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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dinner Menu Ideas Based on Rotating Protein

I know from twenty years of being the cook in the house, and working or going to school full-time during most of those years, that coming up with new or different dinner ideas is rough after awhile. I like to plan my menu in advance, before I go to the grocery store, if at all possible. It's exhausting to come home & not know what you're cooking, only to find out you're missing a key ingredient. It's also no fun to argue with your spouse or housemate yet again about what's for dinner, especially when everyone is exhausted, cranky & starving.

Don't turn to fast food to continually solve this dilemma of what to eat. Your body will pay for that behavior, because the stuff that nearly every one of those places offered is filled with chemicals, preservatives, trans fats & much more. Eating balanced, home-cooked meals is the way to having strong hair, clearer skin, nice fingernails & high levels of energy. Aim to eat as many fresh fruits & vegetables as you can. I know that not everyone can afford to eat meat every single night, and the region that you live in will determine availability of certain items (especially fish). Just aim to get a good amount of protein, healthy fats, plenty of vitamins & minerals into your body. Drink adequate amounts of clean ice water, and you'll feel less hungry. Switching to iced or hot herbal, green or black tea with a little raw sugar, instead of eating meals with soda or an alcoholic beverage to wash it all down, will make a big difference in your health. Your liver, kidneys & bloodstream all know the difference. Don't replace eating healthy meals with smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, especially out of a desire to stay slim. If you're going six or seven hours between meals, and you don't eat much at breakfast and/or lunch, you're probably going to set yourself up to eat more at dinnertime. Some people have a fast metabolism & can get away with that behavior (at least when they're younger), but it's definitely not going to give you the brain & body most filled with energy. Low blood sugar causes brain fog, and a lack of proper nutrients (enzymes, vitamins, minerals) causes all sorts of health problems eventually. Educate yourself about what your body's needs are to stay healthy & energized, then eat, drink & supplement accordingly.

Aim to serve your dinners with a whole-grain carbohydrate choices (if you eat carbs at dinner- I know some people don't) such as barley, brown & wild rice, oats, millet or whole-wheat couscous. I recommend eating two servings of vegetables at dinner, preferably one of them being raw (like a salad or a serving of baby carrots). Dessert, if eaten, can be fresh fruit, a piece of crystallized ginger or a piece of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher to it. Canned or frozen fruit is okay, if fresh isn't available or is out of your price range.

If you're going to drink alcohol at dinner, I recommend that it be a good-quality vino. The jury is always out on drinking wine with dinner as a health measure, and I know that some people do not drink alcohol for religious reasons. If it's something that you enjoy, doesn't interact negatively with any medication you take, doesn't affect your judgment & you can easily stop at one glass, then I don't see a problem with having a glass every night. If you are watching calories, have a history of alcoholism in your family, have someone in the household with an alcoholic issue or are taking prescription medications that shouldn't be mixed with alcohol, please choose not to keep it in the house all the time. Remember that wine may have good properties to it, but it still can affect the liver negatively over time when it's not kept to a moderate amount. For every bit of alcohol you drink, please drink an equal amount (at least) of water to avoid dehydration.

I'm not going to include "formal" recipes here, but if you would like any of my recipes, I'll be happy to provide them to you- just let me know which ones you'd like. :)

Monday- Beans/Eggs/Vegetarian
Spinach-and-mushroom cheese omelet
Bell pepper-and-onion cheese omelet
Greek salad variation- Raw dark greens (I like baby spinach or romaine leaves), thin red onion slices, sliced Roma tomatoes or whole grape tomatoes, chickpeas, feta cheese, Greek olives, Penzey's Greek Salad Dressing & a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper
Summer Pasta- linguine with sauteed sliced squash, mushrooms, zucchini, red bell pepper, onions & some minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper & a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, then topped with fresh Parmesan cheese
Bean soup (try to include at least two different types of beans- I like split peas & white beans, personally)
Black bean burritos
Hummus or bean dip with warmed pita wedges, shredded lettuce or lettuce leaves & chopped tomatoes

Tuesday- Turkey
Turkey burgers on whole-grain buns
Traditional turkey dinner with roast turkey (brined or not), mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole, rolls or biscuits, etc.
Ground-turkey meatloaf
Turkey meatballs in marinara sauce, over spaghetti
Pulled turkey breast sandwiches

Wednesday- Fin Fish (I usually grill mine on a George Foreman indoor grill, with a little extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper & garlic powder, but there are a zillion ways to cook fish)
Grilled Teriyaki-marinated salmon
Bluefish baked in olive oil & butter
Salmon burgers
Tuna melts
Tuna noodle casserole
Italian-style tuna in extra-virgin olive oil with lemon juice, served over linguine

Thursday- Beef
Beef Stroganoff
Penne rigate pasta bake- Mix al dente cooked penne or penne rigate with marinara sauce, lightly-sauteed sliced mushrooms & cooked, drained ground beef or Italian sausage in a casserole dish. Top with mozzarella & Parmesan cheese, and then bake at 350 degrees until golden & bubbling at the edges (usually about 30-40 minutes, depending upon the amount in the dish & your oven). You can add more vegetables if you like, and of course change the protein to chicken breast, instead.
All-beef hot dogs
Beef enchiladas
Grilled or broiled steak
Ground-beef meatloaf, or use a mixture of 1/3 pork, 1/3 veal & 1/3 beef (creates the most flavor & moisture with that combo)

Friday- Chicken
Oven-fried breaded chicken
Chicken Stroganoff (this is a different recipe from my beef version, and it's awesome- if you'd like this recipe, let me know)
Chicken Divan
Chicken noodle soup
Chicken-and-rice soup
Ground-chicken burgers
Pulled chicken sandwiches (with or without BBQ sauce)
Grilled lemon juice-and-black pepper chicken

Saturday- Shellfish
Shrimp Alfredo over fettuccine
Shrimp & scallops in garlic sauce, Chinese-style
Scallops in gruyere cheese sauce over saffron rice
Lobster rolls
Linguini with clam sauce (white or red)
Smoked oysters with cream cheese & crackers (Okay, not all that healthy...but it is tasty now & again, for those who have this acquired taste. Which would include me!)
Oysters on the half shell (shucked)
New England clam chowder
Manhattan clam chower

Sunday- Pork
Ham sandwiches
Pizza pasta- linguine with pepperoni slices or Italian sausage, chopped green bell pepper, chopped onions, sliced mushrooms (Green Giant's jarred version work well for this dish),
Roast pork
Asian-marinated pork roast
Breaded pork chops
BBQ sauce-marinated pork chops done on the grill
Pulled pork sandwiches (done with or without BBQ sauce)
Baked ham w/ brown sugar, orange juice & Dijon mustard coating

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,

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