Friday, January 20, 2012

Food fixer-uppers.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve packed up my family and moved 2600 miles to Maryland. Although things have gone fairly smoothly, eating well is always an issue when I’m on the go. Between packing, moving, and unpacking, I’ve had to get creative in order to put together nutritious and at least marginally ethical meals. I hope these food fixes will come in handy anytime you lack access to a complete kitchen!

My first fixer-upper was canned soup I found at Trader Joe’s. To give it a nutritional boost, I added chopped kale and sardines. Sardines are very mild; we hardly noticed they were there! Sardines are a great source of protein and omega-3 fats and are not a mercury concern for pregnant ladies like me. The kale was conventionally grown, but that’s the only kind TJs carries. The soup took less than 10 minutes to cook and made a hearty lunch for two people.

Black bean soup with a boost

Cooking implements required:
- Can opener
- Medium pot, preferably non-stick
- Spoon

- 2 cans of Trader Joe’s organic black bean soup (vegan)
- 1 can of Trader Joe’s skinless and boneless sardines in olive oil
- ½ bag of Trader Joe’s chopped kale

1. Drip oil from the sardines into the pot and warm over medium-high heat.
2. Add the kale and saute for several minutes.
2. Add black bean soup and mix well.
3. Break up the sardines with a fork and stir into the soup.
4. Heat through and enjoy!

Frozen, fixed-up

When we actually got to Maryland, eating got even harder because all our stuff was with the movers! Our first night, it was off to Safeway to see what we could find. Lucky for us, a microwave was all we needed to have a fairly healthy dinner. We each picked out an Amy’s Organic frozen entrée, which come in many meat, dairy, and gluten free varieties. We also picked up a frozen steamer bag of (conventional) Brussels spouts. We didn’t even have to cut the bag; it cooked up perfectly in the microwave. Fresh, homemade food is better than processed frozen dinners, but this meal was a much better choice for us than picking up a pizza or other fast food.

Nuked nutrients

Later, we found a Whole Foods only a short drive from our new place. I’d never shopped at Whole Foods before although I’d heard many good things. In fact, Whole Foods is the only grocery store that has committed to working with the Campaign for Fair Food that I discussed in my post on farm worker treatment. As an ethical eater, I was most impressed by the amount of information that Whole Foods provides. In the produce section, each product is marked with its state of origin (or country if it’s imported) and whether it was grown organically or conventionally. Local produce even has the name of the farm and the miles the food traveled. Local and organic produce was scarce, which may simply be due to the cold temperatures. I would always prefer to purchase seasonal, organic produce from a local farm via a farmers market or CSA, but it’s nice to have a good back-up, available 7 days a week! The more I learn about nutrition, the more clear it becomes that eating lots vegetables is the key to good health. Sustainability is important, but I wouldn’t sacrifice the nutrition I get from veggies if seasonal, organic produce is unavailable.

We were able to get a good variety of organic fresh produce at Whole Foods. But again, with few cooking implements available to us, we had to get creative. Luckily, many fresh veggies can be steamed or baked in the microwave. Adding steamed veggies is a great way to add vitamins to any meal.

Microwaving broccoli requires a knife, unless you can find a bag of chopped broccoli (Whole Foods and TJs offer organic versions). You will also need a small casserole dish with a lid or, in a pinch, a small bowl and a plate large enough to cover it.

1. Chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces.
2. Place broccoli into microwave-safe casserole dish or bowl. Add about a teaspoon of water. Cover with lid or plate.
3. Microwave on high for 3 minutes for a regular-sized bowl.

Microwaving sweet potatoes is even easier. All you need is a fork!

1. Pierce two potatoes several times each with a fork.
2. Cover with a paper towel (not strictly necessary).
3. Microwave for 5-6 minutes for medium-sized potatoes (about 6 inches long). You may have to experiment a bit with your microwave to get it just right. They are done when you can easily slide the fork in and out of the potato.

Single-skillet tacos.

Over the weekend, some awesome friends lent us a few kitchen essentials so we were finally able to cook a real meal. They also gave us grass-fed ground beef from a nearby farm (seriously awesome friends!). We had only one skillet, one knife, and a mixing bowl, but we were able to put together skillet tacos from some more ingredients we bought at Whole Foods. We were able to find organic refried black beans without any added vegetable oil, and we opted for pre-cut (conventional) veggies. We also added organic curly (also called dino) kale for extra nutrients.

Cooking implements required:
- Can opener
- Skillet
- Spatula or spoon
- Knife (if using avocado)

- 1.5 lbs grass-fed, pasture-raised, happy cow ground beef
- Organic black beans (refried or whole)
- 2-3 cups sliced veggies (such as bell pepper, onions, squash, or zucchini)
- ½ bunch of curly kale
- Organic corn taco shells or corn chips (optional)
- Amy’s organic salsa
- Taco seasoning mix

1. Rinse kale. I especially like using curly kale because you don’t even need a knife to work with it. Pull the leaves off the stems, and rip any large leaves into smaller pieces.
2. In large skillet over medium-high heat, break up ground beef and begin to sauté. When the meat has cooked to pinkish, add the taco seasoning mix and stir well.
3. Add kale and sliced veggies. If you have a smaller skillet, add the veggies slowly allowing them to cook down to preserve space before adding more.
4. When the meat is fully cooked (no pink) and the veggies are crisp-tender, remove from heat.
5. Microwave the beans, if you prefer them hot. The easiest way to do this is to spoon the beans into the bowls you will be eating from and nuke those.
6. Break up the taco shells or chips over the beans (if desired). Add the meat and veggie mixture. Top with salsa and avocado, to taste.

These tacos were a big hit. We had more meat and kale than we actually needed for 4 dinner servings, so we added the mixture to take-out veggie bowls from Chipotle. We also added the leftover kale to various meals throughout the week. It’s pretty tasty raw and goes well in scrambled eggs or with lentils. Just one cup of chopped kale has over 200% of your RDA of Vitamin A, 134% of your Vitamin C, 684% of you Vitamin K, and is high in folate, B-vitamins, manganese, copper, potassium, and calcium. It also has 2g of protein and 1g of fiber. (Read more about this awesome vegetable here.)

Moving, traveling, a busted pipe, or a broken stove… Many things can take you out of your normal cooking routine. Even so, there are easy ways of preparing healthy nutritious food. I hope this post helps you navigate these tricky situations in the future. Get creative, and get cooking!