Quick and Easy Meal Ideas
In my opinion, one of the hardest things to learn is how to cook for
yourself, or for yourself and your partner/housemate, on a daily
basis. It is not feasible to try a new recipe every day and old or
well-known recipes can get boring. Many recipes call for a lot of
preparation and ingredients.
We've found that we like to mix quick cooking with recipes, sometimes
across the week, sometimes across one meal. So a multi-step salad can
be paired with leftovers or a box mix. Or a pre-cooked chicken can be
mixed with canned refried beans for burrito night and then used for
chicken salad the next day. Or a complex main dish can be paired with
a bowl full of raw baby carrots.
One trick we use is to buy a 4-pack of ham steaks - pre-cooked or
smoked slabs about a 1/4 inch thick - for two different quick meals.
One night, use two steaks and pan-fry
them and top 'em with pan sauce, another night use the other two by
chopping them small and throwing them in with a package of VIGO's Red
Beans and Rice (just follow the package directions, except you add the
ham at the beginning with the rice and beans).
One night when you have extra time (Saturday or Sunday maybe) poach 4
chicken breasts in broth. I like to use the 32 oz. boxes of
free-range chicken broth. Cut up two breasts for chicken salad one
night. Cut up the other two breasts and re-heat by mixing them in
with a can of refried beans (in a non-stick pan, you can heat them
without butter or oil). Fold them into a warm tortilla (either heat
the tortillas individually in a wide, shallow frying pan or microwave
the burrito for 20-30 seconds after you've assembled it) with
pre-shredded cheddar or jack cheese. Save the broth and use it for a
You can also fry the chicken - pound it to a uniform thickness, salt &
pepper both sides and fry in butter and/or oil until no longer pink in
the middle (3-4 minutes on a side). Or cut it up into bite-sized
chunks and then fry it - you could even fry it with minced garlic or a
tablespoon or two of basalmic vinegar for more flavor.
This is a good "one-pot meal" for dealing with leftover turkey breast.
Probably would work with leftover chicken as well. Get a box of Near
East Rice Pilaf and cook it according to package directions EXCEPT
cook it in a large, non-stick frying pan. After 20 minutes, mix in a
cup of frozen peas and let it go another 5 minutes. Take off the
cover, add a 1/2 cup of sour cream, 1-3 cups of leftover turkey cut up
into bite-sized chunks, salt, freshly-ground pepper, and as much
Worcestershire sauce as you like. Mix it up, cook it on medium (or
medium-low - you're just warming everything up) for about 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat, top the mess with grated cheddar, put the cover
back on, and let it sit for another 3-5 minutes (to melt the cheese -
if you're really hungry, by all means just eat it). Serve.
One important thing about regular cooking that you gradually learn is
the trick of having the right ingredients on hand. With my chili
recipe, if you keep a bunch of ingredients that are useful for
lots of things on-hand, you can make the chili.
So - a tube or two of crumbled pork in the freezer, a can of diced
tomatoes, a can of small red beans (or your favorite beans), a 3-pack
of Swanson's 1-cup boxes o'broth, a box of Uncle Ben's Instant Rice
all in the cabinet, and pick up some dried chiles (chilies?) next time
you see them. Most of the rest of the ingredients are standard
spice-rack type stuff, although not everyone has "chili powder" in
their spice rack. But once you have dried chilies and the chili
powder, they'll last you through dozens of iterations of the recipe.
One trick for keeping ingredients on hand is to put them on your
shopping list as soon as you use them. So, when I make chili, I put
pork and beans and tomatoes on the shopping list. When I use up the
instant rice or the last box of broth, I put it up there too. And we
shop pretty much every week, even if it's just for a dozen or so
things - fresh milk, whatever's accumulated on the list, etc. - it
helps keep the pantry stocked.
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