Naturally Quick Foods – 15 Minute Meal Series

We’ve been talking about making 15 minute meals.  I’ve shared quite a few recipes, but there are lots of possibilities for quick dinners.  When you’re looking for a speedy recipe, there are a few types of foods that work great.

Build your meals from these items and chances are you’re going to have dinner ready in a jiffy.

Beans

I like to use canned beans – black, kidney, pinto, red beans, refried…  They’re all good.  Beans add protein to your meal and pair up with all kinds of other foods.

If you’d rather cook your own from dry beans, here’s a great recipe to use:

slow cooker beans for the freezer done

 

Slow Cooker Beans for the Freezer

Pasta and Couscous

pasta

Almost all pastas will cook in under 15 minutes.  I really like angel hair and fresh or frozen tortellini and ravioli because they cook in about 5 minutes.

Add a sauce, meat, cheese and veggies and you’ve got the makings of a quick meal.

Rice

rice

My favorite rice to use when I need a quick dinner is jasmine.  It cooks in just 15 minutes.  And it turns out great every time.  For some reason, I have trouble cooking other types of rice.  It either takes forever or stays crunchy or the water won’t absorb…  But jasmine rice never lets me down.

Eggs

brown eggs

Is it even possible to cook eggs for a long time?  There may be a few dishes (quiche comes to mind), but most egg recipes are very quick to make.

Add veggies, garlic, cheese and maybe some meat and you’ve got a great dinner.

Tortillas

Using tortillas is a bit of a twist on the old sandwich routine.  Wrap nearly anything in a tortilla, then grill it or bake it or fry it or…  The possibilities are endless.  Quesadillas, quick enchiladas, tacos.  Bonus – these dishes are crowd pleasers!

Migas is a quick meal that combines eggs and tortillas.

Migas my favorite egg dish

What are your favorite ingredients to use for quick meals?

 

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Easy Side Dishes – Beyond Steamed Veggies – Rounding out 15 Minute Meals

I have a tendency to focus on the main dish and forget the sides.  Until we’re nearly ready to sit down.  And then it’s time to quick thrown some veggies in a pan to steam or pull together a salad.

32 Simple Side Dish Ideas

 

This is a post I wrote last year with side dish ideas that go beyond steamed veggies.

These are all easy ideas though.  Some have a simple recipe. Others don’t require a recipe at all.

All of them will help round out your weeknight meals, but still keep it fast.

Click here to see 32 Easy Side Dish Ideas.

Think simple for sides.  Here are a few other ideas that work well:

  • Raw veggies – carrots, celery, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers etc.
  • Fruit (especially good with breakfast for dinner meals)
  • Cheese slices (with soup)
  • Crackers
  • Popcorn – healthier than chips, but great with sandwiches

What are your go-to quick side dishes?

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The One Tool that Makes Cooking Fast

sharp knife and cutting board

 

We’re going back to basics today.

If you have any hope of actually getting a meal ready in 15 minutes, you need to have a sharp knife.  If you’re fighting with a dull knife, the prep work will take too much time.  And you’ll probably hate every minute of it.

But listen close – I’m not sure that many food bloggers would say what I’m about to say …

You do not have to have the best knife or the best cutting board.

You only need to have a sharp knife and a decent cutting board or two.

The items you see in the photo above are what I use every day.

For years I used dull knives, mostly because I didn’t have a lot of expendable income.  But when I finally invested in one, I couldn’t believe the difference it made in my prep time.

And when I say invested, I’m only talking about $50.  I bought that knife (which looks oddly small in the photo, even though it’s full size) at Target.  I also bought a $15 knife sharpener to go with it.  So it’s not a cheap purchase, but we’re not talking hundreds of dollars.

The cutting boards are fine, but nothing special.  The large one is bamboo, bought from Walmart about 10 years ago.  The small one I think is from Pampered Chef.  It’s probably older than the bamboo one.

If you’re in need of a sharp knife, get yourself out to the store and buy one.  Don’t forget the sharpener.  And don’t think you have to spend a lot.  If you have the money and want to get higher quality, fine!  Enjoy!  But you can find decent knives for a reasonable price.

 15 Minute Meals for Back to School

This post is part of our new series on 15 Minute Meals.  You can find the other posts in the series linked here.

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12 Slow Cooker Freezer Meal Plans with Grocery Lists and Instructions that can be made in 1 hour!

12 slow cooker freezer meal plans

 

I’m so excited about sharing this new resource with you!

We’ve put together all of the Slow Cooker Freezer Meal plans from the last year into one big printable.  Now you can get dinner organized and ready in just 1 hour for a whole week’s worth of meals.  That’s about 10 minutes per meal!

Each month as part of our Weekly Meal Plans, we publish a slow cooker freezer week.  Each of these plans has:

  • 6 dinners and side dish suggestions
  • color-coded grocery lists
  • printable recipes
  • instructions on assembling all of the meals

buy now

These were originally published from September 2013 – August 2014 for members only.  So if you were a member of Weekly Meal Plans during that time, you have already seen and used at least one (or more, depending on how long you were a member) of these plans.

This is the first time these slow cooker freezer meal plans have been published all together and are available outside of the Weekly Meal Plan membership.

I love using these plans.  The meals are my “busy day emergency stash”.  They keep us out of the drive-thru lane, but require minimal effort to get dinner on the table.

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • 12 plans – each with 6 dinners and side dish suggestions
  • Color-coded grocery lists
  • Assembly instructions and tips
  • Over 85 printable recipes

The cost is $9.97.

buy now

 

Slow cooker freezer meals

 

 

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3 Things That Worked in the Kitchen This Week – September 8

3 Things that work in the kitchen

 

1.  My 11 year old made Nachos for us!

On Labor Day we took on a big landscaping project.  The weather wasn’t too great and by the time we finished, we looked like we’d been in the Tough Mudder gardening version!  That will happen when it pours the rain while you’re trying to plant 3 trees and 9 bushes.

I knew that I’d be too involved to fix something for lunch so I asked Mia to take charge.  She made a batch of Nachos from start to finish with a little help from her friend who was over to play.  I was so proud of the girls.  She even cleaned up too!

2.  I made another slow cooker freezer meal video (and I’m really excited about something coming your way tomorrow!)

 

I still really hate watching myself on video. And I promise that I do smile in real life! I’ve got to work on that more :)

If you love slow cooker freezer meals, then be sure to tune in to the blog tomorrow. I’ve got a brand new resource for you that I think you’re going to love!

3.  Turned tacos into haystacks.

This isn’t earth shattering, but sometimes it’s nice to hear how meals can be altered.  I put the Smokey Chipotle Chicken Tacos in the slow cooker the other day and then realized that I didn’t have any tortillas.  No problem.  We served them over rice instead.  It was a nice change.

What’s working in your kitchen this week?

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Pre-Cook and Freeze Meats to Make Dinner Quick – 15 Minute Meal Series

Pre-cook and freeze meat

 

One of the things that can slow down dinner prep is dealing with the meat portion.

A beef roast or whole chicken that is frozen is going to take a long while and some hands on work to get it to the table.  Frozen pork chops, chicken breasts or beef steaks won’t take quite as long to thaw and cook, but they still aren’t quick.

My solution to this is to keep my freezer stocked with meats that are already cooked.

Here’s a list of what I like to keep on hand, along with a few links that explain the process of prepping them:

Cooked Chicken

whole chicken in the slow cooker

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker

3 Costco Rotisserie Chickens yield 5-6 meals. 13 possible recipes

 

Using Rotisserie Chickens

bbq chicken for fajitas freezer1

 

Freezing grilled chicken

turkey breast in slow cooker

 

Turkey Breast in the Slow Cooker – it’s not chicken, but it works the same way for recipes and soup.

Ground Beef

I usually just brown ground beef and/or sausage on top of the stove.  Rinse it under hot water to remove extra grease and then freeze in a zip top bag.  A quick minute in the microwave is all it takes to thaw.

If you’d like to cook a lot of ground beef easily, try cooking it in the slow cooker.

hamburger in the crock pot

 

Meatballs

meatballs for freezer done

 

Having meatballs cooked and frozen can really speed up dinner.  They are so versatile and can be used for a lot more than rounding out a plate of spaghetti.

Ham and Smoked Sausage

smoked sausage

Both ham and smoked sausage are already cooked.  These meats are wonderful for quick dinners, because you basically just need to heat them.

I don’t do it as often, but cooked beef roast can also be shredded and frozen.  Use it in casseroles or Mexican dishes.

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Give up on perfect and embrace good enough for weeknight dinners

how-to-cut-cauliflower-5

 

I know that picture is weird.  The cauliflower looks blue in places.  But I’m embracing the imperfect with this post and encouraging you to do the same.

That photo shows how I cut cauliflower quickly for a side dish to go with a weeknight meal.  It takes all of 1 minute to cut up the head and have the veggies in the pan cooking.

In an ideal world, we would all have time for elaborate dinner prep.  We’d make our time in the kitchen unhurried.  Sometimes those slow evenings happen and it’s wonderful when it does.

But many nights dinner prep happens fast and furious, either coming at the tail end of a long day or squeezed in between activities.

I’d much rather get the cooking done fast, even if it means it’s not perfect.  I want to have a nutritious meal with my family, preferably with plenty of time around the table to eat together.  And I’m willing to sacrifice the “right” way to do things for just getting it done.

As part of the 15 Minute Meal series, I’ll be sharing quick cooking tips with you.  This week though, instead of a tip, I wanted to share this perspective:

Dinner doesn’t have to be perfect or elaborate.  A simple meal with your family is a weeknight gift.  Enjoy it!

Whether your having pot roast or grilled cheese sandwiches, the important thing is that you’re having dinner together.

One more note:

Sometimes it’s hard to get everyone together.  Once kids grow into the teen years, they are busy with work and activities.  Just as dinner doesn’t have to be perfect, not everyone has to be home for it to count as a family dinner.

At our table, sometimes we’ve got 7 people for dinner.  And sometimes it’s just two of us.  Either way, we still make it a habit to sit down together with whoever may be home.  Whenever family members are gathered at the table – no matter how few or how many- it still counts as a family dinner.

 

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No Recipe Required + Simple Side Dish(es) = Easy Dinner!

Sometimes you just want to cook without having to put a lot of thought into it.  Or any thought into it.

A while back I wrote a series on No Recipe Required ideas.  Simple things to do with chicken, fish, beef or ground beef.  I may add to this series in the future and cover smoked sausage, ham, pork chops, etc.  But for now, this seems like a good time to show off these posts again.  Sometimes the good stuff gets buried on the blog.

no-recipe-required chicken

 No Recipe Required – Chicken

no-recipe-required-beef

 No Recipe Required – Beef

no-recipe-required-fish

 No Recipe Required – Fish

no-recipe-required-ground-beef

 No Recipe Required – Ground Beef

And because side dishes can get monotonous sometimes, here are 32 simple ideas to pair with the easy meals above.

32 Simple Side Dish Ideas

 32 Simple Side Dish Ideas

What are your favorite no recipe required meals?

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Slow Cooker Freezer Meals in 1 Hour – May Plans

I put together another video for you (embedded at the bottom of this post), showing how I assemble 5-6 slow cooker freezer meals in just one hour.  This time, I grabbed my oldest daughter, Meredith to help me.

Meredith is getting married in less than a month, so I thought it might be good to show her how to stock the freezer quickly with slow cooker meals.

The thing about Meredith is that she is very picky.  She doesn’t like beef or comfort type foods.  She doesn’t like ketchup.  In fact, after the video she told me she tried not to make a face when I added the ketchup to the round steak recipe.  But you can see that she did make a face of dislike!  So funny!

Even after doing quite a few of these videos, I’m still not very comfortable with it.  I’m certainly no professional video maker!  But I hope they are a help to you in getting your own freezer stocked.

The plans, grocery list, recipes and instructions for the May Slow Cooker Freezer Meals are all included for members of the Weekly Meal Plans.  They are scheduled for the week of May 21, but members get access to the whole month at once, so they are downloadable now.

eat at home weekly meal plan slow cooker button

Here are the recipes included for this video.  The plans also have side dishes included.  I didn’t make the Blueberry Crisp in the video, but it’s also freezable and the instructions are included in the plans.

And here’s the video:

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Homemade Toaster Strudels {quick and easy}

I like to show my kids that things they like in the grocery store or restaurants can usually be made at home. It takes some of the appeal out of spending that money when you know that you can make the same thing at home, and often times they are cheaper, healthier, and taste better. I’m not saying these Homemade Toaster Strudels are any healthier, but they were SO easy and very tasty!

Homemade Toaster StrudelsThese literally come together in just minutes using puff pastry and pie filling! Of course, you could certainly make them completely from scratch, but that would require a lot more time and patience. My kids aren’t big on patience!   [Read more…]

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