The Organized Cook

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This week’s guest blogger is Jacki Rosen, professional chef. I interviewed her about how busy people can cook healthy food quickly and how they can organize their fridges and cooking schedules to make that happen. Jacki says, I love teaching people how to cook healthy. So many people think health food can’t taste good.

You can make a delicious healthy meal in 30 minutes if your kitchen is set up properly.

Spend a little time on the weekend preparing. Roast a chicken and a pan of vegetables. You can top pasta with one or both and also make sandwiches and salads from them all week. Cook a package of bacon and use it to add a burst of flavor to salads. Wash all your lettuce and store it carefully in a paper towel-lined bag in the fridge to keep it fresh.

Pasta is wonderful because you can put a lot of stuff in it. You’ll want to have grated cheese, some kind of sausage and butter on hand. No margarine! says Jacki. Butter and olive oil have nutrients in them, and you just need a small amount to add big flavor.

If you eat pasta more than once a week, cook the whole box, rinse it till its cold, then coat it thinly with olive oil so it doesn’t stick together. Then you can divide it into portions and store them in plastic bags. For dinner, heat up your toppings, dump in the pasta, sprinkle on the cheese and you’re set.

Speedy soup: Chop up an onion, a carrot and a celery stalk and saute them in olive oil till soft. Add a carton of stock. Cut up some of your roasted chicken and toss it in along with precooked pasta and a handful of herbs. Voila: hearty soup in 20 minutes.

Eggs are another easy go-to food to have on hand. An omelette with sausage or veggies or a little cheese is a simple, fast dinner. Bacon is a great fridge staple. Not only is it great with eggs, but it can be crumbled onto salads and pasta dishes. Nuts are equally versatile, adding tasty protein to salads, pasta and veggie dishes. Toast them quickly in a frying pan until they smell nutty.

A baked potato is a nice easy dinner; just add butter and some crumbled bacon and serve with a green salad topped with toasted nuts.

For breakfast, cook several days worth of oatmeal at a time. Spend 20 minutes making a simple compote with apples or other fruit. Now you’ve got fancy breakfast makings.

Fun time saving tip: peel your carrots and then keep using the peeler to add carrot shavings to your salad. No need to switch to a knife or a grater.

Jacki works with clients to develop a repertoire of recipes they can cycle through, based on the time they have to cook and their eating preferences. She suggests getting family members involved. Many hands make light work. Even if you don’t have help, start thinking of cooking well as taking care of your body and rewarding it for serving you well. It runs better and more effectively on quality fuel.

Seeing that good food helps remind you to eat it, so keep it visible! Most fruit can be stored in a bowl on the counter. Some, like strawberries, get moldy fast in the fridge. Zucchini and tomatoes also fare better outside the fridge.

The staples: onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, salad greens, nuts, eggs, fruit, bacon or sausage, broth, canned tomatoes, canned beans, pasta, butter, olive oil, herbs. Olives and roasted peppers keep almost indefinitely and add lots of flavor to pasta dishes.

Keep your refrigerator lean and clean it out regularly. Make a point of using what’s in there and if you don’t, don’t buy it anymore. This goes for cabinets too. Many homes have deep kitchen cabinets and five year old cans of soup get lost in the back.

Try the professional kitchen trick of putting your new purchases at the back of the cabinet so the oldest stock is always in front. Again, if you find you’re not using it, get rid of it instead of pushing it to the back. Unopened jars and canned goods are donate-able. To avoid that in the future, shop with a list.

I told Jacki, so the great news is that you don’t have to become Julia Child to eat well at home quickly. Jacki responded, you can bet that Julia Child did not make fancy French cuisine every night! She more likely said, there are mushrooms and onions and eggs. I can make an omelette! Hurray, I’m happy!

Final comments, Jacki? “I just want everyone to cook one thing. Cooking one thing is better than no things. If you cook for yourself, you feel better and if you feel better, you look better.”

Jacki Rosen has been cooking her entire life but started cooking officially in 1993 when she went to the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of America, not the other one). She’s cooked for fine dining restaurants, for catering companies and has taught cooking at college and through private companies. You can learn more on her website here: www.jackirosen.com and reach her at jacki@jackirosen.com.