Nourishing Resolutions: Plan Ahead in 4 Steps!

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When life gets hectic — as it so often does — it’s easy to put off this crucial step to eating well: Plan ahead. But isn’t that when you need it the most? We’ve said it before, and we’ll probably say it again: A little advance planning and few minutes of prep work here and there are often the difference between ordering take-out and cooking a delicious nourishing meal.

plan-ahead-plan-meals

I know that if I’ve thought ahead a little and shopped smart, it’s usually easier and faster to cook at home than to pick up something to go. Here are 4 simple steps:

Plan Meals for the Week

Chances are, you did some serious meal planning during the holidays. Lia’s tips for feasting without frenzy during the yuletide season are easily adapted for everyday use. I do a modified version of this every weekend, thinking about our schedule for the week ahead and which recipes I want to make. I usually make a more involved meal on Sunday evening, with an eye toward delicious leftovers (i.e., “planned-overs”) I can recycle later in the week. For example, I made batch of Easy All-Purpose Tomato Sauce for pizzas last night with an eye toward using the extra sauce with pasta and veggies later this week.

You don’t have to go so far as mark your calendar, though it can help you remember make-ahead steps along the way. For instance, I jotted a note to remind myself to put the farro on to soak for this 15-Minute Farrotto with Sage and Butternut Squash. And there’s also a note reminding me to marinate the steak for Grass-Fed Beef Bulgogi for tomorrow night (which I’ll stir-fry rather than grill, with some veggies that need to be used up).

Stock the Pantry, Fridge and Freezer

There are ingredients I always keep on hand so I can whip up something delicious at the last minute. If I have whole grain pasta, chicken stock, some bacon, eggs and a little hunk of cheese, I’ve got the makings of carbonara, which I can improvise with whatever veggies we have on hand (if there are none in the crisper, I always have a bag of frozen peas in the freezer).

This is a good time of year to reevaluate your pantry, too — get rid of items you’ll never use and restock a healthy pantry. Go ahead and use up that white rice, but replace it with brown; make the switch from white pasta to whole grain.

Shop Smart

Ugh, is there anything worse that stopping by the supermarket after a long day at work? It’s crowded, the lines are long, you’re hungry and then you have to schlep home and cook.

Instead, include shopping in your weekly plan and choose a time that works best with your schedule. My neighbor always hits the store early on a Saturday morning, when it’s uncrowded. This year, I want to visit our neighborhood weekly Friday morning farmers’ market, which is far more convenient (and much less hectic) than the weekend market.

When I have to hit the supermarket, I try to arrange my shopping list according to the store’s layout–grouping all the produce, all the bulk-bin items, all the meat, dairy, cheese, etc.–so I can zip through the store in no time.

Prep (and Cook) Ahead

Doing a few small chores when you have the time–from cleaning farmers’ market greens or chopping squash to cooking a pot of beans or simmering some stock–is painless and sets you up for great meals later in the week. And you don’t always need a lot of time. The prep-ahead step for this farro risotto recipe is as simple as putting the farro in a pot to soak in the morning so it cooks more quickly when you get home in the evening.

Also in this series:
Nourishing Resolutions: Fruit of the Day

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15-Minute Farrotto with Sage and Butternut Squash

Butternut squash and a whole-grain risotto are hearty match made in heaven. I came across this risotto technique in the wonderful Ideas in Food blog, by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, who are also the authors of the new book Ideas In Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work (Clarkson Potter). They experimented with soaking arborio rice, then adding hot stock, and cooking it for 6 minutes to yield wonderful, creamy risotto. It’s a great technique to use with whole grains like farro or barley to reduce the cooking time yet enjoy creamy risotto-like results with tender yet al dente grains. In fact, this is now the only I make whole-grain risotto. The plan-ahead involves nothing more than putting the grains in a pot to soak before you go to work in the morning. To make the meal come together even more quickly on a weeknight, peel and cube the squash the night before.

15-Minute Farrotto with Sage and Butternut Squash

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Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

15-Minute Farrotto with Sage and Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  1. 1 cup farro perlato OR pearled barley
  2. 1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  3. 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  4. Sea salt, to taste
  5. Black pepper, to taste
  6. 3 cups vegetable OR chicken stock
  7. 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  8. 1 garlic clove, minced
  9. 1/4 cup dry white wine OR vermouth
  10. 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  11. 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated pecorino Romano cheese, divided
  12. Fresh sage sprigs, for garnish

Instructions

Place farro in a medium bowl or saucepan. Cover with cold water by 1-1/2 inches. Cover and let stand 8-12 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil, salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until tender, stirring after 12 minutes.

While squash roasts, drain farro, spread it on a clean kitchen towel and blot it dry.

Place stock in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add onion, and cook 3 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add farro; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook 1 minute or until wine is absorbed, stirring constantly. Stir in sage. Add hot stock all at once; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook at a lively simmer for 15-17 minutes or until farro is tender and creamy, stirring occasionally.

Stir in 3 tablespoons cheese and squash. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with remaining 1 tablespoon cheese and sage sprigs.

Notes

Cook Time: 25-30 minutes

http://nourishnetwork.com/2011/01/10/nourishing-resolutions-plan-ahead-in-4-steps/