It’s 5:00 o’clock (somewhere). Do you know what you’re serving your family tonight?
Meals used to stress me out something terrible. I was that person – the person who got caught in the headlights, eye wide, heart pumping, whenever dinner time rolled around and I had three hungry males panting in hunger and growling in my face and I had no idea what to feed them.
I’ve since learned to plan ahead. Now, I make a week’s worth of menus up ahead of time, shop for all the items I’ll need for those recipes all at once and meal times are a LOT less stressful.
But we fall into ruts where we eat the same dishes week after week. Mainly because I’m too lazy to learn new recipes but also because I HATE spending more than 20 minutes on a meal. I hate the time it takes to cook the meals and then the massive clean up afterward.
At any rate, whenever I come across fast and easy meals, I’m eager to share them. Here are a few of my favorites from the Family Fun website.
These savory turnovers are easy for kids to assemble and even easier for them to eat (their name comes from the Spanish word empanar, “to bake in pastry”). Empanadas can be found throughout Latin America in a variety of sizes, shapes, and flavors. Assemble them with smaller pastry rounds for an appetizer (empanaditas) or use larger wrappers for a lunchtime treat or side.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
8 ounces cooked ham, chopped
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
8 ounces mild Cheddar or Jarlsberg, shredded
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Pinch of black pepper
1 package empanada wrappers (we used Goya brand) or 2 packages
Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry shells, thawed
Egg wash made from 1 large egg lightly beaten, combined
with 1 tablespoon water
In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and parsley, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is transparent, about 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, transfer the mixture to a medium-size bowl, and allow it to cool.
Add the ham, bread crumbs, cheese, sour cream, egg, and a pinch of black pepper to the bowl, and mix well.
To assemble the turnovers: Place 2 heaping tablespoons of filling in the center of an empanada wrapper and lightly moisten the edge of the circle with the egg mixture. (If you use a pastry shell, you’ll first need to roll it out into a 5-inch circle on a lightly floured work surface.) Fold the pastry in half and press the edges firmly to seal. Crimp the edge with a fork dipped in flour and pierce the top with the fork to allow steam to escape. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling, then refrigerate the empanadas for 30 minutes or freeze for later use.
Make-Ahead Tip: To freeze your empanadas, place the unbaked turnovers in the freezer on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. When frozen, stack them in sealable containers. Pop them in the oven frozen when you’re ready to bake them (following step 4). Just increase the baking time by 15 minutes.
Heat the oven to 375°. Brush the turnovers with the egg wash and bake them on a parchment-lined baking sheet on the upper oven rack until golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the empanadas to cool for a few minutes before serving. Makes 12 medium-size turnovers.
Kids love these pizza-topped skins because they end up with two of their favorite dishes: mashed potatoes one day, potato skins the next.
6 medium-size russet baking potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 1/2 cups favorite pasta sauce, warmed (we used meat-based)
Suggested toppings: chopped olives, chopped green peppers, sliced and sautéed mushrooms
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella or other pizza cheese
Heat your oven to 400°. Scrub the potatoes, poke them with a paring knife, then bake them for 50 to 60 minutes, until they’re tender at the center. Cool the potatoes briefly, then halve them lengthwise and scoop out most of the flesh (use it for mashed potatoes), leaving a thin potato wall. Cool the skins. If you’re not preparing the pizza the same day, refrigerate them.
To continue preparing the pizza the same day, heat your oven to 400°. Arrange the skins on a well-greased baking sheet, radiating out like the spokes of a wheel, as shown. Cut some skins in half the long way and tuck them into the gaps between the whole skins. Lightly salt and pepper the insides of the skins.
Spoon the sauce into the skins, dividing it equally. Sprinkle one or more toppings over the skins, if desired, then cover them evenly with the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with the mozzarella. Bake on the center oven rack for 15 minutes. Cool for several minutes, then serve. Makes 5 to 6 servings.
When Meredith Deeds was working on her cookbook “300 Sensational Soups,” her son, Kyle, came up with the idea of turning his favorite meal, lasagna, into a soup. The tomato-y broth, brimming with sausage and pasta, melts the mix of cheeses placed in each bowl before serving. A quick swirl of the spoon ensures diners will get a bit of gooey cheese in every bite.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage (bulk or with casings removed)
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
6 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
8 ounces fusilli pasta
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
8 ounces ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sausage and sauté, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until the sausage is no longer pink, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain any excess fat from the pot. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and sauté until the paste turns a rusty brown, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the broth, and the bay leaves and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Add the pasta, then increase the heat to medium-high and boil the soup until the pasta is tender to the bite, following the time recommendations on the pasta package. Discard the bay leaves, then stir in the basil. If desired, season with salt and black pepper to taste.
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, the Parmesan, the 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the pinch of pepper. To serve, place about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture in each bowl, sprinkle with some of the mozzarella, and ladle the soup on top. Makes about 13 cups.
(This is one of my personal favorites. Curry is my favorite spice EVER. I haven’t tried this specific recipe, but that spinach? Looks like a delicious addition).
A great way to introduce kids to international food. This simple, fast curry is made rich and creamy by adding canned unsweetened coconut milk (available in the international section of most supermarkets).
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 can (12-14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 cups packed fresh baby spinach
In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion and the salt. Cook until softened, about 7 minutes, stirring often. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
Stir in the coconut milk, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Cook for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken, stir well, and cook 5 to 6 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir in the spinach and cook for 3 minutes or until wilted, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt. Serve over rice. Makes 4 servings.
You can find many more quick meal suggestions at the Family Fun website.
*I was not compensated in any way for this information. I dig Family Fun. I hope you dig them, too.