Who needs a few deliciously wholesome and easy meals under their belt/in their hat? Me! Me! I had tried to do a meal plan through a wholesome mama website. Gotta admit: the recipes she shared were bland, uninteresting, and not well received by the family. The trouble is, I thought I needed someone to give me a list of what I’d make every night, complete with a grocery shopping list, and then, THEN, I’d have a meal plan for the week and always eat healthfully and never cry at 4pm when no meat was defrosted and all I could offer to poor AA was scrambled eggs without bacon (in the freezer, duh). As it turned out, I didn’t need someone else’s meal plan. I needed to take the time to master one new recipe a week, and then write down what I wanted to cook on Sunday afternoon, shop for it Sunday night, and just make myself do it. Just do it. Nike’s slogan should have been, just do it, NOW, for the procrastinators among us.
Here are four simple recipes that make a wholesome dinner. It’s less about the recipe, and more about learning how to prepare tasty food from what’s in your pantry (grains and beans), and how to make veggies firm & delish with butter and salt and no soggyness. I firmly believe in Alice Water’s principles of food tasting like the best version of itself, not someone else all gussied up. I can’t recommend Alice Water’s Art of Simple Food enough for people who want to cook with flavor, simply.
1) Chicken thighs (or wings) with quinoa and roasted sweet potatoes.
SuperBoy: B+ as he’s not a huge quinoa fan. It goes down better when there are beans involved and he can’t taste its non-taste.
SweetPea: A+++ as she loves sweet potatoes and the seasoning on the chicken. And quinoa. Every day.
Clean the chicken thighs/wings. Lay in a roasting pan that has a thin coating of olive oil. Sprinkle seasoning and ensure it’s all over the chicken. I do a little cajun seasoning, freshly cracked pepper, chili powder, sea salt or coarse kosher salt, and a pinch of tumeric. Preheat oven to 350 and then plop your pan in there once it’s fired up. Watch the chicken very carefully after 15 minutes. The key is not to overcook it. Either invest in a digital probe thermometer (thanks to my sister Bridget I have a beautiful one) or incise the chicken at its meatiest point with a sharp knife tip and see if the juices run clear. Then it’s done. Could run 15 minutes to 30, depending on how much chicken you have. Remember not to overlap the chicken so everything has a chance to cook evenly.
Skin and chop sweet potatoes. Rub with olive oil, paprika, and salt. Lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet. I line it with parchment paper to make it easier to clean, and easier to remove the potatoes. Sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients, unlike white potatoes which are pretty much starch. Opt for these guys any day of the week. Roast at 400 for 15-25 minutes, turning periodically with a metal spatula. Don’t let them burn, but try to achieve a nice crisp exterior.
Quinoa. One of my favorite grains. It’s an unusual grain in that it contains complete protein strands, an anomaly amongst non-meat food. Usually you need to pair grains and beans or other such combos to achieve this level of nutritional outcome. Go, quinoa! It’s very easy to prepare. The ratio is one cup quinoa to two cups liquid.
Chop half an onion and add to warmed olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Over medium heat, wait til the onions have softened. The after about 5-8 minutes, add one cup of quinoa and toast it lightly, stirring a few times. Then pour in your liquid. I opt for chicken broth over water for the flavor. Or veggie broth is great too. Two cups. Bring it to a boil, then cover and let the quinoa absorb all that liquid. This could take up to 20 minutes. Keep tasting it toward the end. It should be soft and tasty. I add a tablespoon of butter with the broth because I believe in butter.
2) Shredded chicken breasts with farro & millet & pea risotto and roasted parmesean broccoli.
AA: B as he wasn’t crazy about the shredded chicken. I think he would have preferred it with tacos instead of as the entree. He was shocked that the broccoli tasted delish. He hates green vegetables. Or rather, did hate.
I fed them the leftover chicken everyday for about 4 days post-meal.
Remember my farro & millet risotto recipe? It’s here for those that missed it. It’s a bi-monthly or sometimes even weekly staple for us. The kids love it, AA loves it, and I love it. Good quality cheese is the key component to deliciousness.
Roasted parm broccoli. First I chop off the stems and wash the broccoli, separating it with my hands so as to not lose too much of the tender tops. I steam it on the stove for about 10-12 minutes. Steaming keeps a lot more of the nutrients in a vegetable than boiling. So steam if you can. Once it’s soft but not mushy, remove it from the stove, drain it, and transfer it to an olive oiled casserole dish. Top it with freshly grated parm and diced shallots or pearl onions (some kind of sweet onion), salt and pepper. Broil it in the stove without a top for 5-8 minutes until it’s crisp. You could do this with just about any vegetable for the same result!
Shredded chicken. Wash and trim the fat from organic chicken breasts. Throw them into the crockpot with chicken broth, a bundle of rosemary, thyme, and oregano tied together (whole stalks), chili powder, and freshly cracked pepper. I add a lot of all spices. Maybe two tablespoons. More spices = more flavor. Then set the pot to low and cook for 8-10 hours. Maybe do it on high for 6-8 hours. Once it’s through cooking, shred the chicken with two forks. If it’s not able to be shred, it’s not done cooking. Then add cornstarch to the gravy to firm it up, and you have a lovely shredded chicken & gravy. Add salt at the end. It acts as a drying agent and you don’t want that in crockpot cooking.
Plate it, and you’re good to go.
3) Chicken pepperoni pizza with cheese and fresh herbs.
I first blogged about Pizza Fridays almost two years ago, here! I follow Farmgirl Fare’s pizza dough recipe. Farmgirl Susan knows her stuff. It is a staple in our household every Friday night. Pizza instructions here. I start my dough by 1pm the day of, but you can certainly start it earlier and put it in the fridge.
If we’ve roasted a whole chicken sometime during the week, which is frequently the case (and then I make broth from the remains of the bird), I’ll save some of the meat for toppings on one of our pizzas. Generally, we make 4 or 8 pizzas, 1-2 only cheese and fresh basil, 1-2 meat, 1-2 veggie, and then a kitchen sink one or so–the everything leftover that my dad & AA devour. Remember to put fresh basil after it’s done cooking, as otherwise it will burn up in the very very hot oven!
4) Beef & salsa brown rice black bean tacos with homemade guacamole and sour cream.
AA: A+ as he loved the salsa, otherwise it was just a vehicle for the guac.
SuperBoy: A- as he’s not a huge beef fan, but this is probably the easiest way for him to eat it.
SweetPea: A+ as she eats like a horse for being a tiny tiny peanut of a girl.
I wrote about how easy it is to make beef tacos a while back, recipe here. The key to a great taco is the salsa. Nota bene: I actually hate salsa. But the biggest taste factor is adding the salsa to the ground beef after you’ve cooked it and drained the fat. Also using brown rice (which takes about 30-40 minutes to cook) is a very healthy alternative to white rice. I try to soak my black beans overnight, but often end up cracking a can of organic black beans from the pantry. Be sure to warm the beans as my recipe recommends–only SweetPea loves unseasoned beans.
The very bestest part of all this taco business is the guac. I follow Alice Water’s guac recipe, loosely now as I’ve made it for 5 years. The avocados have to be ripe, and otherwise, improv away!
Waters writes about Guacamole, “There are many varieties of avocadoes and all may be used, but the Haas avocado is the ideal choice. The flesh has a rich, nutty and herby taste. It is a good keeper, it peels easily and the pit is easily removed. An avocado is ripe when it yields to the gentle pressure of your thumb.”
2 ripe avocados
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
Cut avocados in half and remove pits.
Scoop the flesh out of the skins with a spoon into a mortar and mash it roughly with a pestle. Stir in lime juice, onion, cilantro and some salt. Taste and add more salt and lime juice as needed.
Variation: For a spicy guacamole, add a jalapeno or Serrano pepper, seeded and finely diced.