Quick Meals for Busy Days

For most of my life, I ignored the daily task of cooking. It seemed like a dull job, and one that I didn’t care to spend much of my time on. Other people threw pasta into boiling water, broke ground beef into bits, and baked potatoes, and I was fine with eating whatever resulted.

This sounds a little snooty, I guess, but the truth is that cooking wasn’t something to which I gave any thought. Food happened, I ate it, and that was that. When I needed to make food, I usually dumped it out of a can and threw it into the microwave. I went a long time surviving on ramen noodles, peanut butter sandwiches, spaghetti, and Campbell’s soup.

This is a radical change from the way I eat, now. Right this very moment, the smell of baking bread is wafting through my house, a loaf that I made from scratch. I can roast whole chickens; make my own broth; whip up cookies, cupcakes, and ice-cream; and even serve up fresh, home-made pasta noodles. If I have a recipe for it, I can make it, and sometimes I can make it even if I don’t have a recipe.

It turns out I love delicious, complicated food.

Of course, as much as I would love to have hours every day to work on cooking breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, the reality is that I don’t. There are diapers to change, books to read, walks to take, letters to learn, laundry to do, a job to prepare for, and stories to write. Sometimes I look at the clock, and I can’t believe that dinner time is fast approaching. And if I’m in the middle of an intense writing sprint, then I definitely have to cut down the time that dinner takes.

When life gets busy, though, I have built up a list of recipes that I turn to that are super quick while still satisfying my foodie needs. And now, I will share those recipes with you. Also, so I can look at this page when I’m trying to remember all these amazing meals.

First up are a few recipes from the site Half Baked Harvest. This is my go-to site when I want a recipe that is rich and flavorful, and Tieghan Gerard has never let me down. I’m eagerly anticipating the upcoming cookbook, which is guaranteed to be packed with delicious food.

A lot of recipes here are longer and complicated, but a few of them are so ridiculously fast, and these are the ones I go to when I’m busy.

15 minute Bangkok Peanut Mango Pasta is low in ingredients, really fast to throw together, and also delicious. I’ve even substituted soba noodles for the pasta, which makes it even faster, and it came out great.

Fast Recipes for Busy Writers - Peanut Mango Pasta
Oh so tasty.

If hearty Italian fare is what you’re craving, then Crockpot Tuscan Sausage and White Bean Ragu with Buttered Gnocci just cannot be beat. It takes a little planning to get everything in the slow cooker in the morning, but then in the evening you just need to cook up some gnocci (or if your family hates gnocci like my very strange family, any other kind of pasta) and scoop the sauce on top. This meal is ridiculously decadent, good enough for guests, hearty enough to serve a crowd, and just plain delicious.

Then, there’s Crockpot Salsa Verde Chicken Pozole, which is not only fast, it’s also fun to make. You need a food processor for this one, or you can cheat and buy canned salsa verde. I do recommend trying it as written at least once, though, because that fresh-roasted salsa verde is awesome.

If you want to explore some more, then here’s a whole listing of all the quick recipes from Half Baked Harvest. Just try not to drool all over your keyboard as you scroll through.

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Okay, I’m back from scrolling through all that beautiful food photography.

If you’re looking for something even faster that you also want to eat on a hot summer day, then the Greek Tortellini Salad from Two Peas and Their Pod is great. It is also a huge hit with my kids, once Little Dude has picked out the tomatoes. The Hubs picks out the cucumbers. He says the smell reminds him of copperhead snakes, which I say is weird.

Some other basic recipes that come together super fast, but are still satisfying include baked potatoes with toppings (I always follow Alton Brown’s method, and my potatoes come out great every time), veggie and cheese frittatas, and lentil beans over rice with naan on the side. All of these recipes are incredibly versatile, adaptable to a wide range of flavors and ingredients, and are also satisfying. When I’m cooking for my family, these are all necessary qualities.

As for that bread I talked about earlier, I often follow standard recipes because my stand mixer does such a great job taking care of the kneading that I don’t expend much effort. But, when time is lacking, I love using the recipes in the book The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The theory is that one can stir together a huge batch of very wet dough, let the yeast go to work for a couple of hours, and then throw the dough into the refrigerator to use at any time in the next two weeks. I’ll admit that I was skeptical of how bread would come out without at least a little bit of kneading, but the results so far have been great. In the last week I’ve used a rye recipe to make a loaf of plain rye, a loaf of muesli bread, a loaf of granola bread, and a loaf with cranberries. Being able to pull some dough out of the refrigerator, add in a few extra ingredients, and then throw it in the oven is addictive.

Oh, and using the dough for a pizza crust resulted in the best pizza I’ve ever made at home.

fast meals for writers
This pizza was ridiculously fast and easy.

And finally, my number one resource for fast, gourmet-tasting recipes is Sheet Pan Suppers. This is the cookbook on my shelf that sees the most use. I pull it off the shelf at least once a week, which is a ton for me. Most of the recipes are incredibly quick, and the flavor they pack for the time they take is on a whole other level. Some of my favorites include the Curried Chicken with Califlower, Apricots & Olives; Warm Tuna Nicoise Salad; Soy-Mustard Salmon & Broccoli; Cilantro-Lime Steamed Halibut & Spicy Coconut Rice; Fancy Tuna Melts; Thick-Cut Pork Chops With Warm Apple-Cabbage Slaw; Pepperoni French Bread Pizza; Hearty Ratatouille with Goat Cheese; and Smoked Cheddar & Apple Grilled Cheese.

Yes, I love this book. It introduces some really great techniques that make for delicious results. Seriously, you can’t beat making six grilled-cheese sandwiches at a time in the oven.

When I’m busy and hungry, then these are the recipes that I turn to. They all satisfy my desire for flavorful food, fit my family’s tastes as well, and come together fast. They are basically the perfect NaNoWriMo recipes for my fellow foodies. To say the least, I’ve tested all of them extensively, and they’ve never let me down. So, if you’re looking for some satisfying meals during your next writing sprint, then I recommend you try some of these.

Plus, I’m always on the lookout for more recipes. Do you have a list of favorite meals for busy evenings? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

 

 

 

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