We can’t always cook with a recipe
Here at PB&J, we love recipes! We love writing them. We love testing them. We love teaching them, and cooking from them, and eating the results! But life is busy, and complex, and sometimes, recipes just aren’t the right way to get a meal on the table. We’ve got a few helpful tricks to help you work without a safety net.
We like to think of balanced un-recipe meals as a sort of formula. It breaks down roughly like this:
A protein + A vegetable + A whole grain = A pretty darn good meal
You can add some more veggies (of course, we highly recommend that), maybe a sauce, maybe add a salad, maybe get crazy and add some whole fruit, but the general structure stays the same. That’s it.
Assess the situation:
What do you have around? What’s in the pantry? What’s in the freezer? What do you have that you can eat up?! Have some chicken thighs and potatoes? Great, make a pan bake. Have some shrimp and peppers and onions? Well that’s just begging to be made into fajitas!
Use one heat source:
We like to use the K.I.S.S. method (Keep It Simple, Silly). One way to do that is to use one source of heat for all of your cookery in that meal. If you’re roasting your chicken, go ahead and roast your broccoli too. Sautéing the shrimp? Sear up some summer squash and onions! Grilling that salmon? Grill some skewers of veggies, too! You get the idea.
Use one pot/pan to do the work:
Another K.I.S.S. method we swear by is limiting the number of big, heavy pans you have to clean up after the meal! Why not just use one?! We love a good pan bake (aka a sheet pan dinner). What’s a pan bake? It’s when you spread out all of your ingredients on one sheet pan, and roast it all at the same time! For bonus points, you can also line your sheet pan with foil or parchment to make clean up even easier!
We also love stir-fries and fajitas as fast, flavorful one-pan options. Just add a small amount of oil (1 tbsp or less) to a hot pan and cook the veggies, then add the meat, all in one pan!
What should I use?
Some of our favorite, easy proteins:
- Boneless, skinless chicken cuts (breast, thighs, tenders): takes marinades, sauces, and seasoning well. Roast or grill them whole, or slice or dice into bite-sized pieces to add to a stir-fry.
- Canned beans: are delicious when warmed up a bit with some seasonings, or stewed for a bit longer. Chick peas are delicious when roasted, too!
- Salmon filets: do great in the oven, but also on the grill (if you’re careful!)
- Shrimp: Are awesome in stir-frys, and cook very quickly! Skewer them together and throw them on the grill!
- Pork tenderloin: cooks quickly whole or even quicker if cut into large sections
- Lentils: super-fast cooking and take on flavors extremely well!
Some of our favorite, fast-cooking veggies:
- Sliced or chopped carrots: Great roasted or stir-fried, we love them in fajitas, too!
- Sliced or chopped peppers: Adds a pop of sweetness to anything!
- Sliced or chopped summer squash or zucchini: cooks quickly, if the seeds are too large, simply remove them before cooking!
- Asparagus: one of our favorite veggies to roast or grill.
- Broccoli florets: roasted broccoli will change your life! (Maybe, no scientific data available on this).
- Low-sodium soy sauce: we love it in stir-fries, or in a marinade!
- Pesto: tastes great when tossed on whole-wheat pastas or roasted veggies, and makes a great sauce for lean proteins!
- Peanut/satay sauce: you can make your own or buy from the store. Adds a ton of flavor to everything!
- Vinegar & lemon: just a little goes a long way to brightening up your food. We recommend a little acid at the end of cooking fajitas, stews/soups, and spritzed over grilled meats!
- Sriracha/hot sauce: adds a little zip without complicating things!
- Herbs: fresh or dried, they add a ton of flavor without any calories or sodium! Find your favorite, or buy a pre-blended bottle like Italian herbs or Montreal seasoning.
- Adobo seasoning: we love adobo, but it is high in sodium. Just a few pinches add a lot of flavor to roasted meats or veggies!