By Matthew Harvey
You’ve made that ever-constant New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and eat at home more often. You have every intention of doing that, at least for a few weeks.
But what to cook?
What can you make that is satisfying, simple and healthy?
Well, let’s slow that down to just simple and satisfying for a minute. Healthy can wait. It waited through the holidays; it can hold off at least a couple more meals. But what to cook? How do we keep it simple? That’s easy. And if you’re cooking for just yourself, a few people, or you’ve decided to have a block party, here are a few things I like to make during the colder months of the year.
Simple Sausage Potato Bake
This really is a very simple dish that’s been passed down in my family for quite some time and may even be in your family.
It requires 3 ingredients and two seasonings.
How great is that? Now let me set expectations on this. While prep time is simple, it does take a bit of time to cook, so patience is needed.
-Linked sausage (I prefer a nice garlic sausage, but have fun)
-Potatoes , about 5 or 6 small ones, I used either red Russet or Yukon gold (ok, so I like to be a little fancy, who doesn’t?
For this, I recommend a yellow onion, the flatter the better. Look for one that looks like the flying saucers you always see on those old tv shows. They hold in flavor a bit better, or at least that’s been my experience.
For the seasoning:
-One stick of Butter
That’s it. No, seriously, that’s it. That’s all you need. Now we’re cooking.
Once home, wash the potatoes. I prefer to leave the skin on, but hey, that’s me, do what you want. Slice the sausage and potatoes into rounds, or coin shaped pieces; we don’t want halves or quarters here… and chop the onion.
You’ll want to cut the entire stick of butter into squares, I use the tablespoon lines just to make them even. Now grab a casserole dish, or a small rectangular pan and layer.
I start with a layer of sausage then lay down a layer of potatoes then onion then a small dusting of the granulated garlic. Just enough to cover the layers, then repeat until you’re out of ingredients. Once done, add the pats or squares of butter to the top, evenly spread out across everything.
Have your oven preheated to about 400 degrees and set a timer for 30 minutes. You’ll want to cover it with either a lid or aluminum foil.
Once the oven is heated, place the covered dish into the oven and start the timer. After 30 minutes, pull it out of the oven and stir everything up until it’s nice and mixed, then place it back into the oven uncovered for another 30 minutes. This is going to allow some of the moisture to escape, which is ok, we’re not making a soup, and some of the sausage pieces are getting nice and charred. It’s so worth it. During this second 30 minutes, you can watch a show, read a magazine article like this one, go find a yo-yo, I mean it’s your time.
Once the second timer goes off, or you’ve realized another 30 minutes has passed had you not set a timer, remove it from the oven.
It’s going to be a wonderfully delicious meal for everyone. You only need bowls, forks, and napkins (come on now, we do have some manners). And again, have fun with it. Use a spicy sausage if you prefer, or a different kind of potato. It’s going to be good regardless.
If you don’t like garlic, use a little season-all. If you don’t like butter, well, I really don’t have anything for that, I mean its butter. That’s almost as bad as saying you don’t like bacon, and that’s just wrong. I suppose you could try margarine, or a butter like spread, or no butter, that might be a thing too, somewhere, with some people. Heck, there may be some of you out there that want to use plant-based sausage, and you know what? You can. It’s your meal. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the plant-based meat movement, but I’m old school. Enjoy!
Nana’s All Warming Chili and Meemaw’s Yankee Doodle Chili (it has beans)
Now for our next meal, I’m pulling one out of the family archives. The recipe was given to me by my grandmother, and nothing she ever taught me to cook has been bad. The same can probably be said about your grandmother. The food rocked, no matter what it was, and always brings a memory to you when cooking.
If not, find a grandmother and have her teach you some old family recipes. Trust me, like we were told in the Disney movie “Ratatouille,” anyone can cook. This next dish, can start a fight with some folks. There are definitely different ways to do this. It’s chili. It’s the staple of cold weather food. There are different variations, different recipes, different ingredients, additives, heat levels, etc. There’s really no wrong way to cook chili, except maybe Cincinnati-style. I don’t know what that is, but it’s not chili.
But anyway, while there are more ways to make chili than there probably are to make a grilled cheese sandwich, I’m only going to go with two variations. The one my grandmother taught to me, and the one my wife learned from her family.
The ingredients for the first chili are simple:
-Bell peppers, red, yellow and green
-Garlic (both minced and granulated)
– Ground beef
– Tomato sauce
– Tomato paste
The other is similar, but my wife was taught to add beans. She uses chili beans, kidney beans, and black beans.
Also, if you plan to use beans, then you don’t need as much ground beef, or whichever ground meat you use.
Again, I’m a purest here, and this is my grandmother’s recipe. We also use different colors of bell peppers, as they each have subtly different flavors to add to this party.
Start simple, in a pot, or a Dutch oven, sauté the onion, minced garlic, and bell peppers with a little olive oil or butter and begin cooking them down.
Let them get soft, we want soft, soft is good. This should be done on a medium heat. Once done, add the ground beef. If you don’t plan to use beans, you’re looking at roughly 5 pounds of ground meat. If you use beans, then do with about 2 to 2 and a half. I’ve been used to using the leaner meat, the 90/10 split, and I prefer the ground sirloin, but ground chuck is good too. Stir occasionally since we’re trying to brown all the meat here.
It needs to get cooked.
No one wants a medium rare chili.
Once the meat is browned, then we add the chili powder. How much?
Well, this is where my grandmother comes in.
She never did anything using actual measurements. I mean, seriously, whose grandmother actually used exact measurements.
You add enough until the liquid inside the chili pot is dark red.
My recommendation here is to add, stir, and let it sit until the liquid starts pulling. If it’s not dark red, add more and stir. But do this in little steps at a time, you don’t want to start with a whole jar, and realize you’ve added too much and have that one friend or family member never let you live it down. Ever.
Once you have that nice red liquid, add in, I’d say a couple of teaspoons worth of cumin and mix it in.
If you’re not able to taste any, add a little more. After the cumin is added, add in the diced tomatoes, the tomato sauce and about half a can of tomato paste. With diced tomatoes, or the tomato sauce, there are some fun options.
You can find some infused with garlic, or fire-roasted. You really can’t go wrong.
I’ve tried them myself and I love the flavors they add. I mean for me, the more garlic the better. It’s healthy and does good things for you.
Look at that, there’s that eating healthier resolution.
From there, add in the granulated garlic and a couple of pinches of salt, stir, cover, and simmer.
Now for my bean folks, once you add in the seasonings and tomatoes, then add in a can of kidney beans, chili beans, and black beans with the juices.
Stir in and cover and simmer.
The chili needs to then simmer on low heat for about an hour.
This is going to give all the flavors a chance to blend together. It can also temper down any unwanted spiciness. I’d say every 10 or 15 minutes, give it a stir and a taste. Make sure the seasoning and salt level are to your liking. If you make it too salty? Well, actually, add a bit of water, it helps dilute it a little. During this time, go back to that tv show, or magazine article, or the new yo-yo tricks you’ve taught yourself. Heck, make a tik-tok, snapchat, or youtube video of your new great cooking skills (just leave a bit of credit over my way). Once the hour is up, uncover and you should see something amazing.
If you’re not hosting a lot of people, well, you will have leftovers, but guess what? That’s ok too. More for you for later. That’s less cooking you have to do overall. So, you’ve conquered yet another resolution, be thriftier with your money. You won’t be going out to eat, resolution 1 done, you’re cooking more, resolution 2 done, eating healthier, resolution 3, and wait, saving money, resolution 4.
You’ve just conquered New Years in two meals.
Sharon’s Savory Potato Soup
Every year, at this time, my wife makes her potato soup. There are some people out there who really love a good soup. It’s a simple dish, that requires just a few ingredients.
-Yukon gold potatoes
– 1 to 1 ½ cups Milk
-16 ounces of Chicken broth
– Minced garlic
-1 or 2 cups of Cheese
(Almost any cheese will do. You can use Cheddar, Colby Jack, Monterey Jack, Colby, just about any of them.)
Peel, wash, and cube the potatoes, grate the cheese if you bought a block rather than the pre-grated cheese, and clean and chop the leaks. These little veggies can get really dirty, so pay special attention to them when you’re cleaning them.
Add in the broth, just enough to cover the potatoes.
Turn the heat up to get a good boil going and add in the leaks and garlic while it’s boiling.
After several minutes, maybe 10 or 15 minutes, use a fork to test to see how soft the potatoes are.
This is similar to making mashed potatoes.
Once they are all soft, meaning you can pull a fork in and out with little to no effort, then remove them from the heat and mash while adding the milk and cheese, as you would mashed potatoes.
You only need about 1 to 1 and a half cups of milk, and 1 to 2 cups of cheese, remember, it’s like mashed potatoes, but is not mashed potatoes. Unlike mashed potatoes, leave some lumps. If it’s not soupy enough, you can add in more milk or broth and let it simmer, and then you’re done. Soup is made.
If you want a little extra treat, if you have any of the sausage and potatoes you made earlier left over, throw some of the sausage into the soup. It adds a ton of extra flavor to the soup. It’s so good you’ll wish you made them at the same time. Which, hey, you can do depending on what kind of time you have.
You can spice it up, or down depending on your pallet.
These are just a few of some simple family recipes from our table to yours that we’ve enjoyed for years, and in some case generations.
They are simple to make, but just require a bit of patience to fully enjoy. And just like that, you’ve made some good food to keep you nourished and warm.
Matthew Harvey is a father of two, who enjoys cooking and sharing his love of food with others. He left the restaurant industry early on and embarked on a long career in IT before eventually moving to the small, but quaint town of Bandera, Texas with his wife and two teenage kids. He feels that no recipe is too secret or sacred that it cannot be shared. Be it family recipes, recipes he’s come up with or things he’s found on the internet, he loves to share what he’s learned with other people. He has never lost his passion for cooking or his love of making people laugh while sharing what’s he’s done or made for others.