What are your basic go-to dishes?

Jamie Oliver has a new series on Channel4 in the UK (which we can watch here in Switzerland on cable and satellite) called Jamie's Ministry Of Food. The premise of the show is as follows:

  • People in the UK don't know how to cook basic home meals, and many live on unhealthy takeaway (takeout) food and junk food like crisps (chips).
  • If you teach these people to cook, they will better their lives.
  • Jamie teaches a group of people in Rotherham, a mainly blue-collar town in the north of England, the basic recipes. The people he teaches are then expected to teach their friends and acquaintances the same recipes, who in turn will teach their friends, and on and on, spreading the joy of cooking.
  • Jamie also wants to revive the concept of a Ministry of Food (see Supersizers Go WWII episode) to educate the masses about nutrition and cooking.

The activism aspects aside, the base concept of teaching people who don't know how to cook a basic set of reliable recipes is not a bad one I think. The recipes available on the Ministry of Food site are okay overall I think, but are not exactly what I'd choose. It is very Brit-centric, not surprisingly, but also includes some jarring choices like chicken breast panfried with Parmesan cheese and expensive proscuitto (Parma ham). On the TV show itself the accompaniment was asparagus, a very seasonal and rather pricey vegetable. It looks delicious, and pretty easy - but economical? I'm not sure. (Chicken breast is quite expensive around here too, though I'm not sure if that's the case in the UK too.)

While I do like to 'cook fancy' quite often, I have a core set of recipes that I fall back on for everyday, no-think, inexpensive dinners. Most of them aren't written down anywhere - they are just in my head - and most of them aren't that Japanese, though some are.

I'll be writing about them in an upcoming post, but in the meantime I'd like to ask you: What are your go-to everyday, preferably inexpensive, dishes? Are there a couple that you fall back on time and time again?

Filed under:  tv nutrition

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my fiancee and i always seem to fall back on our turkey and cabbage dish. its a kind of stirfry of ground turkey (not turkey breast...the fatty stuff), regular green cabbage, red onions, and a sauce of soy sauce and sometimes hoisin...
it ends up being really inexpensive.
I buy the turkey on sale for $2 US, cabbage is usually around 50 cents a pound, a small amount of red onion...a big scoop of rice...
and we always have leftovers for lunch.

I haven't seen an episode of this yet, but to be honest Jamie Oliver irritates me somewhat.

However, meals I make often which are inexpensive and the ingredients (except the herbs) keep well, are:

Pasta Puttanesca
Chickpea curry
Egg fried rice
Various dhals
Vietnamese caramel pork
Meatballs and pasta
Fishcakes, made with tinned tuna.

For me making pasta or noodle dishes are the easiest to make. Or I dont have time to cook, I just fix myself a bowl of salad.

I don't think chicken breasts are that expensive, especially if you buy in bulk and freeze. Also, the breasts in my market are so huge that one easily stretches into two servings, and if you use it in strips or chunks for pasta, curry, etc., a little bit of chicken goes a long way.

That being said, my go-to dishes are often chicken breast-centric: Japanese or Thai curry; stir-fry; no-sauce pasta with chicken, onions, some veg (fallback is frozen peas), maybe some grated Parm to finish. Ground beef/pork is also good in the above dishes.

I cook a roast chicken (with roast veg) nearly every week. It's cheap (I pay less than $2/lb for local free-range chicken) and can be used for multiple meals (at least with only 2 people eating it). We also make a lot of miso donburi and Japanese-style curry; the miso donburi is onions, carrots, green peppers, and ground meat sauteed with a miso-sake sauce and served over rice. I often make double or triple batches to save for lunch or later meals. If I find stew meat (or beef that can be made into stew meat), I made chili or Indian curry. I guess it all depends on what's on sale at the meat counter or farmers' market.

If I want to feed a lot of people cheaply, I fall back on soup. Bean with bacon. Split pea. Chicken and lentil. Chicken and dumplings. Leek and potato. French onion. Pho. White bean. Black bean chili.

The meatless ones are cheapest, but ones with solid doses of protein fill people up better. And most any soup can be made in a crock pot, so it doesn't take much time or energy.

Quick and easy pastas, with ingredients I almost always have on hand. The past year, it's been spaghetti all' amatriciana, and before that it was penne vodka and penne all' arrabbiata. I've been doing a lot of baked pastas lately, too - they're an easy way to use up leftover veggies (mince, sautee, add tomatoes, mix with pasta, cover with cheese, and bake).

When I'm not in the mood for cooking, plain bruschetta and some fruit. Or sliced potatoes layered with garlic, jalapenos (or crushed red pepper), and pancetta (or bacon, or optional) and roasted in the oven for an hour.

My big fall back dish is yakiniku/Korean bul go gi with rice (there's ALWAYS fresh rice at my house!). I usually buy very thinly sliced beef at about US$4 for a pack that can easily make 4 servings. Since it's only me, I'll divide the meat up into separate freezer-tight bags and add the marinade (soy sauce, green onions, garlic, and little bit of sesame oil). Whatever I don't make for that night, I'll throw into the freezer. I'll let it defrost and either grill it if I have time or put it in a frying pan while I'm getting ready for work. Very quick and easy!

Speaking of Jamie Oliver, I've noticed a trend in the US over the last few years, on one "food network" in particular, to focus more on reality style competition cooking shows, and shows that cater to those who have no basic knowledge of cooking or are just learning how to. I grew up in a family where Sunday was "cooking day". Roast a whole chicken, and then use the leftovers during the week. That said, I can do a lot with a store bought rotisserie chicken. Salmon is another favorite also. Buy a "value pack" at the market then portion it out and freeze the rest. I have a great little machine by Reynolds called the "Handi-Vac". You hook it up to the plastic bag and it sucks all of the air out. The "food adds" in the local newspaper are a great way to check out what's on sale. Grilled salmon one night can become a great Nicoise Salad the next, a croquette, or the highlight of a little Bento.

You speak of the Food Network I guess :) Usually, whenever I'm in the US, all the TV time I have available is devoted to the Food Network! But the last time I was in the States I noticed what you say...they've gotten rid of the chef-type hosts and generally dumbed things down. Now I must say, I was never a big Emeril fan, nor a Mario Batali fan, but I guess the network execs have determined that the public watches more 'everyday folk' cooking and reality competition shows than a rotund chef pontificating about authentic cuisine. It is related to the general message Jamie Oliver is sending out too, though his motivation seems to come from a different place.

I know your post wasn't necessarily inviting comments about the Ministry of Food show, but I have to voice my opinion about Jamie's latest crazy endeavour somewhere...

The man is ridiculous. He has become a parody of Gordon Ramsay, effing and jeffing left right and centre, and, frankly, embarrassed himself with his latest venture which is flawed in so many ways.

I take issue firstly with the fact that in order to solve the 'obesity problem' in the UK, he has targeted the North, as every body always does. Falling literacy rates! Single teen mothers! Fat people who can't cook for themselves! It's always the Northerners who get labelled.

Well, I am a Northerner, and guess what? I'm not fat. And I can cook. So can all the other people I know from home (for what it's worth, none of us were teen parents either, and we all read). OK, I am from Manchester, not Rotherham. But I know people who are. And they can cook too. How dare he paint such a ridiculously flawed and biased picture of a town he has never been to?

Secondly, the show is not about food (though I say this as someoe who only saw the first episode by chance, and vowed not to sit through another). It is merely a collection of video clips designed to allow the better off to laugh at low-income families and what they eat. Just because you choose to eat chicken breast fried with Parmesan cheese and proscuitto does not make you better than people who eat doner kebab meat and chips (though I don't do that either. Well, not habitually.). This voyeuristic aspect of the programme is exactly what made 'You Are What You Eat' such a hateful TV show. I don't deny that the people in Jamie's show perhaps need a few lessons, but humiliating them? I don't think that's very helpful. (And you are NOT 'what you eat').

Thirdly, Jamie is, at the end of the day, more interested in his own book sales and TV fees than his 'mission' to help people in 'unhealthy, Northern towns' learn to cook healthy (read 'imported from Italy, and popular in London') food. His approach is flawed on so many levels. If he really cared, he wouldn't bother filming his endeavours. The show isn't for people who want to learn to cook - he's making it for 'foodies' who like looking down on others.

By the way, you get fat people in the South too. Look at Jamie Oliver for starters!

Incidentally, our kitchen fall back recipes are mainly Japanese (sakana no shioyaki, tofu, curry rice), as I spend so much time in Japan and we have a rice cooker. It's amazing how quick dinner can be made when the rice is a no brainer.

Thank you for the forum; that has been bugging me for weeks! ;)

I had actually written up a review of Ministry of Food, but I've decided to wait until the series is finished before writing about it. (I may take a look at the book too. It's ironic that the retail price is a whopping £25, though Amazon UK has it for £10.)

I don't think Jamie is fat though...he has gained a little weight, but don't we all in our 30s... -_-

I'm always trying to expand my cheap go-to dinner list, esp since this economy has left us broke broke broke!

Taco night
Well I guess they're more burritos than tacos, but we get high quality wraps from a Hispanic friend of ours when he goes to visit his family every couple weeks. We freeze most of them and for the rest we make a healthy burrito with cheddar (we keep a big block in the fridge), rice, refried or black beans mixed with el pato, tomato, and spinach or avocado (depending on the seasons). Sometimes we put a little meat in there too but it's always ground turkey instead of beef. The rest of the meat is used for:

Meaty pasta sauce
.75lb ground turkey, can of diced tomatoes, small can of paste, can of tomato sauce, worchestire sauce, spices, and simmer! This with a full lb of linguine is heavenly leftovers for a week!

a new easy favorite which tastes great with rice is

Spinach Noodle Soup (horenso to harusame soup)
All the ingredients (chicken stock, sake, soy sauce, and sesame oil) you already have around the house. Just need to pick up a package of harusame noodles and (the most expensive part) a bag of spinach.

I'm a vegetarian so our meals tend to be cheap. here are some of our go-to fast ones:
1) soups especially lentil soup and split pea soup
2) pasta especially w/ veggie meatballs (this is my husband's stand-by)
3) roasted veggies and tofu w/ rice

Lately, my fall-back meals have been:

steamed vegetables w/rice or couscous
frittata w/vegetables
fried rice
pasta w/veggies & sauce
stir-fried tempeh w/veggies

I guess there's a pattern there. I cook meats and fish when I can, but it hasn't been often.

Although not Asian by birth, I've come to love plain cooked rice with soft (not cooked-through) scrambled eggs on top - it's what I most often have for breakfast, and what I fall back on when I'm too hungry and brain-has-switched-off to be able to think of a better meal at dinnertime. Some pickles (Western or Asian) or steamed veggies or seaweed on the side, voilà, fairly healthy, cheap and easy meal.

(I've tried the raw-egg-in-hot-rice-with-soy-sauce-thing but don't like the fluffy consistency it develops.)

Tofu with ground pork in a yummy sauce. So easy, not very expensive and an all around crowd pleaser. Here's a link to a version of it that I love (and the recipe works): http://danseats.blogspot.com/2008/05/mapo-tofu.html

Tofu with ground pork in a yummy sauce. So easy, not very expensive and an all around crowd pleaser. Here's a link to a version of it that I love (and the recipe works): http://danseats.blogspot.com/2008/05/mapo-tofu.html

I often make couscous with beans or tuna and whatever veg we have laying around (usually mushrooms, eggplant, broccoli and or some of the frozen peas/corn we tend to keep in the freezer). It is tasty.

When I start the new term at uni, I always make up a big batch of bolognese sauce for pasta and freeze it in portions. That means I can just grab some out the freezer and defrost it furing the day and shove it on the hob to cook with some pasta when I get back late from lectures. Seeing as I have a load of it I usually end up eating it once a week lol. Also either salmon or pork chops with potatoes and frozen veg are a good fall-back for term time.
I usually save my 'fancy' cooking for the weekends where I cook food that takes longer to cook. I love cooking middle-eastern food which can take hours of simmering, and also japanese food that may take a little more effort to make.

Since I feed a large household we always look for an economic dinner, so usually it some type of butterflied chicken breast (usually a quick teriyaki, some balsamic mixture, herbs, or miso) thats been pan fried and a green salad and occasionally rice (I stock Calrose, since its my favorite) Those are quick and easy and everyone loves it.

Occasional I will also make a soap containing white kidney beans, can tomatoes, and carrots/ onion. Everything we have in stock, just buy the meat. This also seems like a winner.

Hi Maki,
Instead of Parma ham I often use the Migros Budget brand of "jambon cru". It won a lot of tasters' awards - it's cheap and very good. I also use it to wrap shrimp, marinated in olive oil and garlic, and then grilled and served with lemon wedges. What bugs me though is that I have never been able to find bone-in chicken breasts in Switzerland.

I agree, Migros has a lot of great cured meats! One of the great things about living in Switzerland I think is the variety of really good cured meat products we can get. As for chicken...well I taught myself how to joint and bone a whole chicken after I got here out of necessity ^_^;

My favorite fall-back dishes are breakfast (eggs). I love omelettes, fritatas, waffles, oven baked french toast...healthier versions of course.

Hmm... Now that I think about that, I really tend to cook a lot of different dishes (with Japanese of Korean touch). But I suppose, what I cook most often would be rice, after all. And then maybe pasta? I'm also making soups quite often.

I'm just starting to have Old Favorites, since for most of my formative years I was a cranky vegan who thought boxed cereal, soymilk, and raisins could address all my nutritional needs and there was no need for this "cooking" nonsense.

Anyway, I make:

1) Scrambled tofu with sesame oil, soy sauce, onions/garlic and tumeric
2) Soba noodles with peanut sauce (yes, all my recipes are some sort of 'fusion' mishmash)
3) Baked delicata squash, all the time, constantly
4) Pancakes. Whole wheat pancakes are my biggest staple, especially since I've learned to make them with dried or canned evaporated milk, so I don't have to wait until I have fresh on hand.

But lately I've started relying overmuch on toast and restaurant soup.

When I was doing better at cooking regularly last year, I made chicken-fried tofu furikake constantly - so tasty, it's like bacon bits except more sesame. I need to get a recipe together some day and do it again. I also have a tofu pot pie that I love, though I wouldn't call it quick, since I start with a vegetarian red wine gravy and it really takes about three hours plus prep the previous day.

I love cooking, but I'm in my early twenties and live alone, so a lot of people ask me how I can enjoy cooking or how I can cook with a lot of variety when I'm only cooking for one.

My go-to dishes are easy to make in large quantities and I keep the leftovers. I usually cook for 4-6 and then freeze all the other portions individually. And because cooking allows me to stock up my freezer, I don't mind making a huge mess in my kitchen once or twice a week. :)

Anyway--the dishes:
1) Sauce bolognese... by far the easiest. I let the ingredients do the talking. Make sure to use red wine! I just made this two nights ago and I've got 5 individual portions in my freezer.

2) Quiche. I buy the pie crusts already frozen for about $2.50 for 2 crusts, then I use a mixture of 3 eggs and a 1/2 cup of milk for the base, and throw in whatever else I want. Top with cheese, stick it in the oven. If the quiche is for everyday, I put in carrots and onions. If you want to make it fancy, you can always buy a package of smoked salmon ($4/5) and throw that in with some asparagus. It's always a hit!

3) Shiitake risotto/Chinese lo mein (noodles). Risotto can be tricky if you've never done it before, but it's just a lot of stirring. I mention the shiitake because people always tell me that shiitakes cost so much--well not if you buy them dried at your local Chinese grocer's for $5.99. I have an ENORMOUS bag with more shiitake then I can eat in 3 months. And because it's dried, it keeps well. For the risotto, I usually pair shiitake with pancetta, shallots, and white wine. (I never measure, just throw it all in there.) And for the lo mein, I just put sliced shiitakes in the pan with green onions, top with spaghetti and mix with sesame oil and soy sauce.

Other things I like to make: shepherd's pie, lasagna (use your sauce bolognese!), roasted eggplant, chicken piccata, homemade hamburgers.

And curry! Oh man, how could I forget. That is by far the easiest thing to make. You just need to have the right ingredients. Freezing curry is also easy and I do it all the time. Green curry with extra Thai basil leaves is my favorite!

Really like your shiitake mushroom risotto idea - know what you mean by it being tricky sometimes, the 1st time I made risotto was a DISEASTER!!!!
Also going to give the Quiche a go, Always get the shop bought one never tried a homemade Quiche

I love the dried shiitake mushrooms. I actually find them to have a lot more flavor than fresh ones (or maybe I got boring fresh shiitakes). I will soak them in a bit of cold water, and float them in my miso, along with strips of nori and scallions.
Plus, so cheap! I have found that the cheaper ones are much tastier than the pricy ones. This is based on the brands I found at the commissary, and Uwajimaya.

I can not stand the dried shitake.

Only as ingredient for broth or finely chopped in gyoza.

My grandfather can eat the soaked mushrooms without problems, just pan fried with some onions.

But the smell is too strong for me, it drives me away like a skunk the dogs.

But i love fresh shitake no matter if mixed with other mushrooms or as base for a creamy soup

Oh, I totally forgot: white beans with "pizza herbs" (rosemary, oregano, sage, red chile, garlic) infused in olive oil. I mash them up and bake them on flatbread, or cook them down with some hardy greens and eat them with pasta. I eat this constantly.

As a lazy university student, my all time to-go dish would be sweet mixed bean soup. I never get bored of them and they're very cheap to make. Just soak azuki and mung beans overnight, cook them with pearl barley till soft, add sugar and ta-da~ Serve it hot or cold.

During colder days, it would be clear vegetable soup or curry.. or spicy stir fried noodles. Or soba and popsicles made out of frozen fruit juice when the days get warmer.

To be honest, I don't think the recipes in the show is that healthy because they call for lugs of oil. Although it's olive and is said to be healthy, it's still oil. About saving money, I believe there's a trade-off to why people choose to spend more and one of the reasons apart from them not being able to cook, is convenience.

i definitely roast vegetables a lot - i'll toss in lots of brussel sprouts, squash and various kinds of potatoes. i'll also roast chicken, too. i'm all about roasting - if it's just me, then i'll even do it all in my toaster oven.

when i do roast chicken, i'll take those leftovers and parse them out for lunch/dinner and make a very good chicken w/ fresh basil sandwich or some kind of chicken & pasta dish.

i second the person who wrote curry - yum! it's also inexpensive though i admit i will go for the good stuff and buy free range beef.

lastly - whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner - i make some pretty damn good pancakes.

Our two most commonly-made things are 'beans and greens' and 'meat and rice'.

For bng-- Cook up some turkey sausage and heat white beans and canned greens, usually collard greens for us. Layer the beans, then the greens, then the sausage. Most of the food value comes from the veggies, and the sausage is so flavorful, you don't need much for it to taste like a full meal.

For mnr-- We usually use chicken or veggie burgers, seasoned in a generally tex-mex way, on top of rice (whichever kind we have around, and there's always something), with cheese, salsa and sour cream. And it's really versatile-- any meat, any starch, and you can add pretty much any vegetable. The best way is with a black bean burger on brown rice. Mmm!

Runners up would be Pepperoni Pasta, with sliced pep as the meat in the sauce, and Gypsy Stew, where everything you can beg borrow or steal in the kitchen is thrown into one pot with broth and herbs.


In the fall and winter I make huge vats of soup with basic seasonings, then as I heat dinner portions over the week I'll add different spices and add-ins so it doesn't seem like I'm eating the same thing over and over.

Pasta is a standby and I often use a simple dressing like olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil.


Beans and rice are a staple for me and a favorite is Hoppin' John -- black-eyed peas and some of the pot liquor [cooking water] with onions and something spicy -- cayenne pepper, hot sauce, fresh chili peppers cooked with the onions, or bottled salsa -- over hot rice.

However, I seem to do 'composed' meals most often. Good bread with butter or soft cheese. Olives, raw vegetables with a simple dip of plain yogurt and seasoning. I love a big mound of cucumbers with a sprinkling of sea salt. Apple slices with cheddar cheese.

I'm not a sandwich person, but there is one type of sandwich that is relatively healthy that I go to. And it tastes pretty good.
It's just Rye bread, or a coarse white bread like Sourdough (which I hear is not as popular outside of California), a little cream cheese (Also don't know how available this is) sprinkled with dried dill, a layer of sliced grape tomatoes, and a layer of spinach.
The dill and the Rye pair very well together, I've found. It's not too overpowering, light, but just right for lunch.

I also fall on couscous. A little goes a LONG way. I usually make my couscous with 2-parts water, 1 part lemon juice, and add dried dill and tiny pieces of diced cucumber. It pairs well with white fish broiled in lemon juice, if you want to get fancy, or does well by itself.
I made it and put store-bought Tzaziki on the fish as a sauce, and swirled the couscous and sauce together. The flavors blended very well together.

And of course, there is always peanut butter toast. :]

hello! I'm a student (or post graduate, recently passed my degree! yay!). Fall back recipies I have tend to be stir-frys or stews as I can stick any piece of half rooted veg in there and it still tastes purty good! left over fruit I tend to turn in to a crumble of some sort (from England, puddings RULE!!!!).

Hi, Maki! :)
I am a mother and wife, have two "Taurus" boys at home, and they really love to eat! I am cooking almost everyday, and my recipes are really simple, but I can't describe it, because my cuisine is too mixed, according to our "globtrotter's" life. We use to live in Bulgaria, Japan and Poland, travelling often, and I have in my kitchen a great mix of multinational cuisines (just like my mother in law :) ). Although, miso soups, "care-raisu", stewed sirloin (with bulgarian souses), chicken breasts, roasted meats (various) are very often on our table. Italian pasta. And a lot of soups! :) In Poland is difficult to survive during the winter without soup. :)
Love this site and read it everyday!

All these fabulous Go To meals, and I come in here and talk about the humble omelet? But that's because it's what I always have in the house. When in doubt, have some eggs. I'll fry up a small onion, some mushrooms and add cheese. Or maybe salsa and sausage. Add bacon and I'm happy. I'm the same about French toast - I love French toast, and sweet like the American I am and not savoury as the Brits like it wih salt, pepper and ketchup. I always have maple syrup in the house.

The other favourite I like to make is poached chicken breast that I then roughly shred, I make a simple chicken gravy with chicken cube stock and a roux, toss in the chicken, frozen peas and corn and then pour on top of buttered toast. I call it a Sloppy Jules, because my name is Jules, and it's like a Sloppy Joe, but better.

I would love to be able to cook up large batches of fall back foods to freeze for lazy days... but I live in a small Swiss apartment with a small - read: tiny - freezer with only room for perhaps a couple of meats, an ice tray and a bag of peas and not much else... so that's obviously out of the question.

Being Asian, I guess my go-to food would be rice, or fried rice. Hubby and I love eggs or any sort, and usually a simple vege stir fry would suffice for a lazy I-dont-feel-like-cooking-day. If I'm lazy but have a bit of time, a rich soup loaded with meat and veges would last the 2 of us several days... constantly being reheated and tasting better with each passing day... especially welcome in the winter months.

Ummm... My go-to recipes are:

*Pasta with soy sauce and butter
*steamed broccoli
*pork loin chops (the quick-cook ones that are about 1/3" thick)
*Baked chicken thighs
*Stir-fried savoy cabbage, sometimes with a bit of bacon (REALLY good on pasta)
*Homemade macaroni and cheese
*Chicken and greens, stir-fried with kicap manis (sweet soy sauce)
*Peanut butter and jam on squidgy white bread (!)

I usually make dishes that have a lot of different ingredients in it and just eat them w/ rice; e.g. beef stew, curry, or some sort of vegetable stir-fry. The preparation (washing-cutting) usually takes a little longer, but then it makes for large quantities without much skill required :)

I like to cook something on Sunday that has "automatic leftovers" for busy weekdays. I also like "all in one" meals based on rice or pasta that includes a protein and vegetables. My favorites:
- spaghetti sauce with ground beef and vegetables (usually diced carrots and zucchini)
- curry rice (Japanese-style, usually with beef or pork, potatoes, and carrots)
- gumbo (made in the crockpot with chicken, pork sausage, okra, celery, and onion)
- jambalaya (can you tell I live in Louisiana?!) I have two versions: one with chicken, sausage, and tomatoes, and one with black-eyed peas and sausage

For vegetables I always fall back on steaming broccoli and carrots or asparagus, sauteeing the same mix, or simple salads. In the summer I love fried squash :)

Maki -- These comments are so fascinating, thank you so much for asking this question! I take my go-to dishes for granted so it's really interesting to see what other people regularly make.

My standard is usually pasta with a quick sauce. In the summer: tomatoes and other veggies with bacon if i have it, the rest of the year: olive oil/anchovy/red pepper flakes based.

I've started cooking meat, so the meat-and-potatoes thing is sneaking into our rotation, but only if I remember to defrost the meat beforehand.

I would love to expand my repertoire of everyday no-recipe meals -- CB, I like the quiche idea! I hate going to the store, so recipes that require ingredients that I don't usually have on hand usually don't get incorporated into every day life (green onions and cilantro are big stumbling blocks for me).

As a university student, I generally like to do stuff that's fairly quick so that I can get back to my homework/whatever, but as a nutrition student, I'm also averse to ordering in/frozen dinners.

My fallback meals include:

  • Whole wheat pasta with pre-made sauce with lots of veggies and a little bit of ground meat added in
  • Broiled/pan-fried fish with couscous and a vegetable
  • Stirfry
  • Pan-fried chicken thighs (not by itself)
  • Mashed sweet potato (not by itself)

While the olives, capers and anchovies that go into puttanesca aren't all that cheap in the UK, one tin of each intense flavour goes a long way. An added bonus of puttanesca sauce is that it goes with almost everything: pasta, cous cous, rice, and even potatoes.

Soups, stews, chilis, curries - If it can survive the deep freeze, I'll make it on marathon weekend cook sessions and stash it away for later. When I run out or get tired of those, then I turn to pasta - The hub's favorite is thin spaghetti with a lemon-butter & tuna sauce that can be jazzed up any number of ways. I lay in a good stock of hamburger patties and boneless chicken breasts - only 15 minutes from freezer to table. There is also no shortage of soup packages in the pantry for really desparate days. And I'm never without fresh fruit and veggies or cheese.

Dump a whole chicken into the pot and cover it with tons of cabbage. Tastes great on its own, with noodles or poured over rice.

Since my husband and I are both working and going to school, we're always pressed for time and money. Our go-to dishes include:

  • Breakfast for dinner: pancakes or waffles, hashed potatoes, scrambled tofu for me (I'm vegetarian) and eggs and bacon or sausage for my hubby.
  • Mushroom stroganoff: Creamy white sauce with LOTS of mushrooms -- we usually use dried shiitake and button mushrooms -- over noodles.
  • One starch/steamed veggies: not particularly exciting, but it's hard to deny that garlic mashed potatoes or fried rice and mixed steamed veggies aren't good. Of course, my husband usually adds grilled chicken to his plate!
  • Spaghetti: My hubby's homemade marinara over noodles with homemade garlic bread and a salad.

And of course, there are the casseroles (some of which can be made in advance and frozen):

  • Spinach lasagna with homemade marinara: My husband often makes meatballs on the side and we'll have salad and garlic bread. This is a great meal for company, too.
  • Homemade mac n' cheese: I usually add poblano peppers, roasted red peppers, onion and garlic to the cheese sauce and pour it over macaroni. Top with breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for 30 minutes and you're good to go with a salad or other veggies.
  • Spanokopita: Using frozen spinach is the best way to make this less labor intensive. I buy the phyllo dough on sale and make the filling simply: spinach, onion, garlic, herbs/spices, feta cheese. It's done in an hour if I remember to thaw the dough beforehand.

I buy large packages of chicken quarters (they're cheaper than whole chickens where I shop), ground beef, and pork loin roast (because hubby doesn't like pork chops). I cut the chicken and pork loin, and wrap them in servings for two.

With the ground beef, I stuff a few gallon zip-lock baggies about 1/2 inch thick, then use chopsticks to score the bag into 9 squares (idea came from Biggie's blog post). Then I add diced onion and a little garlic to the rest of the ground beef to make a few small meat loafs in loaf pans, and the rest is made into meatballs, which I flash-freeze and store in gallon baggies.

So most of my cooking uses the stored meats above, with potatoes or rice, and veggies (fresh from the garden, or store-bought frozen). I also make breakfast for dinner at least twice a month: taquitos (egg tacos), french toast, muffins, or waffles.

My fallbacks are a nice mix of things, I think:

1.) Pasta. Either with some sort of tomato sauce (if I have some on hand) or with oil, vinegar, and salt.
2.) Gyudon. (My boyfriend will eat this EVERY DAY. It's hilarious.)
3.) Rice - Rice with Umeboshi, rice with butter and garlic salt, rice with soy sauce.
4.) Miso soup
5.) Salad.
6.) Steamed veggies

I usually cook whatever's cheapest this week, but I do keep a can or two of low-fat/vegetarian baked beans in the cupboard. I can put the beans in the slow cooker along with the last fraction of a pound of ground beef or ground turkey, the last half-cup of leftover ham, the last slice of bacon, and/or a chopped onion. If I have the time and ingredients, I make cornbread, which is itself a good way to use up bits of extra this and that (grated cheese, for instance). Or I just serve the beans with toast.

Oh, forgot: I often put a small pot of rice on to cook after dinner in order to make fried rice the next day with leftover meat and/or veggies.

  1. Egg fried rice. There's rice at my house at least three days a week! So egg fried rice is easy, an English favourite (not that I'm English. o_O I'm American but I live in England) and good.

  2. Alton Brown's Pancake recipe. Frozen pancakes (he even shows you how to freeze them on the show) and microwaved. They taste just like you've just made them too! I love this recipe.

  3. Hot sauce marinated chicken. Easy, and good.

The cheapest and easiest dishes I know, that I constantly fall back on, are soups. They are all fairly healthy, except mushroom soup perhaps. These four soups are the ones I make the most, and that taste the best.

Onion soup
The definite all time winner! I aways make this when I'm sick, and especially with some chili in it it really clears your head.
Just slice an onion or two, add it to a pot with some garlic and sauté until limp. Fill up with enough water and a stock cube, and cook until everything is very soft and oniony (30 min, more or less). Add freshly ground pepper and serve.

Potato and leek soup
Chop up a whole leek, and slice as many potatoes as you want to eat thinly, and throw into a pot. Add enough water to cover (I use about 5-6 dl) and bring to a boil. Boil uncovered until everything is soft, and then stir rapidly to dissolve somewhat. Add a little milk (2 dl perhaps?), salt and pepper, and some fresh parsley if you have. This is deliciously creamy-but-still-chunky, and very filling.

Lentil soup
Bring enough water with a stock cube to a boil. Add a cup or so of red lentils. Chop up vegetables as the lentils cook, and add them according to how long they take to cook (potatoes first, then carrots, broccoli, leek, and so on). Whatever vegetables you have on hand work. The soup is ready when everything is cooked!

Mushroom soup
Sauté onion, garlic and a lot of mushroom in a pot. Use any kind of mushroom, but a combination of a few kinds is good. Season with salt and pepper. Add some flour and stir well, and then add milk. The flour mixed with the fat from the pan will act as a thickener, and the soup will have a nice consistency after a quick heating up.

One more soup I make a lot is cheaters Tom kha kai, but its not really a recipe. I just use a jar with some sour coconut paste, and add it to water with a stock cube and some cocnut milk. Vegetables and some protein, and its done.

I guess most people would know how to make all this already, but I wrote it down anyway. I've seen versions of all these recipes before, but they are always more complicated. I just wanted to show how easily they can be made and still taste delicious!

Basic dishes...everything with potatoes.

Potatoes are great and easy. No matter if as a salad, pan fried, baked in the oven, in soups or stews.

Just put diferent frozen vegetables in a pot with hot water, put the heat up and while it heats up cut op some potatoes.

Fresh young potatoes do not even need to get peeled. Just wash and cut up and throw them in the pot.

Or with some carrots and cellery root and onions into a baking dish and let them roast in the oven.

Not the forget the pillowy mounds of mashed potatoes


The ultimate 'fall back hot meal' in Flanders-Belgium is:
cooked potatoes (just peal, cook in water till you can poke them with a fork, pour away the water, dry on low temp and eat)
'boereworst' (farmers sausage), aprox 150grammes of cheap skinwrapped ground meat, baked in some butter
applesauce (out of a jar or the freezer, I make a few kilo's in the summer with apples from my grandmother)

forgive my engrisch :)

Mine would be a Filipino dish called adobo or tuna & eggplant pasta. Like you the recipe for these are not written but is all in my head. :D