My season of life right now is quite a busy one. Last fall, it seemed that we often found ourselves finishing up a work session at my childhood home just in time to come home and figure out supper. This spring, we are apt to get involved in work sessions at our little cottage, as there is much to do there to make it truly livable and comfortable. So we will be facing the same situation again. I was talking with my friend Jennifer the other day about how challenging this is and how important it is to have in mind in advance what supper will be.
Many days, of course, I'll put something in the slow cooker ahead of time, and that works perfectly. But there are many other days when a last-minute meal is in order. It occurred to me that others might like some ideas for this sort of meal. After all, the working person gets home just as tired and often has the same problem of figuring out a meal. So does a stay-at-home mom with a fussy baby or a busy homeschooling schedule. So I'll just share a few ideas I've relied on over the years, and a couple of newer ones. Most of these meals use regular items you can just pull out of your pantry.
If you have an hour and a half-- this will be mostly unattended cooking -- make Chili-Topped Baked Potatoes. Bake potatoes in the oven as you usually would. Then, maybe 15 minutes before serving, heat up canned vegetarian style chili to serve over them. Serve with any kind of toppings that would be good on tacos -- shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, shredded lettuce, chives or green onions. This makes a wonderful supper on a cold night. You could serve it with maybe a salad or baby carrots.
If you have an hour and fifteen minutes -- again, this will be mostly unattended baking -- makePOLENTA BAKE
1 package of chicken sausage (fully cooked type such as Al Fresco) -- in the sweet apple flavor
1 large sweet onion
1 large apple (Honeycrisp is the best!) or 2 smaller apples
1 tube garlic and herb polenta
Salt & pepper (optional)
Have a 9 x 13-inch baking dish ready and just add the ingredients as you prepare them. Slice up the chicken sausages. I slice each one lengthwise and then cut them into about 1/4-inch slices crosswise. Peel the onion, cut it in half and cut each half into wedges. (Or cut them smaller if your onion is really huge.) Wash, core and slice the apples into wedges. Don't bother to peel them. Then slice your polenta. I cut it in quarters lengthwise and then slice it between 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch thick. Now drizzle some olive oil (at least a tablespoon, but it's up to you) over the ingredients in the baking dish. Salt and pepper to taste if you like, but it's really optional. I forgot it last time and the dish was still wonderful. Stir everything together well.
Bake at 375º for 1 hour.
I think you could make endless variations on this dish by using other flavors of sausage and including different vegetables like peppers, zucchini, etc. rather than apples.
|This is the sausage that I use|
If you have 45 to 60 minutes, you could make Corn Chowder or Clam Chowder. Here is how I make corn chowder:
Use a heavy kettle or Dutch oven that will hold enough soup to feed your family. Chop 1 or 2 onions and, if you like (though these aren’t “traditional” ingredients) you can also chop a couple of celery ribs and shred a couple of carrots. Saute´these in your heavy kettle in some butter or olive oil. You won’t need much -- maybe a couple of tablespoons. Cook and stir until the vegetables are tender. Now, peel and dice as many potatoes as you need to feed your family. I would probably use at least four medium potatoes. Now add hot water to nearly cover the potatoes. Add a few shakes of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add 1 (15 oz.) can of whole kernel corn, undrained, 1 (15 oz.) can of cream style corn, and 1 can (13 oz.) evaporated milk. If you have a large family or a large kettle, you can add one more can of each. Heat through and add salt & pepper to taste. If you enjoy the flavor of herbs, a sprinkle of thyme and/or marjoram go nicely with corn chowder. Sprinkle with paprika before serving.
This would be great with whole wheat or multigrain bread. If you are feeding even heartier appetites, you could serve the chowder with grilled cheese sandwiches or tuna melts.
And here is my easy recipe for
SIMPLE CLAM CHOWDER
2 Tblsp. butter
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
4 potatoes, peeled and diced (I like Yukon Gold)
2 cans chopped or minced clams, not drained
1 large can evaporated milk
Salt, pepper, Old Bay seasoning and paprika to taste
In a large soup pot, melt the butter. Add celery and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are almost tender. Add the clam juice; refill the bottle with water a couple of times and add the water to the pot as well. Add the potatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Stir in the clams and evaporated milk; heat through. Add seasonings to taste.
There would be time while this simmers to make biscuits to accompany the chowder, if you like. My favorite recipe for biscuits is Iron Skillet Biscuits from Marilyn at Mountain Top Spice.
If you only have a half hour or so, you can make an easy dish we really like: Tuna Mac'n'Cheese. Just make up 2 packages of boxed macaroni and cheese according to the package directions. We buy the Annie's organic type so we don't feel quite so guilty about it. The variety pictured below is the one I most often use. Then just drain and flake a can of solid white tuna, mix it into the macaroni and cheese, and heat through. That's it. It would be good with a bagged salad, or coleslaw, or cooked frozen green beans or canned beets, heated, or even grape or cherry tomatoes. Something to make the plate a little more colorful.
Also in the half-hour category: Pancakes, waffles, scrambled eggs or omelets would all make great quick meals if your family will eat breakfast for dinner. Mine would always happily do that. A fruit salad would be nice and you can make one quickly if you keep frozen and canned fruit on hand.
If you only have 15 or 20 minutes, you could make up some quick wrap sandwiches with any kind of wraps or with flour tortillas. Spread these with mayo or mustard, layer in some sliced cheese, deli meat, lettuce, pickles, sliced tomatoes -- whatever you have. If you have deli coleslaw, pasta salad or potato salad on hand, that is great. If not, serve with any type of chips or raw vegetables -- or heat up a can of tomato soup.
Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup is a classic quick supper that most people enjoy. My hubby and I also like fried egg sandwiches. We just fry the eggs and add a half slice of cheese on top of each. Sometimes I will saute chopped green peppers and chopped onions (from bags of the frozen veggies) before adding the eggs. Then we just make toast, sandwich the eggs in between and add ketchup or mustard. All we need is a side of chips, salad, roasted veggies, baked beans, home fries or whatever we might have.
I hope that these simple ideas are helpful to someone as we come into the busy season of spring cleaning, gardening, house projects and more!