Archive for the ‘Easiest Entrees’ Category

Double Duty Dinner Ingredients

September 12, 2011

Most people who don’t do a lot of cooking say the main reason is because there simply isn’t enough time.  It’s much easier and faster to buy prepared foods, do take-out, or eat fast food.  This convenience also comes at a cost, both to your wallet, and I believe to your health.  Prepared and restaurant foods are often loaded with sodium, fat, and sometimes preservatives.   But back to the issue of time… especially with school and activities in full swing!

If you could cook only two or three nights a week but eat homecooked meals double the number of nights, wouldn’t you?  As a self-admitted efficiency freak, this is exactly what I aim to do.  When I’m doing my weekly shopping, I try to think of how many nights I plan to cook.  Then while at the store, I see what is fresh, what’s in season, and what is on sale and decide what my entrees will be.  I also try to double up on ingredients.  For instance, if I know I need cilantro for one recipe, I’ll choose to make something another night that also uses cilantro (this way you won’t use half of it, only to have the other half rot in the back of your fridge).  I also think about how I could make two dinners in one night so I can eat one, and save one for another evening.  Here’s an example of a recent week:

Monday:  pork chops on the grill, with my roasted red pepper salad on the side (photo right).  I roasted an extra pepper, plus a zucchini and a summer squash (all done on the grill) which I then chopped and used to assemble a simple lasagna. While prepping the lasagna, I shredded extra cheese for Thursday.

Tuesday:  veggie lasagna (photo above)—only needed to bake it and make a big salad (don’t dress it so you can put leftovers into an airtight container and use again the next nights)!

Wednesday:  Pork Carnitas (leftover pork from Monday, cut into pieces and wrapped in soft tortillas with prepared salsa and shredded chesse), and leftover salad.

Thursday:  pizza on the grill, using prepared dough and the leftover tomato sauce and mozzarella from the lasagna.  (When you grill pizza it takes less than 10 minutes!)  There was still some salad leftover, so we ate that too.

Friday:  a day of rest—we went out to eat!

With this plan, I cooked Monday, Tuesday I just threw the prepared dinner in the oven, and Wednesday and Thursday I used all my prepped items to make 2 super-fast meals that took no effort at all (and is MUCH quicker than take out, and tastier too!).  I even had a few extra grilled veggies and made myself a delicious veggie panini one day for lunch(photo above)!

The key is planning ahead.  I think you’d be amazed how just a little advance planning can make a world of difference.  Give it a try!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Papparadelle with Zucchini Ribbons and Shrimp

May 23, 2011

You’ve probably figured out by now that I love food.  I love thinking about food, I love creating recipes, I love cooking, and I especially love eating.  When one of those recipes I’ve created turns out to also be incredibly easy but doesn’t compromise on taste, well, then you’ve hit the jackpot.

Pasta is one of my favorite things to cook because it is like a blank slate.  There are thousands of different things you could do to make thousands of entirely different dishes.  Different shaped pasta, different sauces, different veggies or protein, different cheeses.    Typically, it’s best to ‘match’ your pasta shape to the type of sauce/condiment you’re using…shorter pastas like penne pair better with chunkier sauces, long, delicate pastas like angel hair work better with a cream sauce, or carbonara (egg) sauce. 

Papparadelle is a long, flat  pasta shaped like a wide ribbon.  I decided to use a vegetable peeler to create the same shape with my zucchini as well.  Then all I had to do was zest and juice a lemon, peel my shrimp (I take the tails off too  for easy-eating), and boil some water.  Everything cooks in the same pot, which makes clean-up extra easy.   Simple, really pretty, and delicious.  That’s the perfect dish trifecta!

Papparadelle with Zucchini Ribbons and Shrimp

Serves 4

12 oz papparadelle pasta

1 large zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into long ribbons using a vegetable peeler (lengthwise)

1/2 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails off

1 lemon

olive oil/salt+pepper

grated parmesan cheese (if desired)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until about 3 minutes short of al dente. 

Add shrimp and zucchini to the pot along with the pasta and cook until shrimp is opaque and cooked through and pasta is al dente.

Drain the entire thing in a collander and place in a large serving bowl.

Drizzle with olive oil to coat, add lemon juice and lemon zest, and grind some fresh black pepper over the top.  Toss to combine and serve immediately, with grated parmesan if desired.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Five-Minute Fettuccine Carbonara

February 7, 2011

It was snowing sideways outside my window, the kids were (amazingly) at school, and it was lunchtime.  Didn’t feel like a sandwich and didn’t have time to make soup.  After surveying my refrigerator I decided to make a super fast, super simple Fettuccine Carbonara.  Now before you stop reading, thinking I’m one of those chef-foodie-types who likes to try to pass off something really fancy and/or complicated as ‘so easy!’— just give me a chance.  When I say five-minute, I mean five-minute.  No prep time whatsoever.  Granted I’m simplifying carbonara a tiny bit, but come on, I’m making lunch for myself on a Wednesday afternoon, not having a dinner party.

“Carbonara”  is Italian for ‘in the style of the coal miner’.  What it really means is hot pasta tossed with a raw egg, pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, pancetta (or guanciale, another type of cured pork), and black pepper.   The egg creates a creamy sauce, which most people mistake for actual cream.  In Italy they do not use cream in their carbonara sauce (nor do I), but here in the U.S. restaurants often do.  It is also not unusual to see onions and/or peas in a pasta carbonara dish. 

This works best if you have fresh pasta, because it cooks in only a few minutes.  I happened to have one little uncooked ‘nest’ of fresh fettuccine left over in my fridge.  I don’t normally keep that handy, but you could do this just as easily with regular dried fettuccine (just add some minutes of cooking time).   Everything else I used are staples in my kitchen.  An egg.  Grated cheese (I buy a blend of pecorino romano and parmesan).  Frozen peas.  Pre-cooked bacon (which I keep in my freezer because I buy the kind without nitrates/preservatives). 

It’s simple.  Pasta and peas in salted boiling water.  Egg and cheese whisked together in a bowl.  Bacon defrosted in microwave for 30 seconds.  Toss hot cooked pasta/peas with egg/cheese and stir in the chopped up bacon.  Grind a little black pepper on it if you’d like.  That’s it.  Really.  Five minutes.  Don’t be freaked out by the raw egg either (like I was the first time I had it in Italy).  The pasta is hot enough to cook it to the point where you won’t get salmonella.  Trust me.  I’ve been eating it for MANY years this way and there is no problem with it. 

Make this for yourself or for your family.  I only have one warning—-eat it immediately.  This does not “hold” well.  Egg sauce needs to stay creamy, not start to cook and harden on the pasta.  Five minutes to make, eat immediately.  Yum.

Five-Minute Fettuccine Carbonara

Serves 1 (double as many times as you need)

1 serving of fresh (or dried) fettuccine ( 2-4 ounces)

1/4 cup frozen peas

1 egg

1 tablespoon grated cheese (pecorino romano, parmesan, or a combo of the two)

1 strip pre-cooked bacon

salt & freshly ground black pepper

Cook pasta and peas in a small pot of salted boiling water.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg and the cheese in a bowl, and heat the bacon in the microwave (usually less than 20 seconds).  Chop up the bacon and set aside.

When pasta is tender, drain and toss immediately with egg/cheese mixture.  Add bacon and toss again.  Top with some freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Easiest Entrees: One-Pot Pasta

November 1, 2010

Back when I was single and lived alone, one of my favorite super-quick meals-for-one was pasta and veggies.  I did it the simplest way possible—pasta cooked in salted water, add fresh veggies right into the boiling water on the tail end of the cooking time (usually broccoli and/or zucchini), strain, and toss with some olive oil, pepper, and grated parmesan cheese.  In the time it took to cook the pasta, dinner was done.  In addition to being yummy, there was only one pot to clean (and back then I didn’t have a dishwasher, so this was important).

Well, although now I’m cooking for four instead of one, I still love making different versions of this easy dish.  I also still hate washing pans, so the one-pot-meal concept is equally as appealing.  On a recent night I made a ridiculously easy meal that was met with enthusiasm by even my pickiest eater who proclaimed “this should go on the ‘favorite meal list’!”

By using some shortcuts like frozen cooked langostinos and good-quality jarred tomato sauce (my preferred brand is Victoria), you cut your prep time down substantially.  You can use any shape of pasta, any sauce, and whatever types of veggies you like.  I used shell-shaped pasta, pink vodka sauce, and a combination of zucchini and peas because it reminded me of one of the most delicious dishes I ate in Italy.  I added the langostinos for some protein, but shrimp is a great substitution if you can’t find langostinos.

 Pasta with Langostinos, Peas, and Zucchini

Everything boils in one pot!

 Serves 4
 1/2 lb dried pasta shells (or any other shape)

1 lb frozen cooked langostinos, defrosted and drained of any liquid

1 cup frozen peas

1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into quarters and sliced

1/2 of a 25 oz. jar prepared vodka sauce (or plain tomato sauce)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook several minutes until about 2/3 of the way cooked (it should be very al dente, but not hard).

Add the peas and zucchini right into the pot with the pasta.  Cook until pasta is desired consistency and veggies are cooked through (another 2-3 minutes). 

Drain into a colander and set aside.

Pour the sauce and langostinos into the pasta pot (now empty but still hot).  Allow the sauce to heat up slightly from the residual heat of the pan.  Add the cooked pasta/veggies from the colander and toss to combine. 

Serve hot with grated parmesan if desired.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Easiest Entrees: Grilled Flank Steak

June 8, 2010

I know red meat is not really en vogue anymore, and YES, I read Michael Pollan’s books, and YES, I know it is bad for my heart and my arteries and everything else.  Despite all this, I blushingly admit that I love it.  I don’t eat a lot of red meat for the aforementioned reasons, but when I do, I enjoy it THOROUGHLY.

One of my favorite cuts of red meat is a simple flank steak.  It is a relatively inexpensive cut of meat, cooks quickly, and is delicious with a wide variety of flavor profiles.  It also happens to be one of my favorite things to serve at a dinner party (don’t worry, I always have lots of veggie side dishes for you abstainers).  I almost always use a dry spice rub on my flank steaks (paired with some sort of yummy fruit salsa it is fabulous), but tonight I was really in the mood to just be super-simple.  The meat is so flavorful it really needs no embellishment, so I seasoned it with just salt and pepper (be generous) and tossed it onto my hot grill.  Alongside of it I grilled my favorite grilled garlic potatoes, tossed together a simple green salad and I had a meal any meat-eater would love on the table in no time.

The key to great flank steak is this:  take it off the grill BEFORE it is cooked to medium.  Then, allow it to rest for about 10 minutes, in which time it will finish cooking to medium.  You WANT it to be pink in the middle…overdone flank steak is tough, but when done perfectly to medium, it is delicious and tender.  You also want to cut it across the grain (you’ll be able to see which way the fibers of the meat runs…cut the opposite way), in THIN slices.  Keep these tips in mind and you’ll have perfect steak every time.

Grilled Flank Steak

Serves 4

1 – 2 – 2.5 lb flank steak (trimmed of excess fat–just the really large pieces)

salt and pepper

Preheat your gas grill to high.

Season both sides of the steak with a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Place on hot grill and turn down heat to medium.

Cook approximately 7 minutes, and turn.  The steak should have some color and grill marks on it.

Cook on second side an additional 5 minutes or so, until the meat is nicely browned on both sides.

Remove to a platter and tent with foil.  Let stand about 10 minutes.  Slice into THIN slices ACROSS the grain of the meat and serve hot or at room temperature.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Photo above by cookthinker

Mac & Cheese: Boxed Made Better

March 29, 2010

I admit it.  I keep a few boxes of macaroni and cheese on hand in my pantry at all times.  I make myself feel slightly better by trying to get the organic kind with whole grain pasta, but let’s face it, it’s still boxed mac and cheese.  However, sometimes in a pinch, or when I need a super-fast meal for the kids and the babysitter and everyone has had their fill of pizza, out comes the box. 

A number of years ago there was a lot of controversy about a cookbook that encouraged parents to “hide” pureed vegetables in other dishes in order to trick their kids into eating healthier.  While I do not have a problem with enhancing the nutritional value of what you feed your kids, I also believe it is important that your kids learn to EAT VEGETABLES in their original, non-pureed, undisguised form.  How will they ever learn whether or not they like spinach if they only way they’ve eaten it is hidden in a brownie?  That’s a soapbox for another time, so back to the point of this post. 

I had an extra sweet potato left over from dinner the night before, so I decided to puree it (in actuality, I just smashed it up with a fork) and add it to the already-orangey colored boxed mac and cheese.  In all honesty, it made it taste MUCH better, and gave the entire dish a creamier consistency.  The fact that it adds additional nutrients (sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A, C and beta carotene) was a complete bonus.  You know it is good when your husband is stealing forkfuls out of the kids’ bowls 10 minutes before the adults are heading out to dinner at a nice restaurant! 

Amped Up Mac & Cheese

Serves 2-4

1 box macaroni and cheese,

1 cup cooked, mashed vegetable (sweet potato, butternut squash or acorn squash are great choices)

Prepare mac and cheese according to package directions.  Stir in mashed vegetable and heat through.  Add 1/4 cup of additional milk if mixture is too thick.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Hot Lunch in Your Lunchbox

December 15, 2009

002As the weather turns chillier, nothing warms your little ones like a hot lunch at school.  However, if you’re like me and don’t consider mozzarella sticks from the school cafeteria an adequate meal for your growing child, consider making a hot lunch at home.  All you need is a few minutes one evening to put together some thermos-friendly lunches.  Not only will you alleviate some of the morning chaos in your house, but will send the kids off to school with a hot lunch you can feel good about! 

This “lunchbox lasagna” is an easy rendition of the classic.  The next time you’re preparing pasta for dinner, make a little extra for this dish.  There’s no baking required—just mix, heat, and pop into a pre-warmed thermos (see not below).  Your child will be the envy of the school cafeteria!


Lunchbox Lasagna

Serves 2

2 cups cooked bowtie pasta (or your favorite short pasta)

¼ – ½  cup prepared tomato sauce (depending on how saucy you like your lasagna)

¼ cup ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

2-3 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese

6 mini meatballs, defrosted (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and microwave for 1-2 minutes to heat through.

Divide lasagna mixture evenly between two prepared thermoses (see note below).  Replace the lid and place in lunchbox (don’t forget to pack a fork!).

NOTE:  To insure food will stay hot until lunchtime, fill thermoses with hot water and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes before draining and filling with hot food.  I like the 10 ounce wide-mouth thermoses—they are perfect for a kid-sized portion and it’s easy to get the food out (and easy to clean).

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.




Easiest Entrees: Double Duty Dinners

December 1, 2009

i-phone-293The other night I was making Mussels Marinara for dinner, with crostini toasts for dipping and a salad.  I’m not crazy enough to think my kids are going to go for this, so I needed to come up with something a tad more kid-friendly.  I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of “kid food”—chicken nuggets, hot dogs, etc.—and really make a concerted effort to be sure my kids eat what we eat.  I will not cook twice a night, and God strike me down before I eat that garbage on any sort of regular basis!  But, occasionally, when I’m in the mood for something a little more “grown-up”, like mussels, I’m willing to bend, a little.

I had an entire baguette for the crostini toasts, and while I could probably eat most of it myself, I didn’t want to go into carb-shock.  I decided to use half the loaf to make French Bread Pizzas for the kids—since I already had tomato sauce for the mussels, and there was a piece of mozzarella in the fridge.  I always have grated parmesan cheese on hand (sprinkle it on and your kids will eat almost any veggie!), so I could easily make them something they’d enjoy without feeling like I was whipping up two completely separate dishes.  Result?  Everyone was happy.  Nothing beats a whine-free dinner!

French Bread Pizza

Serves 2-4 kids

1/2 French baguette, halved lengthwise

1/4-1/2 cup prepared tomato sauce

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

2 tablespoons grated parmesan (optional)

Preheat oven (or toaster oven) to 350 degrees.  Line a small baking sheet with tin foil (for easy clean up).

Place the two pieces of bread on the pan, cut side up.   Spread the sauce evenly on the bread.  Top with mozzarella and sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake in oven for 8-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly, and edges of 

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Simple Vegetarian Orzo & Bean Soup

October 20, 2009

camsoup-003My seven year old loves soup.  That was only after we discovered that if she drank the broth through a straw, then she could spoon up all the good stuff with little to no mess.  She also loves to take soup in a thermos in her lunchbox, which is a lot easier than making a sandwich AND, more importantly, is MUCH healthier than what is being served in the cafeteria (that is fodder for another blog). 

On Sunday I was in a soup making kind of mood, and had chicken noodle in mind until I realized I had no chicken.  I like to include some sort of protein in my soups so they are more of a meal, and a can of white cannellini beans seemed to be the perfect (vegetarian!) substitute.  Before you think you do not have time to make soup, keep reading.  I’m not talking long-simmering, all-day-long-soup.  I’m talking ten minutes, fifteen tops.  You have ten minutes, right?

I use carrots and green beans, but you can use whatever veggies your kids are most likely to eat (peas? corn? celery?).  Then I add pasta (small shapes are best—orzo, ditalini, mini shells) and the beans, and as soon as the pasta is cooked and the veggies are tender, soup’s on.

Vegetarian Orzo and Bean Soup

Serves 4

6 cups canned low-sodium vegetable broth

2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into small slices

4-6 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ lengths

1/2 cup orzo pasta (I like whole wheat orzo)

1 – 14 oz can cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained and rinsed

1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

In a large pot, bring the broth to a boil.  Add the carrots, green beans, and orzo.  Return to a boil and cook until everything is tender (mainly the pasta).  Add the beans and heat through.

Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot with grated parmesan cheese if desired.

Don’t Knock the Block Party Sandwich

September 15, 2009

img00086On a recent September weekend in my Connecticut town, every which way you turned, a different neighborhood was having its annual block party.  Since my neighborhood seemed to be the only one not partaking in the revelry, we decided to crash someone else’s party.  Well, we didn’t actually crash, but it was fun being honorary members of another (more fun) neighborhood if only for a day.

The food was exactly what it should be for such an occasion.  Hot dogs and hamburgers cooked on a huge rented grill set up in a driveway, long tables full of delicious looking homemade salads and snacks, and of course, a few kegs of beer.  After everyone  had been fed and the evening’s entertainment was over (a guest appearance by the firetruck), parents began shuffling the younger kids home with sitters while the older ones congregated in one of the houses to watch movies.  The party would continue well into the night for the adults, who told me that around eleven o’clock the guys would restock the coals to begin making the famous hot dog and egg sandwiches to which everyone looked forward each year.  Hot dog and egg?  “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!”  they said.  This I had to see.

 This sandwich is simply a hot dog, fried egg and cheese sandwich served on a toasted roll (hamburger or hot dog, whatever was left over).  The big frying pans were brought out and put right onto the grill grates next to the cooking hot dogs, eggs were added, then American cheese.  “Do you have a special name for these?” I asked.  Naturally, each one of the guys manning the grill felt the sandwich should be named for them.  To me it looked like a sandwich version of a garbage plate (some of you know what I’m talking about).  After snapping a few photos, I left the guys to debate and eat their creations.  As strange is it sounds, I have to admit that right around that time of night it didn’t look half bad!  The vigor with which the sandwiches were getting devoured told me that no one was knocking anything.