While I’m busy trying to finish writing my fifth book, I am very fortunate to have several wonderfully talented guest authors filling in for me on the blog. I hope you enjoy their articles as much as I do!
This collection of 5 dinners for the lazy, frugal cook was written by Olga Gardner Galvin. Ms. Galvin is a founding partner in New Standards Publishing Group, a Big Publishing–quality, one-stop production company for the discerning self-publishers who want their books to stand out. She cooks to relax.
5 Dinners for the Lazy, Frugal Cook
It’s not that you don’t like to cook. It’s not even that you don’t have time to cook. It’s that you also like to do things other than standing by the hot stove, drenched in sweat.
Much as I enjoy cooking and need it as a creative outlet that lights up the parts of my brain not constantly occupied by editing and working with writers, I tend towards dinners that – dare I say it? – make themselves. Takeout is overpriced and usually unhealthy, going out is expensive and requires pants. Fancy services that deliver recipes and ingredients are way expensive and send you far more ingredients than any dish actually needs.
The solution? Buy your own groceries, keep the ingredients to the minimum to control the costs, throw it all together, and walk away.
Minestrone with Ravioli and Goat Cheese
Buy the ravioli and herb-crusted goat cheese at the store. Trader Joe’s has the best prices for same, and you can choose whatever ravioli filling you like, be it meaty or vegetarian. Round up all the vegetables you have in the house – an onion, a carrot, something yellow, something green, a tomato. If you have soup stock, great. If you don’t, water will do, but use a little more oil, preferably olive, when sautéing the chopped onion and carrot, which is the first step.
Once the onion has started to caramelize a bit, pour in the stock or water, bring to boil quickly, and turn the flame all the way down. Chop and throw in the tougher vegetables, saving the ones that quickly disintegrate, such as tomatoes and spinach, for last. Cover the soup pot and walk away. Come back in about an hour. Taste the soup, add salt to taste, poke a piece of the toughest vegetable to make sure it’s soft.
In a separate pot, boil some water and throw in the ravioli. Fish them out with a slotted spoon once they float on the surface (about 5 minutes), divide between soup bowls, and fill the bowls with the minestrone. Top with a satisfyingly thick round of herbed goat cheese. (Pictured in the photo is a ball of labne–Turkish tangy yogurt cheese with mint–but herbed goat cheese is a fine substitute.)
Salmon Baked in Foil
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Tear off twice as many large sheets of non-stick foil as you need portions. For each portion, lay on one sheet of foil a piece of salmon filet; a couple of small cold, boiled potatoes cut into rounds or wedges; a handful of chopped tomato; a few sprigs of fresh herbs; and a few Kalamata olives. Drizzle with a bit of oil the olives came packed in. Wrap very, very tightly. Then wrap in another sheet of foil, also tightly.
When all packets are ready, place them on a cookie sheet, put them in the oven, set the timer for 20 minutes for 1-2 portions, 30-40 for 3-4 portions, and walk away. To serve, place each packet on a plate, unwrap the edges of the foil and crimp around the food. It may need additional salt and pepper once at the table.
Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs
Heat a large, empty skillet or wok on your biggest stove burner over medium flame. Put chicken thighs, skin down, on its surface. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and walk away for 30 minutes.*
After 30 minutes, come back and turn them over. Again, sprinkle with salt and pepper and walk away, this time for 15 minutes. That’s it!
*[Editor’s Note — Maybe not completely walk away, since you should always keep an eye on what you’re cooking. But you get the point: don’t touch them.]
Serve with whatever you like. If you want to fancy it up, you can cook the chicken thighs with garlic cloves tucked in around them, or chunks of salt-preserved lemon, or herbs. Anything, really.
When I lived in Rome after college, in the 1980s, I came home to NYC to visit and told my friends I wanted to go to Little Italy for some clams. The clams turned out to be served raw, on a half-shell. Yuck. That’s how they are served in NYC, and by now I’m used to it, although still not a big fan.
This is how clams are cooked in Rome, although there they are usually the much smaller kind (vongole). Scrub the sand off the shells, allowing about a pound per person – or per two persons, if the money is tight. Heat a large empty pot on a high flame. Pour in some olive oil and quickly sear a few garlic cloves in it.
Place all the clams into the pot, add a splash of white wine, a bunch of washed parsley (don’t worry about drying it, just shake off the water), and a few dried pods of hot pepper if you like spicy. Quickly toss it all together, reduce flame to the minimum, cover the pot, and walk away. [See previous note. – Ed.]
Come back in 15-20 minutes. All the clams should have been steamed open by then. If they are not, mix it up again and give it a few more minutes. Any clams that are still tightly shut are not edible and should be discarded. The rest can be served by themselves or over cooked linguini (no cheese, if you want to serve them in proper Italian style).
Lasagna without Rules
Get the no-cook lasagna sheets. They cost a little more, but it’ll be worth it. Following the instructions on the package, preheat the oven and prep the sheets.
Layer them with sauce or sauces made of absolutely anything you have handy. Spinach? Sauté it and use it. Goat cheese? Cook it with the spinach and use it. Ground beef? Sure. Frozen mushrooms? Why not (cook them first). Any cooked vegetables? Add them to the other things.
The only rule is, whatever you layer the lasagna sheets with has to be pre-cooked and bound with some kind of sauce – if not a can of diced tomatoes then something of similar consistency. Then layer it up and top the uppermost layer with cheese. Any cheese. Leftover sliced Muenster is the only cheese you have in the house? It’ll do. Pop in the preheated oven and walk away** until it starts smelling aggressively good. It’s ready when the cheese looks bubbly and golden.
**]Editor’s final note: Fine, but don’t blame me if you set the kitchen on fire.]
Leaving your cooking to its own devices is not neglect. It’s a state of mind. Many things in life work out for the best when they are not hovered over and micromanaged.
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