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What to have for dinner when you're in a hurry [moved from General Chowhounding Topics]

What's the quickest meal to make in about 20 minutes?

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  1. We will often have scrambled eggs with corn tortillas, salsa, sour cream, limes and cheese. We just scramble up a few eggs, steam the tortillas and assemble "tacos" as we eat.

    Another option we like a lot is tortellini soup which is just throw a package of fresh tortellini into boiling broth and when they're cooked, serve it up with salad and bread. If we're feeling like making it a bit more substantial, I'll add diced potatoes and some quartered mushrooms to the broth before I add the pasta, it takes a few minutes longer but you get a fairly serious soup out of it.

    1. We always keep grilled meat, tortillas, cheese and salsa on hand. Burritos on the run!

      7 Replies
      1. re: mojoeater

        Oh yeah, mojo reminded me, we keep frozen containers of cook's illustrated's "mexican style rice" on hand now for burritos. Man that stuff is good and you can toss just about any leftover protein (or scrambled eggs) in for a good burrito.

        1. re: ccbweb

          can you please paraphrase the mexican style rice recipe?

          1. re: NYchowcook

            2 ripe tomatoes (about 12 ounces),
            1 medium white onion
            3 jalapeño chiles
            2 cups long grain white rice
            1/3 cup canola oil
            4 cloves garlic minced
            2 cups broth
            1 tablespoon tomato paste
            1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
            1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
            1 lime , cut into wedges for serving

            You buzz the tomatoes and onions in a food processor. Then combine the resulting liquidy stuff with the broth. Then you make it like a pilaf: warm the oil, sautee the rice for a bit, then add two of the jalapenos and the garlic, stir that around and add the combined vegetable puree and broth. I skip the tomato paste as I don't like the overly cooked flavor I think it lends the dish, but if you like the sound of it, stir it in now, add the salt. Bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 35 or 40 minutes. Stir in cilantro and the last jalapeno. Yum.

        2. re: mojoeater

          When I have left over rice from night before (or I cook up some angel hair or rice noodles), I make a quick curry from an epicurious recipe that has evolved. Last night it was Thai Green Curry (it can be red curry or Indian curry..). Shrimp (always have frozen raw shrimp on hand), sliced red onion, mushrooms, green beans (or whatever veggies are going dry in the fridge), stock (I use vegetable stock from a box I keep in the fridge), light coconut milk, green curry paste (from a jar). Saute veggies in a little oil, add a table spoon or two of curry paste, equal amounts of stock and milk, a dash (or two) of fish sauce, bring to a boil. Add shrimp and let cook for a few minutes, finish with chopped cilantro if you have it and a squeeze of lime juice. Throw it over reheated rice or noodles and zing! It took 10 mins.

          1. re: Densible

            So I'm living on this thread at the moment. The leftover rice or noodles helps make almost any dinner quick. The rice cooker is also a brilliant appliance. I got one a couple of years ago and its the second most used appliance in my kitchen behind only my coffee pot. It simply isn't possible to use an appliance more than my coffe pot gets used. Being able to have white or brown rice cook unattended (and come out perfectly every time) makes every meal seem so easy. As Densible noted, frozen shrimp or other protein that is easy to use makes for quick dishes. We also love steamed veggies (asparagus and beans especially) so its easy to throw together some microwave steamed veg, rice cookered rice and a fast stove top whatever. One skillet and the rice cooker bowl which means dishes are about as quick as the dinner itself.

            1. re: ccbweb

              With the modern rice cookers, it is very practical to set up tomorrow night's rice today. And leftover rice can be left in the cooker for the next day, or just put it in nuke-friendly containers and you're two minutes away from hot rice.

              If you like coconut rice, but want to avoid the calories, put a few drops of coconut essence in the cooker before starting it up. This rice goes well with just about any seafood, as well as anything tropical (obviously), like foods from most of southern asia.

              1. re: ccbweb

                Really fast-- Trader Joe's sells pre-cooked brown rice. Not the best, but has made my very hectic (lately) lefi a little more healthful.

          2. Stir fries, poached salmon, fish steamed in foil packets.

            1. Chicken caesar salad, using bagged romaine, grilling the chicken breasts on the Foreman, thin sliced parmesean, and packaged croutons with a dressing made while the chicken is grilling, made with Paul Newman's Caesar dressing mixed with sour cream and a little anchovy paste...Add some crusty bread and you have a meal!

              1. I've been keeping some chinese peanut sauce in the fridge and when I need a quick lunch, I'll just make some thin egg noodles (angel hair pasta works fine and cooks in a snap), and throw on some leftover veggies and meat and mix with the peanut sauce.

                1. You all are way to gourmet for me.

                  Hot dogs and mac and cheese and a salad. :-)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chickstein

                    I'm with you chickstein. When we are in a hurry we either take something we have cooked previously out of the freezer or we have grilled cheese and soup (also homemade and in the freezer). There's also the "incredible edible egg" to quote the old ad. Leftover vegetables plus eggs or eggbeaters equals a quick dinner.

                  2. Pastas where you can make the 'sauce' while the pasta boils is quick and easy. Just last night I made simple, delicious pasta with butter, fresh spinach and Parmesan. As the water came to a boil, I steamed the spinach in a steamer rack that fits in the top of my pasta pot. If you don't have one of those, you can quickly sauté the spinach as the pasta boils...but fast! Don't over cook (you could easily just use the spinach raw as well.) I dumped the spinach in a bowl with some butter, threw in the pasta when it was ready (the pasta melts the butter), tossed it all with a little of the pasta water and some Parmesan Reggiano and fresh ground black pepper... yum. You could do the same with any vegetables; for instance, this same type of thing is wonderful with fresh tomatoes you chop as the pasta boils (or cherry tomatoes, halved), chopped basil, chopped garlic and cheese. The variations here are endless... fresh summer squash, chopped and tossed either raw or slightly steamed, with herbs, is another great combo with pasta and cheese. And of course, there is my personal ultimate: toss hot pasta right out of the pot in a bowl with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and either olive oil or the pasta water. I could eat that every night.

                    Flank steak cooks up quickly as well. There is a wonderful steak salad with arugula you can make in under 20 minutes with flank steak. This is another staple for me. For faster cooking time, just do the dressing prep as the steak cooks:

                    STEAK AND ARUGULA SALAD

                    Olive oil
                    Balsamic vinegar
                    3 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
                    1 shallot, chopped
                    1 lemon
                    Shaved Parmesan (Reggiano is best)
                    1 1/2 lbs flank steak (just get a normal strip of flank steak where you purchase your meats)
                    Salt and Pepper

                    - Season the steak liberally with salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Let sit for an hour or so, if you have the time. If not, dive in.
                    - In a bowl, whisk the shallots and garlic with 3 T balsamic. Add salt and pepper to taste and the juice of one lemon, whisking again. Add 1/2 cup olive oil and whisk.
                    - Arrange arugula on plates on which you will serve the salad.
                    - Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Place the steak in the skillet and cook until it is well browned, about 6 minutes. (The recipe is for medium rare.) Turn over and cook the other side another six minutes. Remove to a carving board.
                    - Pour vinaigrette into the skillet and whisk again, over the heat, getting all the browned bits and juices from the bottom mixed in. Remove from heat before it reduces or the garlic begins to brown.
                    - Slice flank steak into thin slices across the grain. Place steak slices on top of the arugula.
                    - Whisk any meat juices from carving board into the vinaigrette and pour vinaigrette over the salad. Add parmesan shavings and serve.

                    This can serve 2-4, depending on how much steak you want each person to have. You can also easily double the recipe, with 2 flank steaks, just cook them side by side or one at a time and double the amount of vinaigrette.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Tom P

                      My go to quick meal is also one of my favorite dishes.

                      Shrimp Scampi

                      1/2 bag cooked, frozen large Shrimp (thawed)
                      1/2 box barilla spaghetti
                      3 chopped garlic cloves
                      red crushed pepper
                      salt & pepper
                      1 whole lemon
                      Parmesean Cheese, for topping

                      Cook spaghetti in salted water for about 6 minutes, and turn heat off, set aside.
                      Heat 4 tbsp. of butter in non stick skillet
                      Throw in garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes (do not brown)
                      Add Shrimp, and a sprinkle of Red pepper, cook for about 2 min. on med.
                      Add Salt and Pepper to taste
                      Transfer spaghetti into skillet with Shrimp and garlic, right out of the water.
                      Sqeeze a lemon over, toss everything together
                      Add shredded parm over top, I use about 1/3 of a cup.
                      Voila, dinner, yum.
                      Note: you can add chopped basil or parsley at the end, to serve.
                      And for quick thawing of your Shrimp, run it under cool water for a minute.

                      1. re: mcel215

                        I make a vey similar recipe except that, instead of lemon, I add a bit of white wine (1/4 to 1/2 cup) to the pan before adding the pasta and allow it to reduce. Also, if you have any asparagus or green beans, chop into one inch lengths and sautee with the shrimp so that you have some green vegetables. In lieu of crushed red pepper, you can add basil or oregano.

                      2. re: Tom P

                        I agree. Many times, simple is better. The key is good ingredients. I always keep imported whole San Marzano tomatoes from Italy in my pantry.
                        1. Pasta arrabiata (angry) with fresh basil, chili peppers and some coarse salt is great.
                        2. Spaghetti Carbonara
                        3. Arugula salad with leftrover sliced something (grilled meats usually).
                        4. Pasta with artichokes, peas, muschrooms and prosciutto (EVOO sauce) and garlic.

                      3. Quick Scallops w/ Grilled Asparagus
                        Sear scallops in a mix of butter and olive oil sprinkled with S & P. Remove from pan once almost cooked through. Add lemon juice, a little white wine to the pan to scrape up the bits, then add a bit of tarragon and cream. Return scallops to the pan to heat through and coat.

                        Egg white omelettes are a fave of mine

                        Miso broth -- add a mix of wild mushrooms, chopped garlic, asparagus and a variety of greens (mustard, bok choy, collards, kale), let soften, then either add chopped tofu or seasoned egg whites in a stream (egg drop), let simmer til all cooked, then add some Bragg's, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, and adjust the taste to your liking.

                        Grill some eggplants, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, etc coated with garlic salt, inside or on George, then stirfry with with shirataki noodles, bragg's, balsamic, lemon juice, mustard, and roasted chicken or other protein.

                        1. I have a bunch of quick meals to live on, depending on my mood.

                          Egg white omelettes with whatever's in the fridge
                          Whole-wheat couscous with chickpeas, veggies and curry powder
                          Quesadillas (with ww tortillas and fat-free refried beans)
                          Homemade hummus, either with veggies or in a sandwich
                          Veggie stirfry with baked tofu chunks
                          Daal with a baked sweet potato (start it in the microwave to speed things up)
                          Soup (whatever frozen veggies and beans I have, cooked in broth)
                          Veggie baked beans with hot sauce or chili powder stirred in, sautéed or steamed greens
                          Salad topped with a veggie burger, corn, red onion, salsa and plain yogurt

                          1. My quickest meal is skinless salmon fillets in the microwave and fresh or frozen steamed veggies served over rice noodles. It's quick and good. Right now our favorite vegetable to use is asparagus.

                            For the fish:
                            Rinse the fillets and put them in a glass baking dish lined with parchment. Mix together some soy sauce, a little honey, a squeeze of lime, and a generous pinch of dried ginger and pour over fish. Wrap the dish in microwave safe plastic wrap very tightly - I use 2 pieces. Microwave for 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 minutes, until the fish is cooked through (It may take longer, depending on the size and thickness of the filet and the power of your microwave). Allow the fish to sit in the pan for a few minutes (the time it takes to plate everything else) before unwrapping and serving.

                            1. Fish tacos - either cook some fish on a grill pan or use frozen breaded fish and heat up... chop up some cabbage/lettuce, make some sauce (half mayo, half yogurt, chipotles in adobo sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice, cumin, and salt), and warm up tortillas.

                              1. Arepas -- hot water in masa + adobo, let it sit for 5 min and you're ready to pan fry. Top with cheese, veggies, salsa, meat if you want.

                                Baked potatoes take seven minutes in my microwave. I top with cheese, adobo, leftovers (esp. grilled asparagus or stirfried broccoli).

                                Stirfries, like someone else mentioned earlier, are really speedy (10 min). Goes well over rice or inside a tortilla.

                                Thai lettuce wraps with ground chicken take 20 min.

                                It takes just about 20 minutes to cook most cuts of fish or meat, too. Brown onion / garlic, scoot it over in the pan to make room for meat, brown meat. Add stuff like fennel seeds, garlic powder, any spices you like, maybe balsamic vinegar, maybe wine (tho reduction takes a bit longer). Without liquid, cover and let it cook undisturbed for just a few minutes until done.

                                And my five-min, kind of nasty Sandra Lee-type dinner: take either canned cream corn or jarred spaghetti sauce and heat over the stove with some cream or half and half. If you call it corn chowder or cream of tomato soup, it sounds a lot nicer! I like mine with grissini.