I’ve become quite good at making an easy, tasty, healthy (or relatively healthy dinner) in a short amount of time – which is a handy skill for anyone to have. Sometimes I will have been busy or out all day, and there’s been kids’ sports training or a game after school, and I land in the kitchen at 6pm looking to make dinner.
It used to stress me out but now it’s a little game I play to see how quick I can get food on the table that everyone will eat.
I thought I might post a few of my regular quick dinners for anyone needing fresh ideas or inspiration and also so that I have them all in the one place myself. Sometimes I won’t make something for a while and forget all about it. (Does anyone else have that problem or is it just me?)
When I had a baby I often used to start my dinner prep, including making my own pasta sauces from scratch, in the mornings after school drop-off, which shortened the time in the kitchen later on. But now that the kids are all in school and I’m working more I will happily take shortcuts with supermarket sauces once or twice a week.
Some are definitely better quality than others, and you have to know where to find the good stuff! For example, I know that the nearest Harris Farm Market is good for fresh sauces and soups that are very close to home-made. I bought soup there for my mum last year when she was sick and I wanted to take her some for the week but didn’t have time to make it.
A quick awesome meal is easier to pop out if you have a well-stocked pantry and fresh herbs growing in a garden bed or a pot somewhere. And nice cheese. Where I’ve noted them, quantities are for my family of seven, with kids 13 down to five.
Tuna Pesto Pasta
Fill up the kettle with water and turn it on. Grab a tin of tuna (425g), jar of pesto sauce (about 200ml), carton of pouring cream, and parmesan cheese. Get whatever salad stuff is in the fridge, and whatever seeds or nuts are in the pantry. Pour the boiled water into a big pot, add a good dash of salt and in a minute it’s ready for adding the pasta (500g/choose one that takes <10 mins to cook). While the pasta’s cooking, drain the tuna.
Grab a salad bowl and a grater or microplane for the cheese. Make and dress the salad (I make a vinaigrette nearly every night, it takes <10 seconds). Sprinkle over some seeds and chopped nuts. Yell out to someone to set the table. Drain the pasta, throw in the tuna, pesto, and a good splash of cream. Yell again about setting the table, and to bring bowls to the kitchen bench, with more urgency this time. Put the pasta into bowls and let them grate over their own cheese.
The day-before-grocery-shopping desperation dinner
I’m not sure about adding this because I figure everyone already does it, but just in case it helps: Go to the back of your pantry shelves and take out the just- or nearly-expired jars of olives, sundried capsicum, and sundry pickles, a tin or two of baked beans, spaghetti, or tuna. Any left-over deli meat in the fridge comes out. Look for packets of wraps, boxes of crackers, rice cakes, or sliced bread. Slice some cheese.
Make a salad with whatever is left in the bottom of the fridge, or heat up some frozen vegetables in the microwave. Put everything on a couple of large platters and in fancy bowls, party-style. Put some extra virgin olive oil on one half of a small plate, and balsamic oil on the other, to make a dip for stale bread. For dessert, take out that box of minced fruit pies left from Christmas, dollop some Nutella on top and see if anyone will eat them (it’s worth a try*).
Steak with chickpea salad
Minute steaks are quick to cook, and thicker steaks, if you don’t want them well done, still take less than 10 minutes. I don’t have a huge pan so I use two pans at a time to work faster. Season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper before cooking, and only turn them over once. While waiting to turn them over I make the salad:
Drain a tin or two of chickpeas and add finely chopped tomatoes (one or two), cucumber (one or two), and red onion (I use about half of one). Roughly chop up some fresh parsley and add that. Otherwise, add some dried herbs. Add fetta if you have some. For the dressing, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and some dried sumac or sweet paprika is nice.
Napoletana pasta and pear, walnut, and rocket salad
This is quick and cheap and feels a bit special. Fill up the kettle with water and turn it on. Pour the boiled water into a big pot, add a good dash of salt and in a minute it’s ready for adding the pasta (500g). While that’s cooking, grab a jar of napoletana (ie. tomato-based) sauce and parmesan cheese.
Get some rocket (or baby spinach, or watercress) and put it on a platter or shallow serving bowl. Take a pear and slice it very thinly, place it over the greens. Roughly chop a handful of walnuts and scatter them over the salad (it’s nicer if you toast them which takes longer, but you don’t have to). Chop little nuggets of blue cheese and scatter them over too (you could use thinly sliced parmesan instead, or crumble some fetta). Mix a bit of balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and drizzle it over the salad.
Drain the pasta, add the pasta sauce, put the parmesan out with a grater for people to help themselves, and dish up.
Put a dab of butter (not margarine) into a large skillet, add a teaspoon of olive oil, and heat it up. Break 6-8 eggs into a bowl, add a splash of milk, some grated cheese, any chopped up veggies you like (mushrooms are nice, and capsicum, or sliced broccoli) any leftover sausages, steak, or chicken, sliced up.
Tip the mixture into the skillet, and keep an eye on it while you quickly slice some bread and make a salad. When the bottom seems set, place the skillet under the grill to firm up and slightly brown on top. (Rinse the eggshells and crush them up and they will deter snails and slugs around your plants.) Serve with a salad and crusty bread or crackers.
Teriyaki salmon and broccolini
This takes slightly longer because you have to heat the oven but I include it because it’s so good and still super quick to make. Put salmon fillets, skin side down, into a baking tray and pour a bottle of teriyaki sauce over them. Cover the tray with foil and pop them into the oven at around 200 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes.
While they cook, roughly chop the broccolini and put it into a microwave-safe glass bowl. Cover the vegetables with water, add a bit of salt, put on the microwave cover, and cook them for about 5 minutes, then drain. If you want carbs, refresh a packet of egg noodles in a bowl of boiling water from the kettle, or use a couple of microwave rice pouches. They’ll hopefully be enough sauce with your salmon to flavour the rice and vegetables too.
Having these quick meal ideas up my sleeve really make it easier when it comes to balancing a full family and working life. What’s your favourite quick and easy dinner?
*If you like fruit mince pies – sorry!