This post has been a long time in the making. Internet, if you only knew how many blog posts I compose in my head. It’s about half as many texts as I compose in my head (I am always thinking I’ve responded to texts, and then realizing at 2 am when I wake up to pee that I, indeed, haven’t actually responded). Well, it’s the same with blog posts. I think about them forever, but I feel that I can’t execute them perfectly because I’m, as per the usual, subsisting on protein powder, and iced coffee, and a few quiet moments when the toddlers were playing with Magnatiles and not fighting, and back rubs from my husband which hurt-so-good. It doesn’t leave a lot left in the tanks. So, I compose and compose in my head, dream of the technology that translates my thoughts into typed words, and then one day I find myself with a wide open swath of time, and napping seems like it won’t work (I’m looking at you middle seat on this Delta flight) and so I open my computer and try to get it down and out to you.
Can you relate?
Lately, I have found myself fielding a lot of requests from friends that start with “I am thawing chicken breasts, what can I make for dinner? And, indeed, I even find myself facing that protein quandry on a weekly basis. While I’m sure it’s not an original idea, I decided to make a post about what you have in the freezer and how much time you have that day — and try to combine it with a list of pantry items. If you get these pantry items, you can, in theory, come to this post and type your ingredient into my matrix (bahaha, I can’t make matrices) and it will spit out your dinner idea. Shall we play?
Most dinner quandaries start with either:
- I won’t have any time when we get home tonight to make dinner OR
- I just got home and I need to make dinner
- I need to make something from what we have in the fridge/pantry- no time or not enough patience in the world to schlep these children into the store
…..and while I realize there are a variety of Trader Joe’s entrees and pizza delivery places that can probably solve this problem for you, I tend to be a little old school, so here’s my round up of some of my very favorite quick recipes that can either be thrown in the crock pot/Instant Pot in the morning, or can be made quickly in the evening. If you aren’t banking proteins yet in your freezer like it’s about to be Chernobyl, I encourage you to get rid of some frozen waffles, and purchase some chicken thighs and pork tenderloin. Costco can help you. So can Aldi (weekly specials on chicken for three weeks running). Last, this is not the most vegetarian friendly post, so if you’re veg, you probably want to find another post to help you with the weeknight feeding your fam issues.
First, the pantry round up. In order to be able to execute on these recipes, stock your pantry with:
- 2 cans of diced tomatoes with chiles (such as rotel)
- 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes (these are large usually 28 oz)
- 2 cans of black beans
- 2 cans of chickpeas
- 2 cans of tomato paste
- 2 cans of chipotles in adobo
- 2 cans of enchilada sauce
- 1 jr of Better than Bouillon (chicken flavor)
- 2 cans of pumpkin (like Libby’s)
- 2 cans of white beans
- 2 cans of canned green chiles
- 1 can of corn
- 2 jars of marinara sauce
- 2 small jars of sliced black olives and whole kalamatas or your preferred olives
- 2 cans of refried beans
- Shelf stable gnocchi
- Bagged green lentils (love the trader joes ones)
- 90 second rice packets (such as Seeds of Change) in your desired flavor
- Orzo pasta
- Boxed Jiffy Cornbread mix
Next up, your freezer should be stocked with:
- Chicken thighs (we love the perforated packs from Costco)
- Chicken breasts (same)
- 1 lb packages of ground beef and ground turkey (not breast)
- Frozen deveined and peeled shrimp
- Shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese (did you know you can freeze cheese?)
- Feta cheese
- Corn tortillas
- Frozen broccoli
- Assorted frozen veggies*
And last, it really helps to keep some fresh produce* on hand, but if you are not doing so well in that department, you can always use and bulk up on more frozen. So, if you typically don’t keep carrots, celery, onion, tri-colored peppers, and garlic on hand (those are usually in my drawer), you can always get the frozen bags and stock them. Don’t hesitate to take a handful out of a frozen bag of produce, and stick the rest back in with a rubber band to use for another recipe. We do this a lot with corn and peas.
If you have 15-20 minutes in the morning, or at some point during the day, and you own an Instant Pot or crock pot:
- Combine chicken thighs + lentils + better than bouillon + canned tomatoes (instead of fresh) + whichever aromatics you have on this list into Gina’s Chicken Lentil Soup. Double the chicken, and don’t fret the onion, garlic. I have omitted the onion, added chopped red peppers and carrots (about a cup of each) and have never been able to keep my family from eating every last drop of this amazing soup (which is so much more than the sum of its parts) and turns out more like a stew when you double the chicken.
- Combine ground beef + chickpeas + black beans + canned tomatoes + canned tomato sauce + tomato paste + whatever aromatics you have on hand (peppers, garlic, onions) into my favorite and most requested chili of all time – Gina’s Two Bean Beef Chili – top with crushed tortilla chips, serve over seeds of change rice, sprinkle with shredded cheese, or bake some of your jiffy cornbread doctored with green chiles and frozen corn
- Combine frozen ground turkey + canned pumpkin + canned green chiles + canned white beans into Gina’s Turkey Pumpkin Chili
- Combine frozen ground beef + tomato sauce + chopped celery/onion/carrot + milk (optional IMO), wine (optional again IMO), and shelf stable gnocchi to make one of the most comforting and crowd pleasing dishes evverrrrrrr – Quickest Gnocchi Bolognese – recipe isn’t online yet, but you can half this recipe and then add the shelf stable gnocchi and cook the whole thing for 6 minutes.
If, you have 30 minutes or less to get dinner on the table:
- Combine frozen shrimp (run them under water), frozen broccoli florets, fresh garlic and orzo in this quick shrimp scampi with broccoli pasta that comes together soo quickly using her genius method of cooking the broccoli with the orzo.
- An all-time favorite one pot recipe for Chicken Orzo Tomatoes and Olives that uses frozen chicken thighs + orzo + canned tomatoes and olives + fresh spinach (if you have it) and feta cheese or another salty cheese if you have it
If you have time to prep protein (specifically shredded chicken) on Sunday or Monday, even more options open up to you for quick dinners. I make a batch of this chicken weekly. I use it throughout the week in salads for our lunches, and I use it when I need a quick dinner for us or the kids. It’s such a help to have this on hand and I find its easier to use than rotisserie chicken because its already “picked” and the quantity is much more than a rotisserie chicken. I double this recipe and make sure to save it with the liquid (so moist!). Sometimes, I freeze half if I have a line-up of meals that I feel good about. My favorite uses for this chicken are:
- Enchilada Skillet: combining this chicken + canned black beans + canned enchilada sauce + sour cream (optional IMO) and frozen corn tortillas
- Tostadas or tacos: combine this chicken + a can of refried beans + cheese and other fresh toppings – let your kids make their own burritos, tacos, or tostadas
- Lettuce wraps: combine this chicken + fresh butter lettuce + your favorite flavor combos – you could use buffalo sauce/ranch dressing, peanut sauce and chopped peanuts or peppers, or even enchilada sauce or salsa and beans and cheese
- Quick chicken soup – combine better than bouillon + shredded cooked chicken + frozen veggies (peas, carrots, corn) + orzo
- Chicken Tamale Pie combine cooked chicken, cornbread mix, canned corn and canned enchilada sauce
- Stuffed peppers: combine chicken with the seeds of change rice in a 1 to 1 ratio, add cheese, seasoning and stuff in bell peppers, bake for 15-20 in a 350 degree oven with a tablespoon of water in the bottom of the pan
If you have an hour to prep dinner but no time to go to the store:
- Combine thawed chicken breasts + enchilada sauce + any fresh veggies you have and frozen cheese to make this favorite in our house – Enchilada Chicken Roll Ups – serve with seeds of change rice or salad if you have some that’s fresh
- OR do her pizza roll ups using canned olives + tomato sauce + frozen mozzarella and any other items you have on hand (I keep turkey pepperoni on hand because it lasts forever)
And, that’s a wrap for now. I’m going to come back and add to this post when I can and if you have ideas, please ping them to me in the comments!
Happy weeknight cooking!