Like everyone else, I guess, I am constantly trying to come up with ideas for dinner. Ideally: tasty, healthful, easy. We absolutely have some favorites. But I have this really bad habit of accidentally taking a super-easy meal and making it more difficult. Here are three examples.
Chicken Pot Pie
One day I decided to make a really lazy meal, so I assembled a very quick chicken pot pie. The basic recipe was:
- 2 prepared pie crusts
- cooked chopped chicken
- frozen hash brown cut potatoes
- frozen peas-and-carrots blend
- frozen corn
- a can of cream of mushroom soup
Simple enough, right? Slap the pie crust down, throw the chicken and veggies in on top and mix them around a bit, pour the soup over it, cover with the pie crust, bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or so, and you’ve got a meal that is not supremely fabulous in any way, but it’s very easy, especially if you have leftover chicken in the fridge, and it’s better than ordering pizza.
Well, M loved it. Love-love-loved it. J thought it was pretty good, but she did not appreciate the canned soup. Because she is not a child of the 70s. So now I was stuck, because one kid wanted this meal and one kid didn’t. Also: the soup is a teensy bit gross. So the next time I made my own “cream of” concoction. Basically I saute whatever I have on hand that seems vaguely like it could belong in a pot pie, which tends to be onions or scallions, celery, mushrooms, and/or shallots. One benefit is that it’s a good way to use up whatever stumpy, abandoned vegetables are languishing in the bottom of my fridge’s produce bin. Anyway, then I make a roux and add some broth and puree the broth with the sauteed veggies. The result? A much more super-delicious pot pie that everyone liked better. So it’s in the rotation. But it’s more work than the original, for sure. Don’t tell me how I should make my own crust, because I know already, and I’m not going to do it.
This is another huge family favorite, and my complications are a little less onerous than with the other recipes. But, still.
- Pizza crust for two pies — We like the Hannaford prepared multi-grain crust. It is both tastier and easier to work with than the regular and wheat variations.
- Tomato sauce — I used to always use the 28 oz can of Muir Glen roasted crushed tomatoes and split it between the two pies because the tomato was the girls’ least favorite part. But lately they’re liking it more, so now I supplement with an extra can of tomato paste thrown in. I throw this into a pan to cook it down into a thick sauce.
- Mozzarella — I used Bel Gioso fresh mozzarella.
Toppings (these are flexible depending on the person, but I tend to like them all at the same time)
- Mushrooms — we cook these before putting them on the pizza to get rid of the moisture
- Red pepper — we cook these before putting them on the pizza to get rid of the moisture, as well
- Artichoke hearts
- Kalamata olives
This is the basic recipe that I’m most likely to just leave “easy,” but there’s been a general movement in the house to avoid carbs without a lot of nutrients, so I’ve experimented with the Keto-friendly Fat Head Pizza Crust. We actually all really like this crust, and if I left it up to my kids, I think we’d make the permanent switch. But it’s more labor-intensive, I often screw up the thickness and/or get it stuck on the pan, and almond flour is hella expensive. So after making it a few times, I quietly phased it out again and only make the “special” crust if it’s specifically requested.
Quesadillas are also a huge, huge family favorite. In theory, they are very simple.
- Tortillas (we used to always do flour, lately it’s corn)
- Cooked chopped chicken
- Beans (black or kidney or pinto all work)
- Chopped scallions
- Chopped black olives
- Grated cheese (cheddar or pepper jack are what we usually use)
This one’s super-obvious. Throw everything on a flour tortilla. Cool people make these on a skillet, but I am not cool and I don’t like making them one at a time and lately my kids prefer open-faced, so I put these on our pizza pans and pop them in the oven.
How can I make such an easy recipe more complicated? Oh, I can, I assure you!
First, one day when I was feeling ambitious, I served these quesadillas with our favorite fresh salsa recipe. This was a big mistake, because now that the kids are older, they love the fresh salsa. And it is delicious with quesadillas. So now, yes, I can choose not to make the fresh salsa and just have the jarred stuff, but everyone in the family says, “Mmmm, quesadillas! Is there fresh salsa?” And then, if I haven’t made fresh salsa, they try to act all casual and not disappointed, but a light has gone out of their eyes and I know that I am denying everyone a big bowl of fresh vegetables that makes them very happy.
But it’s worse than that, for while I have ruined the store-bought salsa option with our fresh salsa for the rest of my family, tortillas are ruined for me. I have never been a huge fan of corn tortillas, and most flour tortillas are just jam-packed with a bunch of yuck (really: look at the ingredients list). So at some point I found a recipe for butternut squash rounds as a substitute (maybe from The Plan?). Basically, you just thinly slice the stem of a butternut squash–you don’t even need to peel it–and you cook it up in a pan with some olive oil and spices (I do cumin, chipotle powder, and garlic powder). I think that these are unbelievably yummy–the rest of the family is less convinced–and now I really always just prefer to eat the butternut squash rounds in place of tortillas. But of course that’s a whole extra step and a whole extra pan, so once again, I’ve made an easy weeknight meal more of a project than I intended.
The good news is that I do have a few new recipes that are pretty tasty, healthful, and easy, so I’ll share those next.