Beautiful gift baskets filled with gourmet foods and snacks
School is underway for many families, including ours. While we enjoy
sandwiches for lunch and even appreciate the occasional fast-food burrito, we also like the money savings and nutritional improvement that comes from taking one's lunch to class and work.
Kurt attends graduate school a two-hour drive from home. This means that Cooking Ahead is his primary opportunity for good, nutritious food during the academic year.
While he will eat almost anything, he has discovered that homemade soups are a tasty and healthy alternative to drive-through fast food.
Soup is a natural for Cooking Ahead. Most soup recipes are not harmed by advanced cooking and repeated re-heating. Soups also travel well in insulated containers or leak proof plastic containers.
The ubiquitous microwave oven makes taking soup for lunch a more convenient alternative to sandwiches. Kurt is fortunate to have one at the school he can use, but he has also been seen popping a bowl of his favorite black bean soup in a convenience store microwave. (He usually purchases a beverage from the store so they don't mind him heating the soup.)
We want to share a few of our favorite Cooking Ahead soup tips.
Many soup recipes call for either a vegetable, chicken or beef stock. Even those recipes that call for water can be improved by the use of a flavorful homemade stock. If you don't have the time for inclination to make your own stock, you can use the canned variety. Another option is the use of soup bases which can normally be found at well-stocked supermarkets or at professional or commercial cooking stores.
We toss the ends of celery, carrots and onions trimmed for other recipes in a plastic freezer bag and keep the odds and ends frozen for use in stock. Another bag contains chicken necks, backs and wings for chicken stock. Yet a different bag holds beef bones for our beef stock.
When we're ready to make stock, we grab the appropriate bags, add a bay leaf, fresh ground black pepper and a bit of salt to our pot of water, bring the liquid to boil and turn it down low for a long simmer.
One of our standard tricks is to buy three or four whole chickens on sale and come home and turn them into cooked chicken meat and stock. This gives us chicken for quick cooking casseroles and stock for soups.
When looking for easy-to-prepare soup recipes, look for the use of canned or frozen ingredients. For example, Kurt's favorite bean soup recipe uses canned black beans and tomatoes (recipe follows). This soup goes together in very little time, freezes well and is inexpensive. Oh, it is also low in fat and nutritious.
When taking soups to school or work, remember to add special condiments or sides in the lunch bag. A couple of flour tortillas and a dab of sour cream are great with the black bean soup. Crackers, cheese, fruit and hearty breads also help turn soup into a meal.
2 packages chicken breasts without skin -- boneless
1 cup onion -- chopped
1 medium green pepper -- chopped
2 cloves garlic -- minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cans stewed tomatoes -- 14 1/2 ounces each
2 cans beans -- ranch style
1 can chicken broth (or homemade chicken broth)
1/3 cup picante sauce -- mild
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Cut chicken in one-inch bite-sized pieces. Cook in oil along with the onion, pepper and garlic until chicken is done.
Add remaining ingredients and simmer in crock pot as long as you want or on stove top for at least two hours.
Top with (optional) shredded cheese, green onions, avocado, totilla chips, sour cream, picante sauce, and black olives.
NOTES : Top with (optional) shredded cheese, green onions, avocado, totilla chips, sour cream, picante sauce, and black olives.
Yields: 12 servings
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Editor's Note: This will be the last installment of the Cooking Ahead column. I hope you will join me in wishing Charla and Kurt the best of luck in the exciting opportunities awaiting them. Please refer to the archives to view previous Cooking Ahead columns.