How to make a simple meal divine with the right ingredients #WFMfoodie

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

 

A recipe doesn’t need to be complicated to be good. That’s been my mantra since I became a mother. A simple meal is always better in my book.

I’d like to go a bit further: A high-quality sauce, oil or ingredient can make a simple meal divine.

As a working parent, I’ve mentioned that I don’t have time to cook every night. I never have time to make sauces, and I look for shortcuts whenever I can.

Last week I attended a tasting at the Whole Foods Market in Arlington, Va., which introduced their new program: WFM Foodie. Whole Foods Markets across the country are highlighting special products they think their customers may like.

WFM Foodie products are high-quality, no preservatives, all natural. And hand-picked by foodies. We tasted a variety of the olive oils, sauces and black-bean noodles. All fantastic. And from what I saw: all very simple to incorporate into a meal. The product is simple, not the taste.

Here is what it boils down to: A well-thought out, high-quality ingredient can make almost any meal better.

I am saying this out loud because sometimes I just rush through the meal-planning process and forget that I can change things up with a good product. I used to embrace this concept a lot more, pre-baby.

Also, buying the right ingredients (not more ingredients) is often a great way to cut down time in the kitchen. 

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

At the tasting, Jackie from Whole Foods introduced a few products (and recipes), which I think are worth mentioning:

Christian Potier Sauces: I am very excited about this find. Christian Potier was voted the best sauce chef in France by Gault & Millau, and he was able to package his magic in microwave pouches. We tried the Bernaise (over grilled aspargus) and it tasted great.

Great ingredients make simple meals better! On a busy night, just grill up asparagus, heat up the sauce and there is your side dish. It would work great on Eggs Benedict as well. Christian Potier has other varieties too.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Black Bean Noodle Salad

Black Bean noodles: Yes, you read that right. Noodles made of black beans. Created by Explore Asian Authentic Cuisine, these noodles are full of protein, which I love. Very healthy. Very little sugar. Organic.

We tasted the Black Bean Noodle salad (above), which cooks up very quickly. Click here for the recipe.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Tandoori Salmon

The Sassy Indian Olive Oil: Oh my, so tasty. We ate grilled salmon, finished with this Tandoori olive oil that truly added that extra something. This main course only has four ingredients and takes no time to make. So delicious! Click here for the recipe.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Smoked Arbequina Olive Oil

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

I also enjoyed the smoky flavors of the Castillo de Canena Smoked Arbequino (used as a dressing above). A little pricey but worth the splurge.

Great ingredients make simple meals better! Here are some examples.WFM Foodie items are usually located in a display at the front of participating Whole Foods Stores. It’s a good place to start if you are looking for some new flavors this summer.

Ridiculously Easy Meal: Ham and Peas Cheesy Pasta

Ridiculously Easy Recipe: ham, peas and cheese shellsI’ll jump to the point: 15-minute meal and an extremely happy family! This is quickly becoming one of my go-to recipes.

Who doesn’t love cheesy pasta? Mix that with ham and peas and you have a full meal.

Here is the original recipe, found at Dinner, A Love Story. I had to change it up a bit because my husband doesn’t like onions. I also simplified the recipe, cutting out a few steps that would probably make it even tastier.

All you need is:

Box of shell pasta. Or any type of pasta that you like.

Frozen peas. About a cup

2-3 Thick slices of Ham (or more): you can buy this packaged or from a deli counter. I recommend buying more ham than you think you need if you like meat in your meals, like we do.

Cheese. The original recipe calls for 1/4 cups of Parmesan, which tastes fantastic. Sometimes we use mozzarella, or whatever we have on hand. Use as much, or as little, cheese to your taste.

Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper flakes, Olive Oil

Optional: Onions

And here is the process:

Ridiculously Easy Ham, Peas, and Cheese Pasta

1. Start boiling your water in a large pot. Cut the ham into small pieces while you wait.

2. Cook pasta as instructed. During the last minute, add the peas.

3. Drain your pasta and peas and let them sit while you return the pot to the stove.

4. You will use a little olive oil, add seasonings, salt pepper etc, and saute your ham a little. (If you use onions, cook those first before you put the ham in.)

5. Return the pasta and peas to your pan. Add cheese to taste.

Voila!

Interested in more Ridiculously Easy Recipes? Click here.

Ham and Peas Cheesy Pasta

Ingredients

  • 16 oz small shell pasta (or any pasta)
  • 1/2 cup Frozen peas
  • 2-3 Thick slices of Ham (or more)
  • 1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan or mozzarella Cheese. (Add more to desired cheesiness)
  • Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper flakes, Olive Oil
  • Optional: Onions

Instructions

1. Start boiling your water in a large pot. Cut the ham into small pieces while you wait.

2. Cook pasta as instructed. During the last minute, add the peas.

3. Drain your pasta and peas and let them sit while you return the pot to the stove.

4. You will use a little olive oil, add seasonings, salt pepper etc, and saute your ham a little. (If you use onions, cook those first before you put the ham in.)

5. Return the pasta and peas to your pan. Add cheese to taste.

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Ridiculously Easy Meal: Ham, Cheese, and Peas Pasta

Ridiculously Easy Recipe: Four-ingredient chicken pesto bake

Four Ingredient Chicken Pesto BakeIt’s a new year and I am on the prowl for new, painless dinner recipes. I love to cook but I usually don’t have time to whip up a masterpiece after working all day, and also spend time with my toddler. He actually likes spending time with us right now and I know that won’t last forever!

I ran across this Easy Italian Chicken Bake recipe from Pinning Mama that met my criteria — very few ingredients, easy prep and relatively healthy (depending on how you make it). Our family calls it chicken pesto, though.

Here are the four ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts
  • Pesto (I used Trader Joe’s Pesto and Quinoa but any will do.)
  • Tomatoes (I used roma.)
  • Mozzarella cheese .

All you have to do is layer the ingredients in a baking dish. Chicken first, spread with pesto, add sliced tomatoes and top off with cheese.

4 ingredient Pesto Chicken Bake

Bake it at 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes (depending on your oven). On the side, you can add almost anything. We usually add veggies in some form. Pasta is also an option. Please visit Pinning Mama’s blog if you want exact recipe quantities and more detailed instructions.

4 ingredient Pesto Chicken Bake

I omitted the tomatoes on part of the dish, to test. It’s definitely better with tomatoes!

4 ingredient Pesto Chicken Bake

I made this for the first time last week and it took about 8-10 minutes of prep because I had to slice the chicken breasts, which were gigantic. That left 30 minutes of cooking, and Zj and I went outside to play on the slide.

Adding more playtime in our busy schedule is a very good thing! Thanks Pinning Mama!

Ridiculously easy meal: Trader Joe’s marinated pot roast

Trader Joe's Marinated Cabernet Pot Roast. Super easy and yummy!

It is pot roast week and I forgot to add pot roast to my husband’s grocery list. (Insert head palm here.) So I ran up to Trader Joe’s for a few other things, and came back with a Cabernet Beef Pot Roast. Pre-marinated.  It looked good.

I always mix my own pot roast marinade. Usually with onion soup, beef broth and other seasonings. Throw it in the crockpot for the day and voila! Still a ridiculously easy meal.

But the Cabernet Beef Pot Roast marinade was good. Very good. And was even less work on my part. I just threw it in the crock pot and it was better than my original.

Looking forward to the leftovers tonight!

Microwave hack: Make your own {cheaper and healthier} popcorn in a bag

Did you know that you can make your own microwave air-popped popcorn bag? I am not sure why I didn’t think about this before. It’s genius.

You simply put popcorn kernels in a paper bag and it works just like the ones you buy at the grocery store. What’s better about this method is that it’s healthier, cheaper and you can control the portion size!

I was inspired by this article in The Christian Science Monitor that gives a great overview.

Microwave hack: DIY popcorn. Healthier, cheaper and super easy!

All you need is a brown paper lunch bag and corn kernels. And, of course, a microwave.

1. Place about 1/3 cup of corn kernels in a brown lunch bag.

2. Seal the bag the best you can by folding it a couple times in various directions.

3. Microwave. It took about 2 minutes in mine but you will need to figure out what is the best timing for your microwave.

Microwave hack: DIY popcorn. Healthier, cheaper and super easy!

4. Toppings! Because the bag is not lined, it’s probably wise to add your toppings after the fact. The first time I tried this, I added salt and butter. I am looking forward to trying kettle corn seasoning soon.

I’ve made this twice so far and have not been disappointed. It’s cheaper and I am happy that I know EXACTLY what ingredients are going into my food.

Ridiculously easy vegetables: Foil packet grilling

Foil packet grilling

Lately, I’ve been struggling to make veggies taste great in the little time we have to make dinner.

We had some green beans in the fridge that were almost at the end of their lifespan, and I was uninspired by my previous attempts at quick green bean preparation. I figured it was time to try something different.

This is not a new concept but it’s new to us: Grilling vegetables in a foil packet.

It’s simple:

1. Throw some veggies on foil.
2. Add a little olive oil and salt/pepper/spices.
3. Seal the packet and throw on the grill next to the chicken or burgers.

We are hooked. The veggies we have tried so far have been delicious, and it is easy. The clean-up is even easier: just throw away the foil.

I am looking forward to trying different vegetable and spice combinations!

Ridiculously Easy Recipe: Pasta with Salmon, Crème Fraîche and Capers

Welcome to the first installment of Ridiculously Easy Recipes!

The idea behind this series is to try (and hopefully love) some extremely easy recipes.

No brainer, right?  There are millions of “easy” recipes out there.  But I am going to redefine what the word “easy” means.

To be considered ridiculously easy, a recipe must meet the following criteria.

1. Only a few ingredients, yet taste delightful. It’s easy to find 4-ingredient recipes but many taste ho-hum.

2. The preparation should also be simple, with only a few steps. There are too many recipes out there claiming they are easy. No, these recipes aren’t difficult, but they could be easier.

3. Preferably family friendly. But this is not a hard and fast rule. Many meals can be made to be family friendly.

And the first recipe is: Pasta with Salmon, Crème Fraîche and Capers.

 

Pasta with Salmon, Crème Fraîche and Capers Recipe

I found this recipe on Cup of Jo (originally created by Katie Morris of Katie at the Kitchen Door).  I HIGHLY recommend going to these sites for more on this recipe. The visuals are amazing.

This recipe looked fantastic and met the criteria for ridiculously easy.

Ridiculously Easy Recipes: Pasta with Salmon, Crème Fraîche and Capers Recipe

Here are the ingredients:

½ lb rotini pasta
½ cup crème fraîche
1 tbsp capers
6 oz smoked salmon
sea salt and black pepper (to taste)

It’s simple:

  1. Boil the pasta, drain and return to pan.
  2. After the pasta cools for a moment, add the crème fraîche and capers.
  3. Flake off the smoked salmon with a fork and place on top!

NOTE:  If your kid doesn’t like salmon, why not include chicken too? Because the protein goes on top, this allows for different variations for particular tastes!

The Verdict: We loved it! It had nice flavors and it was incredibly easy to make. I am adding it into our dinner rotation!

A simple way to shuck corn — no strings attached!

A revolutionary way to shuck corn — no strings attached! -The Shortcut Mom

Corn on the cob is a staple on our table in summer. It’s easy, cheap and tasty.

We have always enjoyed grilling corn with the husks on. When it comes to shucking, I usually leave that to my husband, Jeff.  He has gotten much better at it over the years, but it’s still messy, especially when the corn is hot.

Typically, we plan for the corn and meat to come off the grill at the same time.  Then everything comes into the house and it’s a rush to get the corn cobs shucked fast enough so that the meat doesn’t grow cold.

On a normal night, we have the added bonus of a pint-size boy tugging at our clothes, right at the pivotal moment when all the food needs to come together. Somehow he always knows.

This week I stumbled upon a Huffington Post article describing a way to shuck corn on the  cob without getting attacked by the strings.  It looked promising.

Simply cut off the shank of the corn, a few rows from the end of the cob.  Then slide the husk off.  No mess! The YouTube video (above) by Carl Blemming explains it better that I can. Visuals are always better.

Last night we tried it: We grilled our corn, as usual, with the husk on. I took the grilled corn inside, cut off the shank at the appropriate spot, and the husk fell off.  It was revolutionary.  It was almost 100 percent clean. No strings were attached!

I may be overpromising here  — I did see one string.  However, it was significantly easier and quicker to remove the husk. Both me and Jeff became converts to this method.

I recommend watching the tutorial from Carl Blemming on YouTube. It explains how to cook corn in the microwave and then shuck it.  We adjusted his method for the grill and it worked just as well!

 

Cooking pancakes in a rice cooker?

Who would ever think to cook a giant pancake in a rice cooker?

I saw this recipe on Lifehacker and had to try it because it was so darned strange.  It’s simple and met my criteria for a new recipe. Just pancake batter and a rice cooker. I was also intrigued.

Cooking pancakes in a rice cooker

The night before, I mixed the pancake batter (with blueberries) so that it would be ready to go in the morning.  I set out the rice cooker on the counter.  In the morning, my husband lubed it with cooking spray and poured the batter in.

And for the hardest part:  he turned the rice cooker “on.”

The instructions said it would take about 45 minutes and it did.  In full disclosure, my rice cooker is old and worn. After a short bit, it automatically turned from “on” to “warm.” We kept trying to turn it to “on,”  but the rice cooker had a mind of its on. So we trusted that the warming setting would be enough. It was.

At the 45-minute mark, we skeptically looked in the rice cooker, and our pancake was ready. It had risen like a cake. I cut it directly out of the cooker like pie and served it up with a choice of butter, syrup, strawberries and confectioner’s sugar.

The verdict:

  • My husband really enjoyed it and would definitely eat it again.
  • I enjoyed it too but it looks like a large muffin and I was expecting the sugary taste of a muffin. Once I put my butter and strawberries on it, I was good to go.
  • My 18-month old studied it for a bit. Held it in his hand, and abandoned it. I then heated up a regular pancake I had frozen from last week and he enjoyed that.

 

Cooking pancakes in a rice cooker

No, this isn’t as pretty as the rice cooker pancake on Lifehacker!

We may do this again on occasion, especially as ZJ gets older and is a little more adventurous with food.