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Jan 11, 2011 12:34 PM

"chaos night" ideas

Most nights our family enjoys a pretty/quite good home cooked meal together. Two athletic teens who will eat anything (what a blessing!). But, Wednesday nights we are all going different directions. I like to make something good that each of us can eat when we get home, but I'm stuck in a rut. It should be OK sitting on the counter for 2-3 hours. It should need minimal prep time or just a quick shot in the microwave. I am gluten and dairy free, but OK with just the salad or veggies (in fact, this is one night I often serve pasta dishes since we don't eat together). We're all OK with or without meat. My rut includes: various pasta dishes + salads, tostada or quesadillas with assorted good stuff, thai or vietnamese inspired steak and rice noodle salad, spinach/potato/sausage salad.

Any ideas? Up to 1 hour of cooking prep time ok. Bonus points for good leftovers for lunches.


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  1. Same situation here with two busy kids and parental meetings. Not sure my ideas are better than yours but our most likely self -serve meals are soup/sandwich and burritos. I tend to make soup on the weekends and this gets served for one dinner, along with tuna, egg salad, or cheese sandwiches. For burritos, we make a pot of steamed rice, pressure cooked (in advance) or canned beans, maybe browned and seasoned ground turkey, grated cheese, and a bunch of cut up veggies. Roll your own. Leftovers are wrapped into more burritos for lunch boxes the next day. Never fails to please everyone.

    1. When I read your title, I thought mathematically, and that you were having a fractals theme party which sounded like fun. But, you meant chaos as in my regular every night dinners.;-) Do you have a crock pot? That's a life saver for me. Prep time about an hour to sear meat, vegetables, deglaze on the stove and then pop all into the crock pot. Rice in the rice cooker. Chili is also great and have corn bread. Everyone gets a hot meal no matter when they eat.

      I also make dough (can be bought) and make a stuffed bread, with a variety of stuffings. You can google for good ideas. One surprisingly good one is hard boiled eggs.

      If I already have bread, I heat soup in the crock pot, and make paninis--a little nicer than cold sandwiches. I just remembered the gluten free requirement. You could just keep the stuffings for both of the above and have it over a salad.

      I'll also roast a chicken or make quiche and have it at room temperature but the roast chicken would depend on your level of comfort with leaving it out.

      1. If you have a crockpot available, you could make chili, soups, pulled pork, bbq ribs, stews, etc., with the bonus of having warm meals ready and your home smelling delightful. My crockpot gets a lot of use and timing is pretty flexible. Just a thought...

        1. I would make a wonderful minestrone and either leave in a crock pot or let people heat up a bowl as they want it.

          1. I have been into eggplant stew this winter. Each time I make it the ingredients vary a bit (based on my current stockpile), but once you assemble the (easy) ingredients it's about 45-60 minutes away.

            Saute an onion (or more, even green onions or leeks work) in olive oil with a few bay leaves and kosher salt. I usually add a pinch of cumin and red pepper flakes. Add some crushed garlic and cook until onions are soft/translucent. Next I add one or two diced eggplants any bell peppers (at least 3) I have on hand (the more colors the better), since it is dead winter a can of tomatoes (the ones with added chilies are great for this), and one can of garbanzos. I cover and simmer on low for at least 40 minutes, and check occasionally to stir so nothing sticks to the bottom. I have taken this to a dinner party and also served as an appetizer with crusty bread, so it hold up over time (fulfilling your 1 hour requirement with no problem). No dairy, and I *think* it is gluten free - and you could of course add meat to the dish.

            3 Replies
            1. re: enbell

              This sounds awesome and is exactly the kind of recipes I'd like to collect. It would be great with some chicken in it, and maybe some rice underneath.

              Yeah, we have a crockpot and I do use it, but it's not quite what I'm looking for. I actually have time to cook on these afternoons but the mornings are quite rushed. Thus, the need for things I can put together that afternoon but can be eaten through the evening. The roast chicken idea is a great one also. I'm not sure why I haven't thought of that. I try to avoid leftovers on Wednesdays - since we can't eat together, we may as well all eat well.

              Thanks all. Keep the ideas coming.

              1. re: theotherone

                I have the same schedule which is why the crock pot works so well. If you use chuck roast, pork shoulder, short ribs, chicken thighs (skin removed), they do better w/ the long slow braise you get from a crock pot. I make it at about 1 or 2 pm and by 6-8 at night, it's perfect, especially on these cold days. It takes me less than an hour--I sear the meat as I prep the vegetables. Remove the meat to the crock pot, sautee the vegetables. Add wine and deglaze pan, add stock and bring to simmer. Pour it all over the meat and cook.

                I love the eggplant stew, too. It takes more time because I salt the eggplant first. I add whatever vegetables I have around the house to it. It's hearty and healthy. And, I've added chicken, too.

                1. re: chowser

                  or you can prep the night before and just pop it in during the morning.