Monday, July 13, 2015

Make your own gourmet ready-meals

In the winter I love to spend a bit of time in the kitchen making bigger quantities of food than normal, then at mealtimes I have a ready-made meal.  There are boutique cafes and food stores that offer fresh, chilled gourmet ready-meals and the prices can be quite high for a single or double serving.  So why not make your own?

With a few Gladware or Tupperware containers you can easily replicate these gourmet ready-meals at a much lower cost and with ingredients to suit your taste and any preferences or health issues.

I chopped and prepped vegetables for an hour yesterday afternoon, and the beautiful result is a huge pot of soup which will be lunch for the next week, and a pasta bake which will do at least two or three evening meals for us both (and my husband is a big eater!).

Since I was in the kitchen by myself, I happily had my iPod earphones in and listened to Oprah interviewing JK Rowling.  It was very interesting and I could chop away without getting bored.

Vegetable soup

1 kumara (sweet potato)
¼ pumpkin
½ onion
1 clove of garlic
1 carrot
1 courgette (zucchini)
1 leek
1 stalk of celery

Peel/wash/chop where applicable.  Fill a soup/stock pot to half way with vegetables and fill the pot to three quarters with hot water.  Add the appropriate amount of stock seasoning (I use four Massel stock cubes for the size of my pot) and anything else you’d like.  For example, sometimes I add a heaped teaspoon of yellow curry powder for a mellow warming taste and other times it might be mixed dried herbs.

Once everything is soft, use an immersion blender to puree.  Top up with some more hot water to adjust the thickness to your preference.  If you want to sautee the onions and celery first in olive oil and/or butter you can, but I haven’t been doing this lately and the soup is just as delicious.

Serve with a decent-sized dollop of greek yoghurt or sour cream (yum, this is the most important step).

Soup simmering last night, and 'pasta' bake about to go into the oven.  I realise uncooked meat is never that appetising to look at so sorry about that.

Pasta Bake

Now the funny thing about the pasta bake I made last night is that I realised I didn’t have a single piece, not even one, of pasta in the house when I went to use it.  I wasn’t about to go out just for that (even though it’s quite a main ingredient in pasta bake…), so I substituted rice and it was a success.  My husband was dubious at best but raved about it afterwards.  I reminded him that risotto is Italian and it has rice in rather than pasta.  But calling it rice bake sounds a bit weird doesn’t it?

500g (1 pound) lean beef mince
1 400g (14 oz) can chopped tomatoes and juice.  Rinse the can out with a small amount of water - less than 1/4 can) and mix this in too.
Seasoning.  Sometimes I get fancy and make it up myself and sometimes, I use packets.  Last night I used:
1 large 500g (18 oz) tub of full-fat cottage cheese
1 cup of rice, rinsed in a sieve
If you actually do have short pasta in the house, add 2 cups instead of the rice
½ onion chopped
Small amounts of kumara and pumpkin in tiny dice
10 mushrooms chopped

Usually I would mix everything together and put in a rectangular oven dish which I’ve wiped over with olive oil and a paper towel.  But the ingredients added up to so much bulk that I couldn’t fit the cottage cheese in at the end so I did a lasagne style arrangement where I put half of the mixture on the bottom of the dish, spread the cottage cheese over, then put the other half of the mixture on the top.

Cover with foil and bake at 180 deg C (350 deg F) for an hour.  Then take the foil off, grate some cheese over the top and return to the oven for half an hour.  I love meals like this where all the prep is at the beginning and then you can relax while it cooks.

Both the Massel stock cubes and the Simply Organic products I tried because they are gluten-free (I am celiac) but they are actually an upgrade, both in taste and ingredients compared with the stocks and gravy mixes I used to buy.  What a bonus!  And the funny thing is that even the beef and chicken flavoured stock cubes from Massel are vegan.  My sister has been vegetarian/vegan/vegetarian since she was thirteen so I could happily serve up my vegetable soup to her even with a beef or chicken stock base from this brand.  I feel like I would want to check with her first that that was okay though!

I know it’s summer where a lot of you are, so please do stash this post for the winter months when you will be looking for something warming (hard to imagine when it's hot I know).

These are just two examples of meals you can create ahead for your own 'gourmet ready-meal' menu.  I'd love to hear your ideas so I can add to my list!


  1. Sounds yummy! Will have to add these recipes to my Winter meals. :)

  2. Great idea! I've noticed whenever I watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians (not incredibly proud of that, but you know), they are always eating these huge salads and and drinking these yellow-colored drinks. I finally Googled, "What is that salad the Kardashians are always eating?" and lo and behold there were many articles about it. The salads are from a restaurant in Calabasas, and I guess they always get either a chef salad or Chinese chicken salad. The drinks are called "Mango Greentinis". The salads come in these big, round, clear plastic bowls and they just always look so good.

    I am still on the hunt for big clear bowls (even glass), but in the meantime I've just been using a big bowl. I've been prepping lots of salad vegetables, roasted chicken (or just whatever is leftover), hard-boiled eggs, and lots of other salad toppings (roasted sesame seeds, croutons, sunflower seeds, olives, etc). I have also started making my own version of their iced tea- but I use Lipton Diet Citrus Green Tea (not sure if you have it in NZ), which has zero calories, and mixing it with some sparkling water to make a sparkling green tea. It's really delicious. I also add some slices of lemon, lime, or orange if I have them.


  3. Haha, Jennifer, I watch the Kardashians too sometimes and know the big salads you mean. It can be more appealing to make a salad ahead of time in a single portion container, you could make a few at once, and pretend they're for someone else. Then you just have to put a little dressing on them and voila, instant lunch (pretending they come from a fancy restaurant in Calabasas). I love your drink idea too. Who ever said Keeping Up With the Kardashians wasn't inspirational in a good way.


  4. Hi Fiona,

    I love making batches to freeze too. It's so welcoming to come home to a delicious and nutritious meal after a long, hard day without having to go through a lot of effort to prepare it.

    Thanks so much for the recipes. The vegetable soup particularly appeals during the hot weather we have here at the moment.


  5. Fiona, I do this all the time. I make big batches of soup- potato mushroom, a turkey soup with lots of tomatoes and zucchini and French onion are just a few- and then portion them out and freeze them. I also like a mixture of ground meat or turkey, mushrooms and broccoli with lots of basil concentrate and garlic. Another favorite is chicken pasta salad- we use the little chicken tenders cooked and diced up with whole wheat rotini pasta, mushrooms and spinach or broccoli or whatever looks good. I add some parmesan on top and heat in in the microwave at work- yum! And spaghetti sauce freezes very well- I like to make it and freeze portions because there's always that day when I'm craving pasta but am not feeling up to cooking.

    I usually eat the same thing all week, but there's frequently a day when I will swap out one from the week before or whatever. Just be sure to label them! Otherwise you might be expecting turkey soup and find yourself with spaghetti sauce.

  6. Hi Fiona, I was never a fan of casseroles, but I found a delicious one that uses the summer vegetables I grow in my garden: zucchini and tomatoes. It's a great kind of comfort-food dish that would be good in the winter time, too. It's my husband's favorite! Plus, it is so nice to be able to relax while your dinner is simmering away in the oven. Here's a link!

  7. Hi Fiona, I bulk cook too ... But in huge quantities but double or triple a recipe and freeze the rest. I make spicy meat dish called kheema that looks like sloppy joes but spicier ... Meatballs freeze well, chicken strips for kids, chicken soup, black bean soup, etc freeze great.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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