How To Cook Without Really Trying

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When you are responsible for feeding little (and not so little) people day in and day out, the process can get overwhelming and daunting. You may find yourself in a rut. And in this current atmosphere, you may feel a certain amount of anxiety. Some days you may be able to pull off a full Julia Child meets Martha Stewart masterpiece, but other times, especially now, you may fall short. 

And that’s ok! We have all been there. Truth be told, I do not enjoy cooking. I can cook, I just do not like to cook. My husband is an excellent chef, but after a long day of work, he does not always want to spend time in the kitchen. So, cook I must cook. Over time, I have come up with a few go-to recipes (can I even call them that?) for when I need to cook but do not really want to exert time or effort. 

Now – before you read along, I must tell you that these are not meant to be gourmet by any means. They are not even necessarily totally healthy. And the recipe is more of a guideline than exact measurement – because that is how I roll. We all have these – our meals we throw together last minute for the kids, and sometimes we just need a little inspiration to add to that repertoire. 

The goal of these meals is to have minimal prep and cook time and to use as many pantry staples as possible. Because of this, you’ll see that I recommend short cuts, but of course you can home-make your version instead. 

  1. Chicken Caesar Salad: 

                          You’ll need:

      • Bagged Caesar salad kit (family size)
      • Pre-made chicken (Trader Joe’s has a great grilled chicken strip in the meat section, or a rotisserie chicken, shredded, works well)

Combine chicken, lettuce, and extras from kit. Add dressing. Stir to coat. Optional: add fresh cracked black pepper and substitute mix kit croutons for better, boxed croutons if you prefer. 

       2. Cheeseburger Mac:  

                         You’ll need:

      • boxed macaroni & cheese (preferably Kraft Deluxe or similar; you’re welcome to make it homemade, more power to you)
      • ground hamburger meat, approx 1lb (sub ground turkey if you prefer)
      • Rotel canned tomatoes

Cook macaroni and cheese according to directions. Brown meat, adding preferred seasoning. Drain meat and stir into cooked macaroni and cheese. Drain Rotel tomatoes and add to mixture. Optional: top with chopped pickle and shredded lettuce to make it more cheeseburger-esque. 

        3. Indian Chicken: 

                       You’ll need:

      • packet of Indian sauce mix of your choice (either a jarred mix or a packet like this)
      • boneless, skinless chicken breasts
      • potatoes (regular potatoes work, or you can get new potatoes)
      • rice (Target has a great microwave pouch of Jasmine rice, or you can make your own)

Cut your chicken into cubes or bite sizes. Chop potatoes into small wedges. Boil potatoes until tender but not done. Cook chicken in a skillet with sides. Add your simmer sauce (which is easier if jarred, but if a packet, follow the instructions on the packet, as they likely include adding butter, cream, onions, etc). Add potatoes. Simmer according to instructions, usually about 15 minutes. Cook your rice (hopefully, you’re microwaving it, because why not cut a corner?). Serve chicken, sauce, and potatoes over rice. 

         4. 3-Ingredient Spaghetti:  

                      You’ll need:

      • canned San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes (28oz can, must be San Marzano type of tomato)
      • 1 large onion, peeled
      • 1 stick unsalted butter
      • noodles of your choice – ideally, a spaghetti or even a bucatini

                        cook spaghetti for dinner

Slice your peeled onion in half. In a pot, add tomatoes, butter, and onion halves. Cook over low heat for 45 minutes or until it thickens, occasionally using your wooden spoon to smash the whole peeled tomatoes against the side of the pot. Cook your noodles (I add salt and butter to my pasta water, but you do you). When the sauce is finished, remove and discard the onion (optional: you can use a food processor to dice the onions and put into the sauce). This is a legendary recipe from the New York Times.  

           5. Naan Pizza

                      You’ll need:

      • tomato sauce (hopefully you make the spaghetti above and then save the extra sauce to use for this)
      • cheese of choice (shredded mozzarella is always good, or a pizza blend)
      • naan bread (Target sells Stonefire brand)
      • pizza toppings of your choice (we do chicken, spinach, and jarred minced garlic)

Spread tomato sauce on your naan bread, add cheese and toppings, If you are using chicken or ground pork, cook it before adding to the naan (pepperonis can be added straight to naan). If you are using spinach, chop it thin and wait to add it until the last few minutes in the oven to wilt it but not overcook it.  Put on cookie sheet and cook in oven at 375 degrees until cheese is melted. Slice into pieces and serve. 

               6. Couscous Bowls 

                       You’ll need:

      • boxed couscous (Target and Kroger carry this brand)
      • chicken (like before, I’m always going to recommend the Trader Joe’s grilled chicken strips, chopped up, or a rotisserie chicken, but take the time to cube and cook chicken breasts if you must)
      • goat cheese 
      • asparagus (preferably on the thin side)

Cook the couscous according to directions. Prepare your chicken (since this is cooking without trying, I hope you’re just pulling some pre-made out of the fridge and heating it..). Steam your asparagus (snap the bottoms off, steam in a steamer basket in a pot – don’t you have a steamer basket?). Chop the asparagus into small pieces. Stir in chicken, asparagus, and goat cheese to the couscous and serve in bowls. A summer variation on this is to use couscous, chicken, goat cheese, chopped cooked mango pieces, and sprinkle with cayenne pepper. 

                7. Short Cut Stir-Fry

                         You’ll need:

      • meat of choice (we use the stir fry strip steak cuts from Target grocery section)
      • broccoli florets (fresh, or you could get a steam bag and microwave them but undercook)
      • carrot slices (you’re welcome to get full carrots and peel/chop but that isn’t a shortcut)
      • cilantro (chopped)
      • sliced fresh jalapeños (optional)
      • jarred Szechuan sauce (we like this Target one – can you tell we shop at Target a lot?)
      • white rice (again, I tell you that microwave jasmine rice is a great shortcut, but make your own if you want)

 Prep your meat as needed (if using chicken, chop chicken breast into small pieces), add olive oil to a skillet, and cook your meat completely. While you’re doing this, cook your rice if you need to (or microwave it – because, shortcut!). Chop broccoli, carrots, cilantro, and jalapeños and add to skillet. Cook until vegetables are tender, and then add sauce. Keep on heat long enough to warm sauce. Serve over rice. 

                 8. Egg Scrambler Dinner

                      You’ll need:

      • eggs (approx 3-5 per serving)
      • cheese (shredded, your choice)
      • toppings for build your own bar: ideas include ground sausage, rotel tomatoes, diced onion, chopped spinach, feta cheese, etc)

                        cook scrambled eggs for dinner

Prepare your egg mixture, breaking eggs in a bowl and stirring. You may want to add milk (if that’s what you prefer). Heat a skillet with butter and pour one serving egg mixture into skillet. Let each person pick their toppings and add to the egg mixture (cook any meat before starting). Scramble the eggs with the toppings. Plate, start next person’s eggs, continue until everyone has personalized scrambled eggs. 

There you have it! How to cook without really trying! Because some days you don’t want to cook, but you have already gotten takeout and delivery too many times. And now you can look like you are putting forth effort when you really just cannot muster the strength. 

 

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Kathryn
A native Memphian who did a 5-year stint in Knoxville for undergrad+grad school, Kathryn loves Memphis. Being a Memphian by birth and by choice, she takes any opportunity she can to share her favorite spots with anyone who will listen. Kathryn is married to her high school sweetheart, a fellow VOLS grad who now works at a local hospital, and mom to Ruthie, born January 2015, and Kate, born August 2018. After being team #midtownismemphis for (almost) her whole life, Kathryn traded in bunaglows and original hardwood for closet space and access to Target. She's adjusting to being an East Memphis mom, but luckily still makes it to all her favorite Midtown spots. Being a mom is the hardest but best thing she's ever done.

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