Cooking with Fresh Produce: Fridge to Table in 20 Minutes!

Dear Friends,

What a super sleepy day! I obeyed my bedtime alarm last night and was in bed at 9:30, but I woke up so many times that it feels like I didn’t sleep at all. I never wake up at night once I’m out, so I have no idea what was going on — but it was definitely a struggle to make it through today. And I had to do my grocery shopping this evening (I normally do it on Wednesdays) because my kitties ran out of food last night, and battling crowded stores always wears me out. Some people can plow right through their day on little-to-no sleep, but I am definitely not one of those people!

In happier news, I just had my annual health screen yesterday and my lab results showed me in the normal range in every single category for another year! I love to have a health screen every year so I know my body is truly getting everything it needs, and I know that what I’m eating is right for my body.

When doing diet research at the first of the year, I found out that I am basically following the Mediterranean Diet, which I talked about in My Be Healthy, Keep-Away-the-Cancer Diet, Explained. This doesn’t mean that I’m only eating Greek dishes and cooking Mediterranean recipes. It means that I follow the same basic diet that those living in Mediterranean countries do. So if I were to build a food pyramid based on my diet, it would be like this:

A large quantity of vegetables would be at the bottom of the pyramid, making up the largest part of my diet. Whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds would be right on top of that. Then comes fresh fruits and healthy fats, such as avocadoes, olive oil and fish/seafood that is high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The smallest food group for me is poultry, eggs and cheese (I don’t consume any other dairy, except the occasional sour cream or ice cream with my kiddos…I just really love cheese!). I eat sweets and pork in moderation, and I never eat red meat, save for a steak about once a year.

I borrowed this photo of a Mediterranean Food Pyramid from Mama’s Legacy Cookbooks (via Google Images), which pretty closely mirrors what I described above:

When I first changed my diet, it was in a quest to avoid processed foods. That led me to eating a lot more produce, organic foods whenever I could, and locally raised meat as much as I could. Eventually even the meat was greatly reduced or cut out altogether. It took a few years to get my diet down to an art, and while at first it seemed restrictive and difficult (change always does, doesn’t it?!), as I got the hang of it I realized how much more simple it actually is than the way I ate before.

Since I have a budget that I stick to every week, I always write out a shopping list and take it with me to the store. In order to help me make the list, I plan out at least a few meals each week that I want to make so I can be sure to get the ingredients for those. In addition to that, I always have the “staple” food items that I like to keep on hand, and some extra produce, beans, fish, rice, pasta, poultry and sandwich fixin’s on hand to whip up meals on a whim. I will do another post later detailing what these staples are! I love to have a variety of produce so I can “mix-n-match” meals and don’t get bored eating the same thing all the time. I also always keep a bowl of salad mix in the fridge that I make using a combination of romaine, iceberg lettuce and spinach.

Life Hack: Keep your salad greens submerged in a bowl of water in the fridge and they will last at least twice as long. Mine will usually last two weeks, if we don’t eat it all first! Leafy greens are a moisture-loving veggie, so the water keeps them full of life. I’ll just dip out a handful, lay it on a towel and squeeze it dry over the sink before making a salad.

I wanted to share with you the meal I made last night, because it was really quick to put together and cook, and tasted SO good! This was actually one of those “mix-n-match” meals that I tossed together with ingredients I already had on hand. It was a shrimp & squash stir-fry over brown rice.

I bought zucchini and summer squash from Aldi last week and hadn’t gotten around to using it yet, except for one of the zucchini that I used to make a chili boat over the weekend (I cut in half a zucchini, scooped out the seeds and baked it, then filled it with leftover chili and baked some more). So I started the rice in a pot on the stove, put the shrimp in a bowl of warm water in the sink to thaw, then sliced up one of the zucchini, two of the summer squash and three green onions (I always have to have these in the fridge because my boys love them), and scooped a couple of teaspoons of minced onion from the jar I keep in the fridge. Seriously…I use garlic in everything!

While the rice was cooking and the shrimp was thawing, I started the squash sautéing in some olive oil. I put a lid over it to help it soften with the steam that was naturally rising from it for about five minutes, then I tossed in the onion and garlic. I didn’t want to do the onion and garlic first because it browns pretty quickly and I was afraid it would burn before the squash got soft enough. I let it cook for about another five minutes, and by that time the shrimp was thawed and ready to go in. I laid it on a towel and blotted it dry, then tossed it in with the squash. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, parsley and Old Bay seasoning.

Shrimp only takes a few minutes to cook through, so I went ahead and drained the rice, salted it, added a little soy sauce, and scooped it onto the plates. Then I pulled the shrimp and squash from the heat and scooped it directly onto the rice in the plates. And it was ready to eat! It was about 20 minutes from the time I set the pan of rice on the burner to the time I served the plates. I often see on Pinterest these pins about 30-minute-meals. But seriously…these fresh, whole foods cooked up quicker than that with only a few ingredients and I didn’t even need to follow a recipe. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

This is just one of the things I love about cooking with fresh produce! Because heaven knows we are all too busy to spend hours in the kitchen, but still need to feed our families healthy meals. Should I do a series of meals following the Mediterranean Diet? If you would like to see more of these quick dinner ideas, please let me know and I will plan a series for the future!

Love,
Loren

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