What to Cook after Vacation

What to cook after vacation?

Don’t.

Just don’t.

You just got back from vacation and if it’s anything like over here, unpacked three bags worth of stuff. (Somehow a one- year-old single-handedly destroys the dream of not checking luggage. We travel with 10x more now that there’s a baby.) The last thing you want to worry about the night back from vacation, which is often also the night before going back to work, is standing in front of the stove. What are you, Betty Draper? No. Grab a beer an order a pizza, or Indian food, whatever. Relish the last moments of total freedom and just don’t bother.

I have a long-standing tradition of cleaning out our fridge completely before we leave for vacation. Bare bones. Total deep clean. I don’t do much grocery shopping before heading out of town so anything that’s in there is either a leftover, long forgotten, or never to be consumed. The day before we take off, I throw away most of it (usually old vegetables and jars of who-knows-what; so, please don’t get all up in arms about food waste). This results in coming home to a clean slate and very little pressure to cook immediately.

Then, once I’ve snapped out of “ugh back to reality” mode and checked days’ worth of unread work email, I can plug into cooking. Very recently, I’ve developed a system which is proving to be no fail. As always with my blog - limited effort, maximum result. So, the answer to what to cook after vacation? Roast a chicken. (Not immediately, do it on a Tuesday night. Trust me. It pays off for the rest of the week.)

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Here’s what you do. Pull a chicken out of the freezer to defrost the night you get home. Or, if you don’t have one, buy one. This is where you’re probably rolling your eyes at me because roasting a chicken sounds SO labor intensive. It doesn’t have to be! The below recipe isn’t totally mine, it started from the genius mind of Mark Bittman. However, I’ve adapted it a bit to satisfy my taste and to make it even easier. Make either one, I promise it’s not hard.

Seriously, the whole thing has like seven ingredients and one of them is a skillet.

Mark Bittman’s Version

Easiest Roast Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, not too big.

  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

  • 1 head of garlic, cut into wedges

  • olive oil

  • salt

  • pepper

  1. Heat up the oven to 400°F.

  2. Meanwhile, take your whole bird, remove everything that might be inside, and pat down the entire thing with paper towel. Use half a roll if you need to but the dryer the crispier the skin.

  3. Place the bird in a cast iron skillet.

  4. Rub the chicken all over with olive oil.

  5. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Seriously, don’t skimp on these.

  6. Cut a lemon into 4 wedges. Stuff them inside the bird.

  7. Cut a garlic into wedges. Stuff inside the bird. Don’t even bother peeling it.

  8. Roast for 30 min at 400°F then turn the over down to 350°F and roast until the chicken is golden brown, and an instant read thermometer reads 155 to 165 degrees. Or, if you’re me, just cut into the thing and see if the juices run clear. It’s probably fine.

  9. Remove and rest the bird for at least 15 min before serving.

  10. Carve and serve.

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Serve the chicken with mashed sweet potato, baked potato, sautéed green beans, or even just some sliced tomato and cucumber!

When you’re done eating and ready for clean up, make your partner do the dishes while you do this:

  • Take all the meat and put it aside in a Tupperware container for the rest of the week. Make chicken salad, put some in a sandwich for lunch, throw it in some pasta, or make Tomato Basil Chicken Paella. Easy meals for the rest of the week!

  • Take all the bones from the carcass, all the fat and olive oil at the bottom of the cast iron skillet, the lemon, the garlic, and put in the fridge - post about what to do with these soon!

That’s it! That is it.

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Tomato Basil Chicken turned Paella

In my last post I introduced a new series on the site, Quick Recipes, For Busy Parents. Idea behind the series being, how to make one meal with enough leftover to transform it into something totally different for dinner the next night. 

I'm going to keep this one short, just like the prep and cook time for this dinner. Tomato Basil Chicken leftovers transformed into paella. (If you're a paella truther, please forgive me. This is a homemade, take the bare elements of paella, no time to cook because the baby is crying version of the dish.) So, here's what you do: get home from work and make the decision not to order out. Do not pick up some pita and dip it in hummus and call that dinner. Do not pour a bowl of cereal and pretend you're back in college. And for the love of everything, do not slice up an avocado and insult yourself by putting it on toast. Make a real meal because you worked all day and you've earned it. All you need are the aforementioned leftovers and 30 minutes for light cooking. Frankly, this recipe is more mixing and boiling than cooking. No cutting, just a little stirring. 

Ready?

Let's make this.

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Tomato Basil Chicken turned Paella 

Ingredients

  • Leftovers from the Tomato Basil Chicken recipe
    • We had two chicken thighs and a ton of the vegetables in their juices.
  • 2 cups jasmine rice
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 tsp saffron
  • fresh basil, torn into pieces
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  1. Steep saffron in 1/4 cup of hot water.
  2. While saffron is steeping cook 2 cups jasmine rice in a pot. (Directions for cooking rice should be on the back of the packaging.)
  3. Meanwhile, grab the leftovers from the fridge. Using a fork, or if you're me, just your fingers - shred the leftover chicken into a large pan. 
  4. Dump your leftover vegetables and any juices into the pan with the chicken. Literally, just empty the Tupperware into the pan. 
  5. Drizzle some olive oil on everything and heat pan on low. 
  6. Once your rice is done cooking, pour the steeped saffron, water and all, into the rice and mix well. 
  7. Mix the rice into the warmed pan of now shredded chicken and tomato basil leftovers.
  8. Turn up the heat and stir everything together for a few minutes. 
  9. Adjust seasonings to taste. For me this meant adding a bit more salt + pepper. Also, some paprika and red pepper flakes. Top everything with shredded basil and shaved Parmesan (if you feel like it). Squeeze lemon 'cause why not?
  10. Eat!
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That's it! You've made a variation of paella out of something that was decidedly very different the night before. Eat your meal out a bowl, drink a glass of wine, be in bed by 9:30PM. 

Oh the parent life! 

 

 

It's Chilly. Eat Chili. Also, Cornbread.

Alright, I'm going to spare you my usual song and dance of, "I can't believe I haven't written in so long! Holy crap, how has it been since August?? Can you believe it?! I can't believe it." Truth is, I can believe it. The last few months, have been nothing but travel. Not complaining, but even the best hotel bed doesn't compare to home and cuddling up with these fellows.

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To put it in perspective, I haven't been in our apartment or kitchen or living room or bedroom for more than 15 days over the last 3 months. Insanity, right? Right. Even though the whirlwind of travel which has marked the last year isn't slowing down, I've finally made the decision to learn to live in it instead of letting myself be carried away by it. What the hell does that even mean, you ask? It means that the worst thing when you're away a lot is to come home every weekend and feel like all you can do is catch up on having a personal life. Opening an empty fridge, sorting through endless laundry, it doesn't add up to quality time spent at home. Basically, first chance I had, I sat down, and made a plan for how I'm going to tackle the next few months of being away 2-3 days a week without losing my f-cking mind. (Yes, I'm swearing in this space now. But only when the occasion calls for it.)

First things first, I went to the grocery and made a real meal. 

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I didn't want something insanely time or labor intensive because well, it's me. Also, when you're working with a limited amount of time at home you want to spend as much of it as possible with your butt on the couch next to your dogs and husband and not at the stove. The other thing is that I wanted enough food to last us a few days so that we could really enjoy some time without having to worry about cooking again. The other other thing is that it's chilly, finally, and I've been craving chili. 

Weirdly enough, it was hard for me to find a recipe to settle on for a nice slow cooker chili. So many options, so many of them from weird somewhat unreliable to me sources like Betty Crocker or Stouffer's. I don't love the idea of getting my recipe from a corporate behemoth and some of the fancier ones were just too fancy. I'm sure you probably have yours, or your grandma's, but I finally put together my own, and of course I want to share it. Also, I made the best damn cornbread of my life, all because I listened to my husband and added 7UP to it. Don't judge until you've tried how insanely fluffy it makes the bread coming out of the oven. Seriously, don't judge. I did and was wrong. This cornbread is so good I've had it for breakfast every morning since. 

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Chill, Chili + Cornbread

Chili 

Ingredients

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  • 2 lbs ground beef/chicken whichever you prefer or have on hand. 
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced. 
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes, with juices. I used the basil kind because it's what I had and they worked great. 
  • 1 can tomato paste.
  • 3 cans kidney beans or black beans, your choice. Drained + rinsed. 
  • 2 habanero peppers, diced. 
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp. cayenne
  • 1/2 tbsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. pepper
  • 1 bay leaf

For toppings: cheddar, scallions, sour cream, some people like cilantro - we are not those people but maybe you are? 

  1. In a large skillet, sauté onions until they start to sweat and turn golden.
  2. Add beef or chicken (or both!) and cook until no longer pink. Drain! 
  3. Take the onion/beef mixture and throw it into your slow cooker. 
  4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, kidney beans, habanero peppers. 
  5. Mix all the spices in a large bowl and dump them in too. Don't forget that spices are a really individual thing - some like more some like less. Please season according to your taste buds, not mine. It's your life, your chili.  (But do remove the bay leaf before you eat, please.)
  6. Mix well. Really, really, really well. 
  7. Set your slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low. Ignore it until the smell of chili consumes your house. Start the cornbread an hour before you're ready to eat.  

 

Cornbread

Ingredients

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  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup veg. oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk or whole milk
  • 1 cup 7UP or Sprite or plain seltzer if you just cannot with the soda. 
  • 1/8 stick butter, softened. 
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix all dry ingredients + wet ingredients in separate bowls. 
  3. Butter the hell out of a cast iron skillet. (If you don't have one, use a normal baking pan. Totally fine.)
  4. Combine ingredients, mix well, pour into skillet. 
  5. Bake for 40 min or until toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. 
  6. Dot the top of the cornbread with butter, watch it melt. Maybe drool a little? We did.

Now, throw a slice of the cornbread into a bowl. Top it with scoops and scoops of chili. Top that chili with cheddar, sour cream, scallions. Eat a serving, then eat another serving. Feel like you ate too much? Good. Repeat the next day. 

This is a crucial step in the process: cornbread first, dollops of chili second. You want the most mush, trust me.

This is a crucial step in the process: cornbread first, dollops of chili second. You want the most mush, trust me.

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