I concur with JenMarie about the couscous.
Here're my weeknight staples:
Couscous with broiled lambchops rubbed in cumin
Pan sauteed chicken breast in a light lemon sauce, served with pan grilled asparagus or other firm green vegetable, and orzo on the side.
Tofu stirfry with ginger and frozen peas, maybe some brown rice.
make a batch of meatballs, cook on the weekend, and keep them in the freezer. Reheat with mushrooms and little beef stock, serve over egg noodles (with a pat of butter, a teaspoon of
sour cream, fresh black pepper to taste.)
Shrimp quesadillas (with frozen shrimp), queso fresco, tomato and cilantro, and a salad
croque monsieur and tomoto soup
It sounds counter intuitive, but keep a couple of good cookbooks at work. I flip through them at lunch and decide what to make for dinner. Rotate them seasonally.
Currently keeping Fast Food My Way by Jacque, A no name soup book, and a 30 minute meal guide (not a Rachel book) handy.
Photocopy out what you're going to cook and take it with you as a shopping list.
I like to make carbonara for a good meal quick. Cook the bacon while you boil the spaghetti, mix up eggs and grated parmesan, then throw over the hot drained pasta and add back a little pasta water. The whole deal takes about 20 minutes. Just keep the stove off after adding the eggs--they're supposed to be creamy, not scrambled.
a good fast-meal standby -- when you first get home, make some instant couscous (i use whole wheat couscous and make it w/ broth for more flavor). Then throw a chopped onion and sliced zucchini into a pot with olive oil. Add some garlic, can of whoile tomatoes, a can of drained chick peas, and some favorite spices (cumin, curry) S&P. Leave the the pot on medium high, go change, check the mail, pet the dog... In 10-15 minutes, call everyone to the table and serve bowls of couscous with the veg stew on top. Oh, almost forgot my secret -- right before serving it up, stir a generous tablespoon or two of butter into the veg stew to give it a nice richness and depth.
I don't even get home until after 6:30! But I cook almost every night, and the following plan enables me to get dinner on the table fairly quickly.
First, weekday dinners are kept very simple - meat, chicken or fish with a soup or salad and vegetables, maybe a little bit of starch. On the weekends, I might get a big piece of salmon, or fresh scallops, or a bag of frozen shrimp, and cut or package it into serving portions and freeze. Same with pork chops or pork loin, beef steaks, chicken tenders or breasts or thighs.
Having all these pre-portioned protein items in the freezer makes life fairly simple (I get elaborate on weekends). The night before, while preparing dinner, I get out two portions of something and put it in the fridge to thaw; it is usually thawed perfectly by the next evening. I don't use complicated recipes - usually a quick saute or broil with maybe a pan sauce. I might cook a very little bit of potato or pasta or rice, not enough for leftovers because I portion control everything. I'll saute some greens or cook some frozen vegetables, and have either a soup (chicken broth with a few tortellini and a little parsley or green onion for instance, very quick from packaged broth and frozen tortellini) or a salad (I keep a bowl of torn lettuces and vegetables in the fridge, prepped every couple of days) to start. That's all. It can get kind of boring, but with lemon and cooking sauces and so on you can vary things enough to be tolerable. I don't like leftovers, but Mr. Deedee does, so if I'm cooking shrimp or chicken, his favorites, I'll take out enough for him to have for lunch the next day. And I will put it directly in a container for the fridge when I'm dishing up so we're not tempted to finish it. I try not to have a lot of starchy foods, and we don't eat sweets during the week. That's what works for us, anyway.
Pepin's Fast Food My Way gets a lot of use, as do recipes from Epicurious and (gasp) Rachel Ray (she is irritating but some of her recipes actually work belive it or not). Her sausage & pumpkin pasta is really yummmmy.
Usually 1 night per week is some pasta recipe that does not require my home made tomato sauce (tonight is carbonara, sometimes I do a blender tuna sauce which is like tonnato sauce), and easy things like grilled sausages with potatoes or rice & salad, rotisserie chickens dressed up with indian spices.
On my days off (keep in mind I already work in a kitchen) I'll make some pizza dough. Prebake some into 6" or 8" rounds & freeze them so the kids can make their own pizzas when I'm not home.
I always make a huge batch of tomato sauce & store them in mason jars. So pasta is always fast.
I'll make a big batch of curry & freeze it. I freeze them in those microwavable plastic bowls you find at the supermarket.
Lasagna is the same deal..make a big one & freeze them in microwavable containers.
There is always bread in the freezer.
I buy ciabatta loaves & make garlic bread out of it. Split the whole thing down the middle & put my garlic spread on & then freeze it. Sometimes I'll cut them into single portions before freezing if I know I'm just cooking for 1 or 2 people.
Salads are what I usually have a lot of since I usually get home late. I buy & precut veggies & leave them in salad bags.
For dessert I always have frozen cookie dough. When I make it I either roll them into logs, wrap in parchment & cut & slice what I need. Or I'll scoop them & put them in a ziploc bag.
I've kept unbaked shortcake dough already cut into rounds in the freezer. Choux puff is always handy. I make it,pipe them out , freeze them. Some store bought ice cream & fudge sauce & you have some profiteroles for dessert.
Sugarbuzz - I see lots of people are freezing bread. Tell me more. Do you take it out on the am to defrost for dinner, or do you have a quicker method? I love the idea of garlic bread ready to go - would you be willing to share your 'garlic spread'? Any changes you make to your cookie dough if you are going to freeze it?
Yes..If I know before I leave the house that I'll need it when I get home I'll leave it in the fridge to thaw out. I suppose you could just throw it in the oven frozen as well.
My garlic spread is nothing more than some roasted garlic,fresh herbs & butter.
Bring one pound unsalted butter to room temp. Beat with a paddle on mixer to cream ..add roasted garlic(cooled down),finely chopped herbs(rosemary,thyme,parsley) & salt to taste. I don't puree the garlic I put them in whole & just let it get chunky when it's mixed.
As for the cookie dough I don't change anything to the recipe.
Shortbread freezes well too.
Do you freeze the scooped cookie dough before you put them in the ziploc? I've always been afraid it would freeze into one big lump if I just put them together raw so I freeze it on a cookie sheet first and then put it in a ziploc bag. If it works the other way, I could save a step. Thanks!
--Meal-sized salads with quick-grilled proteins, esp. greek or caesar or chef salads w/grilled chicken. Boneless/skinless chix cooks on the gas grill in 10-12 minutes, which is just long enough to prep the salad. If you keep olives, good cheese, croutons, and lettuce on hand, you can incorporate whatever else is in the crisper..cuces, radishes, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, etc.
--Sandwiches: clubs, BLTs, chili dogs (small portions of chili stashed in freezer) or pigs in blankets (frozen bread dough), grilled chicken in a pita, smoked turkey w/avocado, blue cheese, & sprouts, etc. With bread & cheese always on hand, you'll never go hungry...keep pita, tortillas, frozen dinner rolls, etc in the freezer as a fall-back. The frozen LaBrea breads are pretty damn good.
--Quick-grilling cuts of beef like skirt or flank or top sirloin: marinate beginning the night before, grill for just 5-6 minutes per side. While grilling, make sauteed spinach or steamed broccoli or squash or boil potatoes for mashing (scrub, but leave the skins on & cut into cubes). Cubed skin on potatoes will boil in 10 minutes, and the thinly sliced grilled meat looks nice fanned over a piled of mashed potatoes!
What keeps my household running on weeknights is careful weekly shopping, a solid back catalog of past hits in the freezer, and sparing use of prepared stuff like hummus & good bottled pasta sauce, already cut-up fruit & veggies, and finally, pre-planning most weeknight meals (at least by lunchtime same-day).
As others have said, make huge meals on the weekend (lasagna, baked ziti) and freeze, crockpot it (pepperoncini beef is a good one), Perdue now has these thin cut individually packaged chicken breasts that cook up in minutes. Butoni (sp?) pasta (cooks in like 3 minutes) with a marinara and bread, Pannini's and soup and my favorite thing to make - RESERVATIONS!
I don't do it religiously, but once every week or so I cook multiple meals at once, taking advantage of an oven or bbq grill already fired up. If I have time to make 1 meal, I can do 1 or 2 more in the same time slot with no more extra prep than unwrapping and seasoning.
For instance, when shopping, I pick up:
a whole chicken or family packs of parts;
a rack of spare or baby back ribs and/or:
a pork shoulder roast
Then once home, I fire up the Weber with a full chimney of coals. I'll cook the salmon steaks for dinner; once those relatively fast cookers are pulled off, I put on the chicken parts and damp down the covered grill and slow cook the chicken. It's done by the time we're fininshed with dinner. I cool and freeze it in portion-sized bags. I almost NEVER only use the coals for one meat item. There's plenty of heat left to cook something else like chicken breats or fish.
Or, I might season and place the ribs on a rack and slow bake them at 250 while I fix dinner of a whole chicken in the microwave ( delicious and very juicy in about 28 minutes for a 4# bird) I can put a dozen small- medium sized baking potatoes in the oven with the ribs and use them to make twice-baked stuffed potatoes to freeze for other meals. Setting the timer for 3 hours reminds me to take them out and cool them before bed time.
The 3# pork roast can go directly into a cast iron casserole with some onions and whole cloves of garlic and a cup of broth and bake at 250 for the time it takes to make and freeze the salmon and chicken. I break it into chunks and cool it quickly near an open window, then freeze in slide-lock bags. Great for quick soups, stews, quesadillas, tacos, omelettes, etc., during the week.
All these meats go directly to their cooking methods with little fussing, maybe just a simple fresh herb and a seasoning dust or a brushed glaze. No brining, no overnight dry marinade, no elaborate preparation.
Extra portions are frozen in meal-sized bags for other dinners or weekend breakfasts or lunches.
Dinners are rounded off with a starch of rice or smashed potatoes cubed really small for fast cooking and a steamed or quickly sauteed veggie. If I want salad, I grab a nice mix of my favorite goodies at the store salad bar.
Having pre-cooked dinner items really saves my sanity and helps when my arthritis is bad and I don't want to spend more time in the kitchen than I absolutely have to.
My wife and I leave the house daily @ 5:50 a.m., and do not return until 6:30 p.m.. THis schedule limits healthy eating, but we manage to eat a good meal with time to hang out before its time to go to sleep for the next day.
Typically: a salad made for Sunday night dinner can be used until Tues night,
also left over Pork roast/Beef roast etc.
If I am cooking, the quickest thing to do is fire up the grill. While the charcoal is getting ready I can prepare the veggies(corn,broccoli, etc..always steamed..)Grilled chicken breasts, Ribeye steaks, Pork chops etc..
We go out a couple of times a week, usually Thurs & Fri, about the time we are tired of cooking, and need a break.
Also I am the pickiest person when it comes to food safety. I will not eat anything that was cooked 3 days ago, so making a weeks worht of food on Sunday wont cut it for me. As I said by the time the food is old it is Thursday night, and time for a few cocktails, and dinner....
I cook in quantity so on a busy weeknight we can just heat something and have dinner ready in minutes. Last night was Portugese fish chowder (made on Sunday), with a ficelle reheated from the freezer. Tonight it's soup (lentil) and sandwich (homecured ham, caramelized onions, tomato chutney on ciabatta). Later in the week it will be pesto lasagna, made over the past weekend.
We write a menu at the start of each week and generally manage to have a complete homecooked dinner every night.
Edit: I should have said that I freeze most of what I cook in manageable portions. It doesn't sit in the fridge until we eat it.
I have not done ribs, great idea! If you'd like to share your sauce recipe that'd be great. I actually have ribs in the freezer now so maybe we'll have that this week.
Jerk chicken sounds wonderful. I've only done that on the grill. Would love to try the crockpot.
Thanks for your help.
you could always just add your favorite bottled BBQ sauce, but I prefer to make a marinade. I estimated the measurements for you-and I tend to use habanero hot sauces.
1 c ketchup
2 c bbq sauce
1⁄2 c brown sugar
4 T apple cider vinegar
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Dry mustard- few dashes
favorite Hot sauce- amount to liking
pour over ribs, cook on low 6-8 hours
as for the jerk chicken, I cheat & use bottled Walkerswood marinade.
I make big meals, and cauldrons of soup, on the weekends, and the leftovers are our hot meals for the week. Also we like frittatas with leftover veggies, grilled cheese, and quesadillas using leftover meat, they all take about 15 minutes to make, and with a bowl of soup or salad are a complete meal.
Fish and shrimp cook quickly so I sometimes plan dinner using them during the work week. Epi's Thai Shrimp Curry is so quick and so awesome and so is their Garlic Shrimp. A quick fish dish is Pan Seared Tilapia with Lime Chili butter, also from epi. (I get home around 5:30 or 6.) I've recently delved into tofu with pleasing results. Stir fries are also quick for us.