I remember fondly the Friday dinnertimes of my childhood, where my sister and I would settle in front of the TV with our frozen dinners—always always the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn, with the brownie you had to dig out of the middle square—for an evening of compartmentalized food and TGIF on ABC (does anyone else remember Round House? Anyone??). The TV dinner was such a treat, maybe because it went hand in hand with some of my favorite shows, or maybe because I just found the food fun and, yes, delicious. Hey, I was like nine, gimmeabreak.
This post is not really meant to celebrate my long lost TV dinner, although I now have a craving for gummy mashed potatoes and lukewarm corn akin to what they would serve in our grade school cafeteria. Lately, I’ve been making a lot of big-batch dinners, meant to eat the day-of and then stick the rest in the freezer for dinner at a later date. Enter my new frozen dinner.
Vegetable Three-Bean Chili
Forgive me if I’ve already blogged about this recipe but it really is easy, delicious, and worth repeating. The original recipe is vegetarian, but I like to add some ground turkey meat to it for a truly hearty meal. Just brown the meat with the onion in the beginning. This recipe makes a ton of chili, and tastes even better reheated.
2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) olive or vegetable oil
1 medium yellow skinned onion, chopped
1 large red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 cup pale beer or vegetable stock/broth
1 (32- ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can black beans
1 (14-ounce) can dark red kidney beans
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne hot pepper sauce, several drops
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup spicy vegetarian refried beans
8 ounces (2 cups shredded) spicy monterey jack or smoked cheddar
Chopped scallions, whites and greens
Diced fresh seeded plum tomato
Blue and red corn tortilla chips or black bean tortilla chips, for dipping
Over moderate heat, add oil to a deep pot and combine onion, peppers, and garlic. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes to soften vegetables. Deglaze pan with beer or broth, add tomatoes, black beans, red kidney beans, and stirring to combine.
Season chili with cumin, chili powder, hot sauce, and salt. Thicken chili by stirring in refried beans. Simmer over low heat about 5 to 10 minutes longer, then serve up bowls of chili and top with shredded cheese, scallions, and tomatoes. Place bowls on charger plates piled with assorted tortilla chips.
Grandma Olexovitch’s Pierogi
Okay, please don’t stop reading. I know pierogi are notoriously hard to make and it may not seem feasible for a busy parent to take an afternoon to hand-make these Polish dumplings. I never attempted it until I began working at a Polish bakery and learned from the bakers there how to properly form the dough around the filling. Once I got the technique down, I felt confident to tackle my great-grandmother’s recipe. Now, I regularly make about 9 dozen at a time and distribute them to my family. It costs about $20 and an afternoon to make up all of them, or less if you get some friends or family in on the action. My inner Polish grandma is satisfied (making pierogi is a zen moment for me, either at work or at home), and my own grandma gets to eat her mother’s pierogi. Win-win.
4 cups flour
1 cup warm water
Mix all ingredients in a countertop mixer with the hook attachment, about 3-4 minutes to develop the dough. Set aside.
5 pounds white potatoes
3 pounds farmer’s cheese (you can substitute cheddar cheese, but use less)
1 white onion
salt and pepper to taste
Peel and cut potatoes and boil until fork tender. Chop and sauté onion. When potatoes are cooked, drain and return to pot. Add sautéed onion, farmer’s cheese, and salt and pepper and mash until no lumps. Roll out dough and cut with a round cutter about the size of a drinking glass. Roll filling into balls and place in the center of the dough circles. Wrap dough around filling into half-moon shapes and pinch edges well. Pierogi can be frozen at this point in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and then transferred into freezer bags for storage. Or, drop pierogi into boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes. Pierogi can be cooked from frozen the same way. When boiled, sauté the pierogi in a frying pan with butter and onion until golden on each side.
Herbed Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits
I always hate buying fresh herbs because I know I’ll just use them for one specific recipe and then they’ll just wilt and go bad, crushed in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator. Nothing beats the taste of fresh herbs, though, so this time I bit the bullet and bought them—with a plan. I used those herbs and whipped up a batch of biscuits which, unbaked, sit happily in my freezer, ready to be baked off to accompany any number of future dinners. Also, these make great mini ham and cheese sandwiches! I used this recipe for buttermilk biscuits, then added my chopped herbs (chives and parsley) and a few very healthy handfuls of cheddar cheese.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled in freezer and cut into thin slices
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
2 tablespoons buttermilk for brushing
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl.
Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 5 minutes.
Make a well in the center of butter and flour mixture. Pour in 3/4 cup buttermilk; stir until just combined.
Turn dough onto a floured work surface, pat together into a rectangle.
Fold the rectangle in thirds. Turn dough a half turn, gather any crumbs, and flatten back into a rectangle. Repeat twice more, folding and pressing dough a total of three times.
Roll dough on a floured surface to about 1/2 inch thick.
Cut out 12 biscuits using a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter.
Transfer biscuits to the prepared baking sheet. Press an indent into the top of each biscuit with your thumb.
Brush the tops of biscuits with 2 tablespoons buttermilk.
Bake in the preheated oven until browned, about 15 minutes.
Avgolemono (Chicken and rice soup)
I found this recipe in an old Cooking Light magazine and knew I had to try it. It used items I already had a home and gave me yet another excuse to use some of those fresh herbs in my fridge as a garnish. I bought an economy pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and put all of them in my crock pot, even though the recipe calls for only about 8 ounces. I cooked the chicken for about 4 hours on low in some chicken broth—you can’t go wrong with chicken-flavored chicken—until it was shreddable. I used two of the thighs in the soup, and saved the rest for some chicken enchiladas later in the week. The recipe as written yielded plenty of soup for a night of soup and grilled cheese, but next time I’ll at least double the recipe so I can freeze some for later because, well, I love a good soup and grilled cheese night.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (about 8 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add Chicken Stock; bring to a boil. Stir in rice; reduce heat, and simmer 16 minutes. Combine juice, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and egg in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Slowly pour egg into broth mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add chicken to broth mixture; cook until mixture thickens and rice is done (about 3 minutes). Top with parsley and basil.