Cooking for Dumbasses
November 16, 2010 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me some quick, effortless ways to spruce up quick meals when I don't feel like consciously cooking. Techniques for pasta and rice, or suggestions for other things I could whip out quickly.

I'm resolving to move away from pre-cooked, pre-packaged foodstuffs, and buy only ingredients when shopping. I love cooking. But there're a lot of nights when I just want to stick spaghetti in boiling water and call it an evening.

My current "spaghetti recipe" is spaghetti + salted water + butter. Or, if I'm in a rice mood, rice + soy sauce. Not terribly sophisticated and not terribly healthy. I'm sure there must be a better way.

What I want is suggestions/recipes that basically involve me putting something somewhere and then waiting till it's ready, but that also mix in something extra at the last second to make it delicious. Mixes of spices or vegetables. My absolute "lazy limit" is chopping vegetables: I am totally up for doing that, but if I have to do anything other than chop, it's probably too complicated unless I prepare it in advance.

Doesn't have to be spaghetti, by the way. Could be rice. Could be something salad-related. Right now I feel like salads are too hard and involved to whip up easily, but if I'm wrong you should teach me your ways. Or if there's some awesome way to quickly make a potato other than "stick in microwave, add butter" then you should tell me that too. I'm fine with buying spices I don't have, I just dunno which ones I should use. Recipe sites I frequent don't really have basic instructions like that. They focus on way more involved stuff.

Bonus points: Right now my fridge has got a LOT of extra tomato, lettuce, onion, garlic, and pepper. Anybody who tells me how I can use that will get bonus hugs/handshakes/haiku.
posted by Rory Marinich to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Condiments, yo! Spices, salts, peppers, seasonings, oils and vinegars, nuts and hard cheeses. These turn "ingredients" into "yummy yummy meal".

F'rinstance: I bought way too many tomatoes. They were on the brink of going bad. So I made a WHOLE LOT of brushetta topping: dice tomatoes, toss in a bowl with two parts balsamic vinegar to one part olive oil, a bit of salt, a bit of pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes and two cloves of garlic, whizzed over a Microplane. You can toss in any kind of cheese you like, too. Spooned on crusty bread, this is a DAMNED FINE MEAL. And it has BARELY anything other than the tomatoes and some condiments.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:52 AM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

I buy spices at my local bulk store and make my own seasonign mixes-- this one is a favourite.

You can use them it as a rub, mix with yogurt for a delicious marinade, throw it in some rice or use it to season potatoes. I recommend cooking the rice in chicken or vegetable broth with some crushed tomatoes/tomato sauce and Creole seasoning, and maybe add some canned/drained/rinsed beans or lentils for protein. It's surprisingly delicious.
posted by torisaur at 8:52 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Angel hair pasta with bottled peanut sauce, chopped up peanuts and some scallions is a quick, different way of doing pasta for me.

Cut your potatoes in cubes, cut up your (excess of, from what you say) onions, and fry that up in butter. Hash!
posted by xingcat at 8:54 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by milarepa at 8:54 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Holy typos, Batman. My apologies, I have been in Zombie-mode since waking up today, but you get the idea.
posted by torisaur at 8:54 AM on November 16, 2010

Buy frozen vegetables - edamame and green beans in particular do really well from frozen.
posted by something something at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2010

You're going to get a lot of answers from people like me, who have small kids and have to have healthy dinners on the table 15 minutes after getting home from work.

Here's one we do all autumn long. Cut up some apples. Throw them in a big skillet with some olive oil and pepper. Rip open a bag of shredded cabbage from Trader Joe's or other lazy-person grocery store, throw it on top of the apples, which will be a little browned and soft by now. Add some mustard (we use spicy brown) and stir until cabbage is cooked down -- I dunno, 3 or 4 minutes? Pour a glug of vinegar in (I use red wine vinegar) and smack a lid down on the skillet to hold the steam in. Open it up 5 mins later and eat it. If you want protein, it's really good with some kielbasa in it.
posted by escabeche at 8:57 AM on November 16, 2010 [18 favorites]

Slice a chicken breast at an angle into strips. Fry in a pan until browned. Take off and grind pepper on top. Maybe a pinch of salt. 10 min.

Make a simple balsamic-garlic vinaigrette (example). 5 min. Less if you have a garlic press.

Rinse some lettuce and tomato in a salad spinner. 3 min.

Drizzle vinaigrette over lettuce and tomato. Top with browned chicken. Share and enjoy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:58 AM on November 16, 2010

Lazy cook, picky eater here.

Do you believe in buying pizza dough or pizza crust? You could do an easy no-sauce pizza with crust, cheese, tomato, walnuts (if you like), roasted red pepper from a jar, maybe a few slices of prociutto if you eat meat.

My salad approach: Make six hard boiled eggs over the weekend. In a bowl during the week: sliced or crumbled hard boiled egg, chopped tomato, chopped avocado (if I have), a few beans from a can (black or garbanzo), chopped roasted red pepper from a jar, cheese (I purchase shredded). Add lettuce (I like arugula) from a pre-washed bag. Ground pepper. Sometimes I flip it over so that it's "tossed."
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:58 AM on November 16, 2010

My big thing lately has been to throw a can of tomatoes into nearly anything, drained or not. For the longest time I had an aversion to canned anything, but once I got over that, I began to see the genius and beauty of canned tomatoes.

And for the bonus haiku: saute your garlic and onion in a bit of olive oil or butter in a medium saucepan. Chop your extra tomatoes and throw them in. (Pepper--is that black pepper, bell pepper or hot pepper? If bell or hot, throw those in too.) Simmer until the tomatoes start to dissolve. Now you have yourself a great tomato sauce that's ready for eating or freezing. Want to turn it into enchilada sauce? Add some ancho chili powder and sugar, then blend.
posted by slogger at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's a super simple, delicious and filling meal that my husband's Hungarian relatives taught me to cook. They call it Hungarian Rice. I don't know if it is an authentic Hungarian recipe. It doesn't matter when it is this good and this simple.

Hungarian Rice

4 cups cooked rice
6 - 12 rashers of bacon
1 cup frozen peas
Garlic, salt and pepper to taste

While rice is cooking, cook up your bacon. Reserve some of the bacon drippings. When bacon is cool enough to touch, chop coarsely. When rice is done, toss into the frying pan with the reserved bacon drippings and garlic. Stir to get the bacon drippings spread around in the rice. Add in your chopped bacon and the frozen peas. Continue heating until the peas are hot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

I'm doing this from memory here. I submitted the more formalized recipe for publication in Bacon: A Love Story. The amount of garlic and bacon that you want really depends upon your personal tastes. In my family, anything less than a full pound of bacon is potential grounds for an insurrection by the masses.
posted by onhazier at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

My favourite make-this-pasta-wonderful ingredient is chorizo. Yummmmm chorizo. I like to chop it up, fry it till it goes all crispy, then chuck it in on top of a pasta dish. A splash of cayenne pepper doesn't hurt, either.
posted by ukdanae at 9:00 AM on November 16, 2010

Looking at your question again, I feel like my suggestion, while fast, doesn't really meet your requirements. As for strongly flavored things you can take out of the fridge and add at the last minute to make things delicious:

Capers, olives, anchovies, parmesan cheese, feta cheese, blue cheese, slivered almonds, walnuts, pesto from a jar.
posted by escabeche at 9:01 AM on November 16, 2010

Mexican rice...

Toast some rice in olive oil in a pan, with some chopped onion. You want to get the rice browned and the onion softened... takes maybe 5 minutes. Then, throw in the rice cooker (or in a pot) and cook according to the rice cooker / bag of rice directions EXCEPT - replace water with chicken stock, add tomatoes (I use a few diced tomates from the can), bit of tomato paste, frozen veggies if you want, a bunch of cumin, garlic powder (or fresh I suppose), dash of oregano, salt and pepper and any other spices / herbs to taste. Mmmmm.

Another favorite...

Slice up potatoes thinly, onions thickly, and some whole garlic pieces. Toss in oil, salt, pepper, and any herbs you fancy, roast in the oven until they are done. Most meats you could bake can be just throw on top at the appropriate time. I've done this with salmon fillets and with farmer sausage. You could also add other veggies appropriate for roasting in with the mix, such as any root veggies like carrots, or asaparagus, squash, zucchini, etc.
posted by utsutsu at 9:03 AM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

My lazy pasta consists of:

Vegetables, maybe fresh/sauteeed, more likely frozen (in which case dump'em in with the pasta noodles to cook)
Cheese (preshedded for extra laziness, or cubed fairly small so it gets melty)
Maybe some meat if feeling decadent
Some herbs/spices for variety

The key to my lazy pasta is to leave the pasta fairly damp - save some of the water, don't drain it all. This turns your cheese from a melted lump in the middle of your angel hair into something more like an actual sauce.
posted by heyforfour at 9:05 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cook up pasta in one pan, pesto and chopped tomatoes in another. Drain pasta when cooked, mix it all up and eat.

Cook pasta, then add smoked salmon (cheap offcuts are fine), sour cream and lemon juice. Optionally add frozen peas and/or beans near the end of the pasta cooking time. Put it all back on the heat for a few seconds to heat the sour cream.

Cook pasta in one pan, sausage meat in another. Drain pasta when cooked, mix it all up with some sour cream and a lot of whole grain mustard. Stick it back on the heat for a few seconds to heat the sour cream.

Chop up some root veg (sweet potato or squash is good). Mix with coriander, cumin, salt and oil. Roast until it smells good. Chuck some blue cheese on top. Stick back in the oven for a minute until the cheese goes goopy. Stir it all together and eat.

Get a George Foreman grill and use it for bacon. Have the bacon with your baked potatoes, or heat it with a tin of tomatoes or some sour cream and call it pasta sauce.

Put pesto on your baked potato and smoosh it together with a fork.

Buy some root veg. Chop it up and boil it to death. Whiz with a stick blender until it looks like soup. Add butter and salt to taste.

Smoosh two anchovies and some chopped chilli into some fresh lemon juice. Mix this (and optionally chopped fresh parsley) into your spaghetti. To get even better, flake up a smoked mackerel on top of it.
posted by emilyw at 9:13 AM on November 16, 2010

Being a parent definitely focused my food prep. Cooking really well at home takes the same amount of time as cooking crappy food at home, but only if you plan ahead a bit.

The freezer is your absolute best friend. Next sunday, cook a LOT of something that freezes well (stews? lasagna?) and package it for individual meal use in tupperware. My freezer is always stocked with 10-20 dinners worth of food. A chest freezer is nice, but even the freezer on your refrigerator is big enough to do it. Also good to keep in the freezer: bones to convert to stock, stock, pre-measured pie-sized bags of fruit and pie crusts, veggies, etc. Two nights ago, I made a pumpkin pie from stuff in the freezer between the time my pasta went in the water and when it came out.

It's super important to have a well stocked pantry. Tomatoes (san marzano, please), vinegars (sherry, cider, balsamic, rice, white, etc), oils (olive, canola/peanut, sesame, etc), anchovies, sardines, grains, beans (canned and dried), tuna, baking supplies, nuts, blah blah blah. Most of it doesn't ever go bad, so while there's a bit of an upfront cost to establishing a huge food closet, it all evens out in the end. Everything for a kickass pasta puttanesca can be stored in your pantry for months and months and it comes together about as fast as pasta with pre-made sauce.

Also handy is a crock pot. Slow cooking can turn almost anything into a delicious meal with almost no effort. When I left for work yesterday morning, I put dried beans and water in the pot. When I came home, I browned some lamb, onions, garlic and carrots, added spices and the beans, and had an awesome stew in about 15-20 minutes. A chicken can be cooked in water in a crock pot on its low setting all day. When you get home, take it out, cook rice/pasta/barley in the water while you take the meat off the bird, put meat back in the soup, add salt and whatever and bob's your uncle.

Oh, and leftovers aren't old food....they're shortcuts to new food. Plan ahead a bit with meals and they're handy. That bean/lamb stew I made yesterday? I reserved a couple cups of it to use as the base for the fritters I'll make on Thursday. The coleslaw from a couple days ago got pureed and used as a dressing for the salad I made last night. Some leftover pulled pork will go into fried rice. And so on.

I could go on and on....but really, the key is to get out of the mindset that cooking dinner is about going home from work and starting from scratch at 6:00pm.
posted by pjaust at 9:16 AM on November 16, 2010 [12 favorites]

Beans! Buy bags of dried beans at the store. Beans + spices = chili. Start with beans, water, some salt, pepper to taste. Soak the beans for a couple hours, then boil them and let them simmer for another few hours. (This is great when you have a day at home, or works equally well overnight in a crock pot.)

Once done, freeze portions. Any time you want, pull one out, defrost it, and add it to your rice.

That's the basic recipe. It works well with innumerable elaborations. Mexican spices = spanish-style beans and rice. Indian spices = dal (more or less). Bit of bacon = baked beans. Ground turkey and can of tomato paste = turkey chili. If you have any left over bones from a previous meal, make stock with 'em, and use that to cook the beans. Toss in a bay leaf. Cumin and chili powder are your friends.

It's a bean stew if you add a bit more liquid.

Add more veggies if you want. Garlic, carrots, celery, onions... Or meats. Chopped or ground, or good stew chuck.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 9:18 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you like marinara sauce? If so, buy some good jarred marinara. Strain your spaghetti and heat up the marinara for a minute in the same pot your spaghetti was in.

You can put canned tuna into marinara sauce. It's easy and delicious.

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
14 oz can chopped tomatoes
7 oz can tuna
tablespoon of butter
salt and pepper

Heat the garlic in the oil for a few seconds. Add everything else and heat and serve over pasta or rice.

Spaghetti Carbonara is very easy and quick. You can use regular bacon instead of pancetta.

Buy a large Tupperware container and make enough salad for a few days and seal. I have done this -- it lasts. You can top it with cheese you like, boiled eggs, beans (white beans, kidney beans) and/or leftover meat.

On your day off roast a turkey breast and eat it for a week. It is great served room temperature with some microwave veggies and a potato or rice. I use Ina Garten's recipe for roasted turkey breast. It's great and so easy.

Organic canned soups with the Tupperware salad and some bread and butter is an easy meal.

Scrambled eggs with toast and fruit is a nice dinner.

If you eat eggs, boil a half-dozen to a dozen at a time. Peel all of them and put in Tupperware. They are easy to grab when you need some protein.

Apologies if you are a vegetarian since these suggestions contain meat/eggs/dairy

Frozen vegetables are great. Heat up Birdseye Oriental veggie mix and whip up an easy Thai peanut sauce. Serve over rice.
posted by Fairchild at 9:19 AM on November 16, 2010

Buy frozen snails already packed with garlic parsley butter at the fish market, $9 for a dozen. Boil water for linguine, then stick the snails in the oven at 430º for 12 minutes while the linguine cooks. Drain the linguine, dump in the melted butter and snails, grate some parmesan or pecorino on top. Eat.
posted by nicwolff at 9:25 AM on November 16, 2010

This is my go-to meal for lazy days. It is seriously delicious, healthy, and easy to keep the ingredients on hand without worrying they will spoil. From Lorna Sass' Short Cut Vegetarian:

Chickpea Curry in a Hurry

Into a medium saucepan dump:
1 can chickpeas w/liquid
1 block frozen spinach
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp curry powder
1/4 cup dried unsweetened coconut
pinch red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, smushed

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Break up block of spinach with a fork. Continue cooking another minute or so until spinach is thoroughly thawed. Serve over rice.

Short Cut Vegetarian, (or as its been recently repackaged, Short Cut Vegan) is a great cookbook for these kinds of meals, whether or not you are vegetarian. I owned the book for a decade and cooked from it frequently before realizing that it was in fact vegan, though I am a cheeseaholic. The recipes are all quick, healthy, and made from minimally processed pantry items. The book also acknowledges (as few of this type seem to) that if you are looking for a shortcut meal, you probably don't want to spend any time prepping vegetables beforehand or washing pots afterwards. When Lorna tells you 5 minutes, that is how long it takes from start to plate, and you're unlikely to be stuck with more than a knife and saucepan to wash.
posted by apparently at 9:28 AM on November 16, 2010 [11 favorites]

When I feel like cooking, I make my own tomato sauce and stick it in a tupperware container in the fridge. Just now I made lunch in about 5 minutes -- threw some gnocchi in the pot to boil, drained them and put them on a plate, then topped with a spoonful of sauce. Put on freshly boiled pasta and mixed around a bit, the sauce heats up pleasantly without taking an extra step or an extra dish. Same could be done with pesto (homemade or storebought) or any other pasta sauce. Exactly as easy as what you're doing now, but you can add in lots more veggies and make things tastier and more interesting.
posted by katemonster at 9:32 AM on November 16, 2010

Mollie Katzen has an "Improvisational Cooking" section in the back of the Enchanted Broccoli Forest (one of her many vegetarian cookbooks) that groups typical spices, cheeses, fats and acids with a bunch of different cuisines (Italian, French, Asian, etc).

I use it all the time when wondering how to add a little spice beyond the obvious. So, given Mexican food, a little thyme would fit in, and tarragon, say, would be jarring. Useful!
posted by travertina at 9:47 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

First thing you do: buy a rice cooker, or just make a big pot of rice, and refrigerate/freeze what you don't need. Rice freezes great. If it dries out, add a tiny bit of water when you microwave it. (Alternatively, try quinoa. It cooks like rice but is higher in protein.)

From here, you can make fried rice, which is super easy. Chop up some vegetables - carrots and onions work well, or frozen veggies will do in a pinch - and when those seem near doneness, add the rice and a little bit of soy sauce and/or sesame oil. Add a scrambled egg if you want. Chopped ginger and scallions are good in fried rice; both can be chopped up and frozen beforehand, so you can grab some at the last minute. Frozen shelled edamame is decent and adds protein.

Freezing vegetables will aid you in your quest, if you remember two things: wash and chop them first, and they will lose a lot of their texture once they thaw, so freezing is only good for stuff you'll be cooking.

Beans are great. If you're too lazy to soak and boil dried beans, like me, canned are fine. Heat up some black beans in a pan with garlic powder, red pepper, and cumin (optional: diced onions), and you've got yourself eighty percent of a burrito.

Probably my laziest-ever recipe is mixing a can of garbanzos with some Italian dressing. One-bean salad! You can even eat it straight from the can.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:48 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

These fish tacos are fast to make and very delicious. Here's what I do different with the recipe:

Add 1/4 c. mayo to the sour cream sauce. It tastes better with the mayo, plus it doubles the amount of sauce (which going by the recipe is a pretty skimpy amount for 12 tacos. (The cream sauce will keep several days in a covered bowl in the fridge if you have extra.)

You can leave out the lime zest if you are in a hurry. It's better with, but it still tastes great without. You can also used bottled lime juice.

I use pre-shredded red cabbage instead of chopping it myself.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:50 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you considering dusting off the crock pot? Fifteen minutes at the beginning of your day can mean a pretty nice pot roast by the time you get home. Or you can dump a chicken in it, some braising liquid, and be ready to eat the second you're in the door. Look up "crock pot arroz con pollo" if you want to include your starch, too.
Beans are dead simple, and the practically make themselves. Add some brown rice, maybe a sprinkle of cheese, and you've got supper.
When I've got lots of fresh tomato in the house, I love nothing more than a fresh tomato salad. Just slice them, season them, and dress with some olive oil and vinegar (red, balsamic are my preferences). If you really want to gild the lily, you can top it with some soft mozzarella or feta.
Do you know how to make a basic vinaigrette? Once you've gotten that down, you need never buy salad dressing again. It dresses up plain old lettuce beautifully. Or, if you're talking about iceberg, consider a wedge salad with some bacon and a basic blue cheese dressing (buttermilk, mayo, grated garlic, crumbled blue cheese).
posted by Gilbert at 9:52 AM on November 16, 2010

I'm sick this week and the last thing I feel like doing is cutting up a bunch of vegetables and hovering over a pot for an hour, and then washing a bunch of pots after that. Here are a couple quick, simple, healthy meals I have made:

Lazy sick meal # 1. Slice up some garlic. You don't even need to mince it - big slices are fine. Saute this garlic in olive oil over low-medium heat for a minute or two. Throw in a chicken cutlet, push it around a bit so it doesn't stick. While the chicken is in there, toss on some sort of herb blend that you enjoy - Italian, Herbes de Provence, Za'atar, whatever you like. When the cooked whiteness gets to be about halfway up the chicken piece, flip it over, push it around, and wait another few minutes for it to be done depending on how thick it is. When the chicken seems to be just about cooked, throw in some baby spinach on top of all that in the pan and push it around until it wilts a bit. Voila! It's a meal, and you have only dirtied one pan and only spent a few seconds slicing up a garlic clove.

Lazy sick meal # 2: Cut a few garlic cloves into big old chunks. Get out your extra-firm tofu and cut however much you want of that into cubes. Get your frozen broccoli florets out of the freezer and rinse them under cold water until the iciness is gone, and let those drain. Heat up a pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add canola oil. After about 10 seconds, when the oil starts to shimmer, add the garlic and stir-fry that for a minute or two. Then add the broccoli and stir-fry that until it doesn't seem frozen anymore. Then add the tofu and stir-fry all that until everything is hot. Once everything is just about cooked, add your favorite Japanese rice seasoning blend (I love this stuff) as well as some soy sauce. You can eat this with rice if you want, or just eat it sans-rice.
posted by wondermouse at 10:21 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best quick pasta meal is the simplest. Boil spaghetti until it's al dente. Meanwhile, chop some garlic (or use pre-chopped from a bottle, Trader Joes is good for this) and sautee it in a bunch of olive oil until it starts to turn golden. Drain the spaghetti, toss with the oil/garlic mixture, and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and, optionally, grated hard cheese (like parm or romano). Mix with a fork. Done!

You can throw anything else you have into this, also: capers, basil, tomatoes, herbs de provence, bits of bacon or chicken, a beaten raw egg (stir this in while the pasta is still hot, and it'll par-cook into an awesome eggy sauce), whatever.

The other thing I like to have for quick meals is a gas grill, especially if you eat meat. Nothing is faster or easier than throwing a couple chicken cutlets or pork chops on the grill, right next to a packet of aluminum foil filled with olive-oil-drizzled chopped veg. It takes practice to learn how long to leave things on for perfect doneness, but once you've got it down dinner practically cooks itself.
posted by vorfeed at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Spaghetti with an egg:

1) Cook spaghetti.
2) Fry an egg over-easy so that the yolk is still very liquid.
3) Put spaghetti and egg in a bowl with salt and pepper, mash up the egg with a fork.
4) Eat.

You can also put in butter and parmesan. I like to add frozen peas to the pasta during the last minute that it is cooking (you could do this with any frozen veggie). If I'm feeling fancy sometimes I saute a clove or two of garlic in the pan before I put in the egg.

I'll probably have this for dinner tonight - it's my go-to meal for nights when I'm like, "OMG I only have 20 minutes to make and eat dinner!" It's faster than take-out.
posted by mskyle at 11:15 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tomato, onion, garlic, pepper, lettuce: shakshoka and side salad! Chop up an onion and pepper and sauté in a little olive oil in a frying pan together with a clove or two of chopped garlic and ground coriander and cumin if you have them. When the onion is nicely translucent or slightly brown and everything is fragrant, add chopped tomatoes (or canned tomatoes or canned tomato sauce--whatever you have). Stir, cook for a few minutes, then break a few eggs on top of the sauce, turn the heat down, and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes. Eat with bread and a salad made out of your lettuce. Or with rice. Or pasta. Or pita.
posted by agent99 at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

My go to lazy meal is fried rice. No chopping is necessary and ready in 5 or so minutes. **Leftover rice is ideal. Fresh rice is too wet.** The Japanese style omelet also has similar ingredients and easy to make. If I have leftover meat on hand, I throw it in as well. I usually eyeball the quantity so these measurements are a guestimate. I suggest starting small and adding as you see fit

Fried Rice

1/2 cup rice
1 cup frozen vegetable
1 egg
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon oil

A stainless steel pan is recommended here. Keep the heat on medium high and the food moving. Heat the oil until sizzling hot. Add rice and frozen vegetable. Saute until hot. Add soy sauce and mix it in well. If you want your egg fried and on top of rice, dish out rice now, add more oil and cook egg separately. Otherwise, crack egg into the pan and mix it with the rice. This coats the rice nicely and gives it extra flavor. You'll also have scrambled eggs (protein yay!) with your veggies. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!

Omelet Rice

1/4 cup rice
1/3 cup frozen vegetables
2-3 eggs (depending on size of pan)
1/2 tablespoon oil
Ketchup (or condiment/sauce of choice, some Japanese restaurants use demiglace, I use sriracha)

A non-stick pan is recommended here so the omelet won't stick. Keep the heat on medium or no higher than the manufacturer's recommendation. Heat the oil until hot. Add rice and frozen vegetable. Saute until hot. Add ketchup. Dish out and reserve. Beat your eggs in a separate bowl. Re-oil the pan and add eggs when hot. When the eggs have cooked a bit and starting to firm up, add rice and veggies back in. Fold your omelet and serve. This may not use all of your rice. Judge accordingly. I often get greedy and end up breaking my omelet :(
posted by vilandra at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2010

Lazy meal #1: Baked Beans On Toast. Open can of Heinz Vegetarian Baked Beans (I suppose you could get baked beans with meat in, but these are awesome beans). Pour into small saucepan. Heat up on stove. Add salt, pepper, or other spices to taste. Make toast. Butter as desired. Plate and consume. I prefer to have a bowl of beans with toast on the side to dip, but others like to put the toast on a plate and pour beans over in one big mess o' awesome.

Lazy meal #2: Easiest pasta ever. Cook preferred pasta according to instructions on package. While this is going on, open a large can of VERY HIGH QUALITY canned diced or crushed tomatoes. I prefer San Marzano, but seriously it's the quality of the tomatoes that shines through here, so don't skimp. Pour into 2 qt saucepan. Peel an onion and chop it in half. Put the onion halves and half a stick of butter into the tomatoes. Simmer until the pasta is strained and ready to go. Discard onion halves (they make great additions to homemade vegetable stock, though that isn't germane to this post), salt to taste, and plate over pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Lazy meal #3: Beans and rice. Cook rice in your preferred method. Open can of black beans. Pour into small saucepan. Spice to taste. Heat up beans. Pour over rice. Garnish with a teaspoon or so of sour cream - fresh herbs like chives or cilantro would also be good here. Consume.

Lazy meal #4: Polenta with mushrooms sauteed in wine. This is slightly more involved than the previous recipes, but will really, really impress people.

Start with a package of dry polenta, not the tube of pre-cooked stuff. Prepare according to instructions on package. This is a little fussy with lots of stirring, but it doesn't need to be babysat nearly as intensely as some people would have you think. Since you'll be in the kitchen chopping and sauteeing vegetables anyway, just give it a stir here and there to prevent it from going lumpy or sticking to the pot.

While the polenta is doing its thing, chop* a few cloves of garlic and a small onion or a shallot or two, and slice about a pound of mushrooms. I like to use shiitake, but honestly any mushroom will work. Sautee in butter with a little salt and pepper. When the mushrooms have released their juices and the onions are looking nice and transparent, add half a cup of red wine. Cook until the red wine reduces a little and makes a nice sauce.

If your polenta isn't done (this can take some timing to set up, but generally the polenta is going to take longer than the sauteed mushrooms; you should allow for this), turn the heat off and cover the pan of mushrooms. Put polenta on a plate or in a big bowl, top with mushrooms and some parmesan cheese or a pat of butter. Enjoy with the rest of that bottle of red wine.

*you can substitute prechopped stuff here if you prefer, obviously.
posted by Sara C. at 11:30 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

One thing that makes this sort of thing a lot easier is to keep a pantry stocked with condiments, spices, dry goods like rice and pasta, and some canned or jarred things. Then you can mostly shop for the perishable stuff like produce, dairy, bread, etc. on an as needed basis.

You also have a stock of things that can be put together in a pinch - for instance if it was 5pm and you were leaving work thinking about what to have for dinner, you could pick up mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a bottle of wine and you're good to go on the polenta dish. The others I listed can be made completely from pantry ingredients in a pinch if you're not even in the place of deciding in advance what you'd like to cook.
posted by Sara C. at 11:35 AM on November 16, 2010

are you a vegan/veggie?

do not overlook the magical sandwich! i'm not talking elementary school lunch but something more "adult" and easy to make:

gourmet tuna melts - buy a loaf of fresh bread, mix the tuna with mayo, capers, salt, pepper, slice some cheese, put on a frying pan and pow! yummy (eat with hot sauce if you're me). throw in the onion, pepper, tomato, etc.

arugula is your friend - buy arugula or a green, take fresh bread, spread spicy german mustard, add tomatoes, peppers, arugula, and cheese slices (meat slices if you eat them can work too, but i like the veggie version a lot).

i put lots of veggies in my sandwiches, some cheese sometimes, rarely meat (more often if any animal, it's tuna).

oh, and grilled veggies on sandwiches too - slice them (that's the only cut), drizzle with olive oil and salt, put on a pan in the oven set to 400.
posted by anya32 at 2:05 PM on November 16, 2010

For pasta you can add:
- leafy greens
- vegetables w/ lemon juice
- Sauté canned tuna w / black olives and lemon juice
- Sauté canned tuna w/ capers
- Preserved lemons, green olives, parsley
- Parsley and sausage
- Broccoli and red pepper flakes and lemon
- A sunnyside up egg mixed into pasta
- Mint and black olive
- Just swiss chard
posted by xammerboy at 2:15 PM on November 16, 2010

Wish I could favorite what pjaust said about leftovers 10 more times. If you hate cooking, or just spending a long time in the kitchen, leftovers are the best.

Carnitas, from Bon Appetit but slightly lazier
1) Chop half a boneless Boston Butt into 1-1/2" hunks, don't worry about fatty parts
2) Put into Dutch oven with 2 tsps each: dried oregano, pepper, salt, and dehydrated chopped onion, and stir so the hunks are covered with the spices
3) Cover and put in 250 degree oven for 7-8 hours
4) Drain or spoon out fat, then dual wield forks and attack until shredded
5) Combine with taco fixins of your choice

The time depends on the fattiness and size of the cut--I frequently do this with Boston Butt and let it go for the 9 hours I'm gone during the workday and it only comes out a little bit drier than I would prefer. It's still totally delicious and the flavor is much more subtle and savory than packaged taco seasoning. The leftovers are great in sandwiches, pasta, omelets, pizza, or refried with sliced peppers and pierogies.

If you feel extra lazy, just put an unchopped Boston Butt or a pork roast into a Dutch Oven and cook covered at 250 for 7-8 hours. You don't have to do anything else to it and it will come out falling-apart tender when done. You can dip chunks in mustard, make pork fried rice, ramen, or Cuban or barbecue sandwiches. It's great with Bulldog tonkatsu sauce and white rice.
posted by heatvision at 2:52 PM on November 16, 2010

My favourite lazy meal is corned beef and rice. Tins of corned beef can easily be stockpiled for when the lazy hits you. While the rice cooks, stir-fry the beef; you can throw in a bit of chopped celery if you're feeling fancy.
posted by emeiji at 3:34 PM on November 16, 2010

Go to your library and pick up a copy of Mark Bittman's Food Matters.

Half of the book is a great, short, flexible, all-purpose cookbook, with 6 sections: The Basics, Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks & Appetizers, Dinner, and Dessert. The Basics is particularly helpful for just the things you want. For example, he has an All-Purpose Tomato Sauce recipe (5 ingredients, 1 of which is optional). Just for you: there's a sidebar featurinig "Five Flavor Boosters for Basic Tomato Sauce" (although to my reading, it's more like 8 or 9): black olives; green olives; capers; anchovies; red pepper flakes; bay leaves; dried mushrooms; the rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese.

He gives recipes for 6 seasoning blends (chili powder, Mediterranean, 2 kinds of curry powder, five-spice, and sesame).

He urges readers to keep a pot of beans in the fridge all week, and has a sidebar on "Adding Flavor to a Pot of Beans."

He has a generalized recipe for cooked grains with a sidebar on "What to Do with Cooked Grains."

The recipes in the other sections are a little more specific, but even there you'll find the occasional sidebar - like for the Roasted Herb-Stuffed Vegetables recipe, he offers a bunch of suggestions of "Great Additions to Grain Stuffings."

It's a great resource, and I think it has just what you're looking for.
posted by kristi at 10:50 AM on November 17, 2010

I do lentils, rice, and curry paste (Indian, Thai, anything really). Making rice is easy if you make it with other stuff, with the goal being semi-liquidy rather than perfect and fluffy. I throw in whatever veggies I have on hand, like onions, cherry tomatoes, carrots, or dark leafy greens, and a random amount of water. Come back in 30-45 minutes. Don't worry if you burn the bottom a bit because since it's a stew it won't be hard to remove and it will taste delicious. I scrape off a bit of the burned goo and mix it with the rest.

To take it to the next level, blacken onions separately and add to top. Alternately, stick it in the fridge and eat it tomorrow-- it's even better then.
posted by acidic at 5:04 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Carbonara sounds up your alley--you'll need to peel a couple cloves of garlic and chop bacon into squares while the pasta water boils, that's the only prep. While the pasta's cooking, cook the bacon in a pan for like, 2 minutes, just til the fat starts to render, and then dump the whole garlic cloves in with it and cook another 5 minutes tops, just til the edges of the bacon start crisping up--you don't want the bacon too crispy or it won't meld with the pasta right. Discard the cloves of garlic.

Break 2 eggs in your pasta serving bowl, beat briefly with a fork, add some pepper. When the pasta is ready, drain and then immediately dump into the eggy bowl and toss quickly--the heat from the pasta cooks the egg and coats the strands. Then dump in your bacon with as little or as much of the bacon fat as you like. Add parmesan and you're set. Delicious.

Similar but not as insanely rich and delicious, cacio e pepe--same principle, where the freshly drained hot pasta melts pecorino cheese and oil so it coats the strands, with plenty of pepper. Super simple but surprisingly tasty.

If you've got rice going, you can make a red sauce with sausage and canned tomato puree and paste (the paste adds depth, don't leave it out)--all that would be involved if I recall is a chopped onion, maybe some garlic (probably unnecessary if using sausage), and fresh herbs if you're feeling fancy. You know the drill--brown the sausage if you're using it and set aside, sautee the onion in residual fat or if no sausage use oil, add garlic for a minute, add canned tomato products and salt, let simmer a bit, put sausage back in to warm and top the rice. It sounds kind of trashy to put basic red sausage sauce on rice instead of pasta, but oh my is it super delicious.

Beans and nuts are your friend--you can make fast toppings for pasta or salad by just warming beans (I like cannellinis for this) and tossing with your favorite seasonings whether lemon zest or juice, basil, pepper, salsa, whatever, some oil and acid, and putting with pasta or rice. Walnut sauce for pasta can be pretty darn quick too. Toast your walnuts, smash/puree, mix with cheese and often cream/whole milk and light seasonings (maybe just pepper), toss with hot pasta, using oil and a bit of reserved pasta water to bring it all together. Garnish with fresh herbs if you feel like it.
posted by ifjuly at 6:54 AM on November 18, 2010

Puttanesca comes together quickly too, and involves almost all canned/jarred goods. Jamie Oliver's take is my favorite, I used to make it all the time when I was a lazy single lady who didn't like to grocery shop.

While the pasta water's doing its thing let canned tuna sit with some olive oil, fresh basil, and lemon juice/zest. Grab some minced garlic, capers, chopped canned olives, a seeded and chopped chile if you feel like it, and a little box of those anchovy fillets. Cook the anchovy til it melts in some olive oil, then add the garlic, caper, olives, and chile and stir around for a couple minutes. Then add a can of diced tomatoes or about the equivalent in chopped fresh ones (about 2 cups) and your marinated canned tuna. If you've got it, add a swig of white wine too, and bring to a boil. Simmer briefly--like no more than 5 minutes!--making sure to stir and break up the tuna into small pieces, and not overcooking the tuna (you definitely don't want it to dry out, you want it tender and silky). Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Toss with your pasta and add the usual suspects of red pepper flakes, cheese, and parsley if you want.
posted by ifjuly at 7:03 AM on November 18, 2010

I used to think salads were hard and involved too by the way, and then I changed my mind with lots of practice. A couple tips:

-Whisk your dressing right in the salad bowl before adding anything else, and just let it sit there while you do everything else. Also, vinaigrette is as simple as x parts oil to x parts acid (the amounts vary by personal preference, what else is going in the salad--sweet or hot or crisp etc., and which acids we're talking about as some have more bite than others), plus any flavors you want (typically just salt and pepper of course, but shallots, fresh herbs, poppyseeds, mustard, ginger, whatever). Once I realized dressing is wide open and easy, that made life better. Another way to do it is keep a jar on hand--not huge but with a wide enough mouth to be able to easily whisk into--and make your dressing in it, whisk, and set in fridge while you do everything else. When it's time to dress, just give the jar a shake to re-mix.

-Nuts/seeds and cheese are your friend. They don't involve any prep (nuts can if you want to toast them, which does make a HUGE difference and is worth the 5 extra minutes, but certain things like pepitas are good as-is), you just keep 'em in your fridge/freezer 'til salad time, top lightly and voila, you have a Really Good salad, with some protein to boot. Keep a salad-y cheese (feta, fresh goat, blue, whatever) in your fridge at all times and stock up on nuts, seeds, and already-small dried fruits for your freezer (I just watch for sales, go to ethnic marts, and buy in the bulk section when it's cheap). If you always have these things on hand, salad aside from it in our house is pretty much just dressing, some prewashed greens or a romaine heart, and a piece of fruit or fresh veg or both (I like pears, apples, cucumbers, red onion, and bell peppers). So really, salad ends up being: dice a fruit or veg or both, take from your fridge/freezer reserves of salad goodies including the ready to go greens themselves, and top with a dressing that took 5 seconds to whisk together and has been waiting in the fridge. Really easy.

I also meant to say before this isn't classy but really, a key to fast entrees is relying on meat that's already processed in some way and full of flavor--sausage, bacon. It's not healthy for you but I'd say once a week or every 2 weeks I rely on that trick. It goes for soups too--the easiest way to make a damn delicious soup in under 30 minutes start to finish no lie is to start with sausage. Brown the sausage, remove it with a slotted spoon keeping the drippings in the pot, sautee your typical base of onions/celery or whatever in said drippings, add your liquids (already made or store bought stock/broth, tomatoes in their juice) with a leftover parmesan rind if you've got one handy, boil and then let simmer, add canned or pre-cooked beans or a teensy bit of rice or potatoes, return the sausage and some greens and warm to wilt the greens, and there you go. Freaking delicious, and you didn't have to fuss with making soup seasoning blend from your spice rack or mincing garlic because sausage already has the flavor right in it, and it's also hard to mess up cooking it.

Beth Hensperger has a recipe in Not Your Mother's Weeknight Cooking that involves taking portobello mushroom caps, brushing with and marinade-type deal of oil and pepper and I forget what else, and broiling while you've got some nice bread toasting. You take canned cranberry and Dijon mustard, maybe shallots too IIRC or something, and blend them to make a spread for the sandwiches when they're ready.

BTW, that book is excellent at this sort of thing. I haven't made a single thing from it that hasn't been tasty, and she's honest about how long things take (and many really don't take longer than 35 minutes start to finish). Many of the recipes gave me great general ideas and guidelines when I was starting out on the "I'm tired and lazy but I want a real dinner too, dammit" path. I really recommend it.
posted by ifjuly at 7:23 AM on November 18, 2010

nthing Crock Pot. I love my crock pot. Yesterday morning before work I cut up a potato or two and a couple of carrots into big chunks, dumped them in the crock pot, sprinkled with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and minced onion, added a layer of chicken, sprinkled with the spices again, and added a can of Cream of Chicken soup, and turned the Crock Pot on low. After work, I had delicious chicken stew, for all of ten minutes work in the morning.
posted by JDHarper at 8:22 PM on November 18, 2010

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