When Dolly Pardon laments about working 9 to 5, I want to slug her. With a full-time freelance career, a toddler daughter, volunteer work and myriad chores associated with keeping my house and car in relatively working order, I feel like I am working nonstop.
Which doesn’t give me much time to get dinner on the table each day. Over time, I’ve come to rely on a number of shortcuts, easy meal solutions, and pre-prepped ingredients to ensure that making dinner doesn’t take all afternoon.
Use pre-prepped ingredients
I used to scoff at the bags of chopped-up stir fry vegetables. After all, how long can it take to cut up broccoli and carrots? Actually, all that prep work does take a while. And, the bags of vegetables give you a nice variety of veggies, all ready to go without the waste of stems and peels. Look for jars of chopped garlic, chopped fresh herbs and ground fresh ginger in the refrigerated case, and blends of fresh or frozen vegetables. My favorite is the pack of sliced cremini mushrooms; they’re the same price as whole mushrooms.
Make double-duty meals
When you’re making dinner, make enough so you’ll have leftovers for another dinner or for a couple of lunches. I like to make a roasted turkey breast and use the leftover turkey for sandwiches, in pot pie or in pasta. If I’m making stew, I’ll portion out the leftovers into another meal’s worth of servings and vacuum-seal it for the freezer. It’s always comforting to have a freezer full of leftovers, just in case.
Use quick cooking method
Sauteeing, steaming, stir-frying and grilling (on a gas grill or countertop grill) are all good options: you can saute a tilapia fillet in less than 10 minutes, and steam some green beans for a side dish in that same amount of time.
Plan your meals and grocery shopping at the beginning of the week
I hate the weeks when I haven’t planned my meals and I end up at the grocery store every other day, frantically buying provisions for that night’s dinner. Instead, now I sit down with my cookbooks and food magazines and plan out dinners and lunches for the whole week (taking into account a couple of dinners out or take-out meals). Don’t forget ingredients for breakfasts and snacks!
Have a couple of quick, fail-safe meals in your repertoire
In our house, it’s a tofu-noodle stir-fry made with frozen vegetables. Everyone loves it, I don’t need a recipe to make it, and it comes together in less than 30 minutes. Try it yourself!
20-Minute Tofu-Noodle Stir-Fry
1 10-ounce package extra-firm tofu
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 scallions, sliced, white parts only
1 teaspoon ground or grated fresh ginger
8 ounces Asian noodles, such as somen, ramen or rice noodles
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 package fresh or frozen stir-fry vegetables (1 pound)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
- Cut tofu into cubes. In a zip-top bag or bowl, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, scallions and fresh ginger. Add tofu, seal bag, and allow to marinate for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a pot of water to cook noodles according to package directions.
- While noodles are cooking, heat canola oil in a wok or a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, tilting the pan to distribute the oil across the skillet’s entire surface. With a slotted spoon, remove the tofu chunks from the marinade and place them in the hot skillet. Reserve the leftover marinade. Brown the tofu chunks evenly on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the tofu to a bowl or platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.
- Add more canola oil to the pan if necessary, then add the frozen or fresh vegetables to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until crisp-tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Return tofu to the pan.
- Add cornstarch to the marinade and stir with a fork or a whisk to combine and dissolve completely. Pour marinade over the stir-fry and stir to combine, Cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, until sauce thickens.
- When noodles are finished, drain noodles and rinse with cold water to stop cooking process. Toss the stir-fried tofu and vegetables with noodles (either in the pan or in a serving bowl) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Makes 4 servings.