Sunday, January 31, 2010

Healthful and convenient for less than fast food

I admit it.  Sometimes I am guilty of allowing lack of planning on my part to result in fast food runs for my family's dinner.  And while I may make somewhat healthier choices from the limited ones on the menu, the same cannot be said for the rest of the family for various allergy or preferential reasons.  The only thing R can have from a fast food joint is a plain burger, no bun, and plain fruit.  Good thing the girls are such huge veggie eaters.  However, since I've spent the last six months losing 40 pounds and 25 inches, I am now trying to do better at filling my role as health caretaker of the family.  This does not have to rule out convenience or budget either.  Case in point:  the average cost of a fast food run for our family of four generally averaged out at $18.00.  Yikes.  And that stuff certainly is not good for you.  The meal I made tonight cost about $13.50 though I could have added another sausage for another $1.50 ish.  (I had leftover sausage for lunch so didn't feel like it tonight.)

So for the convenience part...  Take advantage of your grocery options.  I happened to make a run to Whole Foods, which isn't the cheapest place, but has so many allergen free options for the girls.  The whole of this meal came from there and still was only $3.75 a serving.  That's not too bad.  So I grabbed a couple of their wonderful mild italian pork sausages which they make right there and have no preservatives or fillers or unpronounceable ingredients.  And they are really good too!  My hubby actually requested them for a second time this week and he is very picky about his sausage.  Plus there is no corn syrup or dextrose in these, which prohibits R from having commercial sausage and meat products for the most part.  I also grabbed a pack of grill veggies:  assorted veggies, canola oil, salt, pepper, parsley, rosemary, basil; all grilled up.  And to add some more green, a lovely spinach, strawberry and goat cheese salad with slivered almonds.  Raspberry vinaigrette: olive/canola oil, raspberry vinegar, orange juice, chives, salt, pepper.  Nothing bad in there either!

Now for the homemade touch.  Cottage fries.  So easy.  And you can prep ahead for later too if you like.  Not a lot of hands on really; you don't have to stand over the stove minding these guys.  I stuck the spuds in to boil for 15 minutes when I got home from the store and then left them on the counter in a towel to cool.  You can cook them ahead and keep them in the fridge for a day or so too.  I like to use small to medium yukon gold potatoes because they brown beautifully and hold together very well.  It is possible to do cottage fries without precooking the potato, but it's a pain and takes much longer.  It only takes a minute to fill a saucepan with water, toss them in and set the timer.  Then you can unload groceries or the dryer or do some bookwork or anything.  Do let them cool a bit before trying to cut them up though, because cutting hot potatoes can be painful without mitts.  Plus they hold together better when cooled.  I only used four medium spuds for us tonight because I am still watching the carbs a bit and was only going to be picking and nibbling.

Cottage Fries

Yukon gold potatoes (1½ - 2 medium spuds per person)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil (garlic oil is good!)
2-3 Tbsp butter
½ medium onion or a few green onions, chopped (either is delicious; the regular onions are somewhat sweeter while the green onions add color)
salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes whole until tender, about 15 minutes or so.  Let them cool before cutting into large chunks.  Melt the butter and oil together in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and potatoes and toss to coat.  You can season them with fresh ground pepper and salt now if you wish.  Now leave them be for five minutes or so.  Don't stir.  Don't mess with them.  Just let them get some beautiful color on one side.  Now take a spatula and start flipping them.  Brown the other side and double check your seasoning.  You can do this all on medium low and just take a bit longer if you are afraid of burning the spuds.  They will hold beautifully on low while the rest of dinner or breakfast or brunch gets finished as well.  But don't expect any leftovers afterwards!

You see them on the top at the toss with the oil and butter point.  You don't have to keep flipping them or messing around.  We're not making mashed potatoes here.  If you leave them alone, you will have a nice crispy golden crust when you flip and it will only take one or two flips to get them all nicely browned.  And you may go as dark as you prefer.  The nice thing about boiling them ahead is no matter how lightly you brown them, they will still be soft and creamy on the inside.  I can't abide a half raw country fry.  Not counting the boiling, which you can (and I did) do ahead, these spuds and the sausages take maybe 20 minutes to finish up.  That's just as long as it takes to run to a fast food joint and back.  And you aren't going to screw up the order.

So there you have it.  It is possible to come up with dinner with almost as much convenience, certainly better nutrition, and actually less money than fast food.  More dirty dishes but less garbage.  Boy, now that I've said it, I have no more excuses.  Wish me luck with the ongoing planning!

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