Pragmatic Cooking

My daughters' gouache paintings from nursery days: learning their fruit and vegetables at an early age. 

Cooking was a creative outlet when I was raising children and feeding a family. I payed attention to my kids’ diet, encouraged them to start cooking at an early age while teaching them to make healthy choices. We became a family of healthy food fanatics with gourmet inclinations.

I miss family dinners at the table when we gathered to talk about our days and simply enjoy each other’s stories, jokes and nonsense—not that it was always fun: there were laughs and there were tears, like any family.
Now that it is me and hubby alone, I find myself cooking less often, shopping once a week and sticking to basics. I still feel the obligation to assemble something nutritious every evening. I am over-saturated with food blogs and images of stylized dishes and staged ingredients. I tire of cookbooks and food networks. But having a variety of good ingredients and fresh produce is still a must in my books.
Other than the mandatory nightly fresh green salad, my secret is to shop and process once a week. Get it over with in one go—and this applies when cooking for one, two or four. Of course I supplement with frozen veggies, canned beans, a precooked chicken breast from a deli I trust, and fish has to be cooked and consumed within a day, unless it is smoked.

Step #1: Adopt a routine of shopping once a week for the basics. Go to a Farmers’ Market every other week at least, to find inspiration and stimulate your appetite with seasonal produce. Then spend a day in the kitchen “processing”. It is best to process the day you shop or the day after, at the very latest.
What is processing you say? That is step #2.
Processing means cleaning, washing, chopping, sautéeing, blanching— everything you can possibly do to make the nightly prep a breeze. Large bunches of greens are reduced in size, stored in containers and refrigerated, onions and other veggies are chopped, sautéed or roasted, chicken breasts are poached or baked.
In a life that has to be grounded in practicality, creative cooking and experimentation go out the window. You distill everything to a matter of survival on a sensible budget and with limited time, resulting in a refrigerator filled with delicious vegetables to nibble on all week. It does not have to be boring!
There will always be a time in one’s life to experiment, learn and explore. Everything takes practice…trial and error too. Save exotic meals for dinner parties with friends or special occasions with family.
When you’re “processing” once a week, you save time, gas and electricity and you have tubs of cooked ingredients to last you the week and beyond. Nothing goes to waste. You can toss your roasted veggies into salads or cooked quinoa, add them to a frozen pie crust with whisked eggs and cream to make a quiche, or stir them into a coconut-milk curry and serve over rice. If nothing else, simply serve them alongside baked fish or a burger (meat or veggie).

 

Roasting Vegetables En Masse

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets and sweet potatoes can all go in the oven at the same time.

Beets: Wrap each in foil.
Sweet potatoes: Poke each with a fork several times.Roast them whole or slice them into circles and toss them in a marinade.

Cube the tofu
Broccoli: Cut stems from the crowns and separate crowns into small florets. Same with Cauliflower.

Toss vegetables in a marinade and lay them out on baking sheets lined with parchment or foil.

Marinade #1: for every 3 cups of chopped veggies
1 Tablespoon oil  and 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Curry powder
1 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt

Marinade #2: For a block of Tofu (cubed) or 3 cups of Broccoli Florets
2 Tabelspoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Oil
1 Tablespoon Lime juice
1 Tablespoon Honey and 1 Tablespoon Ginger

Make three or four  times the marinade if you plan to roast a lot of vegetables at once, place the chopped veggies in a bowl—keep vegetables separate for roasting, some might cook faster than others—drizzle the marinade a little at a time and toss until coated.
Use your judgement by adding a little more oil or more marinade. Make up your own! If you are a purist, skip the marinade and drizzle your vegetable with oil, salt and pepper and toss.

As for cooking time, whole sweet potatoes can take as long as 45 minutes. The rest will only take 15 to 30 minutes. Check after 15 minutes, toss things around and continue for a few more minutes. Check your produce with a fork or sharp knife to determine their doneness.

Cool, store in containers and refrigerate.