Quick and easy dinners


Every home cook needs a foolproof dish to pull out of the hat for an almost effortless dinner when life spins out of control. That was the premise of a chain letter I found in my inbox recently. Although I usually resist getting caught up in this sort of thing, the request came from a good friend, who argued that everyone needs more ideas for easy meals.

I sent off this recipe for deviled chicken thighs that has become a staple at our house and eagerly waited for other people’s ideas to flow into my email. Only a handful of the 36 I was promised ever showed up. And only a couple of those matched my personal interest in food made with mostly fresh ingredients. I know I’m a bit of a food snob, but I don’t like to cook with a lot of processed food.

The prospect of coming up with 20 people to pass the note to must have been as daunting to my friends as it was to me. Some of my victims begged off. Others must have dropped the ball or their recipients broke the chain. It’s understandable: Getting dinner on the table is hard enough for most people, much less coming up with a recipe for a stranger.

So I thought I’d ask my blog buddies here to talk about what they eat when time is short and the pantry is all but bare. What’s your go-to dinner for crazy school nights, the dish you can make without any thought? It doesn’t have to be a full-blown recipe. Just a rough blueprint will do.

As for me, I don’t remember where my family first came up with this chicken dish. It must have been when my mother was cooking a lot of oven-fried chicken in the interest of my dad’s diet. Bread crumbs gave the poultry plenty of crunch without adding extra fat.deviledchicken2 My husband and I introduced zippy Dijon mustard to bump up the flavor.

At first we used boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but they’re usually so boring and bland, we switched our allegiance to thighs. We also employ the same technique for pork chops and sometimes for fish.

Recently, I noticed that Suzanne Goin has a similar treatment of chicken thighs in her inspiring cookbook, “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” (Knopf, 2005), and she credits Julia Child. Of course she marinates her chicken overnight, sautes her breadcrumbs in butter first, and serves the thighs on a bed of braised leeks. They’re wonderful, I’m sure, but they’re not what’s called for when there are too many commitments and too little time.

My version is simple but tasty and the chicken always comes out juicy and moist with a crisp exterior. You can’t ask for much more when you’re in a rush.

Steam a vegetable, in this case purple cauliflower. (Who knew it would be so colorful when cooked? I thought it was supposed to turn green.) Throw some baby greens in a salad bowl. And dinner is ready .

What’s your quick dinner secret?

Serves 4

4 chicken thighs, skinless or not, as you prefer
2-4 tablespoons Dijon mustard, depending on your taste
½ cup breadcrumbs or panko
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons minced parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash and pat dry chicken thighs and place in a buttered baking dish. Smear them liberally with mustard, blanket with bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until thighs register 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer or juices run clear when chicken is pricked with a small, sharp knife. Sprinkle with parsley if using.

Note: This recipe is very flexible. Amounts are only guidelines. Use what you have on hand.

It also works with pork chops and fish that could use a flavor boost.

10 thoughts on “Quick and easy dinners”

  1. Well, does it count if you have to make it ahead of time and freeze it? I always have homemade black bean burger patties in the freezer. It’s quick and reliable,

    2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
    1/2 cup frozen corn
    3 scallions
    1/4 bunch cilantro
    1 T cumin
    1 egg
    1/2 cup bread crumbs
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Process everything until blended, but still with some texture. Form into patties and freeze on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. To serve, defrost in the microwave for 1 minute on 30% power, then saute, covered in a skillet with some olive oil over medium low heat until browned on one side. Flip and top with cheese, if desired. Brown the other side and serve with all of the usual burger things.

  2. Diana, this sounds wonderful. It looks pretty easy from beginning to end and I love the feeling of having dinner stashed in the freezer. Can’t wait to try it. Thank you.

  3. My no-brainer meal is a nice pork tenderloin studded with slivered garlic and seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin. A quick browning in the saute pan and 12 minutes in the oven and dinner is served. I think I got the recipe in one of those “30-minute” meal features and while it’s not terribly imaginative, it’s reliably good.

  4. Sylvia, I never thought of pork loin as an everyday dish. You’ve changed my mind. I’m going to try this. Thank you.

  5. My new favorite emergency, no-brainer recipe is something I discovered in a Weight Watchers book. Brown lean ground beef, then mix in a can of pinto beans and a can of diced tomatoes. Spoon mixture over cooked brown rice. I also add some dashes of Tapatio sauce and sometimes a dollop of sour cream.

    It is absurdly simple, and perfect for cold nights when you’re needing hearty comfort food. And I like that I can keep the ingredients on hand at all times without risking spoilage!

Comments are closed.