Go-To Meals, Part 1 By Edan Goode

When I’m able to be really organized, I plan a week’s worth of meals on Sunday, shopping for ingredients, defrosting in stages, etc. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m very proud of having my act so together. That scenario doesn’t happen very often.

At best, I scan the fridge, freezer and kitchen cabinets in the morning and come up with a plan for that night. Even then, I still feel pretty good about myself for knowing what I’m going to make that night.

Now, the reality is more like this: no Sunday planning, no time for a quick plan in the morning and suddenly it’s 4:00 and the kids walk in the door asking what’s for dinner. “Um, I haven’t decided yet” is my usual response. I hate that. It takes an already busy, stressful day and tops it off with even more stress. I scramble to come up with something (often the scrambling of eggs ends up being involved, ironically) but it’s haphazard and a tense situation.

What I need to do is come up with a list of Go-To meals (as opposed to To-Go meals!) that I can keep the ingredients on hand for and assemble quickly when need be. In the next few blogs, I’m going to share with you what I’m coming up with in hopes that some of the recipes might help you too. I know I’m not the only one with this problem. I invite you, dear readers, to share your recipes with me as well. I’d love to share them in this blog space so we can help each other out.

Here’s my first recipe, a beef ragu sauce that can be made in the crockpot (which, yes, requires planning from the morning but then it

Beef Stew Ragu doing the hard work for me, in the crock pot. Steamy goodness!

Beef Stew Ragu doing the hard work for me, in the crock pot. Steamy goodness!

comes together quickly at dinnertime) or it can be made using a pressure cooker in about 20 minutes. Please share your recipes in the Leave A Reply area below. Thanks!

Edan’s Go-To Beef Ragu Sauce                           

Note: This can be served over pasta, polenta or mashed potatoes

1 large carrot, diced finely

1 medium onion, chopped finely

Go-To Beef Ragu

Go-To Beef Ragu

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can tomato paste

2 14.5-ounce cans tomato sauce

1 tsp. each thyme, oregano and basil

Salt, pepper and sugar to taste

2 pounds beef stew meat cut into bite-size pieces

Pasta, polenta or mashed potatoes for the sauce

Grated parmesan for serving

In a crockpot:

Combine all ingredients except pasta/polenta/potatoes and parmesan in a slow cooker. Cover and put on low for 6 hours or on high for 4. Check the liquid levels periodically to make sure it isn’t reducing too much. If it is, add ¼ cup water at a time. But no more than that you don’t want to make the sauce too runny.

The sauce is done when the meat and carrots are fork tender. Ladle over whatever base you choose and sprinkle with parmesan.

In a pressure cooker: 

Brown the meat and onion, adding the minced garlic after the meat has started to brown. Add enough water to just cover the meat mixture. Put the lid on and cook over medium high heat until the pressure has clearly started to build up (how and when this happens depends on your pressure cooker). Lower the heat to medium and simmer, with lid on, for 15 minutes. Follow the directions for how to release the steam and open the lid. Drain off most of the liquid.

Put the pressure cooker back on the stove and add the tomato sauce, paste and seasonings. On medium heat, simmer until the sauce is heated through. Meanwhile, prepare your base and prepare as above.

Share your Go-To recipe under the Leave A Reply section below.

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How to reduce waste and stress over family meals

Dinner Reinvented

Yesterday’s dinner becomes tonight’s “reinvented” dinner with the addition of some new ingredients.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to prepare a “real” meal every night. I go for the whole shebang – a proper entrée, lots of vegetables, prepared well and on time.

The end result of all that cooking is that I make too much and we often have leftovers that no one wants.  We end up being like so many Americans, throwing out perfectly good food! Yet to my children,  you’d think “leftovers” meant I’d “left” it outside for a few days to let bugs run “over” it.

Unwilling to continue wasting food, or my efforts, I set about making two nights a week “Dinner Reinvention Night.” Yes, it’s having leftovers, but it sounds better than that and even better than “recycling dinner” which conjures up visions of plastic and cans.

I’m talking about taking bits and pieces of leftover meals and making something completely new with it. It’s working! Here are some examples:

Original meal:  Herb-coated pork chops and cubed, broiled potatoes.
Reinvented meal: Greek Salad – Thinly sliced pork chops plus the potatoes atop lettuce greens, adding feta cheese, Greek olives and a lemon and oil dressing.

Original meal: Baked chicken with roasted carrots, celery and onion.
Reinvented meal: Chicken & Noodles – chop up the chicken and veggies, put it in a pot of chicken broth and, when boiling, add lots of wide egg noodles so that it’s more noodly than soupy.

Original meal: Grilled steak
Reinvented meal: Fajitas – Slice the meat thinly, sauté multiple colors of peppers plus onion. Add things like refried beans, guacamole, chopped tomato and cilantro.

Original meal: Pot roast with roasted root vegetables.
Reinvented meal: Pot pies or Shepherd’s Pie – layer diced meat and veggies (plus additional, frozen veggies) and any gravy you might have made and top with a pastry crust for pot pie or with a layer of mashed potatoes sprinkled with parmesan cheese for Shepherd’s Pie.

This way, I’m really only doing major cooking a few nights and then some “rearranging” of ingredients the other nights.  I’m also using my crockpot or pressure cooker when I can to make even those original meals a little less work.

So far, it’s working. There’s no more waste. The kids see it as an entirely new meal. And I get to feel like I delivered on a good meal for the family with a lot less pressure on myself.

Please share your ideas for making the most out of leftovers by leaving a comment below.

Come, E.A.T. with us!

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Email: ingoodtastedenver@gmail.com

Jack-O-Lantern Dinner: Fortify the kids before trick-or-treating with this fun Halloween-themed dinner

When Halloween comes around, I’m ashamed to say you won’t find me in a clever, well-thought-out costume. I just don’t have the imagination for it. I usually go for my old standby – wearing all black and pinning socks and little t-shirts to myself going as “Static Cling.”

Where I do get into Halloween is in the kitchen. Every year, I try to come up with a Halloween-y twist on something I routinely make. Here are two of my family’s favorites:

Makes 4 individual pizzas depending on size of dough ball and size of the pizzas you make.

Pizza dough you make at home or from the store (Whole Foods makes a good one)
Pizza sauce
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Pepperoni circles cut in half to make half-moons and in quarters to make triangles

  1. Divide the dough into individual portions and roll out on a cutting board dusted with white flour.
  2. Take a table knife and cut a free-form pumpkin shape, cutting out a little dough at the top to make a slight indentation.
  3. Take the piece you removed and shape it into a rectangle and attach it to the indented area as though it is the stem of the pumpkin, pressing the tip of the stem into the pumpkin lightly to attach it.
  4. Spread pizza sauce on the pumpkin but within about a quarter of an inch of the edges.
  5. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.
  6. Let each person use the pepperoni shapes to decorate their own Jack-O-Pizza face.
  7. Bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is looking golden.

Makes 4 mini cobblers

1 Ready-made pie crust
Mini-pie tins or individual-size baking cups
Your favorite apple pie filling recipe (sliced apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and lemon juice)
Additions of your choice like chopped walnuts or pecans and raisins

  1. Mix the apple pie filling in a bowl and then portion it out into the individual baking cups or pie tins being sure to fill them to the top.
  2. Using a cup or bowl slightly larger than the size of your baking cup, cut out circles from the pie crust. (see photo below)
  3. Using a sharp knife, cut out Jack-O-Lantern faces or other designs like a sliver of a moon or maybe a leaf shape, making sure the design isn’t too large or else the dough will collapse into the fruit.
  4. Place the pie crust over the baking cup, pressing the edges down so that they stick slightly to the baking cup. As the cobblers bake, the edges will release from the edges of the cups a bit but that’s okay.
  5. Bake in a 325 degree oven for approximately 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and a knife easily pierces the apples when carefully poked through one of the openings in your design.

Note: these also make good breakfast cups served at room temperature.

Put your pie filling in individual oven-safe baking cups.

Cut out circle shapes slightly larger than your baking cups

Cut out Jack-O-Lantern faces or other designs.

The finished product! Cute and yummy.

Sick of making the same things for dinner? Get a little help from your friends. By Edan Goode

We all get in a cooking rut. We find a few meals that are relatively easy to make and that the majority of the family will eat without a lot of complaining. And so we fall back on it until we start hearing “that, again?!”  Instead of saying what you’re really thinking, which is usually something like, “Look people, I’m busy all day and do my best to come up with something tasty and healthy for you night after night so don’t give me any of your guff!” try bringing some variety into your kitchen, with a little help from your friends.

Remember, your tired, old, stand-by meals are new and exciting to someone else and vice versa. So consider getting together with a group of neighbors, co-workers or friends to create a cooking co-op. This can take many forms:

1.     Conduct a cooking class: Get a group of people together and rotate cooking at a different person’s house. Have everyone bring an ingredient toward the meal you are going to jointly prepare as well as containers to take them home in (or buy 8 x 8″ foil pans at the dollar store to keep all portions even). Have copies of the recipe available for all and then conduct an informal cooking class. Everyone leaves with a meal ready to cook or just heat up. You could also have participants pitch in money toward the ingredients the host already bought but agree on a per-person budget everyone is comfortable with. Also, set guidelines if needed such as, no peanuts,  low fat or vegetarian. With all of these ideas, provide the recipe so everyone can make it on their own (and thereby add it to their repertoire).

2.  Create an office dinner club: Keep it to a manageable number of co-workers, like four. Every week, prepare a meal to share that people can heat when they get home from a hard day at work. Casseroles, soups, stews or even pasta sauces would work well. Take the food in a cooler if there won’t be room in the company fridge. Bring the food in disposable containers with each person’s name on it.

3.  Host a family dinner for friends or neighbors:  Take turns doing the cooking at your home and invite a small group. Add some wine, a movie for the kids and you have a great evening for everyone. You’ll know that once a week, you’ll get together with friends, get a break from cooking and come away with a new recipe to try. Keep it simple like pizza, tacos, chili or pasta with a few topping choices.

4. Learn how to cook a new cuisine: Ask around the office or in your neighborhood for people who specialize in cooking a certain cuisine. See if they would be willing to come to your house and show you (or others) how to cook one of their specialties. This is a great way to broaden your cooking repertoire and encourage the family to step out of their comfort-food-zone. Then return the favor. That person might be thrilled to learn how to make some American standbys like the roast chicken and potatoes or mac and cheese you take for granted.

5.  Trade recipes: If the idea of involving multiple people is too much, keep it simple. Get together with one friend (who you know can cook) and share favorite recipes with each other.

6. Equal opportunity kitchen time: Cooking isn’t just for women, of course, so get the men involved. All of these tips can include men. In fact, I’m getting visions right now of a group of men gathered in the kitchen, cooking away, while the ladies enjoy a cocktail. Ahhh.

Now, to come up with a way to share in the clean-up!