Meal planning in our house? Almost non-existent. I plan when we have company (like last weekend for Mother's Day). But for every day, our meals come as a result of putting two methods to use: skillet dishes and preparing at least double of any meal components.
You'll need to read those articles for more information. But basically, the idea is: have meal components ready to go and put them together into endlessly satisfying, creative, and simple meals.
In the eCourse, I created one lesson to teach how to create skillet dishes. I set up the video camera and tripod and created a meal in front of the camera in less than a half hour. It was fun to do and I hope showed all eCourse members that creative meal making, when one can use what's in the pantry, is within anyone's grasp.
I loved reading on the eCourse forum what meals were created in the kitchens! Today, I will repost some of the members' ideas and results so you can get a glimpse of what's possible, too.
Let's start with Leslie, who is a great example of someone honestly approaching this idea with trepidation but courage. She wrote:
“This lesson is a little overwhelming for me. If I could actually figure this out it would make my life so much easier, but I have always followed recipes and I'm so worried about messing up, if that makes any sense.
A couple years ago I was told by a mom of many that I admire that she really doesn't make a menu plan. I couldn't imagine it at the time, but with these directions, I think I'm beginning to see how it works. Not only that, but, with my new goal of getting my shopping down to local produce and monthly orders from the huge food warehouse, this kind of cooking will make it more doable. I am really focused on learning this. I'm a really good cook, I just always found recipes and followed them. This is really out of my comfort zone, but I'm going to truly focus on it all week.
I'm wondering how this idea would translate to a casserole or crockpot: Here's what I have that I'd love to figure out a dish with. I have meatballs that I've premade. I also have rice, sweet potatoes, coconut milk, some onions, garlic, zucchini. I'm thinking that if I could come up with a sauce, I could put the meatballs in a casserole or crockpot and cook all day. Would the coconut milk work do you think? Spices? Thanks!”
I love that Leslie was ready and eager to try something new! Here's what I suggested she could make based on the ingredients she listed in her question:
“I think a casserole dish would be perfect for all this. The onions and garlic can be sauteed, along with shredded zucchini. Add the coconut milk to it, along with salt, pepper, herbs… I'd probably use parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, coriander… It is going to taste wonderful!
Is the rice cooked already (or can it be)? Put a layer of rice in the casserole dish. Then put the meatballs on that. Then cube the sweet potatoes and add them. Then pour the coconut milk sauce over all. Bake at 350 until all is warm and the sweet potatoes are tender. Probably about a half hour.
If the rice isn't cooked, you can serve the meatballs and sauce over rice that is cooking on the stovetop while the casserole is in the oven.”
Want to know how it turned out? Delicious! Leslie wrote, “The meatballs turned out great! Thanks, Wardee!” Then later on (I'm so impressed) she wrote,
“This has been truly an amazing revelation for me. I took a huge leap of faith and did not make a menu plan for this past week. I have a freezer full of beef and pork from bulk purchases earlier in the year. During my weekly grocery shopping trip I bought several cans of coconut milk, diced tomatoes, pasta and vegetables. Amazingly I have thrown together terrific meals using your skillet meal formula! I have to admit, I'm so proud when my husband asks at dinner, “Where did you get this recipe?” and I can tell him that I made it up myself!
Tonight we had pork fried rice. I had a pork roast that had cooked all day in the crockpot. I sauteed it it up with some rice, soy sauce, ginger and then made a hole in the middle and scrambled a couple eggs. Mixed it all up, added peas and… wow!!! It was great! The only thing I'd do different next time would be to saute up some scallions first.
It is so wonderful being able to work with what I have on hand and not be all upset because I don't have a particular ingredient that one of my recipes calls for. So, thank you! I can't believe this works, but it does!”
Go, Leslie! I'm super proud of you, and I knew you could do it. 🙂
Holly is another recipe follower who branched out and tried a skillet dish. I love that she kept it simple overall — that helped her stay comfortable with trying something new.
“I learned A LOT from this lesson!! No one ever taught me to cook so I had to learn on my own and as a result, I am somewhat lost without a recipe. This lesson inspired me to be more creative in the kitchen. So, last night, I made my first skillet dish without a recipe! I had cooked chicken and rice in the fridge and a freezer with some frozen veggies from last year's garden that need to be eaten before the process starts all over again.
Here's what I did. It might not be the most exciting but it was the first time I tried this and my husband and I loved it.
- Cold, cooked chicken
- Cold, cooked rice
- Frozen green beans
- Tomato sauce
- Italian seasoning
- Sea salt/pepper
- Grated cheese
I sauteed the onions, garlic and green beans. Then I combined the veggies with the rice, chicken, tomato sauce and seasonings in a casserole dish. I baked it at 350 for a little less than an hour (tossed a salad while I was waiting), sprinkled the servings with cheese and just like that, dinner was done! I loved using things I already had and overall, it was a fairly cheap meal, since the veggies all came from my garden.
I have the confidence to know that I can now “whip something up” without a recipe. Thanks, Wardee! :)”
In the midst of this lesson, Dani taught us the difference between the two gravy methods: the roux (flour and fat are mixed together first then liquid added) as opposed to the slurry (the flour and liquid are mixed then poured into the pan). And here's her skillet dish.
“Thanks, all, for sharing your combinatons! Mine last night was:
- leftover cooked chicken from last week's lesson (and a great way to continue to stretch it!)
- about 1 cup each zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, mushrooms, onion, and tomato — save the tomato to add at the end
- quinoa cooked with the skimmed chicken fat and some of the broth from last week's lesson
- some more of that wonderful broth for the sauce
- seasoned with cumin, garlic, nutritional yeast, herbed salt and pepper
I sauteed the veggies, except the tomatoes, in some beef tallow until al dente, chopped the chicken and threw that into the pan until it was all warm, then tossed the chopped tomatoes to just warm them up in right before serving over the hot quinoa with a side salad.
Total time: 20 minutes, including chopping veggies (chicken and quinoa were both already cooked). It wasn't really “saucy” but the flavor was great, especially with the “Italian” dressing on the salad — a nice contrast.”
Jenni – another recipe lover – created a skillet dish that her children loved. High badge of honor, in my mind.
“I really liked this lesson. I am definitely a “find a recipe for every dish” kind of person, so I think this will help me branch out! I tried it the other night with a couple salmon fillets:
- spring onion
- coconut milk
- fresh dill
- snow peas
I sauteed the spring onions in butter/ghee, sprinkled the salmon with salt & pepper, moved the onions aside and cooked the first side (skin-side-down). When it was cooked halfway thorough, I flipped it over in the pan, stirred the onions, and added the coconut milk, dill, lemon, and snow peas. I covered it and let the salmon finish “poaching.” I served over soaked brown rice. It was very yummy, and I definitely branched out in-terms of combined flavors. My kids liked it, too. :)”
I love how Tara from Keep It Real made good use of a pot of brown rice, its nutrition boosted by simmering it in bone broth. This is something I do all the time. I hope one day to hear more about Tara's methods for making Mexican dishes.
“A big pot of soaked brown rice made ahead of time is great for skillet dishes! Add extra nutrition by cooking it in bone broth. I made a batch of brown rice a few days ago. Got two meals out of for my family of five.
The first day, I made a fried rice skillet dish. Cooked up some chopped carrots, peas, fresh ginger and green onions in some coconut oil. Fry the brown rice in some butter and sesame oil and garlic. Move to the side and cook some eggs on the side. Mix them in along with the veggies and some good soy sauce. Yum!
The second day, I used the rest of the rice to make a Mexican rice with onions, tomato sauce, cumin, garlic. Served with Mexican baked wild cod.”
Jami, who wrote the book on cast-iron seasoning, shared some of her favorite meal ideas that use the same principle as my skillet dishes.
“Potato & Salad – I boil whole potatoes, easy to do because they do not require attention. 🙂 I even raise a pot of potatoes to a boil and turn off the heat leaving them covered while we do our work, and they cook slowly. Use any leftover cooked meat, or fry up some hamburger with spices or leave the meat out. It's your choice as this tastes great with or without meat.
To assemble, mash a couple of potatoes on a plate with a fork, add butter, salt and pepper. On top of this place any salad you have (leftovers work well) add sprouts, green onions, mushrooms, grated carrots, zucchini – whatever you have, several inches high. Add your meat (cold or hot), chopped up into small pieces. And top with homemade salad dressing! This recipe fills up hungry teenagers and stops them snacking all evening. 🙂
Rice Bowls – On our brown and white rice combination I stir-fry veggies with the following: Chinese 5 spice, Tamari, green stevia, garlic, ginger and a bit of vinegar. This makes a nice sweet and sour sauce. Sometimes I add Indian green curry or red chili sauce for a kick! For the meat, I would serve with a few warmed up chunks of pre-cooked chicken or beef on top, and chopsticks on the side.”
You can't beat what Terri made for simplicity, flavor, and elegance.
“I made the kamut pasta for my skillet dinner. I used our simple tomato sauce with garlic and fresh oregano from the garden, and added the last of a chicken and some parsley. My husband said it was his favorite of all the things I've made so far in the class.”
And last but not least (definitely not least), Robin shared her Mexican skillet dish, which sounds fabulous with the cilantro.
“I'm a pretty good cook but usually follow a recipe. I do have a few dishes that I grew up making where I just wing it, but I'm not usually so inclined to just “make something up.” Although, when I was really thinking about it, if I have had leftover salmon and rice in the past, I have a few times made up fried rice with it, adding a little scrambled egg and some veggies, but that's probably it.
Anyway, yesterday, I decided to just go for it. I had some ground beef in the fridge and decided to do a Mexican theme, since I also had a green pepper, a jalapeno and some cilantro. So, I sauteed some onion, green pepper and jalapeno, adding a couple tablespoons chili powder and minced garlic at the end. I added the ground beef and browned it with all the veggies and chili powder. I stirred in about 15 ounces of fire-roasted tomatoes (trying to use up the last of my cans) and let simmer. At the end, I added nutritional yeast (about 1/4 cup) and salt (for flavor). Since this was last-minute and I didn't have any rice soaked, I made mashed potatoes. I spooned the ground beef mixture over the mashed potatoes in bowls, topping with some minced cilantro, a little grated cheese and chopped fresh tomatoes. It was yummy! I wasn't quite sure about having a Mexican dish over mashed potatoes, but it worked! Although, next time I would try to use rice or even cornbread.”
Ready, Set, Go
Are you ready to give this a go? Take what's in your pantry and turn it into a meal, without following a recipe? Please share what you learn or try! Or if you already cook this way, share your tips or favorite meal creations in the comments.
This post is shared in Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.
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