Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Make Ahead Spinach (Quick, Cheap & Easy)

Being a working and busy mom, I virtually have no time at all to cook during the week.  How do I solve this dilemma and still cook healthy to achieve and maintain my weight current weight loss of 100 pounds (not only once, but twice)?  I cook large volumes of food on the weekend and freeze in small portions for a few weeks at a time.

One of my absolute favorite veggies of all time is spinach.  It packs incredible phyto-nutrients, which are great at disease prevention, it is incredibly low in calories, very high in iron and Vitamins A and C (both of which are antioxidants) and Vitamin K which helps with blood clotting.  It also packs super minerals such as potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc.  So why wouldn't everyone want to jump on the Popeye bandwagon?  Spinach often-times can be incredibly expensive at the store, it goes bad fairly quickly and the frozen or canned counterparts just don't taste good at all.  Even fresh spinach can be a turnoff sometimes if overcooked - and let's face it - sometimes kids (and adults) just don't like it.  I'm lucky though that both my kids LOVE spinach (but only fresh cooked or the recipe below).

Over the weekend I visited our little home-town corner store, ANG.  They supply a lot of fresh, local, home-grown products there (and I am all about supporting your local farmers - as my extended family farms).  I noticed that they had pre-packaged spinach in their cooler.  When the owner of the store walked by, my husband and I stopped him and asked him how we may go about getting the spinach in a large volume.  He said he had an entire case in back and we can have it at case price.  What was case price you ask?  $22 for 4 POUNDS!!! GASP!!!  That is almost HALF of what you would pay at larger chain stores!  Even on sale, most bags of spinach are 2 for $5 in our location.  We got 16 bags for $22 (and would have normally paid $40 on sale).  The store owner also gave me his business card and told me as long as I give him a few days notice, I can call in any time I want and he'd be more than happy to order as much spinach as I need (and it goes for other items as well).  Winning!!! :)

Why on earth do I need 16 bags of spinach?  For cooking ahead, portioning & freezing.  This helps save time, money and helps with pre-portioning, I am able to keep control of my calorie intake a little more precisely.

Cook-Ahead Spinach

16 bags cleaned baby spinach
8 cloves minced garlic (if desired)
Himalayan Pink Sea Salt (or regular sea salt) to taste
extra virgin olive oil, for finishing (if desired)

Preheat your largest pot over medium heat.  Add a couple of bags of spinach to the pot (depending on the size of the pot) and let wilt (I use tongs to wilt that much at a time).  No need for oil, as spinach has enough water that a cooking oil is completely unnecessary.  Add salt and a small amount of garlic if desired and cook only until the spinach turns dark green.  Remove from heat.  Place spinach in a colander over a bowl (to catch the incredible about of water it will leach out).  Repeat for remaining batches, drain and finish with a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil if desired.  Let spinach cool.  You may even refrigerate for 1-2 days before the next step of portioning.  *Quick tip: Save the liquid from draining the spinach - you can freeze it in ice cube trays for smoothies for added nutrition!

**Please note:  Extra-Virgin Olive Oil is not meant to be cooked.  The molecules in it are very fragile and once exposed to heat, they will break down, even sometimes leaving carcinogens behind.  Only finish with this beautiful ingredient or use it in raw salad dressings for its optimum taste and health benefits.

Once spinach is cool, portion it out into small bags.  I'd love to know if there are any great bio-degradable bags out there - so please send suggestions if you know of any good brands.  To portion, I setup an assembly line and involve my kids.  I portion and the kids place it on a scale (as it helps me with portion control) and I seal the bags.  I hand them back to my kids who then put them in a large bag to be put in the large chest freezer.

When I am ready to put my lunch together in the morning, I grab a bag of the frozen spinach and a bag of frozen homemade roasted chicken (this will be a future post) and a container to reheat them in and done!  Now I have all-natural homemade food that not only tastes better, but it retains more nutrients than processed foods.  This is my life saver for being a mom on the "Mommy Make-Ahead Tip."  Happy Cooking! ~Cathy

Nutrition Facts For Spinach & Garlic (with or without salt):
Calories: 23   Carbs: 3g   Fat: 0g   Protein: 3g

Nutrition Facts For Spinach, Garlic & Extra Virgin Olive Oil - less than 1/2 tsp per serving (with or without salt):
Calories: 39   Carbs: 3g   Fat: 2g   Protein: 3g

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