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Best Dinner Ideas: 20 Quick Recipes For Busy Nights

Best Dinner Ideas: 20 Quick Recipes For Busy Nights

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

Scallop Pasta

    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.

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 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)

    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Heat oven to 300°. Wrap garlic bread loaf in foil and place in oven to warm.
    2. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until tender but firm. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.
    3. Simultaneously melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add scallops and cook until edges brown, stirring frequently, about 2-3 minutes.
    4. 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.
    5. Mix pasta into sauce, adding pasta cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls as needed to moisten.
    6. 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

    R3_Balsalmic Porkchops_b

      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

      All American Beef Taco

        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.

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        4. Roasted Chickpea Gyros

        R5_Roasted Chickpea Gyros_a

          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

            Copy of R7_Shrimp, Leek, and Spinach Pasta Recipe_b

              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

              Portabello Pita New

                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

                Mashed Potato Soup Bacon

                  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.

                  INGREDIENTS:

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                  • 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)

                  DIRECTIONS:

                  1. 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.
                  2. Whisk in potatoes, a little at a time, bringing back to a boil.
                  3. Stir in white wine vinegar, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
                  4. Put in bowls and sprinkle cheese and bacon bits as desired.

                  9. Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin and Caprese Spinach Salad

                  Bacon Tenderloin

                    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

                    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

                      Salmon 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.

                        INGREDIENTS:

                        • 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
                        • Butter
                        • Dill

                        DIRECTIONS:

                        1. 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.
                        2. Roast for 20 minutes.
                        3. Season salmon by rubbing soft butter on top of salmon. Top with dill, salt, and pepper as desired.
                        4. 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

                        Ham 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.

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                          13. Grilled Chicken Salad

                          Spinach Chk 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

                            Broccoli Sausage 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

                              soba-and-maitake-mushrooms-in-soy-broth-940x600

                                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

                                Steak and 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.

                                  INGREDIENTS:

                                  • 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)

                                  DIRECTIONS:

                                  Asparagus:

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                                  1. 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.)
                                  2. Bake until tender, about 12-15 minutes depending on thickness. Sprinkle with lemon juice just before serving.

                                  Sirloin:

                                  1. Preheat grill. Heat all ingredients except the sirloin in a saucepan on the stove until melted and blended, stirring occasionally.
                                  2. Brush steak with mixture on both sides and grill to desired doneness, 6-16 minutes.
                                  3. 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

                                  Arctic Char Resized

                                    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

                                    18 - Chipotle Fajitas Better Size

                                      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

                                      Tomato Soup Sized

                                        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

                                        20 - Spaghetti 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.

                                          INGREDIENTS:

                                          • 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

                                          DIRECTIONS:

                                          1. 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.
                                          2. Cook spaghetti in 6-8 quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
                                          3. While pasta is cooking, whisk together eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, pepper, and salt in a small bowl.
                                          4. 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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                                          Last Updated on March 13, 2019

                                          How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

                                          How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

                                          Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

                                          You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

                                          Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

                                          1. Work on the small tasks.

                                          When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

                                          Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

                                          2. Take a break from your work desk.

                                          Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

                                          Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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                                          3. Upgrade yourself

                                          Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

                                          The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

                                          4. Talk to a friend.

                                          Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

                                          Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

                                          5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

                                          If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

                                          Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

                                          Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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                                          6. Paint a vision to work towards.

                                          If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

                                          Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

                                          Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

                                          7. Read a book (or blog).

                                          The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

                                          Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

                                          Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

                                          8. Have a quick nap.

                                          If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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                                          9. Remember why you are doing this.

                                          Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

                                          What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

                                          10. Find some competition.

                                          Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

                                          Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

                                          11. Go exercise.

                                          Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

                                          Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

                                          As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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                                          Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

                                          12. Take a good break.

                                          Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

                                          Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

                                          Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

                                          Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

                                          More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

                                          Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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