Carrots, Celery, Spinach

26 Jun

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The checker at Trader Joe’s scans a 4th bag of carrots, gives me a knowing look, and says, “Meal prep day, right?” Batching meals in advance to keep daily cooking down to a minimum has become a popular way to get a home-cooked meal on the table when we are living our on-the-go lives. But is the practice more overwhelming than the benefits? That all depends on planning! Armed with a great recipe and shopping list as well as a few hours of time, it can be a weekday lifesaver. I have a few tips for easy and delicious meal prep:

  • Plan to cook recipes that actually eat better after they have been frozen and reheated, like soups, stews, braises, grain salads and casseroles. Meats and veggies cooked in a sauce get more flavorful as they have had time to hang out together.
  • Double your recipes but not your time or ingredients. It only takes a little while longer to prep and cook a second batch, and although proteins, vegetables and starches need to be doubled, ingredients like oil and spices do not.
  • Have plenty of containers that are easily stored in your freezer. Mason jars, BPA free plastic and Pyrex, especially if they are stackable, are great choices. Use painter tape and a Sharpie to label and date the item you are storing.
  • Divide food into small containers, then allow to cool all of the way under refrigeration before storing in the freezer.
  • Find ingredients that overlap. If you need rice for one recipe, why not make more to add to salads or a quick mid-week stir fry?
  • Chop the ingredients that go into everything to get the party started. Get all of the onions diced, the garlic minced, and cut up extra carrots for tomorrow’s snack. Getting all of your items prepped in advance will help you save time and make it easier for you to manage three or four different pots working at the same time when the cooking starts.
  • Make it fun! Get the kids involved, listen to your favorite podcast or have friends cook and pack all together.

This Veggie Bolognese (you could also add ground turkey or beef) is a perfect dish for meal prep. Serve it over zucchini noodle, pasta, polenta or cauliflower rice.

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Vegetable Bolognese

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup each diced carrots, celery, fennel and onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 pound organic ground turkey or beef (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves, 3 fresh thyme stems, 1 small rosemary stem
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1 15-ounce can of organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can of organic tomato sauce
  • 7 ounces of baby spinach
  • 5 large basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese and red chile flakes for serving
  • 8 ounces of pasta, cooked, or zucchini noodles

Method:

Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven and coat the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil. Add the diced carrots, celery, fennel and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, ground turkey or beef, if using, seasoning with a bit more salt and pepper, and stir into the vegetables, breaking the meat into small pieces. Continue to stir and brown the meat until it is cooked all of the way through.

Put the bay leaf and the sprigs of thyme and rosemary into the turkey mixture. Pour the wine into the turkey and vegetable mixture and stir, cooking until the wine is reduced by half. Add the diced tomatoes and their juices and cook until liquid is reduced,  and then add the tomato sauce. Cook the sauce for 30-40 minutes, until it is thickened and tomatoes are sweet. While the sauce is hot, stir in the baby spinach and basil, seasoning with salt and pepper and stirring until it wilts. Taste the sauce for additional seasoning, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaf and herb sprigs. Top with the chopped parsley and serve over pasta or zucchini noodles.

 

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