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The Starter Kit

When we prepare veggies for salad we are usually concentrating on the salad for today and later this week, and we don’t give any thought to another meal’s preparation. There is a way, believe it or not, to get some prep out of the way for one-dish meals that are planned for later consumption, at the same time as you cut up your salad. In the next few articles, we’ll cover some of these variations on the central veggie base.

It’s in the freezer bag!

Sliced onions are already in the freezer in a gallon-sized freezer bag, as outlined in the Get Ready-Get Set article. The onion was one of four that were all sliced, at the same time, after they had cooled sufficiently to avoid the extra tears caused by slicing them at room temperature. Placed in freezer bags, spread out so that they are flat, air burped and frozen, they are ready at a moment’s notice to start most one-dish delicacies. The appropriate amount is removed from the bag and placed in just enough vegetable or chicken broth to cover. Wine (white or red) adds a drier taste and is a viable alternative. There may be other bases for the softening of the veggies and we’ll mention these in the directions themselves in each how-to. We don’t use oils because they add unnecessary fat and calories and the veggies do just as well in the liquids we mention above.

Garlic powder is sprinkled on the onion slices. Mushroom slices, either frozen, (as were the onions, upon return from the supermarket), or fresh, are thrown in immediately thereafter. Remember, the sliced mushrooms were placed in the freezer in a freezer bag, raw or cooked, saving time if purchased with the information “prewashed.”

How much should be cooked? Good question! If you intend to make a number of meals from this starter, make it big! Let the number of people, and/or meals, you’re serving determine the quantity. Although the onions and mushrooms have been frozen before, when raw, the cooking has changed the molecular structure and refreezing will not attack their integrity. Hint: If you sauté more than you require for the week, it’s just that easy to freeze what you haven’t used and thaw for another starter days or weeks down the road. If you have leftovers because the amount consumed was less than you prepared, then that’ll do for another fixer-upper meal!

Here are a few examples of the round-the-world dishes from this easy-does-it starter kit: Asian, Italian, Jewish, Indian, Mexican and American. The ingredients change personality through the use of spices and types of veggies. We won’t make it too exotic, we promise!

There are excellent spices that are available from Penzeys Spices, on their website, and on Amazon. They offer 500+ spices and ingredients. The reason we use this brand is the pure taste and the pungency of the individual spices, which add intense flavor. This helps to greatly enhance the ingredients you use. Also, they have a number of mixed spices that afford you the luxury of acquiring the full flavor without buying so many different individual spices. Another reason we recommend this company is the purity of flavor and it’s armchair shopping. Let’s keep it simple!

A very important part of these meals is the rice, pasta or potato that is the starch and, in some cases, completes the protein without flesh food. The trick is to freeze what you’ve cooked, beforehand, or use pre-cooked packaged goodies from your supermarket or warehouse store.

The Rice: If you have rice you’ve prepared from scratch, previously, take the required amount from the freezer and heat in the microwave. Ah perfection…at the lowest price!

Uncle Ben’s has a brown rice that is available, at your supermarket, in a microwaveable bag. It cooks to perfection in 90 seconds in the microwave, and it’s healthy with no cook-time “pain.” It’s a good idea to throw this in the microwave before you toss the delicate vegetables into the veggie mix.

Costco carries Minsley 100% Organic Brown Rice that is another 90 second brown rice answer without hassle. The mouth feel is different so try each and see which you prefer. Hint: We prefer Brown Rice because of the health benefits, but Basmati or Jasmine adds a delicious, different slant. Hint: Below, see how to freeze rice, so that you end up with perfect rice, in the amount you need, without an extended defrost time.

If you haven’t had success freezing rice before, here’s the foolproof way to achieve perfect rice that is just like fresh made and will fool the most discriminating rice lover. Hint: When you’re cooking rice from scratch, it takes the same amount of time to cook 1 cup as it does to cook 10. So we cook 10!

Follow the directions on the bag or box, while doubling or tripling the recipe. When the rice is cooked, remove the pot from the stove and allow to cool, sufficiently, to place in a gallon-sized freezer bag. Now here’s the trick…

Place 3 to 5 scoops of rice in the bag. This depends on the size of the scoop. Squeeze out the air and flatten the rice so that it is no thicker than about a half-inch. If it’s thicker than this it will not break easily, which is the goal. You’ll soon determine the number of scoops that will fit the bag properly. Stack them in the freezer, just like bricks, one on top of the other. This takes very little room in the already-full freezer. When ready to serve, here’s the beauty of the preparation…

Break up the rice by gently knocking the bag on the counter or in your hand, before opening the bag. Take out the quantity of frozen rice that you wish to heat: any quantity will do, from 1 serving to the whole bag. Remove that amount from the bag and replace the bag to the freezer.

Place the frozen rice in a microwaveable bowl. Do not add water! The particles of ice that formed while the rice was freezing, a result of the moisture from the cooking, acts to provide the steam. Heat for 1 to 3 minutes, depending on your microwave power and the quantity of rice in the bowl. Lightly toss the steaming rice with a fork and heat again, until the rice is hot through and serve. Ahhh, perfect rice!

Asian

Use a wok for this masterpiece of Asian cookery!

Toss into the wok about a half-cup low-sodium soy or teriyaki sauce, a touch of ginger powder and a splash of Newman’s Own Sesame Ginger Dressing. Add more of the dressing if you love the taste of this delightful, light flavor. To this basic mix, add: Snap peas; kale or bok choy; water chestnuts; celery; green beans; shredded carrots; or other fresh veggies, such as green or red bell pepper, that will not wilt in the first round of stir-fry. Hint: If the sauce begins to cook away, add chicken or vegetable broth, as you go.

As these vegetables are softening, slice, and set aside, raw cabbage. Hint: This can be accomplished when slicing the cabbage for the salad. Just slice an extra amount and refrigerate in a bowl, covered in wet paper towel. Another trick is put the sliced cabbage in a bowl with a healthy amount of the sesame dressing, above, which will serve as an Asian slaw, the basis for an additional salad, or added to this stir-fry. It will stay fresh for 4 to 5 days! Packaged cabbage slaw will work, as well as the home sliced.

Broccoli, which gets mushy when cooked too long should be added along with the cabbage and tossed until both are just-tender. There is a wonderful array of Oriental or Asian Stir-Fry combos in the freezer section of your supermarket or Costco. We always have a huge bag of this frozen mixed wonder available at the flick of a finger. In fact, you can find fresh, bagged, Asian vegetable mix where the pre-washed, cut, and bagged veggies are located in the produce section. This is the time to throw a few handfuls into the wok to add to the variety.

As soon as the lighter weight veggies are added, combine 2 Tablespoons cornstarch to about 1-2 Tablespoons water and stir until the cornstarch is thoroughly dissolved. Make an indention in the center of the veggies in the wok so that you can see the liquid bubbling. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir, within the well you fashioned, until thickened. As soon as it starts thickening you want to start gently tossing this beautiful creation. It changes the runny sauce to a thick, shiny consistency just perfect to add to a bed of rice. Hint: If you like the flavor of a sweet bouquet, add a Tablespoon, or 2, of Orange Marmalade or Pineapple Jelly. Experiment to find the combo you prefer.

A great add-on to this lovely Asian one-dish meal is leftover grilled salmon or pre-cooked shrimp, right after you add the cabbage. Raw shrimp requires longer cook time so add just beforehand. When the shrimp curls and is opaque you know it’s cooked through. Grilled chicken, sliced or diced, is another choice protein to add. Of course, tofu, sliced beef or pork, will do the trick, as well. Hint: This is a basic approach. Try different vegetables. Also, as the starch, try something other than rice! A Taste of Thai Pad Thai Noodles is a boxed noodle dish in the Foreign Food aisle of your supermarket that is ready in 4 minutes in the microwave. Follow the directions and add to the wok at the end of the cook time. This Pad Thai noodle takes the place of the rice, while adding a touch of Thai flavor.

Enjoy!

Whet your appetite…we’re going Italian next.

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