What is a House Meal?
You need at least one house meal! Do you have one? Or maybe two? Having one or two recipes in your regular rotation that you can prepare at a moment’s notice when you are feeling less than inspired to cook, is critical for every home chef. It’s a meal that is simple enough that there are only four or five ingredients that are essential, you know it by heart (can cook it without a recipe) and it’s easy enough for others to help.
It also needs to be adaptable to what you currently have in your pantry and fridge or freezer. You should be able to add, subtract or sub in depending on what you are in the mood for or what’s available seasonally. Your house meal should not be demanding to make and it should be delicious enough to eat on a regular basis.
So, in summary, your house meal needs to be:
- Healthy and Delicious
- Use common ingredients
Think back. Did your family have a common house meal? One that your Mom or Dad made when they didn’t know what else to make? I tried to think, and I am not coming up with anything that meets the criteria. We had chicken vegetable soup and fried chicken most Sundays when my Dad would cook, but that took some time and effort. My Mom would make tuna casserole on Fridays since we were Catholic and didn’t eat “meat” on Fridays [don’t get me started on why fish isn’t meat!]. But I think when we had not much in the house and Mom didn’t really want to cook, she would make eggs and spaghetti. Yep. That was it. Cook up some spaghetti and scramble some eggs into it. Dinner is done! And we loved it.
If you don’t have one, you should start now! The only thing you need to do is to prepare for these meals by having a well-stocked pantry. My very basic pantry includes a variety of spices, of course, canned tomatoes, olive oil, at least one good vinegar, pasta, frozen fish, fresh and frozen vegetables, beans, grains and lentils. I feel like super woman if I have all these things!
Yes, you can keep a stash of cooked grains and lentils in your freezer, or save meal preparation time by washing and cutting vegetables as you unload the grocery bags, but really, who does that? I know some people do. Sorry. I DO cook up dried beans sometimes and store them in 1.5 cup servings in the freezer. But I always feel rice and lentils take only the amount of time it takes me to pull dinner together anyway, so why worry about it? And I am happy just to get the groceries put away before I want to be done with that, you know? I may have washed and cut up veggies ahead a few times in my life, but it was NOT right after bringing them home from the market!
My Favorite House Meal
For me, my go-to – when I don’t know what to cook or don’t want to think about it because it is after 6pm and I hadn’t made any meal plan – is what we call “that veggie pasta thingy” – yes, it is crucial that you name your house meals! I chop up whatever vegetables are in the fridge (or maybe even just throw frozen vegetables in the pan), saute them with olive oil, onions and garlic and whatever spices I am in the mood for, add some vegetable broth, more of said spices, and cooked pasta (or rice or other grains if I have them in the fridge). Sometimes I just cook the pasta right in the pan with the broth and veggies because who wants to take the time to boil water and wash another pot? Of all the spice ideas I’ve done, I think our favorite is using lots of bebere (an Ethiopian spice blend) and making it a little soupy – like a stew. Dinner could be ready in 30 minutes without thinking! Sometimes I may add frozen meatballs or shrimp while it’s cooking up, for the carnivores. But either way, it’s healthy, fast, easy, adaptable and just needs pasta and some vegetables, which I always have in one form or another.
Flash-cooked Pasta Sauce and Zoodles
Today’s recipe is a version of the above house meal I made as a summer meal. It was bloody hot outside, I was a little burned out on recipe creativity and hubby and I had hung out in the pool a little longer than anticipated. Since my Dad lives with us and I’m not working at an office any more, I try really hard to have dinner ready a bit earlier than I used to. But we were still in the pool at 6pm and I was having too much fun to have thought about dinner. I wanted something fast, easy, healthy, and adaptable to what I had but that also didn’t require oven or much stove time per se.
That particular night, I made this dish with no cooking, other than the pasta. But it was not the big hit I was hoping it would be, so I made a similar one a second time, but just flash-cooking in a large skillet to get the flavors warm and melded into each other. It was much better! This is that dish! If you use zucchini noodles (zoodles) only, you don’t have to cook pasta and this comes together in a flash (no pun intended)! I actually used half whole wheat spaghetti and half zoodles, because I only had 8 ounces of spaghetti and only one zucchini – adaptable, right? And also healthier and lower carb than full-on pasta. Summer tomatoes, corn and basil from my garden gives it the summer vibe, and the rest are pantry staples, like roasted red peppers, olives, jarred artichokes and vinegar.
This flash-cooked dish can take you as little as 20 minutes (less than 10 minutes on the stove) and isn’t bad to look at, either. Hopefully, next summer you will be able to have some friends over for an impromptu summer meal and this will come to mind because you can pull it off without much planning or time in the kitchen and it’s guest-worthy for sure.
Get You a House Meal!
So what is your “house meal”? Perhaps it’s breakfast for supper. Or maybe rice and beans you can make a million ways. Or maybe you just nuke a chicken breast and boil some broccoli. Or maybe you brown some ground beef and throw it in a tortilla with some salsa.
I would love to hear about your house meal. What do you fall back on when you run out of time, energy or creativity? And if you are willing to share a recipe or two, I’d love you forever!
Flash-cooked Pasta Sauce with Zoodles
- 8 ounces dried whole wheat spaghetti any pasta will work here. If not using zoodles, make this 12-16 ounces of pasta.
- 1 large zucchini spiralized or made into ribbons, optional
- 600 grams cherry tomatoes about 3 cups
- 2 cloves garlic minced, or just throw them in whole and remove before serving
- 2 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or whatever vinegar you have on hand
- 12 olives plus a couple of teaspoons of the brine
- 2 teaspoons Calabrian chiles jarred, optional - Can sub in red pepper flakes
- 4 ounces artichoke hearts chopped, if they are large
- 3 ounces roasted red peppers chopped, optional
- 1 cup corn kernels fresh or frozen
- 1 tablespoon capers optional
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or, to taste
- 1/3 cup fresh basil rough chop or tear, optional
- 4 ounces mozzarella or burrata torn or chopped, totally optional
- First, if you are using pasta, get that pot of water boiling!
- While the water is coming to a boil, pull out all other ingredients, spiralize the zucchini, if using, and chop artichokes and roasted red peppers.
- Drop the pasta into the boiling water along with some salt (I use about 1 T) and stir it in. Set your timer according to instructions on the box (I usually go with 1 minute below the low number on the box, but you do you!)
- While the pasta is cooking, add the olive oil to a large skillet or Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Add all remaining ingredients (except for garnishes) and stir well. Allow to cook, stirring every minute or so, until the tomatoes have started to burst and the pasta is ready (or about 5 minutes, if not using pasta).
- Serve with basil and maybe the optional torn mozzarella or burrata and a drizzle of good olive oil.
- Feel free to add or subtract ingredients based on what you have in your pantry. That is why there are so many optional ingredients here.
- You have the option of using 12-16 ounces of pasta, or 2 large zucchini, spiralized, or half and half, as I have done here.
- Keep it vegan by eliminating the mozzarella/burrata. I did not have any at the time so it is not pictured here.
- Keep it gluten-free by using GF pasta or all zoodles.