Five “Fancy” Dinners: Down to Earth Dining #1


Burrito dinner

Burrito dinner

It’s all very well to aim for beautifully plated meals that feature sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus, and bechamel sauce. Dishing out delicious food to the family everyday, however, is another kettle of poisson fumé altogether. What can you dish out on a daily basis when the hungry hordes are rebelling against dal-chaawal-chapati? My sister-in-law recently put this question to me. Here are five ways to spice up your table with very little effort:

1. Burritos:
Place on table:

  • curd that’s been hung for 20 min-half an hour then seasoned with lemon juice and salt
  • shredded cooked chicken, or cooked minced lamb/beef/pork, or shredded beef/lamb/pork that has been cooked and seasoned only with jeera powder and salt, and maybe garlic if desired.
  • cooked rice (leftovers work great!)
  • finely chopped raw onion, tomato, and coriander, mixed and seasoned with salt and lemon juice
  • sweet corn niblets
  • shredded iceberg lettuce
  • cooked rajma, seasoned with salt (optional)
  • one or two maida rotis per person (if you’re lazy, pressed for time, or can’t make maida rotis, either buy fresh roomalis from a takeaway or buy a packet of tortillas and heat ’em up)

Each person assembles their own burrito based on individual taste. Start by spreading the yogurt in a strip down the center of the roti; follow with meat, rice, and other ingredients. Roll up, enjoy! Concept works for pita pouches as well. Just substitute pita bread and hummus for roti and curd, and omit the rajma altogether.

2. Chicken salad with bread

My favorite salad ingredient: celery

My favorite salad ingredient: celery

Mix together:

  • two cups cooked, shredded chicken seasoned with salt
  • finely chopped onion to taste
  • handful of finely chopped celery
  • a handful of sliced black olives
  • garlic to taste
  • two tablespoons of olive oil

When ready to eat, use scissors to coarsely cut a bowlful of washed, mixed lettuce leaves, place chicken mixture on top, toss with enough mayonnaise to moisten but not drown. Works well with tuna or boiled egg as well. Potato, if you’re a vegetarian. Serve with a good quality multigrain bread. This is a very filling meal! Add a milkshake… or finish with a bowl of cut fruit. Yum!

3. Burgers

Make-your-own burgers

Make-your-own burgers

Place minced lamb or beef in a food processor with salt and pepper, and process for 30 seconds to incorporate the fat – but not mince the meat too finely. You need the meat to contain between 15 and 25 percent fat. Shape into large but thin patties by hand, or use a burger press. Either grill until done, or shallow fry on medium heat with very little oil.  Remember that the heat will cause them to shrink. Do not press while frying. Remove from pan and keep warm.

In another frying pan, lightly fry onion rounds with a little salt and balsamic vinegar until the vinegar caramelizes.

Slice in half and lightly toast enough burger buns to satisfy family.

Place on table:

  • Fresh or lightly toasted burger buns (one or two per person)
  • Patties
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Sliced tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Fried onions
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Cheese slices
  • Dill pickles

Everyone assembles their own burgers. Serve with french fries and milkshake. This concept works well for self-assembled sandwiches too. Another idea: hotdogs and fries. Substitute the french fries with potato salad or oven-baked fries, omit the mayo – and this is a healthy meal. Sorry, I do not have a vegetarian option for this one, unless you count making a vegetable patty and sticking it in a burger bun.

4. Bakes

Baked anything topped with cheese

Baked anything topped with cheese

This is a favorite fallback in our home. A pasta, some meat, some veggies, white sauce, herbs maybe, top with grated cheese. Bake.

Precook any shape pasta of your choice. Pre-cook the meat with salt (if using seafood or salami, you don’t even need to do that) and cut into bite-sized pieces. Pre-cook veggies like spinach  or cauliflower and chop; don’t bother pre-cooking mushrooms or zuchinni. I do not recommend adding onion, peppers, or other seasonings; in my opinion,  seasonings should all be in the sauce, and the meat.My rule of thumb: no more than two veggies and one meat; or three veggies, no meat.

Mix the veggies and the meat with the sauce and the pasta. Bake until cooked through, then top generously with cheese. Put back in the oven and bake/grill until cheese is melted.

Veggies that work well: Zucchini, mushroom, sweet corn, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, babycorn, peppers

Veggies that do not work well: Carrots, cabbage, peas

Meats that work well: boneless veal, boneless chicken, boneless firm fish like seer, large prawns, minced beef/lamb, salami, sliced cooked sausage
Meats that do not work well: pork, un-minced beef/lamb

Variations:

  • Before mixing with other ingredients, add bottled pasta sauce to the white sauce for a different flavor
  • Make the white sauce with white wine and herbs
  • Stir Gruyere cheese into the white sauce

5. Thai-inspired chicken mince salad

  • Fry chicken mince with garlic to taste, NO SALT, until almost dry. Allow to cool.
  • Slice a small onion finely.
  • Mix together: Chicken, onion, a handful of mint leaves, one or two finely diced green chillis, fish sauce to taste, lemon juice to taste, and half a teaspoon of sugar. Allow  flavors to mingle for an hour or so.
  • Meanwhile soak a handful of raw rice in water. Just before serving, drain and crush the rice with a pestle. Sprinkle atop salad. Or, sprinkle a handful or crushed peanuts instead.

Serve with boiled rice noodles tossed in a tablespoon of sesame oil and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Let me know whether these worked for you – and share your own ideas too!

1. Burritos:
Place on table:

  • hung curd seasoned with lemon juice and salt
  • shredded chicken, or minced lamb, or shredded beef that has been cooked and seasoned with jeera powder and salt, and maybe garlic if desired.
  • cooked rice
  • finely chopped onion, tomato, coriander, mixed and seasoned with salt and lemon juice
  • sweet corn niblets
  • shredded iceberg lettuce
  • cooked rajma, seasoned with salt (optional OR can be cooked with the meat itself)
  • one or two maida rotis per person

Each person assembles their own burrito based on taste. Start by spreading the curd in a strip down the center of roti; follow with meat, rice, and other ingredients, roll up, enjoy! Concept works for pita pouches as well. Just substitute pita bread and hummus for roti and curd. Rajma can be omitted altogether.

2. Chicken salad with bread
Mix together:

  • cooked, shredded chicken seasoned with salt,
  • finely chopped onion to taste
  • handful of finely chopped celery
  • a handful of sliced black olives
  • garlic to taste
  • one tablespoon of olive oil

When ready to eat, use scissors to coarsely cut a bowlful of washed, mixed lettuce leaves, place chicken mixture on top, toss with enough mayonnaise to moisten but not drown. Works well with tuna or egg as well. Serve with a good, multigrain bread. Very filling meal!! Add a milkshake… or finish with a bowl of cut fruit. yum!

3. Burgers
Place minced lamb in food processor with salt and pepper, process till finely minced. The fattier the lamb, the better. Shape into large patties by hand, or use a burger press. Either grill, or shallow fry on med heat with very little oil.  Remember that the heat will cause them to shrink. Do not press while frying. remove from pan and keep warm.

In another frying pan, lightly fry onion rounds with a little salt and balsamic vinegar until vinegar caramelizes.

Slice in half and lightly toast enough burger buns to satisfy family.

place on table:

  • buns
  • patties
  • lettuce leaves
  • sliced tomatoes
  • fried onions
  • mustard
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise
  • cheese slices

Everyone assembles their own burgers. Serve with french fries and milkshake. Concept works well for self-assembled sandwiches too. You can also serve hotdogs and fries.

4. Bakes
A pasta, some meat, some veggies, white sauce, herbs maybe, top with cheese.

Veggies: Zucchini, mushroom, sweet corn, spinach (we had all these today!!!),cauliflower, broccoli,babycorn, peppers
Meats: boneless veal, boneless chicken, boneless firm fish like seer
Herbs: dill, spring onion,

DON’T DO: Carrots, cabbage
Variation: add pasta sauce (prego, ragu) to the white sauce for a different flavor.

Precook the pasta. Pre-cook the meat. Pre cook veggies like spinach  or cauliflower; not necessary to do mushrooms, zuke. Do not add onion, pepper, or other seasoning. seasoning should all be in the sauce, and the meat. Mix all ingredients. bake until cooked, top with cheese. bake/grill until cheese is melted.

I put lasagne in this category.

5. Mashed potato and…
… any grilled meat with either sauteed or boiled veggies. Favorite in our house:
Chicken legs or thighs marinated in BBQ sauce then grilled OR  fish burshed with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, and grilled.  Served with zucchini lightly sauteed in olive oil, mashed potato, and a simple lettuce-tomato-cucumber salad.

6. Thai chicken mince salad
Fry chicken mince with garlic, NO SALT, until almost dry. Allow to cool.
Slice a small onion finely.
Mix together: Chicken, onion, a handful of mint leaves, one or two finely diced green chillis, fish sauce to taste, lemon juice to tatse, and half a teaspoon of sugar.Allow  flavors to mingle for an hour or so.Meanwhile soak a handful of raw rice in water. Just before serving, drain and crush the rice with a pestle. Sprinkle atop salad. OR sprinkle a handful or crushed peanuts.

Serve with boiled rice noodles tossed in a tablespoon of sesame oil and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

7. Pasta dishes
Pasta, a meat, two veggies, red/white sauce.

Veggies: same as bakes, with the exception of babycorn and cauliflower.
Meats: Ditto, with the addition of prawns, sausage….

Precook pasta. Precook meat, seasoned to your taste.
Successful pasta lies in sauce. White OR out of a bottle OR mix both. Have fun with this!

Toss. Eat.1. Burritos:
Place on table:

  • hung curd seasoned with lemon juice and salt
  • shredded chicken, or minced lamb, or shredded beef that has been cooked and seasoned with jeera powder and salt, and maybe garlic if desired.
  • cooked rice
  • finely chopped onion, tomato, coriander, mixed and seasoned with salt and lemon juice
  • sweet corn niblets
  • shredded iceberg lettuce
  • cooked rajma, seasoned with salt (optional OR can be cooked with the meat itself)
  • one or two maida rotis per person

Each person assembles their own burrito based on taste. Start by spreading the curd in a strip down the center of roti; follow with meat, rice, and other ingredients, roll up, enjoy! Concept works for pita pouches as well. Just substitute pita bread and hummus for roti and curd. Rajma can be omitted altogether.

2. Chicken salad with bread
Mix together:

  • cooked, shredded chicken seasoned with salt,
  • finely chopped onion to taste
  • handful of finely chopped celery
  • a handful of sliced black olives
  • garlic to taste
  • one tablespoon of olive oil

When ready to eat, use scissors to coarsely cut a bowlful of washed, mixed lettuce leaves, place chicken mixture on top, toss with enough mayonnaise to moisten but not drown. Works well with tuna or egg as well. Serve with a good, multigrain bread. Very filling meal!! Add a milkshake… or finish with a bowl of cut fruit. yum!

3. Burgers
Place minced lamb in food processor with salt and pepper, process till finely minced. The fattier the lamb, the better. Shape into large patties by hand, or use a burger press. Either grill, or shallow fry on med heat with very little oil.  Remember that the heat will cause them to shrink. Do not press while frying. remove from pan and keep warm.

In another frying pan, lightly fry onion rounds with a little salt and balsamic vinegar until vinegar caramelizes.

Slice in half and lightly toast enough burger buns to satisfy family.

place on table:

  • buns
  • patties
  • lettuce leaves
  • sliced tomatoes
  • fried onions
  • mustard
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise
  • cheese slices

Everyone assembles their own burgers. Serve with french fries and milkshake. Concept works well for self-assembled sandwiches too. You can also serve hotdogs and fries.

4. Bakes
A pasta, some meat, some veggies, white sauce, herbs maybe, top with cheese.

Veggies: Zucchini, mushroom, sweet corn, spinach (we had all these today!!!),cauliflower, broccoli,babycorn, peppers
Meats: boneless veal, boneless chicken, boneless firm fish like seer
Herbs: dill, spring onion,

DON’T DO: Carrots, cabbage
Variation: add pasta sauce (prego, ragu) to the white sauce for a different flavor.

Precook the pasta. Pre-cook the meat. Pre cook veggies like spinach  or cauliflower; not necessary to do mushrooms, zuke. Do not add onion, pepper, or other seasoning. seasoning should all be in the sauce, and the meat. Mix all ingredients. bake until cooked, top with cheese. bake/grill until cheese is melted.

I put lasagne in this category.

5. Mashed potato and…
… any grilled meat with either sauteed or boiled veggies. Favorite in our house:
Chicken legs or thighs marinated in BBQ sauce then grilled OR  fish burshed with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, and grilled.  Served with zucchini lightly sauteed in olive oil, mashed potato, and a simple lettuce-tomato-cucumber salad.

6. Thai chicken mince salad
Fry chicken mince with garlic, NO SALT, until almost dry. Allow to cool.
Slice a small onion finely.
Mix together: Chicken, onion, a handful of mint leaves, one or two finely diced green chillis, fish sauce to taste, lemon juice to tatse, and half a teaspoon of sugar.Allow  flavors to mingle for an hour or so.Meanwhile soak a handful of raw rice in water. Just before serving, drain and crush the rice with a pestle. Sprinkle atop salad. OR sprinkle a handful or crushed peanuts.

Serve with boiled rice noodles tossed in a tablespoon of sesame oil and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

7. Pasta dishes
Pasta, a meat, two veggies, red/white sauce.

Veggies: same as bakes, with the exception of babycorn and cauliflower.
Meats: Ditto, with the addition of prawns, sausage….

Precook pasta. Precook meat, seasoned to your taste.
Successful pasta lies in sauce. White OR out of a bottle OR mix both. Have fun with this!

Toss. Eat.1. Burritos:
Place on table:

  • hung curd seasoned with lemon juice and salt
  • shredded chicken, or minced lamb, or shredded beef that has been cooked and seasoned with jeera powder and salt, and maybe garlic if desired.
  • cooked rice
  • finely chopped onion, tomato, coriander, mixed and seasoned with salt and lemon juice
  • sweet corn niblets
  • shredded iceberg lettuce
  • cooked rajma, seasoned with salt (optional OR can be cooked with the meat itself)
  • one or two maida rotis per person

Each person assembles their own burrito based on taste. Start by spreading the curd in a strip down the center of roti; follow with meat, rice, and other ingredients, roll up, enjoy! Concept works for pita pouches as well. Just substitute pita bread and hummus for roti and curd. Rajma can be omitted altogether.

2. Chicken salad with bread
Mix together:

  • cooked, shredded chicken seasoned with salt,
  • finely chopped onion to taste
  • handful of finely chopped celery
  • a handful of sliced black olives
  • garlic to taste
  • one tablespoon of olive oil

When ready to eat, use scissors to coarsely cut a bowlful of washed, mixed lettuce leaves, place chicken mixture on top, toss with enough mayonnaise to moisten but not drown. Works well with tuna or egg as well. Serve with a good, multigrain bread. Very filling meal!! Add a milkshake… or finish with a bowl of cut fruit. yum!

3. Burgers
Place minced lamb in food processor with salt and pepper, process till finely minced. The fattier the lamb, the better. Shape into large patties by hand, or use a burger press. Either grill, or shallow fry on med heat with very little oil.  Remember that the heat will cause them to shrink. Do not press while frying. remove from pan and keep warm.

In another frying pan, lightly fry onion rounds with a little salt and balsamic vinegar until vinegar caramelizes.

Slice in half and lightly toast enough burger buns to satisfy family.

place on table:

  • buns
  • patties
  • lettuce leaves
  • sliced tomatoes
  • fried onions
  • mustard
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise
  • cheese slices

Everyone assembles their own burgers. Serve with french fries and milkshake. Concept works well for self-assembled sandwiches too. You can also serve hotdogs and fries.

4. Bakes
A pasta, some meat, some veggies, white sauce, herbs maybe, top with cheese.

Veggies: Zucchini, mushroom, sweet corn, spinach (we had all these today!!!),cauliflower, broccoli,babycorn, peppers
Meats: boneless veal, boneless chicken, boneless firm fish like seer
Herbs: dill, spring onion,

DON’T DO: Carrots, cabbage
Variation: add pasta sauce (prego, ragu) to the white sauce for a different flavor.

Precook the pasta. Pre-cook the meat. Pre cook veggies like spinach  or cauliflower; not necessary to do mushrooms, zuke. Do not add onion, pepper, or other seasoning. seasoning should all be in the sauce, and the meat. Mix all ingredients. bake until cooked, top with cheese. bake/grill until cheese is melted.

I put lasagne in this category.

5. Mashed potato and…
… any grilled meat with either sauteed or boiled veggies. Favorite in our house:
Chicken legs or thighs marinated in BBQ sauce then grilled OR  fish burshed with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, and grilled.  Served with zucchini lightly sauteed in olive oil, mashed potato, and a simple lettuce-tomato-cucumber salad.

6. Thai chicken mince salad
Fry chicken mince with garlic, NO SALT, until almost dry. Allow to cool.
Slice a small onion finely.
Mix together: Chicken, onion, a handful of mint leaves, one or two finely diced green chillis, fish sauce to taste, lemon juice to tatse, and half a teaspoon of sugar.Allow  flavors to mingle for an hour or so.Meanwhile soak a handful of raw rice in water. Just before serving, drain and crush the rice with a pestle. Sprinkle atop salad. OR sprinkle a handful or crushed peanuts.

Serve with boiled rice noodles tossed in a tablespoon of sesame oil and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

7. Pasta dishes
Pasta, a meat, two veggies, red/white sauce.

Veggies: same as bakes, with the exception of babycorn and cauliflower.
Meats: Ditto, with the addition of prawns, sausage….

Precook pasta. Precook meat, seasoned to your taste.
Successful pasta lies in sauce. White OR out of a bottle OR mix both. Have fun with this!

Toss. Eat.

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4 thoughts on “Five “Fancy” Dinners: Down to Earth Dining #1

  1. Lol, the baked anything is my favourite fallback. Though I’m rather lazy and tend to stick to spinach and/or chicken. Needed all the others. Thanks!

  2. Rash: You can really dress these up and make ’em look and taste sexy (as well as trick your family into believing that the same bake is four different dishes) by varying the kind of cheese you use; by topping with thinly sliced tomatoes and then topping with cheese; by covering with dry breadcrumbs after the cheese has melted a bit; and by topping with mashed potato instead of, or even under, the cheese.

  3. Great ideas Suman. I plan to try out the Burritos very very soon. I’m trying out the bake soon and need a good white sauce recipe. Is it a good idea to add maida or cornflour to thicken it or just loads of cheese? Need a no fail recipe 🙂

    • Yamini: Depends on whether you’re on a diet or not! A classic bechamel sauce (fancy name for white sauce) is made thus:
      Simmer 1 cup milk and 1 bayleaf over low heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, so it doesn’t burn. Melt 2 tbsp butter (again, use low heat) in another thick-bottomed pan, and add 2 tbsp flour as soon as the “butter bubbles” subside. Stir constantly, or it’ll get all lumpy. After, say 30 seconds, remove from heat, and whisk in a little of the milk from the other pan. Return to heat and bring to a simmer. Keep adding milk and whisking. It’ll thicken pretty quick; I cook mine for appx. 5 minutes. This is when you can add the cheese, if you like. Be sure that it’s grated, NOT chopped into bits. Season with salt, pepper, and dried or fresh herbs.

      If you want to make your white sauce with cornstarch, simmer 1 cup milk and 1 bayleaf over low heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, so it doesn’t burn. In a small bowl, blend 2 tbsp of cornstarch with a little cold milk to make a smooth, not-too-thick, not-too-runny paste. Carefully drizzle this mixture into the saucepan of simmering milk, stirring all the time. Cook for 3-5 minutes, (add grated cheese now, if you like) then season as desired. WARNING: This will not taste as good as the classic sauce. Nothing that’s good for you ever does!

      Cheese alone will not sufficiently thicken milk. You will have to add starch of some kind. Hope this helps!

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