Hacks from my Happy Place – XXI

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post about all things kitchen and cooking. I cannot believe that I’ve written 20 posts already under this series. I honestly haven’t developed any new recipes to share, though I’ve now got the idea for a couple. Instead, this post will focus on “hacks” to make you look like a decent cook.

On my recent trip to see my brother, we talked about how, by the time he gets home from work, he just wants quick and easy meals with as little clean-up as possible. And I’m going to admit it, for the first time, that when I’m cooking for just me, I use all kinds of cheats and hacks!

Example #1: I don’t like the runny sauce that comes with the boxed macaroni and cheese products. I also don’t want to go through the hassle of making homemade mac and cheese when it’s just for me. So….. I buy the boxed stuff, make it on the stove as directed, and then pour it into a casserole pan of some sort and pop it in the oven at 350 degrees. Open the oven after about 10 minutes and give it a good stir, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. Baking it solidifies the cheese sauce so it molds to the shape of the pasta and is no longer runny, and it tastes pretty decent! Plus, there are a variety of add-ins like bacon bits, chicken pieces, even canned tuna, that makes it a meal just by itself!

Example #2: I love chicken parmesan and let’s be honest, unless you are dining in an authentic Italian restaurant or 5-star establishment, the chicken is most likely to be a molded and breaded patty. For upwards of $15, or more, you can get this type of chicken parmesan served to you with a side of pasta. But….. you can make 4 times that many servings with just a little bit of easy prep and easy ingredients. Buy a box of the frozen chicken patties from the freezer section of your store. You will also need some mozzarella cheese – shredded or sliced – and either a jar of inexpensive spaghetti sauce or a can of tomato sauce and some Italian seasoning or oregano (one or both is probably in your pantry). Start boiling the water for whatever pasta you want on the side (or get a good brioche bun and make a sandwich instead). Bake the chicken as directed on the box, but about 3-4 minutes short of the baking time. As it is close to being done, use the microwave to heat up your sauce, for under a minute, just to get it warm. Remove baking sheet from oven and use a spoon to spread the sauce on the patties. Top with the mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melty. Congrats, you’ve just mastered some really decent chicken parmesan and saved lots of money doing it!

Example #3: When the weather is cold, a hot roast beef or hot turkey sandwich is hearty and filling comfort food. You can serve it on bread or over a mound of mashed potatoes (instant are okay, you won’t taste them anyhow!). Go to your local deli and ask someone to cut you a slab of turkey or roast beef, about 3/4 of an inch thick. Go to the center aisles and pick up a jar of roast beef or turkey filling. Then, it’s just a matter of heating the gravy on the stove while you warm the meat in the microwave. For me, I don’t want to have to deal with cutting my food once I sit down to eat, so I just cut the meat in bite-sized chunks, skip the microwave, and throw it into the gravy until it’s hot, and voila, just as good as you’d get in the average diner!

Example #4: Beef stew is a hardy meal and although I could use the lunch meat and gravy like I do for a hot meat sandwich, I simply buy the (I think it’s Hormel) beef tips in gravy that’s found in the section near the pre-packaged lunch meat section. A can of diced potatoes and a small can of peas and carrots are the only other ingredients. I heat the beef tips in the microwave as directed and heat the potatoes and veggies together in a sauce pan. When everything is ready, pour the beef and gravy into a serving bowl, drain the potatoes and veggies, add in and stir until everything is combined. It really is that easy!

When you’re cooking for one, these are some easy ways to make yourself something that you won’t find pre-packaged at your store, and while again, it’s not restaurant dining, it at least tastes a bit like ‘homemade’. And mostly, it’s not filled with a bunch of extra preservatives!

I hope some of you will give some of these easy hacks a try, and then pat yourself on the back for how good they taste! Maybe they’ll inspire you to try other combinations! If so, please share them with us!

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