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Slumming it in the Kitchen

It was my turn to cook yesterday in our monastery and I had a nice meal planned around French onion soup using Michael Ruhlman's brothless recipe from Lyon. A change in meal time sabotaged plans, as I had only a short time after evening services to get the meal on the table. I opted instead to slum it and, horrors, cook chicken breasts in a crock pot with the old standards of cream of mushroom soup, mushrooms, and wine. The community loved it--but all I could taste was MSG. And the carrots from frozen on the side tasted weird to me. (Do frozen carrots always taste weird?) I wished I had made Kraft macaroni and cheese and had fried slices of Spam with brown sugar and cloves--takes me back to Guam in the late forties, or Mom's "slum gullion" sloppy Joes made with ground chuck and chicken gumbo soup. It made me wonder, what are the fall back menus for people when there is no time or desire to do anything really good. How do other busy cooks go slumming in the kitchen?

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  1. Father Kitchen you aren't alone, I've made that same chicken dish you made in the crockpot only I threw in a cup of rice and baked it in the oven. Back in the day when my kids were little this was my "emergency no time to cook and watch them" dish.

    Another popular favorite is what folks in Massachusetts call "American Chop Suey." This was my mom's "crazy day feed the kids" meal, and I have to admit I like it too: Brown ground beef, drain, add stewed tomatoes. When you're getting ready for dinner, add cooked elbow macaroni, and yes it MUST be elbow macaroni. Pour into a casserole dish and top with whatever cheese you have lying around. Bake till bubbly.

    6 Replies
    1. re: TrishUntrapped

      My family loves American chop suey--but even easier, I brown the meat and onions, add tomatoes, add box of pasta uncooked, a little extra broth (or water) and cook and stir occasionally. This was my friend's Boston version.

        1. re: TrishUntrapped

          Oh my gosh! My mother used to make American Chop Suey all the time when we were kids - I'd always wondered why no one else had ever heard for it - I was raised in Wisconsin and now live in New York. But my mother's from Massachusetts. THAT explains it! :)

          1. re: Krislady

            That's funny Chris! American Chop Suey was one of the few school lunches I liked. Even the cafeteria workers couldn't mess it up.

      1. re: TrishUntrapped

        Thank God I learned to love it as hamburger casserole rather than American Chop Suey- the name weirds me out. It really does.

        1. re: EWSflash

          Around Albany they have the nerve to call the stuff goulash! When I first moved here I was surprised to find "goulash" on the menu in a diner. I ordered it and what arrived was not a happy surprise. It wasn't that it was terrible- but it sure wasn't goulash.

      2. Late night rotisserie chicken at the market, still under the heat lamps but not yet chicken jerky, a dollar off, $4.99. One large sweet onion, a couple poblanos and jalapenos, half a jar of mole sauce, pint of chicken broth, garlic, hamburger buns. You'll figure out the rest for sloppy jose's. I'm not a busy cook but I can still slum it.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Veggo

          the rotisserie chicken is one of my favorite "oh crap outta time!" go tos as well

            1. re: Veggo

              Another fan of the rotisserie chicken here. It has saved me a number of times and no doubt will do so again!

              1. re: Veggo

                I agree, the old rotisserie chicken can be a lifesaver. Gets me dinner for that nite, chicken salad for the next day, and a soup carcass for the day after.

              2. Rice, Chinese pork floss, Chinese pickled cucumbers, fried egg, Sriracha.

                In that EXACT order -- from bottom to top.

                Slum away!

                2 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  What's Chinese pork floss? I picture long-cooked long shreds.

                2. Pasta with whatever is hanging around--arugula, garlic, eggs, cream, onions, peppers, zucchini, proscuitto ends, herbs/parsley--could any or all end up in it with romano or parmigiano grated on top. Of course, leftover tomato sauce could take it in a different direction. Have not had canned soup of any kind in my pantry for 20 years--at least not one you would add to another dish as liquid/sauce.

                  1. For emergencies where I want it to be filling and satisfying: garlic/olive oil pasta; add whatever veggies available: onions, tomato, fine-chopped broccoli, zucchini ribbons, snow peas, canned green peas, carrot julienne, etc.; and/or chicken, ground turkey, or sausage if available. Toasted buttered bread alongside.

                    Or grilled cheese and salad; "fancy" ingredients on the sandwich such as basil, brie, arugula, etc.

                    (And I know that some on this board have a horror of the canned soup, but I've got a couple laid back in there. It's highly unlikely that the Michelin-star people are going to stop by my house and downgrade me for it.)

                    1 Reply
                    1. You're totally right about carrots. They, unlike spinach, corn or peas, do not take well to freezing. For frozen carrots in the future -- since they have a lot of inherent water, try cooking them from the frozen state in a minimum of stock (chicken or vegetable) so it's not too soupy, then puree everything, add lots of butter, grated cheese (whatever you have -- parm, cheddar, even mozz, or a combination). Serve as a side.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: nemo

                        Frozen carrots are sweet and spongy- a gross combination. Pureeing them is the only salvation I can think of for them because the taste isn't that bad.

                      2. My quick go-to meal is always a frittata. Get home late, head to the kitchen, assemble and stick in oven, 10-15 minutes for other stuff, and dinner's on the table within 30 minutes.

                        It's a meal we actually look forward too, and it's easily dressed up with sriracha, sides, sauces, fancy cheeses, etc.

                        Mourn the loss of the planned meal, but don't feel dirty about the quick meal — nourishment important too.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: odkaty

                          It's funny, your last sentence. I've been killing myself at work for 2.5 months, and I still plan as though I had so much time when I get home.

                          Last night (Friday, right? Woo!) I had planned to broil some tofu and make a peanut sauce, and to serve this with roasted tamari carrots and sauteed sesame bok choy. I ended up buying pho because I got home feeling grumpy and achey at about 8.

                          The slow cooker is great for nights like that, and also who doesn't like walking into an apartment cozy with the aroma of dinner?

                          1. re: odkaty

                            I agree on the frittata. They are great for using up odds and ends of leftovers, too-you can put almost anything in them. I like veggies and cheese in them, bu I've even made them with leftover sloppy joe meat for my husband. Not my personal cup of tea but he liked it. Add a salad or even some frozen peas on the side and you've got yourself a meal.

                            1. re: ErnieD

                              Add a salad or even some frozen peas on the side and you've got yourself a meal.
                              no need for extra veggies the way i load them into a frittata. and as a bonus, fewer dishes to wash!

                          2. Rice, broth, frozen veg into rice cooker, top w/ sausages, turn on.

                            1. same as you but with pork chops, toast with cinnamon sugar and butter if no one else is home ha ha, hot dogs of any sort but especially wrapped in Pillsbury croissants (hey I have not had those for a long long time) ha ha, canned lentil salad with veggies olive oil & balsamic vinaigrette, most things topped with crushed cornflakes.....

                              1. this one is probably a little (ok... probably alot) of the bodybuilder coming out in me, but one of my favorite in a pinch meals is:
                                Can of tuna+cottage cheese+whatever condiments i have laying around (mustard or salsa are good ones!)+chopped veg (especially bell pepper and onion)
                                mix all that together, spread on some good whole grain bread, top with some cheese, and toast or broil. mmmm

                                oh, and yes, i make my "tuna salad" with cottage cheese and not mayo. like it much better that way!

                                14 Replies
                                1. re: mattstolz

                                  A can of water packed tuna, real mayo, celery, dills. When I'm in a funk, 1 can of tuna = 1 giant sandwich (toasted whole wheat bread, plenty of lettuce for crunch). Hmm, want one right now.

                                  1. re: pine time

                                    definitely agree on the celery and dills. love the crunch from them. thats also why i choose bell peppers in mine

                                  2. re: mattstolz

                                    I've never heard of tuna with cottage cheese, but it sounds great to me. I love cottage cheese and am not such a big fan of mayo. I'll add Old Bay...

                                    1. re: Terrie H.

                                      it's an old bodybuilding trick to cram in extra protein. and matt's method is spot-on, a quick run under the broiler turns it into a treat.

                                      if you like your food with a kick, try it with a dash of cayenne or sriracha.

                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                        haha not only to cram in the protein, but also to lower the fat (significantly if you are talking real mayo vs low fat cottage cheese). normally its also just a good way to take the cheap, dry-your-mouth-out tuna from a can that we eat so often and add something to moisten it up and kick it up a little!

                                        def with you on the addition of sriracha too!

                                        1. re: mattstolz

                                          Had a friend who always added a finely chopped boiled egg to the tuna mixture--that "more protein" thing--tasted fine, but have never heard of anyone else doing that.

                                          1. re: pine time

                                            I do, it was alway the way my mother made it. It is really good. But I like a little mayo, too.

                                          2. re: mattstolz

                                            normally its also just a good way to take the cheap, dry-your-mouth-out tuna from a can that we eat so often and add something to moisten it up and kick it up a little!
                                            vinegar. lots of vinegar. ;)

                                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                              in tuna? really? for a moment I thought this must be the swiss chard thread..

                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                I gotta agree with ghg (like always). I really like sherry, balsamic, and red wine vinegars in tuna

                                                1. re: mattstolz

                                                  I'll try it. I usually resort to Worcestershire, garlic powder, diced red onion, mayo, and dill with canned tuna. And I'm having difficulty finding Bumble Bee solid white albacore in oil lately.

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    a drizzle of good olive oil & a healthy splash of vinegar (sherry, balsamic or red wine). fold in chopped capers, artichoke hearts & sun-dried tomato, minced shallot or red onion & fresh herbs (parsley and/or basil). season to taste with freshly ground pepper.

                                                    you can also toss in sliced black olives or roasted red peppers, or even some crumbled feta if you really want to go crazy.

                                                    trust me on this.

                                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                      All that together would make a good salad or sandwich even without any tuna!

                                                      1. re: Veggo

                                                        you've got a point :) BTW, white beans go really well with the tuna and all those flavors.

                                    2. Keilbasa or polish sausage boiled with potato and cabbage. Garnish with a little mustard or sour cream. Very simple and tasty.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: emglow101

                                        haha for some reason this made me think of a friend of mine in college who literally survived off of premade frozen perogies from sams club for an entire month.

                                        that cant have been good for her.

                                        1. re: emglow101

                                          This menu was in my mother's rotation back in the 70's and I still make it on occasion. She boiled each item separately and both cabbage and potatoes got a good dose of margarine (don't forget, it was the 70's). We skipped the sour cream/mustard. It's simple, satisfying, quite comforting and dirt cheap to boot.

                                        2. As someone who only slums in the kitchen because I detest cooking ... can you freeze?

                                          I will spend one day doing the dreaded cooking and then freeze the meals for the week(s).

                                          This doesn't seem your style, but maybe you could freeze a few meals for situations just like you experienced the other night. Then you don't need to resort to canned soup and frozen carrots in an emergency. The stuff still may be frozen, but at least it is something you made from scratch and has quality.

                                          1. Quick -- salad with vinaigrette, bacon, and a poached egg on top. Especially since I learned about poaching eggs in the microwave.

                                            Another standby favorite is this hamburger dish my dad used to make - crumble and cook with worcestershire sauce and cheddar cheese

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Savour

                                              How do you poach eggs in a microwave?

                                            2. Spaghetti (or fettucine or whatever we got) carbonara. I always have eggs, parmesan and pancetta or bacon. Easy, fast and still feels like dinner.

                                              1. Egg drop soup
                                                Pho (without browning the meat first, everything just cooked in stock with a pinch of pre-ground pumpkin pie spice)
                                                Grits or oatmeal with an egg cooked in it (I like sriracha, garlic oil, and sesame oil drizzled over the top).
                                                Fake tibs: beef cut in small peices, onion, and some kind of mild hot peppers, just sauteed together. If I'm feeling ambitious I'll also make fake injera: flour, salt, yeast, and add tap water to pancake consistency, cooked like a pancake.
                                                Crepes with something pre-made (ham, or ricotta, or cottage cheese and jam)
                                                Pasta with peas and shrimp, everything cooked together, drained, with Parmesan on top
                                                Sauteed onion and/or garlic mixed with canned beans, chopped ham, and a little tomato
                                                Fried rice if I've got cooked rice
                                                Pasta carbonara, as mentioned, bacon cooked in the toaster oven while the pasta cooks

                                                I got many other fantastic suggestions over here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/786727

                                                1. Boboli crust for me! I always keep one around. And I can always scrape up some toppping. Cheese is always in the house, maybe there's some red alfredo sauce, maybe just olive oil. Then whatever combo of meat and veggies and herbs that are around that suits me. Chicken and mushrooms, or ham, bacon and pineapple, etc... There's always a new way to top a pizza, and it's all ready in 15 minutes.

                                                  1. Frozen potatoes O'Brien with sliced kielbasa. Fry it up all together. My mom mad this growing up and it was a regular meal for me in college.

                                                    1. you're not alone re: frozen carrots. they've never tasted "right" to me.

                                                      as for my personal "slumming" habits, it depends on who's eating. if it's just me, there are nights i can make do with a protein shake...or a jar of almond butter and a spoon ;)

                                                      but i did actually slum it one night last week when i made dinner for Mom & Sis for the first time since July. Mom doesn't cook anymore, and the only thing my sister makes is reservations, so i'm in charge of the kitchen and of course the pantry here is stocked with all sorts of things i can't or won't eat - prepared & frozen foods, jarred sauces, pasta & bread. someone's gotta use it all, so one night last week when Mom & Sis actually wanted a meal (as opposed to noshing on junk) and i was finally feeling up to throwing something together for them, i defrosted some store-bought Kobe meatballs i found hiding in the depths of freezer, browned them in a bit of garlic oil, doctored up a jar of tomato sauce from the cupboard, cooked the meatballs in the sauce, seasoned & roasted some fresh broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms & zucchini...and dinner was served. i hated giving them something i hadn't prepared from scratch - particularly since i couldn't even taste the meatballs for seasoning since they contained breadcrumbs - but they enjoyed it.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                        jar of almond butter and a spoon:

                                                        my kind of dinner!!

                                                      2. Surprised that none has mentioned Top Ramen. (6 pkgs./$1). Just add some chopped veggies and chopped leftover beef, pork, chicken, or seafood.

                                                        Also fideo soup made with diluted tomato sauce spiced with salt, chile powder, cumin and garlic powder. Add some sauteed finely chopped onion and other veggies. Lightly fry the fideo and boil it in the sauce mixture for 4-5 minutes and it's ready.

                                                        1. I always keep beans frozen , mix em up with a pot of any grain and a few chopped veggies, voila, Dinner!

                                                          1. One of my favorite go-to meals when I'm tired, lazy, or short on time is Hungarian noodles.
                                                            Egg noodles with canned mushrooms, cottage cheese, a little sour cream & smoked paprika. Easy, satisfying comfort food. Sometimes I'll add some sauteed onions, or green onions & half a red pepper chopped. Or leftover rotisserie chicken.