Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Collection of Easy, From-Scratch Meals

I was just reading an old post at Down to Earth about quick-prep, healthy, from-scratch meals for when you don’t feel like cooking or don’t have the time. These span from things that you have ready to go in the freezer to recipes that use up whatever leftovers or half-veggies you have in the fridge from the past week. These are some of my stand-bys that fall into this category, perhaps a step above what my family calls “foraging”: digging out and reheating whatever you could find in the fridge on a given night.

• Pasta and simple sauce

I nearly always have some form of pasta on hand, so this is probably my most frequent non-labor intensive meal. Boil some pasta, chop some garlic and/or whatever fresh veggies I have in the fridge, or add some frozen peas to the pasta. Add butter or olive oil and cheese and I’m set to go. I also try to have lots of herbs and spices available (dried ones in winter) so these make it a little more exciting sometimes. My most recent combo was fresh fettucine (I had a coupon for a free pound of fresh cut-to-order pasta from Pastaworks), chopped apple, feta, olive oil, salt, and dried oregano.

• Cornbread and steamed veggies

Cornbread is one of my favorite quick carb foods. I use the same recipe I grew up with, which includes the stipulation (NOT optional) to bake in a pre-heated cast iron skillet.

Here's the recipe:
1 cup white flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cornmeal
4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil

Mix the dry ingredients together, and in a separate bowl mix all the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix well. Bake in an oiled pre-heated 9-inch skillet for 20 minutes or so at 375.

If I have canned sliced jalapeños on hand, I like to set them into the top of the batter before it goes in the oven. It comes out tasting like a chile relleno!

If it’s summer, I usually have fresh veggies of some kind to steam or sauté, and in the winter, frozen green beans or peas or edamame to steam quickly.

• Crispy Kale

Crispy kale has become a staple within my group of friends and could probably be considered its own food group. This is a great way to eat your fill of greens in the winter, since kale is in season and available everywhere.

Rinse the kale, and strip it from the stems, or at least from the tough parts of the stem. Tear into tortilla-chip sized pieces and pile on a baking pan. Keep in mind that baking will reduce this heap to a generous layer! When you have a satisfactory amount of kale torn up, drizzle with olive oil and toss and squish with your hands until every piece is coated. Spread evenly on the pan. Then stick in the oven at about 375°F for ten minutes or so. The timing will depend on the amount of kale and heat of the oven. Keep checking it; it is done when the edges of the leaves feel crispy. Take out of the oven, toss into a bowl, and season with lots of salt or nutritional yeast. Eat with your fingers!

• Beans and rice

This is fairly self-explanatory. I buy dry beans in bulk and cook big batches of them to freeze, so I always have some on hand. I switch around between black beans, navy beans, and pinto beans. I just pull out a container from the freezer or fridge and heat them up, cook up some rice (I really love jasmine rice, I know it’s not as good for you as brown rice), and eat a nice plate of beans on rice, with grated cheese or chopped tomatoes. I also really like the flavor combination of lime juice and ground coriander seed on black beans.

• Roasted potatoes

If I have potatoes handy, I just cut them into smallish chunks or wedges and throw them in a baking pan with some olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and chopped onions. I also like to top them with Old Bay, Cajun seasonings, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ powder, or some combination thereof. It takes about an hour to bake them at 375°. My favorite potatoes to roast are fingerlings like Russian or Austrian Crescents. They are really moist and have an amazing flavor.

• Stir-fry or fajitas

An old standby from my childhood. Slice sweet peppers, onions, and any other available veggies (water chestnuts are really good for stir-fry). Chop garlic, and lots of fresh ginger if you’re doing stir-fry. For protein, use either chicken or beef cut into small pieces, or else make a quick omelette and then slice it up and set it aside for the moment. It’s easiest to cook everything together in a wok, but a big skillet will suffice. Saute the meat first in some oil and flavorings, and put it aside once it’s cooked. Fry up the onion and garlic in olive oil and then add the rest of the ingredients and fry until you are satisfied. Add the meat or egg back in at the last minute. To flavor stir-fry, use ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, and basil. For fajitas, use Worcestershire sauce or BBQ flavorings. Serve stir-fry over rice, and fajitas with tortillas, cheese, and salsa. Homemade tortillas are easy: equal parts flour and masa (finely ground corn flour) and enough water to make it all stick together but not actually be sticky. Roll out between plastic bags, using a rolling pin, and cook on cast iron.

• Chicken and dumplings

I have had this one twice in the last week. I try to always have some frozen chicken broth and stock around, so I just pulled out a container of it, heated it on the stove top, and made some quick dumplings. I used a basic recipe from How to Cook Everything, but as Mark Bittman points out, you can make dumplings from just about anything. I just mixed up some flour with butter and an egg and some marjoram and salt and pepper. Chopped onions are good mixed into the dough too. Because I used one of my eggs from Full of Life farm, the dumplings came out bright yellow from that dark yellow nutrient-packed yolk! Once the broth was boiling, I just dropped in a few tablespoonfuls of the dumpling dough, and put the lid back on for ten minutes. I scooped out the dumplings I wasn’t going to eat right away, and set them aside so they wouldn’t get soggy. The whole thing took about 20 minutes.

And with that, I bid you all a happy Thanksgiving weekend!

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