When I was a kid, I lived in a household where everyone worked. I did chores and homework after school, my step-dad traveled often, and my mom worked long days in dentistry. Coming home at 6 o’clock every night didn’t leave a lot of time for cooking, but Mom always made us a delicious meal, usually on the table within 45 minutes.
There certainly is an art to cooking – timing is definitely key – but there’s a freedom to it as well. Don’t like mushrooms? Substitute them with peppers for a new dish. Don’t want post-meal garlic breath? Cut the recipe amount in half and add other spices that you prefer. Cooking can be fun and creative, but sometimes a little intimidating. These recipes can help with that: to encourage beginners, but still please the seasoned cook.
We know every night can’t be a Thanksgiving feast; but it can be quick, easy, and filled with variety. Here are 20 dinner ideas from around the world and from my mom’s kitchen that can be whipped up in a jiffy after a long and busy day.
1. Pasta with Scallops, Cream, and Dill
This is an elegant and filling meal that will be sure to mix up the typical dinner menu, inspired by Mom and the Scottish purveyors of fine food, Valvona & Crolla.
Serves 4. 20-30 minutes.
- 1 loaf of garlic bread
- 9 oz. dried linguine or penne pasta
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 12 oz. scallops, cut into 1/3-inch wide medallions
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 3 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, divided
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Parsley to garnish (optional)
- Heat oven to 300°. Wrap garlic bread loaf in foil and place in oven to warm.
- Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until tender but firm. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.
- Simultaneously melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add scallops and cook until edges brown, stirring frequently, about 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in cream and tomato paste. Cook until sauce is heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in cayenne pepper and 2 of the teaspoons dill.
- Mix pasta into sauce, adding pasta cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls as needed to moisten.
- Remove garlic bread from oven and slice to serve. Divide pasta into 4 bowls and sprinkle remaining dill on top. Salt and pepper to taste.
2. Balsamic Pork Chops Over Rice
For a fresh, unique recipe for pork chops, look no further. Mix up meal night with tender pork chops offering a simple but not overpowering flavor. Add a blended rice for the side, and you have a complete meal ready on the stove in under an hour.
3. Traditional Tacos
Mom made these for us as a treat, and it can be one of the fastest, easiest recipes on the list. You can make homemade seasoning, or if time is limited, pick up 1-2 packets of pre-mixed spices like Ortega Taco Seasonings® at any regular grocery store. Combine with browned ground beef, and you have a meal in 30 minutes or less.
4. Roasted Chickpea Gyros
For the vegetarians among us, this recipe will satisfy your body’s craving for protein: the hearty texture of the chickpeas will stick to your ribs, and the rich and flavorful seasonings will make you feel like you aren’t missing a thing. Make the homemade yogurt in advance for an enhanced melding of flavors, or whip it up quickly while the chickpeas bake.
5. Chicken Curry and Rice
Add an ethnic flare to your family’s dinner with an Indian curry dish that’s bound to excite your taste buds. Both the protein from the chicken and the carbs of the rice will leave you feeling full and satiated. For a richer flavor, triple the curry and double the garlic and red pepper flakes when cooking the chicken. This meal is ready to serve within 45 minutes.
6. Shrimp, Leek, and Spinach Pasta
A healthy seafood dish mixing the textures of veggies, shellfish, and pasta, this combination will certainly please the palate and fill you up. It’s easy, too, and ready in about 30 minutes on the stove.
7. Grilled Portobello Goat Cheese Pitas
Here is a vegetarian dish that adds hearty, meaty mushrooms to your plate. The creamy goat cheese gives a pungent but delicious bite, and the tomatoes are a refreshing infusion to it all. Grill over medium heat, and this meal is ready in a half hour.
8. Mashed Potato Soup
This is another one of my favorites that Mom made while I was growing up. It’s an easy, one-pot dish, and you can save time if you’re preparing mashed potatoes earlier in the week for another meal: mash extra potatoes and keep the leftovers for this dish a couple evenings later.
Serves 4-6. 30-45 minutes.
- 2 1/2 cups of mashed potatoes
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 1 small rib of celery including leaves, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, coarsely grated
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon of parsley leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon of dill or rosemary
- Cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)
- Bacon bits (optional)
- In a large saucepan, cook onions, celery, and carrots in butter over moderately low heat, stirring until veggies are tender. Stir in broth and dill/rosemary. Bring to a boil.
- Whisk in potatoes, a little at a time, bringing back to a boil.
- Stir in white wine vinegar, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Put in bowls and sprinkle cheese and bacon bits as desired.
9. Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin and Caprese Spinach Salad
Nothing goes better with a meal than bacon. Here, we have bacon wrapped around more bacon. Enjoy an otherwise lean and healthy dinner with this oven-baked pork tenderloin balanced out with a fresh caprese spinach salad. The salty bacon will complement the creamy mozzarella and acidic tomato.
10. Farfalle Bolognese
One of my all-time favorite meals, this traditional Italian red meat sauce dish is my go-to for home cooking and eating out! A rich, hearty comfort food meal perfect for inviting company, this pasta Bolognese recipe is sure to be a hit. If time is running short, you can substitute the homemade sauce for any preferred jarred brand found at your local supermarket and blend it with the browned ground beef or turkey, then add to pasta.
11. Roasted Salmon, Potatoes, and Zucchini
This is another balanced blend of Mom’s – fish, carbs, and greens. It’s easy, one pan for clean up, healthy, and delicious!
Serves 4-6. 30-45 minutes.
- 16-24 oz. wild salmon filets
- 1 large zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 3 large potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1 yellow onion, sliced thin
- 1 shallot, chopped
- Rosemary salt
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Preheat oven to 450°. Toss zucchini, potatoes, onions, and shallot together with drizzled olive oil, and rosemary salt and pepper as desired. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Lightly drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
- Roast for 20 minutes.
- Season salmon by rubbing soft butter on top of salmon. Top with dill, salt, and pepper as desired.
- Remove baking sheet of roasting veggies from oven and nestle salmon filets among them. Return to oven and roast for another 8-10 minutes until desired doneness. Plate and serve.
12. Ham and Broccoli Quiche
This versatile and easy recipe of broccoli, ham, and cheese requires longer baking time, but very little preparation and monitoring. Come home from work, get it started and stick it in the oven, then relax and unwind. Dinner will be ready before you know it! For faster cooking, pour quiche mixture in muffin pans instead of a 10-inch quiche dish.
13. Grilled Chicken Salad
This is a classic go-to when you’re on the go. Light yet filling, this salad will make you feel healthy and satiated. The only cooking is the chicken. If you don’t have a grill, sautéing on the stove works, too. It’s ready in under 30 minutes.
14. Betty’s Potato, Sausage, and Broccoli Skillet
It doesn’t get easier than a tried-and-true Betty Crocker® recipe that’s tasty and filled with healthy vegetables. An added bonus is the cleanup: prepare this meal in one large saucepan.
15. Healthy Ramen Alternative: Soba And Maitake Mushrooms In Soy Broth
This recipe might require adding a few special ingredients to your grocery list, but it’s bound to please and is trendy to boot. Skip the MSG-laden ramen packets and create your own healthy and satisfying slurping noodle dish that’s making waves in the foodie world. You’ll have a few pots on the stove cooking at once, but dinner can be ready in about 45 minutes.
16. Onion Buttered Sirloin with Roasted Asparagus
The juicy, full-of-flavor sirloin is mom’s and inspired by a Better Homes & Gardens recipe from over 40 years ago. It can be accompanied by any side, but roasted asparagus adds a healthy green balance to the red meat intake, and both textures and tastes pair well together.
Serves 4. 30-45 minutes.
- 24-32 oz. sirloin steak
- 1 cup butter
- 1/2 cup snipped parsley (optional)
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 bunch thin asparagus spears, trimmed (to remove woody ends, grab stalk of asparagus at either end and bend until it snaps. It will naturally snap where it starts to get tough.)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
- 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
- Preheat oven to 425°. Place the asparagus into a mixing bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat the spears, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange asparagus onto baking sheet in a single layer. (For easy cleanup, line the baking sheet with foil.)
- Bake until tender, about 12-15 minutes depending on thickness. Sprinkle with lemon juice just before serving.
- Preheat grill. Heat all ingredients except the sirloin in a saucepan on the stove until melted and blended, stirring occasionally.
- Brush steak with mixture on both sides and grill to desired doneness, 6-16 minutes.
- ALTERNATIVE: to broil steaks, remove asparagus once done and keep on a warming plate. Set oven to broil. Cook steaks for 7-8 minutes and turn over, cooking for another 7-8 minutes until desired doneness. Plate and serve.
17. Arctic Char with Warm Olive and Lemon Dressing
For olive and capers lovers, this broiled entrée is your next meal. Light and fresh, the Mediterranean notes flavoring this fish will delight your senses. Arctic Char is related to salmon and trout, but offers a milder flavor for those whose palates are sensitive to fish tastes.
18. Chipotle Chicken Fajitas
For a zesty, spicy meal that makes for easy cooking and cleanup, whip up some Chipotle Chicken Fajitas like you’d find in any good Tex-Mex restaurant. One large skillet is all you need to cook the spiced chicken, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic. Serve with a side salad or Mexican rice for an even larger appetite, and you’ve got dinner with a kick in about 30 minutes!
19. Tomato Parmesan Soup and Baked Potato
The soup can hold its own, but added with a baked potato, you have a hearty, hot meal that’s perfect for those frosty winter nights. Mom and I are both fans of this recipe, inspired by Turley’s in Boulder, Colorado.
20. Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Another one of Mom’s classic dinners is her own take on a Gourmet Magazine recipe from years ago. If you have pancetta, you’ll likely have all of the other ingredients lying around the kitchen: an easy, last-minute meal that’s rich and creamy.
Serves: 4-6. 45 minutes.
- 1 lb. spaghetti
- 10 oz. pancetta
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 to 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, finely grated
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Cut pancetta into 1/4 to 1/3-inch pieces, then cook in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring until fat begins to render, about 1-2 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Add wine and boil until it’s reduced by half, about 1-2 minutes.
- Cook spaghetti in 6-8 quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
- While pasta is cooking, whisk together eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, pepper, and salt in a small bowl.
- Drain spaghetti and add to onion mixture, then toss over moderate heat until coated. Remove from heat and add egg mixture, tossing to combine. Serve immediately.
Featured photo credit: Hirsheimer & Hamilton via bonappetit.com
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