Do not stress in the kitchen: Try these 3 make-ahead recipes for a carefree dinner time

Do not stress in the kitchen: Try these 3 make-ahead recipes for a carefree dinner time

One and a half years ago, many of us started working full time from home. Children went to school a few days a week or not at all. Zoom and other video services became offices. Back then, we would bake sourdough bread, learn to cook daily and order groceries online.

But now, in the fall of 2021, many of us are heading back to the office or school. The activities outside the house have increased. And like a scream from a long time ago, I hear many people complain that they “do not have time to cook” or find time to have a healthy dinner on the table.

Life can be hectic. But with a little planning, you do not have to work hard to get a week’s meals on the table.

These three dishes can all be made in advance 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 get home from a long day and dinner is ready! And these dishes are all ideal for this time of year where we crave a little more comfort and nourishment.

First is a Moroccan-style chicken dish, with carrots, leeks, olives, apricots and raisins in a spicy broth. Served on top of quick-cooked couscous or rice, it is a perfect everyday feast. Next up: a vegetarian pasta dish that combines your favorite shaped pasta tossed with sautéed spinach, mushrooms and ricotta cheese. And the third dish is a Mexican-inspired pork stew in a lightly spiced green sauce with black beans. Served over rice and accompanied by hot tortillas, a collection of hot sauce, fresh coriander and sour cream, it is a hearty, satisfying autumn meal.

These three dishes do not require much other than cooked greens or your favorite salad. And they can all be easily doubled.

Set aside a Sunday afternoon or Tuesday night and cook up one or all of these dishes and your evening meals just got a lot easier.

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

Host Scott Tong's bid for chef Kathy Gunst's Moroccan chicken.  (Scott Tong)
Host Scott Tong’s bid for chef Kathy Gunst’s Moroccan chicken. (Scott Tong)

Chicken thighs are seasoned with cinnamon, turmeric and cumin and browned before going in a simple sauce with carrots, leeks, raisins and dried apricots. You can make the dish a day or two ahead of time. Just before serving, heat the chicken on the stove while boiling water and boil the couscous. (You can omit the couscous and serve with crispy bread instead if you 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 olive oil
  • 4 chicken thighs, boned or boned, about 2 ¼ pounds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed cinnamon
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped or in thin slices
  • 2 large leeks, cut lengthwise, washed and cut into 1 empty pieces, white and light green sections (discard the dark green section)
  • About 2 to 3 medium-sized carrots, about 6 mares, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup golden or plain raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into thin slices
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup stoned green olives, very coarsely chopped

Couscousen:

  • Salt
  • 1 cup instant couscous

Instructions

  1. In a large 12-inch frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat.
  2. Rub the chicken thighs on both sides with salt, pepper and half of the cumin and turmeric and all the cinnamon. Add the chicken to the hot frying pan with the skin side down and fry for about 4 minutes until golden brown. Turn the chicken and fry for about 3 to 4 minutes until golden brown on the other side. Remove to a plate. Remove everything except 1 teaspoon of the fat in the pan.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the same frying pan and set it over low heat. Add garlic and leeks and fry for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the carrots and half of the parsley and cook for another 3 minutes while 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. Raise the heat to high and add the broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to moderate and simmer for 5 minutes. Partially cover the pan with a lid or foil and let it simmer on moderately low heat for 20 minutes. Add raisins, apricots and olives and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The dish can be made 1 to 2 days before serving. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and put the lid on and refrigerate.
  4. To serve: Place the chicken partially covered over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until the sauce is simmering and the chicken is hot.
  5. Meanwhile, make the couscous: Bring 1½ cup lightly salted water to a medium saucepan to a boil. Stir in the couscous and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir and put the lid on for 10 minutes. When the water is completely absorbed, stir the couscous with a fork to air 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. Cover in a layer of plastic wrap and then foil before freezing.

Baked ricotta penne with sautéed spinach and mushrooms

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

For this quick pasta dish in the evening, simply sauté baby spinach and mushrooms in a hot frying pan. Penne or your favorite pasta is boiled and tossed with ricotta cheese and some of the pasta water. Then mix the pasta with the vegetables. The mixture is placed in a low pan or ovenproof pan and topped with grated parmesan cheese. The next night, simply put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes or so and dinner is ready.

Serves 2 to 4.

ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 9 ounces of baby spinach
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 ounce shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 ounces portobello or cremini mushrooms, cut into slices
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
  • ½ pound pens or your favorite shaped pasta
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan. Add the spinach in turns while stirring and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Take it out on a plate and drain any excess liquid from the bottom of the plate.
  3. Add another tablespoon of oil to the same frying pan and heat over high heat. Add mushrooms, salt, pepper and half of the chives and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Cook the pasta for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the shape, or until it is al dente or almost soft. Drain the pasta, but be sure to keep ¼ cup of the pasta water; reserve.
  5. Mix the remaining tablespoon of oil with salt, pepper and the rest of the chives in a low saucepan or ovenproof roast. Add the hot drained pasta and flip with the ricotta cheese and ¼ cup reserved pasta water. Stir until the cheese is completely incorporated into the pasta. Add spinach and mushrooms and turn well. If you want to eat the pasta right away, just move on to the next section. Otherwise, cover the pan and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven and turn on the broiler. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top of the pasta and fry for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is 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 that combines chunks of pork (I used boneless pork roast, but you can use shoulder or any cut of pork, cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch cubes), onions, garlic, cilantro, black beans and a green enchilada sauce (or green salsa). It simmers for about 45 minutes and can then be refrigerated a day or two ahead of time.

Reheat the casserole over low heat or in a 300 degree oven until it bubbles and serve with sour cream, fresh coriander, hot sauce and warm tortillas or rice if you like.

Serves 3 to 4.

ingredients

  • ½ cup flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon crushed cumin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boned roast pork, pork shoulder or roast pork, cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 pointed bowls, white and green sections, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 15 ounce jar 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 beans or kidney beans, drained, washed and drained again
  • 1 cup of water
  • Garnish: sour cream, hot sauce, fresh coriander leaves, white rice and / or hot corn or melt tortillas

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, mix flour, a generous amount of salt and pepper and 1 teaspoon cumin. Drizzle the pork pieces in the spicy flour and make sure to cover all sides.
  2. In a medium-sized refractory dish, heat the oil over high heat. Work in batches, brown the pork for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove and place on a plate.
  3. When all the pork is browned, lower the temperature to low and add the onion, scallion and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the browned pork back to the pan and stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cumin. Raise the heat to high and add the enchilada sauce or salsa, cilantro, beans and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, put lid on and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until pork is tender, when tested with a small, sharp knife.
  4. The casserole dish can be cooled, covered and then cooled for up to 2 to 3 days.
  5. To reheat and serve: Simmer the pan over low heat or in a 300-degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until bubbling hot. Heat tortillas in the hot oven for approx. 2 minutes until hot if used. Serve hot with garnish next to rice and or hot tortillas.

Note: The pork pot can also be frozen for up to two months. Cover in a layer of plastic wrap and then foil before freezing.

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