Organizing Dinner is dedicated to helping people get more homemade dinners to the table with fewer trips to the store. We offer you recipes here on our blog and in our cookbooks, strategies for organized dinner success on our website, and in-home cooking classes.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Smart" Ingredients

At my cooking classes and cooking demos, and in 70 Meals, One Trip to the Store, I talk about the concept of how less = more. Specifically, how fewer ingredients can lead to more mealtime success. The key is knowing what ingredients to buy. To start, you have to learn your family's "Smart" ingredients. 

In our house, if I have a can of diced tomatoes on hand or some chicken broth (and I always try), dinner is a breeze. These two simple (and cheap!) ingredients are the base of so many sure-fire dishes for my family. If I have rice, I know I can use the broth, any veggies I have on hand and some shrimp out of the freezer to make an easy weeknight risotto. If I have some leftover rotisserie chicken, the broth will help me make a delicious pot pie. If I have pasta, the can of tomatoes opens up a world of options. If I have fish fillets, or chicken breasts, I know the tomatoes combined with some frozen spinach or jarred artichokes will make a nice sautee.   

Tortillas are another item I buy every time I go to the store. Why? Because I know my family will eat anything wrapped up in a good quality flour tortilla. Chicken combined with lettuce and caesar dressing for caesar wraps, ground beef browned with taco seasoning for soft shell tacos, chicken fajitas... you get the idea.  

Pay attention to the common themes in the your family's sure-fire dinners, and make it a habit of stocking up on those ingredients or buying them every time you go to the store. It will save you time and energy wondering what to make for dinner and lead you to greater dinner success. In the meanwhile, try stocking up on my two top picks and see if they don't bring you some needed relief. Following are some recipes that use my smart ingredients. 

Chicken Pot Pie


  • Leftover roasted chicken, 2 cups
  • Leftover roasted potatoes, 1 cup diced
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup diced onions
  • 2 cups mixed veggies (peas, carrots and corn)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 14 oz chicken broth

Heat oven to 425°F. Bring refrigerated pie crusts to room temperature. Place one crust in bottom of a 9-inch pie pan.

In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened. Stir in chicken and mixed vegetables. Remove from heat. Spoon chicken mixture into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute. Cut slits in several places in top crust. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. During last 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

Basic Risotto Recipe

*Note: Arborio rice is the "recommended" rice for making risotto as it best provides the chewy texture risotto is known for. If you're looking for a quick weeknight meal with ingredients you have at home, any rice will do. If you're using quick-cook rice, the cooking time will be a bit less.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups uncooked rice
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese


Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the rice, and stir until the rice is coated in oil and has started to brown. Add the broth one cup at a time, pausing between cups, and stirring constantly. Reduce heat and continue stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Add additional ingredients as desired*. Add the Parmesan cheese and pepper. Stir to blend, and serve.

*Additional ingredients to risotto can include cooked chicken or shrimp, and almost any kind of vegetable already cooked or steamed. Some of the most popular variations include mushrooms sauteed in butter, and sauteed spinach, tomatoes or asparagus.

Italian-Style Chicken with Spinach and Tomatoes


4    chicken breasts
2    tablespoons olive oil
1    teaspoon diced garlic
1/2 onion, diced
1    can diced tomatoes
1/2 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1    teaspoon Italian seasoning
2    tablespoon balsamic vinegar
8    oz. spaghetti noodles
4    tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Meanwhile sauté onions and garlic in oil in large pan for 2 minutes until lightly browned. Add chicken, balsamic vinegar and Italian seasoning and cook over medium high heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes each side. Add diced tomatoes and spinach to the pan. Cook until fully heated and some liquid evaporates. Serve over pasta, and top each serving with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

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