I have a confession to make.
I have elevated lazy cooking to an art form.
There is nothing like walking into a house where good food is cooking. Think about it: half the fun of Thanksgiving Day in the US is smelling the turkey in the oven. But why restrict good meals to holidays, when it’s easier than pie to make something tasty and fast, all year around?
Are you chicken?
One of the simplest recipes in the world is chicken salad. If you buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts, just cube or julienne (a fancy word for cutting them into skinny strips,) sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss the chicken into a hot skillet with a little olive oil and/or butter. Stir and fry it until it’s starting to brown, then drop that onto a bed of fresh salad greens, tomatoes, spinach leaves – whatever type of fresh vegetables you prefer. Add some shredded mozzarella, provolone or parmesan cheese to the top, then drizzle with oil and vinegar. Voilà! (Almost) instant meal!
Simple and healthy food, and it takes almost no time to prepare. Imagine that!
An Apple A Day (Tastes Pretty Darned Good!)
Dessert, you say? Another easy recipe, coming right up. It’s sort of healthy, since you start with fresh apples. Just pour about a cup of water into a small pan, add half a cup of brown sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon. While that’s heating, peel and core two apples.
For company I halve the apples, cooking them in a deep skillet (using a double or larger version of this,) turn down and let simmer for a while. If it’s just for my family, I will slice into smaller pieces, which cook more quickly. How long you simmer depends on how tender you want your apples to be. I like mine a bit crisp, so let slices go about 15 minutes or so.
While that’s poaching in your cinnamon-and-brown-sugar syrup, get out some whipped cream (again, go for the real McCoy, the one that has some nutrition in it) and a jar of caramel ice cream topping. After your apples have simmered until they’re tender-crisp, pour them out into a shallow bowl, crisscross the top with caramel sauce, and drop on a dollop of whipped cream.
For softer apples, put them in the oven at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes before drizzling them with the caramel and whipped cream.
If you’re on a tight budget and have a lot of people to feed, there are some ways of stretching meals like nobody’s business. Say you’ve got two pieces of cold roasted or fried chicken left from last night’s dinner, and you’re trying to figure out how to make that feed four (or more) people. Impossible, right?
Ha! Guess again, Grasshopper!
Start with carrots and a whole bell pepper. Use half a bell pepper, if that’s all you’ve got – this is a recipe to use up all those leftover veggies and chicken sitting in your fridge. I’ve used fresh and canned carrots at various times, depending on what was at hand. If anything, the canned ones are better in this recipe. Dice or coarsely chop the vegetables. If you have them, chop in a small onion, mushrooms, maybe a bit of celery. Again, it all depends on what you’ve got in your cupboard and refrigeration, without going to buy something more.
Turn on the heat under a Dutch oven or large saucepan, add a couple of tablespoons of butter and/or olive oil, and stir-fry the whole kit and kaboodle. Meanwhile, strip that leftover chicken from the bone and dice it up, and – you got it! – throw it in with the veggies. Once the vegetables are tender-crisp or browned to your taste, add a can of cream of chicken soup, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and two cans of water. Heat and stir until smooth and bubbling, then add a tablespoon or two of curry powder and cook a couple of more minutes to blend the flavors.
While that’s cooking, dig out your instant rice and fix it according to the directions. For better texture, boil it for about five minutes on top of the stove, adding a little extra water if necessary. Just be sure it doesn’t boil completely dry.
When feeding younger kids, leave out the curry powder in the above recipe. If you don’t tell them, they’ll never think about the fact that they’re eating vegetables. Otherwise, your guests (or family) will be pleasantly surprised at the unexpected flavor of the curry. Better yet, recent studies suggest that curry is good for you, and this recipe makes a LOT of food. Even with my large family, I could almost always get two full meals when I made this.
One more nice thing about all of these fast-fix meals is that if you have children old enough to chop vegetables, measure water, and use a can opener, they can help you with preparation and cooking. It will save you time, they’ll have fun, and they will learn a life skill that’ll come in handy as they get older. All four of my kids are good cooks – boys included. In fact, my youngest son once dreamed of being a chef.
But I digress.
Where’s the Beef?
Chicken isn’t the only simple base for making a fast-fix meal. Ground beef is a staple for most non-veggan American familys. Scrambled hamburger meat is a base for tacos, spaghetti, sandwiches – any number of meals.
One of my grown kids’ favorites is the “Mom” version of homemade Hamburger Helper. Cook and stir together ground beef, diced onions and diced bell pepper. After the hamburger is browned, add two 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce, four cups of water, and two cups of elbow macaroni. Add salt and pepper to taste, and cook just until the macaroni is done. We call it goulash at our house, even though it bears no resemblance to the Hungarian dish. The kids used to just call it “good!”
All of the above recipes work well even on a shoestring budget. They’re all fast and easy to fix, catering to the lazy cook in all of us.
(Pssst… That’s French for, “Dig in, y’all!”)