Life is busy. No doubt about that. I presume that when women, who traditionally stayed at home, headed out into the workforce, the American entraprenurial machine saw an great opportunity: create foods that come in a box, or a can, and can be cooked fast. I know, I’ve eaten probably 100x my weight in that prepackaged food. It’s not all bad. In fact, I know of things that I’d just assume eat from a box instead of its homemade counterpart. Macaroni and Cheese is prime example. The American food industry has given up plenty of reasons to buy premade stuff instead of making our own. All this under the guise that it will save you time. Well, I’m here to tell you different. Below you will find four quick worknight meals made from fresh ingredients. Mostly.
This isn’t a nutrition weblog, so don’t read on expecting a dissertation on health food. To be frank, I believe fresh made homemade food is better than the overprocessed, aplocolypse-surviving counter parts that plauge the isles of our supermarkets. Maybe that’s a fact, or maybe just my opinion. If for no other reason, “real food” makes people happy. For me as home cook, it makes me feel good not only to eat what I make, but also to see joy on the faces of those for whom I cook. No guest to my house has ever commented on how wonderful the frozen pizza was, but assemble and grill one for them (assuming you don’t torch the crust, see here) and they will surely have something nice to say to you.
One option for a school night meal that will make most people happy is quesadillas. That wonderful, toasty, gooey, hand food that can be prepared in a myiad of ways to suit each eater in your house. Tortillas and cheese. What a foundation. Sure you could stop there, I’ve done that plenty, but I think we all agree it could be refined a little further. We use chicken in ours primarily. Usually leftover. The ones pictured are made with some leftover spatchcocked chicken from the weekend before. Add a little cumin and salsa and you’ve got a 5 minute filling. Assembly goes like this: Tortilla-Cheese-filling-cheese-tortilla and then you heat it up. I like to use our Blackstone griddle but these can be made on hot cast iron skillet, or even baked in the oven. Brush with little melted butter before popping them in the hot box, if you go the oven route. Plate it up with sliced avocado, sour cream and chips and salsa. Pretty hard not to smile when you sit down to that. This may take all of 30 minutes. Here are a few pictures:
Another way to get meals to the table between school and a cub scout meeting is to prep a few days ahead. I am usually home on Sundays and thats the day we do our grocery shopping. I use this ‘day of rest’ to prep for the week to come. I’ll throw a pork shoulder on the Big Green Egg first thing in the morning to smoke and it’ll be done in time to cook dinner on the same batch of charcoal. A five pound pork butt will provide my family two meals so half goes into the freezer. A random weeknight and we have smokey, pulled pork sliders to the table in 15 minutes.
A third option, and a favorite of my wife’s is breakfast. More specifically, pancakes. These mix up in less than 5 minutes and take about that long to cook. These can be scratch made quickly from pantry staples. Serve plain as pictured with butter, maple syrup (this happens to be homemade) and some fresh berries. If you want to church it up, add a mashed banana and some chocolate chips and a dust with powdered sugar and your kids will flip out. Add some bacon or sausage and your ready you go.
Finally, stir fry. Cheeper than chinese takeout and without the language barrier hurdle when your order over the phone. We have a basic rice cooker at home. When I hit he button to start the rice, I start prepping the meat and vegetables. Chicken thighs and shrimp work exceptionally. Cut meat small for quick cooking and easy eating. Toss the meat into a quick garlic, ginger, and soy marinade while you cut the vegetables. Even easier is to buy a vegetable mix out of your grocer’s produce section. Avoid frozen if you can. We generally use a mix packet for the sauce, but it can easily be made with corn starch, water, soysauce, powdered ginger and garlic powder. Chicken goes into a blazing hot wok, or on a flattop as shown below, when the chicken is done add the vegetables and spinkle on some chili flakes. Cover with your sauce and serve over your rice. Another 30 minute meal.
Above are just a few examples of getting a real meal on your family’s table in a short amount of time. Dinner time is important to me. Sitting around with my family, breaking bread and sharing our day’s stories. I hope that if you are in the camp of folks that reaches for a boxed meal because your so busy, you’ll consider one of the options above. If you do, I’d love to hear about it. Each can be modified to your liking and and will make you look like a rockstar to your family. Enjoy!