It happens every weeknight, everywhere – and sooner or later it happens to everyone. It is that moment when you realize you are simply too stressed out or just plain tired out to handle the daily dilemma of dinner. The problem is especially prominent this time of year as everyone adjusts to new back-to-school routines. However, the family still needs to eat. So, rather wearily, you start sorting through your options.
When you are in a pinch, super simple (and speedy) solutions are key. Eggs, fried, scrambled or as an omelet or frittata are fine fallbacks for something edible in an instant. Pasta is an easy meal that can be made in minutes. While boiling the noodles, peer into the pantry and raid the refrigerator for additions. It can be as simple as olive oil or butter and Parmesan cheese. Almost anything will work – capers, olives, shrimp, tuna, tomatoes (fresh or canned), chicken, ham, beef, beans, vegetables, you name it. Toss in whatever you have and serve. Ditto for homemade pizza. Brush canned pizza dough with olive oil and add leftovers (with or without tomato sauce) plus a scattering of mozzarella. Bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes. Use the same process to create quick quesadillas. Sandwich cheese (and anything else on the shelf) in a tortilla, and cook in a skillet until the cheese melts.
For a fast, flavorful meat entrée, Italian seasoning, taco seasoning or soy sauce each work wonders. Sprinkle over chicken breasts and sauté. Soy sauce (especially with a little honey and ginger) can do the same for a flank steak, salmon or chicken. Finally, sides, such as couscous and sautéed spinach, can each be prepared in about five minutes. And, always keep washed lettuce on hand for salad in a snap.
In the event that you have already exhausted these alternatives, the following recipes offer a week’s worth of delicious, home-cooked, no-hassle dishes, along with shopping suggestions.
Fabulously-Fast Fiesta Chicken Soup
Serves 4 – 6 • Prep Time: About 10 minutes
Serve this festive, filling soup, pictured above, with tortillas chips, rolls or a salad.
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup salsa (I use Pace Medium Picante Sauce.)
1 (16-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained (You may substitute black beans or pinto beans.)
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 big handfuls fresh spinach leaves
shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, to taste (or pepper jack)
tortilla chips, for serving
1. Bring broth and salsa to a boil in a large saucepan.
2. Add beans and chicken and heat through. Stir in spinach until wilted. Top with cheese and serve with tortilla chips.
Chicken Pesto Pizza
Serves 4 – 6 • Prep Time: About 20 minutes
This savory pie is perfect for a busy evening. Add a salad or some fruit, and you’ve got a well-rounded supper.
1 (13.8-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust dough
cooking spray or olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/4 cup store-bought pesto
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Unroll pizza crust dough, stretching to about a 9-by-13-inch rectangle onto a baking sheet that has been lightly coated with cooking spray.
3. Bake for approximately 8 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, put chicken in a large skillet that has been sprayed with cooking spray or coated with a
teaspoon or 2 of olive oil.
5. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning, cook over medium-high heat, cutting chicken into small chunks as it cooks, for approximately 3 – 4 minutes until done.
6. Remove pizza crust from oven, spread with pesto, sprinkle with cooked chicken and then top with cheese.
7. Bake for another 5 minutes or so until cheese is melted. Cut into 6 – 8 pieces.
- TIP To save time, cook the chicken for both dishes the first night. When it is cooked, remove half for the soup, then add the Italian seasoning and continue cooking the chicken for the pizza another minute or so. Same for the ground beef in the recipes below. Once cooked through, add taco seasoning to half of the beef and continue cooking for a minute or two. Store the remaining meat in the refrigerator to make another night’s meal prep even easier.
Deep Dish Italian Casserole
Serves 6 • Prep Time: About 30 minutes
This is a fabulous family-pleasing pizza-style casserole. Add a salad, some fruit or a sautéed vegetable, and you’re set.
1 pound lean ground beef
2 (14.5-ounce) cans fire-roasted, diced tomatoes with garlic
1 – 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 – 2 teaspoons of salt
1 (13.8-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Brown the ground beef in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Drain, if necessary.
3. Add tomatoes, seasoning and salt. Cook until heated through.
4. While meat cooks, spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Unroll pizza crust and press into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the baking dish.
5. Spread meat mixture over pizza crust. Bake uncovered for 12 minutes.
6. Top with cheese and bake for 5 more minutes, or until the cheese melts and the crust turns golden. Let cool before serving.
Easy Beef & Bean Enchiladas
Serves 4 • Prep Time: About 25 minutes
The recipe makes an ample enchilada per person, but can easily be doubled to feed a crowd or folks with hearty appetites. Serve with Mexican rice (the quick, packaged kind) and fresh fruit to make a meal.
1/2 pound ground beef
1 – 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
4 (8-inch) flour tortillas
1 (10-ounce) can refried beans
1/2 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce
1/2 – 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
chopped fresh cilantro, optional
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, brown ground beef sprinkled with taco seasoning until done (unless cooked in advance). If pre-cooked, reheat until warm.
3. Spread a strip of refried beans down the middle of each tortilla.
4. Top beans with seasoned meat.
5. Roll up tortillas and place seam side down in an 8-inch baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
6. Pour enchilada sauce over the top and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro.
Savory Salmon and Spinach
Serves 4 • Prep Time: About 15 minutes
This quick and colorful meal is quite nutritious and delicious. You can easily omit the red bell peppers to speed up the preparation and please picky eaters. For pretty presentation, serve salmon on top of the sautéed spinach. Couscous makes a complementary side.
1 tablespoon honey
4 teaspoons soy sauce, divided
4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon chopped ginger (may use the ginger in the tube or a pinch or two of ground ginger)
1 (10-ounce) bag prewashed fresh spinach
1. Preheat broiler.
2. Combine honey and 1 teaspoon of the soy sauce.
3. Line a broiler pan with foil, season fish with salt and pepper, broil fish for approximately 5 minutes.
4. Spoon honey mixture over fish and broil another 2 – 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, heat canola oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, and cook 3 – 4 minutes, just until tender. Stir in ginger and spinach.
6. Season spinach mixture with a little salt and pepper. Cook while continuously stirring for about 2 – 3 minutes. Add remaining soy sauce.
7. Serve salmon over cooked spinach.
text by Sallye Irvine • photos by Elise Poché