At Home & Living
Sanity Saving Tips for Family Mealtime
Marti Miller Hall knows her way around the kitchen. The busy single mom of three girls has been sharing recipes on her popular blog for five years. She also works two jobs and makes it a priority to spend quality time with each of her children. How does she do it?
Seattle’s Child asked Hall and two other local mom food bloggers to share their top tips for saving time and money in the kitchen, plus a favorite family meal. All three women manage to balance family time, work and play with a passion for blogging about food.
OUR MOMMY FOODIE BLOGGER PANEL
Marti Miller Hall (aka Tofu Mom)
Blog: Tofu-n-Sproutz (www.tofu-n-sproutz.blogspot.com)
About: A lifelong vegetarian, Hall went vegan about six years ago, although she points out that her children still eat eggs and dairy as part of their vegetarian diet. Usually, though, they’re very happy to eat what mom buys and cooks.
Why She Blogs: “People kept asking me for recipes and I would say, ‘Sure, I’ll email it to you … Eventually, it just became more efficient to post them to a blog.”
Linda Miller Nicholson
Blog: Salty Seattle (www.saltyseattle.com)
About: The mother of a 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Nicholson spent years in the corporate world, then decided to make the move to blogging fulltime after the birth of her son, Bentley.
Why She Blogs: “Having a child distills what’s important to you … I wanted to spend my time doing what I am passionate about.”
Blog: Savory Sweet Life (www.savorysweetlife.com)
About: Currah worked in design and the food service industry before starting her blog after the birth of her third child, Eli, who is now 2. She also writes a weekly column for PBS Parent Kitchen Explorers.
Why She Blogs: “One night I was up nursing (Eli) in one hand and emailing with another and it really clicked … I love to cook, take photos, and design, so it gave me a chance to practice all the skills that I hadn’t been utilizing for a while. It was something I looked forward to each night.”
TIME SAVING TIPS
Use good equipment. All three moms enthusiastically agreed that having good tools was the key to cooking easier, faster meals for their families. “Good-quality tools and cooking utensils are worth the extra money. They will save so much time and money in the long run,” says Hall, who emphasizes that even on a tight budget, the right equipment has paid for itself over the years. “I have a high-quality, powerful food processor that’s easy to use and clean and has lasted me for years.” Nicholson agrees that the food processor is a must for parents with young kids. “It’s an especially usefully tool when you have kids in the kitchen with you. You don’t need to have knives out. It really can be used for everything from chopping vegetables to grating cheese.”
Currah suggests looking on Craigslist or at your local Goodwill for very inexpensive kitchen tools. She also swears by her pressure cooker: “I can make a beef stew or pot roast that would normally take hours in just 40 minutes in the pressure cooker. It saves me so much time.”
Get creative with leftovers. Take leftovers, such as a roast chicken and veggies or even a stew from earlier in the week, and wrap into puff pastry or crepes for an updated take on leftovers, suggests Nicholson.
Double up on your meals. If you are planning to make a soup or casserole, make two. You will put in the same amount of effort shopping, chopping and measuring, so make two night’s worth of dinner and freeze the other half for a dinner later in the month. The same goes for marinating, says Currah. If you buy two steaks, marinate them both, grill one and toss the other in the freezer.
Use your microwave. Currah uses the microwave to boil water faster than on the stove, cook eggs and melt chocolate for frostings. “It saves so much time,” she says. Currah even has a recipe for making salmon in the microwave on her blog. [FOR ONLINE VERSION: Link to “How to Microwave Salmon” http://savorysweetlife.com/2011/02/how-to-microwave-salmon/]
Use the settings on your kitchen gadgets. Hall invested in a high quality rice cooker with a timer. She often sets the rice cooker to start 40 minutes before she will arrive home from work or errands. She also uses her oven’s time-bake feature. In the morning before work, she will put in a tray of veggies or potatoes and set the oven to start baking them 30 minutes before she arrives home. “The meal is already half done when I walk in the door,” Hall says.
Prep ahead of time. “I will do a lot of cooking or prep on the weekends,” says Hall. “I will cook up a big pot of beans, and we will use them throughout the week in burritos and soups.”
MONEY SAVING TIPS
Use store flyers to meal plan. Both Currah and Hall plan their family’s meals using the sale flyer at the grocery store. “Even if you don’t coupon clip, you can still plan to go into your local grocery store and purchase meats and produce that are on special that week – and plan your meals that way,” says Currah. “It’s a great way to save on fish, beef, veggies and fruit and have variety.”
Buy bulk. “Buy from the bulk foods section; don’t pay for packaging,” says Currah, who buys most of her spices from the bulk food section of the grocery store. The same goes for many seeds, nuts and grains. And, when trying a new or exotic spice for a new recipe, you can buy only what you need, not a whole jar.
Shop at ethnic markets. Both Hall and Currah frequent Asian markets and neighborhood ethic grocery stores to get great deals on family staples. “Asian markets are one of my favorite places to stock up on tofu, soy milk, spices and veggies at a fraction of grocery store prices,” Hall says.
Shop with cash and coupons. Hall is a frequent user of the coupon website www.thecouponproject.com, which was created by a mom from Tacoma. She also only shops with cash to keep to her weekly grocery budget.
Buy in season. Stock up in the summer when farmers’ markets and chain grocery stores are selling fruits and veggies at low prices and freeze them for use in the winter when the same ingredients will cost much more.
Use whole foods. Although the Hall family doesn’t eat meat, which she acknowledges saves them money, she also avoids the high-cost vegan and vegetarian substitutes like veggie burgers and imitation chicken nuggets. “These are usually out of my budget, unless I have a great coupon.” Instead, Hall makes most dishes from scratch using whole – and often bulk – ingredients like beans, lentils, grains, nuts and veggies.
Recipes for Easy Summer Recipes
Super Easy Peanut Noodles
Courtesy of Marti Miller Hall and the Tofu-n-Sproutz blog
Hall recommends this because it is quick and versatile. You can use store bought peanut sauce, but even making your own with Hall’s recipe only takes a few minutes.
8 ounces noodles of your choice: Udon noodles, thin vermicelli noodles or spaghetti
2 cups of one of the following: cooked chicken, cubed tofu or stir fried vegetables such as string beans, snap peas, bell pepper, red onion and carrot (slice and cook in frying pan with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil for 5 minutes)
¼ cup chopped green onions (optional)
¼ cup chopped peanuts or cashews (optional)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
(You can substitute 1 ½ cups bottled peanut sauce)
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger root (Do not substitute dry ground ginger.)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut butter, any style
1 1/2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup or agave nectar (corn syrup works in a pinch)
1 to 2 teaspoons hot chili sauce (like Sriracha) or 1 teaspoon Tabasco
3 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice (may substitute red wine vinegar)
Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside, covering to keep warm. While noodles are cooking, combine broth, ginger, soy sauce, peanut butter, syrup, chili paste, lime juice and garlic in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until peanut butter melts and is heated through. (If you are using a jar of peanut sauce, empty contents into saucepan and heat through.) Add noodles and toss to coat. Mix in chicken, tofu or veggies. Spoon mixture into serving bowls. Top each bowl with a mixture of green onion, crushed nuts and cilantro. Serves four.
Artichoke Heart Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Puffs
Courtesy of Linda Miller Nicholson and the Salty Seattle blog
Nicholson says that you can substitute olives, chicken or other vegetables, depending on what you have at home. She adds: “I love this recipe because of its versatility. If you are really pressed for time, don’t bother with the muffin cups, just wrap the sheet of puff pastry around the filling and seal it like an envelope. This is a perfect recipe for kids to help with because you do not need to use a dangerous knife. Instead, everything gets tossed into the food processor by you and your little helper.”
12 sun-dried tomatoes
13.5 ounce can artichoke hearts
3 tablespoons pine nuts
¾ pound (12 ounces) mozzarella
2-3 tablespoons pesto (or to taste)
1 sheet puff pastry thawed in refrigerator
Preheat oven to 400°.
Place the sun-dried tomatoes in the food processor and pulse until chopped medium. Add the artichoke hearts and pine nuts and pulse for five more seconds. Remove this mixture to a medium bowl. Outfit the food processor with the shredding/cheese blade and shred the mozzarella. Add it to the bowl along with the pesto and stir mixture to combine.
Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator and cut it in half. Cut each half into fourths. Using a rolling pin (and perhaps a little flour if needed), roll each section into a close approximation of a square. You do not need to be exact; have fun with it. Tuck each square into the cup of a standard muffin tin and fill with a generous portion of mozzarella mixture. Pull all of the corners of the square together at the top and pinch the sides of the square together tightly so that your puffs don’t explode. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until well browned. Makes eight muffin-sized puffs. Serves four.
Strawberry Spinach Salad
Courtesy of Alice Currah and the Savory Sweet Life blog
This perfect summer salad easily doubles as an entrée. You can substitute bacon for leftover chicken or ham.
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons onion, chopped
2 tablespoons roasted yellow or black sesame seeds
10 cups baby spinach
1 pound strawberries, stems removed and sliced
1 cup cooked crumbled bacon
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
In a blender, add vinegar, olive oil, sugar, poppy seeds, paprika, and onion. Blend for 30 seconds. In a large bowl, toss spinach, strawberries, bacon, almonds, and feta cheese with the poppy seed dressing. Serves four.