Shortcut Meat & Potatoes: Maximum Meal with Minimal Effort

Chicken noodle soup is for sissies. I maintain that there are much more appealing dishes to make when you’re sick. And no, not all meat and potatoes require full health and energy to prepare.

I had the onset of a migraine this afternoon – enough to wipe me out but not knock me out for the evening. So we prepared a full meal with minimal effort: garlic mashed potatoes, sweet n’ spicy steamed carrots, and grilled pork chops.

Wanna hear my secrets? Of course, it certainly helps having a boyfriend who knows his way around the kitchen as well as — if not better than — I do. But I’m not letting him have credit for this whole meal. So on to the secrets:

1. Instant mashed potatoes have come a loooong way. When I was growing up, the life cycle of a potato started in the garden. After grandpa popped them out of the dirt, I’d watch my mom wash, boil, and mash them manually. At no point did the potato pass through a phase as a box of flakes. If it could grow in the garden or graze in the pasture, it shouldn’t come in a box to end up on your dinner table.

It’s not that I’ve necessarily changed my mind about this conviction. You’ll still never find me picking up hamburger in a grocery store freezer when I can get it straight from the butcher. I wanna know what that cow ate for dinner before I eat him.

I will say, though, that instant mashed potatoes are a shortcut worth taking,whether you’re sick or just lazy. This time, I mixed in a few shakes of Tastefully Simple Garlic Garlic. But I’ve also been known to add cream cheese (flavored, like sour cream and onion) to instant mashed potatoes for some extra creaminess.

2. Steamed carrots, or any veggie, are the easiest route to healthy side dishes – yes, easier than anything you’ll buy in a kit. Carrots, peppers, onions, celery: chop them up ahead of time and store in baggies in the fridge for quick snacks or to save you prep time at dinner — which is especially appreciated when you develop a migraine halfway through the day. Throw them in a skillet with melted butter and a little water, cover and let the steam soften them. We added some honey and cinnamon at the end for extra spice.

3. If George Foreman had never wrestled a man in his life, I’d wager his grill invention would have made him just as famous anyway, because this thing is a godsend. I can’t tell you how many nights it has offered a welcome solution when I didn’t want to heat up my tiny attic kitchen by turning on the oven or even the stove top.

Shake a little salt, pepper, and garlic over thawed pork chops, toss them on the Foreman and they’re juicy and done in minutes. Topped off with a little sweet chili sauce we overstocked from McDonalds, and the flavor is complete.

There you are, a maximum meal with minimal effort and even a slight handicap. Bon appetit.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken

What’s better than a big, juicy slab of meat? Meat wrapped in more meat, that’s what.

This recipe is ridiculously simple, and it works double-time to quell a hunger twice as big as the effort it requires. So, in five easy steps:

1. Flatten a chicken breast.

2. Spread with cream cheese, top with onions. (The original recipe called for sweet onions. I had red, so that’s what I used, and topped it off with some fresh cilantro.)

3. Meanwhile, fry bacon but remove from heat before it starts to crisp.

4. Roll up chicken and wrap bacon around it, securing with toothpicks.

* Extra step: I thinly sliced a small potato, sprinkling with olive oil, salt, pepper and the remaining onions. If you slice it too thick, they won’t bake as fast as the chicken.

5. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. My oven runs hot, so for me it was more like 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

Here’s what it looks like headed into the oven — pretty fancy already:

And the finished dish, with some sour cream and fresh parsley added to the potatoes:


Easter Eggs, Chops & Smashers

Easter is the one time of the year when I buy white eggs from the store. Being raised on brown eggs fresh from the coop, I can taste the difference. And I don’t like it. But you just can’t dye brown eggs, so I give in.

Easter just isn’t Easter until you dye eggs. And fortunately, my mom stayed with me this weekend so we got to be creative together. That takes care of the centerpiece.

Now the meal: I bought pork chops last week. Now, generally, this isn’t a very odd statement to make. But coming from me, it is. I don’t really eat pork. Bacon and pepperoni, maybe every once in a while. Ham and sausage, never. But I was getting tired of chicken for every meal so I decided to be brave.

Then began the search for a recipe that didn’t require obscure ingredients, timely marinating processes or foreign techniques. I came across this recipe for Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops. Ah, Giada. Where would I be without you?

Basically, you coat each chop in grated Parmesan, beaten egg and Italian breadcrumbs, then fry it in the skillet. At first when I read the recipe, I thought: There’s no way that stuff will stick in that order. I almost didn’t follow directions because I expected a failure. But you should always trust Giada.

It makes such a deliciously crispy crust. Pretty good, even for pork chops. My mom and I also tried it on chicken, and that was just as awesome. If you can, use the Kraft Parmesan cheese that comes in a big chunk with its own grater. Those shreds of cheese were thicker than what you buy already-grated, so it made a thicker, cheesier crust.

For sides, we made green beans and Potato Smashers, another recipe from Kraft’s Food & Family magazine,.

Here’s my annotated version of the recipe:
Stab four new red potatoes with a fork several times, making holes for steam to escape. Place them in 1/2 cup of water in a microwavable bowl. Microwave uncovered for 8-10 minutes or until soft. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain potatoes and place on work surface (I use my cutting board). Press each one with the bottom of a small glass, flattening to 1/2-inch thick.

Meanwhile, heat enough Italian dressing to cover the bottom of a skillet. Add potatoes. Cook 4 minutes. Flip them over and sprinkle with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Cook until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream and any other toppings you want — green onions, olives, etc.

Enjoy. And Happy Easter!