I said there would be more vegetable dishes on the blog in 2016, and here I am with the first one of the year. I also said I’d be delivering more quick and easy meal ideas, and I’m ticking that box today too.
One of the challenges I’m trying to overcome is cooking nutritious meals for myself. I know. Here I am, someone who loves to cook and even writes about it, but sometimes it’s really, really hard to find the motivation to make myself a decent meal. Instead, I graze and nibble, or stop at a restaurant for a meal (hopefully one that provides enough leftovers for the next day). This lackadaisical approach to feeding myself has ultimately proven unsatisfactory on a number of fronts.
Health: I haven’t been eating anywhere near as well as I should, and it’s showing in a variety of ways. Never mind New Year’s resolutions; I need to take action long before my next physical — instead of my doctor telling me the probability of my having a heart attack in the next ten years, I’d like her to look at my vital stats and bloodwork results and say, “Wow, how old are you again?”
Financial: All of this unplanned eating and nipping in and out of restaurants takes a toll on the budget. I know I can make my own healthy meals at a lower cost with a higher return in terms of nutrition.
Wellbeing: Cooking is a creative outlet for me, one which provides immense satisfaction and boosts my mood. I’ve always called it “kitchen therapy” and the article I posted in the last issue of Urban Cottage Weekend validates that it’s actually good for one’s mental health.
Editorial: And, if for no other reason, I need to cook more so I have material to write about here on the blog! I want to be able to post at least two recipes a week, and sometimes this past year I’ve been hard-pressed to achieve that.
The case for me to do more home cooking is pretty strong, wouldn’t you agree?
Increasing my intake of vegetables will go a long way toward preventing health concerns, not to mention being generally more economical than using vegetables as small sides for larger portions of meat. Vegetables offer great scope for creativity and colour on the plate, too, thus also addressing the wellbeing and editorial concerns above. I’m a proponent of the Half Your Plate movement; essentially, half your plate should be filled with fruits and veggies, for optimal health. There’s a lot of great information on the Half Your Plate website and I encourage you to check it out.
While more vegetables are a good thing, I’m also being more mindful of their differing glycemic index (GI) levels. In short, GI is an indicator of the impact of a food on a person’s blood sugar levels, with an index of 100 being equivalent to glucose. Being of Belgian heritage, I was practically raised on white potatoes and they’re a staple go-to side dish in my kitchen. Since they’re high on the GI scale so I’ve decided to explore substituting vegetables with a low GI rating, like cauliflower, at least sometimes. (Note: I’m not a nutritionist or food scientist, so I encourage you to check out more information about the GI index for yourself instead of relying on my views.)
So, to finally get to the point of this post, I decided to substitute a cauliflower mash for mashed potatoes. It’s a decision I’m very happy with. I simply cooked/steamed cauliflower in a small amount of water, but I think true steaming would be the smarter route to go, especially after my attention wandered earlier today and I burned the batch I was making. Charred cauliflower is not a fragrance you want in your house — trust me. I added a nice pat of butter, some salt and pepper and then went to work with my old potato masher, adding some milk to bring it all together.
The final texture was nubbly, instead of creamy as potatoes would be, but still appealing. And, given that I like cauliflower, the flavour was a real plus for me. I’ll definitely be making this again as a side dish. Because cauliflower is much lighter than potatoes, a serving for me was about twice as big, making it a good start on the Half Your Plate goal.
One of the things I like about this dish is that initial surprise when something that looks like the expected mashed potatoes turns out to be quite different in both texture and flavour, but just as delicious.
To see how I incorporated the cauliflower mash into a Quick & Easy Dinner, see below the recipe box.
© Urban Cottage Life
- 1 medium head of cauliflower
- 2 to 3 tbsp butter
- milk, as required
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Trim the cauliflower, separating it into largish florets; then wash. Place into a medium pot and add about a half inch of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and cook, covered, until the cauliflower is tender (softer than I would cook it if serving plain). Alternatively, put the cauliflower in a steamer basket, cover and steam over a pot with an inch or so of vigorously simmering water until tender.
Once cooked, drain the cauliflower if necessary, removing as much water as possible. Add the butter and a couple pinches of salt and a few good grindings of black pepper. Mash until the cauliflower is uniformly broken up. Add a splash or two of milk, and continue with a mashing/stirring action, adding more milk as desired, being careful not to make the mixture runny. The cauliflower mash will not come together in a creamy mass as potatoes do, but when scooped out with a big spoon or ice cream scoop with a scraper will hold its shape nicely.
Quick & Easy Dinner
Cauliflower Mash, Sausage & Lentils
For a quick and easy dinner, I paired this cauliflower mash with Italian sausages that I first browned in a frying pan and then finished off in a 350 ℉ oven for about 30 minutes. I also heated up some pre-cooked lentils with some finely chopped onion, garlic and red chili pepper that I cooked for a few minutes in olive oil. I added salt and pepper for seasoning, and a good drizzle of balsamic vinegar near the end for zing. Because I happened to have some parsley in the fridge, I chopped a bit and added it at the last moment.
Quicker & Easier Tip
Although I cooked up a batch of lentils, you could use canned lentils that you rinse and drain for an even easier meal. Also, using frozen cauliflower would be another time and cleanup saver.
This dinner comes together in about 40 minutes, total. That’s pretty quick!
To round out the meal, all that’s needed is a green salad or perhaps a green vegetable on the plate. For a salad, you could use bagged, pre-washed greens and add some chopped cucumber and perhaps some carrot shavings, or even buy a salad with a mix of greens and other vegetables. I make my own salad dressings on the go in about two minutes, using olive oil, vinegar, a bit of mustard and salt and pepper. I generally just mix up what I need per meal, but sometimes plan ahead and make a bigger batch. If you choose to use a purchased salad dressing, that’s entirely up to you!
My new Quick & Easy Dinner category is inspired by the kind of meals I used to make for my kids when they were young. I would get home from my full-time job and usually get dinner on the table within an hour, to be followed by homework, bath time, and bedtime snacks and stories. I made truly simple meals of honest, plain food that tasted good and nourished my family. I think we need to see a little more of that out here in the blogosphere where so much food is beautiful, somewhat exotic and lavishly presented. There’s a place for that kind of cooking, but sometimes we just need dinner. Quick. Easy. Good.
I try to take beautiful pictures of my food for the blog, but often post quick snapshots of what I’m making for dinner on my Facebook page. For the most part, I’ll be using them here as well for my Quick & Easy Dinner posts. I think that sometimes a styled photograph (even though my styling is very light) gives the impression that a dish is harder to make than it really is. So, I’ll be keeping it real, just like how I still cook for myself these days.