These two words strike fear in the heart of working parents everywhere. I’m sure someone out there has mastered the art of getting a nutritious, inexpensive and quick dinner (that everyone in the family will eat!) on the table every night, but it sure isn’t us. Given our schedule and after-school activities, dinner needs to be more or less prepared by the time we get home; or at the very least, ready within 20 or 30 minutes. The more we can do in advance to prepare, the better.
Here are some of ways to maximize your time with a little bit of planning:
- if you buy big club packs of meat for the freezer, package your chicken breasts or pork chops in meal-sized portions and add your favourite marinade to the bag (bottled will do)before you freeze it. The meat marinates as it defrosts;
- whenever possible, cook extra, especially when cooking on the weekend. It takes as long to make two chickens as one, and then you’ve got chicken for the week.
- use a menu-planning service. We’ve just started using Six O’Clock Scramble. Having someone else do the shopping list is a lovely perk;
- as Nathalie suggests, breakfast for dinner is your friend. Peter makes a big batch of waffles every weekend and freezes them — a couple of those with some sausage and sliced fruit make a perfectly decent dinner.
Sneaky tomato sauce
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup dry red wine (Technically optional. Skip as your conscience dictates).
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2-3 Roma tomatoes (optional — when in season)
1 398 ml can low salt tomato sauce
1/2 can tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped, or marjoram if you prefer. You could also use basil, but I despise dried basil, so I don’t)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large sauce pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the onions are soft and start to take on colour — about 8-10 minutes. You want them on the verge of caramelization, not scorching, so turn down the heat if they go too fast. When the onions are browned and softened, add the wine (if using; if not, skip to next step) and stir until the wine is reduced by half.
Stir in carrots, celery and tomatoes if using. Reduce heat and cook covered, stirring occasionally until the carrots are softened. At this point, add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, sugar, and salt and pepper, cover, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes until the carrots are completely softened. Remove from heat and let cool for five minutes.