I’m thinking belt-tightening…

Cutting back. Staying at home. Make it yourself. Belt tightening. All the buzzwords of a lousy economy. In some fashion, it seems everyone is going without, doing with less, putting it off for another day.

True enough in my case, that’s for certain. But it also applies to that other belt, the one that got considerably stretched over the last few months. Seems walking out to take the pool temperature is not a suitable replacement for actually swimming in said pool.

Two things I know for certain:  Diets don’t work.  I want to drop some pounds  (big family wedding approaching and all that) and continue to eat great tasting food, without adding expensive, additive-laden prepared foods.  And I don’t the time to cook every day the way I want.

For me, the solution is simple: batch-cooking, vegetarian meals. Incredibly healthy, low cost vegetarian recipes prepared for four.

Roasted Vegetable Manicotti
Serves 4

3/4C asparagus, chopped
2C shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1T olive oil
1/2t salt or to taste
1/2t fresh ground pepper, or to taste
3/4T fresh garlic, minced
1/2C goat cheese, or more to taste
1/8C Parmesan cheese
1T fresh basil, chopped
1 1/2C marinara or tomato sauce, h0me made or store bought
8 manicotti shells, cooked

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix together all vegetables, salt, pepper, oil and garlic. Toss by hand to coat well. Spread out on a sheet pan, roast for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Toss, continue to roast for about another 10 minutes to deepen color and flavor.  Remove from oven, place on cutting board and do a “rough chop”. Place in large mixing bowl, add cheeses and basil. Mix well by hand, set aside.

With a pair of kitchen shears, cut open each manicotti shell. Fill each one with about 1/3C of the vegetable mix, wrap manicotti around stuffing.

To cook, place a small amount of sauce on the bottom of a glass baking dish/pan. Arrange manicotti slit side down on bed of sauce. Top with remaining sauce. Cover dish with tin foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove tin foil, return to oven for about 10 minutes or until top browns nicely. Serve.

Simply cover the leftovers with the tin foil and chill. Leftovers can be oven heated or microwaved. Serve with a side salad.

Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce
Serves 10ish

8C Roma tomatoes, quartered, about 4 pounds, as ripe as you can get
1C yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, whole
2t salt
1t red pepper flakes or to taste
1t sugar
1/2C extra virgin olive oil
1/2C basil, fresh, chiffonade (think reeeeallly thin ribbons)

Preheat oven to 450F.

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a big bowl. Toss with olive oil. Spread out on cookie sheets. Roast 35-40 minutes or until tomatoes have softened. Remove from oven, mash with potato masher, keeping tomatoes a bit chunky. Stir in basil.

Spread out on cookie sheet to cool rapidly. Store in refrigerator covered for about one week, or freeze.

If you haven’t been cooking vegetarian meals, now is a great time to try. Freshly made vegetarian dishes are healthy, lower in fat, carbs, cholesterol and cost.  It’s food that will take the sting out of tightening your belt.

Tomato pic courtesy of: moneyanswertree.com
Pasta pic courtesy of: uploadwikimedia.org

Kent McDonald is a Certified Personal Chef, living and working in Phoenix, AZ. (c) All Rights Reserved, 2009

You can now follow him on Twitter.

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