Dinner, Solved!

Today, Colleen de Wit of I Heart Cooking, shares her favourite cooking tips and two easy-peasy recipes (so easy in fact, that I can make them!).

Don’t be scared. I’m not here to lecture you on mapping out your dinner plans in a spreadsheet for the next 2 weeks. Dinnertime doesn’t need to be complicated, and can even be * gasp * yummy and exciting. Here are my top dinner tips along with two of my favourite recipes.

Menu planning doesn’t need to be rigid. If you’re not a “list person”, make a general plan for the week. Buy groceries for 5 meals, but don’t have them planned for any particular day. Or maybe you’ll just decide what type of meat you’ll have all week (3 fish, 1 chicken, 1 pork) but you’re not sure which recipe you’ll use till 5pm that day. Or maybe you’re only going to plan 1 meal a week, on your family’s busiest day. Plan your meals in the way that suits your household.

Cook dinner at a time that works best for you. There’s no rule that says that dinner must be made in one continuous motion starting at 5pm. I have been known to chop vegetables at 9am, because that’s when my son is less likely to be attached to my leg. If you have a moment in the day (or evening), try to do some prep on your dinner. Every little bit helps.

Write down your meals on the calendar. That way, if you’re stuck for a dinner idea, scan through the past few weeks to get a bit of inspiration. (or if you forget what you’ve planned to eat for dinner, you can easily find the answer)

Use helpful kitchen appliances. Rice cookers and vegetable steamers are great gadgets that can save you time and energy. Although they usually take a bit longer to cook food than the traditional stovetop method, you don’t have to hover over the stove and most have an automatic shut-off feature. No more burned rice or soggy veggies!

Spanish Style Mish-Mash

Give this recipe a chance to prove its deliciousness. I was skeptical at first, but once I made this it has become one of my favourites. Don’t forget the parsley!

½  pkg of frozen, uncooked medium sized shrimp (get the peeled kind to make your life easier)

2 hot Italian or chorizo sausages

1 onion

1 tomato, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp hot chili flakes (or 1 jalapeno finely chopped if you so desire)

¼ c sliced pimento stuffed green olives (I omit these when I make this recipe)

1 ½ tsp oregano

1 tsp paprika

10 oz can chicken broth

1 cup couscous

¼ c chopped fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley

Place shrimp in a colander and rinse under cold water until thawed. Pat dry with a paper towel. Thickly slice sausage. Oil a large saucepan and set over medium heat. Add sausage to pan and stir often until lightly browned (about 4-5 minutes). Coarsely chop onion and add to sausages. Stir frequently until onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes.

While the onion and sausages are cooking, chop the tomato, garlic, olives and jalapeno (if using). Add to pan along with the oregano and paprika. Stir occasionally until tomato starts to break down—about 2 minutes. Add broth and shrimp, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil. As soon as shrimp turns pink, stir in couscous. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and sprinkle with parsley.

Tex Mex Sloppy Joes

Not your usual sloppy joes. Great flavour and slightly fancier with the addition of crusty bread and avocadoes.

1 lb ground beef

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves minced

1 700mL jar of pasta sauce, preferably spicy (like spicy red pepper)

1 cup salsa

1 tbsp oregano

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp tabasco (optional)

grated cheese

sour cream

avocado

tomato

shredded lettuce

Crusty bread (French bread, ciabatta, etc)

Lightly coat a large saucepan with oil and set over medium heat. Crumble beef into pan. Sprinkle with onion and garlic. Using a fork, break up and stir meat until its no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain off excess liquid.

Add sauce, salsa, oregano, cumin and tabasco. Stirring often, bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and gently simmer about 10 minutes. Spoon sauce over slices of crusty bread. Top with cheese, sour cream, sliced avocado and tomatoes.

*Colleen won the Home Ec award in 8th grade and never looked back. She is the owner of I Heart Cooking, where her aim is to boost your confidence and abilities in the kitchen. Check out www.iheartcooking.ca or www.facebook.com/iheartcooking.ca