Thursday, February 5, 2015

Formulas for easy living: What to make for dinner

Formulas for easy living: In this series, we look at shortcuts for our everyday lives. The goal is to create habits for quicker decision making, stylish living and efficient routines. Today, we talk about no-fuss dinner recipes. 

I like to bake, and I love to feed people. But when I come home from work, I'm tending to a baby who moves surprisingly fast, a dog that needs a walk, and my own hungry, rumbling belly. I've found a few go-to meals that are speedy to make, mostly nutritious, and don't require special grocery trips. 

These aren't fussy recipes. They're off-the-cuff, use-what-you-have types of meals, so rely on your judgment, tastes and cooking know-how to make these work for you. 


General principle: Take a starchy vegetable (squash, potato), cook it, cut it in half, and stuff each half with the meats/veggies/grains of your choice. Serves two adults (can also serve a baby, if you're willing to share). 

Stuffed Acorn Squash
  1. Microwave your acorn squash
  2. While your squash is cooking, sauté a mix of diced chicken sausage, leeks and corn. Note: For two people, I'd do two or three chicken sausages, one or two diced leeks, and about a cup of frozen corn. We like Italian-style chicken sausage or the chicken-apple variety for this.  Each person gets half the squash.
  3. When you sauté, you'll probably want to use a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. When the squash is finished, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and fill each half with a generous pile of your sautéed sausage-and-veg mix. 
  5. Eat. 
  • Swap your veggies for tomato, onion and spinach. Top with grated parmesan cheese. 
  • Don't like chicken sausage? Use the sausage of your choice, diced prosciutto or bacon. 
  • Vegetarian: Skip the meat altogether and add in a few more veggies (good options: bell peppers, tomatoes, black beans).
  • Sprinkle with a little bit of gouda, parmesan or the cheese of your choice. 


General principle: Use a canned curry sauce, add in frozen veggies and meat, serve with rice or naan.

Thai Fish Curry 
  1. When you go to the grocery store, buy a jar of Thai curry. I tend to use Trader Joe's green curry. In the freezer section, grab whatever variety of white fish you like (not breaded), as well as a bag of stir-fry veggies. 
  2. Sauté your fish (suggested: two or three fillets) with a tiny bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Break into large chunks as it cooks. 
  3. Add frozen veggies and let cook for a few minutes. 
  4. Add curry sauce and let it all simmer together for 20 minutes or so.
  5. Eat. 
  • Use teriyaki sauce instead. Or use a mix of curry paste, canned coconut milk and broth.
  • Chop up whatever fresh veggies you have, instead of frozen. This would be good with a mix of potatoes, peppers and onions. 
  • Serve over noodles or rice, or with a piece of naan, pita or other good scooping bread. 


General principle: Sauté some veggies, add lots of stock and pasta/grains/legumes, and serve it all up with the bread of your choice.

Split Pea Soup 
  1. Dice up some carrots and onions. Suggested: 2 large carrots and 1 small onion.
  2. Sauté the veggies for a few minutes in a soup pot, using about 1 tablespoon of oil or butter, lightly seasoning with salt and pepper. 
  3. Add in one cup split peas, as well as 2-3 cups of  whatever broth you have around. (Veggie, chicken, ham or beef will all work just fine.) Got some spare bacon, ham or sausage? Throw that in too! 
  4. Cook everything together over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, then turn down to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes. 
  5. If it's too thick, add some water or additional broth. 
  6. Serve with dinner rolls, baguette pieces, or whatever hearty bread you like.  
Here are a few more places to turn for inspiration: 
  1. If you want your recipes served with a large dose of profanity, read Shannon's Kitchen, which describes itself as "healthy food and recipe ideas from a naughty nurse." 
  2. 100 soup recipes for cold days or 15 essential soups
  3. 101 picnic dishes from one of my favorite recipe authors
  4. A sandwich for every day of the month or two-ingredient sandwiches 
What's your go-to quick meal for weeknights? Where do you find realistic recipes? 

Original illustration by Kathleen Founds; photos from the Library of Congress herehere and here

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