Monday, September 3, 2012

Weekly Menu: 9/3. The Go-To Dinners

Photos of pasta with bolognese sauce, salmon with leeks, asian grilled chicken and pumpkin bread

Even if you enjoy the process of cooking, there are those weeks when all you can handle are the "go-to's." We all have go-to's:  those meals that you can shop for without a list, that are relatively uncomplicated and will be eaten happily by all without raised eyebrows and whiny protests.

Since we spent the last few days away on an annual last-hurrah-of-summer camping trip and are now in back-to-school mode, I need no-fail, kitchen-tested dinners. These are family faves that have already passed muster, and I just have to be careful not to put them into rotation too many times. I've had to give the oven fried buttermilk baked chicken a rest because it became such a staple at our table.

The Bolognese sauce? Comforting, low maintenance and even better reheated a day later.  The salmon? Easily prepped in the morning and cooked later when you're ready. It's like spa food and equally popular with adults and kids, in my experience. The chicken? Super juicy and quick. And the pumpkin bread? Well, I know we're barely into September, but you can get canned pumpkin anytime, and this insanely tasty bread is great sliced in lunchboxes, plus it freezes well. Take the second loaf and freeze it for another week when you need your go-to's handy. You know that week will come.

What are your no-fail dinners? 

 Weeknight Bolognese

  Pasta with a tomato and meat sauce, topped with Parmesan cheese

Other than chopping the basil, you can get away with NO chopping for this recipe, so the prep is easier than you might think. Consider making it earlier in the day and reheating when you're ready. The flavors will only deepen. Yum.

Sides: Caesar salad  made of hearts of romaine with shaves of Parmesan cheese and your favorite Caesar dressing, plus good crusty Italian bread

  • Buy good pre-grated Parmesan cheese from the deli section
  • Use jarred, minced garlic

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Fill the pasta pot with water and set it on the stove for later
  • Rinse, dry and chop the basil. If you have a kid who's handy with scissors, have them cut up the basil over a bowl.

  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra to cook the pasta
  • 1 pound lean ground sirloin
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/4 cups dry red wine, divided
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble and cook the ground beef for 5-7 minutes, or until browned. Stir in the garlic and oregano and cook 1 minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
  • While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa recipe

Five-Spice Salmon with Leeks

  Salmon baked with Chinese 5-spice powder and leeks and baked in parchment 
This is a spa-food-like dish since the ingredients are so simple.        

Sides: Green salad and garlic naan bread from Trader Joe's (found in frozen foods)

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Prep salad ahead of time, loosely cover and store in fridge until later
  • Cut off stem ends of leeks, take off a couple of outer layers, cut lengthwise once and soak in water for 5 minutes to remove grit hiding in layers. Rinse again, pat dry and chop.
  • Cut salmon into fillet portions 
  • Combine seasonings
  • Fully assemble salmon packets with seasonings and leeks, seal shut and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Store in fridge until ready to bake.
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice Powder (such as McCormick's)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  •  4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets 
  •  2 leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • Preheat oven to 425°.
  • Combine dry seasonings in a small bowl.
  • Cut 4 (12-inch) squares of parchment paper. Place 1 fillet in center of each square. Sprinkle evenly with salt and spice mixture; top fillets evenly with leeks. Fold paper; seal edges with narrow folds. Place packets on a baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned. Do not cook longer! 
  • Place on plates; cut open. Serve immediately.

Adapted from this Cooking Light recipe

Glazed Grilled Chicken

  Grilled chicken thighs with sesame noodles and roasted broccoli

Though the sesame noodles play a supporting role in this menu, don't skip them. Make a double batch and eat them for lunch or send in kids' lunchboxes as a sandwich alternative.

Sides: Sesame noodles from the Pioneer Woman site and broccoli florets tossed with a couple teaspoons of sesame oil, S&P and roasted at 450 for 10 minutes, then toss and roast another 5 minutes or so until lightly browned and just tender.

  • Use jarred, minced ginger (usually found near jarred garlic)
 Make Ahead Notes:
  • Combine sauce ingredients ahead and refrigerate until you're ready to cook

  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds) 
  • Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
  • Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl; stir well. Add chicken; toss to coat.
  • Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from grill; cover.

Originally from Cooking Light recipe

Extra Credit: Pumpkin Bread

  Thickly sliced pumpkin bread

Consider making one loaf and using the rest of the batter for muffins. For muffins, bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes.

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease and flour two 9x5 loaf pans.In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans. 
  • Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Original recipe from Allrecipes

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