One recipe that has become a current favorite because it meets my idea of healthy (it has vegetables, protein, limited salt and sugar), somewhat quick (if I have an accumulated hour to cook), easy, and delicious is Garden Veggie Shrimp, which I came across in the January '15 issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. The dish is pretty much a meal-in-one and can be prepped ahead of time, or in steps with breaks in between, and assembled last minute - this is very helpful, since I may not have an uninterrupted hour to devote to cooking. The dish can even seem a bit fancy since it is cooked en papillote (in a parchment pouch), but this technique does require that one have parchment paper on hand. I find parchment paper useful for many things in cooking, such as lining baking sheets and cake pans for easier cleanup and to prevent sticking, so this is a staple in our kitchen. I'm not very concerned with fancy, but I do like that the parchment paper in this recipe makes for easier cleanup and creates a nice steamed effect on the veggies and shrimp. We are on a budget, so we use frozen shrimp, some of which has been frozen for a while due to buying multiple bags when there are deep discounts; however, the dish would probably taste even better with fresh or more freshly frozen shrimp. I also don't have white balsamic vinegar as a staple, but find that the regular balsamic vinegar tastes just fine. The recipe could also be adapted for other vegetables that are on hand or to personal preferences. The BH&G magazine source article listed adaptations of the recipe for Southwestern Shrimp, Ginger-Soy Shrimp, or Prosciutto and Broccolini Shrimp. We haven't yet tried the adaptations, but it basically follows the same technique of putting some veggies, shrimp, spices or flavorings (lime juice, chili powder, ginger, soy sauce, etc.) and couscous in the parchment paper and baking. We bought our Israeli couscous in bulk at Costco, and it is the one part of the dish that our kids will consistently eat - my husband and I love the entire dish, but the kids are most partial to the couscous. Seasonally, we are also able to use the thyme from our garden, but off-season we just use dried thyme.
One thing that I've learned to consider an essential "ingredient" to almost any successful cooking that I do while the kids are home is something to keep the kids occupied. Most recently for us, this has been Play-doh and associated tools, games or kits. It doesn't always work well to have some activity or play item up my sleeve, as very little is a guarantee with kids, but it works often enough.
If you do decide to try this recipe for Garden Veggie Shrimp, enjoy!
My lesson(s): Parchment paper makes for easy cleanup (yay!), and cooking en papillote is really quite easy, at least in this instance. To increase the likely success and decrease the frustration of a cooking venture, I need to spend a few minutes first getting the kids set up with something safe to occupy themselves - those few minutes can buy me some needed tranquility in the kitchen.
I am the type of person who enjoys cooking...when I have ample free time, when I'm not being interrupted or distracted , when I'm well-rested and relaxed, when my house is quiet, when I've been able to plan ahead so the ingredients are on hand and don't require a special trip, and when I'm not on a tight budget that limits my cooking options. So in other words, with all these exceptions and given the current reality of my life as a stay-at-home parent with three young kids, I generally do not enjoy cooking anymore. Cooking is often a frustrating juggling act, with the menu determined last minute by the tried and true items on hand. However, I still love to eat a variety of good homemade food. Variety is a key word for me - I am quickly bored with eating the same dish over and over, which I'm sure frustrates my husband after he makes a large dish to provide us with food throughout part of the week, and then I've lost my appetite for it after a couple meals. (The fact that this is a privileged "First World" preference is not lost on me. I acknowledge there are so many people, both close to home and far away, who are not able to meet basic food needs or just barely meet those needs, nor may they have the food access and food storage means that I have. My ability to be picky about variety in my diet is a privilege that I make an effort to be conscious of and to not confuse with entitlement.)