Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Easy Dinners that Impress but don't STRESS

I wouldn't keep him around long if I didn't feed him well.
-- Julia Child


So, I'm commuting or at work from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. each day during the week -- coming home and making dinner needs to be quick and easy, but still taste great. Save the labor-intensive meals for the weekend. Here are some quick fixes you can prepare in about an hour or so -- or make them in advance and freeze:

1) Monday: Stuffed Shells with Sausage Marinara
- For the shells: Boil water/cook 1-2 packages of jumbo shells until al dente. Drain and let cool. In the meantime, take a tub of ricotta, a tub of garlic and herb cheese spread (or veggie cream cheese works in a pinch), garlic salt, fresh herbs, grated mozzarella and Romano cheese, salt and pepper, and mix together in a bowl. Take a silpat sheet or cookie sheet and fill enough shells to snuggly fit in your lasagna/baking pan.
- For the sauce: In a skillet, brown some garlic and red pepper flakes, add crumbled sausage (my grocery store, has a fabulous broccoli rabe and sun-dried tomato sausage, but you can use plain, sweet, spicy -- whatever you like/have available)and brown it until cooked through. Drain the meat and return to pan. Add a large can of peeled and diced tomatoes, fresh Italian herbs (dried is fine, but not as tasty/pretty),a handful of diced onions if you like them, a handful of grated romano, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of sugar, a tbs of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Once everything is warmed through and simmering, take a few spoonfulls and cover the bottom of the baking pan with enough sauce to let the shells stick, fill the pan with the stuffed shells and cover with the rest of the sauce. Cover with shredded mozzarella and more herbs, bake until cheese is melted and golden -- enjoy with green salad.

2) Tuesday: Chicken Pot Pie
- If you have time, make your own pie crust (any recipe will do) and freeze for future use. If you don't have time, ready-made pie dough or even crescent roll dough can work.
- Fill a medium size bowl with broccoli, peas, carrots (if frozen, thaw and drain, if fresh, cook in boiling water until just tender, and drain), pinch of salt and pepper and some herbs. Add cut up grilled chicken breasts, leftover chicken, canned chicken -- whatever you have.
- In the meantime, in a saucepan, melt 6 TBS of butter and then add 6 TBS of flour until you have a sticky paste. Then, add a cup of whipping cream, a can of chicken stock/broth, and stir over medium heat until sauce thickens. Add enough salt and pepper to taste (if your broth/stock is already salted, hold off on oversalting). It should taste and look like a nice white chicken gravy.
- Dump the gravy into the bowl with the meat and vegetables and mix together, gently. Add more herbs/seasoning if necessary and then fill a pie shell with the mixture. Add the top crust, flute the edges and add a vent in the middle, then bake in 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until pie crust is golden and the sauce is bubbly. Let cool/rest for 15 minutes and serve with green salad.

3) Wednesday: Quiche (kind of)
- In a large bowl, add 1 cup of sliced mediterranean olives (green and black mixed), 1 and a 1/2 cups of diced ham (lunch meat is fine), 3 big roasted red peppers drained and diced, and 1 and 1/2 cups of shredded swiss cheese. Throw in some salt and pepper, and 1-2 TBS of Herbes de Provence and mix it all together.
- In the meantime, soften a few TBS of butter and beat in 4-6 eggs, as well as about 1/2 cup of sour cream-- mixture should look milky yellow, and be slightly thick.
- Add this liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir gently.
- Take a pie plate, add a bottom layer of dough for crust, and fill with the egg/ham mixture. Put in 350 degree oven for about 40 mins, or until it gets golden and puffs up. Serve with green salad and crusty bread, or fresh fruit.

4) Thursday: Chicken Soup
- Brown some garlic in olive oil and add some sage and rosemary to the pan, until they get a bit crispy. Toss in cubes of chicken and brown that. Toss in sliced carrots, celery, broccoli and brown until just tender -- whatever vegetables you like in your soup.
- Add everything in the pan to a large soup pot, filled with about 6 cups of chicken stock/broth (can be canned, or you can make your own the next time you have a roast chicken by adding the carcass to a pot of water with carrots, celery, garlic and onion, and boiling for a few hours, then straining out the liquid. You can freeze measured out portions in bags or ice cube trays.)
- Bring to a simmer and cook until it starts to smell fabulous, then lower the heat for a while longer. Toss in egg noodles (you can precook them, or if you add uncooked, you should add while the soup is simmering) and add a few more herbs. Add a splash of lemon juice, stir once more and serve with crusty bread and a hard cheese.

5) Friday: Beef with Red Wine and Black Pepper Sauce
- Boil a box of penne until al dente, drain and set aside
- In a dutch oven or large pot, add some olive oil and brown about 3 cloves of smashed garlic until soft. Add a package of stew meat (beef), cut in 1 inch cubes and brown the meat. Stir in a can or two of drained, crushed/diced tomatoes (1 can if you have a huge one, 2 if you have regualr 15 oz cans), a few 4-inch long sprigs of rosemary, and 3 cups of a bold, red wine. Add two cups of wine to the pan, and drink the other one (it's been a long day!). Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of black pepper and simmer on low for about 90 minutes, or until meat is tender and sauce has darkened in color and coats the back of a spoon. Add more salt, pepper and a splash more wine if needed, toss in the penne and mix together until the pasta is warmed through and soaking up the sauce. Top with fresh chopped parsley and grated romano cheese and more black pepper. Serve with crusty bread and green salad. Note: Tastes best if you use kosher salt and cracked pepper.


CRUSTY BREAD:
There's a fabulous no-knead bread recipe available from the New York Times (just do a search for No-Knead Bread from Jim Lahey). I love it and use it often, especially around the holidays. You can't mess it up. Go there, print it out and commit it to memory.

GREEN SALAD:
- Use a mix of salad greens, or your favorite lettuce
- Add in chopped herbs (dill, mint, parsley, sage, oregano, rosemary)
- Toss in a tomato if you want
- Toss with an easy vinaigrette: in a small bowl add 2 parts oil to 1 part red wine or balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper and some herbs, and a tsp of dijon mustard. Whisk together until you get the flavor and consistency you like (no need for bottled dressings in your house any longer!)

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