20/80 Food
December 23, 2009 4:03 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite quick but good recipes that mimic a more complicated dish?

There's an experession that says most jobs can be finished with 80% of the maximum quality for 20% of the maximum work. Are there any good recipes that demonstrate this principle (along with much less time)? I know Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee claim they do this, but I mean recipes that really deliver and don't fall back on compromises like using frozen hash browns in place of potatoes.

Good examples include this skillet lasagna, and much of Mark Bittman's Minimalist collumn.

I love a big cooking project as much as anyone, but even I need to put food on the table on weeknights. I have a good cache of recipes, I'm just looking for inspiration for some new things. I also have a pressure cooker, so recipes that use it and actually save time are useful, too.

DERAILFILTER: Also, I just got 1 pound of vanilla beans in the mail. Any favorite recipes that use those, aside from making vanilla extract? I like canning things, so canned solutions are welcome.
posted by mccarty.tim to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Change any cabbage rolls recipe to a layered casserole. Put a little sauce on the bottom of a dutch oven, then add: chopped, raw cabbage; meat and raw rice mixture; sauce; cabbage; meat and rice; sauce; cabbage; sauce. Bake as needed.
posted by maudlin at 4:25 PM on December 23, 2009

Here's a similar approach to dolmades. All the taste, much less of the fuss.
posted by maudlin at 4:31 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I get raves from taking bottled mincemeat and adding candied peel, rum and pecans. Everyone assumes it's a totally homemade and asks for the recipe. I guess it could be weeknight (but not likely). Last night, we put that on frozen puff pastry rolled out freeform on a baking sheet (just roll the edge and dump in the filling), bake at 425 degrees. Delish!
posted by kch at 4:59 PM on December 23, 2009

If you like fudge, this recipe is very, very easy. And incredibly delicious.
posted by bearwife at 5:04 PM on December 23, 2009

Cook's Illustrated has a simplified Arroz con Pollo recipe that's pretty good: Latino-style Chicken and Rice
posted by AlsoMike at 5:13 PM on December 23, 2009

For the vanilla beans, I suggest using them in custard or ice cream. I always use vanilla beans in custard because it tastes so much better than extract. Also, maybe try vanilla sugar? Just split and scrape a bean into an airtight container, then bury it in sugar. Use it in anything you'd put sugar in.
posted by lexicakes at 5:28 PM on December 23, 2009

Not a recipe, but I poke holes in and then microwave potatoes before turning them into hashbrowns or mashed potatoes, saves massive amounts of time/oven gas.
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:57 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Instead of making some complicated cream sauce for pasta, just reserve a bit of the hot water and add a soft cheese (like feta or brie) and a little bit of garlic, mix it around while all still hot so the garlic cooks slightly, and squeeze lemon on it. You can also add some seared mushrooms, or bacon easily enough to make it more than just cheesy pasta. Don't reserve too much water though, just enough to help creamify the cheese.
posted by molecicco at 5:58 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Blender Hollandaise.
posted by cda at 6:07 PM on December 23, 2009

This Thai peanut chicken sauce goes over really well. I stir-fry about 1.5-2 pounds of chicken, put it in the sauce, and serve it either alone or over rice:

4 cloves garlic, minced, chopped, or pressed
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons chopped ginger
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 tablespoons crushed red pepper

Combine all ingredients until smooth. Can substitute two tablespoons of oil and one of water for the peanut and sesame oils, if desired. Will keep for one week in refrigerator.
posted by tellumo at 6:08 PM on December 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

Split peas in the rice cooker - treat 'em like lentils. When done, they're cooked but fairly dry. Crumble them into pea powder, then dissolve in a quart of broth. Add some chopped lightly dauteed onion, chopped cooked ham (if desired) and a few peppercorns, let it cook long enough to heat up, and you have split pea soup that tastes like you've been simmering it for days (and it's super thick, too!)
posted by caution live frogs at 6:18 PM on December 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

Bah. Sauteed of course, stupid phone keyboard...
posted by caution live frogs at 6:20 PM on December 23, 2009

This year for Christmas I made condensed milk fudge:

1. Melt chocolate chips and condensed milk.
2. Pour into pan.
3. Stand around looking insufferably smug.

I also recently decided that Nigella Lawson's express mac and cheese recipe is my #1 favorite so far.

(For my fellow Imperial system users, it's 425 degrees F, 8 oz, 8 oz, and 1 can, respectively.)
posted by ErikaB at 6:30 PM on December 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

This is a recipe for Paneer Butter Masala, which can be prepared in about 5 minutes. Substitute cooked chicken for the paneer, and you've got a pretty passable chicken tikka masala. (I used this for a turkey tikka masala after Thanksgiving, and it came out pretty good.)
posted by deadmessenger at 6:44 PM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

For avocado ice cream:

Mix ripe avocado and sweetened condensed milk. Freeze. Eat.

(It's delicious unfrozen, too.)
posted by spec80 at 6:48 PM on December 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Hm, it occurs to me that a recipe for that super-easy fudge might have been a helpful addition to my earlier comment.
posted by ErikaB at 9:38 PM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I make a rissoto-like dish with bacon and peas that goes into a covered casserole dish in the oven. None of the stirring, almost all of the flavor. I think it's from a Donna Hay book.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:15 PM on December 23, 2009

Thai green/yellow/massaman curry. Saute a large onion in a pan with oil until they start to brown, add a can of curry paste and mix around until it starts to smell great, add a can of coconut milk, two cubed potatoes, and some (zucchini/mushrooms/whatever). Let simmer/boil for twenty minutes, stirring here and there. Bingo -- superbly flavorful, richly layered, filling curry.

Shakshouka. Get marinara in a pan (either by dumping a jar of sauce in the pan or pureeing a garlic/onion/diced tomatoes mixture, etc). Add some mushrooms, maybe. Slip two eggs in, put on the lid and let it cook for a few minutes, drop some cheese, spoon onto bread.

A good pesto + goat cheese makes even plain gnocchi really really great.
posted by suedehead at 10:53 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

The other posters have way more classy sounding recipes, but my wife and I have become fond of this super easy, totally lowbrow faux hungarian goulash:

Pork chops (super cheap in comparison to other meats right now, at least on the east coast of the USA)
Can of cream of mushroom soup

Simmer for as long as you can on gentle heat, or, if you are in a hurry-- cook it at high heat but expect the pork to toughen up a bit.

Before serving, add as much paprika as you like (I like a lot).
Also sour cream if you want (or buttermilk, or our favorite-- plain yogurt)
You can further tart this up with mushrooms, etc, if you have them. But really, isn't the whole point of your post minimum effort for maximum taste?

We especially like to do this in a crockpot. Dump the meat and soup in in the morning (takes less than a minute), then come home to a basically fully cooked meal. All you have to do is add the paprika and sour cream at the end (also less than a minute). Contrary-wise, we've cooked it quickly in a skillet on the stove for those nights when we don't have anything else prepared and just want something quick and easy right now.

The end result has been served over rice, also on potatoes, or of course the traditional wide pasta noodles. I often find that low heat in a crockpot for a long time will make the porkchops literally fall apart, which I quite like.

I feel so grubby and practical offering this quick-and-dirty recipe here among all the sophisticated curry and grape leaf concoctions, but sometimes you just want something easy that still tastes good. It's also a very inexpensive meal, so I don't mind if today I appear to be the dog pound mongrel trying to stand up proudly among purebred showdogs. Enjoy!
posted by seasparrow at 3:22 AM on December 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

I make a ridiculous easy key lime pie by combining a cup of bottled lime juice and two 14oz cans of sweetened condensed milk and pouring into a store bought graham cracker crust. Bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes.
posted by something something at 5:27 AM on December 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

You can make a nice Gorgonzola pasta by putting an ounce or two of Gorgonzola in a metal bowl, along with a pat of butter and about a tablespoon of milk, and letting it rest above the boiling pasta water. When the pasta is done, you throw the whole thing together in the metal bowl.

Bonus tip from one who's been there, hey, that bowl is hot.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:12 AM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Enchilada casserole -

1 Roast chicken from grocery store (or leftovers) shredded or cooked ground beef
1 Can tomato sauce
2 c chicken stock or water
1 onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tbsp chili powder
(other seasoning to taste: salt, pepper, jalapeno, cumin, coriander, fresh cilantro etc.)
4-6 cups shredded melty cheese (cheddar & jack work great for this)
Corn tortillas

Saute onion in oil and seasoning until translucent (make sure to add chili powder to the oil for maximum flavor). Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce & chicken stock or water. Add chicken or ground beef (or turkey leftovers--works great!). Cover and cook for 30 minutes or three hours--same amount of work aside from stirring occasionally.

Put a little sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish. Put some sauce on the bottom of the dish so the casserole won't stick. Put in a layer of tortillas. You can cut in half if that will help them fit better. Spoon sauce over tortillas making sure that they're all covered with sauce. Use a slotted spoon or tongs if you want to control the amount of chicken on each layer. Over the sauce, add a layer of shredded cheese (& salsa if you like) repeat until you have 4 layers--make sure the top is covered in cheese.

Bake for 25-30 minutes covered in foil and then another 10 without the foil to get the cheese all brown and bubbly.


Also, I may be gauche saying this because I know her personality is a little grating, but the 80/20 thing is what Rachel Ray is all about. If you don't like her personality, you can buy one of her books. She really really helped me figure out how to both simplify complicated recipes and punch up simple ones.
posted by Kimberly at 7:58 AM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks! Good answers, everyone!
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:33 AM on December 25, 2009

Cooks Illustrated has a ton of this stuff. However, sometimes it's taking a 3 day recipe down to 5 hours, which may not be what you're after.
posted by jefftang at 9:01 AM on December 29, 2009

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