July 27, 2014

Ten Minute Easy Dinner Ideas: Share What You Do

Mar21

One of my goals this summer is to create a master recipe list containing twenty five sure-fire recipes that I can have prepared, start to finish, in around ten minutes. Don’t worry, I definitely plan on sharing that list, and the recipes, when it’s finished. We hear a lot about 30 minute meals, but quite often, ten minutes is all that we can squeeze out of our day, and yet we still desire to have something homemade on the table.

Can this be done? I think it can…I know it can. I have done it many times, although it gets tricky when our “go to” items meal ideas are gone. What better way than to put our head together and help a sweet woman out. Recently, I received this email from one of my readers, Larissa, and I could so empathize. Having spent most of my boys’ football season cooking for 4-8 additional teenagers at a time, with no advance warning, there were many evenings I just paused, took a deep breath, and reminded myself that this “Welcome home/Open door” mentality is what I have prayed for throughout the years. Obviously, Larissa has the same heart for hospitality with her own daughter. She writes,

“I know you are very busy, but I was wondering if you could spare a minute to help me out possibly, one mother of teenagers to another? I have just one teenage daughter, she’s 15 and we’ve done our best to make our daughter’s friends feel at home at our house. This is great, except for trying to feed them. Sometimes I plan for them, they don’t eat–I don’t plan for them and 4 show up. We have always budgeted our food with enough for our family without much leftover (which tends to get tossed).

Do you have any ideas for last minute magic–being able to feed several at the last moment? The only things I can come up with are nachos, spaghetti, or pizza.”

I chuckled when I read her last sentence because I know that most of us tend to gravitate towards recommending those magic three ideas as first choices, along with hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill and a baked potatoes bar (my fav).

With summer coming, I tend to add in more salads as main dishes. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love the Asian Citrus Salad (if teens are picky, omit the radishes or red onions), but honestly, my biggest life saver with quick and easy family dinners stems from my One Hour Cooking Experiment that I posted about nearly two years ago. This method continues to save meal after hectic meal.

Set the timer for one hour, then cook and freeze as much as you can. In one hour of just concentrated time, I was able to break down certain kitchen tasks enough that I was going to get eight meals out of that one hour. Do you see my freezer picture above? All of that was accomplished in just ONE HOUR.

From that one hour, I can now conquer any of these simple ideas below in ten minutes.

  1. Chicken stir fry – chicken, frozen veggies, rice
  2. Enchiladas or burritos with rice, beans, taco seasoned beef, cheese, salsa, and sour cream
  3. Simple chicken casserole with diced chicken, cream of mushroom/chx soup, rice, seasoning, and cheese sprinkled on top.
  4. Simple Chicken pot pie with chicken, cream of mush/chx soup, bag of frozen veggies, cheese, and an all purpose seasoning.
  5. Chili or Taco soup – hamburger, beans, water, can of diced tomatoes, seasoning, and water.
  6. Taco Salad – romaine lettuce drizzled with either French or Ranch dressings, dolloped with black beans, taco flavored hamburger meat, salsa, sour cream, and crushed tortilla chips
  7. Taco Dip
  8. Taco Pizza
  9. Grilled Chicken Salad
  10. Shredded Pork with BBQ sauce for a great sandwich
  11. Easy BBQ Chicken (made earlier in crock pot)
  12. Stuffed biscuits with your choice salsa, spaghetti sauce, hamburger, and cheese
  13. Spaghetti

I went into greater detail about this plan with some of these Mexican recipes from my prepared freezer staples and my “Must Have Stocked” pantry items. I can’t wait to share more Ten Minute Meal Ideas with you, but first, I’d love to help Larissa out immediately, since I know she’ll be waiting a bit for my promised post.

I know you are the perfect ones to brainstorm.

So please, imagine the scenario.  If four extra guests walked through the door at the dreaded meal time hour, and you hadn’t even started dinner yet, what would your be your ten minute meal idea? Pizza, spaghetti, nachos and burgers on the grill don’t count.

P.S. Crying, scolding the inviter and locking yourself in the bathroom aren’t part of the scenario. ;)

These comments will be the best ever. Hopefully, we’ll all get some fabulous new ideas, but remember, they must be quick, so a thirty minute oven time won’t work for this predicament.

Thanks for taking part in Tasty Tuesday.

TastyTuesday200pix Food for St Patricks Day

Simple Rules for Tasty Tuesday Parade of Foods –  As always, please link directly to your recipe post and not your blog URL, so that we can find the recipe months from now.

Also, link back here so that everyone can join in the fun. Please do not link up a recipe meme or a marketing type post. Thanks for your understanding.


Comments

  1. I think the key to a 10 minute meal is to have your protein already cooked. I like to buy turkey on sale and roast one every month – we eat a turkey meal and then freeze the rest of them eat in meal size bags. I can pull out one of those bags, add b.que sauce and serve barbecue chicken sandwiches, or add it to some rice and veggies for Fried Rice, or white sauce, pasta, broccoli and Parmesan cheese for a quick chicken Alfredo. The list is endless!

  2. My mom makes this burrito casserole where she buys frozen burritos and lays them out in a layer in a casserole dish. She then pours salsa on top and bakes them at 350 degrees until they’re done through. I think she adds cheese and olives on top at the end. The cool thing is, no one ever knows they’re burritos. They always go on and on about this recipe and it takes like 3 minutes to put together. It might take a little longer than 10 minutes, but not much longer. Mom always keeps burritos in the freezer in case of unexpected company.

    Rebecca Reply:

    @Joanna, LOVE this idea!!! Frozen burritos – here we come!!!

  3. How abt what we called bake potato bar. Takes 7 min to nuke a potato then have toppings like cheese ( could have Campbells canned cheese soup , salsa, canned olives, canned chili etc that way have it canned so can be used any time the only thing not canned would be the potatoes but they last awhile

  4. Oh sister, I’m right there with ya. Except, I’ve got four hungry little birds to feed at 5:30. It’s always “what’s for dinner?” My motto is, “it’s thawing in the fridge.” I’ve learned to quadruple or more the staples, like cooked taco meat, cooked convenience chicken, meatballs and more. I make about four to five DIFFERENT meals from each staple (like you) so we’re not eating the same thing. I can make 5-minute tacos, nachos grande or taco salad. I recently experimented with chicken parm for the freezer and I freeze the pasta in batches too- http://momonamission.me/?p=1095 Voila, it comes together in ten minutes or less. That’s my mission, cooking and freezing in quantity to save my sanity. Good luck in your search for quick things your family loves.

  5. Thank you for posting the easy dinner ideas! We are moving and I need some quick and easy without many ingredient ideas. :)

  6. Thanks for hosting! I love your idea for weeknight fast dinners! You are so organized! If you want another idea, my favorite quick dinner is Aglio e Olio. You can even make it healthier by adding grilled chicken and subbing whole wheat or veggie pasta! http://ouritaliankitchen.blogspot.com/2010/06/aglio-e-olio.html

  7. Jen, Thanks for hosting us again this week! What a great discussion….. I think this is such a great reminder to get my head around this. I’m horrible at last minute cooking. And with winter ending and warmer weather heading in (meaning less time in the kitchen), having ideas and a stocked kitchen is a great idea. My problem is not having things on hand. I make a menu plan for the week and shop for it. I need to do a better job of having last-minute change-of-plans recipes that I can whip up.

  8. Candi @ Family Stamping and FOOD! says:

    These are almost exactly what my quick dinners look like too! Super easy is the way to go!

  9. I have a “Magic Pot” from Pampered Chef. It is actually the deep covered baker. I can cook chicken in the microwave in 13 minutes so here are a couple of 13 minute meals. Just last night I made chicken fajitas in the microwave done in 12 minutes because I used chicken tenders. 1lb of chicken, 1 onion, 1 pepper, fajita seasoning, 1 lime squeezed over top. Microwave for 12 minutes. Done!
    Potato Chowder Soup, Chicken BBQ, Fish, I can make tons of stuff in this baby! It was a bit of an investment but I had a party and got it for FREE! This saves me all the time.

  10. This is a great idea Jen … and I want to buy the book when it comes out!! Sounds like a fly off the shelf title to me! :)

    If people walk in unexpectedly … first I take that deep breath you mentioned, remind myself about our goals of hospitality, and then clear the counter. :) I would probably pull out some cooked/chopped chicken, chop it and put it in a pan with a little olive oil to saute. Meanwhile, I would either pull out a frozen french bread to microwave, spread with butter, and put it to toast on an electric skillet … or I would start some pasta cooking (thin angle hair, since I only have 10 min). When the chicken is sauteed, I would add about 2 T of butter to the pan, melt it, then add flour to make a roux. Then I would add either milk or chicken broth and some s&p to make a gravy. I would serve creamed chicken over toasted bread or pasta (I could serve the bread as a side to the pasta), and I would pull out a freezer bag of green beans or peas, so I don’t feel like the carb queen. And I would pull out some fun napkins, so my guests would feel like I was prepared and happy to have them … because I was!!!! Now to make this happen in real life :)

    Jen Reply:

    Yum!! I so often forget about making a roux or cream sauce. Great idea. :)

    And you can wait for the book….ah….ten years, when we have the time to make those one hour meals. (But I do own the ten minute dinner url….hahaha…just in case. ;))

  11. This happens to us quite often and it’s not just the teenagers. My husband is fond of bringing others over for dinner who might not have dinner otherwise. I think the key is for me is realizing everything doesn’t have to go together and you don’t have to get stuffed or even full at every meal. For instance, we had a friend and her 2 sons over last night and I had planned sausage (homemade, so we have about 90 lbs in the freezer) potatoes and cabbage. When I realized that they were coming over and would be needing to stay for dinner, I made a “snack” of scones – about 2 hours before dinner, and let the kids eat all they wanted. I pulled out an extra link of sausage, but other than that I fixed my regular meal. I put out some salad with lettuce from our garden and we had ice cream pops for dessert. I also made sure to set some aside for my husband’s lunch for the next day before I served the meal. After our meetings, my boys were hungry so we made popcorn. I had a great time cooking with my friend and I hope she and her boys felt welcome.

    Jen Reply:

    Angi – it’s so wonderful that you are so open to others coming over, and that your hubby has a heart for that. Since we are way in the country, we never have “pop in” adults, only teens. :)

  12. Chili! I keep cooked hamburger frozen in 1 pound servings and diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and beans are always something I make sure to have in the cabinet. It cooks up quick and easy when need be!

  13. Thank you for a brilliant post, Jen. There’s so much good advice and so many good ideas! The recipe I have linked up this week – spicy mango chicken – is pretty quick and easy too, and it’s easily doubled (or tripled!). Thank you for hosting :)

  14. Pasta Salad is my go to quick fix meal. I start by filling my large stock pot with the hottest tap water and then putting it on the stove to boil. Add your pasta (I like the veggie colored spiral shaped noodles) and let those boil as you chop up carrots, celery, peppers, tomatoes, chunks of cheese, pepperoni or salami, olives, whatever! Drain your pasta when cooked through and run under cold water. Drain again, add to the veggies and then pour some Italian Salad dressing over that along with a few grinds of black pepper. Mix and serve!

  15. I think pork chops are pretty quick when pan-fried. More like 15 minutes, but still fast: http://quickeasycheaphealthy.com/2011/03/dinner-in-15-minutes-you-betcha/

    I also agree with the previous poster who mentioned having the meat pre-cooked. Saves TONS of time! I always try to cook up extra meat, especially chicken breasts, and freeze what I don’t need. I also make extra rice and pasta and freeze what I don’t use immediately for future quick meals.

  16. Yep…keeping cooked chicken, browned beef, and other meal starters in the freezer is key to impromptu gourmet! One of our favorite fast meatless meals is buttery pasta. I “brown” the butter and throw in pitted kalamata olives (and a little of the salty brine, too!) and pine nuts, toss with any kind of pasta, and dress with fresh parmesan cheese. All done in the time it takes to cook the noodles! Not Weight Watchers friendly, though, so it’s been a while since I’ve served that one.

  17. Anything in a wrap is what I tend to gravitate toward for super-quick meals. I linked up one of our family favourites (Hummus and Veggie Wraps) – to make them extra quick, you can use diced/shredded raw veggies instead of sauteed. Another favourite around here is Western Omelette Wraps:
    http://abundanceonadime.blogspot.com/2008/04/emergency-meals.html

  18. We do wraps as well. I always have marinated and grilled beef and chicken strips in the freezer. I we always keep flour tortillas in the fridge. I pull out lettuce, tomato, cheeses, onion, etc. and let them make their own. I also keep biscuits and rolls in the freezer. We try not to serve bread with every meal, and often just adding that to the table is enough to stretch what we already have. Since we have so many fruits and veggies on hand I can alway cut up those and whip up a quick dip. We do breakfast for dinner sometimes, too. I can make TONS of pancakes in a few minutes. With two teens and one preteen in the house I know how important food is!

  19. I found this recipe on a blog and for the life of me I don’t remember where… it may even have been this blog! My mind must be going…

    Anyway, you take a can of mushroom soup and a brick of cream cheese. Heat them and stir so that the cheese melts but doesn’t scroch. Add salt/pepper to taste and serve over pasta. A super simple alfredo sauce. I know it’s still a spaghetti-type meal, but my family (and friends) LOVE it!

  20. I’ve done anything from grilled cheese/quesadillas to farmer’s breakfast (scrambled eggs, frz diced potatoes, cheese and whatever produce you have on hand-peppers, scallions, fresh or canned diced potatoes. Meat is optional- you can do diced ham, crumbled bacon or even chicken).

  21. Love, love, love this idea! And I’m positive you will have lots of ideas! That’s my favorite type of cooking, too…..quick, but good. I noticed your list has a lot of Mexican food ideas. That’s always our pick for quick and good…..plus our favorite in general. :)

  22. My one go-to meal when extra company comes through the door – homemade mac and cheese!!! I always have some leftover ham in the freezer as well, and throw that into the mac and cheese for a protein. Served with some cut up vegetables – perfect!
    The other go-to item is corn chowder – very easy to fix with ingredients that I always have on hand – a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes in your freezer too!

  23. Thanks for hosting! That’s a lot of food to have prepared in just one hour — wow!

  24. We’ve got the teenager thing going on big time around here, though with daughters, it’s not so many boys (yet…). But some times of the year like harvest, I also end up feeding stray farmers, especially my brother, and frequently for 2 or 3 meals (my sister in law is here for lunch too sometimes).

    Anything you can put in a tortilla seems to be my go-to. Saute onions, add cooked chicken and jarred verde sauce and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. Serve with salad, refried beans, of course, cheese, lettuce, whatever other veggies, pickled jalepenos.

    A quick black bean soup is one part cooked black beans, one part refried black beans, one part broth, salsa — saute 1 pint salsa (canned tomatoes, onions, and canned chipotle peppers will do in a pinch) for each increment of beans, etc, add other ingredients, heat until refr. beans dissolve — maybe simmer a bit, maybe gobble it down immediately, depending on how close the unwashed masses are to rebelling. My kids also really like that one with the addition of sausage.

  25. Hi Jen! I am loving all these great ideas!

    The recipe I posted above (Microwave Hollandaise Sauce) is a great way to class up otherwise plain ingredients, like grilled chicken or fish and steamed veggies. We like it as part of “Veggie Benedict” (like Eggs Benedict but with steamed green veggies in place of the poached eggs). That is a really quick but disproportionately tasty meal that I happily serve for dinner, but which is also great for brunch.

    Other quick go-to meals for us are breakfast for dinner (waffles or pancakes), pannini or grilled cheese sandwiches (we make them in the family-sized George Foreman grill someone gave to us), or a fast pasta dish. One we like the best is “Special Pasta.” I got the recipe from a friend after her son raved about it to me. It is basically Italian Sausage, which you fry, and then add some prepared spaghetti sauce and a can of diced tomatoes. You let that simmer while you cook whatever pasta you like. As the pasta is finishing cooking, you add some cream to the tomato sauce. Serve with parmesan cheese and you have a great, nicer than spaghetti meal that can serve an army pretty easily.

  26. Three staples I like to keep on hand in my freezer is cooked hamburger with onions, green olive with pistachio paste, and garlic & black pepper chicken.

    The main 3 meals I get from these are ones my family loves time and time again, of course you can use the browned hamburger with onions for just about any meal but it saves time to have it precooked and in the freezer for me.

    Meal #1:
    Beef stroganoff: thaw hamburger with onions in pan, while this is happening, get water boiling for egg noodles. Once meat is heated through stir in cream of mushroom soup, and 1/2 tsp paprika. While noodles drain, turn heat down to low for meat, add 1/2 cup sour cream – heat through than serve over noodles.

    Meal #2:
    Prepare this to keep in freezer:
    4 boneless chicken breasts, sliced
    Mix 1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional), 4 1/2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp chili powder, 4 cloves garlic (minced)
    Put everything into a ziploc baggie and freeze. To prepare, toss chicken in pan to heat through, make rice as a side dish. My kids prefer my fried rice over white rice typically but that would take more than 10 minutes.

    Meal #3:
    In a blender make this paste:
    1 cup green olives
    1/2 cup pistachio (peeled)
    2 cloves of garlic
    1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
    3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
    3/4 cup olive oil
    Freeze it. To make: cook bowtie pasta while thawing paste in glass dish in microwave. Mix together and serve with any kind of bread.

    Annie~Savor This Moment Reply:

    OOHhh, I like the sound of the green olive/pistachio paste. We love any kind of pesto in our house, it’s one of our go-to meals and so easy to whip up in the blender.

    Rebecca Reply:

    @Melissa, for Meal #2…do you cook the chicken breasts before freezing? If so, what is your method? Thanks!

    Melissa Reply:

    @Rebecca, I put the chicken in raw with the marinade. Before cooking it, I would have thawed the chicken in the frig that morning for dinner. I like to slice my chicken very thin so it cooks quickly.

  27. I keep cooked shredded chicken in the freezer. My son’s fav go to for his friends, chicky biscuits aka crustless chicken pot pie. Micro thaw a pack of shredded chicken and a pack of mixed frozen vegetables (or 2 if needed). Heat up a couple jars of chicken gravy (or make from chicken broth, cornstarch and seasonings), dump in the chicken and veggies. Add a batch of bisquick biscuits and voila. Quick and easy comfort food. I also do a variation chicken BBQ. Just shredded chicken, bottle of BBQ sauce, heat serve over buns, bread or biscuits. I usually serve with pea salad (peas, mayo, cheese & tomato).

    Carmen @ Life with Sprinkles on Top Reply:

    Now that sounds yummy! And easy! :)

  28. kelliinkc says:

    I do something like Joanna’s mom. I try to keep enchilada sauce, pre-made , frozen burritos and shredded cheese on hand. I buy the large package of burritos at Wal-Mart or Aldi and throw them into a 9×13 with a can of enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Bake until bubbly and cheese is melted around 30 minutes. If you have a large enough freezer (I don’t– side by side) you could assemble this ahead of time in foil pans and freeze. Then just pull from your freezer stockpile and throw into oven. This works to get into the oven in 10 minutes but obviously is not cooked and ready to serve in 10 minutes!!

  29. Holly Law says:

    I often make homemade waffles, fruit and bacon when unexpected company shows up-I need a couple of more waffle makers, but this is always a hit!

  30. depends on whether they are kids or adults! for kids, breakfast for dinner is always a hit – waffles or pancakes with bacon or sausage. We do quesidillas, sloppy joes, or pasta – all things that can be easily stretched.

  31. My aunt cans meat. She will buy a roast on sale and cut it into cubes and then she cans it. The meat is already cooked slow and tender. It can then be used to make pot roast, hot roast beef sandwiches, ect. quick and easy. My hubby hunts deer and we do that also with some of the deer meat except we will grind it with broth and it will be like an ox roast sandwich. And one more. boil your mac n cheese or plain noodles with your own cheese sauce and brown hamburger or use thawed, frozen meat and add to the mac n cheese with some canned peas added in. Always a quick go to.

  32. Thank you so much for this post! The teenagers gravitate toward this house because I feed them and I don’t want that to change but it is a constant challenge to stay ahead of them. My husband will cut the meat ahead of time if we are having a standard meat, potato, veggie meal and put it on plates so it isn’t one per person, it is just what you get! I usually freeze our meals in portions for our family but after this last freezer cooking section I am considering freezing them in 1/2 portions too. For instance if I I usually have 4 chicken breast marinating for the grill in the freezer I would pull that and a 2 pack if we have more guests. If we don’t than just pull 2 two packs the next time to make a regular portion and the only thing that is wasted is one extra freezer bag. I am still experimenting with this idea but I think it will work out. The next go to thing is breakfast for dinner. The teenagers are fine with pancakes or eggs and toast. They usually just want to get back to each other anyway so sometimes I will just let the planned meal sit until tomorrow and throw together something more group friendly on the fly.

  33. Pasta or soup.

    Red lentils soup – Chop some onion, and thrown them in with some butter until they get soft (but not brown). Add red lentils and vegetable broth. Boil. Eventually add some canned tomatoes and seasoning. So easy and all the ingredients could easily be kept at home.

    Else I would go for pasta + a sauce of canned tomatoes, onions, cucumber, carrots, black olives and feta cheese and sour cream. You cant go wrong with this one.

  34. I have lived Larissa’s scenario for the past ten years…and have a few more to go. Usually when last minute dinner guests appear I just add more side dishes or pull out an appetizer (like summer sausage, cheese and crackers) to stretch the meal. The other day I was planning to make Bar-B-Q Shrimp. When we had a few more mouths to feed at the last minute, I sauteed the shrimp and served po’boys on thick crusty french bread instead. Even growing boys fill up more quickly on bread!

    Now, if someone can just tell me what to do when I cook for extras and no one eats! I look forward to the ten minute ideas.

  35. In the interest of authenticity, I will confess that I would say, “Y’all come on in! What pizza toppings do you like?” and pick up the phone to Domino’s! But… some of my favorite 10 minute meals are what my kids have come to call “fancy sandwiches”! :-) They are fancy if you broil the bread, you know. So, sub sandwiches and fruit (if it was cold we would make french dip sandwiches), or paninis, but my grill may make it take a little longer depending on how many are here since I can only do one panini at a time. LOVE your one hour of pre-cooking that would lead you to 10 minute meals. Headed into a nutty season (as spring/ end of school is for so many of us), so I may do that soon.

  36. So glad I found this meme through The Blog Guidebook! Of course, I screwed up and put my name where it should say the name of the recipe…whoops! That’s Veggie Soup with Cheese Tortellini up there titled “Lori.” :)

  37. My “go-to” is what we call “Italian Chicken.” I freeze chicken breasts with Italian dressing. Cook up the chicken, cook a box of noodles, add more italian dressing to noodles and toss together with parmesan cheese. Since you need something in 10 or less, I would say have marniated chicken already cooked and cut up (and frozen). Make noodles and serve.

    This is a good one for hungry males. You can always stretch it by adding more noodles.

  38. I like to throw together sophisticated salads. Different types of veggies, proteins, and cheeses. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. People will be impressed!

  39. Becky Kingsbury says:

    My favorite one at the moment is canned salmon. I make up salmon cakes with some egg, seasoned breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and add in some other seasonings – dill, lemon pepper seasoning, dried parsley… Then all I need is couscous (5 mins) and a frozen veg in water with salt and butter (then it is seasoned when done cooking). Great throw together meal all done in 10 minutes.

  40. Taco salads. Some browned ground beef or turkey, cooked pinto or black beans, tortilla chips, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, salsa and whatever else you’d like. If you have already cooked meat in the freezer and canned beans or frozen cooked dried beans it’s just a matter of heating a couple things up and layering.

  41. My “go to” quick meal is Sloppy Joes. I freeze it in different size portions. Just a quick defrost & heat in the microwave and you’re good to go. I love those frozen Bertolli Pasta Meals in the bag! Good enough for 2 people.

    I added my Swedish Meatballs this week. Thanks for hosting!

  42. Nancy L. says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! Our children are still small, but my hubby is a youth pastor and we regularly have extra mouths to feed. Who knew teenage boys ate so much?? It gives me a preview of what’s to come. :-) Summer is absolute chaos around here & I’d like to be a little more organized this year. I’m taking notes!

  43. OK, with a 10-minute time limit, how can ANYone get a meal on the table? Pasta alone takes 15 minutes for the water to come to a boil! And rice is 20 minutes (30 for brown rice) But, I’ll play along & give you 2 or 3 30-minute meals…. BUT you have to have marinara sauce ready to go:

    1) Chicken manicotti: stuff uncooked manicotti tubes with raw chicken tenders (the long, thin part of the chicken breast) or sliced boneless chicken breast. Lay in baking dish. Cover with marinara sauce thinned with half again as much water and cover tightly with foil. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with Parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese, and bake 5 more minutes to melt the cheese. Done!
    2) Chicken parmesan: dip boneless chicken breasts in Italian-seasoned bread crumbs and lay in a baking dish. Cover with marinara sauce, top with Parmesan cheese, and bake 30 minutes. Serve with pasta of choice and additional marinara.
    3) Emeril’s Urky Lurky: here’s where it gets fun – any meat you’ve got on hand, like some chicken, or Italian sausage, or pepperoni, or whatever. Slice & quickly saute (meanwhile, begin cooking your long pasta of choice – I usually use fettuccine or linguine) in a skillet, then toss in sliced bell peppers, chopped onion and garlic, other saute-worthy veggies of choice. Saute until crisp-tender with red pepper flakes & dried oregano. Then toss with the now-cooked pasta, some chicken broth, cubed mozzarella, and grated Parmesan. The idea is to use what you’ve got on hand, and it all comes together beautifully with the broth and spices. My VERY picky son loves this one.

    A marinara sauce can be done w/in 30 minutes using just garlic, olive oil, crushed tomatoes, dried herbs & red pepper flakes, and a bit of sugar. Garlic cooks in 5 minutes, simmer sauce 20, and it’s delicious! I could walk you through a recipe, if you’d like.

  44. I am not a fan of convenience foods. I find that I don’t like the way they taste, so I would definitely not serve them to guests. So, for me, the key thing is to have some homemade basics frozen ready to go. Cooked chicken, cooked ground beef, marinara sauce, chili, enchiladas, buns and bagels. My fridge ALWAYS has cream cheese, salsa, sour cream, variety of already washed and cut veggies, salad ingredients and fruits and cheeses.
    Certain meals are so easy to double or triple when you make them and freeze well. Such as chili, enchiladas, lasagna, and tomato based soups.

    Last minute lunch guests? Pull out a frozen soup, or prepare a canned soup. While that is heating, slice some bagels (we prefer cheese bagels) and spread them with cream cheese. Sprinkle a little garlic bread seasoning on them then a slice of cheddar cheese. Place them on a foil lined baking sheet and pop them into a 350 oven for 10 – 15 mins, or until cheese has melted. A few fresh veggies on the side and you are golden!

    Last minute dinner guests? I like to make a thin marinara sauce, then I drop my frozen ravioli into the sauce and cook them right in there. Quick, easy and only one pot to clean up! Kids, teens and adults alike love this one!

    Kirstin Reply:

    I’m not a fan of convenience either and was just thinking how I need to make some more homemade frozen burritos and even some pre-done meats for taco salads, or BBQ chicken sammy’s….

  45. I have an italian beef sandwich recipe that takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. Then cook in the crock pot all day and your ready to make a hearty beef sandwich! My mom made these growing up and served with french fries. Easy and quick!

    http://poofycheeks.blogspot.com/2011/03/italian-beef-sandwich-recipe.html

  46. Jen

    Thanks for throwing my question out there! What amazing responses. Thank You and everyone!

    I am printing out the comments to have on hand the next time, probably tomorrow, I’m faced with this. Now I won’t need to turn to the possible responses listed in your P.S. Jen–It was like you peered right into my mind!! I guess we all feel similarly don’t we!! Nice to know we’re not alone!

    Larissa

  47. Veggie stir fry over brown rice is always on our list.

    In addition, we have two fast rice cooker dishes we love:

    1) Rice Cooker Mac and Cheese – http://joyinmykitchen.blogspot.com/2009/04/rice-cooker-mac-and-cheese.html

    2) Cheesy Brown Rice and Green Beans {you can make this entirely in the rice cooker by steaming the veggies in the steamer while the rice cooks} – http://joyinmykitchen.blogspot.com/2010/10/cheesy-green-bean-skillet.html

  48. I’m totally on the “cook the meats ahead of time” bandwagon. I put together Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas tonight for dinner from chicken that was already roasted, diced, packaged and frozen ahead of time from another meal. We fed two last-minute guests with it, too.

    I try to do a lot of my cooking for the week on Monday, at least with the main parts of the meal like the protein. Then I package into a plastic tub or ziplock and label with a sharpie. I use tape as a label if needed on my container. Then I put into the freezer or fridge, depending on when I need it, and it’s just a matter of remembering to thaw before I use.

    I always roast two chickens at a time, since it is the same amount of clean-up as roasting one in the oven. They are good for at least three meals (Roasted Chicken and potatoes or rice, a pot pie or other casserole, and a soup) and some sandwiches for lunch.

    I also brown my large pack of burger from Costco in two batches-one with onion, salt and pepper -another with homemade taco seasoning and onion, and package and label them for recipes (taco salad, chili, taco soup, burrito bar or bolognese sauce, etc.

    My 10 minute meal is pasta (I usually have one of the kids put the water on ahead of time if I am at a baseball practice or cub scouts, etc.) then mix up our winter or regular pesto. I buy Organic Veggie Mix frozen at Costco and add it right to the pasta water and cook it with the pasta for a one pot meal, Pesto Pasta Primavera. My family prefers pesto to red sauce, so I usually serve it once a week.

    Recipe for Spinach Pesto for Winter: http://www.savorthismoment.com/2011/03/whats-for-dinner-week-2.html

    Regular Pesto Recipe: http://www.savorthismoment.com/2007/09/summer-bounty.html

  49. I am in awe of everybody’s responses to this excellent post! I don’t have children so I have not had to “cook on demand” like you all have. I will definately be keeping this concept in mind (having a lot more ready in the freezer to use for dinners).
    I think you could use this same concept and pre-cook Italian sausage with garlic, onions and red bell peppers and keep it in the freezer for when you need it. You could serve it with pasta or if you were going low carb you could serve it on top of lightly sauteed shredded zucchini.
    A nice Italian meat and vegie sauce that you made ahead and froze could be used the same way.
    I cook gluten free, mostly cheese free and I don’t use many packaged foods so that will just make me more creative when I try to put your great concepts to use. (thanks!)

  50. Pasta with cottage cheese and bacon, just boil pasta and mix in crumbled bacon and cottage cheese, season with herb salt, or just salt and pepper and maybe chives.

    Spaghetti with lemon juice, parmesan and peas. Boil spaghetti, toss in some forzen peas in last 2 mins, drain and toss with some lemon juice mixed with a little olive oil and lashing of grated parmesan.

    2 of my go to meals when we forgot we had to eat when we get home from whatever excursion was on and I dont want to splurg on pizza or dont have the cash. If you have salad in fridge or bread rolls baked then serve with.

  51. I came up with this one by accident one day, but it worked GREAT! Plus, it’s a 3 Minute Meal! Now I try to keep the ingredients on hand.

    Ronzoni Quick Cook Pasta – cooks in 3 minutes
    Frozen meatballs
    Cream of mushroom soup

    Cook the pasta, microwave the meatballs, then dump it all together and stir in the cream of mushroom. Voila! Swedish meatballs in 3 minutes – and to me it tastes just as good as the hour long from-scratch versions I’ve made!

  52. This is great: just this morning, I get an email from the Dallas Morning News’ “recipe of the day” with this recipe: Spaghettini with Italian Sausage & Spinach. It’s under 30 minutes, healthy, and one-pot!
    http://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/food/recipes/20110308-spaghettini-with-sweet-italian-sausage-and-spinach.ece

  53. If I have unexpected supper guests (teens, at this point), I look in the fridge for leftovers. I figure that people can choose different options, like a smorgasbord. For example, for one meal, with one extra teen, I set the following out on the table with the casserole:

    leftover chicken thighs
    leftover slices of pizza
    6 jalapeno poppers

    I think that my husband went for some of the chicken thighs, and one of my kids ate some pizza, along with the casserole. I’m not sure what the extra kid ate, but I was glad to use up some leftovers along with the meal.

    Also, I know a lot of you will disagree, but I keep convenience foods on hand. For example, Sam’s Club has mesquite grilled chicken breasts — 2 of them heat up in the microwave in 4 minutes. Same thing with Sam’s Angus burgers — microwavable in 4 minutes. (I keep these on hand for DH, so I generally have half-a-dozen in the freezer.) If we had extra company, I’d put out a plate with maybe 4 chicken breasts on it, along with the meal.

  54. angi said it best…you don’t have to be stuffed at every meal…mt mom was great for this we had older neighbours who were notorious for coming around meal time……mom would not turn them away…..

    these were the days before microwaves…. first thing shed do is throw a cake mix quick quick in the oven.as soon as she saw someone pull up..a cake hot from oven with butter for dessert always fills you up..

    then she’d throw on the table a loaf of bread..yeah even the white sliced stuff and butter and celery radishes and dip..people can now start eating and chatting….meal you planned can follow and with smaller portions…

    then dessert..

    our quick meals

    1-fast fry pork or beef with eeeek instant mashed potatoes….or steamed in the bag vegs…..under 5 mins

    2-stir fry…pre steam vegs in bag in micro , cook up chicken breast or thaw it out….dump a bootle of teriyaki, open can of mini corn cobs, add steamed vegs, crushed almonds or peanut….all the while quinoa, couscous or minute rice cooks…took me 10 mins for huuuuuge skillet on monday ..the leftovers were awesome even cold.lol

    3-brown fround beef, make instant mashed potatoes….put beef in oven dish, can of cream of corn on top, mashed potatoes on top of that…broil under oven…sheppards pie

    4-poached chicken breast, although would be costly with lots of teens…but poach from frozen with steamed vegs in micro steam bags….

  55. Hope I’m not too late. I haven’t had teenagers in the home in a couple of years not but will be doing it again about 4 years as the “Second Round” hits the teens. We once figured up we would have a total of 25 years of teenagers in the house before the nest is empty. That was before the last adoption. My go to was Chicken Fried Rice. I alway have bags of chicken in the freezer, add cooked rice, season it with soy sauce and diced green onions. Add some peas, a small can of drained cooked diced carrots and call it a meal. IF they caught me a good mood, as in no one busted anything that day or jumped off something that they shouldn’t I would add egg drop soup. Easy. I also do a Chicken Ala King over egg noodles. Recently it’s been my older two sons popping in at lunch time. Love seeing them but they still eat like teens!! Taking a large can of cooked chicken,,w/broth add cream of chicken soup, onions, garlic, salt & pepper. Throw that in a casserole, top with a runny bisquick batter, pour melted butter over that. Bake. Add a salad and a veggie, I have two happy men sittin’ at Mama’s table again.

  56. Our favorite “teenage” recipe right now is Roast Beef Roll-Ups. Spread tortilla shells or wraps with cream cheese (we like the kind that has garlic and onion in it), layer on romaine lettuce, thin deli-type slices of roast beef, sprinkle with shredded cheese, and roll up. Wrap with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator to chill (this helps them “stick together” but isn’t necessary if you want to serve them right away). You can also use these for appetizers by cutting the rolls into half inch slices (like slice and bake cookies). I am sure you could use other combinations – ham and swiss, chicken and mexican cheese, etc. If you leave out the lettuce leaves until later, these could be frozen. We make them and keep them in the refrigerator for school lunches and quick meals on the go.

  57. Tahnks so much for hosting!!

  58. Jen, I have two pasta casseroles to add to the mix of fast meals:

    1 – Ham Noodle
    Precooked, cubed ham; can of condensed cream of chicken soup; noodles.
    I’ve used Spam (my favorite, but DH hates it), ham, hot dogs, chicken, turkey, and other meats here – use whatever you have. :) Also tried browned hamburger or bulk pork sausage with a can of cheese soup – excellent!

    2 – Goulash
    Box of mac & cheese from store (cook noodles, put cheese powder in casserole to mix w/soup); can of condensed tomato soup; 1/2 pound browned hamburger; onions if you like, frozen, dried, or raw.
    This is a nice small dish; you can double or triple it. My mom (who I got this from) adds canned tomatoes, and I do sometimes as well.

    Both of these have to cook about a half hour to warm through, but you can also mix them & put them in the microwave to warm up. They’re better in the oven (cover & cook at about 350 degrees) because they crisp a bit on top, but who cares? If you’re pressed for time, sometimes texture has to take a back seat. :)

    Thanks for all the great ideas! :) Happy day to you all!!!

  59. I love the idea of 10 minute meals! I pride myself in being able to get a good meal on the table in less time than it would take my husband to get to the take out restaurant! I always have chicken stock and shredded chicken in the fridge as well as canned sauce, corn tortillas I either make ahead or have from the store and shredded cheese. Quick quesadillas are an option and if you have a few more minutes you can either make an enchilada casserole or use the torillas like lasagna noodles and make a Mexican chicken lasagna! We always have extras when we make this stuff and so kids are always welcome! Linking up an easy recipe for barbecue beef on a bun that only took 30 minutes and I am sure if you used precooked ground beef it could be ready in 10! All the best, Alex

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