Save Time and Money with Desperation Dinners

admin / February 3, 2012

Workwise it’s been a hectic week for me and sometimes we’re all entitled to days when cooking dinner is the last thing we want to do. I know it’s tempting to get in the car and head to restaurant but here are some meals I fall back on when things get crazy. I call them my desperation dinners.

Cook From the Pantry Supply

If you’ve never been motivated to keep the pantry well stocked, now’s a great time to do some planning. Make a list of things you’d like to keep on hand and buy one or two items each time you’re at the store. If you stock the right ingredients it means you can always pull together a great meal with items that are just sitting on the shelves. Pasta, tuna, olives, dried basil, and Italian dressing can become a hearty pasta dish. A pizza mix can be put together in minutes and topped with whatever’s on hand. It’s even a great way to use up leftovers. Pasta and a jar of marinara sauce is one of the quickest meals to pull together. Stuffing can make chicken breasts and pork chops taste like you’ve been in the kitchen all afternoon. And packages of flavored rice mixes, like Spanish rice, and a can of red or black beans, topped with salsa and cheese, can be turned into tacos and burritos.

Check the Freezer
The freezer can be another place to keep ingredients for desperation dinners, especially when you pair them up with pantry staples. Fish is one of the fastest cooking foods and ideal to keep on hand. And one of my favorite standbys is potatoes. Frozen hash browns make a quick base for a quiche instead of pastry. Cook the hash browns so they’re lighted browned, press them into a quiche pan and top with your favorite quiche recipe and bake as usual. Plus, I always have some mashed potatoes stored in the freezer. Some are flavored with garlic, or caramelized onions, and some have chopped chilies. They take a few minutes to defrost and can be paired with just about anything from a simple cut of meat to veggie burgers.

Make Your Own Meal Kits
When you have some extra ingredients and some extra time, put together a few meal kits ready for speedy dinners. Cook an extra chicken, cube the meat and place it in freezer bags. It can be turned into things like chicken hash, or a quick potpie. Or even mixed with cheese and chilies for quesadillas. Another one of my favorite speedy meals is a stir-fry. Keep a package of homemade marinated chicken along with some chopped vegetables like peppers, onions, and carrots, and within 20 minutes you’ve got a really great meal.

Another quick meal I also like is Shepherd’s Pie, and if you’ve got ready prepared mashed potatoes it’s even quicker. Here’s my speedy version of the dish.

Heat about half a cup of chopped onions and carrots in a skillet; add a pound of ground beef or turkey and cook until the onions and carrots are soft.

Add some stock, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce and about two tablespoons of tomato paste and heat through. Put the mixture into a casserole dish and top with mashed potatoes.

Sprinkle them with chives and parsley, bake at about 350 degrees until everything is heated through. It’s great served with green beans or peas.

Soup and Sandwich Time
No one ever said dinner has to be meat and two vegetables. Soups and sandwiches can make a satisfying meal. Start with a tomato-based soup and add things like cheese, sour cream and crushed tortilla chips. It pairs well with a garden wrap, made from a tortilla and filled with avocado, tomatoes and Monterey cheese with hot peppers. Or even a BLT with a twist…use some sun-dried tomatoes. Another great combo is a roast beef sandwich and French onion soup. One product I really like to use in sandwiches is the new Hellmann’s Dijonnaise, a creamy Dijon mustard that’s fat free, but yet really adds some zing to just about everything it’s paired with.