So how little effort can I expend and still make a fresh-tasting meal?
The least effort involves my freezer. I have an inviolable rule: I don't put it in unless I know I'll be delighted when I take it out. Beef Bourginon, excess strawberry buttercream or homemade Asian dumplings -- yes. Aging leftovers or dried out chicken -- no (unless I plan to feed the chicken to my dog, and then I mark it as such and throw it in - he will be delighted, I know). I see some delicious cauliflower cheese soup and my husband - who has a permanent pass on cauliflower due to a nasty college incident involving cauliflower and alcohol - is away this week, so there's a good possibility! Another nice go-to: cryovaced marinated meat for grilling. Because it is sealed in a vacuum, this meat can be stored in the freezer for much longer than traditional grocery-wrapped meat without loss of flavor, up to 6 months (3 months for hamburger). Thaw it using your microwave's defrost cycle - which really works - start the grill and with a sauteed veggie or over a salad - voila! Dinner. But if the freezer is bare, what other options are there?
Don't pick up the takeout menu yet, here are a couple of ideas!
Years ago, I signed up for an Italian cooking class, which was to include a meal. At the last minute, I could not attend and sent my husband. While he never got his meal (and came home extremely hungry - as an aside, who does a cooking class without a LOT of food???), he did bring home a recipe for red sauce that is so quick it takes almost no more time than opening a jar. Add in some sauteed sausage and a few veggies from the bottom of your produce bin, and with a bit of pasta, you have a real meal. The world's simplest recipe for red sauce is here.
When I was first married, my husband and I used to love frozen Chicken Kiev - it was our go-to to-tired-to-cook meal. But increasingly, we realized that the chicken was not meat-like, and we were finding things in there that we didn't want to eat. We tried to upgrade by purchasing a better brand, but quite frankly pre-formed chicken is pre-formed chicken, and no manufacturer uses truly quality chicken to create chicken kiev. The recipes above are meals that come together in under 15 minutes but are fresh, tasty and real. Packaged food and takeout menus have a place in our lives, but if you're up for the challenge of just a couple of extra minutes, you won't be disappointed.
I'd love to hear from you - what is your favorite fresh and fast meal?? Do you do something special with those convenient and tasty grocery store roast chickens? Have a coucous or pasta favorite you'd like to share? Please comment below!