There are times when I thoroughly enjoy cooking dinner from an involved, complicated, picky recipe. But much more often, I just want to dump a few things together and be done. Fortunately, over time I've developed an arsenal of recipes that don't require careful measuring or exact amounts. So here are a few of my favorite recipes. I've included measurements with each, in case you need more specifics for the first time you make these dishes, but chances are you'll be just fine winging it even the very first time. Happy cooking!!
APPETIZERS AND SIDES
The short version: Toss together some diced tomatoes, shredded basil leaves, grated Parmesan, minced garlic, a generous splash of balsamic vinegar and a splash of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Slice up some French bread and toast in the oven at 425 degrees for 3-4 minutes and top with tomato mixture.
The "real" recipe amounts: 8 Roma tomatoes, 1/3 cup basil, 1/4 cup Parmesan, 2 cloves (or 2 teaspoons) garlic, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 loaf French bread.
Triple Treat Salad
The short version: Cut up a bunch of broccoli (florets only) and toss with a package of pre-cooked bacon, crisped and crumbled, and a bag of shredded cheddar. Whisk together a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise and equal amounts of red wine vinegar and sugar (adjust amounts to taste) and pour over the salad, mixing well. Let marinade in the fridge for a few hours to overnight for best flavor.
The "real" recipe amounts: two medium-sized heads of broccoli, 10 slices of bacon, 2 cups of cheese, 1/2 cup mayo, 4 tablespoons each red wine vinegar and sugar.
Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes
The short version: Mix together equal parts melted butter and olive oil and add some dried rosemary. Splash a little in the bottom of a baking dish. Slice a few sweet potatoes very thinly and arrange vertically in the baking dish. Pour the remaining oil over. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and roast at 400 degrees for an hour, then increase temperature to 450, remove foil, and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes, until browned and crisp (watch carefully to avoid burning).
The "real" amounts: 3-4 sweet potatoes, 3 tablespoons each butter and olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon rosemary.
The short version: Throw some chicken breasts in the crockpot for 3 hours on high. Drain liquid, cut into bite-size chunks, and return to crockpot. Mix together equal amounts of sweet orange marmalade and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, plus a generous splash of soy sauce, and pour over chicken. Leave on high for 30 more minutes. Serve over rice.
The "real" recipe amounts: 4 chicken breasts, 3/4 cup each marmalade and BBQ sauce, 2 tablespoons soy sauce.
The short version: Brown some ground beef; season with salt and pepper and drain fat. Place in deep baking dish. Cover with a generous layer of frozen corn and then a thick layer of mashed potatoes. Top with shredded cheddar cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 30 minutes, removing foil for last 5 minutes to brown.
The "real" amounts: 1 lb. ground beef, 2 cups corn, 6 servings mashed potatoes, 1-1/2 cups cheese.
Chicken Taco Salad
The short version: Heat equal amounts of butter and vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season some chicken breasts with your seasoning of choice (taco mix powder and Montreal Chicken Seasoning both work well) and cook on both sides until done on the inside (about 4 minutes per side). Cool for 10 minutes then cut into bite-sized chunks. Dump some frozen corn into the same pan, tossing it in the seasoned oil and scraping up the browned bits. Cook until thawed and warmed. Layer together shredded lettuce, chicken, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese, corn, chopped cilantro, and top with some crushed tortilla chips. Feel free to add chunks of avocado, black beans, green onions, or any other veggies you like. Serve with ranch dressing with some salsa mixed in (whatever spiciness you prefer), and a little cilantro as well, if you like.
The "real" amounts: 2 whole chicken breasts, 2 tablespoons seasoning, 3 tablespoons each vegetable oil and butter, 1 head Romaine lettuce, 2 tomatoes, 2 cups shredded cheese, 1-1/2 cups corn, 1/2 cup cilantro, 3/4 cup ranch dressing, 1/4 cup salsa (even the real recipe doesn't list a measurement for the tortilla chips).
The short version: Soften some butter and mix it with some lemon zest, minced fresh dill, and black pepper. Place on plastic wrap and form into a log, sealing the wrap snugly. Place in fridge until 30 minutes before serving salmon. Divide some salmon into individual servings and brush with olive oil then sprinkle with salt (on both sides). Rub a little olive oil on your grill grates with a paper towel and preheat to medium-high. Reduce heat to medium and grill the salmon skin-side down for 6 minutes, then flip and cook for an additional 6 minutes. Serve topped with a pat of the herb butter and a squeeze of lemon juice.
The "real" amounts: 1/2 cup butter, zest of 1 lemon, 2-3 tablespoons fresh dill, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1-1/2 lbs. salmon (divided into 4 pieces).
Sweet Apple Dip
The short version: Mix together 2 parts vanilla yogurt, 2 parts creamy peanut butter, and 1 part honey and blend well. Use for dipping slices of tart and sweet crispy apples.
The "real" amounts: 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup peanut butter, 2 tablespoons honey.
The short version: Mix together a box of yellow or spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin puree. Spoon into a muffin tin lined with paper liners. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.
The "real" amounts: 1 box cake mix, 1 can pumpkin. (Duh.)
The short version: Soften up some mint chocolate chip ice cream and spread in a pre-made chocolate pie crust. Chill in freezer for at least 1 hour. Serve with chocolate sauce and/or whipped cream, if desired.
The "real" amounts: 1 crust, most of a half-gallon of ice cream, a few squirts of Hershey's chocolate syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.