Quick and easy dinner ideas
In the waning days of summer, the last thing we want to do is spend a lot of time in the kitchen fixing something for dinner. Quick and easy are our bywords.
That’s why we like to keep our pantry well stocked, because we don’t want to make a trip to the supermarket either. And when we buy ground beef or sausage, we like to freeze half-pound clumps in small plastic bags that can be thawed quickly in the microwave for “emergencies.”
And there is always this or that in the fridge that you can put to good use in a creative, no-fuss, delicious meal.
Following are five favorites for a quick weeknight dinner or a no-fuss weekend meal. Plan ahead by stocking the basic essentials in your pantry and freezer.
After a quick assembly on the kitchen counter and 10 minutes in the oven, you’re done and dusted, as the English would say. Plus, it’s a good way to clean out your fridge’s veggie bin and use leftover cheeses.
3/4 cup leftover pasta sauce
1/4 onion, diced
1 cup shredded cheeses
1/2 pound sausage or ground beef, cooked
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Arugula or spinach
Olive oil for drizzling
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Use a supermarket pizza dough such as Trader Joe’s or Pillsbury, or a ball from your pizzeria.
Spread sauce almost to the edge of your rolled out pizza crust, leaving about an inch bare. (Tomato sauce thinned with water and a bit of oregano and salt added will work in a pinch. We keep Boboli brand packets of pizza sauce in the pantry.)
Use veggies lurking in your refrigerator’s veggie bin: onion, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, bell pepper, etc. Shred some left-over cheeses (such as cheddar, provolone, mozzarella).
If you’re using ground beef or sausage, cook it first. Sweat mushrooms and bell pepper slices in a little oil to remove excess moisture. Parboil harder veggies such as broccoli to an al dente stage.
After you’ve laid down the sauce, build the pizza in this order: cooked meat, onion, cheese, and finally the veggies. Add a few grinds of pepper and the Parmesan. Brush the edge of the pizza with olive oil.
Place pizza in the oven on a pizza pan or sheet pan and cook until the edges are browned and the cheese is bubbly, about 10-12 minutes. Remove and garnish with arugula or spinach, torn basil leaves, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
If you use a pizza stone, remember to place in the oven to preheat.
Got some leftover rotisserie chicken? Quick chicken tacos to the rescue!
Rotisserie chicken, shredded
Cumin, smoked paprika, chili powder
Salt and pepper
Chopped radishes or cabbage
Lime wedges for squeezing
By hand or with forks, shred leftover rotisserie chicken and set aside.
Caramelize some sliced onions in olive oil over medium heat with a little salt. Remove caramelized onions with tongs to a plate. In the same pan with the oil left over from cooking the onions, heat the shredded chicken, sprinkled with cumin, paprika, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.
Slightly char tortillas over a gas burner or heat in a dry pan.
Place two tortillas at a time on a large plate, sprinkle with some shredded cheese, and microwave a few seconds until cheese starts to melt.
Remove and build tacos with chicken, caramelized onion, chopped radishes or cabbage, cilantro, and plenty of lime juice.
Want some crispy, delicious chips to go with your tacos? Or to add to your plate of crudites and hummus? Make your own in the oven, easy-peasy, using tortillas.
Tortillas (one per person)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
With kitchen scissors, cut each tortilla into eight triangles. Gently toss in a bowl with lime juice, coating all surfaces.
Arrange in a single layer on a cooking sheet (lined with parchment if available). Use two sheets to avoid overlapping if you’re making a lot of chips. Dust with cumin, spray top sides with cooking spray, and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Place in oven, cook for 8 minutes, rotate sheet, and cook another 8 minutes until golden brown. If you’re using two cooking sheets, when you rotate them, also switch their positions. Let them cool on the sheet before serving. If you stack them while hot, steaming may spoil the crunch.
This is not your grandmother’s slaw, but after you taste this, you may never go back. Serves two.
1/4 head green cabbage
4-inch length of cucumber, diced
2 green onions, chopped, including green ends
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
Juice from half lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice cabbage thinly, then chop into approximately 2-inch lengths. Place in a medium bowl.
Toast slivered almonds in a dry pan on the stove, add to the bowl.
Add chopped onions, shredded carrot and diced cucumber. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix well with olive oil, rice vinegar and lemon juice.
NOTE: You can mix in a can of tuna to add protein to the salad. It’s a tasty combination.
We keep a bag of scallops and a bag of jumbo shrimp in the freezer for a last-minute, no fuss meal. A quick thaw in cold running water and you’re ready to go.
Sometimes they end up in a seafood taco. But this time of year, the grill beckons. This seafood grill, inspired by the Food Network’s Geoffrey Zakarian, serves 4. Grill time is 6 to 8 minutes.
16 jumbo shrimp
2 lobster tails
Olive oil for drizzle
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tablespoon hot sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Zest of one lemon
2 lemons, halved
Thaw the shrimp and scallops overnight in the fridge or straight from the freezer in cold running water. Blot with paper towels to dry.
If lobster tails aren’t in your budget or in your freezer, substitute more shrimp and scallops.
Blanch thawed lobster tails in salted boiling water for 8 minutes and then plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. When cooled, cut tails in two lengthwise (in the shell) and pat dry with a paper towel.
In a medium pot, stir butter, paprika, chili powder, garlic and (optional) hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Place over low heat until melted.
Combine finely chopped cilantro, parsley, chives, mint and thyme with lemon zest. Add a third of the herb mixture to the melted butter and reserve the rest to garnish the platter.
To prevent slippage on the grill, double skewer the scallops, shrimp, and lobster tails. Place on a tray and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, spray with cooking spray or wipe down with a paper towel dipped in oil, gripped with tongs.
Grill each lemon half, flesh side down, until charred, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
Place skewers of seafood on the grill and cook with the lid open, flipping once, 3-4 minutes per side, until scallops and shrimp are opaque in the centers and the lobster tails are warmed through.
Remove all the seafood to a large platter, drizzle with some of the melted butter mixture, and garnish with a scattering of the reserved herbs mix and serve with grilled lemon halves. Pour leftover melted butter into small ramakins for dipping.
Serve with corn on the cob and a simple green salad.
OK, it’s easy, but it might not be so quick. I promise you won’t care when you dig in to the feast.
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.