Seven simple steps to swap ready-meals for home cooking

Horse meat and veterinary tranquilizers found in UK supermarket frozen beef burgers and beef Bolognese!  

This scandal in the food production chain this week has sparked a massive investigation in the UK, Ireland and Europe.  Somehow, I feel that this may just be the tip of the iceberg; I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we hear of other ready meals and processed foods being contaminated.

Unfortunately, Britain and other Western countries have become heavy users of ready-meals and ready-to-eat snacks and processed foods.  In the race to produce the lowest costing food to make maximum profit and to feed the needs of millions of people on a low income, cheap microwave dinners have become great sellers. 

In this blog I will show you seven easy meals that you can make at home with simple, in season ingredients.  Most of the recipes here use fresh produce that’s available now, such as kale and dark cabbage, plus ingredients that are available all year round, including quinoa, couscous, sausages, chicken and pasta.

You don’t need a big cooking or preparation area to make these meals and you need not have exceptional cooking skills.  This is simple, healthy home cooking using fresh produce with lean meat or fish.  Read on for some delicious inspiration…

Simple Stir Fry with kale, broad beans and cherry tomatoes

Chop a red or white onion finely and cook on a medium to high heat in olive oil until it becomes clear.  
Add chopped curly kale (the photo shows purple and green organic kale), cherry tomatoes, frozen broad beans (and garlic if you wish) and a couple of tablespoons of water.  The water enables the dish to steam-fry, meaning that the vegetables will soften and cook rather than just being seared on the outside.
To season add a tiny amount of sea salt, coarse ground black pepper and cayenne pepper (if desired).
This will be ready in about five minutes from when you start cooking the onion.  Serve either on its own as a delicious vegetarian dinner or add a piece of fresh meat or fish.  You could also add leftover cooked rice or pasta, couscous or quinoa for a more filling dinner.

Spaghetti with sausage, kale, tomato and basil

Finely chop a red onion and garlic and cook in olive oil until softened.
Add cherry tomatoes, chopped kale (or spinach), torn basil and sliced cooked sausages (Buy the best quality you can afford, ideally 90%+ meat from your local butcher.  Remember that meat goes further in a meal like this).
Add a couple of tablespoons of water to enable the vegetables to soften without burning.
Optional:  Add sundried tomato paste for extra richness or a tomato based pesto.  
This will cook in around five to seven minutes so start your spaghetti just before you cook the vegetables.
Drain your pasta, add a little olive oil and mix the two together.  Add fresh basil to decorate.

Mushroom, spinach and goat’s cheese with pine nuts

Large mushrooms work well for this dish, but organic chestnut mushrooms would work well too, or a combination to include some exotic types.
Clean off and peel the skins from the mushrooms and chop into large chunks.  Cook in olive oil with a little garlic, white onion, shallots or spring onions (chopped finely).  Mushrooms absorb a lot of oil during cooking.  If you’re watching your fat intake then add some water or chicken stock (a couple of tablespoons) instead of more oil as it dries up.
When the mushrooms are soft, add some pine nuts and baby spinach leaves and cook for a couple more minutes.  Serve with soft goat’s cheese and a sprinkle of cracked black pepper.

Spicy Chicken Casserole

In a casserole dish lightly brown the chunks of chicken breast in olive oil, with finely chopped red onion and garlic (if desired).  Add chopped sweet potato, carrot, courgette, baby mushrooms – all roughly the same size.  You can also add white potato (skins on for extra fibre) if you want to increase the carbohydrate content of the dish.  
Add about a pint of vegetable stock, a tin of tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of tomato paste or tomato puree with a teaspoon of sugar (the sugar counteracts the acidity in the tomato puree).
Season with sea salt and black pepper, cayenne pepper or chilli flakes (and fresh chilli if you like it really spicy).
Cover and cook in the oven for around 30 minutes or pop all the ingredients in a slow cooker for 8 hours while you’re at work.

Argentinian Fire Beef Stir Fry with Quinoa

For this particular dish I used ready marinated beef strips from my local butcher (named ‘Argentinian Fire’ – the marinade, not the butcher!)  However, you can buy beef frying steak and slice it thinly or buy ready sliced beef from many supermarkets.  
Heat up some olive oil in a wok or heavy based frying pan and add the thinly sliced beef with sliced red onion, red and green peppers and spring onions.  Try to cut all the vegetables into similar sized strip shapes.
To recreate the spicy marinade, use a combination of fresh or dried chillies with smoked paprika, a teaspoon of tomato paste and a tablespoon of water.  Season with a little sea salt and black pepper if needed.  
As a simple alternative to the marinade, just use a ready blended dried spice combination.
The beef and vegetables only need about 3-5 minutes to cook depending on the size and thickness of the pieces.
Serve with quinoa (gluten free) or couscous, rice or noodles.  You could even have this as a delicious topping on a jacket potato.

Immune System Boosting Chicken Broth

Here’s a brilliant way to get some nutrient filled goodness from your chicken carcass after the Sunday roast.

Simply place the carcass in a large deep saucepan with water.  Add two large peeled and chopped carrots, 2-3 sticks of celery, an onion, 2-3 medium sized potatoes (with skin on) and fresh thyme and rosemary if you have it.
Season with a little sea salt and pepper and add a stock cube if desired (I use Kallo gluten-free chicken stock)
Cover with the lid and leave on a medium heat for 30-60 minutes.
Strain the liquid through a sieve into a large blender jug add add the vegetables.  Any remaining liquid can be frozen in a plastic leak-proof container to be used as stock in future recipes.
Blend the broth and vegetables in the blender and serve immediately.  Garnish with fresh chopped parsley, black pepper and cayenne pepper if desired.
This no-added-fat  recipe is full of immune-boosting properties and should be consumed every couple of hours if you’re home ill with flu, a cold or other winter bugs.

Breakfast Smoothie or Delicious Dessert

Put a ripe banana and fresh or frozen berries into a blender with Greek yogurt, or plain low fat yogurt, and a little water to achieve the desired consistency.  Keep it thick for a dessert or more liquid for a child’s smoothie to be drunk through a straw.
For extra health benefits add some powdered spirulina, a spoonful of manuka honey and flaxseed oil.
Enjoy immediately or take to work/school in a leak-proof plastic screw top container.

For more delicious recipes and healthy eating advice, visit my Facebook Business Page by clicking on the link below (the pretty green logo!)

Until next week,

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Post Author: Lorraine Pannetier

2 thoughts on “Seven simple steps to swap ready-meals for home cooking

    Erin D

    (February 11, 2013 - 10:42 pm)

    I’ll be trying that Argentinian fire beef for sure!

    I’ve already had several rounds of email puns and jokes about the horse meat burgers. What a disaster!

    Lorraine Pannetier

    (February 11, 2013 - 10:48 pm)

    Yes. the jokes are definitely doing the rounds!
    Enjoy the beef stir fry….delicious with a blob of Greek yogurt (bit healthier than sour cream) and a fresh, crisp iceberg lettuce and rocket salad.

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