Easing into Meal Prepping: Lean and Mean Stuffed Red Peppers

I am always trying to learn new ways to do things and cooking is no exception. For some time I have seen the idea of weekly meal preps floating around and have been a little apprehensive to give it a try. I don’t know why really. I suppose that it seems to me that I really enjoy cooking and doing the whole weeks cooking all on one designated day or two days seemed sad to me. Like skipping my favorite class in school or something. So I’ve trudged along, seeing the meal prep hype grow and kept my nose to the grindstone with my daily routine of cooking.

Then one day on my second or third (or was it my fifth?) batch of dishes I realized that cooking I love, but dishes I hate. And I make a lot of dishes cooking three meals and experimenting with other dishes in between. Plus extra dishes for photos and such…I think I spend more time at the sink than the stove. So in an effort to free up some time I decided to give weekly meal prepping a try mainly to reduce dish washing to a few days a week.

The verdict? I have to say that it is super nice to only wash a couple plates and forks most nights. Plus there is no rush to get lunches ready in the morning. Food is ready in minutes so there is never a urge to resort to convenience food. Plus its pretty darn easy to plan what I’m making, shop for the week and then come straight home and cook and package it for the week. Portion control is easily managed too since portions can be measured, weighed and stored in perfect individual sizes, like customized (and much healthier) Lean Cuisines.

I will admit that I did miss my daily play time in the kitchen so I do still tinker in the kitchen almost daily. I’m still amending the process to fit my style and I am finding that I enjoy pre-making breakfast and lunches so I only have to do those prep dishes once a week. I also enjoy making some dinners to have on hand such as these handy Lean and Mean Stuffed Red Peppers. They are versatile and can be filled with veggies, grains and beans or whatever you may have on hand to stuff in them. Perhaps the best part is that you can make a lot a once. They taste equally as great reheated, can even be frozen and can be morphed into any sort of flavor you may be craving by tweaking the seasonings.

I’m no meal prep die-hard, but I have learned to appreciate its best qualities and I’m also learning how to make it work for me to add more value to my quality of life. And doing less dishes certainly makes me happier therefor it’s reason enough for me to keep on experimenting with meal prepping. I especially find it helpful to cook a large pot of beans, a large batch of rice, and wash, prep and chop most of our veggies for the week. This way the items that take a while to cook (beans and rice) are always ready and can be heated and seasoned with some precut veggies in only a few minutes. It’s like instant meals. Almost heat and eat. That’s why this recipe features precooked rice.

A final word about meal prepping: Give it a try by at least starting small. Instead of cooking ALL the meals for the week, begin by prepping all of your ingredients for the week. Fill your fridge with veggies that are washed and chopped and precooked grains and proteins. You will save time and hassle during the week and even save some dollars on those convenience foods found at the supermarket. After you get the hang of ingredient prepping, try pre-cooking breakfasts and lunches for the family. Imagine waking up each morning and breakfast only needs to be heated and lunches only need to be pulled from the fridge and bagged. Brilliant! Then try venturing into making a few dishes you can have later in the week like these tasty peppers.  Customize them to your hearts desire and enjoy a night of low-key kitchen work.

 

Stuffed Red Peppers

Prep Time: 15 mins

Cook Time: 25 mins

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 8 red bell peppers cut vertically, stem and seeds removed
  • 1 1/2 cups precooked rice of your choice (wild rice is especially tasty)
  • 1 package tempeh, crumbled
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup of chopped mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450F

Cut parchment paper to fit the bottom of a 13×9 glass pan. Place your pepper halves, cut side up, in the pan so that they are not touching each other or the sides of the dish. Set aside

In a skillet over medium high heat, add a few tablespoons of water. Whisk the tomato paste into the water until dissolved.

Add the crumbled tempeh, onions and mushrooms and simmer 3-5 minutes or until the veggies begin to soften.

Stir in the precooked rice.

Add the garlic, cumin, poultry seasoning and salt and pepper to your taste. Stir well to incorporate and simmer 5 more minutes adding a bit more water if needed so that the mixture does not cook dry.

Remove the skillet from the heat and begin scooping spoonfuls of the mixture into the pepper shells until they are evenly filled and slightly heaping with filling.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the peppers have softened and are beginning to brown in places.

Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

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Our Healthy Labor Day Cookout!

The difference between a healthy lifestyle and a diet is sustainability. ‘Diets’ in the trendy catchphrase sense is a sort term thing you try and stick to in order to achieve a desired outcome. Once that outcome is achieved, or you grow tired of the diet, you go off a diet. This is why I encourage healthy lifestyles, where you eat as healthy as yyou can, as often as you can.
Many people take that advice to mean ‘eat healthy normal meals during the week and any other average day but then you’re free to go as far off the ‘healthy’ reservation as you like on weekends or holidays’. They think by doing this they are following the 80/20 rule of eating great 80% of the time and being able to eat freely 20% of the time. In reality thats not what is actually happening. This is NOT what I mean by eat as healthy as you can as often as you can!
Of course, I’m not advising that you never stray from healthy, but lets be real. It’s almost always someones birthday, a holiday, a special occasion, or a weekend. You know how it is. Have you ever made it through a week at work without some sort of danish, cake or other nutritionally devoid temptress showing up in the break room? It seems to always be time to celebrate and treat yourself ‘just this once’.

Lets look at weekends. Lots of folks eat great all week and then allow themselves the freedom to eat and drink as they like all weekend, because it’s 2 days of unhealthy up against 5 days of healthy. You should come out okay, right? I used to believe this too, and although 5 days of eating great are better than 7 of straight junk food I quickly realized I wasn’t really getting lean or fit like I wanted. In fact, my weight was just gradually climbing (maybe a pound every few months). At the end of year this could easily add up to 5-10 lbs. But why?
Well, lets use this month as an example. In September 2013 there were 9 weekend days and 21 weekdays. So assuming you eat great Monday through Friday and have a free for all Saturday and Sunday this means that roughly 66% of the time you are eating well but a whopping 33% isn’t healthy. Since weekends fly by so quickly is easy to forget that they actually make up a large part of our month. Also keep in mind that for many of us, including me, the weekend starts on Friday. Lunch out with coworker, happy hour, fried foods, dinner out…whatever the case, Fridays usually become a mini celebration to announce the weekends arrival. Assuming you lump Fridays in with the weekend we are talking about 17 ‘weekdays’ of healthy eating and 13 ‘weekends’ of letting loose.
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Now we think were following the 80/20 rule but its really more like the 50/50 rule…Errrr, you begin to seee the problem. We have almost cheated oursleves into eating great only about 50 % of the time. I’m sure once you factor in those coworker birthdays, anniversary dinners and monthly holidays it really is about 50/50. No wonder it’s hard to see results if your trying to improve your wieght or fitness!
It might also be worth mentioning that losing weight and building muscle requires proper nutrition (no suprise there). You may have heard to lose a pound of fat you must create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. (Although it is not just a simple as calories in vs. calories out since all foods are not equally as nutritious but thats a subject for whole other post) The same is also true to gain  a pound of fat. It is relatively easy to make an effort to eat better. If you eat clean food instead of processed junk you are likely cutting the target 500 calories from your diet a day automatically. So from Monday through Thursday you have created a deficit of 2,000 so far this week and you are well on your way to losing a pound! Good for you! But Friday rolls around and you go out with friends for drinks and dinner and easily consume an extra 2,000-3,000 calories. Your Friday night outing just offset your weeks worth of progress so far. Depending on what you consume or how many MORE times you go out the rest of the weekend, you are likely back to a calorie surplus and on your way to gaining a pound this week. So sad after all that hard work during the beginning of the week. If this is you (like it was me) then stop the micro-yoyoing right now. Eat great all the time! Going out for dinner? Fine! But make smart choices, and don’t abandon your hard work!
This is why I don’t like diets. Your either on them or off them and that isn’t realistic. Even with the 80/20 rule people end up justifying eating as terrible as they want because its the weekend or whatever fill in the blank even comes along. Thats why I say eat as well as you can as often as you can, but do not take any reason as an excuse to have cheese fries because there are far too many opportunities to eat yourself out of your progress.

Its better to find ways to enjoy holidays and celebrations in a healthier way. For Labor day this year we decided to have a cookout like so many Americans love to do on this day. We fired up the grill and filled it with a feast of grilled portobellos, bell peppers, hatch chilis, onions, roasted corn (my favorite!), smoked tempeh and tasty meatless brats. It was all delicious, consistent with what we wanted to do for the holiday, and also consistent with our health lifestyle. It felt like a feast and it was! But it was made up of all kinds of good-for-us eats.

LaborDayCocktails
In the blender I whipped up a mixture of unsweetened cranberry apple juice and fresh strawberries. I added some vodka to make a tasty adult beverage. It was so yummy! Like spiked strawberry lemonade. I also made sure not to skip my workout just because it was a holiday. Keeping on track made for a truly happy holiday! Keep this in mind and try and find ways to create healthy ways to celebrate the endless stream of life’s celebrations! A year from now your waistline will thank you!

Lemony Lentils

Lentils are the ultimate superfood in my book. They are nutritional powerhouses with virtually no fat, slow release energy to keep you fuller longer, and they rank 3rd highest on the legume protein source list (source). Those are some of the many reason you should love lentils too (if you would like more reasons check out this article).

But if being a superfood isn’t enough reason to love lentils, consider some additional facts that make me love them.

They are tasty and versatile. They naturally have a mild nutty flavor that become velvety the longer they cook. They also do a great job of taking on flavors well, and compliment many types of cuisine.

They are readily available. So many times its easy to read deliciously looking recipes with ingredients you haven’t heard of or simply can’t find at your local market. Not so with lentils. Even most ethnic grocery stores stock lentils. They also come any a few colors too, so keep your eyes out for variety.

They are extremely affordable. An average prepackaged pound bag costs about a dollar or two around here. Have a bulk food section? Then you may be able to score them for less than $1 a pound!

They cook faster than other legumes. Most beans take some soaking and an hour or so of cooking time (unless you own a pressure cooker). Not so with lentils. I do still take time to sort through them to make sure there are no rocks or debris, but them a quick rinse and they are ready to cook. Short on time? Don’t worry. Lentils usually cook in about 20 minutes.

So why aren’t they a staple in your home yet? Give them a try and they will be. Here is a super simple and delicious recipe to try out. I loosely call it a recipe since its only has a few ingredients. Lemony Lentils are so tasty and fun to say (try saying it 3 times fast!). If this is your first try with lentils then be sure to try a few plain, before adding the lemon and herbs. Then you can learn how beautiful their natural taste is so you can let your mind run wild in ways you would like to try them seasoned next time.

Lemony Lentils

by Vegucated Kitchen

Cook Time: 20-30 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • zest of 1/2 of one lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon of summer herbs of your choice (I used Thyme, lemon balm, and basil)
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

In a medium sauce pan combine the lentils (sorted, rinsed and drained) with the vegetable broth.

Bring to a boil over medium high heat.

Reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pan with an ajar lid to prevent boil over.

Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Remove the lid, add lemon zest, lemon juice, and herbs. Add salt to taste.

Stir to combine and serve warm.

Also makes a tasty cold salad after spending the night in the refrigerator.

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Chili Lime Tempeh Steak Fiesta Dinner

Late summer has me in a party mood. Naturally I think of full blown fiesta complete with a piñata and cervezas. These simple Chili Lime Tempeh Steaks are a lovely centerpiece on fiesta dinner plate. Pair them with your favorite latin rice and beans and top them with a generous scoop of homemade pico de gallo and you’re ready to party. You could also easily grill them for a smokey barbecue flavor.

Whether you’re throwing a party for friends or just enjoying a weeknight dinner at home, these tasty steaks with liven up the party.

Chili Lime Tempeh Steaks

by Vegucated Kitchen

Ingredients

    For Tempeh Steaks

    • 1 pkg. Tempeh, cut in half short ways, then horizontally making 4 steaks
    • olive oil
    • juice of 1 lime
    • 1 teaspoon chili powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
    • salt to taste

    For Pico de Gallo

    • tomato, diced
    • onion, diced
    • jalapeño, seeded and diced
    • cilantro, finely chopped
    • juice of 1 lime
    • salt to taste

    Instructions

    Begin by combining the pico de gallo ingredients in a bowl. Stir to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

    In a large cast iron skillet heat oil over medium high heat.

    Carefully add the tempeh steaks to the pan in a single layer. Allow to brown for about 2 minutes. Flip to second side.

    Squeeze half of the lime juice over the steaks.

    Sprinkle about half of the chili powder, cumin and salt over the steaks, and allow to cook 4-5 minutes until golden brown.

    Flip again, back to the first side. Squeeze second half of lime over the steaks and sprinkle with the remaining seasoning.

    Continue to cook about 2-3 minutes until golden.

    Carefully remove from the pan and divide steaks onto plates allowing 2 per person.

    Spoon the chilled pico de gallo over the steaks and serve immediately with your favorite latin rice and beans.

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    Best of Summer- Plant Based Salad Dressings Recipe Round-up

    Summertime always leaves me craving a daily does of raw veggies. Whether it’s a green leaf salad or raw veggie sticks, they make the perfect healthy cool down. To avoid boredom from eating the same veggies day in and day out, especially with my summer garden in full swing production, I like to keep a jar or two of my favorite homemade salad dressings on hand in the fridge. Some of these recipes I come up with on my own, but I also adore some other blogger’s inventions. Here are some of my favorites that always make me drool! Try them all and then let me know what you think. With these tasty drizzles ready to go in your fridge, you will be guaranteed to  scarf down some extra veggies! Continue reading

    Spinach & Mushroom Quesadillas

    Sometimes a girl just needs a touch of comfort food, and for me comfort food often involves tortillas. This is kind of sneaky comfort, though, since the tortilla is made of brown rice. Try whatever kind of healthy tortilla strikes your fancy such as whole wheat, spelt, or sprouted grain.

    More nice than naughty, these quesadillas are also loaded with a simple blend of spinach, mushrooms, onions and garlic. My mouth is now watering from just typing ‘spinach, mushrooms, onions and garlic’. Oh my!

    Then, I held it all together with a quesadilla sauce made from soy milk and nutritional yeast. It’s ooey and gooey and so lip smacking! Plate it up with some pico de gallo and guacamole and you have a delectable fiesta. Continue reading

    Obsessively Delicious Kale Chips

    Forgive me for not getting a Kale Chips recipe out there sooner. It’s just that I couldn’t stop eating them long enough to take the photo. Seriously. Not kidding.

    I stumbled upon my first kale chips when the nice folks at Rhythm Superfoods handed me a sample of their wonderufully tasty chips. It was love at first chip. I bought a couple bags that day, and many more on subsequent grocery trips but I ran into a few problems with this newfound love. First, I couldn’t always find the chips since they were only carried at the specrialty foods store I went to sometimes, or they were sold out since they were quickly popular. Second, they come in tiny bags that I could gobble through before I made it home with them. Third, I could no longer afford to buy all these tiny bags that I was going to have to hoard in order to keep myself supplied. So, like any desprate junkie, I improvised.

    Thanks to the glories of Pinterest there are many kale chip recipes floating around and I can tell you I have tried them all. There are ones you cook fast, and ones you cook very slow, or even in a dehydrator. There are ones coated in a seasoning that’s baked onto the chip for added crunch and flavors, and plain ones with just olive oil and salt. After all my adventures experimenting, I’ve still never met a kale chip I didn’t love. This is why there were no pictures to share with you all for so long.

    The plain kale ships are tasty, but I try and avoid oil whenever I can, so I steer away from those. I really adore the coated kind since they seem even more substantial and flavorful. I can also make them without oil by basically dehydrating the kale and the coating in a low temp oven resulting in a crispy, airy, guiltless flavor explosion. There many flavor verions of the coated kale chip variety out there and they all make a lovely flavor. Here I gave you my favorite basic recipe with an optional seasoning as the final ingredient. This way you can add whatever strikes your fancy. My favorite seasining is cayanne pepper since it results in a kale chip with a zesty kick. It reminds me of nacho cheddar that way. Curry ones are also my second favorite, followed by ranch.

    In order to work though my shortcomings getting out a kale chip recipe, I decided to make a double batch. I would make the first batch, eat as much as I wanted (they do fill you up very quickly and suprisingly since they are so nutritious!). That way I would be full enough to leave the second batch alone long enough to photograph. And it worked! Here are my kale chips and how you can make yourself a big bowl of them too! Enjoy!

    **Please note that this is NOT Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chip recipe. This is only my version based on their original product. I am grateful to them for introducing me to such a healthy, tasty treat. Please check out their products and buy many bags of their Kale chips when you can. Whenever you cannot seem to get your hands on any of theirs use this recipe to get you through the rough patch.

    Obsessively Delicious Kale Chips

    by Vegucated Kitchen

    Ingredients

    • 1 bunch of Kale (about 6-8 stalks)
    • 1/2 c. cashews soaked
    • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
    • 2-3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
    • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon tumeric
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon seasoning of your choice (cayenne pepper, garlic powder, curry, etc)

    Instructions

    Preheat the oven to 200F

    Clean and thoroughly dry the kale.

    Remove the stalks from the kale and discard.

    Tear the leaves into chip sized pieces (approximately 3-4 inch pieces).

    Line a baking sheet with parchment, and set aside.

    In a food processor or blender combine all of the ingredients except the kale. Process until smooth and creamy. Adjust seasoning as needed.

    In a large bowl pour the dressing over the kale pieces and massage into the leaves being sure to coat each pieces completely and as evenly as possible.

    Spread the coated leaves into a single layer on the baking sheet.

    Place in the oven and allow to dry out completely until the pieces are light, airy and crispy, about 45 minutes. You can turn them over after about 30 minutes.

    Check them every 15 minutes, more often toward the end of the cooking time, to ensure that they do not burn. Snag the smaller pieces to taste straight from the oven since the smaller ones are ready sooner.

    Remove the chips from the sheet as they are ready and return the ones that need to cook longer to the oven. After about 45 minutes they should all be done.

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