A Winning Formula that Generates Countless Dishes

A Winning Formula that Generates Countless Dishes | Weeknight Italian Chicken Pasta from LaughterandLemonade.com

This Weeknight Italian Chicken Pasta is so simple, I’m not even going to give you a recipe. Well… I am, but not a traditional recipe. It’s more of a formula. A framework. It’s for your own good.

You see, I read a really interesting article the other day titled The Myth of Easy Cooking. Tag line: “An entire industry has been built on the premise that creating gourmet meals at home is simple and effortless. But it isn’t true.”

Dang. It made some seriously good points. For one, when you go to make a marketed “30 minute meal” recipe or even one of Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals, you still have to run to the grocery store on your lunch break, after work, or on the weekend. You have to hope they have all the ingredients you need in that one store. You still have to prep, wash, chop, cook, clean up, AND put away dishes. And when you’re not familiar with the recipe, you have to read it as you cook. Not to mention, before any of this can happen, you have to pick out the recipe you want to make so you know what you’re going to buy before you go to the store. It all takes time.

Now I’m not at all saying that cooking for yourself isn’t worth it. It TOTALLY is. But it reminded me, cooking always takes some effort. Especially for those who don’t know how to or who don’t enjoy cooking.

The article also made me reflect on my offering of “super easy!”, “quick and fast!”, or “gourmet at home!” dishes. Is cooking (especially to a non-cook) ever really easy and simple? Heck, when it’s just me eating and my husband isn’t home? I’ve totally gone to Trader Joe’s for some frozen meals (buffed up with some veggies so I feel less guilty of course). There may have also been some meals of a couple slices of my go-to avocado toast, or oatmeal, or eggs and toast, or a smoothie, or re-heating leftovers.

And really, what’s wrong with that? Nothing. A simple pasta with sauce or PB&J can be way better (in calories, nutrients, and on your wallet) than what you’re gonna get if you always stop for carry out or if you’re always buying frozen meal helpers. It’s no mystery why we are so conditioned to think that elaborate is better when we have all of these cooking magazines, blogs (guilty), food shows, Instagram pics, and Pinterest pins telling us how easy gourmet, chef-worthy cooking at home is.

While I’ve committed to trying to simplify my cooking, the more underlying goal is to take the pressure off. To focus on other things. To accept the reality that I don’t have much time at night after a full day’s work, getting some exercise, I’m usually pretty tired, and I want to have a life outside of working, cooking, and cleaning. #beingagrownup

So me not giving you a traditional recipe and saying it’s “for your own good”, is me trying to teach you to cook versus give you a recipe. Cause if you know how to cook, cooking gets less intimidating. Then, it DOES get easier. Feel simpler. When you’re empowered to cook up a dish on your own without a recipe, it just takes away that many more obstacles keeping you from preparing your own healthy dinner after work. It’s like looking at a complex problem and picking one part to focus on to start to resolve the issue. One. thing. at. a. time.

So yes, I know this recipe isn’t ground breaking. You could have totally thought of it on your own. Maybe you make this kinda thing on the reg, but think of it as inspiration for what to throw together if you’re lost in the kitchen, feel uninspired, or overwhelmed with trying to be healthy in 2016. Make a dish like this that’s got your veggies, your protein, and (my favorite) those comforting Italian flavors. When you’re done with bowl of this after work you’ll feel totally nourished.

Take that, glorious Pinterest-worthy bowl filled to the brim of 17 different veggies roasted, grilled, raw, pickled, and carved into a the shape of a rose, with homemade dressing, cooked grains, and homemade hummus to top <<phew!>>. Sure, for entertaining or cooking on weekend lazy days, but not for my everyday workweek grind.

Here’s the recipe framework. Learn this and you’ll have and endless possibility of weeknight meals. I’ve included details on how to work in the kitchen to save time.

  1. Get your pasta water boiling and heat a large sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. While those are heating up, chop up some veggies* and if you want, some protein**.
  3. Cook pasta according to the package directions. To the sauté pan add some fat (olive oil, coconut oil, butter, whatever you like) then the protein and veggies. Season with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally until cooked through… it should take about the same amount of time as the pasta.
  4. Drain the cooked pasta and add it to the sauté pan. Add some marinara sauce. Stir around just until heated through.
  5. For me, the dish is only complete after it’s got a lil parmesan cheese on top.

If the veg/protein cooks before the pasta is done, just turn the heat to low or warm while you wait. If the pasta finishes first, just drain it and return it to the pan on the stove. Add a little pasta sauce just so the noodles don’t stick together. Turn the heat off and cover with a lid. Let it sit while the veg/protein finishes. No biggie.

*For veggies think anything. Bell pepper, mushroom, broccoli, carrot, green beans, spinach, kale, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, red onion, green onion, asparagus, tomatoes, bok choy, cauliflower, jalapeno, peas, swiss chard, corn, seriously, you name it.

How much? I usually pick 1-3 different veg. Too many more and you’ll be making a ton of food. That’s fine if you’re cooking for a family! But if it’s for just yourself or just you and a partner, pick only a few veggies. For example, if you pick mushrooms and broccoli like me, by the time you buy a small package of mushrooms and a small head of broccoli, you’ve got a ton of veg if you’re cooking for 1! Probably too much. So either double your pasta/protein for leftovers or use half the mushroom package and half the broccoli head.

**For the protein? Try chicken breast, chicken thigh, edamame, tofu, tempeh, pork chop, sliced beef labeled “stir fry” or any other “quick cooking” tender beef, flavored chicken sausage, ground beef, ground chicken, ground turkey, shrimp, canned tuna, canned salmon. Again, it’s endless.

How much? Usually about 2-4 oz of meat per person will do, depending on how hungry you are and how much food you want to make.

Lastly, keep in mind the smaller you chop the veg & protein, the quicker they cook. Also, try to cut them into somewhat even sizes so they all finish cooking at the same time.

How much pasta? Depends on your appetite and activity level. When I’m beefing up pasta with protein and veg, I generally cook 1/3 – 1/2 cup (measured dry) of any small-shaped pasta like elbow macaroni or small shells. For any large-shaped pasta like rigatoni or farfalle, I cook 3/4 – 1 cup (measured dry) per person. For spaghetti I usually go about 2 oz (measured dry) per person. The best way to tell how much is enough is to eat slowly, and notice your fullness. Wait 10-20 minutes after the meal to really determine your hunger/fullness level. If you’re way too full when you’re done, take note and next time make less. If you’re still hungry after, take note and next time make more. If you wake up the next morning starving, take note too. Again, learn as you go and adjust accordingly.

Some examples of dishes you can make with this formula:

  • broccoli + cremini mushroom + chicken breast + elbow macaroni (pictured)
  • green and red bell pepper + Italian chicken sausage + farfalle
  • kale + edamame + spaghetti
  • spinach + carrot + ground beef + thin spaghetti
  • shitake mushrooms + baby bok choy + penne
  • eggplant + shallot + ground turkey + rigatoni
  • tomato + spinach + shrimp + angel hair

A Winning Formula that Generates Countless Dishes | Weeknight Italian Chicken Pasta from LaughterandLemonade.com

Now get going on learning how to cook, how much, what ingredients to pick, and if you made too much or too little. Learning these things take time. They don’t happen overnight! (<– That’s where that compassion piece from your New Year’s Resolution comes in. If you have no idea what I’m talking about refer my New Year’s Day post.) Seriously, just do it. After all, it’s for your own good.

Weeknight Italian Chicken Pasta
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Cooking actually feels somewhat easy or simple when you know how to cook. This recipe is the framework for any veggie/protein pasta with Italian marinara sauce. It's intended to help you learn to cook without a recipe, so it's not super specific. Read the post above to learn the method which will help you know how much to cook and will allow you to create an endless amount of easy, weeknight dinners.
  • elbow macaroni
  • mushrooms
  • broccoli
  • chicken
  • marinara sauce
  • parmesan cheese, for topping
  1. Heat water in a pot (to boil pasta) and heat large sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Chop veggies and protein.
  3. Cook pasta according to directions. Add oil then veggies and protein to the sauté pan, stirring occasionally until cooked through.
  4. Add cooked pasta and sauce to the pan of veggies and protein. Stir until heated through. Serve with parmesan cheese.

Share what dish you’ve made from this formula by leaving a comment below!

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