next day when I am too busy to cook. I’ll often add olive oil and tamari sauce and whatever leftover vegetables are in my fridge.

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Dinner usually needs to be as simple as possible in my world. My favorite way to cook is with recipes that require very little maintenance. What I mean is once the food is in the oven, or simmering on the stove, I want to walk away and do something else. Okay, once in a while I will stand there for an hour and bread fish or chicken one piece at a time, then freeze the extra for easy meals in the future. Generally though, if I’m roasting a chicken, once it’s in the oven I will go to my desk and get something else done. Meals that sit in the oven without much tampering are my favorite.

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I like roasting vegetables like yam, beets, squash, and potato. The easiest way I know is to cut them in half and place face down in a roasting pan with a tight fitting lid – no oil, no seasoning. Sometimes at the end I will take the lid off, flip the veggies skin side down and add butter, especially with squash which have that bowl where the seeds live.

Lately I’ve been cooking a chicken almost every week. I use the whole bird, often with potato, carrots, celery, and onions all around in the roasting pan. It’s a bit more maintenance, but I get a lot of leftovers from that one meal, including a delicious broth which I make from the bones. For a $20 bird I get dinner, leftovers for lunch the next day, and enough meat to create a chicken vegetable soup, chicken salad sandwich, or meat to add to my kale caesar.

Home Made Kale Caesar Salad

Forgive me here, but I’ve never been good at measuring ingredients. I promise if you follow these directions you will create something palatable. I believe that food is a matter of taste, so adjust your recipe to your liking. These are estimates, and I can’t say that I stick to the same recipe every time! Try experimenting with variations as well.

Ingredients:

1 bunch of curly kale

1 egg yolk

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lemon

salt and pepper

1 tbsp mayonnaise

Parmesan or Romano cheese

Optional splash of tamari sauce and balsamic vinegar

Caesar is traditionally made with romaine lettuce, but there is a trend to use kale, probably for its high levels of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, for the folic acid it contains, and the vitamin D. It’s much hardier than romaine and some people will massage their kale to soften it before serving. Up to you! For a more traditional Caesar use romaine!

Start with a mixing bowl and whisk the egg yolk, dijon, vinegar, and garlic. Slowly drizzle in the oil as you whisk to incorporate in and emulsify together. You should notice the dressing start to thicken. Once all the oil is incorporated, taste it. It will need seasoning, and perhaps more oil depending on the taste. Tamari or balsamic can be added to give it richness. Mayo can be added, too. Traditional recipes use Worcestershire and anchovies, but I don’t have those ingredients in my pantry.

Finally, toss the greens in the dressing, adding fresh lemon and parm/romano cheese at the end. Croutons, go ahead! Bacon bits, up to you! I tend to keep it simple. Be aware that raw egg will not keep in the fridge for long, nor will it be safe on the counter for over two hours. Make this dressing close to dinner and toss right before serving.

Photo by Shelley Pauls on Unsplash

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