Here it is, the list of the things I have come to rely on in the last month for fast meals. I have never stocked or relied on so many frozen things, and even now, I don’t think I have enough, but my erratic schedule, deadlines, and many evening events have meant a lot of paring back.
Because I haven’t been to the farmers market much lately, and when I have the fruit has been largely last fall’s apples and loads of citrus, I’ve bought a lot of frozen fruit. Between our orange tree and the following list, we’ve avoided scurvy:
- frozen mango
- frozen blueberries (eaten nearly daily for breakfast)
- frozen mixed berries
- frozen pineapple (used largely in smoothies)
- frozen chocolate covered bananas (a treat, yes, and full of sugar, yes, but also a banana for dessert. could be worse)
- frozen edamame (for snacks, lunches, side dishes with storebought sushi)
- frozen french fries
- frozen green peas (kids hate these, but I use them for somethings)
- frozen corn (K & I eat this on herbed pizza dough w/red peppers)
Sadly, I’m the only one who will eat garden burgers, but I’ve kept on hand:
- frozen middle eastern flatbread (nothing beats falafel mix for a quick dinner)
- Frozen, breaded, pre-cooked tilapia (great for fish sandwiches, crumbled for fish tacos, or eaten whole with fish and chips)
- Frozen pre-cooked, batter-fried cod (see above, I don’t buy this oftens since it’s less sustainable than the tilapia)
- frozen pie shells (quiche can nearly make itself, and it keeps well & can be served at room temperature)
- frozen, pre-cooked sausages (great baked with apples and potatoes. Mess free and fast.)
- frozen crab cakes
- frozen ravioli (even easier if you just serve with butter and cheese)
- lots of breads: tortillas (for fast bean and cheese tacos); pizza dough (for fast pizza); hamburger buns (for fish sandwiches or panelle); italian bread (because sometimes just a little bit of warm garlic bread makes a boring spaghetti more palatable)
I’ve made other fast things, too, and as you can see–not a whole lot of range in ingredients, but from one kind of fish, I can get three different kinds of meals. We survived.
I’d love to know what frozen foods you rely on. What do you love? Your family? What’s healthiest, fastest, most satisfying? What do you splurge on?
Ben was sick. He lay on the couch, with neither an appetite nor a fever nor any other symptoms. It was starting to get worrisome, the lack of symptoms. At least when a child is sneezing or vomiting you have a general idea of how to make them feel better and when they might turn the corner. He’d missed two and a half days of school, and I was just starting to think I should consider calling the doctor when he got up off the couch, pulled a couple books off the kitchen bookshelf, and took them back to his cozy spot under the blanket, now paging through his Spatulatta cookbook, showing more energy than he had in days.
“Can we make this, Mama?” he asked. And without even knowing what recipe he was looking at, maybe Stained Glass Cookies or Extra-E-Z Fudge, I said yes, we can make that. And we did, and we will again because it is a) delicious; b) healthy; c) quick; d) easy enough for even a sick kid to make. We added a carrot and some black sesame seeds (Ben is wild about sesame seeds) to the recipe, but otherwise followed it as written. Here’s how you can make it, too:
3″ piece fresh ginger
1 carrot (optional)
10 oz tofu
2 scallions, sliced in rounds
2 T soy sauce
sesame seeds of any color, to taste (optional)
Peel the skin from the ginger and grate with a microplane or the small side of a box grater. Peel the carrot and grate with the large side of the box grater. Slice the tofu into 1″ cubes and place in a serving dish. Sprinkle the sesame seeds, carrot, ginger, and scallions over the tofu, drizzle with soy sauce and serve.
I’ll admit: I’ve been winging it a lot lately when it comes to dinner. There hasn’t been a lot of planning and I haven’t been very motivated to invest a whole lot of energy finding & trying new things, or doing anything time consuming for dinner. With my book coming out a little sooner than I expected, I’ve spending as much time as possible promoting it. And so last night, once again, I had no clue what to cook for dinner at 4:15 pm–which gave me 30 minutes before soccer pick up and then a short bit of time after soccer while the kids showered, or did homework, etc. I resorted to scouting my pantry and freezer, which is what I often do, searching for clues or that single ingredient around which I can make a meal. I found it last night in the pantry: a small jar of salt packed capers, which I had picked up on a whim on Superbowl Sunday at our terrific Italian deli. I remembered an old recipe that involved very little cooking and in 15 minutes had the quick sauce prepped and the table set. This sauce, in which the onion cooks directly in the tomatoes (not unlike Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce, which recipe I can’t seem to find right now to link too…) is sweet and briny at the same time. It’s a simple but rich tasting sauce.
If you have these ingredients + tomatoes, you can have dinner
Spaghetti with Capers, Red Onion, Tomatoes
- 1 lb pasta
- scant 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 anchovy
- 1 medium red onion, sliced thin
- a few tablespoons salt packed capers, rinsed (or brined)
- 1-32 ounce can tomatoes
- Set large pot of water to boil
- In olive oil, quickly sautee anchovy over high heat until dissolved
- Add onions and sautee for 2 minutes, until they just begin to soften.
- Add tomatoes and capers, cover and let simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until onions are soft.
- Cook pasta according to package directions, then drain and return to sauce. Mix well and serve immediately.
It’s the season of getting things on the table quickly. It’s also the season of oranges. It’s also time to mix things up a little. This recipe, another from La Cucina Italiana, is another stealth meal: it comes together in minutes from ingredients you can count on one hand. My kids loved it. It’s going into regular rotation here & if you’re feeling really pressed for time, you can use pre-cooked frozen shrimp. I actually have a hard time eating these, but my kids love them, so I sometimes keep them on hand. I generally feel sort of guilty using them, since we can get really delicious shrimp from Pietro, but I don’t always have time to clean and prep them. So.
Shrimp with Chard and Orange Vinaigrette
adapted from La Cucina Italiana
- 1 bunch swiss chard, leafy greens rough chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 lb shrimp, cleaned (or equal amount frozen, pre-cooked shrimp)
- 1-2 oranges
- 1/3 cup orange juice (from fresh oranges &/or juice)
- 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- Cut skin off orange, being careful not to leave any white pith behind. Carefully section each orange so the fruit is removed from the membrane. Set aside. Squeeze any excess juice from the membrane and peel into a measuring cup. Add enough fresh or pre-squeezed juice to make 1/3 cup. Add one garlic clove, let rest for few minutes, then add 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and mix. You will have extra dressing. (Remove garlic clove before storing leftovers in the refrigerator.)
- Sautee chard in olive oil with a pinch of salt.
- When chard is softened, remove it from the heat and quickly sautee shrimp in the same pan in a little olive oil with the second clove of garlic until pink or warmed through.(Alternately, if you have really good fresh shrimp, steam it, leaving out the garlic clove.)
- Separate chard onto four dishes. Top with orange sections, then shrimp. Drizzle vinaigrette over the top of everything.
We’ve been taking a cue from Mark Bittman’s latest book around here and making meat even less of presence than it usually is on our table. One of the things he suggests is to keep meat as a side course, not the focus of the meal. This is good for the eater and good for the environment. This week, this strategy happened kind of by accident, but it was terrific: economical, efficient, and versatile.
Remember that ham steak? That’s half of it on the plate. The kids ate only half of that, and the husband and I ate the other half. The following night, I cooked another quarter, choppped it up, and used it for our baked potato bar. Which was a big hit.
We still didn’t finish it, so the next night that leftover chopped up ham went into a country omelete with chives and cheddar cheese.
And we still had a 1/4 of the ham left. Kory and I finished it a few nights later with a potato/celery root mash & the left over pan sauce (which I had kept in a glass jar for just this eventuality). On the side we had roasted beets & puntarelle, and it was a perfect cold winter night’s meal.
That makes 4 meals (3 for 4 people, 1 for 2 people) for about $6 worth of meat, which in this house is an accomplishment.