Friday, March 21, 2014

New Feature on the Blog: Quick Weeknight Dinners, or What Did I Make Tonight?

Let's face it, getting a good meal on the table on a weekday evening is hard. Coming up with new and interesting dishes to make, finding the time and inclination to cook, serving dinner at a reasonable hour so the kids can get to bed, and making food that everyone is willing to eat are constant challenges.

I take some pride in my ability to put a tasty, home-cooked dinner on the table several nights a week. It usually takes me under an hour to prepare and serve a weeknight meal, and it's usually cooked on the fly, without planning ahead and without a recipe. I have a few basic techniques and styles that I then spin out variations on, depending on my mood and what's available in the house.

In order for this to work, I make sure I always have certain ingredients available so that I can whip up a quick dinner. These may include (but are not limited to):

Israeli couscous

Boneless, skinless chicken breast
Cut up whole chicken and/or leg quarters and breasts
Fake (vegetarian) ground beef
Canned beans
Canned tuna

Frozen corn
Frozen peas
Canned tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes

Sauces and Condiments:
Soy sauce
Marinara/tomato sauce
Salad dressing
Barbecue sauce

Spices, etc.:
Rice vinegar
Curry powder
Garlic powder
Ground ginger
Smoked paprika
White sugar
Brown sugar
Vegetarian powdered soup base

Olive oil
Canola oil
Sesame oil
Corn starch
Shredded cheese

The way I'd describe this list is, "If I run out of this, I absolutely must refill or restock it as soon as possible," as opposed to "Things that are nice to have around if I'm making something specific." If I have most of the things above, I can put something together without much difficulty. (This is not all I have in my kitchen - we also have breakfast and lunch stuff, snacks, fruit, etc., but we're talking about dinner staples specifically here, so this list is specific to that topic.)

I should note that we do in fact eat vegetables other than what's on this list (we belong to a CSA and get a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits every week), that I acknowledge that some of these dishes may not be extremely healthy, but they're all home cooked and use as few processed ingredients as possible, and I do my best to include a starch, vegetable, and protein in every dinner.

I also want to reiterate that these are styles and techniques that I play around with. You don't have to stick to my "recipe." Rather, I hope to give you some ideas about how to use the foods you have lying around, ways to get dinner for you and your family on the table quickly, and some confidence in the kitchen cooking without a recipe. I rarely actually measure how much of anything I'm using, unless I'm trying out a new seasoning mix or flavor combination. I also rarely end up making exactly the same thing twice! Feel free to substitute your own proteins for mine, add or subtract to your taste, and put new twists on my tried-and-true basics. Many of these dishes can probably easily be modified to fit certain dietary restrictions. All of them are kosher, often dairy, and many are vegetarian or even vegan (or easily modified to be vegetarian/vegan).

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