Rachael Ray’s Express Lane Meals

There is a lot to be said for having a well-stocked kitchen. By having the right items on hand, it will allow you to whip up countless meals on the fly, perfect for those harried weeknights when you come home late from work … or when unannounced company drops by.

Rachael Ray’s newest cookbook (#11 in her growing collection), Express Lane Meals, is all about pantry preparedness. She gives you a basic list of ingredients to keep on hand, and with that, you’ll be all set, save for a few fresh items you might need to add.

The book is divided into three categories, “Meals for the Exhausted,” “Meals for the Not Too Tired” and “Bring it On! (But Be Gentle).” Combining recipes that will appeal to young and old alike, each one has a handy little list on the right side, highlighting what you should have in your pantry, and what fresh items you’ll need to pick up. Honestly, it can’t get much simpler than that.

Last night, we made our first recipe, trying her Pasta with Bacon, Tomatoes and Cheese. I happened to have all the ingredients on hand (see how that pantry stocking pays off?), and it was on the table in under 20 minutes – perfect. Her Thai Chicken Pizza and Drunken Tuscan Pasta from this cookbook have gotten rave reviews as well. Dig in!

Pasta with Bacon, Tomatoes and Cheese
Courtesy of Rachael Ray
Serves 4

1 pound short-cut pasta
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 bacon slices, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Black pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 ball fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
15 fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place a large pot of water with a tight-fitting lid over high heat and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, add some salt and the pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Heads up: you need to reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid before you drain the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, start the sauce. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the EVOO. Add the chopped bacon and cook, stirring ever now and then, until crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and a little salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the white wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and reserved pasta cooking liquid, then bring up to a bubble and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the grape tomatoes and cook them for about 30 seconds, just to start getting them hot and ready to burst. Add the cooked, drained pasta, toss to coat in the sauce, and let some of the sauce soak in, about 1 minute. Turn the heat off and add the diced mozzarella, the chives, basil, grated cheese, and black pepper to taste. Serve.

Author’s Note: Only thing I did differently was the bacon. I baked it in the oven (less greasy that way) and added it at the end to keep it crispy.

Rachael Ray’s Cheat Sheet
“Go-to Basics You Should Keep On Hand”

Baking and Spices Aisle
Ground allspice
Bay leaves
Chili powder
Ground cinnamon
Ground coriander
Ground cumin
Curry paste or powder
Fennel seeds
Grill seasoning
Whole nutmeg
Dried oregano
Paprika, smoked and regular
Poultry seasoning
Red pepper flakes
Dried thyme
Coarse salt
Coarse black pepper
White sugar
Brown sugar
All-purpose flour
Cayenne pepper

Condiment Aisle
Hot sauce
Dijon mustard
Spicy brown mustard
Worcestershire sauce
Roasted red peppers
Peanut butter
Bread crumbs, plain and Italian
Vegetable oil
Vinegar: red wine, balsamic, and a mild one like cider, rice or white wine

Dairy and Deli Cases
Heavy cream or half-and-half
Unsalted butter
Grated Pecorino Romano

Produce Aisle
Flat-leaf parsley
Idaho potatoes
Small, red baby potatoes
Yukon Gold or small, white boiling potatoes

Freezer Case
Frozen peas
Frozen corn
Frozen chopped spinach

Canned Goods Aisle
Chicken stock in a box
Beef stock in a box
Italian tuna in EVOO
Tuna in water
Canned Alaskan salmon
Anchovy fillets
Diced fire-roasted tomatoes
Diced tomatoes, regular and petite-dice
Canned crushed tomatoes
Canned tomato paste
Canned tomato sauce
Chipotle chilies in adobo or dry chipotle powder
Canned black beans
Canned chick peas
Canned cannellini beans

Grocery Aisle
Long-cut pastas
Short-cut pastas
White rice

Liquor Store
White Wine
Red Wine
Dry Sherry

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