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A to Z of Vegetables: C is for Carrot

And we’re back with another article in our A to Z of Vegetables series. We are up to C – and C is for Carrot. The humble, cheap, buy a bag of them, carrot. I personally love carrots. We always have a bag in the fridge, and then form part of my weekly meal prep every week without fail. I prepare carrot sticks for snacks, and I prep sliced carrots for steaming during the week. Roasting them adds a delicious caramel flavour and makes them even sweeter.

The Empowered Cook shares the A to Z of Vegetables: today is C for Carrot - including health benefits and recipes that you can make for your family.

They are also high up my favourite list because they are CHEAP. A bag of carrots will only set you back a dollar or so – and you can make so many different options out of that one bag.

The risk is the monontony of course. Simply having carrot sticks every day can be boring. Or just boiling them for dinner is just… well… boring.

The carrot needs some love. It needs to be dressed. To be dipped. Seasoned. Roasted.

Fun Fact: Carrots were not originally orange. They were purple and yellow. Keep an eye out for some different varieties at your farmers market. They might just bring a little something extra to your plate.

Carrots contain antioxidants (may protect against cancer) and they are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. All good things for our bodies. This Medical News Today article provides links to specific studies for several types of cancer (lung cancer, colorectal and leukemia) that have positive effects from eating carrots. I personally think that choosing to eat more vegetables in our daily meals is always a good thing – but targeting the ones you eat to help your specific health concerns is just smart.

Bonus Toddler Tip: My little one loves orange and apple juice. I will make this for him in our cold-pressed juicer – but I will sneak in a couple of carrots. They don’t change the colour of the juice – and they simply add some more sweetness – along with a whole heap of good nutrition.

Carrot Recipes to Try:

Harissa Roasted Carrots from Naturally Ella – add a little spice to your carrots

Scallion Roasted Carrots from Naturally Ella – another way to serve carrots as a side dish

Sweet Glazed Carrots from Jamie Oliver – this a great way to serve carrots with the evening meal, but with a twist to keep them interesting

Carrot Dip (yoğurtlu havuç)  – a delicious Turkish recipe from SBS Food. This would be a great one for little ones to try.

Spiced Carrot Muffins with Millet from Naturally Ella – I know this is the third recipe I have shared from this website, but I love it. And this recipe is too good not to share. The little crunchy millet balls in these are just right.

 

Want to read more in the A to Z of Vegetables series? You can – just click here to see the other articles.

 

 

5 Freezer Meals to Make This Weekend

Do you want dinner on the table fast and with minimal effort? Are weeknight dinners a problem for you? Do you often opt for takeaway, purely because you just don’t have enough time to get a meal on the table? All you need is a few hours – here are 5 freezer meals to make this weekend.

My freezer is our saving grace during the week. With both of us working outside the home for the majority of the week, we often don’t arrive home until 6pm. That means we need to have dinner on the table fast if we are to get our little one to bed at a reasonable time. I use my weekends to prep our meals for the week. And my freezer is stocked with great meals that we can simply defrost and heat up in the oven.

Want dinner on the table fast? These 5 freezer meals to make this weekend will see you feeding your family with ease next week.

Here are our favourite 5 freezer meals to make this weekend.

#1 – Chicken Parmesan Casserole

I whipped this one up last weekend. I had spent the day making chicken stock – so I had a whole lot of chicken to use. This dish was perfect.

And it was SO easy to whip up. It was just an assembly process really. Layer it all in the pan (I use an aluminium foil pan) and then cover, label and stick it in the freezer. All done in less than 15 minutes – and dinner #1 is done.

You can check out the recipe here.

#2 – Roasted Butternut Pumpkin Macaroni & Cheese

You can hardly taste the pumpkin in this one – but it is such a bonus vegetable in an otherwise pasta only dish. As a Mama of a little one, any chance I can include another vegetable is a win in my books.

I followed the instructions on this one to freeze it. I made it well ahead of time – and it was still super delicious once we defrosted it.

It does take a little more prep time than the other meals – but it also makes a LOT. I’d suggest dividing this up into smaller freezer meals, and serving this as a side dish with sausages and some green vegies.

You can find the recipe here.

#3 – Four Cheese Baked Penne

This is another one that I whipped up last weekend. It was super simple again – I really love the ‘assembly’ style freezer meals. If you manage your time right, you can prep a whole bunch in just a couple of hours.

I opted to include the additional parmesan and skip the feta in this one – so technically it was a 3 Cheese Baked Penne in my house. But oh yum – it was delicious.

Check out the recipe here.

#4 – Spaghetti Bolognese Sauce

I always have this in the freezer. Always.

Honestly – all you need to do is cook up a batch of pasta, reheat this sauce (no need to even defrost this) – and dinner is served.

I make a large batch, and divide up into sandwich size snap lock bags. I lay these flat in the freezer until they are frozen, and then I can stand them upright – kinda like a “library of sauces”.

Definitely give this one a go.

#5 – Burgers

Now this is not technically a meal – more a prep technique. But still – it is a time saver. And you can make a whole lot in bulk – and they’ll last months in the freezer.

All you’ll need to do is have some buns, and some salad items ready – and you can have a burger made for dinner in no time at all.

Check out the method here.

 

Get cracking this weekend – and you can have dinner for next week sorted. These 5 freezer meals to make this weekend will see you stock your freezer in no time.

What other recipes do you like to make as a freezer meal? Tell us in the comments below.

Get Dinner on the Table: 5 Things To Do Before You Start Dinner

How to get dinner on the table can be one of the most stressful times of your day. This is especially true when you have a toddler pulling at your legs, or teenagers arguing as they try to avoid their homework, or a partner coming home late from work, or – well, any of the other myriad of things that can go wrong during the dreaded dinner hour. Today – I’m sharing 5 Things to Do Before You Start Dinner. These will put you in the best possible position to get started and help you get dinner on the table. Once done, you can start preparing dinner with a clear mind, clear space and without distraction. Come on – let me show you.

The Empowered Cook shares 5 things to do BEFORE you start dinner that will help you get dinner on the table for your family.

#1 – Make Space

I don’t know about you, by in my home, my kitchen is the centre of our home. We congregate there – we dump our lunchboxes on the bench, the mail goes on the counter, we have glasses and plates on the sink – you get the drift.

Before I even start to contemplate dinner – I need to clear this away. I need space to prepare a meal. And I can’t do that amongst lunchboxes and dirty dishes.

Ideally, you’ll have adopted a clear sink in the morning (we do this – and it makes the world of difference). This means that whomever is last to leave (normally me) – makes sure that everything is loaded into the dishwasher. We run our dishwasher after dinner – so that in the morning it is clean. We simply unload it while making breakfast, and then reload it after breakfast. This keeps the bench and sink clear.

If you don’t have a dishwasher, then try and do the breakfast dishes before you leave the house. Even if they are left on the sink to dry naturally – this will help at the end of the day.

Generally – the more you do in the morning, the easier your night routine will be.

Spend a few minutes putting away anything that is lying on your bench. This could be the mail you’ve just collected from the letterbox or your hat and scarf. Or toy cars. Whatever it is in your house. Put it away.

When we get home – the priority is to unpack lunchbags and wash lunchboxes. I pack lunches after dinner – so we need the lunchboxes clean and ready to go. So whomever is home first (normally my partner), will wash and dry our little one’s lunchbox. If you have older kids, this could be part of their after school routine. It was when we were little – we would come home, unpack our bags, clean our lunchboxes, have a snack and then get changed. Once homework was done, we were then free to do whatever we wanted until dinner time. This also gave Mum the room to actually make dinner. Bringing me to the next item on the list…

#2 Distract the Kids

Not having kids at your feet will not only make preparing dinner easier – it is also safer. I can still hear Mum’s voice in mine when I say: “Out of the kitchen, the oven is on”. Having kids run around in the kitchen is just not a good idea – especially when you’re trying to multi-task amongst the oven and stove and cooking a family meal.

So we need those kids outta there. If they are older, this can be the easier – simply get them doing homework – or if they are finished, give them free time. We used to have to do homework at the dining table – a social activity, but also so that Mum can answer questions or just supervise I guess.

If they are younger – try to have special activities that they only get to do during dinner hour. This could be some sort of Art and Craft activity that keeps them focused and therefore engaged and quiet for a period of time. Let’s be honest, 10 minutes of engagement is a lot for a toddler – so set them up with something, and then use this time. I’ve never known how much I can get done in 10 minutes until I had a toddler. I can whip up dinner, do some laundry, pack a lunch, and clean the kitchen – all in the 10 minutes of free time I get at the end of the day. Work fast, work hard.

#3 – Have a Plan

The value of those 10 minutes should not be eaten away with you wondering what you are going to cook, or what you’re going to do. You need a plan. You need to know what you are going to cook – BEFORE you even start dinner hour.

In our house, this is a weekly meal plan. But sometimes it is even just a conversation that morning as to what we’ll eat for dinner. And on some occasions, this is even a text message conversation between my partner and I, on my way home from work. Yes, even The Empowered Cook has those days.

But we rarely commence the dinner hour without already having decided on what we’ll be eating. That is just a disaster waiting to happen.

My Mum’s motto – and therefore now mine – was ‘If there’s going to be panic, let it be organised”. This is certainly true for the dinner hour. You need a plan, and you’ll be able to tackle whatever comes your way.

The added benefit of a plan is that you and your partner can also tag team. If we both know the plan – we can sub in and sub out as needed. My toddler will sometimes just want me – which means I need to stop and get out of the kitchen. At this point, my partner will sub in – and take over dinner duty. This works best if he knows what we’re having, and where I’m at with cooking it. If I’m making something that he has no idea about – you can bet your bottom dollar that that will be the night that my toddler will simply demand Mama time, and therefore dinner will be failure.

#4 Set the Table

Having a set table is important to me. I find that we eat better, and have a more enjoyable dinner if we sit at the table as a family. And it is a lesson that I want my little one to learn – that we eat dinner as a family at a table with placemats and napkins. It is something that we did as kids – and I am thankful for that. All the best conversations were over dinner – including when we were teenagers, and didn’t really want to talk to anyone – let alone our family. But dinner let us do that.

You can choose to set the table for dinner way earlier in the day too. Just set it whenever you have a spare 5 or 10 minutes. That way, it’s done – and you can concentrate on cooking dinner.

Or even better – allocate this to one of the kids. Being able to set the table is a critical development activity: knowing where to put knives and forks is a big step for a little one. The sooner they start doing this chore, the faster they’ll learn.

#5 – Put a Pinny On

Wearing an apron is synonymous with being in the kitchen. It is certainly critical for me when making dinner. It is the thing that triggers that cooking is about to begin, that dinner is going to be made. Even my toddler knows that when I wear my apron, something “yummy” is coming. He will even wear his apron if he wants to help me in the kitchen.

An apron is also just a really helpful kitchen tool. It protects your clothes, you can use it to wipe your hands, clean spills, etc. My sister even made me an apron with a tea-towel attached to the front – so useful! I have been grateful many a time when making a good bolognese sauce, and having it splatter my apron instead of my white shirt. Trust me – you need an apron.

 

And that’s it. These 5 things to do before you start dinner will help you actually get dinner on the table for your family. Give them a go.

Recipe: Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

This recipe for Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta came from a ‘challenge’ week in our house.

When we returned to work following our Christmas break, I had stocked the freezer to the brim with dinners, lunches and snacks.

This was more helpful than I ever thought it could be – and I doubt we would have eaten as well had I not done this. With both of us working outside the home for 3 days a week – dinner is almost impossible, unless it’s a simple heat and serve.

After the last few months though, that freezer supply is dwindling. We’re starting to see the bottom of the freezer again.

We need to restock. But before we do that – we need to eat the last of everything.

The Challenge

Eat from the pantry and freezer – without buying anything new.

It wasn’t as hard as you might expect. We were able to eat the last of a few frozen dinners, as well as knock together some quick and easy meals using whatever ingredients we had on hand.

The Recipe

This Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta is one of those meals. I literally had: a packet of pasta, a jar of sun-dried tomatoes, and some chicken breast. Voila – this dish was born. It was delicious. And it will be on our meal plan again soon!

The Empowered Cook shares an easy, fast recipe for chicken and sun-dried tomato pasta. A delicious weeknight dinner recipe the whole family will love.

Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic diced
  • 500 grams chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp oregano dried
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes optional
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes chopped
  • 375 grams pasta
  • 1 head broccoli chopped
Instructions
  1. Fill your pasta pot with water, and bring to a boil on the stove top.

  2. While waiting for the water to boil, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. I used a big cast iron casserole dish for this. The pan needs to fit the cooked pasta at the end of cooking - so choose something big. 

  3. Once the olive oil has heated, add the onion and cook for a few minutes.

  4. Add the garlic and chicken breast to the onion. Continue cooking until the chicken breast is just cooked. 

  5. By this time, your water should be boiling. Add your pasta and give it a good stir. 

  6. Once the chicken is cooked, add your dried oregano (and chilli flakes, if using). Give it all a good stir. 

  7. Add your sun-dried tomatoes to the chicken also. Give this a good stir. Once these have heated through, you can remove from the heat.

  8. A few minutes before your pasta has cooked, add your broccoli to the pasta water. This will cook the broccoli at the same time - and save dirtying another pot!

  9. Once cooked, drain your pasta and broccoli. Add this to your chicken pot. Give everything a good stir - you may like to add a little more olive oil to the pan at this point. Or even better - use the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes. This will give an even better flavour hit. 

  10. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

This recipe is also delicious the next day as a cold lunch. Simply pack up any leftovers, and refrigerate until lunch time. 

Weeknight Dinner Recipe: Chicken and Kale Hash

Making a yummy Weeknight Dinner Recipe that everyone will eat, and that you can cook fast, is a pretty important tool in The Empowered Cook arsenal. I have a couple of staples – and today’s recipe has become one of them. It is fast, cheap, delicious – and makes a tonne, so there is always leftovers in our house.

A hash is simply a course mix of different ingredients – finely chopped and with some spices added. It is a great way to use leftovers – but it can be a meal cooked from scratch, in it’s own right. I love hash meals, because they are generally healthy and fast – my two main objectives for a good Weeknight Dinner Recipe.

The Empowered Cook shares an easy weeknight dinner recipe that the whole family will love. It is fast, cheap and healthy - and freezer friendly!

This Weeknight Dinner Recipe is adapted from Heather at Beauty that Moves – I’ve made several changes to make this fit our tastes. Be sure to check out the original too.

We generally serve this as is – but you could very easily serve this alongside some other vegetables, and it would be delicious with a poached or fried egg on top. You could make the recipe stretch even further by serving with a few sausages. Either way, this is such a versatile Weeknight Dinner Recipe – you need to add this to your next meal plan now!

Enjoy – and make sure you tag #theempoweredcook when you make this one and share it on social media!

 

Chicken and Kale Hash
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 500 grams chicken mince
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 large carrots grated
  • 4 cups kale thinly sliced
Instructions
  1. You'll need a fairly large pan to make this dish. I use a large cast iron casserole pot. Whatever you choose, pop this on medium-high heat and add the olive oil.

  2. Next, you'll need to add the chicken mince, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano and onion to the pot. Chicken mince can be quite 'sticky' so you'll need to be fairly vigorous with your sauteing here. I find 'stabbing' the mince as it cooks, a good technique. Keep sauteing for about 6-8 minutes, until the onion has soften and the chicken is cooked. 

  3. Add the carrots and kale now. This will look like a lot (this is why you need the big pot!) but it will shrink down as it cooks. Saute for another few minutes, stirring frequently, until all the vegetables are tender. 

  4. Lastly, have a taste and season. I have upped the cumin and oregano from the original recipe as we like a lot of flavour - but feel free to add more if you think it still needs it. 

  5. This recipe can be frozen: simply pop it in a freezer safe container, label it and pop it in the freezer. To reheat, you'll need to thaw and then stir-fry with a few tablespoons of water in a pot on the stove top. Very easy.