Meals Made Easy: Cook with Less Hassle

Columnist Stephanie Casey
Columnist Stephanie Casey

Hello friends. Often I use this column to share ideal scenarios of food and life co-existing harmoniously for enjoyable, cultivated nourishment. Of course, that isn’t always how things work.

Sometimes you find yourself starving, staring into your mostly-empty fridge and rooting through cans in the pantry hoping for a find. As we round into the busy last phases of the holiday season, I wanted to share a few oft-repeated quickie meals I make to keep the fresh feel, even when I have little effort to give. Ingredients that can sit around a while that I always try to have on hand include a head of garlic, canned beans, canned tomatoes, potatoes, dry pasta, frozen green veggies, dried herbs, olive oil, and an onion.

The adult baked potato: Skip the microwave. Set oven to 400 degrees. Fork your Idaho potato(es) all over. Rub with olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Place in oven, directly on rack. Next, chop up some onion and cook with butter in a sauté pan over low heat for five minutes, then turn off. Now you’ve got about a half hour to walk away and do other things.

When the potato is ready (approximately 45 minutes, exterior crisp, interior completely soft when pierced), remove from oven. Relight fire under your onion pan, add some frozen green veggies (I favor peas or broccoli), more butter and seasonings of choice (go big). Once greens have heated up, crack the potato and scrape contents of greens pan right on top.

Quickie “fancy” pasta: This 20-minuter really delivers. Much fresher tasting than jarred sauce. Turn up heat under a pot of water for pasta. In a large sauce pan, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of sugar, then add lots of sliced garlic and cook until it just starts to brown. Add canned tomatoes (those harvested when prime so are much better quality than any fresh tomato you can buy outside of local tomato season), turn heat very low, and let simmer. Your water is boiling now, so add the pasta then top off your wine glass and check Instagram. When pasta is al dente, drain then add to tomato pan and toss together. If you already know this is your meal fate, grab some leafy greens (arugula, basil, baby kale, or spinach). Add to pan with pasta and tomatoes as last step. Top with some Parmesan, if you have it, or even grated nuts.

Bowl o’ beans: Canned beans are ready to go, so in a pinch you can mix them with pretty much any or every ingredient I listed earlier. Heat up in a pot with a little water added, then eat with some toast. Or keep beans at room temperature, add thin-sliced raw onion, toss with oil and spices, and call it a bean salad.

Stephanie Casey can be reached through her website at Join Real Fine Food on Instagram @realfinefood.

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