Stephanie, a vice president for a venture capital firm in Denver, makes it a priority to get home in time to have a family meal with her husband and 1-year old son.
"I put a lot of energy into my job and then I get into my car at 5pm and realize that I have no idea what I'm going to feed three people for dinner in an hour," she says. "That's when a one-pot meal is just perfect."
One-pot meals can be the solution to quick and easy cooking when no one really has the time to cook. While one-pot meals come in various forms, they all have the common concept of putting a variety of ingredients into a single vessel and cooking them all together. There's no fretting about getting the timing right so that your broccoli is perfectly steamed at the same time as the pot roast comes out of the oven medium-rare and the rice is ready to fluff, which is a boon for all those who aren't wizards at culinary planning. And, perhaps best of all, rather than a sink full of dirty pots and pans to scrub after dinner, there is only one pot to clean.
One-pot meals include everything from light stir-fries to hearty skillet meals to heavy casseroles made with cans condensed cream-of soup. Typically each forkful contains a little of each ingredient in the meal, whether it's in a slab form or bite-sized pieces. Crock-pot cooking, where all the ingredients are placed in a crock-pot along with some liquid and then simmered at a very low heat for 6-8 hours until everything has disintegrated into a stew, is another popular method of creating of one-pot meals.
The only downside to each of these methods is that they are usually not a complete and balanced meal in and of themselves. Since the definition of a complete, healthy meal includes protein, carbohydrates and vegetables, stir-fries are typically served with rice, skillet meals with pasta, casseroles with a salad, and crock-pot stews with bread.
To have a truly complete and balanced one-pot meal consider "infusion" cooking. Infused one-pot meals are made by layering whole foods into a closed container- either a foil or parchment pouch or a cast iron Dutch oven-and then baking the container in the oven at a very high heat for under an hour. These dinners can contain everything needed for a full and balanced one-pot meal without having to prepare rice or a salad separately.
Low in fat and high in nutrition, almost any ingredients can be added to an infused one-pot meal to meet personal dietary preferences. Infused one-pot meals prepared in a Dutch oven can even accept frozen elements without any change in cooking time or flavor.
"I love that I can make my infused one-pot meal up in advance," enthuses Stephanie. "I put it all together in the morning, keep it in the fridge, and then pop it directly into the pre-heated oven when I get home from work. Instead of fussing over a hot stove, I get to play with my kid while our dinner cooks. And they're so healthy and tasty that my husband loves them too!"
For the answer to the age-old question of "What's for dinner?" consider an infused one-pot meal for a healthy, quick and easy way to feed your busy family. Here is a great recipe to get you started!
1/2 cup cous cous, dry
2-3 pieces chicken
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. lemon pepper
1 avocado, firm-ripe
2 tomatoes, cored, wedges
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded, cut in wedges
1/2 cup olives, small, ripe, pitted, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. celery salt
1/4 tsp. basil, dried
1/4 tsp. marjoram, dried
1 Tbsp. dry sherry
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray the inside of a 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven and the lid with olive oil.
Pour dry couscous into pot. Add 1/2 cup water and evenly distribute grains across bottom. Arrange the chicken atop the couscous. Season lightly with salt and lemon pepper.
Add layers of green peppers, tomatoes and olives. Again, season lightly with salt and lemon pepper.
Halve, pit and peel the avocado. Then, layer it in slices or cubes on top of everything. In a small bowl, combine the onion, celery salt, basil, marjoram, sherry, and lemon juice and pour into pot over everything.
Cover and bake for 45 minutes.
Be certain that your oven temperature is accurate and your oven is fully pre-heated before putting the pot inside it. An oven thermometer can help ensure your oven is on target.
For light and fluffy couscous, fluff it with a fork when serving and let sit for a few minutes before eating.
About the author: Elizabeth Yarnell is a Certified Nutritional Consultant and the author of Glorious One-Pot Meals: A new quick & healthy approach to Dutch oven cooking, a guide to a guide to preparing quick, healthy and balanced one-pot meals. Visit Elizabeth online at www.GloriousOnePotMeals.com. The Glorious One-Pot Meal cooking method is unique and holds US patent 6,846,504.