Cooking healthy, affordable, easy-to-prepare dinners is a challenge for every lupus patient at the end of long day. Evening lupus fatigue and joint pain fight the idea of standing in the kitchen very long to fix dinner. Yet, fast food it not a very healthy or budget-friendly answer!
So, I began looking for quick dinners for two that I could cook after coming home from work, in the same amount of time it takes to go out to the corner drive-through and get fast food. Now, my husband thinks I am a food magician, and my son-in-law wants me to teach this to my daughter! So, here are my few simple food, physics and cooking tips for making dinner in about 15-20 minutes.
- Food: a simple 3-part menu formula
- 4Ts: Temperature, Thickness, Timing and Tending.
Food: First, it has to be in your kitchen to cook it. This sounds really obvious, but I had to start with it! I try to shop on a regular basis to make sure I have the basic foods I need during the week.
Formula for two : meat + side dish + vegetables = Dinner
How much? For the portion sizes, I generally go slightly above the amount recommended on the package for meat for my husband, and match the recommended size for my portion. I strictly follow recommended portion sizes from packages for side dishes for both of us, and our vegetable portions are usually generously double the recommended size.
Food is served and arranged for maximum eye appeal on the plate, and by selecting foods for each meal that provide contrasting colors, it assures getting different food groups and nutrients.
This seems to satisfy our appetites, without feeling like we are scrimping. The carbs are controlled, and the larger vegetable portions help the meal be more satisfying without adding lots of calories. I try to purchase and cook food in only the amounts that will leave no left-overs. This helps my wallet and shortens food prep time in the the microwave.
Meat is the cornerstone of our dinner. Dinner prep always starts with cooking the meat on the stove, in a non-stick skillet with a tight fitting lid.
I buy the meat in very thin cuts that can go from freezer to pan without defrosting, so I can cook whatever I am in the mood to eat that night. If meat is thick enough to use a meat thermometer, its too thick for my cooking style! Thick meat takes too long to cook, and can get tough on the outside before its done on the inside.
Most of my everyday “from scratch” dinners start around a few basic meat purchases: beef breakfast steaks (frozen with sheets of waxed paper between each steak,) very thin boneless pork chops, frozen chicken tenderloin pieces, frozen sirloin patties, and frozen fish fillets. Four reliable pre-cooked meats are frozen meatballs, thickly sliced ham steaks, cooked dinner sausages and canned tuna.
Side dishes have to be nearly instant, and are served in small restrained portions due to the higher carbohydrate content. These are cooked for 2-4 minutes in the microwave, usually right before the veggies.
These are our favorite side dishes: Instant mashed potatoes, boxed dressing, instant brown rice, micro-baked potatoes, canned ranch style, baked or black beans and spaghetti or Alfredo sauce from a jar. Corn is considered a side dish, not a veggie at my house, but makes a great side dish with green chili’s and frozen bell pepper pieces thrown in!
Veggies are always served in very generous double portions at our house. Usually our favorites start frozen: Italian green beans (my husband’s favorite,) broccoli cuts, fiesta mixed veggies (one of my favorites,) regular mixed veggies, stir-fry veggies. Also I might substitute a quick dinner salad: lettuce + carrots, grape tomatoes, celery & radishes (already washed and stored in the fridge for packing our lunches.)
A buy a few seasonal fresh veggies: zucchini, yellow crook-neck squash and baby carrots. Also there are a few veggies I use regularly to season other dishes: frozen onion pieces, frozen bell pepper pieces, green onions and canned mushrooms. Also, a few extra things to spice up meat, such as basting sauce, salad dressings (they make great meat basting sauces,) barbecue sauce, or even oriental sauces bought at our favorite Asian fast food restaurant.
Water – Heated water becomes steam, steam speeds cooking, and moisture unsticks cooking meat.
Steam is meat cooking magic and is hotter than boiling water! Add just a little water at a time and let it turn to steam. Trap the steam with a lid. When the pan bottom is dry again the steam is gone, add just enough water again to moisten the pan for the next 2-4 minutes of cooking. There should be just enough water added each time to un-stick the browning cuts of meat from the bottom of the pan.
Meat browns wonderfully without any oil using water this way. The meat doesn’t stick and its juices quickly carmelize. Each time a little more water is added, the bottom of the pan releases the carmelized meat juice, and a savory sauce is created as the carmelized meat juices are reduced. Turning and sliding the meat around in the juices bastes the meat and infuses it with a wonderful flavor.
Less water is added each time as the cooking temperature is lowered. Just enough is added to moisten the bottom of the pan, unstick the cooking meat, create more steam and slightly thin the reducing meat juices.
Temperature – Always start hot and move toward low temperature.
Hot temperature browns meat and quick-starts the meat juices caramelizing. Then I lower the heat to medium and finally low temperature to cook the inside of the food, without over-cooking or toughening it.
Thickness – Thin foods defrost and cook quickly.
Thin raw meat will partially defrost very quickly if set on the counter for five minutes while gathering the other dinner ingredients. I use heavy-duty sharp ergonomic kitchen shears I bought in the tool area of the hardware store to cut the meat into strips or pieces right into the skillet.
Timing – Use a timer for the meat! 3 + 3 + 4 + 5 = 15 minutes!
Each time water is added, the timer is set. 3 minutes on High, turn & add more water. Flip the food, and then 3 more minutes, flip again & add more water. Then 4 minutes on Medium, flip again, & add a smaller amount of water. Then 5 minutes on low, or until done and everything else is ready.
Tending – Higher temperatures require tending more often & multitasking
First 3 Minutes: Start the meat on High, with a little water & cover, set timer. Mix ingredients for side dish and set a side to absorb liquids in covered cooking dish.
Next 3 Minutes: Flip the meat, add water & cover. Place Veggies in covered microwave dish with a little water or start putting together dinner salads. Microwave side dish for 2-4 minutes.
Next 4 Minutes: Flip meat, add water, cover, lower heat to Medium. By this time side dish is done, so remove and set aside covered. Microwave frozen veggies for 5-6 minutes or finish dinner salads.
Next 5 Minutes: Flip meat, add smaller amount of water, cover, and lower heat to Low. Wait on veggies to finish. Set table and pour beverages.
Arrange food on plates & serve. Garnish with plenty of fresh ground five-color pepper (we are addicted to Crate & Barrel pepper,) a dash of ground sea salt and sparingly toss hot veggies with a teaspoon of olive oil margarine. Dinner is served!