While this season is indeed quite wonderful, there is no denying that it’s also ridiculously busy. From obligatory office parties to festive family gatherings to children’s Christmas concerts, the calendar is chock-a-block full of things to do most days, not the least of which is feeding your family dinner each night.
I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have the time to make meals that take more than 20 minutes this month. There are just too many other things vying for our time and attention, and admittedly I’d much rather do some of them then stand by the stove slaving over a dinner my four-year-old may or may not eat.
Fortunately, I have an arsenal of dishes designed for occasions like this. Each one is simple in execution and essentially seasonless, meaning the ingredients are easily found in my pantry, fridge and/or freezer. I also like to take a page out of my mother-in-law’s book and serve the same thing on the same night each week until we reach the holidays. You can be sure we’ll be eating Blackened Fish Tacos each Tuesday, and French Bread Pizzas next Monday night (and the one after that, too).
Hopefully, you’ll find some easy dinner inspiration here for the weeks to come. We can do it!
French Bread Pizza: Baguette + Jar of Marinara + Ball of Mozzarella = a dinner the whole family will love. Feel free to embellish with whatever other ingredients you find in the fridge (just don’t cook anything). Serve with a quick salad or veggies and dip.
Breakfast Burritos: Warm large whole wheat tortillas in a 300°F oven. As they warm, prepare your favourite fillings: scrambled eggs, black beans, avocado slices (or guacamole), shredded cheddar, salsa, sour cream, cilantro, pickled jalapenos. Customize each burrito to each eater, wrap up and serve.
Pasta/Shrimp/Spinach: This holy trinity of ingredients is almost always crowd-pleasing. Simply cook a pot of pasta and while you’re doing so, sauté chopped chicken breast or thighs in a few dollops of pesto (a major flavour bomb since it contains oil, herbs and garlic. Also, it requires no chopping). Add 6 large handfuls of spinach and stir, cooking until wilted. Drain pasta, add to skillet, toss and garnish with parmesan. Swap sausage for the chicken and peas for the spinach for another dinner that’s just as easy to make.
Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Basil and Bocconcini Cheese: Many sheet pan meals are meat and veggie-heavy and take up to an hour to cook, but this dinner I’ve created is vegetarian and can be on the table in 20-minutes. I like to serve it with a large side salad or even some sausages for my teenage sons (when cut into thirds they can cook in the same amount of time as the gnocchi). Full recipe here.
Chicken, White Bean and Leek Soup: A rotisserie chicken is your best friend when it comes to serving simple weeknight dinners, and here we’ve removed the chicken to make a soup that looks gourmet but is legitimately on the table in minutes. When serving the soup to babies and toddlers, transfer some of the soup mixture to a bowl or glass measuring cup and blitz with an immersion blender until it reaches the desired consistency. Full recipe here.
Udon Noodles: These cook quickly. Toss with butter, soy sauce, sliced green onions and toasted sesame oil. Serve with cut-up veggies and/or chicken on the side. Again, a great use for a rotisserie chicken.
Quick Curry: Open a jar of curry and combine in a pot with a can of coconut milk. Add chickpeas or another quick-cooking protein, plus veggies. Make rice. Done.
Salmon, Veg and Couscous: Broiled salmon takes about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon or use equal parts maple syrup and soy sauce to make a simple marinade). Couscous only requires 5 minutes when covered with boiling water. Add lemon zest, salt and butter. And whatever veg you feel like cooking.
Blackened Fish Tacos (“Recipe” Below): This is one of my personal favourite quick-cooking dinners. The fish takes 8 minutes to broil, and while it’s cooking you can mix the slaw, crumble the cheese and slice the green onions. I like to make the spice blend on the weekend so it’s ready when I need it.
Blackened Fish Tacos
- ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
For the fish tacos:
- 4 tilapia (or other white fish) or salmon
- 8 tortilla or taco shells, of choice (corn, flour, hard, etc.)
- Slaw (you can make your own or you can buy a pack of kale slaw – readily available at most grocery stores and Costco. If you buy it – hey, why not? – trash the accompanying dressing and douse the veggies with a generous splash of olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt instead)
- Guacamole (homemade or store-bought) or mashed avocado
- Crumbled feta
- Lime wedges
- Chopped tomatoes
- Sliced green onions
1. To make the blackened fish season, combine ingredients in a small bowl or jar. Cover and store until needed. This can be done up to a week in advance.
2. To make the tacos, turn the broiler to high and move the oven rack to the top. Place the fish on a parchment or foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Rub the seasoning all over the fish. Drizzle with olive oil and melted butter and broil for 4 minutes. Flip the fish and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until the fish is tender and flaky. Depending on the thickness of the salmon (if using) you may need to cook this another minute or so longer.
3. While the fish is cooking, assemble your toppings based on the list above.
4. To assemble, place 2 taco shells on each plate and top with chunks of broiled fish, slaw, feta and a dollop of aioli. Serve at once.
For kids who may not like this flavour combo, we often skip the seasoning blend and coat their white fish in seasoned breadcrumbs before drizzling with oil and butter. Then we add a plain cheese taco (grated cheddar in a tortilla) to the side and apple slices or carrot sticks if they aren’t into the veggies you’re adding to your own taco.