I bought a couple of Lean Cuisine’s skillet sensations recently. They’re quick and easy to prepare and are a great alternative for me on nights that I really don’t want to cook (and the allure of take out beckons). From time to time I play with the concept of making such a meal from scratch. The skillet sensation is rather like pan hash, replacing the potatoes with pasta and gravy with whatever sauce you have on hand.

I grew up in a household where, if my father was cooking, it would either be something on the barbeque, a quickly opened can of Claude’s Chicken Frico, eggs, or pan hash.

My father’s recipe for pan hash is as follows:

Peel and dice cooked potatoes into freshly melted butter. Add diced chicken, or ham, or roast beef. Follow with a handful or two of frozen vegetables (whatever in the freezer is good), or leftover canned vegetables (do not drain). Add just enough water, or stock, or beer to keep the mess from sticking. Flavour with salt and pepper, cover with leftover gravy, and serve as soon as the potatoes have developed a crisp edge and everything is hot.

The recipe doesn’t work well with fresh vegetables (I tried), but it works great with tinned meats or fish. My version’s slightly different (and perhaps not surprisingly longer).

Drop a halved clove of garlic into almost foamless melted butter. Once the aroma rises, discard the clove. Add 1/2 a diced onion and cook until translucent. Peel and dice cooked potatoes and drop them into the pan. Add a cube of frozen chicken stock to the hot pan and stir well, making sure to coat the cold potatoes. Add a cup of frozen vegetables to the top of the mix. Cover for 5 minutes until the vegetables are thawed and starting to warm. Add diced protein or a full can of fish (drained and rinsed). Stir to incorporate. If it starts to stick, add another cube of frozen chicken stock. Crisp is good, sticking is not. Free with a spatula and stir. The potatoes will break up; that’s OK. Season with fresh herbs (dill for fish, rosemary for chicken, tarragon for beef, oregano and thyme regardless). Dust with red chili flakes, salt and pepper. Cook until everything is hot. Serve at once.

Then I saw those pasta meals. I’m not a big fan of regular pasta (I shouldn’t eat it anyways) but I’ve always loved pasta sauce. Its velvety textures, it’s luscious smells; my mouth waters just thinking about it.

So, one Saturday night when I should have known better I tried an odd combination.

Spätzle (German egg noodles), broccoli, diced chicken, and brown sauce.

Make brown sauce. Cook pasta according to package instructions less 5 minutes. Add frozen broccoli in a steamer atop the pasta for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time. Drain (but do not rince) the pasta and add it to the pan. Set the broccoli aside to cool slightly. Season the pan with a cube of frozen chicken stock and a clove of diced garlic. Once the aroma begins to fill the kitchen, add the pasta, diced chicken, broccoli and brown sauce and stir to incorporate. Serve once everything’s steamy.

Brown sauce is amazingly rich …but bland. I’m not sure what I wanted with this. I ended up adding oregano, rosemary, hot chili flakes and pepper at the table to give it more flavour. It was good (especially with the herbs and spices) and I’ll definitely try this again; only next time I’ll try it using something like tomato arrabiata, or simple marinara as a sauce. Then again, maybe I should have tried making the sauce from paprika Huhn.

Once I get this recipe down, I’ll go about seeing to amounts and actual instructions in some sort of structured manner. Right now, I’m playing with tastes.