Tag Archives: easy meal

Foraging-Pantry Style

16 Feb

Holidays were so busy this year. I had house guests throughout the season. I dearly love a bustling holiday crowd, but let’s face it-it’s work. Now the holidays have passed with warm happy memories lingering, warming even the coldest of winter days. But I am tired. Which is why I foraged in the kitchen for dinner tonight. It was an epic win. Why? No trip to the store. Created from items on hand. It was easy. And delicious.

It began as a late afternoon (post catnap…isn’t that what weekends are for?) scattered thought-what sounds good for dinner tonight? So I meandered off of the couch and went to the freezer. Score! There was some ravioli that was fresh but had been tossed into the freezer. I pulled it out. It was the starting point. On to the pantry.

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It is a time saver to get fresh pasta. It cooks much more quickly than dried. Don’t have time to cook it? Toss it in the freezer for later!

After flipping the pantry light on and gazing somewhat absentmindedly (my brain may still have been in nap mode!) at the shelves, I silently willed inspiration to come. The ravioli was my center of the plate star, but it needed sauce. Something interesting, fun, different. And above all, quick and easy.

I found a can of artichoke hearts, diced tomatoes, olive oil, and a couple of garlic cloves. The fridge had some fresh celery, butter, half and half, and some leftover chicken stock. I could work with this. So (a lazy) dinner prep got underway.

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This is what I foraged from the pantry and fridge.

I took out a sauce pan, put it on a medium heat, and added about 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. While the butter melted into the oil I roughly chopped some celery stalks and leaves. Listen y’all, there is no reason not to use the entire celery stalk for a sauce. I chopped the garlic as well.

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Start with extra virgin olive oil and good quality butter.

When the butter and oil were hot, the celery garlic mixture went into the pan to sizzle for a couple of minutes. I stirred and kept it on a medium low heat-garlic can burn quickly so it must be watched and stirred.

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The garlic and celery filled the kitchen with delicious aromas. Don’t forget to use the celery leaves!

In between stirs, I drained the artichoke hearts. They were packed in water so after they were drained I squeezed them upside-down over the sink to remove excess liquid between the leaves. After a rough chop I added them to the sizzling garlic and celery. Mmmmmm. The kitchen smelled wonderful.

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Drain your artichoke hearts to control the seasoning in the sauce.

Next in went a can of diced tomatoes, juice and all. Mindful to layer flavors, I added salt and pepper. I keep a salt cellar of a high quality salt and pepper mixture next to my stove. This makes it easy to layer in seasonings as I cook.

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Keeping a salt cellar on the counter is an easy way to layer flavor as you cook.

If adding salty ingredients such as capers to a sauce, I go directly for the pepper and leave the salt out until the last minute, adding if necessary. No capers here, so salt and pepper were a must.

The juice in the tomatoes needed a fresh minutes to reduce and thickness slightly. The heat was still on medium and it took about 8 minutes for this lovely sauce to thicken up. Time to layer some more flavor. A few splashes of chicken stock was sounded yummy.

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Any kind of broth will do for this easy recipe!

After adding the broth, I added a few red pepper flakes as well.  I just can’t stop myself from adding a heat layer. Since this was a recipe for two and Denis is not as fond of heat in a sauce as I am, I went light with just s few flakes. A good stir incorporated all of these lovely flavors.

The sauce was simmering beautifully. Time for the creamy. I added about 1/2 cup of half and half. If you are lactose intolerant you can leave this out. The sauce will still be thick and lovely.

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Oh the creaminess of half and half!

With a good stir and the heat lowered to medium low, this fragrant sauce needed only a few minutes to heat through. I had put a pot of water for the ravioli on, and it was boiling. Time to get the ravioli cooking. It had defrosted and was a fresh pasta. It cooked up in a snap.

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Add a heaping Tablespoon of salt to your pasta water. This not only helps add a bit of flavor to the pasta, the starchy water will thicken any pasta sauce.

Before draining the pasta, I gently removed about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and slowly stirred it into the pasta sauce. A little cooking hint for you-starchy pasta water helps sauce thicken and cling to the pasta. It is a step that is worthwhile to incorporate.

Time to plate this up.  I had opened a can of green beans to cook up quick as a side dish. I chopped up 2 small peppers I’d found in the fridge and added those to the green beans.  Goat cheese crumbles were on hand, so those were lightly sprinkled onto the green beans. Again, this was all foraged from the pantry and fridge. No trip to the grocery store tonight!

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I use my Christmas plates long past the holiday. They just make me happy, so it is usually mid January (okay truth be told maybe even a little later than that) by the time they get put up. Here is the finished super easy dinner. Look at how that sauce clings to the pasta perfectly.

There was just a few ravioli left, so into the fridge they went. My daughter nabbed them the following morning after a long run. Dare I say they were better the next day? Pasta always is! What can you make from your pantry? Send me a postcard and let me know. I love hearing from you!

Artichoke Tomato Sauce

  • 1 Tablespoon each olive oil and butter
  • small stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 14 ounce can Artichoke hearts in water
  • 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 4 ounces chicken stock (can substitute vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
  • 4 ounces half and half (may omit for vegetarian option
  • Cooked pasta of choice-enough for 2 people
  • 4 ounces pasta cooking water
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Add butter and olive oil to pan and heat on medium. When sizzling add celery and garlic and turn heat to medium low.  Stir and let cook for about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, drain and roughly chop artichoke hearts. Add to the pan and stir. After 4 minutes, add tomatoes with the juice. Add salt and pepper. Stir and simmer for 8-10 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened. Gently stir in the stock. After well incorporated, add the half and half, if using.

Let the sauce simmer. Add to pasta and enjoy.

NOTE-If a keto or gluten free diet is your thing, this sauce is also wonderful spooned over a piece of chicken or fish instead of pasta. If this needs to be a vegetarian sauce, leave out the half and half and use vegetable broth. For the dairy intolerant, omit the butter and the half and half. How is that for a flexible sauce? Gotta love that!  Let your imagination run wild with this sauce and let me know what you create!

 

 

 

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It’s (Still) Soup Season!

2 Mar

Step up kids. It’s time to get the soup on. Lets do this! Today we are putting together some tomato basil soup. We will also toss in a couple of roasted red peppers for a special touch. Tonight we have soup, tomorrow we use leftovers for a sauce. But first things first. On to the soup.

To get things going let’s start with flavorful mire poix. What is that you ask? It is a combination of vegetables that are gently cooked. A mire poix is a great base on which to start layering your flavors. I diced up some green onions, celery and some carrots. I also diced some garlic, but that needs to be added in later. First things first.

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Its okay to give these veggies a rough chop. We will smooth this out in a bit. Get your big soup pot out and heating up over a medium heat. After it warms up for a few minutes add some good quality olive oil.

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When your oil is heated up toss your veggies into the pot-but hold off on that garlic for a bit-it burns easily so we will ease that into our soup later.

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Give the vegetables a good stir. Add salt and pepper. I like to have a salt and pepper mix close by when cooking.

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The vegetables will soften and become fragrant. Let them cook for 4-5 minutes and then add the garlic. (Garlic is lovely when roasted but when it burns-well not so much, so it needs to be added right before the tomatoes). Keep stirring gently, and let the garlic cook for about 2 minutes. Now we will add good Italian tomatoes and some roasted red peppers.

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Add the entire contents of the tomatoes to the vegetables in the soup pot. With the peppers, take them out of the oil before adding to the vegetables.

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Keep the heat at medium, stir this all up, and enjoy seeing this bubbling goodness come together. The fragrance filling your kitchen will give you a reason to stand there and do some deep breathing. Yum. Let this simmer for 20 minutes or so, stirring every so often. Then get ready to add another layer of flavor to your soup.

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Now we add the chicken broth. If this will be a vegetarian soup, feel free to add vegetable stock instead. The soup will delectable either way. Also add parsley and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. I like a little heat, so I also add red pepper flakes, but that is optional. The winter soup delight is coming together perfectly.

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Time to add the basil. I grow basil in my summer herb garden, but since it is winter I bought some. Fresh basil is worth it in this soup so get it fresh if you can.

 

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Pull the leaves gently off of the stalks and give them a rough chop. We will use an immersion blender to cream the soup later, so don’t worry about your knife skills. Add the basil to the soup and stir.

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Grab your immersion blender. Don’t have one? Invest in one. I use mine for everything from smoothies to vinaigrette to soups and sauces. This kitchen tool is essential. Put your immersion wand into the soup and blend away. Be mindful of the hot soup and do not allow it to splatter.

You can also put the soup in the blender to smooth out, but be very cautious, go slowly and do it in batches to avoid burns and accidents. I using a blender pour the soup back into the pot. Let the soup simmer while you get your soup bowls out. Fill your bowl up, garnish with fresh parmesan cheese and basil, then get ready for tasty greatness.

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Keep your eye out for my next blog. We will explore ways to use your leftover soup-if you have any!

Be Flexible

1 Mar

I like options.  I like flexibility.  Especially with cooking.  I am a busy mom.  I can’t afford to fiddle fart around during the busy work/school week, and don’t want to get locked into one option.  I am going to cook one thing that will last more than one meal, and that can be used in a number of ways.

Brown some ground italian sausage.  Yum!

Brown some ground italian sausage. Yum!

That said, this is what I made on a busy week night.  I started by browning a pound of italian sausage.  Next, I added some freshly chopped peppers.  I happened to have fresh peppers that I quickly chopped, but listen…you don’t have to take the time to cut peppers yourself.  Nicely cut peppers and onions are available in the produce section of the grocers.  Don’t let the label “fajita mix” fool you.  Those peppers are not seasoned yet, so if you want to throw them into a pot of browned italian sausage, you go right ahead.

Stir in some freshly chopped peppers. Layer those flavors!

Stir in some freshly chopped peppers. Layer those flavors!

So after my sausage was brown, I drained most of the fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon.  I tossed the peppers into the pot and stirred the mixture around.  That cooked for about 5 minutes, then I tossed in a can of diced tomatoes, parsley, basil, and some red pepper flakes.  I gave that a good stir.  Then I added a dash of salt and sugar.

 

Add these simple ingredients.

Add these simple ingredients.

But hey, did I mention I am busy just like you?  I don’t have time to sit in the kitchen and stir my sauce.  So into the oven it went.  I wanted it to simmer, and the oven is the perfect spot for that.  Side note.  Invest in a pot that can go from the stove top to the oven.  It will save you loads of time, and after all, time is money.

That sauce bubbled in the oven for about an hour.  Man oh man did the house smell great.  I pulled it out, removed the lid, gave it a good stir, and was pretty hungry for dinner.

Now what?  Did I mention that I like options?   Here is the beauty of this sauce.  It had protein and vegetables in it, so it was an “all in one” as far as that goes.  I did not need to make a separate vegetable.  We can go a couple of ways with this dish, depending on what is in the pantry.

We could:

1. Toss this with pasta-even throwing in a handful of spinach if available

2. Use as a pizza topping

3. Make pepper and sausage sandwiches

4. Load onto a baked potato

5. Make a quesadilla

How about that?  Love those options!  And the leftovers were divine.  Now that’s flexibility for you!

 

Quinn and I made open face sanwiches that night.  They were delicious.

Quinn and I made open face sandwiches that night. They were delicious.

And Go!

4 Jun

Its 6:14. P.M.   Time (or past time!) to start dinner.  Well, it is a little late tonight, but I am busy mom that works outside the home in addition to managing my family.  This will have to do.  Whats for dinner?  A wonderful home cooked chicken dinner.  Chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans.  And ready in a snap.  Here we go.

I cut the red potatoes into quarters, put them in a large sauce pan and covered them with water.  I tossed in a teaspoon of salt, and put the pan on the stove.  I turned the burner to high until they started boiling,  then down to medium heat.  I covered the pot, but left a crack in the lid for the steam to vent.  15 minutes and they would be done.  By the way, potatoes can be “rustic” and don’t always need to be peeled, especially if short on time.  Mashed potatoes are delicious with the skins mixed in.

Next, I took boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut them in half (okay, I call chicken breasts like these  Dolly Parton Chicken…) and sprinkled them with a little salt and pepper.  I sprayed a large skillet with non stick cooking spray and put it on a medium high heat.  I let the pan heat up for a minute and then in went the chicken.  6 pieces in all.  I am feeding myself and my three teenagers.  It is 2.17 pounds of chicken, and I hope it calms the beast of a stomach within my teenagers!

Then I put a time saver move into play,  but a nutritious one and necessary at this point. I opened 2 cans of green beans and poured them into a microwave safe bowl.   I added about 1 tablespoon of butter and a healthy grind of some fresh ground pepper.  I put them into the microwave for 4 minutes.

In the meantime, I drained the red potatoes.  (There is a lot of steam when you do this.  If you kind of put your face over the potatoes, but not too close, when you drain them into the sink. I call this my “busy moms mini facial”. Ha!).   I put them back on the stove with no heat under them.  The residual water needs to evaporate for a minute. Then, I added about 1/4 cup skim milk, about 2 tablespoons of butter, a few tablespoons of fat free sour cream, and some horse radish for a punch of flavor to the potatoes.  I used my hand mixer to smooth them out a bit.  I finished by added some salt and pepper.

When the chicken was done, I oozed a bit of flavorful barbecue  sauce onto the breasts.  The cover went on the pan, I removed them from the heat, and let the flavors take hold.

While the meal was cooking, I called my kids into the kitchen to set the table so it was ready when the food was.   They also put some nice music on.  They helped get the food to the table, and dinner was served.   And the rule in my house?  Whoever cooks dinner is off the hook for dishes!

That’s it.  Dinner is ready to come to the table in less time than driving to the local fast food place.   In a snap my family had a good home cooked meal to share.  We also always enjoy dinner time to catch up about school, new movies, and what friends are up to.   It is a great time to connect as a family.  And it is easy, nutritious, and budget friendly!

Double up!

26 Jan

When I cook, when I really roll my sleeves up and dig into the kitchen and my recipes for the long haul, I cook big.  There is simply no reason to cook only one meal at time.  When cooking chicken, it is easy to toss a couple of extra pieces in the oven or on the grill to freeze and use later.  When making a sauce, it gets doubled  so the extra sauce can be used later.  Even when a small amount of food is left over from a meal, I save it for inspiration for another dish to prepare later.

Crazy days and intense schedules can be the norm for all parents at some point.  Those are the days when pulling home cooked leftovers out of the freezer pays off.    Recently, my teen aged daughter asked me what was for dinner.  I gently informed her that I was taking the night off.  To my credit, I said this with conviction and not even a tiny bit of guilt!  Hey, if we aren’t teaching our kids how to take care of themselves, we aren’t doing our job right!

After the look of horror and accompanying eye roll passed over her face, she resigned herself to the fact that I was, indeed, not moving off the couch and away from the novel I had started to read.  So she looked in the freezer for something easy to eat.  She found about a 1/4 cup of home made pesto-a favorite of hers!

That was all the inspiration that she needed…well, that and the hunger pangs of a teenager that hasn’t eaten for a little bit.  She heated that pesto up in the microwave.  Meanwhile, she put a pot of water on the stove to boil and pulled out the George Foreman grill and turned it on.  Back to the freezer while the water and grill were heating, she found a boneless skinless chicken breast.  Onto the grill that went.

If it doesn’t bite them on the hand, a teenager won’t fix it.  So I make it easy on them, and on myself.  I try to make time to cook up some staples during the week.  Sometimes during the evening when the children are tackling some homework, I can cook up some chicken or brown some ground beef, season it up, and put it in the freezer.  It is easy to pull out some chicken meat that has some taco seasoning on it, put it on a tortilla, add some cheese and peppers, and make a quesadilla.  Easy food and easy clean up!  It is important to me that “scratch made” food, which is healthier than grocery store prepared or fast food, is available for my family.  And believe me, when I get in the kitchen and start cooking, and those amazing smells waft about, I become the most popular mom around!  Nothing like being Queen in the kitchen!

Quick and Easy!

3 Jun

I realize that some people feel about cooking the way that I feel about balancing a checkbook.  I would rather do anything but that!  Bring on the shortcuts!  Here is the good news for people who don’t like cooking.  There are shortcuts to making a good healthy meal!

Grilling is a snap, and clean up is a breeze.  A good meal can be prepared quickly if you throw most of it on the grill.  Don’t have outdoor grilling space?  Those table top/counter top models work great too.  Start looking for one on sale and snap it up!

Now comes the easy part.  Here is a quick, easy, and nutritious meal.  Simply salt, pepper, and season some fresh chicken breasts with your favorite spices.  Rub it in, drizzle a bit of olive oil on it, and let it sit for a moment.  Take some fresh vegetables, a yellow squash for example, and cut it in half down the middle.  Salt and pepper it.  Set that aside.

Grab some minute rice and vegetable stock (always keep some yummy chicken and vegetable stock in your pantry).  Toss equal parts of stock and rice, preferably brown, into a sauce pan and fire up your stove top.  Get that cooking.  Light your grill.  Toss your chicken on when your grill is good and hot.

There are a couple of easy ways to cook vegetables on the grill.  Making a dense vegetable, like beets or onions may take a bit more time than other vegetables, and a foil pouch helps it steam quickly on the grill.  Making a foil pouch is just like it sounds.  Take some tin foil, put your vegetables on it, add some olive oil or a tiny bit of butter.  Sprinkle your favorite seasonings lightly over it.  Now crimp a piece of foil on the top.  Make sure the pouch is good and sealed.  Now toss it on the grill.

Making a juicier vegetable, such as summer squash, is also super easy.  When your chicken is about done, simply toss it on the grill.  Let it grill and get some good grill lines on it.  That only takes a couple of minutes if your grill is at around 400 degrees.  Turn it once.  Now its done.  Yup…it is that easy!

Pull all of your food off the grill.  Stir your rice.  Plate up.  A quick fresh dinner is now ready for 1, 2, or 10!  It

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is that easy!  I use a gas grill for ease of starting, and I love cooking with gas.  But any grill will do.  As I said, even an electric table top model is a snap to use for quick meals!  So if you do not like cooking but want a simple fresh meal, toss your food on the grill and you will have a nutritious meal in no time!