Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Heart of the Cookbook!

So here is the payoff of the cookbook: once someone learns how to cook beans, grain, sauteed veggies, and a chunk of meat, all of those things can be cooked in advance and then used to throw together good quick meals.

What's left after this? Soups and stews, Thanksgiving, maybe a pasta section (if I can think of anything to say other than "read the directions on the box"), and some short essays on food safety, freezing, and making baby food.

And then I have to edit everything so very hard, because holy inconsistency Batman! And it all has to be cross-referenced, with all of the ###'s replaced with recipe numbers.

Damn it, I think I'm going to have to bow out of NaNoWriMo if I hope to get this done properly by Christmas. Booo. *sulk*

But I SO want to do this right. I want it finished, and highly polished. I want people to speak highly of this book. I want people to suggest it to their friends. I want I want I want. . .

Anyway. . .

Quick Week-Night Recipes

Now that you have a baked chicken in your refrigerator (or pot roast, or pulled pork, or any other cooked meat), and some cooked grain, cooked (or frozen) beans, cheese, and vegetables on hand, you can now use these things to whip up any number of delicious, healthful weeknight meals in 30 minutes or less. The following are recipes that are designed to use whatever you have on hand.

Quick Enchiladas

This is a great week-night recipe to use with the chicken (recipe #), pot roast (recipe #), or pulled pork (recipe #) that you baked over the weekend. Or you can use another pre-cooked meat, or frozen or canned beans. Or you can make plain cheese enchiladas by using more cheese. You can also make a fun variant for kids using raisins instead of meat.

This is another recipe that doesn’t require precise measuring, or exact ingredients. Use whatever you have on hand.

1 cup pre-cooked chicken, or other pre-cooked meat, or frozen or canned beans, or ½ cup raisins
1 ½ cups Monterey jack and/or cheddar cheese
1 package of tortillas
1 can enchilada sauce (or about 1 ½ cups of home-made, recipe #)
2/3 cup chopped greens, such as frozen kale or spinach, or cooked onion or mushroom, or other chopped vegetable

In a microwave-safe, small (9 x 9 inch or so) casserole dish, pour about a third of the enchilada sauce. Dip one tortilla in the sauce so that both sides are wet. Then put cheese, meat, and veggies in the tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and move it to one end of the pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, until the pan is full and all of the ingredients are used up. Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas, and grate little extra cheese over the top. Then microwave the casserole for about ten minutes, or until the whole dish is hot and melty. (Alternatively you can bake in a 350 degree oven until the sauce bubbles.)

Serve on its own, with or without such toppings as salsa or sour cream, or with a side-dish such as rice or refried beans. Serves two to four people.

Quick Soup

With soup, every ingredient is optional, with the exception of the broth! Pick whatever ingredients below that you would like, in whatever quantities that you would like. For a classic chicken soup recipe, see recipe #.

Cooked meat of any sort (See the meat sections: #, #, #)
Chicken broth (recipe #), or any other sort of broth. You can use canned or bullion cubes if you don’t have any home-made broth on hand.
Cooked grain (recipe #) or pasta (recipe #)
Cooked vegetables (recipe #) or frozen vegetables, or fresh, chopped vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste
Herbs and spices of any sort (recipe #)
Milk or cream
Grated cheese (use ONLY if you are also using cream)

Heat the broth or stock to a boil. Add the vegetables first, if they are fresh or frozen, and, simmer until they are cooked to your liking. Add everything but the milk or cream and return to a boil. Then, remove the soup from the heat, until the pot no longer boils. If you want a clear soup, at this point you are all done!

If you want dairy in your soup, add milk or cream after the soup has stopped boiling. Do not boil a soup that contains dairy, because the dairy could curdle into unappetizing chunks.

If you wish to add cheese to your soup, do so after adding a significant quantity of cream. (Note that cheese will not melt properly into a soup unless you have first added cream. If not enough cream is present, the cheese will form lumps.) Heat just until steaming (but don‘t boil it). Season to taste. Serve, and enjoy!

Quick Chili

If you make pot roast or meat loaf on the weekend and have leftovers, you can use it to make chili later in the week, for variety. Chicken or other cooked meats can be used. Frozen cooked meats work well, too. Or, the meat can be omitted entirely. This is a particularly good way to get rid of overcooked pot roast or mediocre meat loaf.

You don’t need to measure ingredients for this dish. Just start with your leftover meat, and add frozen or canned beans, and tomato, until you have a pot of chili big enough for everyone.

Leftover pot roast or meat loaf
Canned or frozen beans
Canned or fresh tomato
Salt and pepper
(optional) reserved liquid from Pot Roast
(optional) tomato paste
(optional) taco spices (recipe #)
(optional) onion, green or red bell pepper, chopped carrot, or other vegetables

Chop the meat into small pieces. Or, if the meat is frozen, just put it in the pot whole, and later (after a bit of simmering with the other ingredients) take it out and cut it up. Add beans (with or without the can liquid) and tomato (with or without the can liquid). If you made pot roast and reserved the liquid, you can add that to your chili. Add some tomato paste if you like. Add some water if it looks like too many dry things thrown together. Add other vegetables if you like. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Add seasonings and spices to taste.

Serve as-is, or topped with cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, or green onions. Or serve on top of lettuce as a taco salad, with any of the above toppings.

Chili keeps for a few days in the refrigerator. It can also be frozen and reheated later.

Quick Curry

This curry isn’t authentic to any particular country’s cuisine, but it’s fast to make and tasty. It’s also a good excuse to eat vegetables. The sauce is based on the Universal Gravy recipe (#). Vegetables and meats can be cooked in advance, or you can use the sautéed vegetables recipe (#) or the sautéed meats recipe (#) immediately before making the curry. If you sauté vegetables or meats before making the curry, you can transfer the cooked meats or vegetables to a bowl and make the curry in the same pan that you just used - and you won’t even have to wash it!

1 tbsp fat, such as butter, bacon grease, chicken fat, or oil
1 tbsp flour
½ cup liquid: milk, tomato sauce, or coconut milk, or 1 tbsp tomato paste plus ½ cup water
½ cup very finely grated carrot, beet, sweet potato, and/or other vegetable, or canned pumpkin puree, squash puree, etc.
1 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp salt
(optional) garlic, ginger, black pepper
2 cups cooked, canned, or frozen vegetables and/or cooked or frozen cooked meats and/or cooked, canned, or frozen beans

In a skillet on medium heat, heat the fat until it is melted and hot. Add the flour, and whisk it around for a few minutes. Then add the liquid, continuing to whisk. Bring the sauce to a boil and then add the finely grated vegetable matter. Whisk in the curry powder and salt. Bring the pot back to a boil and add the cooked veggies or meats. Heat until everything is heated through.

If served with boiled grains (#), this will feed about two adults.

Quick Tacos

This recipe makes tacos for two adults using leftover cooked meat of any sort. You can make a vegetarian version using beans instead of meat, or you can stretch a little meat further by using a combination of meat and means.

1 tbsp cooking oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
2 cups cooked meat or cooked beans, or some combination
1 or 2 tbsp water
1 tbsp taco spices (#)
4 to 6 tortillas or taco shells
(optional) grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
(optional) chopped tomato, onion, and/or lettuce
(optional) salsa (#)
(optional) sour cream

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion until it is translucent. Add the spices and a tablespoon of water. This should make a saucy concoction in the pan. If it looks dry, add a little more water. Then add the meat and beans, and continue to stir over the heat until everything is heated and coated in taco sauce. Serve in tortillas with any of the optional ingredients.

Quick Stew

This stew can be made quickly from any cooked meats. For best results, use chicken stock with chicken, beef stock with beef. The sauce is a variant on Universal Gravy (#). This feeds about three adults.

1 tbsp fat, such as butter, bacon grease, chicken fat, or oil
1 tbsp flour
2 cups liquid, such as chicken (#) or beef stock. For variety, you can replace a cup or two with milk or tomato sauce.
Salt (omit the salt if using a salty broth)
Other spices (optional)
1 or 2 cups cooked meat
2 or more cups cooked or frozen vegetables

In a skillet on medium heat, heat the fat until it is melted and hot. Add the flour, and whisk it around for a few minutes. Then add the liquid, continuing to whisk. Bring the sauce to a boil and then continue to simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens. (It will thicken even more after it cools.) Season to taste with pepper and salt. (Though salt may not be necessary if you started with a salty broth from a can or made from bullion.) Add the cooked meat and vegetables, and continue to cook until they are fully heated.


  1. I love these sorts of recipe, because this is exactly how I learned to cook in college. Once I realized that I could make a decent meal from some cooked meat, sauteed onions and/or garlic, a bag of frozen veggies, and a can of Cream of Something soup, served over rice or pasta, it opened up a nearly infinite variety of meal options.

    It also taught me how to experiment and develop my culinary intuition, and helped me recognize that many, if not most, dishes have an underlying formula that can be tweaked. With the possible exception of the exact proportions often needed in baking to achieve particular results, it's not rocket science. (And I should know, because I was a rocket scientist.) :)

  2. I think my only other suggestion is that a complete novice might be intimidated by having to decide which optional ingredients should be used with which, or overwhelmed by the number of possible permutations. Maybe you could add a sample recipe with all of the choices made for them? Just a thought.

  3. Thank you John! I know how serious you are about cooking, so your advice means a lot! I'll add in sample recipes as you suggest!