January 6, 2014

With record-setting frigid temperatures, the last thing we want to do is run to the store. No one wants to prepare a time-consuming, complicated dinner when all we really want to do is snuggle under a warm blanket to read a good book or watch a relaxing movie.

If your energy is at an all-time low, here are a few fast and friendly meals for you and your family to try.

Crock Pot Chicken with Black Beans

This recipe couldn't be any easier. My kitchen smelled amazing while this was cooking in the crock pot. The flavor was perfect, no additional salt or seasoning was needed.

4 -5 boneless chicken breasts

1 (15 1/2 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained (I used seasoned)

1 (15 ounce) can corn (I used 2 cups frozen corn)

1 (15 ounce) jar salsa, any kind (I used chunky)

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese

Take 4-5 frozen, yes, frozen, boneless chicken breasts put into crock pot (the chicken I used was not frozen). Add black beans, corn and salsa. Cook in crock pot on high for about 4-5 hours (or on low for 7-8 hours) or until chicken is cooked. Add 1 package of cream cheese (just throw it on top!) and let sit for about 1/2 hour. Stir to combine and melt cream cheese. Serve with rice or corkscrew pasta or slice chicken and fill flour tortillas.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Try serving your family a creamy pasta with a salty bite. Martha Stewart has perfected Spaghetti Carbonara. The key is to have the egg mixture ready to go so you can toss it with the hot spaghetti to cook the eggs.

1 pound spaghetti

1/2 pound bacon, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces

3 large eggs

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving (optional)

freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook the spaghetti. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until just crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Skim off some of the fat. Drain the pasta, add to the bacon in the pan, and toss to combine.

Whisk together the eggs, cheese, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour into the pasta, and combine thoroughly. Serve immediately with extra grated cheese, if desired.

Southwestern Scalloped Potatoes

A few years ago, I cooked my late uncle, Jim Wilson, a variety of meals for his freezer. After he passed away, I found the empty food containers I'd given him and Southwestern scalloped potatoes was one of them. I'd forgotten about the recipe until I saw the name I'd written on the lid.

To turn the potatoes into a main dish, add diced ham.

8 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

1 (10 oz) can condensed cheddar cheese soup

½ cup water

1 (4 oz) can green chilies

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese, grated

½ teaspoon paprika

3/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1-2 cups diced ham (optional)

Place sliced potatoes in slow cooker. In a medium bowl, mix together chilies, onion, cheese, paprika, and garlic salt. Mix with potatoes (and ham) in slow cooker. Using the same bowl, mix together condensed soup and water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour evenly over the potato mixture. Cover, and cook on high for 4 hours. Stir occasionally.

Speedy Lasagna

If you don't have a lot of time but are in the mood for lasagna, Southern Living has a solution for you. There's no skillet to clean and the entire dish is prepared in the microwave from start to finish.

1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed

1 (26-oz) jar spaghetti sauce with onions and roasted garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon pepper

6 no-cook lasagna noodles

2 cups ricotta cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Crumble sausage into a plastic colander; place over a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high 1 minute, and stir (make sure your colander is microwave safe). Microwave at high 3 to 3 1/2 minutes more, stirring every 30 seconds, or until sausage is done and no longer pink. Drain well on paper towels. Discard drippings. Rinse and wipe bowl clean.

Stir together sausage, spaghetti sauce, basil, and pepper in large bowl. Spread one-third sausage mixture in bottom of a lightly greased 11- x 7-inch microwave-safe baking dish; top with 3 noodles, 1 cup ricotta cheese, and 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers once.

Top evenly with remaining sausage mixture and grated Parmesan cheese. Cover with double-thickness plastic wrap, and microwave at medium (50% power) 30 to 35 minutes. Using an oven mitt, carefully lift one corner of plastic wrap to allow steam to escape, and let stand in microwave 5 minutes before serving.

Tex Mex Chicken Taco Soup

Emeril's Cook With Your Kids Contest featured this soup that contains quite a few ingredients, but it can be thrown together in no time and needs only 20 minutes of cooking time.

1/2 cup diced onions

1/2 cup diced green bell peppers

1 tablespoon minced garlic

vegetable oil

1 lb chicken breasts, boiled and shredded

1 pkg taco seasoning mix

1 (8 oz) jar salsa

1 (14 oz) can kernel corn

1 (14 oz) can hominy

1 (16 oz) can ranch style beans

2 (4 oz) cans tomato paste

2 (14 oz) cans chicken broth

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese

Saute onions, green bell peppers, and garlic in a small amount of vegetable oil. Add chicken, taco seasoning mix, salsa, vegetables, beans, tomato paste, and chicken broth. Adjust liquid to your liking. Bring to a slow simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Place cream cheese in a separate bowl. Using a measuring cup, take some of the hot liquid from the soup and pour over cream cheese to melt and then add back to the soup. Simmer on low for another 10 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips and grated Monterey jack cheese. It's also great over rice on the second day.