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Single Skillet Pasta in Viking’s Stainless Steel Casserole Pan

Finished Skillet Dish Viking - Food in Jars

I’ve been cooking dinner on a near-nightly basis for the better part of the last two decades and over that time, I’ve come to understand a few essential things about myself. The most primary is that at my core, I’m a lazy cook. I’m not trading quality over convenience, but I am always making choices that I hope will make life just a little bit easier.

Viking Stainless Steel Casserole - Food in Jars

My inclination to reduce dishes and avoid unnecessary steps means that whenever possible, I opt for soups, stews, and other dishes that only require a single vessel. I will often cram things into a single pan when they might have been better off cooked separately. And any recipe that requires browning in batches is summarily discarded.

Skillet Pasta Ingredients - Food in Jars

Last month, a piece of cookware came into my life that has both encouraged my lazy ways and upped my nightly game. It’s a stainless steel casserole that holds just over six quarts. It is sturdy, has a low, wide profile that makes for quick evaporation, comes with a tight-fitting lid, cleans up beautifully, and it made by Viking (until they reached out about this pan, I didn’t realize they did more than large kitchen appliances). It’s the Viking 3-Ply 6.4 Quart Casserole Pan.

Sautéed Veg - Food in Jars

This pan has been on my stove top on a near-constant basis since it arrived. I’ve made a number of skillet chicken dishes in it (brown chicken in a single batch. Remove. Add onions and veg and cook until wilted. Return the chicken, add a little liquid, cover and braise until the chicken is cooked through). I’ve used it for pancakes, turkey bacon, and a large batch of eggs poached in tomato sauce.

Fire Roasted Tomatoes - Food in Jars

However, I think that the very highest calling for this pan is this skillet pasta dish. The original inspiration for this recipe is the single skillet pasta recipe from Martha Stewart that took the internet by storm a few years ago. This one isn’t quite as simple as just heaping all the ingredients in a pan and heating for nine minutes, but it’s pretty darn close.

Skillet Dish Without Pasta - Food in Jars

You start by heating a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. When it shimmers, add some chopped onion, garlic, red pepper, and kale and cook until all the veg is tender. Then you add some cubed chicken sausage (I used some that was already cooked through), a cup of liquid (white wine, chicken stock, or water) and a couple cans (or jars, if your pantry runs to such things) of fire roasted tomatoes and get it bubbling.

Adding Pasta - Food in Jars

Then you add eight ounces of uncooked pasta. I used whole wheat elbows, but any short cut variety you have in the pantry does the job. Cover the pan and cook until the pasta is tender. It will absorb the liquid in the pan, making for flavorful pasta and less clean-up for the cook.

Finished Skillet Pasta - Food in Jars

I’ve written the instructions out in an organized fashion for you, but this is more of a technique than a recipe that must be followed to the letter. You could do a version with braised fennel bulb and a pound of pork fennel sausage. A batch with artichoke would also be nice. The options are endless!

What would you make in a Viking casserole like this one?

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My Approach to Weekly Meal Planning

January 3-9 Meal Plan

One of my personal goals for 2016 is to make a weekly meal plan and stick to it most of the time (planning is nothing without follow-through). This is something I’ve done in fits and starts for years now. On the weeks when I do it, everything seems to run more smoothly. Sadly, as soon as life gets busy, it has also been one of the first things to go. And once the meal plan habit goes out of the window, I find myself awash in food waste, too much takeout, and a faltering kitchen ecosystem. Madness ensues.

However, I find that if I can make a rough plan, every other aspect of life feels a bit less unwieldy. Even if the plan is simply a store bought roast chicken and steamed broccoli and then a pot of soup large enough to last three nights, it helps keep the chaos in check. And thus, this commitment to myself to plot out dinners a week at a time, shop for them, and then cook what I’ve planned.

January 10-16 Meal Plan

My goal here is not to offer you a formula for your own meal planning. There’s plenty of that out there on Pinterest and countless other blogs. Instead, I’m giving you a peek into my thought process in the hopes that it might help spur your own. And so, here are the things I keep in mind to keep my aspirations in check and ensure that the plan is useful and realistic.

  • What season are we in? Is something available right now that might be gone by next week?
  • Do we have things in the fridge, freezer or pantry that need to be used up?
  • Is it a busy week? Am I teaching any night classes? Should I plan for voluminous leftovers for easy reheating?
  • Did I spot anything in the last week that I particularly want to make or try? Is there a cookbook that’s been particularly inspiring of late?
  • Am I working on anything that requires recipe testing that could be dinner?

Typically, a glance at my calendar, a trip through these questions, and quick consultation with Scott is enough to have a rough plan on paper. However, some weeks, I still remain stumped. When that happens, I pull out the big guns and consult my Things I Like to Make for Dinner list. For years, this list lived in my head, but last year, I finally typed it up and published it on my ancient personal blog so that I’d have easy access to it. Reading it through always helps.

Finally, once the plan is drafted, I write it on our chalkboard wall. Having it posted in the kitchen helps keep me honest and keeps Scott in the loop. I also post pictures of the meal plan to Instagram and from here on out, will occasionally share some of the recipes here (particularly if they put preserves to good use).

Now, here’s a question for you guys. Do you meal plan? And if you do, do you have a system? I’d love to hear about your thought process.

 

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Preserves in Action: Black-eyed Pea, Tuna, and Pickle Salad

finished salad on marble - Food in Jars

Most days, my lunch is not particularly photo-worthy (despite the evidence presented on Instagram). Most of the time, I eat whatever leftover is closest to the front of the fridge and hasn’t been earmarked for that evening’s meal (at least once a week, I make dinner with the intention that it will last two nights). Occasionally though, I’m inspired to make something a little more elegant than reheated quinoa and roast vegetables.

salad pickles - Food in Jars

This salad was born on one of those days when there happened to be a dearth of leftovers AND I felt moved to use what I had rather than run across the street for take-out. A true alignment of the stars! It was a quick thing, made up of a can of tuna, another one of black-eyes peas, several generous spoonfuls of pickled chard stems, a chopped celery rib (with the leaves), and a liberal application of salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Safe Catch Tuna - Food in Jars

What made the salad special was the ease with which it came together and the fact that the ingredients were so good. I used a can of Safe Catch Tuna that landed in my mailbox some months ago, and it was some of the best canned tuna I’ve ever eaten. It was chunky and flavorful, and had the added benefit of being line caught and tested for mercury levels.

tuna and black eyed pea salad - Food in Jars

The pickles also made it particularly good. I used some of these chard stem pickles, but if you have any of my salad pickles tucked away in a cabinet, they’d also be a good choice. Save either of those, if you are willing to do a bit of dicing, my open jar of pickles you have in the fridge will work. Make sure to tip a generous glug of the brine into the salad for added zip.

finished salad - Food in Jars

The finished salad made enough for two days of lunching and I’ve stocked my pantry so I can make another bowlful soon.

How are you putting your preserves to work these days?

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Preserves in Action: Honey Mustard Chicken

homemade garlic maple mustard

There is a recipe for a maple and roasted garlic mustard in my next book that I made three times before I got it right. The final result is a great condiment, but all that testing left me with a veritable bounty of mustard to use up. I’ve been plugging away at it, making salad dressings and decanting it into smaller jars to give to friends.

honey mustard for chcken

One of my favorite uses for this mustard is a super simple marinate for chicken. I use a wide mouth half pint jar as both a measurement device and a mixing bowl. I use about a 1/2 cup of the mustard (filling the jar about half full) and then pour in 2-3 tablespoons of honey.

chicken with honey mustard

I stir it the two together until they seem mostly integrated. Sometime before I started making the honey mustard, I pulled an appropriately sized baking dish out and set the oven to 375 degrees F. Once the sauce is ready, it’s just a matter of arranging the chicken in the pan, rubbing the sauce into the chicken, washing your hands, and then applying an even dusting of salt and pepper.

honey mustard chicken

Baked until the skin browns and bubbles and the meat is cooked through, it makes a delicious dinner that reminds me of the food my mom used to cook when I was growing up. I serve it with whatever vegetable I can pull together and call it good. In the summer, it’s particularly good with corn on the cob and sliced cucumbers.

How are you using up your preserves these days?

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Preserves in Action: Grain Bowl with Chutney

Today's take on the soft boiled egg lunch. This time, with whole wheat couscous, chopped arugula, and plum chutney.

The classic grain bowl is a dead easy way to start moving your chutney from the jar to the plate (or bowl, as the case may be). In the picture above, I  used whole wheat couscous, which I do realize is not truly a grain. But this idea works equally well with bulgar, farro, or quinoa (a pseudo-cereal), so I’m grouping it all under the grain heading for ease.

I toss the warm grain of the day with some chopped arugula or spinach, top it with a couple of soft boiled eggs (I am partial to the six minute egg), and lay down a generous spoonful of chutney along the side. If you’ve got a container of pre-cooked grain in the fridge (or portions in the freezer), it takes nearly no time.

As I eat this quick little bowl, I make sure to get a little chutney into each bite of the egg, grain, and green for maximum deliciousness. I’ve eaten versions of this meal with plum chutney (that’s what you see above), as well as rhubarb, apple, and pear. Each variation has been different and wonderful. Best of all, it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, so it’s a good one to have your mental arsenal for days when you need fast sustenance no matter the time of day.

How are you using your preserves this week?

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Preserves in Action: Simple Peach Cake

peaches in a jar

When I was doing my big jar reorg a few weeks ago, I discovered a small cache of gingery canned peaches from the summer of 2012. The seals were good and the color was unchanged, so I knew they would be fine to eat, but figured it would be a good idea to start using them up before peach season rolls around again.

cake dough and peaches

There’s an Ina Garten recipe I’ve made a couple times during the height of summer that involves layering fresh peaches into cake batter and dusting them with cinnamon and sugar. I decided to take a stab at making it with my canned peaches.

first peach layer

Of course, because I cannot resist these things, I also omitted some of the sugar and swapped in whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose in an attempt to make it slightly more virtuous. The end result was a very delicious cake, though if you skip down to the last picture, you’ll see that my perfectly arranged peaches sunk right down to the bottom of the pan.

second peach layer

I think this happened for three reasons. The first is that I used buttermilk in place of the sour cream that the original recipes requests. Sour cream is slightly thicker and so leads to a denser batter (but I had exactly a cup of buttermilk and I so desperately wanted to get that jug out of the fridge).

The second reason is that I omitted the cinnamon and sugar sprinkle between layers in my attempts at virtuosity. Finally, those canned peaches have had the last three years to absorb additional liquid, making them heavier than their fresh counterparts.

finished peach cake

Still, it was entirely edible and the guys Scott had over for a D&D game did not complain about the sunken peaches (and I did not apologize). However, next time I make it, I think I’m just going to arrange all the peaches at the bottom of the pan, pour the batter on top and call it an upside down cake.

If you want to make it as Ina intended, her recipe is here. The recipe with my alterations can be found below.

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