No stress in the kitchen: try these 3 make-ahead recipes for a carefree dinner

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A year and a half ago, many of us started working from home full-time. The children went to school a few days a week or not at all. Zoom and other video services became offices. Back then we baked sourdough bread, learned to cook every day and ordered groceries online.

But now, in the fall of 2021, many of us are going back to the office or to school. Activities outside the home have increased. And like a scream from bygone days, I hear a lot of people grumbling that they “don’t have time to cook” or that they find the time to bring a healthy dinner to the table.

Life can be hectic. But with a little planning, you don’t have to worry about getting a week’s meals on the table.

These three dishes can all be cooked at least a day or two (or even three) before serving. Or you can prepare the dish in the morning, put it in the oven when you come home from a long day and dinner is ready! And these dishes are all ideal for this time of year when we crave a little more comfort and nourishment.

The first is a Moroccan-style chicken dish with carrots, leeks, olives, apricots and raisins in a flavored broth. Served on quick-cooked couscous or rice, it’s a perfect weekday feast. Next up: a vegetarian pasta dish that combines your favorite pasta with sauteed spinach, mushrooms and ricotta cheese. And the third dish is a Mexican-inspired pork stew in a slightly spicy green sauce with black beans. Served on rice and accompanied by warm tortillas, a collection of spicy sauce, fresh coriander, and sour cream, it’s a hearty, filling autumn dish.

These three dishes don’t require much more than cooked vegetables or your favorite salad. And they can all easily be doubled.

Set aside a Sunday afternoon or Tuesday evening and cook any or all of these dishes and your midweek meals are a lot easier now.

Moroccan-style chicken with green olives, apricots and raisins served on couscous

Chicken legs are flavored and browned with cinnamon, turmeric, and cumin seeds before turning into a simple sauce with carrots, leeks, raisins, and dried apricots. You can prepare the dish a day or two in advance. Just before serving, heat the chicken on the stove while boiling water and cooking the couscous. (You can leave out the couscous and serve with crusty bread instead, if you’d like.) You may want to add a green salad or an orange-green olive and arugula salad.

Serves 2 to 4.

ingredients

Chicken and Vegetables:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 chicken thighs, boneless or boneless, about 2¼ pounds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped or thinly sliced
  • 2 large leeks, cut lengthways, washed and cut into 2.5 cm pieces, white and light green sections (discard dark green sections)
  • About 2 to 3 medium-sized carrots, about 6 hops, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup of golden or regular raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 cup pitted green olives, very roughly chopped

The couscous:

  • salt
  • 1 cup of instant couscous

instructions

  1. In a large 12-inch pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat.
  2. Rub the chicken legs on both sides with salt, pepper and half of the cumin and turmeric and all of the cinnamon. Place the chicken skin-side down in the hot pan and fry until golden brown for about 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown on the other side. Remove to a plate. Remove all but 1 teaspoon of fat from the pan.
  3. Put the remaining tablespoon of oil in the same pan and heat over low heat. Add the garlic and leek and cook for 2 minutes while stirring. Add the carrots and half of the parsley and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring. Add salt and pepper and the remaining cumin and turmeric. Put the chicken back in the pan and distribute the vegetables evenly around it. Turn up the heat too high and add the broth; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer for 5 minutes. Partially cover the pan with a lid or foil and simmer over a moderate heat for 20 minutes. Add the raisins, apricots and olives and simmer for another 5 minutes. Take it from the stove and let it cool off. The dish can be prepared 1 to 2 days before serving. Sprinkle with the rest of the parsley and cover and chill.
  4. To serve: Place the chicken half-covered over medium heat for 15 minutes or until the sauce is simmering and the chicken is warm.
  5. In the meantime, prepare the couscous: Bring 1½ cups of lightly salted water to the boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Stir in couscous and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir and cover for 10 minutes. Once the water is completely absorbed, stir the couscous with a fork to loosen it up.
  6. Serve the hot chicken, vegetables, and sauce on top of the couscous.

Note: The chicken dish can be frozen for up to two months. Before freezing, cover with a layer of plastic wrap and then cover with foil.

Baked ricotta penne with sauteed spinach and mushrooms

Baked ricotta penne with sauteed spinach and mushrooms. (Kathy Gunst)

For this quick midweek pasta dish, simply sauté baby spinach and mushrooms in a hot pan. Penne or your favorite pasta is boiled and tossed with ricotta cheese and some pasta water. Then mix the pasta with the vegetables. The mixture is poured into a shallow saucepan or ovenproof pan and topped with grated Parmesan cheese. The next evening, you just slide the casserole in the oven for about 15 minutes and dinner is ready.

Serves 2 to 4.

ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 9 ounces baby spinach
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 ounces portobello or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
  • ½ pound of penne or your favorite pasta in shape
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese
  • ¼ to â…“ cup of grated parmesan cheese

instructions

  1. Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan. Add the spinach in portions while stirring and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and drain off any excess liquid that forms at the bottom of the plate.
  3. Add another tablespoon of oil to the same pan and heat over high heat. Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper and half of the chives and cook for 5 minutes while stirring. Take off the heat.
  4. Cook the pasta for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the shape, or until al dente or almost soft. Drain the pasta, but make sure you keep ¼ cup of the pasta water; Reservations.
  5. In a shallow saucepan or ovenproof pan, mix the remaining tablespoon of oil with salt, pepper and the remaining chives. Add the hot, drained pasta and mix with the ricotta cheese and ¼ cup of reserved pasta water. Stir until the cheese is completely incorporated into the pasta. Add the spinach and mushrooms and mix well. If you want to eat the pasta right away, just skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, cover the casserole and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Take the casserole out of the oven and turn on the grill. Sprinkle the parmesan over the pasta and grill for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the pasta is hot.

Mexican-inspired pork stew in green sauce with black beans

Mexican-inspired pork stew in green sauce with black beans.  (Kathy Gunst)
Mexican-inspired pork stew in green sauce with black beans. (Kathy Gunst)

A simple stew, the pieces of pork (I used boneless pork roast, but you can use pork shoulder or any other piece of pork, cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch cubes), onions, garlic, coriander, black beans, and a green enchilada sauce (or green salsa). It simmer for about 45 minutes and then can be refrigerated for a day or two in advance.

Heat the stew over low heat or in a 300-degree oven until it is bubbly and serve with sour cream, fresh coriander, hot sauce, and warm tortillas or rice, if you’d like.

Serves 3 to 4.

ingredients

  • ½ cup of flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds of boneless pork roast, shoulder of pork, or roast pork, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 shallots, white and green sections, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 15 ounce glass of green enchilada sauce or green salsa or tomatillo salsa
  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped with stalks
  • A 15.5 ounce can of black or kidney beans, drained, washed, and drained again
  • 1 cup of water
  • Garnishes: sour cream, hot sauce, fresh coriander leaves, white rice and / or warm corn or flour tortillas

instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, a generous amount of salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoon of cumin. Place the pork pieces in the seasoned flour, making sure that all sides are covered.
  2. In a medium-sized casserole dish, heat the oil over high heat. Fry the pork in portions for about 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Take out and put on a plate.
  3. When all of the pork is browned, reduce the temperature to a low temperature and add the onions, spring onions, and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Return the fried pork to the pan and stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cumin. Turn up the heat and add the enchilada sauce or salsa, coriander, beans and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the pork is tender if you test it with a small, sharp knife.
  4. The stew can be refrigerated, covered, and then refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.
  5. To warm up and serve: Let the stew simmer over low heat or in a 300 degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until it is bubbly. If used, heat tortillas in the hot oven until warm for about 2 minutes. Serve hot with side dishes next to rice and / or warm tortillas.

Note: The pork stew can also be frozen for up to two months. Before freezing, cover with a layer of plastic wrap and then cover with foil.


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