The Art of Simple Skillet Dinners

Need dinner on the table fast? Make healthy and delicious meals using just a skillet! Read more about this method by reading this article at The Nourishing Gourmet.

Lack of time or energy for cooking can be the death knell for healthy eating. We’ve had a year like no other, and developing strategies for quick, healthy meals has been essential. (Read about my new series: The Low Energy Guide to Healthy Cooking)

Enter skillet dinners. Oh, how I love thee, skillet dinners.

7 Reasons I Love Skillet Meals

  • They are fast
  • They are frugal
  • They use up leftovers
  • They are easy to make
  • You don’t need a specific recipe to conquer them
  • They are healthy and vegetable-centered
  • You can use whatever you like to flavor them

This one-skillet dinner has been a true help. They are wildly adaptable to what you have in the fridge, and you can flavor them however you like. Ginger and garlic, dried herbs, fresh herbs, turmeric, curry powder, garam masala, green onions, regular onions, red onions, and more!

In my last post, I shared how we have been using pre-washed and cut vegetables on a consistent basis and how much time and how many dinners they have saved. Skillet dinners are one of the most common ways we use prepped vegetables.

Need dinner on the table fast? Make healthy and delicious meals using just a skillet! Read more about this method by reading this article at The Nourishing Gourmet.

Method:

Dinner can be as simple as this: Heating some oil in a large pan, and sautéing together a package or two of prepared vegetables with a pound of ground meat (any kind you like), or adding leftover shredded meat after the vegetables are cooked. Serve with roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, or throw some leftover rice or quinoa into the pan as well, and dinner is served.

While the below options are meat-centric, I see no reason why you couldn’t use cooked beans or lentils instead. In fact, a lentil centered skillet dinner sounds fabulous.

What is essential to this dish is a very large skillet. I favor our largest cast iron pan. And when I say large, I mean large. I use a 12 inch cast iron pan which is adequate for our five member family, but I’d even like a bigger one eventually.

Some combinations we’ve liked:

  • Shredded cabbage with beef (add garlic and salt and pepper to flavor) served with rice or quinoa.
  • Vegetable Pork Skillet Dinner: Onions, Mushrooms, garlic, dried herbs, with pork and bacon.
  • Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Chicken: Cauliflower “rice” with celery, green onions, ginger, garlic, grated carrots, and chicken.
  • Gingery Broccoli and Mushroom Stir Fry: Ground meat of choice, broccoli, mushrooms, ginger, and garlic.
  • Leftover Fried Rice: Onions, broccoli, and cauliflower mix, leftover shredded roast, leftover rice
  • Every day Skillet Dinner: Onions, Zucchini, mushrooms, meat of choice or eggs
  • Extra Greens Skillet: Onions, greens, meat of choice, seasoning of choice

Really, there are no limits to skillet dinners. One of my recent favorite combinations was one in which I used bits and pieces of leftover bags of vegetables which made a delicious and coherent dinner. Skillet dinners can be a great way to use leftovers and the odds and ends you have in your refrigerator!

Do you make similar dishes? I’d love to hear your favorite combination!

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Vegetable Pork Skillet Dinner

Serve over rice, baked sweet or white potatoes, or use as a burrito filling. Yum! -- The Nourishing Gourmet

Why cook up plain pork when you can add so much rich flavor with onions, garlic, mushrooms, and dried herbs? If desired, you can serve this over rice, quinoa, or sweet or white potatoes. I also think this would make a delicious burrito stuffing – just add salsa, avocado, or whatever you desire for toppings! Or eat it as is for a simple skillet dinner.

While I have to say I didn’t give this recipe a very snazzy name, the combinations of flavor are just lovely! I’ve been working on increasing my intake of vegetables, and it’s been a delicious choice as well as a healthy one.

Yes, delicious!

This simple skillet dinner is an example of how you can make a flavorful dish simply by combining a variety of vegetables and your choice of meat with a few spices and some garlic. The meat flavors the vegetables and vice versa for a more rounded flavor.

The other thing I love about skillet dinners is that they are very easy and fast to make, so they make perfect dinners for busy nights. Right now we have three evenings with soccer practice! Yup, it’s a busy time! To see why I am making vegetables a priority right now, read my post. Why We Should Eat More Vegetables. While you are there, sign up for the 10 Day Vegetable Challenge! I’m super excited about it! It will start on the 12th.

I’ve been trying to get in more sulfur containing vegetables. In The Wahls Protocol, Dr. Wahls has you eat 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables every day. She says, “Finally, I want you to eat 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, which in addition to antioxidants, also have health-promoting sulfur compounds in them. Sulfur may not get the media attention that antioxidants do, but it is an incredibly important compound for health.” She goes on in her book to explain why sulfur is important for your connective tissue, joints, skin, hair, nails, skin disorders, arthritis, and blood vessel health, as well as being important for anyone with an autoimmune disease.

Sulfur containing vegetables include the cabbage family (such as broccoli and cauliflower), the onion family and the mushroom family. This dish has two of the three. But if you wanted all three, why not slice some cabbage to add to the dish!

Notes on the Recipe:

  • If desired, add a diced sweet bell pepper
  • The bacon is optional. We make it without just as often.
  • This is also delicious with a couple of thinly sliced zucchini cooked into the mixture. Yum!
  • This is the type of recipe that makes me LOVE owning a large saucepan. I personally favor my large cast iron.
  • AIP note: Leave out the pepper, and don’t use the bacon unless it’s AIP safe.

Vegetable Pork Skillet Dinner

PDF file for printing

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of bacon, or 2 tablespoons of fat/oil of choice (avocado oil, coconut oil, etc).
  • 1 large onion, peeled, cut in half, and thinly sliced
  • ½ to 1 pound of mushroom, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 pound of ground pork (pastured, organic is best, if possible)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and put through a garlic press
  • A generous pinch of dried oregano and dried thyme
  • Unrefined Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper.

Instructions:

  1. In a large saucepan or cast iron over medium heat cook the bacon, if using, until crisp and done. Flip to cook evenly. Remove from pan and set aside. There should be about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan. If you had leaner bacon, you can add fat of choice to the pan to make up two tablespoons.
  2. 2. Add the onion and mushrooms to the pan and cook over medium heat if using cast iron, or medium-high, if using stainless steel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir as needed to cook evenly and prevent sticking. After five to seven minutes, when the vegetables are soft, add the pork, garlic, and oregano and thyme. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the pork is thoroughly cooked through and the vegetables soft.
  3. Crumble the bacon on top, season to taste, and serve as desired.

Stove Top Goat Cheddar Mac and Cheese (Gluten Free)

Gluten-Free Goat Cheddar Mac and Cheese - Kid friendly, and NO cow dairy! -Creamy and delicious. - The Nourishing Gourmet

Gluten-free noodles topped with an ultra creamy and mild cheese sauce that is free of any cow dairy, but rich and creamy with goat cheddar and chicken broth. Yum! This dish is gluten-free and cow dairy-free, but still has that lovely creamy flavor and perfect noodles that I loved as a child.

I’m glad that my children eat a variety of nourishing foods, including ones that I wouldn’t have ever eaten as a child ¬– foods like caviar and seaweed and dark greens. But sometimes it’s also fun to share nourishing versions of my favorite childhood dishes. And my favorite by far was mac and cheese. Growing up my mom would make big dishes of oven-baked mac and cheese. Yum!

The problem is that some of us don’t do well with cow dairy, and half the family is gluten-free. I had been tossing around the idea of making a goat cheddar mac and cheese recipe, but I was a little worried about how it would turn out. I finally took the plunge, and it came out wonderful!

Did you know that macaroni and cheese was a popular penny-pinching dish for a long time? I’ve read several references to it as such in old cookbooks – one of which was one that helped the poorest city folks know how to cook frugally for their families.

But I was very amused by the references to mac and cheese in the book, Below Stairsby Margaret Powell (Amazon links are affiliate).  Have you heard of it before? Margaret was born in 1907, and worked as a kitchen maid and later as a cook, and this book is her autobiography. Her book is supposed to have inspired both Upstairs, Downstairs, as well as Downton Abbey. I read it recently and enjoyed it. It must have been eye opening at the time for the upper class to see themselves through the perspective of one of the maids. Plus, Margaret has a witty and insightful writing style that makes this book so much fun!

For example, when talking about trying to find a husband, “Men are very susceptible to flattery. Even a man with a face like the back of a bus, if you tell him he doesn’t look too bad, believes you. You can stuff men up with any old yarn. They believe anything. You’ve only got to gaze into their eyes, and sound as though you mean what you say. I’ve tried it so I know it’s true.”

Or on cooking, “It’s a funny thing, but the less cooking you know how to do, the more competent you feel. It’s only when you know how to cook that it worries you when it goes wrong, because when you don’t know, you don’t know it’s gone wrong. The more experienced I got the more I worried. I soon realized when a dish wasn’t perfection. Not that I could have hoped to have a dish that was perfection at Lady Gibbons’ because even the best cook in the world can’t make a dish out of poor ingredients.”

The book is full of rich little nuggets like above that make this book a riot to read (but also full of human insight). And while reading the book, I noticed that my favorite dish was treated rather poorly. In pre-war times in the wealthy households that she worked in, mac and cheese was not held in high regard at all. Margaret describes how some of the households went through vast amounts of cream and meat and all sorts of good ingredients to make elaborate 12-course meals for their every dinner upstairs, while downstairs, the servants were fed far less scrumptious meals.

She says, “What we had at night were the left- overs of the day before or a macaroni cheese or welsh rarebit. It wasn’t Mrs. McIlroy’s fault [the cook], she wasn’t allowed to give us more. Some of the maids used to moan like mad and say they never got enough to eat. I didn’t moan, but I used to feel it wasn’t fair.“

What! My beloved mac and cheese snubbed by even the servants? But on second thought, considering we do all of our housework ourselves, I guess we are the servants of our household, and so it is fitting that we eat creamy and delicious poor man mac and cheese. 😉

If you, like me, accept humble fare instead of 12-course meals, I hope you’ll enjoy this lovely little dish. (And if you love books, check out Below Stairs ).

Goat Cheddar Cheese Sauce - Pour over noodles for mac and cheese OR over steamed vegetables. Yum! -- The Nourishing Gourmet

This creamy cheddar sauce is perfect not only noodles but also over steamed vegetables for a low-carb option (or just a very yummy vegetable side!). Try it with cauliflower!

Notes on the recipe:

  • I used the this gluten free pasta (they hold together well and taste great), but you can use whatever brand/kind you like. You can get them here on Amazon.
  • I didn’t use goat milk in this recipe to replace cow milk. Why? Goat milk tends to get more “goaty” in flavor when heated. I was nervous about using chicken broth as I was concerned it would be too thin, but it turned out great. I used store bought, and not homemade, but homemade would be even better.
  • You can make this into baked mac and cheese by putting the finished mac and cheese in a pan, and sprinkling with cheese and putting in a 350F oven for 20-25 minutes.
  • Make sure you use a mild cheese (not “goaty” cheddar) for this recipe.

Gluten-Free Goat Cheddar Mac and Cheese - Kid friendly, and NO cow dairy! -Creamy and delicious. - The Nourishing Gourmet

Other Recipes Based on Books:

Stove Top Goat Cheddar Mac and Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients: 

  • 8 ounces of gluten free elbow noodles
  • 2 tablespoons butter of choice (Goat, sheep, or cow, if you can tolerate it) OR oil or fat of choice (you can try bacon grease too!)
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca flour (Or try arrowroot or organic corn starch)
  • 1 cup of chicken broth, homemade or store bought (made with real food ingredients)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon mustard powder
  • ½ pound of mild goat cheddar, grated
  • Unrefined salt
  • Pepper
  • Optional flavor addition: dried or fresh thyme, paprika, cayenne, fresh chives, diced cooked bacon

Directions:

1. Cook the noodles according to the packages instructions until JUST cooked (don’t overcook). Make sure you boil in salted water. Drain and rinse.

2. For the cheese sauce: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and whisk in the tapioca flour. Whisk for one to two minutes (don’t allow it to burn) and then slowly whisk in the broth. It should thicken almost immediately. Once it has thickened, add the goat cheddar, and stir until the goat cheddar has melted (about five minutes or so). Salt and pepper to taste. Add any flavor additions. The sauce should be on the verge of being too salty, as it will be diluted on the noodles.

3. Pour the noodles into the sauce, and gently fold into the cheese sauce. Serve right away and enjoy!

(To bake: Pour into a casserole dish, sprinkle with more cheddar cheese. Bake in a 350F oven for 20-25 minutes.)

Stove Top Goat Cheddar Mac and Cheese (Gluten Free)
 
 
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces of gluten free elbow noodles
  • 2 tablespoons butter of choice (Goat, sheep, or cow, if you can tolerate it) OR oil or fat of choice (you can try bacon grease too!)
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca flour (Or try arrowroot or organic corn starch)
  • 1 cup of chicken broth, homemade or store bought (made with real food ingredients)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon mustard powder
  • ½ pound of mild goat cheddar, grated
  • Unrefined salt
  • Pepper
  • Optional flavor addition: dried or fresh thyme, paprika, cayenne, fresh chives, diced cooked bacon
Instructions
  1. Cook the noodles according to the packages instructions until JUST cooked (don’t overcook). Make sure you boil in salted water. Drain and rinse.
  2. For the cheese sauce: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and whisk in the tapioca flour. Whisk for one to two minutes (don’t allow it to burn) and then slowly whisk in the broth. It should thicken almost immediately. Once it has thickened, add the goat cheddar, and stir until the goat cheddar has melted (about five minutes or so). Salt and pepper to taste. Add any flavor additions. The sauce should be on the verge of being too salty, as it will be diluted on the noodles.
  3. Pour the noodles into the sauce, and gently fold into the cheese sauce. Serve right away and enjoy!
  4. (To bake: Pour into a casserole dish, sprinkle with more cheddar cheese. Bake in a 350F oven for 20-25 minutes.)

 

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Pie

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Pie

By Andrea, from It Takes Time

With just four ingredients, you can create this kid-friendly real food Spaghetti Squash Pizza Pie for $10!

Spaghetti squash is the basis for this simple kid-approved recipe. This popular alternative to pasta is a variety of winter squash with a mild taste and is low-carb. It is quickly transformed into a crust that can be topped with a variety of vegetables, cheeses, and tomato. This recipe is gluten-free, grain-free, and dairy-free!

I purchased all three ingredients at a local health food store. I like Bionaturae tomato paste because it’s organic and packaged in glass. I love Applegate meat products for their commitment to real food and label transparency.

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Pie ingredients for $9.46

Where ever you derive your ingredients for this meal, your family will love it!

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Pie

  • 1 medium/large spaghetti squash
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter or ghee.  (Olive oil may be substituted.)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 ounces tomato sauce or diluted tomato paste
  • 4-6 nitrate-free pepperoni
  • sea salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • optional pizza seasonings

Directions

Pierce whole spaghetti squash with knife or fork.

Place in shallow baking dish with water.

Bake at 400 degrees till soft.

Cut and remove flesh. Discard seeds and skin.

Place squash in nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Squeeze to remove moisture.

Place squash in a bowl. (You’ll need 3-4 cups of flesh. If you have extra, save for another use.)

Add lightly beaten egg and desired seasonings.

Blend thoroughly.

Press into pie plate.

Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and top with tomato sauce and pepperoni. (Feel free to add raw milk cheese, onions, or vegetable toppings.)

Cook in the oven for another five minutes till done.

Enjoy!

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Pie
 
 
This kid-approved recipe is readily made with just 4 ingredients. Add or subtract depending on dietary needs and preferences.
Ingredients
  • 1 medium/large spaghetti squash
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter or ghee. (Olive oil may be substituted.)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 ounces tomato sauce or diluted tomato paste
  • 4-6 nitrate-free pepperoni
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • optional pizza seasonings
Instructions
  1. Pierce whole spaghetti squash with knife or fork.
  2. Place in shallow baking dish with water.
  3. Bake at 400 degrees till soft.
  4. Cut and remove flesh. Discard seeds and skin.
  5. Place squash in nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Squeeze to remove moisture.
  6. Place squash in a bowl. (You’ll need 3-4 cups of flesh. If you have extra, save for another use.)
  7. Add lightly beaten egg and desired seasonings.
  8. Blend thoroughly.
  9. Press into pie plate.
  10. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven and top with tomato sauce and pepperoni. (Feel free to add raw milk cheese, onions, or vegetable toppings.)
  12. Bake for five minutes till done.