Everyone should have a house meal in their back pocket

The idea of a house meal is nothing short of brilliant. Having one or two recipes in your back pocket that you can prepare on a moment’s notice or if you are feeling less than inspired to be creative is what every home cook needs.

A house meal is simple enough that there are only four or five ingredients, all of which are usually in your pantry. And it is easy enough to make that you can enlist help from others in the household.

It is also adaptable. Add or subtract depending upon the season, your mood or what’s on hand. A house meal is not demanding to make nor is it unappealing to eat on a regular basis.

Perhaps it’s breakfast for supper or a simple family favourite. It is a lifesaver to have one or two regular main course dishes in your repertoire.

When I was growing up on the farm, it was Swiss steak. There was always a less tender cut of beef steak in the freezer and canned tomatoes in the pantry.

Now, one of my house meals is pasta. A simple pasta dish can be made with just a few ingredients I always have on hand. Usually I sauté minced fresh garlic with dried chillies, toss that with the pasta, drizzle on some good extra virgin olive oil and top with a few gratings of parmesan cheese. If I have shrimp, fresh asparagus, tomatoes or green beans in the freezer they can be sautéed with the garlic. Crumble feta or gorgonzola cheese over the finished pasta.

Prepare for these meals by having a well-stocked pantry. My basic pantry includes canned tomatoes, cooking oils, fresh or dried garlic and onions, pasta, frozen fish, vegetables, grains and lentils.

Keep a stash of cooked grains and lentils in the freezer. Save meal preparation time by washing and cutting vegetables as you unload the grocery bags.

The new Canada’s Food Guide recommends that we eat at home more often. Home cooking can support healthier eating habits, reduce the reliance on processed foods and control the amount of sauce and seasoning on food. It is also less expensive than eating out.

Studies have shown that eating with other people boosts a person’s feeling of happiness even outside of mealtime. The social connections that are fostered by eating with people can reduce symptoms of depression.

I would love to hear about your house meal. What do you fall back on when you run out of time, energy or creativity? And if you are willing to share a recipe or two, all the better. I may write another column about house meals with your recipes.

Au gratin peas and potatoes

This could be breakfast, a side dish or a main course. Make it in a large cast iron pan or in small, individual-sized cast iron pans. Top with a fried or poached egg for a heartier version.

  • 6 bacon strips, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 c. sliced, peeled cooked potatoes 1 L
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 10 oz. pkg. frozen peas, cooked and drained 300 g
  • 2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided 500 mL
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise or sour cream 125 mL
  • 1/2 c. whole milk 125 mL
  • optional, top each serving with a poached or fried egg

In a large skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels. Drain, reserving one tablespoon (15 mL) drippings. In the drippings, sauté onion until tender.

Leave the onions in the pan and layer with potatoes, salt, peas, one cup (250 mL) cheese and bacon. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes.

Combine mayonnaise or sour cream with the milk until smooth and pour over the potatoes. Garnish with the remaining cheese. Remove from the heat and let stand for five minutes before serving. Makes six servings.

Swiss steak

  • 2-3 lb. boneless round steak 1-1.5 kg
  • 1 tsp. salt 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper 2 mL
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil 45 mL
  • 2 medium onions, quartered and sliced
  • 28-oz. can tomatoes, undrained, chopped 875 mL

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add vegetable oil. Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Brown on both sides and remove to a plate. Add the onions to the pan and sauté until softened. Add the steaks back to the pan and add the tomatoes.

Simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 to two hours or until very tender. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Slow-roasted chicken with vegetables

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 3-inch (7.6 cm) pieces
  • 2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise and cut into 3-inch (7.6 cm) pieces
  • 8 small red potatoes, quartered
  • 3/4 tsp. salt, divided 3 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper .5 mL
  • 1 medium lemon, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 lb. broiler or fryer chicken, 2 kg
  • 1 tbsp. dried rosemary, crushed 15 mL
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice 15 mL
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 15 mL
  • 2 1/2 tsp. paprika 12 mL

Place carrots, celery and potatoes in a six quart (six litre) slow cooker. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt and pepper. Place lemon halves and garlic in the chicken cavity. Tuck wings under chicken and tie drumsticks together. Place chicken over vegetables in slow cooker, breast side up. Mix together rosemary, lemon juice, oil, paprika and remaining salt in small bowl and rub over chicken.

Cook, covered, on low until a thermometer inserted in thigh reads at least 180 F (82 C) and vegetables are tender, about six to eight hours.

Remove chicken from slow cooker and tent with foil. Let stand 15 minutes before carving. Serve with vegetables.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: team@producer.com.

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