Cupboard Cooking for the Lazy Chef

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I am a lazy cook—not all the time, but enough times to make this statement true. This doesn’t mean I intentionally make bad or tasteless food. It simply means that I often rely on the basic items in my cupboard for many on-the-fly meals, sometimes grabbing things from the shelves before having a clear idea of what I’m making. The usual suspects in my cupboard are: a can of plum tomatoes, a bag of bread crumbs, all purpose flour, ketchup, a can of tuna fish, a jar of marinara sauce, chicken broth, some sort of pasta, and a bag of onions. And these are five of my favorite lazy meals that I can make from them.

1. Marinara Sauce
A friend of mine who is a pretty darn good cook once told me the secret ingredient of his wonderful marinara sauce: a jar of ready made marinara sauce. He uses it as a base for his own delicious sauce because it already has all the spices he needs. He adds another can of tomatoes and sausages and then lets it slow cook for two or more hours. If he’s feeling especially fancy, he’ll throw in some red wine and fresh basil. Like chili, marinara sauce need not follow a rigid recipe every time you make it. But as long as you start with a decent base, it will come out tasting wonderful every time.

From the cupboard
One can of plum tomatoes
One jar of ready-made marinara sauce

Extra ingredients
Two or three links of sweet or hot Italian sausages
1 cup red wine
Fresh basil

Drain the tomatoes, dice them, and then set them aside. Place a large soup pot on a stove top and brown the sausages under a medium flame. Add the tomatoes and let it simmer for five minutes. Stir in the entire jar of marinara sauce and wine. Bring to a boil for five minutes and then reduce heat. Allow to slow cook for at least two hours. Check on your sauce every half hour and add some water if it looks too dry. Add fresh basil before serving over cooked pasta.

2. Tomato Soup
The recipe below is for a basic tomato soup that can be amended to suit your taste buds or mood.

From the cupboard
One can of plum tomatoes
4 cups of chicken broth
One medium-sized onion, chopped

Extra ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
One carrot, chopped
One stalk of celery, chopped
Two garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Place a large saucepan or pot on a stove top and heat up the butter, salt, and pepper over a medium flame. Add the onions and sauté for ten minutes. Add the garlic, celery, and carrot. Cook for an additional five minutes and then add the can of tomatoes. Reduce the heat and simmer for ten more minutes. Add the chicken broth and slow cook for one hour. Let it cool for twenty minutes, then mix in a blender until you get a smooth consistency. Reheat and serve.  

Or try this homemade tomato soup recipe, but substitute one large can of plum tomatoes for the fresh tomatoes and tomato puree. You can omit the bacon if it seems too decadent, or add a bit of heavy cream if that’s more your style.

3. Sloppy Joes
As one would expect, the words “lazy” and “sloppy” go hand in hand. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like a Sloppy Joe. It’s easy to make and fairly foolproof. I once accidentally poured some orange juice in the pan while the meat was simmering and it still turned out tasty.

From the cupboard
2 teaspoons mustard
1-1/2 cups ketchup
One medium sized onion, diced

Extra ingredients
2 pounds ground beef
One green bell pepper, diced
Hamburger bun or roll

Place a large skillet on a stove top and sauté the onions for ten minutes over a medium flame. Add the ground beef and cook until brown. Add 1-1/2 cups of ketchup and 2 teaspoons of mustard and sauté for another five minutes. Add green peppers and cook for another five minutes. Serve on a hamburger bun or roll.

4. Tuna Fish and Marinara Sauce
As strange as this combination sounds, it is quite tasty and wholly satisfying. And what better use of a can of tuna fish? It sure beats tuna fish salad. A friend of mine from Italy was staying with us for a while and made us dinner using these simple ingredients from our cupboard.

From the cupboard
One can of tuna fish
One jar of marinara sauce
One box of pasta

Extra ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
Two garlic cloves, finely chopped

Boil the pasta, drain it, and set it aside. Place a medium saucepan on a stove top and heat up the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the garlic, let it cook for a minute and then add a can of tuna fish. Sautee the tuna fish and garlic for a few minutes and then add half of the jar of marinara sauce. Let it simmer for five minutes and then add the pasta.

5. Onion Soup
This is such a simple dish and all you really need is a bag of onions—a cheap and delicious meal.

From the cupboard:
Four large onions, finely sliced

Extra ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups water
One loaf of French bread, sliced
Grated parmesan cheese

Place a large saucepan or pot on a stove top and heat up the butter, salt, and pepper over a low to medium flame. Add the onions and cook forty-five minutes to an hour. Stir the onions every ten or fifteen minutes to make sure they are browning and not burning. Add the water and let it simmer for thirty minutes. Serve with toasted sliced of French bread with parmesan cheese on top. 


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