What's For Dinner?
When FlexyBodyBabes asked me to collaborate with them, I was so excited. I had all of these great ideas of how I would start. I would tell a story about being a working mom and how I try to manage my time with my family and job, all while staying healthy. I was going to tell you all sorts of things about my life as a dancer, body image issues and how becoming a mother brought it all back to life, especially when I gained more weight than I imagined (45 pounds!) and didn’t “bounce back” in 2 weeks (or at all) like all my beautiful friends on Instagram. I was excited to share my story with you.
And I would be thrilled to share all of those details some other time. But as life happens, you find yourself without time to tell all those stories. There’s never enough time.
It’s 4:08 PM at work. My husband (Chad) and I have the luxury of working in the same hospital. I’d just returned from a work conference two days ago and spent 12 hours at the hospital yesterday trying to catch up. He had just pulled two 14 to 16-hour days in a row. We’d both come in early today, hoping we’d actually make it out in time to see each other and spend time with our child. I’m sitting at my computer, rubbing my temples with my eyes closed, attempting to figure out the rest of my day. It’s been a busy day full of patients, emails, meetings and successes and disasters.
I need to pick up my daughter from daycare, find time to hit the grocery store, clean up the house, unpack my suitcase and maybe find time to work out. My husband finds two minutes to run by and say hello and while he’s here, he hits me with the all too familiar question: “What do you want to do for dinner tonight?”
Now, he’s not asking me because he expects me to do anything. He’s asking me because he wants to know if he needs to pick something up on the way home to help me out. He’s trying to assess how tired we both are and whether or not one of us will actually feel up to cooking. He knows I want to eat healthy, but there aren’t a lot of drive-through options by us that satisfy those requirements.
I know I am not the only person who feels this way. Wives, husbands, working, stay-at-home, etc.: we are all busy and trying to find ways to organize our time better.
Life in general, parenthood in particular, has hit Chad and I harder than we imagined. We laugh about it, but we both have post-pregnancy bodies we’d like to improve. Not necessarily the “shape” (although we could improve that…), but mostly, our general nutrition and health. We’re a pharmacist and a doctor and we should be doing better. But we’re a pharmacist and a doctor and we are freaking busy. After a long day, the last thing we want to do is cook…much less clean up after. So, like most people, our biggest challenge is what we eat.
Friends, it’s hard. I’m not going to lie. But there are some things you can do.
Here are a few of my tips:
1. When trying any new recipe, read through it first. Yes, the entire thing. Depending on your cooking style, you may find that you want to rearrange the order. Sometimes you won’t want to do this (e.g. baking), but for the average recipe, rearranging a few steps and consolidating where you can save time is not a big deal. You might also decide to roast veggies rather than sauté them to either make them healthier or make it so you can change a diaper while everything bakes. When I read through recipes first, I almost always move a step or two around and find it makes my life easier.
2. Find ways to minimize the number of utensils and pots/pans that you use. The more you use, the more cleanup. And let’s be honest, one of the things holding you back from cooking is the anticipated clean-up. Always be looking for ways to consolidate while you are cooking. Find recipes that allow you to cook it all at once.
3. Speaking of clean up, invest in the extra wide roll of aluminum foil. This seems like a silly thing to say, but the extra wide roll covers an entire baking sheet. You can try to overlap 2 smaller sheets of foil, but I find juices commonly slide under the upper layer and you end up cleaning everything anyway. If you can’t cover the entire pan with one sheet, I recommend “tenting” your foil. That is, create sections for each thing you’re baking (one for chicken, one for veggies) and fold up the sides to create a small wall. This prevents any juices from sliding all over your pan. Your clean-up will be a breeze. I’ll say it again, when clean-up is easier, cooking is far more enjoyable.
4. Look for substitutions if you don’t have or like something in a recipe. Get creative and if you get stuck, Google is your friend. If there’s a recipe with a random ingredient you don’t have, don’t spend your time going and purchasing. Take a few seconds, whip out your phone, and you will be able to find a substitution for almost anything on the internet. And trust me, the more you do this, the more you get used to it.
5. Probably the most important tip: stop thinking of cooking as a chore. I get that it seems like one (or two when you count cleaning up) more things to do. But if you stop thinking of dinner as an obligation, it will seem like far less of a task. Invite friends over. Think of it as an opportunity for you all to try new things, just as you do anything else. Fail together. Succeed together. It’s an opportunity to create something out of nothing and then enjoy it. Chad and I have learned to embrace this time – sometimes it’s the only time during the day we actually see each other.
This is the recipe I created that night. I spent about 15 minutes preparing and 30 minutes baking. During the baking time, I bathed my child, put her to bed and even managed to squeeze in a few living room workouts (I’m sure FlexyBodyBabes can help you with a few recommendations here!).
Honey Mustard Hasselback Chicken and Roasted Veggies
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 medium baking apple (I used a Gala), sliced about 1/4 thick
1 shallot, thinly sliced (you can use a sweet onion, green onions or omit)
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
2-3 sweet potatoes, rinsed and cubed (I did not waste time peeling these)
¼ cup raw honey
¼ cup yellow mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ cup panko bread crumbs (optional)
Salt and pepper (or saltless seasoning of your choice)
Cookie sheet (I use a large cookie sheet with raised edges to prevent juices from sliding off)
Two cutting surfaces (one for veggies, one for meat)
Small mixing bowl or Pyrex measuring cup
Fork to blend
1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Take a large piece of aluminum foil to cover a cookie sheet.
2. Pat chicken breasts until they are dry. Always practice hand hygiene while working with raw chicken to avoid cross-contamination. Starting at one end of the chicken breast, use a sharp knife to cut a slice ¾ the depth of the cutlet. Make incisions about every ½ inch until you reach the other end. Place onto the cookie sheet (put to one side so there’s room for veggies).
3. Take sliced apples and place a wedge in every other slice. Then take a slice of shallot and place in the opposite slices. You will likely have apple and shallot leftover. Set these aside. Note: you’re going to be tempted to slice these apples very thin. Don’t. You’ll see in the pictures that I tried it a couple ways and the thicker apples held up to baking better, maintaining more of their flavor and crisp. This adds a brightness to the chicken.
4. In a small bowl, mix honey, yellow mustard and vinegar. (You can skip this if you have pre-made honey mustard, but this is the easiest honey mustard recipe in the world. Like your honey mustard dip a little creamier? Add a touch of mayo). I measure out ¼ cup of mustard into a Pyrex and add honey until it’s at about ½ cup. I then add the vinegar. This way, I do all of my measuring and mixing in one container.
5. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the chicken. Season with salt, pepper, thyme and half of garlic (or other seasonings of your choice). Drizzle some of your honey mustard sauce over the top of the chicken.
6. Chop of remaining apple into chunks and mince remaining shallot. Throw this and sweet potato cubes onto the other side of the cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies, season with salt, pepper, thyme and other half of garlic. Toss to coat.
7. Bake for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear. Pull out of oven. Spoon veggies onto a dish.
8. Optional step: You can omit this if you are being super carb-conscious. However, this step adds a textural element that I highly recommend for this dish. Mix a pinch of red pepper flakes, panko, a little thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add a tiny drizzle of olive oil. Place this mixture on top of the chicken. Put back into the oven and broil for 1-2 minutes until panko is crispy and golden.
9. Remove from oven and let rest. Serve over the veggies. Can add extra honey mustard sauce if desired. Note: I also added leftover broccoli I had previously roasted: 1 head of broccoli, olive oil, salt and pepper on foil coated cookie sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes at 400F until slightly browned and crispy, but tender.
10. Clean up. Hand wash knife. Throw everything else in the dishwasher (or hand wash if you do not have one). Take the foil and throw it away. Voila, your pan is clean.
If you have leftovers, I recommend shredding the chicken, adding the veggies, about a tablespoon of honey mustard and mixing. I do not think full chicken breasts reheat well and I believe shredding and adding a little chicken broth or water when reheating (about a tablespoon) helps keep the chicken from drying out and reinvigorates any rice or additions you might have with it. Say hello to tomorrow’s lunch!
by Ashley McCormick of ashleymccormick.com