Autumn doesn’t sneak up on me. Instead, it sweeps me up in a sudden chaotic storm. It’s a tornado of book bags and new shoes, clinic cards and registration papers, gridlocked traffic and school zones, homework papers and after-school activities. During summer, meals are easy – with very little going on, there’s plenty of time to cook dinner. Once the kids head back to school, well, I head back to the drive-through for take-out.
I want this year to be different. And, although I have visions of weekend shopping sprees at the farmer’s market followed by complicated recipes from scratch, I know that car pools, homework, and practices will keep my free time short. To keep myself from giving up completely and heading for the drive-through on the way home from work, I’ll have to fit “cooking” into an already time-starved fall schedule. If you are also dealing with a sudden time crunch now that summer has (unofficially) ended, here are some ways you can cut corners for quick and easy autumn recipes.
Refrigerated pizza dough is your friend. If you keep this handy, you can roll it out onto a pizza pan or cookie sheet, top it with cheese, tomato sauce, and whatever toppings you can find in your pantry or fridge (black olives, leftover rotisserie chicken, cooked ham and some pineapple chunks, etc.). You can also use it to make calzones – just put some ricotta cheese and some spinach on one end, then fold it over, pinch the ends closed, and bake. Or, cut it into sections and make your own sandwich “pockets.”
Speaking of that rotisserie chicken you pick up already cooked at the grocery store, these can be stretched for a couple of dinners. Use the leftover chicken to make a classic chicken pot pie (using refrigerated pie dough, a bag of frozen mixed veggies, and cream of chicken soup). Slice it, add it to some lettuce, and toss in some dried cranberries and walnuts for a quick dinner salad. Make a quick batch of chicken soup using chicken broth, water, the chicken, egg noodles, and some diced veggies such as carrots and celery.
If you have a box of macaroni and cheese and some ground turkey, cook the turkey and then mix it with the prepared mac and cheese. Put it in a casserole dish, top it with crumbled tortilla chips and cheddar cheese, and bake.
In addition to refrigerated pizza and pasta dough, be sure to stock up on refrigerated biscuit dough, which is perfect for making quick sliders. Cook some ground beef (or ground turkey), season with salt and pepper, add about a cup of salsa and cook through. Slice open your cooked biscuits, add a spoonful of the turkey mixture to each bottom section, and put the tops back on. The kids will love these – and they won’t even know it took less than 20 minutes, start to finish.
Head to the very back of your pantry (or food shelf) – see that lonely package of ramen noodles? Take it out! Cut a chicken breast into thin slices and cook it in a large skillet with some oil. When the chicken is no longer pink, add a bag of frozen oriental vegetables to it and cook about five minutes. Open the ramen noodles, discard the packet of spices, and cook the noodles according to the directions. Drain and set aside. Add some soy sauce, minced garlic, and ginger to the chicken mixture then toss in the noodles for a quick chicken stir-fry.
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