A recent article by Jim Romanoff that got picked up from the AP in our local paper took me back. It was titled “Cooking in packets is healthy, flavorful and mess-free fare” and it instantly transported me back about 20 years to when our sons were young and I was cooking dinner nightly for a family of five.
Back in the day, with both of us working long shifts in our clinics, getting a hot supper to the table every night required learning a few tricks. And packet cooking was one of them. The boys called them “Hobo Suppers” and I called them lifesavers.
Often, I would assemble the packets the night before, stick them in the refrigerator, and the next day call home to ask one of the boys (usually our middle son, Dan) to turn on the oven at the appropriate hour, let it pre-heat, and stick the packets in. That way the main course would be ready when Mike and I got home and all I would have to do it toss together a salad, slice up some fresh tomatoes, or, depending on whether there were veggies cooking in the packet, maybe saute some zucchini, green beans, or broccoli and voila…dinner was served. (Tip: If you choose to follow this method, let the packets warm up slightly by taking them out of the refrigerator while the oven is heating up.)
Packet dishes can be simple, as in our family’s Hobo Pork Tenders or elevated and tres French, as in Salmon en papillote*, but the technique is the same: Take a piece of foil or parchment paper, put in some bite-sized portions of meat, fish, or fowl, add a few veggies, some source of oil, herbs, spices, and liquid, seal it all up, throw it in the oven, open, eat, and throw away the wrapper.
(* The recipe given here is pretty carb friendly, except for the cous cous, which I’d just omit, personally.)
In his article, Mr. Romanoff presented an Asian inspired version in his Stir-Fry Chicken packets, using slices of boneless, skinless chicken, green onions, bell peppers, canned baby corn, garlic, and snow peas, dressed with soy sauce, rice vinegar, Asian red chili sauce and toasted sesame oil.
Save the little ears of baby corn (which I cannot even lay my eyes on without thinking of Tom Hanks in Big) everything in his packet meal is pretty low carb friendly and I wouldn’t miss the baby corn if I just left it out. If you wanted the yellow color, you could simply use one yellow bell pepper along with the red one. Sounds easy and yummy. I think I’ll try it.
Meantime, here’s the aforementioned family’s long time favorite hobo special. See what you think.
Hobo Pork Tenders
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
8-12 1/2-inch slices fresh natural pork tenderloin
8 Cremini mushrooms or white button mushrooms, sliced
4 ribs of celery, diced
8 tablespoons premium coconut milk
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
4 12″-14″ pieces of aluminum foil or parchment paper
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay the 4 pieces of foil or parchment on the counter; lightly brush the surfaces with the olive oil and evenly divide the minced garlic among them.
2. Sprinkle both sides of the pork tenderloin slices with salt and pepper and lay 2 or 3 slices in the center of each piece of foil or paper. (Note: adding more than 2 or 3 tenderloin slices to one packet will overload it and crowd the meat. Bigger appetites should simply eat two packets.)
3. Top each portion with one-quarter of the mushroom slices and diced celery.
4. Spoon 2 tablespoons of coconut milk onto each portion, sprinkle on the onion powder, thyme leaves, and a bit more salt and pepper.
5. Bring the 4 corners of the foil together at the center and crimp (or fold) the edges tightly together to make a pyramid-shaped packet.
6. Place the packets on a baking sheet into a 400 degree oven and cook for 30 minutes.
7. Allow packets to cool for about 10 minutes, open carefully to avoid the steam that escapes, and serve.
Protein per serving = 19 grams (based on 3 slices of meat per packet)
Effective carb per serving = 2.8 grams
Easy, delicious, and no clean up to speak of. My kind of weeknight meal. If your life is hectic, probably your kind, too.