By Kara Kimbrough
If only I had a nickel for every question asking, “Do you have any easy, quick-to-fix recipes?” To answer all requests at once, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite “easy, quick-to-fix” recipes. For my friend who claims her husband will begin drawing up divorce papers if she cooks spaghetti one more time, I’ve included a pasta dish that will keep attorneys at bay.
· There may be some who don’t love Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing Mix, but I haven’t met them. To make three-ingredient pork chops, combine a 1-ounce package of the mix with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle both sides of 1-inch pork chops with the seasoning, arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. With a green salad topped with, what else, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing and your favorite side dish, dinner can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.
· Chicken strips with dipping sauce are a favorite of all ages – let’s just say, Raising Cane’s gains a fair portion of my takeout/drive-through business. Nothing’s better on splurge day that Cane’s crispy chicken, crunchy fries and seasoned bread. And tangy Cane’s sauce puts all others to shame. However, when it’s time for a healthier meal, there is a way to accomplish it. In a bowl, crush together a ½ cup of seasoned bread crumbs with a cup of Parmesan cheese. In another bowl, beat one egg. Dip boneless, skinless chicken breasts that have been cut into strips in the egg, then the bread crumbs. Cook chicken in olive oil in a nonstick skillet until golden brown; around 6-7 minutes. Let cool and cut into strips.
· It’s not Cane’s sauce, but an easy, healthier-than-store-bought dipping sauce can be made by mixing together 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise, three tablespoons Dijon mustard, tablespoon of honey and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Chill before serving.
· Cheese grits are so delicious and are the perfect side dish for any meal, not just breakfast. Many think they’re complicated to make, but they’re really not. To make the easiest cheese grits, combine 1-1/4 cups milk and a cup water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add a ½ cup of hominy grits and simmer for 12 minutes. Stir in two tablespoons butter, cup of shredded Cheddar cheese and ½ teaspoon of paprika.
· Olive Garden’s pasta fagioli soup is often imitated courtesy of “copycat” recipes in cookbooks and on the internet. Here’s a shorter version of the popular soup. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, brown a half-pound of Italian sausage. Once it’s thoroughly cooked, remove from pan and set aside. To the same pan, add a chopped onion and a clove of chopped garlic and brown until wilted. Add 2 cups of water, can of drained and washed Great Northern beans, can of drained chopped tomatoes, can of chicken stock, ¾ cup of elbow macaroni and a little ground black pepper. Bring to a bowl and cook uncovered until pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Add in cooked sausage and a cup of trimmed fresh spinach (optional). Cook a few minutes until spinach has wilted down. Pour into bowls and garnish with Parmesan cheese.
Last, as promised, here’s a pasta dish that’ll ensure not continued matrimonial bliss for my friend and add a delicious option to the never-ending, “What in the world am I going to fix for dinner?” quandary.
Less-Than-30-Minutes Fettuccini Chicken Alfredo
Extra virgin olive oil
3 large chicken breasts
1 pound of favorite pasta
2 tablespoons minced garlic (adjust according to taste)
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese (more to taste)
Seasoning: salt, ground black pepper, seasoning salt, garlic powder, onion powder – mix desired quantities to combine
Pour olive oil into skillet and warm over medium-high heat. Season chicken with seasoning combo on both sides, then place in the pan, cooking 5-7 minutes on each side until done, then remove from skillet and set aside. While chicken is cooking, boil pasta until al dente, drain and reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water.
In skillet over medium high heat, melt butter, then add garlic and ¾ cup of heavy cream. Stir and bring to a simmer; cook and stir for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add remaining heavy cream and Parmesan cheese; cook until combined. Add cooked pasta to the mixture and stir to combine. (If mixture is too heavy, add a little of reserved pasta water. Slice chicken and add to the top before serving.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at email@example.com.