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Menopausal Mother Nature

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6 meals to fuel a young, busy family

With a packed schedule and limited tools, dinners these days are simpler and faster, but still delicious.

Life has been feeling pretty crazy these days. Soccer has started up again for the season, which means a frenzy of practices and games that has us on the field four nights a week. (It’s the only organized sport my kids do, so I can put up with it for three months.) Combined with my own late-afternoon workouts and my stubborn insistence that the kids be in bed no later than 7:30, dinner hour has become a frantic rush.

Making it even more challenging is the fact that we’re living in a rental house while our own home undergoes a major and badly-needed renovation. The rental kitchen is fairly well-stocked, but it’s missing some key tools that I typically use on a regular basis, like measuring cups, a food processor, an immersion blender, a stockpot, a big mixing bowl, and all my cookbooks except one. My cooking style has adjusted to these limitations and our meals have become noticeably simpler and faster – not necessarily a bad thing! Here’s what I’ve made in the past week.

1. Black bean quesadillas

I used to make burritos every week, but now I’m on a quesadilla kick. They’re so much easier and just as delicious and satisfying. I mix cooked beans, chopped red pepper, minced jalapeño, scallions, salt, cumin, and a generous pile of shredded cheese in a bowl, then scoop filling into the tortilla and fold in half (much easier to flip than a full round). My husband started adding butter to the pan, which is probably not authentic, but it adds wonderful crispiness to the outside. We serve with pickled jalapeño slices and sour cream. The kids can’t get enough.

2. Tempeh noodle stirfry

No one in the family is terribly keen on tempeh, but it goes down with the least amount of resistance when it’s in a stirfry. I use whatever’s on hand – bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, red onions this week – and always cook the vegetables separately to keep them crispy-tender. I brown the tempeh and a generous handful of minced ginger and garlic, then add the cooked vegetables, cooked chow mein noodles, and a few spoonfuls of black bean garlic sauce. I serve with roasted peanuts, sprouts, Sriracha, and shredded fresh basil if I have any.

3. Saag paneer with rice

Paneer is a firm Indian cheese, similar to tofu, that can used in a variety of ways. We had an enormous amount of spinach and kale from last week’s CSA share, so I decided to use a pound of it to make saag paneer. I used a very simple recipe (not my usual Madhur Jaffrey favorite, as my cookbooks are packed away) that involved steaming and blending the greens, then mixing with the browned cheese and spices, and cooking for a few minutes. It was good, but not as flavorful as I like. I ate it with lots of mango and lime pickles to add some kick.

saag paneer© K Martinko – Eating my saag paneer while watching soccer practice

4. Cream of asparagus soup & quinoa, black bean, mango salad

Asparagus season has finally arrived in Ontario! I’ve been buying 3-4 pounds every time I go to the store because it’s such a delicious, fast vegetable to prepare. On the weekend I made a quick cream of asparagus soup for lunch by sautéing onions and garlic in butter, adding chopped asparagus and stock, and simmering till soft. I threw it in the blender, then added a bit of whipping cream, salt, and pepper. Kids slurped it up.

To fill out the meal, I made a quinoa, black bean, mango salad recipe that I got from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook and use frequently. The dressing is made by blending fresh lime juice, chopped jalapeño, cilantro, cumin and olive oil, and it’s wonderfully zippy. The salad keeps in the fridge for a few days and makes a great mid-workday snack.

5. Plant-based sausages with roasted vegetables and salad

Last night I craved a barbecue, so I picked up a couple packages of plant-based sausages, one spicy Italian and one kale and caramelized onion. Those went on the grill with a pound of asparagus in a grilling basket, while a couple pans of diced sweet potatoes went into the oven. I also made a green salad on the side. The kids slathered their sausages in mustard and said they tasted just like hot dogs, a.k.a. delicious.

6. Chickpeas braised in olive oil

I’ve been needing some chickpea inspiration lately, as I’m tired of the same chana masala/felafel rotation. So I searched chickpea recipes on Food52 this morning and came up with this one that has fantastic reviews from people who say they make it every week without fail. Everything about it makes my mouth water, so this is what’s on the menu for tonight; I am already looking forward to it! I’ll probably serve with the leftover roasted sweet potatoes and a chopped salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and avocado.

With a packed schedule and limited tools, dinners these days are simpler and faster than ever, but still delicious.


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