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Life has been pretty chaotic lately. My normal menu writing/grocery shopping has gone by the wayside. It got me thinking, even though I haven’t had the time to write a menu or do my full weekly grocery shopping trip, we’ve still been able to eat some pretty healthy meals without having to resort to take out every night. How you ask? There are a few reasons. Here are my top 3 tips to help you enjoy a healthy dinner when you have zero time to plan.

1. Buy meat in bulk when it’s on sale: I buy all our “meats” when it goes on sale. When I get home I open everything and individually wrap each portion and date it. When it comes time for dinner all I need to do is pull out one portion and we’re ready. At any given moment I have 10-12 portions of chicken breast, pork chops etc in the freezer. If you do that once a month, you’ll always have it on hand and won’t have to worry about running to the store.

2. Stock up on staples: Again this is something I do when there is a sale. I always have beans, grains like brown rice and quinoa, and canned or jarred tomatoes on hand. You’d be surprised what kind of meals you can come up with using just a few items.

3. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): I realize this isn’t an option for everyone but if you have access to a CSA I’d say go for it. I haven’t really been able to grocery shop for almost 2 months, but we have fresh veggies delivered right to our door each week. It’s great for a quick stir fry, salad or even a grilled side dish. You can also blanch and freeze veggies for use later use without loosing any of the nutrients.

One thing I did manage to have time for was this delicious Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Bread. My brother and his girlfriend hosted us last weekend and I couldn’t show up empty handed (catholic guilt much?). I’d made this bread once before, and I was surprised at how good it tasted considering I’m not a huge fan of sweet potatoes. I followed the recipe as written to start, but made a few adjustments this time around. When I bake, I tend to follow a recipe to a T the first time and then try to make small adjustments to see if I can make it healthier without changing the taste. This time I swapped out some of the all purpose flour with a little whole wheat and substituted plain greek yogurt for the buttermilk. I actually think I liked it a little better. Next time I’ll probably play around with getting rid of some of that oil!

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Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Bread (adapted from Averie Cooks)

Ingredients:
About 1 1/2 cups mashed sweet potatoes (2 medium or 1 very large)
3 tablespoons water
2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch salt, optional and to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside.

Peel the sweet potatoes and chop them into 1-inch sized chunks. Place chunks in a large, shallow microwave-safe bowl. Add 3 tablespoons water, cover with plasticwrap, and cook on high power for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are very fork-tender. Pour off any water. Mash sweet potatoes with a fork. Allow them to cool.

To the sweet potatoes, add the eggs, oil, yogurt, vanilla and whisk until combined; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients – flours, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, optional salt, and whisk to combine. Pour the wet sweet potato mixture over the dry ingredients, and stir to incorporate. Take your time stirring until no stray bits of dry ingredients are visible, folding and scraping the bottom of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Stir and fold with a gentle hand as to not over-mix and over-develop the gluten, which results in tougher bread.

Turn batter out into prepared pan(s), smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes for a 9×5 pan, or until top is domed, golden, loaf is springy to the touch, and cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Tent pan with foil in the last 15 minutes of cooking if top is browning a bit fast before interior has cooked through.

Allow bread to cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Bread will keep at room temperature for up to 1 week or can be sliced, wrapped in saran wrap, put into a ziploc for freezing.

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