SHOPPING STRATEGIES FOR HEALTHY AND QUICK COOKING
Tip # 1: Buy your meats and produce cooking-ready but not over-processed
To cook pulling and healthy meals, buy meats, seafood and produce that have been processed to an extent. For instance, choose boneless fish filets over whole fish, boneless skinless chicken breasts over whole or half chicken, thin beef steaks over thick roasting cuts, pre-cleaned carrots over grated and marinated ones.
As a rule of thumb, processing that involves only labor is OK. For example, do buy chicken that has been cut and skinned or shrimp that has been peeled. Don’t, if it’s also been spiced – chances are most of those spices are artificial additives. Over-processed meats and produce are expensive, inferior nutrition-wise and full of E-numbered substances.
The trick is in sticking with the degree of processing that saves you time but doesn’t hurt your pocketbook or render your foods unhealthy with added chemicals.
Tip # 2: Buy apples, celery, and cherry tomatoes were organically grown
In contrast, asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet peas and sweet potatoes are the least contaminated “Clean Fifteen.” They can be bought conventionally grown.
Tip # 3: Buy your grains pre-cooked
It’s fairly easy today to find pre-cooked whole grain rice, “instant” couscous and roasted buckwheat. Pre-cooking without anything added is the “minimal processing” of choice for your grains. (When purchasing, make sure that the list of ingredients on the package has only 1 item!).
Tip # 4: Buy your mushrooms big
When buying mushrooms, pick larger ones. For the same weight, you’ll have fewer of them to rinse, trim and brush!
Tip # 5: Buy small-sized / precut and pre-washed vegetables
When pressed for time, buy pre-washed baby-sized or precut veggies that do not require chopping (they also cost more, so how often you buy them depends on your budget For instance:
– bags of baby carrots
– bags of pre-washed lettuce, arugula, spinach, corn salad
– shredded cabbage
– precut broccoli florets
– precut cauliflower florets
Cherry tomatoes are also a good choice, as they don’t need slicing.
Tip # 6: Buy frozen vegetables and fruits
I admit this is somewhat contradictory with Tip # 1, but on occasion frozen veggies such as green beans, peas and carrots do come handy! It’s a good idea to have a bag or two in the freezer, in case you run out of the fresh stuff or are too tired even to contemplate rinsing and chopping You don’t need to pre-thaw them: they go from the freezer straight into the saucepan.
Another advantage is that they were harvested ripe and packaged quickly, so they would offer better nutritional value than the fresh broccoli that languished in your fridge for over a week. It is not a speculation but a fact: a study has shown that fresh spinach may lose half of its nutrition in as few as four days after purchase – but spinach that is frozen and packaged soon after harvesting will retain much of its nutritional value.
As for frozen berries, they are great in smoothies and fruit cocktails!
Tip # 7: Buy ready-made whole grain pizza and quiche dough
These days, you can buy pizza and quiche dough whole cereals and without artificial additives.
Just think of all that stirring, kneading, stretching, flouring, pressing, folding, more kneading, refrigerating, waiting, some more kneading, pinching, stretching, tossing and spinning you won’t have to do!
Online shopping is the obvious solution if you wish to reduce the time spent on grocery shopping – it will spare you the trip to and from the supermarket. As a bonus, it will save your back.
Better still, Internet shops can free you from the tedious process of selecting items and putting them into the virtual shopping cart. Most online supermarkets allow you to “Save” your shopping list – or several different-purpose lists – for future use.
All that junk food is enticing and entrancing you with a subliminal message that would roughly translate as Grab me – let me give you instant gratification? Well, in an Internet shop you are in control of what you see – so no siren’s songs for you here, thank you very much.
KITCHEN TOOLS USED TO SAVE TIME
Tip # 8: Use a mandoline slicer
A mandoline is a manual slicer with adjustable blades. The mandoline will help you slice, chop (julienne-style) and grate your vegetables in a wink.
Tip # 9: Use a salad spinner
A manual salad spinner (aka ‘salad tosser’) consists of a bowl, a basket, and a lid. Several models are available, some operated by pulling a cord, others by pushing down on a pump. The spinner will help you dry your leafy greens in 30 seconds using centrifugal force.
Tip # 10: Use an electric seed grinder
A seed grinder/ aka grain mill aka food grinder aka spice-and-nut grinder will allow you to grind larger quantities of flaxseed, sesame, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc. than its standard analog in record time, which is about 10 seconds. There are many different models on the market.
PREPARATION TIPS AND TRICKS
Tip # 11: Clean up while cooking
You may be cooking super-fast, but if you end up spending a lot of time afterward on cleaning up, you are probably doing something wrong, right? Here are a few things you can do while cooking to save a considerable amount of time afterward:
A) fill your saucepans and skillets with soapy water (warm, if possible) immediately after use.
B) when no longer needed for your cooking, throw cutlery, plates, bowls and small utensils into that soapy water.
C) rinse some of the utensils under running water immediately after use and leave them to dry on the dish rack. It applies to the ones that don’t get greasy and, therefore, don’t need soap – for instance, the knife and board you used to chop veggies, the measuring cup or jug you used for grains, the peeler, zester, garlic press, colander, etc.
D) keep a dishcloth handy and wipe the countertops as soon as a drop of something or other lands on a theme) when stir-frying and sautéing, cover the skillet with a mesh screen. This simple trick will save the wall behind your stove from nasty splatter, and you – from the chore of scrubbing them off.
Tip # 12: Get the hang of multitasked cooking
Multitasked cooking is an excellent way to produce meals in record time. The idea is that you take a few seconds before you begin to cook to visualize and plan the process. In this way, you’ll be able to use every chunk of “handsfree” cooking time to perform several other cooking activities (as opposed to just waiting around and watching TV).
Tip # 13: Shortcut to “Asian” flavor
If you are intimidated by the long Ingredient Lists in Japanese Korean Thai recipes, here is an alternative to that particular “Asian” flavor: just sprinkle you’re steamed or sautéed vegetables with some Tamari (soy sauce) and Gomasio (crushed sesame with salt).
Asian food shops and most supermarkets carry both condiments.
Tip # 14: How to clean mushrooms
To clean mushrooms:
a) trim the stems
b) rinse mushrooms under cold running water, brushing off any dirt
c) pat-dry with paper towels
Don’t soak, or else they’ll absorb a lot of water and release it once on the skillet, turning your stir-fry into a stew.
Tip # 15: How to cut tomatoes
To slice or chop tomatoes, use a serrated knife rather than a smooth-bladed one. A serrated blade cuts through their skin much more quickly.
Alternatively, skip cutting altogether by using small cherry tomatoes. By the way, their antioxidant capacity is higher than that of the “regular” tomatoes.
Tip # 16: How to cut onions
When cutting an onion, begin with the pointy tip and finish leaving the ½ inch from the hairy tip (which is to blame for your tears).
Also, you may want to chill the onion for a few minutes in the fridge and rinse your knife under cold water before cutting the onion.
Tip # 17: How to dice a mango for salsa or fruit salad
It may seem counter-intuitive, but a mango is diced before it’s peeled!
Here’s how to do it:
a) Rinse mango and stand it vertically on a cutting board, holding with one hand
b) Make two cuts on each side of its large flat pit, from top to bottom, to separate it from the flesh
c) Take a mango half (strictly speaking, a third – because now you have two fleshy parts and a bit) in your hand and cut it up lengthwise and crosswise; take care not to cut through the peel
d) Lay the nearly diced half flat on the cutting board (skin side down), and cut the mango cubes away from the peel
e) Repeat with the second half
f) Cut off whatever flesh remains around the pit, remove the peel and dice the flesh.
It’s easier than it sounds! If still in doubt, watch a YouTube video before trying.
Tip # 18: How to zest citrus fruit
Zest your lemons or oranges before you cut them and, especially, before you press them. It will be much easier, and you’ll obtain more zest.
Be sure to buy the lemons you intend to test organically grown and unwaxed. Otherwise, you’ll be ingesting a pesticide-fungicide-wax concentrate with your zest.
Using a particular tool called lemon zester (see photo) will make this task easier and add precision: you’ll only peel off the flavorful yellow zest leaving the bitter white pith on the fruit.
Tip # 19: To rinse or not to rinse your pasta
Don’t rinse pasta under cold water, or else it won’t absorb the pasta sauce as it should.
If cooking pasta for a salad, it’s OK to rinse it.
Tip # 20: Use whole grain products in your cooking
Whole grains come with all their parts – the bran, the endosperm and the germ – even when ground and shaped into pasta spirals. The ensemble is so nutrient-rich, it comes as no surprise that whole grains are superior in that regard to many common fruits and vegetables, according to a recent study.
Tip # 21: Cook with onions to prevent cancer
Cook with onions as often as you can, especially if you or someone in your family is a smoker. Research suggests they reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer in smokers.
Other studies have shown that eating onions, and other allium vegetables (garlic, leeks) protects against different cancers such as endometrial, benign prostatic hyperplasia, oral cavity, and pharynx, esophageal, colorectal, laryngeal, breast, ovarian, prostate and renal cell.
Tip # 22: Cook with turmeric to reduce inflammation
Turmeric is a super-spice you want to use in your cooking at every opportunity, and not only when making Indian dishes. Add a generous pinch to your soups, salads, stir-fries and omelets. Right, it’ll give all your preparations a yellowish shade (not a problem for an individual), but the benefits that you and your family will reap are worth this little aesthetic sacrifice.
Tip # 23: Cook with vinegar to control blood sugar and weight
Vinegar has the incredible capacity to reduce the glycemic impact of the accompanying carb-rich foods. Studies have demonstrated that vinegar decreased the glycemic index (a measure of how quickly a carb food raises blood sugar) of rice-based meals by 20 to 35%. Balsamic and cider vinegar also help us digest the fiber from raw vegetables. So don’t hesitate to add vinegar to salad dressings, sauces, and spreads or simply drizzle a little over your meal.
Also, vinegar enhances the sensation of fullness, so we end up eating less during the whole day! In a placebo-controlled trial, healthy women consumed fewer total calories on the days they had some vinegar at breakfast.
A very recent double-blind study found that a daily intake of as little as 15 ml of vinegar over 12 weeks reduced body fat mass and waist circumference, making it useful in fighting obesity and preventing metabolic syndrome.
Tip # 24: How to slice an avocado: the ‘knife and spoon’ technique
Skip this tip if you own an avocado slicer, but if you don’t (or if you like being prepared for every circumstance), here’s an easy way to produce avocado wedges as neatly as with a slicer:
a) rinse and halve the avocado lengthwise
b) rotate the halves in opposite directions to separate them and remove the pit
c) place a half in your palm and slice trying not to cut through the skin; repeat with the other half
d) with a tablespoon, scoop the sliced halves out of the shells and into your salad bowl.
Tip # 25: How to cook couscous
Cooking couscous is very easy (I am referring to the pre-steamed and dried “instant” couscous.
A) Pour 1 cup (230 g) whole grain instant couscous into a large bowl
b) Boil 2 cups (500 ml) water in a kettle or an electrical boiler
c) Pour the water over the couscous to cover it with a generous margin
d) Add 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste, stir, cover and let it stand for 2-3 minutes
Your couscous is ready to serve as a filling side dish. You may want to add herbs and spices to make it healthier and more enjoyable. If you are cooking couscous as a side to steamed meat or veggies, you don’t even need to boil water and use a separate pot. As soon as you have finished cooking, turn off the burner, remove the steamer insert and pour the couscous or buckwheat into the water remaining in the bottom saucepan. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste, cover and let it stand for a couple of minutes, after which fluff with a fork – and serve. To make sure you have enough water left after steaming, fill the bottom of your steamer almost up to the level of the insert.
Tip # 26: How to make a quick gratin
A gratin is a cooking technique in which food is baked under a topping of breadcrumbs, grated cheese, egg or butter, yielding a delicious golden-brown crust. A gratin needs at least 45 minutes in the oven, which is a bit long for weeknight cooking. But here’s a trick to speed things up:
a) cut the vegetable julienne-style using a mandoline slicer, or simply chop/slice them thinly; cut the meat into small strips
b) pre-steam veggies and meat (about 5 minutes)
c) prepare the topping while the vegetables are steaming
d) transfer the prepped components into an oven dish and bake at 400 F (200 C) for about 20 minutes.
Tip # 27: Marinate your BBQ meats
a) Honey & mustard
Whisk together 3 tbsp olive oil, one tsp Dijon mustard, ½ tbsp honey, ½ inch (1 cm) grated ginger, one pressed garlic clove, and juice of ½ lemon.
b) Lemon & wine
Whisk together a glass of red wine, grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and one pressed garlic clove.
Tip # 28: Faultless chicken breasts
Perfectly baked chicken breasts are golden-brown on the outside and tender on the inside. The best way to achieve this is by sautéing them over high heat for a few minutes and then baking in the oven over moderate heat.
Tip # 29: Don’t discard the steaming water
If you’ve steamed organic meats and vegetables, don’t dump the water, as it’s full of flavor and nutrients. Drink it, make soup or a sauce with it – or store it in the fridge to use the following day.
Tip # 30: Don’t discard the Parmesan rind
When grating Parmesan cheese, make sure to keep the crust! Thrown in with risottos, purees, soups and bean dishes, it will give them extra taste and stickiness. Remove before serving.
Tip # 31: Cook with Vitamin C-rich foods
Cook Vitamin C-rich foods (bell peppers, cabbage, leafy greens, broccoli, lemons) often to reduce your and your family members’ risk of stroke, cancer, osteoarthritis, inflammation, and diabetes.
Vegans, who get their iron exclusively from plant sources, and people suffering from anemia (pregnant women typically do) should try to eat one or more Vitamin C-rich food at every meal. Vitamin C helps absorb the plants’ non-heme iron.
Make sure not to overcook Vitamin-C rich foods – otherwise, you’ll lose most of the vitamins and other beneficial nutrients they contain. Eat them raw, steam or stir-fry them for no more than five minutes.
Make a special effort to get sufficient Vitamin C if you are pregnant. A recent study suggests that maternal vitamin C deficiency during pregnancy can negatively affect the development of the fetal brain.
Tip # 32: Don’t peel your vegetables, if you can help it
The skin of fruits and vegetables contains fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants in higher amounts than the flesh. Unfortunately, it also contains more pesticide residues. If you buy your produce organically grown, you can skip the peeling and keep the vitamins. And save time in the process.