With a freezer full of versatile sauces, you’ll have a “library” of healthy meals at the ready, for those moments when you need nourishment but you’re just too fried to cook.
As an author, educator, and home cook myself I often find this time of year a challenge. It’s dark and cold, I have a growing list of extra tasks to fit into my schedule, and sugar-laden holiday treats are starting to pop up around every corner. It’s time for some creative solutions to keep myself and my family healthy during the hustle! Here are a few of the tips and tricks I use to extend my library of pre-made staples into snacks and meals for easy, healthy eating any time of day.
No matter how busy I am during the week, I set aside Sunday morning for the kitchen. This is my time. I turn on an audiobook or playlist, drink all the coffee I want, and cook in my bathrobe until I have a week’s worth of flavor (and nutrition!) all lined up. Most weekends I make a big batch of vegetables — sautéed, roasted, or a combination. It really depends on what’s in season and looked good at the farmers’ market or the store that week, but it almost always includes onions and peppers. I also make a pot of beans or lentils, usually in a savory broth.
Sauces are another staple of my Sunday cooking sessions. I can make them in big batches and freeze them in meal-size portions for tons of flavor and flexibility when I need something fast. Along with my veggies and legumes, a carton of eggs and the sauces in my sauce “library” are all I need on hand for a number of quick meals I can toss together any time. I might whip up a serving of scrambled eggs on a bed of vegetables with Anaheim Pepper sauce, black beans and poached eggs with Tomatillo Salsa Cruda, or veggies and lentils in a Green Curry.
I also like to keep single servings of some of my sauces that can be thinned out into soups at the ready — Pumpkin Coconut Cream and All-Around Vegetable are two of my favorites. I pre-mix them and pack them in glass jars to heat up in the microwave, just like I would heat up canned soup. I freeze ten or more jars at a time, then take a few out every Sunday as I get ready for the week ahead. I’m a big fan of soup for breakfast! I find it a warm invitation into the day as I finish unfolding from sleep.
Sauces can also double as decadent sandwich spreads. Lately, I’ve been making a batch of pesto pizza pockets, and savory pancake or waffle sandwiches. I love these typically breakfast-only treats as an easy alternative to sandwich bread. Try either of these recipes with gluten-free alternatives! They might be just what you need to power you through the hectic season.
I cheat and use premade pizza dough for this recipe. You can certainly make your own from scratch if you prefer. I’m lucky enough to have a great bakery nearby that sells raw, frozen pizza dough. I find it’s well worth the price for the time it saves me. The potential for fillings is endless. One of my current favorites is Walnut-Parsley Pesto with roast chicken. These tidy little bites are great for taking on the go and you can enjoy them either hot or cold. Eat one any time for a snack, or have 2 or 3 for a full meal.
Pesto recipe makes about 2½ cups
- 1 batch pizza dough
- 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- 2 cups chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- To make the pesto: Combine the walnuts, parsley, Parmesan, oil, garlic, and salt in a food processor or blender and pulse until well combined.*
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll small balls of dough (about ½ cup each) into rough circles about 5" in diameter. Place 2–3 tablespoons filling in the middle of each circle, leaving the edges bare.
- Fold each circle to create a pocket. Pinch the edges together, wetting slightly if necessary to help edges of dough stick together.
- Bake until dough is golden brown and filling is heated through, about 15 minutes.
* Pesto will keep in the freezer for up to six months.
Savory Pancake (or Waffle) Sandwiches
Makes 10 pancakes or 8 waffles
To convert this pancake recipe into a waffle batter, simply increase the butter to 5 tablespoons. Try some of these herb-and-spice combinations in the batter for an extra flavor kick.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups milk
- 2–3 tablespoons melted butter (to taste)
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
To go with Caramelized Onion Boursin Sauce (recipe follows):
- Add pepper to taste to dry ingredients, and ½ cup toasted chopped walnuts to wet ingredients.
To go with Meyer Lemon Spinach Sauce (recipe follows):
- Add ½ teaspoon dried rosemary to dry ingredients and minced, sautéed onion, and red bell pepper to wet ingredients.
To go with Gorgonzola Chive Butter (recipe follows):
- Add 1 teaspoon dried thyme to dry ingredients and ½ cup minced sun-dried tomatoes to wet ingredients.
- Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt, plus any extras needed for the flavor variation of your choice) in a mixing bowl and whisk together.
- In a second mixing bowl, combine wet ingredients (milk, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla, plus any extras needed for the flavor variation of your choice) and whisk thoroughly.
- Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined and set aside.
- Preheat griddle or skillet on medium heat.
- For Pancakes: Use a small dab of butter to oil the griddle or skillet. Pour small circles of batter onto it. When bubbles begin to appear on the surface of each pancake, flip it over and cook until evenly browned on both sides.
- For Waffles: Pour batter into ready waffle iron and close. Cook until steam subsides and waffles smell done (5–10 minutes, depending on your iron).
- Toast to reheat and use two pancakes or waffles to create an easy sandwich to go!
Pancakes and waffles will keep, refrigerated and wrapped, for up to three days or frozen for up to two months.
Caramelized Onion Boursin Sauce
Makes about 2½ cups
- ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
- 5 large onions, thinly sliced
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2½ ounces plain Boursin or other soft cheese
- 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Warm the butter in a large stockpot over low heat. Add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn brown and caramelize completely, about 1 hour. If the onions get dry at any point, add ¼ water cup at a time.
- Stir in the Boursin, stock, and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.
- Cool the sauce in the sauce in the refrigerator. Extra sauce will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Meyer Lemon Spinach Sauce
Makes about 4 cups
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1½ (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
- 1½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
- Juice and zest of 1½ Meyer lemons
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the spinach and pepper flakes, and cook until the spinach is warm, about 10 minutes.
- Add the lemon juice and zest and black pepper to taste. Stir thoroughly, and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat, add the yogurt, and stir.
- Cool the sauce in the refrigerator. Extra sauce will keep in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Gorgonzola Chive Butter Sauce
Makes about 1½ cups
- 1 cup Gorgonzola cheese
- ¾ cup butter, at room temperature
- 6 chives, minced
- Combine the cheese, butter, chives, and salt to taste in a large mixing bowl and blend thoroughly. Shape into logs on waxed paper; twist the ends closed, and refrigerate until hardened, at least 2 hours. Transfer any extra compound butter to freezer containers; it will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.