I was blessed with parents who were supportive of all my cooking experiments. Particularly vivid in my mind is one recipe for “spice soup” that, I’m sure, is also quite memorable to them. If you ask very nicely, I could be persuaded to share this piece of culinary gold with all of you…
Okay, here goes. Find a pot. Fill it with water. Add a generous handful of every spice you can reach from the spice cabinet with your little ten-year-old arm. Bring pot to a boil. Finally, serve to a pair of inexplicably supportive parents that are not upset that you’ve wasted expensive groceries on inedible spice-water.
All of this is to say that I’ve had some spectacular cooking failures. However, I think these failures offer something valuable — the courage to realize that not everything works out, and that it’s not the end of the world. With that in mind, I’ve decided to start a series that I’ll return to every so often on the blog — Cooking for the Fearful. “Fearful” here covers a lot of things — fearful of not knowing what you’re doing, fearful of screwing up, fearful of what all those knobs do on your stove…I’m not saying I have all the answers — but I do enjoy talking about the questions!
The series’ inaugural post is dedicated to cheating. To those items that we always keep in the house because they require little to no assembly, and yet are healthier than popcorn and Swedish Fish (hey, I’ve been there. Grad school’s rough.) A caveat before I begin: these are not official endorsements. None of these companies know me or are paying me (although they are welcome to do so).
First, and the center of probably too many meals, is the Al Fresco chicken sausage.
We keep a few different flavors on hand at all times. You can have them cooked whole or chopped into bits and mixed into pasta or other meals. They’re lower in sodium than other processed sausages, and contain no mystery ingredients. I like them because it’s an already portioned out bit of protein (I usually have one sausage) and they already have a whole lot of flavor. Here are some ways we’ve used them:
– The spinach and feta kind chopped up in pasta with marinara sauce
– The roasted garlic kind whole, on top of roasted vegetables
– The chipotle chorizo variety chopped up and put in butternut squash soup
– And most recently…the jalapeno kind whole, in a hot dog bun, topped with cooked onions and guacamole
Next in the pantry was a find that came as the result of a taco night with some friends. I needed taco seasoning that was gluten free, my boyfriend needed low-sodium, and my friend needed a kind with no MSG. After a fairly long label-reading session…success. Frontera Taco Skillet Sauces. I’d always been a pretty staunch supporter of the packets of orange powder that made tacos taste magical (that’s read, “salty”), but now, there’s no turning back. Frontera is made with, once again, recognizable ingredients. Oh, and its delicious. There are a few different varieties (my favorite is this blue one, Chipotle Garlic), and they make tacos feel like a healthier, more satisfying meal than when the meat glowed orange. It works basically the same as the powder though — just thoroughly brown whatever meat you’re using, drain the fat, and add the sauce. Gloriously easy.
Last on the list (for now), is another staple of our disproportionately Mexican diet. Premade guacamole. Also known as loveliness in a pouch. I’m a fairly recent guacamole convert, having finally rid myself of the vestiges of my childhood distaste for things green and mushy, so when I found some in the supermarket, I had to try some. Oh my. There are a few different varieties that I like, but whatever you do, make sure it’s actually guacamole and not “guacamole flavored dip,” which is basically dairy, mystery ingredients, and green coloring. Like the previous items, premade guacamole lets me make a fairly healthy dinner out of what was a not-promising venture into the kitchen. It often comes in two small pouches, so it doesn’t start to go brown until each one is opened, which means there are ready-to-eat veggies just waiting for you in the fridge! We have it in tacos, as a dip for nachos, and, as mentioned above, on top of jalapeno sausages. Avocados are super healthy for you, so even when we’re just scrounging with a nacho dinner, the guacamole is amazing and makes me feel better for having something green on the plate.
Any other items like these that you keep on hand? Questions or comments on how to use them? Post a comment!