Monday, January 18, 2010

Gimme a break!

In a perfect world, all our meals would be made of fresh ingredients and I would have the time (and patience) to make every little thing from scratch. In reality, I do the very best I can, but I do have to give myself a break from time to time. When time is short--or I'm just knee deep in burnout--here are a few things I turn to in order to keep us from turning into a drive-thru...

Tasty Bite Kashmir's a pouch of spinachy goodness that takes all of two minutes to make and serve. We have it with a few slices of baked chicken breast and a scoop of brown rice. It's a little spicy, but it's a good spicy. Despite coming from a pouch, it still tastes fresh. It's also opened Mr. Mallard's eyes to the world of Indian food, thereby opening another cuisine for me to attempt to conquer.

If you're trying to avoid dairy, Tasty Bite makes shopping easy by clearly marking their vegan products. Just look in the back right corner of the package and you'll be able to quickly identify which ones you can eat. There's also a list of vegan products available on their website. While the company does offer a growing number of enticing entrees, our exploration is somewhat limited by the stock available at our local grocery stores. I can confidently recommend both the Kashmir Spinach and the Madras Lentils. If you can't find them in your local stores, the website actually has the best prices around--unless you find them on sale--and the shipping prices are pretty reasonable.

Next up...Amy's Organic Soups. One can feeds two people. After attempting it myself on more than one occasion, I would really recommend NOT trying to eat the whole can yourself. You're hungry, I know, and it sounds so harmless, but you'll find yourself about halfway through the second half of the can, wondering how you're going to get up from the table unassisted and whether you'll ever need to eat again. Too. Much. Soup...

Delicious soup, though. My favorite is the Split Pea--you'd never guess it doesn't have any ham. I used to eat it with a bagel and some string cheese, but we're fancier now--we have it with a Toasted Ham and Cheese Sandwich for a filling, comforting meal on a rainy night. The Lentil, as well as the Black Bean, is great served over rice. The Minestrone works well with a salad and a chunk of bread. The Semi-Condensed Cream of Mushroom is great in casseroles, but make sure you adjust the amount of liquid in your recipes to accommodate the extra liquid of the semi-condensed state (versus the typical fully condensed). Most of the soups come in a low-sodium version, too, if you have to keep an eye on your sodium intake. If you flip to the back of the can, the ingredient list is preceded by the disclosure of whether the soup is vegan or just vegetarian.

Last, but most certainly not least, Annie's Beef Stroganoff. You probably didn't hear it, but I had to pause for a second there to let the angels finish singing after I typed out the name. Absolutely our favorite dinner shortcut. We refer to it as Hippie Hamburger Helper and we never pass up a chance to share the Gospel of the Strog with those who will listen. It's not available locally, so we special order it by the case from our local co-op. It comes out to about four bucks a box and it makes four hearty servings. While it can be made with tempeh or tofu, we don't mess with perfection and just keep it real with the beef. The beef we use comes from a local farm (Bald Hill Farm) and the quality of the grass fed beef helps make an already delicious meal even better [insert "Grass Fed Beef from Local Farms is Awesome and Totally Worth the Slightly Higher Cost" rant here: click]. Toss some sliced crimini mushrooms in when you mix in the pasta and it gets even better. We often have this with a side of sauteed zucchini and a sourdough baguette, though we'd eat it all straight out of the pan like animals if we weren't trying to set a good example for the Biggest Girl. If Stroganoff isn't your thing, they make a great Cheesy Lasagna, as well as an oh-so-satisfying Cheeseburger Macaroni.

So, take a night off once in a while! You'll feel so much better about spending ten minutes making a delicious, inexpensive dinner, rather than spending ten minutes stuck in a drive-thru that will only reward you with an empty wallet and the feeling you could have done better...

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