Hungry. No idea

Are you ever stuck in the ‘what to make for dinner’ dilemma? 

It seems to be the toughest part, if you are the cook in the family. By most people's account, I am lucky, being married to a chef. He cooks much more often than I do. He is much faster than me, too, and he gets hungry first, so my approach of working from inspiration and possibly having a glass of wine while I putz away isn't always efficient enough. 

In summer, when we have a hectic work schedule, we eat a lot of salad for dinner. I know that doesn't work for most families, so this week I thought I'd offer a few quick tips and ideas for ways to get past the Kitchen Block - you know, when you stand in front of the fridge with the door open and your brain in neutral?

Top three tips for an easy dinner

The slow cooker is your friend
If you remember it in the morning. Set it, and forget it.

Think outside the box
If you're really stuck. Who says pancakes can't be for dinner? Pita pizzas are fun to make. And keep reading for more ideas. :)

It never hurts to be prepared
Planning for contingencies gives you the opportunity to have options at all times. You can get ahead of the stress (keep reading to see some of those options).

Three chef secrets for keeping your sanity on those tough days

One: Stock your pantry

Works not only for pasta and flatbread, it's also great on salmon, chicken, even in a grilled cheese.

Herbs & spices
Fresh garlic, ginger root, oregano, cinnamon, cumin, some kind of chile if you like heat, and don't forget salt and pepper (which you should use on a daily basis).

Parmesan cheese
Adds a kick to anything from pasta to soup to bread crumbs or an omelette.

Fresh lemons
Nothing beats the real thing, juice in dressings and sauces and zest too.

Good extra virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar
Not just for salads, also good to drizzle on roasted veggies.

Two: Work smarter

Turn on the oven (for roasting or baking) or put a pot of water on the stove (for pasta or potatoes) when you get home - start right away.

Cover your baking sheet with a silicone mat for cooking fish or baking (saves on oil, and clean up). For messy items like bacon, cover it with tinfoil, then parchment, for easy clean-up.

Make batches of staple items - spaghetti sauce, chilli, or taco filling, soups and stews, even roast meats. Freeze extra portions for later use.

Three: Use good tools

A sharp knife 
It requires less effort, and you're less likely to cut yourself. Use a sharpener that you run the blade through a couple times a week.

A meat thermometer
Don't guess when your meat or fish is cooked properly, get it right every time.
Rare is 125F / 52C
Medium is 137F / 59C (recommended for fish, pork, beef cuts)
Well done is 160F / 71C (required for poultry, ground meats)

A whisk
Makes smooth sauces, adds volume to beaten eggs and whipped cream. Make sure it is metal, built to last and has a long handle so it works for larger volume and bigger pots or bowls.

Five fun dinner ideas to get you from Monday to Friday

Pasta is an easy fix
Even if you don't have tomato sauce, sautéed veggies with olive oil and Parmesan can be divine. Butter and garlic work as well.

Salad isn't just green, and sandwiches aren't just PB & J
You’ve had Greek salad, I'm sure. Well, think of any combination of chopped vegetables and/or fruit, maybe with nuts or seeds or cheese, perhaps a can of tuna or leftover bits of chicken or beef. Sandwiches are the same, and can be wraps - or served in a lettuce cup.

Take your pulse - and make a stew
OK, I'm going for a bit of levity here - by pulse, I mean things like chick peas and lentils. They are packed with protein and fibre and flavour, and they add substance to a soup, chilli, or stew. Choose your favourite broth and go crazy. For plenty of recipes, look to Pulse Canada.

Bacon isn't just for breakfast
Add it to pasta, or salad, or a stew, or even roasted vegetables.

Eggs for dinner is just fine
Omelettes are one of the quickest things to make. Quiche is good too. 

If you need more ideas, there is a plethora of sites on the Internet. If you want a good place to start, I can personally vouch for these video recipes posted by my husband, The Chef Instead (I was the guinea pig for all of them).

I hope this helps. If all else fails, ordering pizza isn't the end of the world - but you don't want to be doing it all the time. Eating good food does make you a better person, honestly. And enjoying the act of making it can be therapeutic.

Happy cooking!

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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