Recipe Rescue: When life gets busy

Patrick Mathieu
January 09, 2018
Written by
As I sit down to write this article, a lot of big things are happening in my life. My beautiful wife is 32 weeks pregnant and our home is under renovation. Throw in work, kids and activities and my deadline for this article has well passed (sorry to my very patient editors).
Then it hits me . . .  wow, life is busy! It is a life we chose, but finding the time for even the simplest tasks seems almost impossible at times. I am sure that I’m not the only one to feel the tug of everyday responsibilities and pressures of a busy life. When your day gets filled up with things to do, it is often meal time prep, cooking and eating that gets cut out of the agenda. Sometimes, take-out and boxed meals can seem like the only option. Not only does your overall health and nutrition suffer for this, but you also lose quality time cooking and eating together as a family or crew. No matter how busy life gets, meal time is a priority in my home and I make it a priority for my crew in the fire hall.

You have to eat, right? So you might as well turn it into an opportunity to stop, refuel and recharge. The key is to simplify meal time so it doesn’t feel like just another thing on your list. Here are a few tips that have helped keep my love of cooking strong, even on busy days when it would be easier to order a pizza.

Cook when you feel fresh.
No one wants to work all day, get home late and then try to feed the family. Instead of enjoying the process of making a great meal, you are more likely to rush through it to get food to the table as soon as possible. Where’s the pleasure in that? Start meal prep in the morning, and if you can’t cook it all the way through at least you’re giving it a head start. Perhaps spend a weekend afternoon preparing meals for the week when you feel less pressure. You will be happiest cooking when you have the most energy to do it.

Keep fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins on hand
It’s no secret that if you have a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator with quality healthy ingredients, they are more likely to find their way onto your plate (or in your bowl). A healthy soup, salad or pasta can be made in 20 minutes or less, which you can fill with nutritious ingredients that leave you feeling satisfied.

Practice and perfect a few favourite meals that everyone loves

Look for dishes that the family and crew can’t get enough of that you can whip up without a recipe (or you can try some of my recipes). Think of Vietnamese noodle soup with a warm, fragrant broth and filled with any combination of your favorite noodles, protein and vegetables. Or, perfect a classic five-ingredient recipe like spaghetti carbonara, where the ingredient list is short but the flavour is huge!

Food and health trends come and go.
I recently did a live cooking demo and talk at Toronto Fire Services’ wellness symposium. My message was to use whole real foods and focus on quality over quantity. Yes I cook with butter, and yes I cook with cream. I eat carbs and grains and I try to maintain an overall healthy balanced diet. Focus on health when you think of food. Think of it simply: if you eat more vegetables, you will be healthier. If you drink more water, you will be healthier. If you get caught up in food trends and diet fads, this will become your focus instead of enjoying the food you make.

Cooking is easier than you think
I totally understand that not everyone loves cooking as much as I do, but what I want people to realize is that boxed meal options really aren’t that much easier than cooking from scratch. In the amount of time it takes to make a box of macaroni and cheese, you can make your own using natural, simple, wholesome ingredients. I promise it will be much more rewarding and delicious.

We all go through stages in life where it feels like daily responsibilities are a little overwhelming and trying to balance it all can be difficult. These are the times that we need proper nutrition more than ever. Don`t let making meals become another chore. Instead, embrace it as an opportunity to slow life down, connect with your loved ones or crew, and reward yourself with togetherness and a great meal. Find out what works best for you and make it part of your daily and weekly routines. I hope my tips help and you enjoy the recipes I’ve shared in this edition of Canadian Firefighter. As always, if you need any kitchen advice or recipes please feel free to contact me. Stay safe and eat well!


Spaghetti Carbonara

Ingredients
  • 1 lb dry spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 oz pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Heavy cream (optional)
  • Pinch of nutmeg
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for eight to 10 minutes, or until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta, reserving half a cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce (if you wish).

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté for about three minutes, or until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and sauté about a minute more.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for a couple minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble. Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water or heavy cream, if desired, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and salt to taste. Distribute the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley and more cheese if desired. Enjoy!


Vietnamese Pho

Ingredients
For the broth:
  • 2 large onions, cut into quarters
  • 4-inch piece of fresh ginger, quartered
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 6 cups beef broth
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
To serve:
  • 1/2 lb sirloin steak
  • 8 oz dried rice noodles (bahn pho)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 chili pepper (Thai bird, serrano, or jalapeno)
  • 1 to 2 limes
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1 cup fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, Thai basil, mint, or a mix)
  • Hot sauce, Sriracha, or hoisin sauce, to serve
Combine all the broth ingredients in a large soup pot. Cover and simmer the broth for 30 minutes to give time for all the spices and seasonings to infuse.

Slice the beef into very thin slices across the grain, and aim for slices no thicker than a quarter of an inch. Once sliced, keep the beef covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.

Bring a second saucepan of water to a boil, drop in the rice noodles and cook according to package instructions (typically one minute for very thin noodles and up to four minutes for wider noodles). Strain the noodles and run them under cool water to stop cooking. The noodles will start to stick together after cooking, so either divide them immediately between serving bowls or toss them with a little neutral-tasting oil to prevent sticking.

 When the broth is ready, set a strainer over another bowl or saucepan, and strain the solids from the broth. Discard the solids. Place the broth back over low heat and keep it just below a simmer. You should see a fair amount of steam, but the broth should not be boiling. The broth needs to be quite hot to cook the beef.

Divide the noodles between serving bowls and top with a few slices of raw beef. Arrange the beef in a single layer so that the slices will cook evenly in the broth. Slices that are stacked or clumped may not cook all the way through.

Ladle the steaming broth into each bowl, pouring it evenly over the beef in order to cook it. The beef should immediately start to turn opaque. Fill each bowl with as much broth as desired. Serve the pho with all of the toppings at the table and let each person top their bowl as they like. Enjoy!


Seared Tuna Nicoise Salad

Ingredients
Vinaigrette
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh tarragon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salad
  • 1 lb small red new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 lb green beans, stems trimmed
  • 2 lbs fresh sushi-quality tuna
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup Nicoise olives
  • 16 anchovy fillets
  • 16 caper berries with stems
  • 1/2 bunch fresh chives, snipped in half
To make the vinaigrette combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk vigorously so it will emulsify. Set the dressing aside while preparing the salad.

Cook the potatoes, eggs, and green beans all in same pot. To do this, put the potatoes in a large saucepan with a pinch of salt and add enough water to just cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer the potatoes for 12 minutes to give them a head start, and then add the eggs. Place a steamer basket or colander on top of the simmering water and put the green beans in the steamer and cover with a lid. Steam the beans for five minutes until crisp-tender while continuing to cook the potatoes until fork-tender. Drain out the water and put the potatoes, eggs, and green beans in a colander. Rinse briefly under cold water. Peel the shells off the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Rub the tuna on all sides with olive oil, a bit of the vinaigrette and season with a fair amount of salt and pepper. Lay the tuna in the hot pan and sear for approximately two minutes on each side. Transfer the tuna to a cutting board and slice into half-inch pieces.

To assemble the salad combine the potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, olives, anchovies, capers, and chives in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the salad with enough vinaigrette to just moisten and toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper and take care not to mush up the ingredients. Arrange the ingredients nicely on a dinner plate and lay the seared tuna across the top, with the eggs around the rim. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette and serve. Enjoy!


Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Mathieu is the author of Firehouse Chef: Favourite Recipes from Canada’s Firefighters, published in 2016. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  @StationHouseCCo

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