Five Easy Weeknight Meals When You Don’t Have a Plan or Time

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m a dedicated menu planner. Not only do I plan my menus every week, I keep them in a little notebook, and save past notebooks so I can refer back to what I ate two years ago. (I’m wacky that way.) Anyway, sometimes my menu plan gets thrown off, or I’m away at the end of the week and don’t get to make the next one. That’s when it’s time to get creative. I’ve come up with a few easy meals that I can always rely on to keep us fed in a pinch.

Jerk Chicken with Homemade Tortilla Chips and Fruit
Chicken breasts
Jerk spice mix 
Corn tortillas
Seasoning salt

Simply rub the jerk spice mix into the chicken breasts and grill or bake. While that’s cooking, heat about ½ inch of oil in a large pan. Cut tortillas into triangles. I get 8 triangles per tortilla. Fry triangles 5-6 at a time (depending on the size of the pan.) It takes about one minute, including time to flip the chips in the middle. Drain on paper towels and periodically sprinkle with seasoning salt if you want a kick, or regular salt if you don’t. Serve with oranges, grapes, or whatever other fruit you have on hand. Something a little tart is best.

Tortilla Eggs
Here’s another easy one I got from NPR’s The Splendid Table weekly newsletter.

Stale corn tortillas (put them in the oven to dry them out) (about 2 per person)
Eggs, lightly beaten, about two per person.
Jack cheese, cut into smallish chunks
You can also add other veggies like chopped bell peppers if you have them on hand.

Cut the tortillas into strips. Film the pan with oil. When it’s hot, add the tortilla strips and the onion. Fry until strips are crisp. Slide them to the side and drop the eggs in the middle of the pan. Scramble the eggs until they reach your preferred consistency. Sprinkle with jack cheese. Serve with salsa on the side.

Homemade Pizza
Yes, it’s easy to order a pizza, but this will taste better.

Ingredients for your preferred pizza crust recipe
Toppings of your choice

Mix the crust by hand or in a stand mixer. If using a yeast crust, let rise for 20 minutes or so. Bake until set at the temperature called for in the recipe, about 7 minutes. Top with your preferred toppings. Bake another 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Shrimp Fondue
If you don’t even want to go to the effort of cooking, this is the easiest recipe in my arsenal.

Defrosted shrimp, shelled, tail-on (about 4 ounces per person)
Chicken broth (about 1.5 cups per person)
Lemon juice
Dipping sauces of your choice

If you have an electric fondue pot, this recipe couldn’t be easier. Pour chicken broth into the pot. Smash a garlic clove and drop it in. Add a teaspoon or so of lemon juice. Heat, but do not boil. Each person attaches their own shrimp to their fondue forks. Place in the pot and cook until shrimp is pink and curled. It takes a minute or two. Remove, dip in sauce, eat, and repeat with more shrimp. I usually serve this with a mustard tartar sauce and a sweet and sour sauce. A salad and a side of rice fills out the meal.

Fried Rice
Some people say fried rice is best with leftover rice, but I don’t usually have leftover white rice. This is easy to throw together in a pinch and always tastes good.

White rice
Eggs, lightly beaten (about ½ per person)
Chicken or pork, browned and cubed (about 4 ounces per person)
Green onions, diced
Cashews or peanuts, toasted
Snow peas, regular peas, green beans, green or red peppers, whatever you on hand, cubed
Soy sauce

Cook the rice and set aside. Toast the nuts and set aside. If you’re using a veggie that requires a long cooking time like snow peas, steam them and set aside. Film a nonstick pan with oil. Drop in the green onions and the eggs. Scramble until set. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the chicken or pork to the pan. Cook through. Add more oil if necessary. Add the rice to the pan. Heat through. Add the veggies. Heat through. Add the nuts. Add 1-2 tablespoons of soy sauce per two cups of cooked rice. Test after each tablespoon because it varies by brand and your personal preference. Add the eggs and green onions. Heat through. Serve with potstickers, egg rolls, a salad, or eat it alone. It’s certainly got everything you need.

I find that if I keep most of these ingredients on hand, I’m always able to come up with a meal in a pinch if our plans change or I don’t have time to make a menu. Some weeks I’ll just look in the freezer and pantry, see that they’re full, and declare a “creative kitchen” week. I promise you we never go hungry.

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