home cooking recipes                                            home cooking recipes

Easy-to-assemble meals

By Angie Sutton


Give me one sort-of warm day in the middle of winter in the Midwest and this gal gets spring cleaning fever! This is the year 2014, which means my 25th class reunion will likely take place this summer. Has it really been 25 years since I walked the halls of my alma mater as a teenager? Honestly, it doesn’t seem that long ago.

Class reunions are an opportunity to see old friends face-to-face instead of through the many social media channels that have developed since we moved our graduation tassels from one side to the other. We’ve kept up with each other through photo posts and status updates, tweets and other avenues associated with the Internet, so the miles between us don’t seem so long. Wasn’t it just yesterday we passed paper hand-written notes in the hallway between classes?

During my spring-is-coming-soon cleaning frenzy, I tackled the stacks of plastic storage tubs in my basement. I like these tubs because they are color coded by child, holiday and content. They are stacked and lined up like soldiers of storage. It gives me some sense of control in the chaos of the storage organization war. Give me storage tubs and a label maker and we have progress! Until I opened a tub, looked at the contents and started down memory lane.

I opened the box marked “Angie’s keepsakes 1986-1989.” There was a bundle of those secretly passed paper notes tied with a red ribbon from my homecoming corsage. A stack of cheerleading uniforms, a MatMaid vest and my flag corp uniform brought fond memories. Below that I discovered I had packed away my track spike shoes. They were still full of sand from hundreds of long jumps. I began to wonder why I kept so many things. That made me wonder why, after 25 years, I needed to actually keep all of those things.

Experts say to combat that disarray of stacks you need to simplify. “Get organized,” they tout. Throw out the things that you no longer need and re-purpose items. I’m pretty sure there is no one interested in most of the things in my memory tub. So I did the unthinkable. I selected and kept about a third of the items in my tub. When I say “tub” I really mean about six tubs ranging from my kindergarten years to college graduation.

If I have a collection of photos from graduation, do I really need to keep my graduation cap and gown? If I have my track medals from the most important meets, do I need to keep the other 147 from eight years of competition? I won’t bore you with the long list of goodies I re-discovered but I will say that I feel pretty good about downsizing to the items that mean the most.

I spent two more days sifting through the tubs and reliving my youth. I laughed a lot. I shared my adventure through photographs with friends on Facebook. A stack of 45rpm records I toted to the skating rink every Friday night (thanks Pat Benatar for the memories), the crazy designed large dial plastic watches we used to wear three at a time and various fashion-forward shirts in neon colors. My teenage daughter joined me for part of the sorting. She had mixed emotions between “wow Mom, you are much cooler than I thought,” and “wow Mom, you really wore that?” She did find my letter jacket to be attractive enough to begin wearing herself.

I’m proud to say I got through all six tubs in couple of days and pared down to two tubs. I feel good about the decisions on what to keep, what to toss and what to re-purpose.

During these few days dinner was simple and I utilized the slow cooker a couple of times. I enjoy using the slow cooker because it’s easy to assemble your dinner early in the day before you get busy. I also like the slow cooker on days when our family’s schedule does not allow us to sit down together for the meal. It is convenient for each of us to open the lid and scoop out the warm soup or a delicious mass of meat and vegetables as we have time. Now, to tackle the remaining tubs in the organization war!

Slow Cooker Cream Cheese Chicken Chili

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes and green chilies
1 can (11 ounces) white Shoepeg corn
1 can (15.25 ounces) black beans, rinsed
1 packet (1 ounce) dry ranch seasoning mix
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese

In a slow cooker, place chicken breasts on the bottom. Dump in remaining ingredients in order. Place lid on slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours. Remove chicken breasts and shred with a fork. Replace shredded chicken in cooker and stir well. Offer sour cream to top it off and serve with fried tortillas.

You may kick it up by using the hot version of diced tomatoes and green chilies and replacing corn with Southwestern style corn.

Beef Easy Mexican Casserole

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 package (1.25 ounces) taco seasoning
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 package (12 ounces) tortilla chips, broken into medium-sized pieces
4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a skillet, cook ground beef and onion until meat is browned and onion is tender; drain and return to pan. Stir in taco seasoning, chilies and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Place half the tortilla chips in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Layer half of the meat mixture and half of the Monterey Jack cheese over the tortilla chips. Repeat layers. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Top with dollops of sour cream, sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bake another 10 minutes. Makes about 8 servings.

Pasta Primavera

1 package (8 ounces) uncooked linguini
1 cup thinly chopped fresh broccoli
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 ounces fresh or frozen snow peas, thawed
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup zesty Italian salad dressing

Cook linguini according to package directions. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet and add broccoli, carrot and onions, cooking for about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic, basil, salt and pepper, cook 1 minute longer. Add snow peas and broth. Cover and cook for 2 minutes longer or until peas are crisp-tender. Drain linguini and toss with Italian dressing. Add linguini to skillet and fold to combine ingredients. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.


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