Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The lazy chef's pantry

After consuming several cups of coffee intermittently throughout my workday, I am caffeine crashing hard when I get home from work. All I want to do is pour a glass of red, curl up on the couch, and catch up on my shows. More often than not, Sean will jump into the kitchen and bake some chicken with broccoli or grill polish sausage and kraut while I languish on the sofa (seriously have you ever heard tell of a finer boyfriend?),  but after three nights in a row of his tasty, filling cooking I start to feel  little guilty. Fairness and love dictate that I should also contribute to the weekly menu, but this obligation twists my head into knots. Lazy Hillary would much rather just order sushi or a pizza but Lazy Hillary can't exactly afford to do this. As such, I've gotten together an arsenal of easy mix and match foods that have me back on the couch in no time at all.

Quinoa is mildly nutty, perfectly toothy, and good for you to boot. You can mix it into salads, use it as a base for casseroles, or throw it into a soup for a filling edge. I love this stuff, and it also does well in your lunchbox the day after.

Canned diced tomatoes are especially useful in soups, but nothing works better for a quick and easy pasta sauce or a relish for chicken or steak. Mix it into anything you have going on the stove top for ripe and fruity flavor. And I know a lot of people might disagree with me, but there is nothing better than biting down into a chunk of stewed tomato in the midst of the rest of an entree.

Garbanzo beans are a miracle staple. At my best, I make sure there are at least two cans in my cupboard at all times. They make soups heartier and can give plain greens and dressing more heft. Oh and have you heard of this little thing called hummus? You don't even need a food processor - I once made some fork smashed hummus that disappeared within minutes. One of my favorite chickpea ventures was a salad I made with tuna, diced onions, chopped cilantro, and loads of lemon juice. It was light and bright and filling and took me all of like 8 minutes to make.

Beef stock is my broth of choice for soups. I like to use it for heating up kale, too, and it can be subbed in for water in many a recipe for bonus flavor. Of course, you can use whatever stock you please, but I think that the beef stuff has the richest flavor.

Whole wheat  sliced bread because sometimes a girl just needs to make a sandwich.

Fresh tomatoes are a must. One evening, Maura and I made a particularly spectacular quinoa and kale bowl, and the added topping of tomatoes was a beautiful and welcome flavor addition. And of course, no sandwich is truly complete without some sliced tomatoes. 

Arugula is my favorite green. I don't know why anyone would ever use anything else. It has so much interesting flavor on its own and makes me go back for salad seconds. Oh and on sandwiches? My goodness it's a treat. 

Kale will do nicely if you need a green that is more substantial than dainty little arugula. I don't actually like it much in salads but cooked with some ground turkey or lemon and garlic and I am in healthy-eating heaven. So tasty and the texture just works. Oh! If you have yet to experience the miracle of kale chips please accept the life-changing snack into your heart. I made a batch for Sean and his roommates last April. The three of them were suspicious at first, but when the chips disappeared off of the cookie sheet before they had even cooled, I knew I had something special on my hands. And it takes less than ten minutes of prep time.

Broccoli because roasting it with olive oil and salt and pepper is a revelation. Sean put it in a baking dish with chicken breasts and white wine last night and it got a little burnt and oh-so-flavorful. The florets are just irresistible when rendered slightly crispy. 

Onions drive me wild when they've been cooked just right. Some  skillet time with olive oil until they get soft and some of the edges are a little bit burnt - heaven. Cooked, they do well in soups or on top of meat. I also like to dice them up and add them fresh to a quinoa bowl.

Lemons are my favorite way to add interest to an otherwise bland dish. I made a terribly dull quinoa and cauliflower casserole last weekend and it would have gone in the trash were it not for a generous squeeze of lemon and some smoked paprika. I once made a chickpea turkey chili that tasted that much tastier with some citrusy brightening. Add. It. To. Everything.

Goat cheese is amazing and I've been known to devour it plain. It melts right into sauces and coats everything creamy and tangy-like when mixed into salads. 

Parmesan is my second favorite cheese and so so versatile. Roast it with your broccoli, toss it on your salads, and let it top off your minestrone soup. Oh and have you every tried to make Alton Brown's parmesan crisps? Watch them carefully as they cook and your diligence will be rewarded.

Greek yogurt is most beloved mixed with honey and granola as a breakfast treat. But I like to use it to thicken my soups and sauces. Mix it in with curry (I wish you could all try Sean's curry - it's genius), sub it in for sour cream, or turn it into a salad dressing with some lemon juice and oil and vinegar.


Chicken but in frozen breast form. Easiest thing in the world. Throw it in a baking dish with veggies and a sauce of your choice, cook it all through, and devour. Save the leftovers and use them to top off your salad or quinoa for an easy, healthy office lunch option.

Ground turkey rid me of my aversion to cooking with meat. It is delicious and so easy to work with. I usually prepare it with some choice vegetables before adding a soup to it or pouring it over a piping hot bowl of  (what else?!) quinoa. We don't make many pasta dishes here because Sean doesn't like noodles because he is INSANE but I imagine ground turkey would do very well in lasagna or a marinara.

Bacon will provide breakfast in a snap and is an easy, DELICIOUS way to add flavor and protein to dishes that otherwise lack it. People will drool over anything with bacon in it. Fry it up crispy and use it in a salad. Use it as your meat of choice in a soup. Or just settle your hungover self down with a plate and a tall glass of Gatorade. YUM.

Lunch meat because one must always be ready to resort to a sandwich.

The other stuff

Coconut oil is good for you and a necessity if you like Asian cooking even just a little bit. Use it in curries and stir fries and even give it a go in soup.

Pesto can be stirred into just about anything for added tastiness. A girlfriend of mine in college uses it in all her dishes, from roasted potatoes to eggs benedict to baked chicken. A jar of pre-made pesto will take you pretty far, but if you're more of an overachiever than I, you can make it homemade and store it in ice cube trays in your freezer.

Nutritional yeast is very at home on popcorn, but it's also my first mate for when I want to give raw or vegan cuisine a try. Use it in place of bread crumbs, or mix it with vegetables before roasting for a cheesy flavor without the dairy. On one occasion Maura and I pureed it with soaked cashews to make a vegan cheese for an absolutely incredible raw beet ravioli.

Dijon mustard is one of my favorite ways to flavor a dish. It makes for seriously amazing salad dressings and I love how it tastes with vegetables. My mom makes a chicken broccoli pasta dish with a creamy parmesan sauce that tastes divine and gets an extra special kick from the mustard. Stir it into everything, and, of course, spread it on your sandwiches.

Nuts. The variety does not matter but just always have some on hand. Toast them or put them in the food processor or use them to add crunch to your salads. My favorites for cooking are cashews and walnuts. My favorites for eating plain are pistachios and filberts.

Don't forget your favorite spices (mine is smoked paprika) and this quick-cooking cupboard will get you out of the kitchen and onto the couch before you can say "Dancing with the Stars." So much love to all of you. This is what we in the biz like to call a comeback.

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