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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Helpful Hints for Making Summer Cooking Easier

By Guest Blogger Tanja Ragonesi

There are a lot of moms out there who lead extremely busy lives and are simply worn out at the end of the day. Even those of us who normally love to cook and bake have days when the thought of even picking up a pot is exhausting. Add the summer heat, and no one is quite up for being Betty Crocker once mealtime comes around!

If you're too tired to cook, here are some solutions for you. Many convenience foods can be easily doctored up so that your meals taste like real home cooking — but involve far less effort. What's the secret? Cutting back on lengthy amounts of prep work and cooking time.

Here are some recommended shortcut strategies:

Eliminate slicing and dicing with packages of fresh or frozen vegetables that are already cleaned and chopped or shredded. Most frozen produce contains more vitamins than older fresh vegetables in the produce section as they are picked and frozen when they are perfectly ripe.

Take home a whole roasted chicken to make a quick chicken salad, burrito or wrap.
Use canned and dehydrated soups as tasty bases for heartier soups and stews –just check the sodium and fat contents. Many store bought soups are perfectly healthy while others are loaded with salt, fat and preservatives.

Let’s talk about breakfast. Everyone agrees, no one in your family should skip breakfast. According to nutritional experts, the “perfect breakfast” contains a whole grain, a source of protein (like egg, dairy, nuts or lean meat) and a fruit or vegetable. So a simple bowl of whole grain cereal with low-fat milk and fruit fits the bill perfectly. If you don't think you have time for even that, here are some other quick breakfast options you can try:

-A whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter and a juicy orange.
-A smoothie made with strawberries, milk, vanilla yogurt and a sprinkle of wheat germ. Make it the night before then just wake, shake and pour into a to-go cup.
-A hard boiled egg, some whole grain crackers and a peach.
-Half a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato.

After my last blog, some ladies have asked me to share some of my favorite “go to” recipes. When I find a new recipe that I really like, I keep it in a file so that it’s easy for me to find again. This is one of my favorite recipes for breakfast muffins from Ellie Krieger on

Breakfast Fig Muffins
• Cooking spray
• 1 cup chopped dried figs, plus 3 whole dried figs
• 1 1/2 cups bran cereal (recommended: All-Bran)
• 1 cup low fat milk
• 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 cup natural applesauce
• 1/2 cup honey
• 1/3 cup canola oil
• 2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
• 1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 12-capacity muffin pan with cooking spray. Thinly slice the whole figs.
In a large bowl, combine the cereal and milk. Let sit until softened, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the whole-wheat flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.
Add the applesauce, honey, oil, molasses, and egg to the cereal mixture and stir until combined. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently stir in the chopped figs. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and top each muffin with a fig slice. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of 1 of the muffins comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. If necessary, run a knife around the muffins to loosen. Unmold and cool completely on a rack.

Make a batch of these muffins on the weekend, then wrap them individually in waxed paper and freeze them in a sealable plastic bag. When you want a muffin all you have to do is take one out the night before to defrost at room temperature. Enjoy with your coffee as a perfect start to your day! I find that they are tastier and more moist than the average bran muffin, and the little fig slice on top makes them pretty – these would make a great treat to give to a friend! Enjoy!


Katie M said...

Great shortcut idea, Tanja! I am always dreading dinner time - especially in summer - and with swim team commitments right at dinner-making time. Thanks for providing this blog!

Anonymous said...

Great tips Tanja! I use frozen veggies all the time (I can't remember the last time I actually chopped an onion) and I love rotisserie chickens. I can usually turn one in to three easy meals for the family. I will have to try the figgy muffins. ~Lindsey

Sydney T said...

ALWAYS looking for new recipes! Thank you!!!!

christina said...

I am going to try this recipe! It looks like a perfect little breakfast muffin. Thank you for another great article!

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