Many people are discovering their inner chef these days thanks to excellent shows on Food Network and PBS that showcase a wide range of cuisines from Korean, Mexican, Italian to down south home cooking. Recipes abound on food blogs such as yours truly’s and recipe sites, that can serve as the inspiration in an otherwise ho-hum repertoire. But even at that, there are many people who are intimidated by cooking or just plain despise it.
So for those of you that despise cooking, but still would like to occasionally prepare a meal or two, I have some goof proof ways to keep you coming back for more. Keep it simple, maybe for you 70/30 rule is the way to go..70% storebought 30% home cooked. For instance maybe you pick up a Rotisserie chicken at your local grocery store, but you choose to make some mashed potatoes, or just salad, but you make the dressing or you buy the mashed potatoes and throw in some garlic infused butter at home and top with some fresh chives, or you can buy some pre-roasted potatoes throw them on a sheet pan to reheat in a mix of olive oil, cajun spice, garlic powder, salt and pepper, add some fresh herbs and it’s a jacked up hack!
If you pick up some ready-made food,there is no reason why you cannot jazz it up in some way, the addition of fresh herbs is one way to bring a dish alive, another is a good signature sauce, whether it is as simple as a well executed gravy for turkey, or a spicy ketchup glaze for a meatloaf that is store-bought, maybe its taking so refrigerated pasta and roasting some veggies, such as diced eggplant, red onions, zucchini, whole garlic, cauliflower, on a sheet pan with some herbs and olive oil, or maybe a store-bought ravioli , over a jar mariana sauce but you add some vodka and heavy cream and make a light blush sauce to go down over the top of, add some crusty ready to bake garlic bread and you have a quick meal that is “homemadeish!” Take advantage of shortcuts that make weeknight dinners a breeze. Many grocery stores sell pre-cut veggies for a perfect stir fry which can be on the table in minutes. Even pre-sliced meats such as steak strips and chicken strips can be found as well. Something as simple as crusty bread , artisan loaves, a grill pan weigh a sturdy pan placed over it, some jar olive tapenade, pesto can turn cold cuts and cheeses, into a designer panini. Much cheaper and tastier than take out, I promise! Simple additions to say store-made chicken francaise with some capers and lemon slices and a little butter, as you pan heat, can make you feel like a French chef!
There are some pantry and refrigerated staples that are will help ensure you can Iron Chef a meal in minutes flat. Some of my go to must haves are as follows:
- A jar of roasted red peppers, I use these in my famous roasted red pepper dip, and in my copycat breakfast from my favorite Jersey City Bread Bakery, 2nd Street Bakery they make an egg “sammich” that I have been eating since I was a toddler! Scrambled eggs, roasted red peppers, fresh mozz, and spicy home made sausage. It is beyond amazing! And the roll is worth the carb splurge! *When buying jar peppers get water packed peppers, you truly don’t need the oil and calories.
- Olives of all kinds, Spanish green olives, black olives, and kalamata olives all can be used in salads, think a quick Nicoiose, with kalamata olives and Italian Tuna in oil, for this type of recipe you will defintiely get more flavor punch with the tuna in oil, which is what you want, add in some green beans, and hard-boiled egg, yum! I even make a warm version, with fresh tuna, grilled over some wilted greens, string beans, topped with a sunny side up egg it’s amazing.
- Jar pesto, olive tapenade,
- Assorted mustards, yellow, Dijon, spicy jalapeno, or horseradish
- Assorted vinegars, red wine, apple cider, rice wine, some Champagne vinegar is a nice addition for coleslaws and pasta salads
- Assorted cheeses are a must, cheddar, grueyre, Mexican Shredded and mozzarella varieties , as well as American cheese
- Horseradish for jazzing up mayo, a great roast beef sandwich topper, or for a beautiful filet of beef dish
- Carrots, celery, onions, lemons, tomatoes, limes, potatoes, garlic, jalapenos, shallots, eggplant, zucchini, assorted greens spinach, kale, spring mix, swiss chard, I for one, love my greens, for a quick side, try some sautéed spinach, or baby kale with garlic and oil some lemon zest and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice, your picky kids will eat greens this way! Trust me.
- Sour cream, cream cheese, half and half, heavy cream, milk
- A variety of pastas in all shapes and sizes
- Hot sauce and Sirracha * Try adding some Sirracha to ketchup for a spicy ketchup dip for chicken nuggets, or my favorite hand cut steak fries!
- Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce
- Honey, and agave for marinades and sauces that require some sweetness
- Canned tomatoes, crushed, whole, diced, tomato pastes
- A tube of anchovy paste for a quick Cesar salad dressing, it keeps for a few months in the fridge.
- A variety of frozen veggies, broccoli, corn, chopped spinach, string beans, peas, and some medley of veggies help jazz up stir frys.
Having a well stocked fridge and pantry with go to items, can help you eat healthier, make meal prep a breeze and cut down on the need for take-out. Simplicity doesn’t mean boring or bland. I can turn out a meal of angel hair pasta, fresh garlic, sautéed in olive oil, top it with a Gremalata of fresh parsley, lemon zest and toasted bread crumbs and bring you to your knees with the amazing taste of this classic Italian Garlic Aioli. This meal is ready in the time it takes to boil water for your pasta. Serve with a nice salad and dinner is on the table in 25 minutes. Shorter than take-out and oh so much better I promise you of that!
You don’t have to fear the big bad ass burners staring before you in the kitchen, take control and show them who’s boss! Who knows you may even discover a passion for making a dish or two that your family will rave about! I hope you will be inspired to give some of my dishes a try or even better create an even better version! Bon Appetito!