Beatrice Ojakangas: Cooking with five ingredients or less

Meal planning is hard when you don't know what will be available. Back-to-basics cooking may be the answer.

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Before roasting, this chicken is simply brushed with olive oil or softened butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper. A whole lemon can fill the cavity to maintain shape and add flavor. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

“What’s for dinner?” is what I hear from the next room where Dick is working on his computer. It’s not even noon, and dinner is on his mind. At this moment, my mind draws a blank. In these days of confinement, it’s sometimes hard to think. I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way.

It’s hard to be inspired when I can’t freely roam the isles in the supermarket to see what is available — or not. Planning helps a lot, especially when I can’t even do my own shopping. I remember that I was really good at planning, back when Dick was a student and our budget was extremely limited. I would check the local supermarket ads and plan menus accordingly. But today with all that’s going on, I’m not sure what will be in the store.

As a result, I find myself going back to basic cooking, choosing old-fashioned simmered and braised dishes or simple roast chicken. We do, however, try to order in about once a week not only for the variety but because I sympathize with local restaurants that are having a tough time these days.

I’m reminded of a recipe for chicken in a book by Robert Capon that I had several years ago where he touted something like “how to eat one chicken for a week.” Well, I’m not going that far, but you can get as many as three meals out of one 4- or 5-pound chicken. You roast the chicken the first day for a Sunday meal, then pick off any remaining meat to make sandwiches the next day, then simmer the bones and skin to make a chicken broth for soup. Other than that, I’ve reverted to cooking with just a few ingredients. Cooking with five ingredients or fewer is an old but good idea. Of course, you can add more ingredients if you like, but here’s what we’ve done lately.


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A simple roast chicken can be made with as few or many vegetables as you have on hand. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Simple Roast Lemon Chicken and Vegetables

You can do this with five or fewer ingredients, not counting salt and pepper. Once roasted, you cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the chicken.

One 4- to 5-pound farm-raised chicken


Freshly ground black pepper

1 whole lemon, washed and dried

2-3 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter


3 or 4 thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters

2 cups small carrots or 3 whole carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out — the drier the chicken, the better.

Salt and pepper the chicken cavity. Stuff the cavity with the whole lemon; it will keep the shape of the chicken. Tie the legs together (use string or dental floss). Brush the chicken with olive oil or softened butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes and carrots with olive oil or melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (You can add other vegetables, too, if you have them — mushrooms are nice roasted or cherry tomatoes or diced eggplant, unpeeled of course.)

Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan and surround it with the vegetables.

Roast for 50 to 60 minutes or until a leg moves easily or the flesh tests 165 degrees. Remove the string from the legs and the lemon from inside the cavity. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the chicken and vegetables.

Makes 4 servings.


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Easy 5-ingredient Rustic Bread can be mixed up in a food processor or by hand. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Easy 5-ingredient Rustic Bread

I have always maintained that it is quicker to mix up my own bread than to run to the store for a bought loaf. Let me prove it to you. You mix this by hand or in the food processor with the steel blade in place. I always have both bread flour and all-purpose flour on hand. With bread flour, you might use a little less flour for the loaf.

1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)

1 package or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast

2 teaspoons sugar

2½ to 3 cups flour (bread flour or all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon salt

Measure ½ cup of the water, yeast and sugar into the bowl of a food processor with the steel blade in place. Let the mixture stand until the yeast begins to bubble. Add 2 cups of the flour along with the salt. Turn the processor on and process until smooth, adding the remaining water slowly through the feed tube. Stop when all the water is added and let stand for 10-15 minutes (the flour will absorb the water in this time). Open the lid of the processor and feel the dough. Add remaining flour a tablespoon at a time, processing after each addition until the dough holds together in a soft ball that clears the edges of the bowl. Process until the dough turns around the bowl 25 times. Put the cover back on and let the dough stand until it has doubled.


Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled counter and shape into a smooth ball. Place onto a lightly greased baking sheet or pan. Let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the loaf with water and bake for 25 minutes until golden.

If you don’t use a food processor, you can just measure the warm water into a bowl, add the yeast and sugar and ½ cup of the flour. Stir until the mixture is smooth and add the remaining flour, gradually mixing until a stiff but sticky dough forms. Let it stand for 10 minutes (or more if you have other things to do), then turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Begin kneading by folding the dough over onto itself. Knead until the ball of dough is smooth and glossy. Lightly grease or oil the mixing bowl and put the dough into it, cover, and let rise until doubled. Continue shaping, rising and baking as described above.

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Christabel’s Irish Soda Bread goes well with soups and stews. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Christabel’s Irish Soda Bread

This is a wonderful, easy-to-mix, whole-wheat bread that my friend Christabel Grant makes regularly. It’s a perfect accompaniment to soups and stews. The bread slices best on the second day, but is excellent eating even while hot out of the oven.

4 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons salt


1½ teaspoons baking soda

2¼ cups buttermilk or sour milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, blend the flours with the salt and baking soda. Add the buttermilk and mix until the dough is stiff. Shape into a ball. Place on a lightly-greased baking sheet and flatten into a round about 2 inches thick. Score a cross through from edge to edge with a sharp knife. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean and dry. Cool on a wire rack. Makes one round loaf.

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Fluffy Coffee Mallow is a good recipe to use up marshmallows that have gotten dry. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Fluffy Coffee Mallow

Did you know that marshmallows were first made utilizing the sticky root of the mallow tree and were very expensive to make? Today’s marshmallows are made with gelatin and egg white so that they keep well, even though the name remains the same. The new marshmallow was introduced in 1870. Here’s an unusual old American recipe for a dessert in which marshmallows are melted and whipped into a new confection. Because this dessert is rather rich, it makes many servings. Even though it is great served as a pudding, try serving it over or topped with fresh raspberries, blueberries or strawberries. This is a very old American recipe.

16 marshmallows, quartered, or 2 cups miniature marshmallows*

½ cup hot coffee


1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

For serving: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, if desired

Combine the marshmallows and coffee in a metal bowl and place over hot water. Heat until the marshmallows are melted. Remove from the heat and stir until cooled. With an electric mixer, beat until fluffy and the mixture is cooled. Whip the cream until stiff and fold into the whipped marshmallow mixture. Add the vanilla and turn into a serving dish or divide into 6 to 8 individual dessert dishes. Chill 2 to 4 hours until set. Serve with berries if desired.

*This is a great way to use marshmallows that have gotten dry — maybe you forgot you had them, or there were a few left from last summer’s campfire treats or s’mores.

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.

Beatrice Ojakangas
Beatrice Ojakangas (News Tribune photo)

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