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easy simple weeknight dinners

6 Quick and Easy Dinner Ideas for the Busy Holiday Season

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The hustle and bustle of the holiday season doesn’t leave much time for making warm and nourishing meals at the end of a long day, does it? It doesn’t matter how many hours you log at work or in the kitchen baking holiday treats, you’re still left with children, spouses, partners and maybe even parents who need and expect a decent dinner.

Before you serve your family a meal of leftover eggnog and broken cookies—it’s been done before, trust me—try one of these easy peasy dinner ideas. These six dishes will leave you feeling satisfied and provide you with the energy you’ll need for a night of baking, gift-wrapping, cocktailing, and shopping.

1. The Baked Potato Bar
Gather as many russet potatoes as people in your family (most slow cookers can hold 1-8). Scrub them well and pierce each all over with a fork. Rub potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and wrap tightly in foil. Place the potatoes into a slow cooker, cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours. Remove immediately and top with whatever you find in the fridge: shredded cheddar cheese, salsa, steamed broccoli, caramelized onions, leftover chicken, steak or bacon, baby spinach, arugula, ricotta, butter, Parmesan cheese, etc. Instant gratification is possible when potatoes are cooked in the slow cooker!

2. Ham and Cheese Strata
This rich, cheesy strata is also tasty when served at room temperature on a brunch buffet, so make it for dinner one week and serve it to your overnight guests the next. The beauty of this dish is that is can be prepped up to 12 hours in advance so make it in the morning before you go to work and remove it from the fridge when you walk in the door. To make it, grease an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside. Then, sauté a chopped onion in olive oil, cooking it just until softened. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together 6 large eggs, 2 cups milk, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Add the onions, 1 cup chopped ham, 6 cups cubed sourdough bread, and 2 cups grated cheddar or Swiss cheese and stir well. Pour into the prepared pan and cover the dish with plastic wrap. Store in the fridge for up to 12 hours. To bake, preheat the oven to 350°F, and bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown and set. Serve with a side salad.

3. Pasta Con Ceci
I rely on this speedy supper more than I’d like to admit, but it’s warm and comforting and quick to put on the table, and when our to-do lists are ten items too long we all need to have dishes like this at the ready. Serve with a side salad or some veggies and dip for a simple dinner the whole family—cook included—will love.

4. Apple, Bacon and Cheddar Pizzas
I like to keep cooked bacon in my fridge and freezer so I don’t have to cook some every time I want to add it to a meal. That quick prep works means this pita pizza is a meal that can literally land on the table in less than 15 minutes. For variety, try using store-bought naan in place of the pitas, and replace the cheese with shredded gruyère, or slices of Brie.

5. The Sheet Pan Supper
As I’ve stated before, sheet pan suppers will save your life and your sanity this season. Not only does laying out all your meal components onto a single pan simplify your meal times in ways you could have only dreamed, it also allows the flavours of the proteins to infuse the veggies, keeping ingredient lists short and sweet because there’s no need to add a lot of flavour enhancers to a recipe. The fact that there is only one dish (one!) for post-dinner clean up is just a testament to why we should all be taking this streamlined approach to creating an instantly impressive spread as often as possible. I’ve also figured out a way to make this meal even easier to put together: as soon as I return home from the grocery store, I chop up my broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and red onion and store them in zip top baggies in the fridge. Then, on the day I’m making my sheet pan supper, I empty the bag onto the pan, chop some potatoes, top with sausages and toss it all into the oven. Dinner done!

6. Black Bean, Corn and Goat Cheese Tacos
I submitted this recipe to a contest the former food editor of Martha Stewart Living was hosting, and it finished in the top three! She was looking for a dish that was quick cooking, nutritious and family-friendly, and I think I nailed it with this taco that makes use of common pantry and freezer items. We still make these often, usually for a quick and filling weekend lunch, but you can be sure they’ll be on my meal plan in December. P.S. If your kids aren’t crazy about radishes you can leave them off, and if goat cheese isn’t a household favourite feel free to use cheddar instead.

Now it’s your turn… what are some of your favourite dinners to serve during the busy holiday season?

 

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