The Simple Kitchen: Part 1 – Simple Meals

                                                                                     Simple food but happy hearts!

A happy kitchen makes a happy home. A room dedicated to the preparation and consumption of food needs to have more than just the physical amenities, like a refrigerator and a stove. It needs to have the cook’s love in every pinch of salt, every teaspoon of sugar, and every shining kettle. The kitchen is the cook’s domain, where she makes her magic happen. It’s the place where she dries tears by offering a cookie, faces adversity by brewing a pot of coffee, and drowns her stress in a pot of soup. The kitchen is where the cook shows her love to the people who matter most. Every. Single. Day.

We all have fond memories of moms or grandmas with kitchens that seemed magical. The meals they cranked out of that room may not have been “fancy,” but, sister, they were knock-your-socks-off good. Grandmas can always take a couple of potatoes, some flour, and a little imagination and whip up a meal that would give any Food Network star a run for their money. What’s the key to their success?! Aside from the obvious years of practice they’ve had, how do these women know the secret to always making just the right meal at just the right time in just the right way?

One word: simplicity.

Nothing can touch a simple meal when it’s prepared with love and care. Personally, I’d rather sit down to a meal with my family and eat some scrambled eggs and biscuits made with a little TLC than plop down at a banquet table filled with catered delicacies with a bunch of strangers.

While I am in no way an expert in the kitchen, I do know how much fun it can be to take a few spare ingredients and whip out one of your family’s favorite meals. All that it takes is a little thought, a little time, and a little love. I promise you, the rewards are well worth it. I think that’s the reason so many women still cook for their families, because, let’s be truthful, cooking can be a LOT of work. But, those who continue to do it despite the pounds of potatoes that still have to be peeled and the mountain of dishes that need scrubbing realize that the benefits far outweigh the cost.

While on a picnic with some friends a few weeks ago, I heard a very profound statement. One of my friends commented on the picnic food, saying, “It’s amazing how you can take a simple meal like this and eat it outside and it just makes it so much nicer.”

Indeed, it’s not so much what you’re putting on the plate, but where you’re eating and who you’re with.

So, I’d like to share with you all a few of my favorite “simple meals.” These are quick, simple, and (for the most part), healthy solutions to that continuous question that starts nagging us cooks from the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning: “What am I going to make for dinner?”

1. Breakfast

Breakfast for dinner is super fast, easy, and healthy…as long as you’re not grabbing Poptarts. In my home, we make this a lot on Sunday evenings, and usually the whole family gets involved in the preparation process. We’ll sit down to a table set with scrambled eggs, biscuits, gravy, and seasonal produce in less than 30 minutes, but we get to have the fun of preparing it together. If you and your gang are feeling extra fancy, you could also try whipping up some omelets or dessert pancakes to give things a little twist.

2. Spaghetti

This is pretty much my last ditch resort when I cannot think of what to make for dinner. It’s also pretty handy when you don’t really feel like spending an hour and a half grilling some chicken breasts, baking some potatoes, and steaming some green beans after a long day of work. I usually boil some spaghetti or fun pasta noodles, heat up sauce out of a jar, and cook some frozen vegetables (green beans, corn, asparagus, etc.). For garlic bread, I follow my mom’s quick recipe: Take 1 to 2 slices of sandwich bread per person and spoon about 1/2-1 teaspoon of olive oil in the center. Spread it around and sprinkle with garlic and onion powder. Pop it under the broiler for about 2 minutes, keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn. Serve those puppies hot out of the oven with your fancy-shmancy Italian dinner, and you have a simple (and fast!) meal that satisfies the tummy and the heart.

3. Soup

I am such a soup person. It’s got to be about the cheapest dish a person can make, and the opportunities for flavor combinations are virtually limitless. And,no, I’m not talking about Progresso or Campbell’s. Do yourself a favor and don’t go there. Making the soup yourself is half the fun of the entire experience. You get to add a pinch of this and a dash of that, and it makes you feel just like Emeril (Bam!). Some of my favorite soups to make and eat are minestrone, tomato, chicken noodle, and vegetable. A little cheater’s hint: make a double portion and freeze half of your soup. The next time you’re pressed for time, pull that soup out a day in advance, let it defrost in your fridge over night, and heat it up the next evening for supper.

4. Rice

This grain is a staple in so many countries, and I’m beginning to understand why. It’s like the cook’s canvas. You can do whatever you want with it! Want some Mexican tonight? Throw in some cumin, salsa, and shredded chicken and serve with steamed corn and tortilla chips. Feeling in the mood for Chinese? Add a dash of soy, a touch of pineapple juice, and some saucy poultry, and then break out the chopsticks. Or, “spice it up with Zataran’s” and toss in some cayenne pepper and sausage for a New Orleans style feast. One of my favorite ways to prepare rice, usually as a side dish, is to boil a cup of rice for 15 minutes, toss in a chicken or beef bouillon cube, cook another 15 minutes, and then stir in about a teaspoon of butter once the water is all cooked up. Pretty good stuff.

5. Pizza (for the special occasions)

Making homemade pizzas has always been a special treat in my family. I’ll make them for movie nights, the Superbowl, or sometimes, just because it’s fun to eat on a weekend. The favorite around here is the BBQ Chicken pizza. For this, I use a semi-homemade approach. I make the crust myself, but I use bottled BBQ sauce and pre-packaged shredded cheese for the sauce and toppings. Of course, once you top it with shredded or cubed chicken and bake it 15 minutes at 350 F., nobody really cares. Because pizza is pizza around here, and it doesn’t matter what you put on it, but how you put it down the hatch.
What are the simple meals around your house? Got some ideas for me? ‘Cause I always need some more recipes.:)

Bon Appetite!

The Vintage Book Lady


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