Central Park School for Children (CPSC) kindergarten teaching assistant Liz Clark requires a course of action to get dinner on her South Durham table for her family: Jordan High School student Aidan, 14; CPSC student Avari, 11; and husband, Cary, who works at medical nonprofit International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis. Luckily, she worked at Weaver Street Market as a cook for more than 10 years and has plenty of tricks up her sleeve.
At least three nights a week, she manages to cook a delicious, quick and healthy meal, maneuvering her way around a packed schedule – Aidan plays with Triangle United Soccer and Avari swims year-round with New South Swimming. Large meals are followed by leftovers or are repurposed, like turning roast chicken into burritos later in the week. Weekends are for big breakfasts and grocery shopping, but if life gets in the way, Liz’s fridge and pantry are always stocked with the makings for tacos, pesto pasta and salad, with plenty of chips and salsa, popcorn, veggies and hummus, and mozzarella sticks to keep hunger at bay.
On the Menu
Tossed salad with homemade vinaigrette
Sautéed green beans
Beef with broccoli
Burrito bar with chicken, sweet potatoes, black beans, cheddar cheese, lettuce, sour cream and blender salsa
Simple spinach salad
1 lb. box dried ziti
16 oz. ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper
3 cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan
4 cups Quick Sunday Sauce (recipe follows)
QUICK SUNDAY SAUCE:
¼ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, squeezed through garlic crusher or minced
1 small onion, diced
2 Tbsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. sugar
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes ½ cup water
For the Sunday Sauce:
Sauté onions and garlic in oil about 5 minutes on low to medium heat, or until garlic is golden. Add all other ingredients, cover and simmer on low for at least 30 minutes.
(You can double this recipe and save in the freezer once cooled for up to three months in an airtight container.)
For the Baked Ziti:
Cook ziti following package directions. Drain pasta and place in large bowl. Mix ricotta, salt and pepper to taste, egg and ½ of each cheese with pasta. In a 13-by-9-inch pan, cover bottom with 2 cups of sauce then add ziti mixture. Then cover with 2 cups more sauce and the remaining cheese. Bake 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees until cheese is melted.
Serve ziti with extra sauce, fresh bread and simple tossed salad with homemade vinaigrette.
1 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp. vinegar (whichever one you like best and have in your pantry)
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. herbes de Provence
Measure all ingredients into a container with a tight lid, shake and toss on salad one tablespoon at a time until lightly coated.
(This can be used as a marinade for your Monday night chicken by adding ½ cup water.)
1 3- to 4-lb. chicken cut into 8 pieces – marinate 30 minutes before roasting
4 baking potatoes
2 sweet potatoes (to reserve and serve with Thursday night’s Burrito Bar)
1 lb. fresh green beans
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Roast chicken in large, deep pan on middle rack of oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour (until the internal temperature is 165 degrees).
Wash potatoes. Fork a few holes in potatoes and roast on bottom rack of oven with chicken. Potatoes are done when fork tender.
Pick ends off green beans and rinse clean. In a sauté pan, cover green beans with water and boil 5 minutes. Drain and cool beans in cold ice water, drain again and hold until chicken and potatoes are cooked. Sauté beans in butter and lemon juice for 2 minutes on high heat until warmed through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pick any leftover chicken and reserve for Thursday’s Burrito Bar!
BEEF WITH BROCCOLI
1 lb. flank steak, thinly sliced across the grain, in:
1 Tbsp. white wine (or 2 tsp. vinegar) 1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. canola oil
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
Mix sauce and set aside:
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. white wine
1 tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. sugar
¼ cup chicken broth
1½ tsp. cornstarch
3 cups or 1 head of broccoli, cut into bite- size pieces. Blanched in boiling water 3 minutes – then shock cold and lay on paper towel.
Assemble the dish:
In wok or large frying pan, add 2 tablespoons canola oil to pan. When pan is very hot, add beef. After 1 minute, add broccoli and stir-fry 1 minute. Add sauce and cook until thickened. Serve with steamed rice (recipe follows).
1 cup long grain rice 2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. butter
Rinse rice in sieve until water runs clear. In a saucepan, bring water, salt and butter to a boil. Add rice and stir. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook 20 minutes.
Warmed picked chicken and chopped sweet potatoes from Monday
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed Shredded cheddar cheese
½ head lettuce, thinly sliced
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilies
2 cloves garlic Juice of 1 lime ½ bunch cilantro Salt to taste
Blend all ingredients, serve chilled.
4 cups water
¼ cup Old Bay Seasoning
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 lemon, cut in half and squeezed
8 small red potatoes
4 ears corn, shucked and broken in half 1 lb. kielbasa, cut into 12 pieces
1 lb. shrimp
In a stockpot, add water, Old Bay, onion and lemon. Bring to a boil. Add whole red potatoes. Cook for 10 minutes. Add corn and kielbasa. Cook 5 more minutes. Add shrimp, and cook for 3 minutes. When shrimp turns pink and potatoes are fork tender, drain and serve with melted butter, lemon wedges, cocktail sauce and a simple spinach and tomato salad with vinaigrette from Sunday.
LIZ’S MEAL-PLANNING TIPS
- Meal planning saves time, energy and money. You can use weekend family time to plan out your weekly dinner menu – have your family help decide what they would like on the menu.
- Make a categorized grocery list of what you’ll need and shop at the beginning of the week.
- Prep double batches of soups, stews, sauces, pasta and dressings to freeze or refrigerate to use at a later date.
- Have all your ingredients prepped and measured before you start cooking. If you’re home and have spare moments throughout your day, prepare items for dinner that can be made ahead of time. (Make the salad, chop your vegetables, cook your sauce, etc.)
- Keep your pantry stocked with meal staple ingredients like canned tomatoes and beans, rice, pasta, onions, potatoes, etc. Keep your freezer stocked with butter, meats, steamer vegetables and bread. Not having to run to the grocery store constantly saves a lot of time.
- In the kitchen, when making dinner, clean as you go (and recruit little ones or your partner to help clean while you cook). Keep a sink full of soapy water. Have a bowl on your counter while you prep for all garbage and scraps and dump when you are done.
- Prep a crockpot meal once a week. I sometimes prep a crockpot meal the night before, store all ingredients in the refrigerator, and put it on before I leave for work the next day.
Photography by Briana Brough