With the holiday season in full swing, you may feel overwhelmed by the thought of spending yet more time in the kitchen cooking, baking and socializing.
But it’s OK to not make everything from scratch and instead, from time to time, turn to a few products that won’t destroy your culinary reputation.
Many weekdays I find myself spending a lot of time in the kitchen at work, leaving me with little to no desire to cook when I get home.
The products below have become staples in my kitchen, especially on busy weeknights when we seem to never have any down time, but I still need to get dinner on the table.
Hellmann’s mayonnaise: I have the know-how and the kitchen equipment to make my own mayo from scratch — simply oil, egg yolks, salt and a little acid — but I find pleasure in the creaminess and distinct flavor of this childhood favorite.
Spike it with fresh herbs and lemon or chopped cloves of roasted garlic to dress up weeknight Panini or oven-roasted fish.
Kitchen Basics unsalted chicken broth: Making my own chicken stock is somewhat therapeutic. The entire house smells amazing for hours as the roasted chicken bones simmer on the stove. But finding the hours it takes to tend to a good stock is my limitation.
I’ve found this product to have a rich and deep flavor closely emulating my from-scratch stock. Opt for the unsalted version to save on sodium and allow yourself to add salt as needed to your recipes.
Boost the flavor of sides of rice or orzo by cooking in chicken stock rather than water. Combine in a food processor or blender with roasted vegetables for pureed soups and sauces.
Aunt Jemima buttermilk complete pancake mix: Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? Scratch pancake mix is not difficult or costly to make. But it doesn’t get any easier than adding water to a box mix to have hot pancakes on the table in all of five minutes.
This mix is a “just add water” mix, which means you don’t need to worry about whether or not you have enough milk or eggs on hand. You’ll be thankful you have this on hand on those nights you don’t want to run to the store right after work.
Make it your own by adding fresh berries, nuts and chocolate chips to the batter or garnishing cooked pancakes with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a generous dusting of powdered sugar.
Newman’s Own marinara sauce: Sausage and spaghetti are “in the rotation” at my house.
While I love homemade marinara sauce, I rarely have the foresight to shop and prepare my own on a regular basis.
Paul Newman’s version is not too sweet, too thin or too acidic, which tends to be the case with many of the ready-to-use marinara sauces out there. Plus, all profits from the sales of Newman’s products go to charity.
For a satisfying weeknight dinner on the table in less than 20 minutes, cook up some locally made ground Italian sausage, add a jar of marinara sauce and serve over high quality dried spaghetti or bucatini. Grate some Parmesan over the top and serve with red pepper flakes on the side.
Near East coucous: Couscous is a dinnertime lifesaver. It goes with a variety of foods, works as a side or a main dish and only take five minutes to prepare.
This brand has a variety of flavors that don’t taste overly processed. The sun-dried tomato and mushroom flavors are my family’s favorites.
Serve as a side to just about anything — roasted meat, fish or sandwiches. Make it the center of your meal by adding it to soups and salads or topping it with roasted vegetables, curried vegetables, or seasoned ground meat stews like chili or picadillo.
Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter: I know several people who make their own butters — almond butter, hazelnut butter, peanut butter.… I’ve yet to try it myself because it seems expensive and there’s something nostalgic about a jar of store-bought peanut butter.
I prefer the texture of chunky peanut butter to the smooth stuff, and when it’s spread on whole wheat bread with some strawberry preserves, I’m in heaven.
Puree some of this in a food processor with a little soy sauce, sesame oil, red wine vinegar, curry paste, fresh cilantro and fresh jalapeno for a delicious, no-cook peanut sauce that can be used on hot noodles, in stir fries and as a dipping sauce.
Jessica James is a millennial mom and professional chef whose passion is inspiring families to cook and spend quality time together in the kitchen.