Several years ago, I decided to attempt my first marathon. Certainly not the most original idea, as it seems these days running a marathon is on the bucket list for just about every man. Nevertheless, after following a brutal 16-week training schedule, I was confident in my ability to survive the 26.2 mile challenge. That was of course, until I arrived at the starting line. Surveying the crowd, I felt quite out of place in my throwback Saucony shoes, mesh shorts from my high school football glory days, and a T-shirt I purchased on a college spring break trip to the Bahamas. As it was, the rest of my running cohorts were outfitted in the latest and greatest in sports technology. From the all-weather, breathable clothing, to the sports gels and energy bars, to the belts, hats, shoes, and personal hydration systems–I suddenly felt ill-equipped for such an undertaking.
However, after the starting gun fired and as the miles slipped away, I found myself nearing the front of the pack, passing by all those who looked like they just stepped out of an issue of Runner’s World magazine. In the end, it didn’t matter what I wore or how I looked. Sure, some better clothing or shoes might have kept me cooler or made me more comfortable during my race, but I doubt they would have drastically improved my time. Instead, my success was the result of my own training, preparation, and persistence–no other gimmicks included.
In truth, the marathon runners are just a metaphor for what we all encounter in our own lives. Don’t believe me? What about the impeccably dressed, luxury car driving, see-and-be-seen coworker that seems to always be one step ahead? Or perhaps it’s the neighbors next door that appear to have it all–the perfect family, house, car, social life, etc. As it turns out, some of these folks are just like the overzealous runners–they look legit on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you might find some cracks. The coworker may be up to his eyeballs in credit card debt, or the family next door might be on the verge of divorce. In other words, perception is not always reality.
In the cooking world, I encounter the Patrick Bateman or Joneses type each and every day.
The rise of food related programming, celebrity chefs, haute-cuisine, molecular gastronomy, food bloggers, and ‘foodies’ has created a culture that thrives on culinary excess. For example, in some circles it’s no longer acceptable to enjoy a simple Deviled Egg unless it’s been transformed into a BLT Deviled Egg topped with bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Just as that craze catches on someone else ups the ante with a revised version featuring even more exotic ingredients: prosciutto, arugula, and heirloom tomatoes. Of course, both of these creations are delightful, but sometimes it makes me want to say, “Enough is enough!” Just give me a plain ole Deviled Egg, sans the attitude.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I’m in complete support of culinary progress and innovation–I’ll go so far to say that I even take pride in enjoying delicacies, but never to the exclusion of appreciating a minimalist meal. For me, there is something sensible and right about subscribing to a less is more approach in the kitchen–not to mention life in general. Yet, how can I indulge in the delicacies while still asserting that I am a minimalist? Put it this way; when it comes to enjoying a meal, I’m thrilled to eat a Grilled Cowboy Ribeye with Henry Baine Sauce and Pommes Frites. Just don’t take offense if I react to a Bologna Sandwich, Potato Chips, a Moonpie, and a cold PBR with the same satisfaction.
So, what’s my point?
Times are tough these days. The rising cost of fuel and food prices are forcing everyone to cut back — ‘foodies’ included. With that in mind, I’ve decided to provide 5 minimalist meals that can be put together using just 1 pot, 1 pan, and 5 ingredients. I’m sure some might balk at my simple approach, but that’s okay. Remember, just like my running, I don’t write recipes based on the latest and greatest food trends. Rather, I focus my efforts on providing simple, affordable, and realistic recipes for the everyday reader. Besides, at the end of the day, creating a great meal does not depend upon the number of gadgets or list of ingredients used in preparation–rather, there’s only one thing that really matters . . . taste.
A note about 5 ingredient cooking: Don’t be fooled! Most “5 ingredient” recipes are for just one single dish or side, rather than an entire meal. I’ve taken great care to put together complete, balanced meals that are truly made up of just five ingredients. You’ll also find that others write “5 ingredient” recipes that allow “freebies” such as salt, pepper, oils, and vinegars that are not included as part of the full recipe. Not me–with the exception of water, my ingredient list contains all that you will need. Of course, I’ve had to rely on some store-bought shortcuts (seasoned rice, frozen veggies, tomato sauce, stock, etc.) to help accomplish this task. Just keep in mind that the sodium content in most of these ingredients is already so high that your meal should not require any extra seasoning. Get to work!
Pan Seared Tilapia over Black Beans
A healthy and simple meal that can be put together quickly. I’ve utilized a store-bought “Fresh Cut” salsa that you can find in the produce section at your local grocery store. This is a great condiment to always keep on hand, and it’s also a great base for a veggie omelet in the morning. (Prep Time: 5 minutes. Cook Time: 15 minutes. Serves 2)
1 Can Black Beans in Seasoned Sauce
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 6-8 oz Tilapia Filets
Add entire can of black beans into a pot over medium heat. Bring beans to a slow simmer, lower heat and leave uncovered to reduce and thicken. Meanwhile, heat a 10 inch non-stick pan over medium high heat; add oil. Season fish filets liberally on each side with Cajun seasoning and add to pan. Pan sauté for 2 – 3 minutes on each side, turning once. Begin plating by placing a generous portion of black beans on one half of the plate. Carefully rest the fish filet on top of the beans, and top the filet with fresh salsa. Serve.
Save time and money by purchasing a package of frozen vegetables. These vegetables are typically picked at their peak and frozen quickly to lock in their natural nutrients while also maintaining flavor. The seasoning from the rice, oil, and sauce will provide plenty of flavors to keep this meal from being anything but bland. For the true vegan, skip the egg and garnish the dish with either bean sprouts or sliced chives. (Prep Time: 5 minutes. Cook Time: 25 minutes. Serves 2 – 4)
1 Package Uncle Bens Original Recipe Long Grain and Wild Rice
2 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
1 16 oz Package Frozen Stir Fry Blend Vegetables
2 Tablespoons Teriyaki Sauce
2 Eggs, beaten
Prepare rice according to box instructions; remove from heat and allow to cool. Add oil to a large pan over medium high heat. Tilting the pan away from you, add the vegetables and sauté over high heat until just tender and browned. Add the teriyaki sauce and a few cups of rice into the pan and mix thoroughly until heated through. Finally, add the eggs, and scramble with the ingredients until cooked to your preference. Serve.
Quick Braised Chicken over Stewed Tomatoes and Yellow Rice
There’s plenty of salty and savory flavors going on in these ingredients that will allow you to forgo any extra seasoning. Feel free to substitute a thick cut of fish such as halibut or grouper for the chicken. (Prep Time: 5 minutes. Cook Time: 30 minutes. Serves 2)
1 10 oz Package Mahatma Yellow Rice
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 6–8 oz Bone-In Chicken Breasts with Skin
1 28 oz Can Stewed Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Sliced Green Olives
In a pot, prepare rice according to package instructions, substituting olive oil for margarine. Meanwhile, add two tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over medium high heat. Add chicken and sear skin side down for 3 – 4 minutes. Next, add stewed tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to medium-low. Flip chicken breasts and slowly simmer/braise in the sauce for 18 – 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Begin plating with a layer of rice, followed by the tomato sauce, and top with chicken. Garnish with sliced olives. Serve.
A simplified version of an American family favorite. By utilizing Italian sausage, you get the flavor you love from say, a meatball, without the extra ingredients or workload. Also, the fresh basil added to the store-bought sauce just might trick your guests into believing you’ve spent several hours working in the kitchen. No worries, your secret is safe with me. (Prep Time: 5 minutes. Cook Time: 20 minutes. Serves 2 – 4)
1 lb Dry Spaghetti Pasta, whole grain if desired
1 lb Hot or Mild Italian Sausage, casings removed
1 28 oz Jar High Quality Pasta Sauce
1 Handful Fresh Basil Leaves
Parmesan Cheese, grated
Over high heat, bring a large pot of water to a boil; add pasta and cook just short of al dente, about 8 – 10 minutes. Drain pasta and set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile, in a large pan over medium heat, brown sausage for 6 – 8 minutes, or until completely cooked through. Use a wooden spoon to break apart sausage into smaller pieces. Drain excess fat from the pan. Add the sauce and heat until it begins to simmer. Next, add the pasta back into the sauce to finish cooking, tossing to ensure everything is evenly incorporated. Toss in a few basil leaves, stir and begin plating. Finish with grated cheese to taste. Serve.
Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin Filets with Smashed Potatoes
Honestly, what man doesn’t like a supper of meat and potatoes? Even better, how about a steakhouse quality meal using just five ingredients? Enjoy the pleasure of fine dining without the financial hangover. Cheers. (Prep Time: 10 minutes. Cook Time: 25 minutes. Serves 2)
2 lbs Red Potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch dice
1 ¼ Sticks Salted Butter
2 6–8 oz Beef Tenderloin Filets
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Preheat oven to 425 Degrees F. Next, heat a large pot of water to boiling over high heat; add potatoes. Boil potatoes until fork tender, about 12 – 14 minutes. Drain potatoes and return to the same pot, allowing the steam to evaporate. Add 1 stick of salted butter and about a cup of chicken stock to the potatoes. Using a potato smasher, whisk, or fork, smash potatoes until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and reach your desired preference. (More stock can be added for a thinner consistency). Keep potatoes covered and warm until ready to serve. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a pan over medium high heat. Season steaks with Montreal seasoning and add to pan. Cook on one side, undisturbed for 3 – 4 minutes. Flip steaks and insert pan into the oven until the steaks are cooked to your preference, about 8 – 10 minutes for medium rare depending on the thickness of the cut. Remove steaks from pan and allow to rest before serving. Plate potatoes and serve the filet on the side. Serve.