5 Quick Meals for Beginning Cooks

This weekend I got to spend a couple days visiting some very dear friends of mine in Dallas, who also happen to be newlyweds. My friend, who’s never been much for cooking, was taking a fair bit of good-natured ribbing from her new husband about how often she served charcuterie for dinner instead of a “real” home-cooked meal.

Here’s the thing though: my friend works a demanding job, and often puts in pretty long hours at the office. While I’m sure she’d love to summon her inner Julia Child, ain’t nobody got time for that.

This got me thinking about easy, quick, semi-homemade meals that either my friend, or, more realistically, her grad-school-attending-hubby could quickly pull together whenever either of them choose. (If you’re not bringing home the bacon, fellas, you better be willing to fry it up in a pan for your hardworking lady!)

So, without further ado, here’s a list of five recommendations for meals without a lot of prep work or cooking time, that are also “husband-approved”.

  1. Boxed Jambalaya with Sausage and Vegetables (pictured above) – Sure, this may offend the true Cajuns out here, but the Zatarain’s boxed jambalaya mix is a tried and true favorite.  I like to add in flavorful sausage, chopped veggies (green onions, celery, okra, and diced tomatoes are all good choices, according to your preference), and a big squirt of Sriracha sauce.  Then you just follow the directions on the box.  If you can boil water, you can master this dinner.
  1. Chorizo Chili-Mac – As I’ve mentioned before, I make a pretty kickass homemade macaroni and cheese, but as that requires making a roux, multiple ingredients, and a whole lot of whisking, I wouldn’t really recommend it for beginning cooks. Instead, I’d recommend dressing up Kraft Shells ‘n Cheese. You make the pasta according to the package instructions, and while the pasta is boiling, grill up some chorizo sausage, 1 tsp of chili powder, and a can or Rotel in another pan. Once the sausage is cooked, toss is it the bowl with the pasta and cheese sauce and stir it together for a hearty and satisfying dinner.
  1. Red or Green Curry Chicken & Rice – Thai food tends to scare off beginners because a lot of recipes call for a large number of unfamiliar ingredients, but if you get a prepared curry paste (we usually get Thai Kitchen brand), it significantly cuts down on the work. You start by cutting up chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, then adding them to a skillet with a couple tablespoons of oil and half a small jar of curry paste. (You can also add veggies like bell pepper or bamboo shoots if you prefer.) Saute the chicken until it’s cooked, then add 1 can of coconut milk, 1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar, the juice of two limes, and the rest of the curry paste.  Then let simmer for about 10 minutes.  Serve with a bag of microwavable instant rice, and you’re good to go – 20 minutes max cooking time. Once you’ve mastered it with chicken, try it with shrimp.
  1. Baked Potato Bar Night – You can’t get much easier than baked potatoes. Rub each potato with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper, and wrap individually in foil (with the shiny side in).  Put directly onto the rack of a 400-degree oven for 1.5 hours, and then pull them out and test with a fork. While the potatoes cool, assemble your topping options, which can really be whatever you have in the fridge – salsa, butter, sour cream, or shredded cheese are all good ready-made options.  Bacon is great, or you can get a can of pre-made chili if you’d rather. Or add veggies like chopped onions, jalapeños, avocado – whatever you like. Each person gets just what they like, and your total prep work is about 5 minutes.
  1. Taco Salad “Nachos” – This one couldn’t be easier.  You just cook up some ground beef with a packet of taco seasoning in a skillet (add some chopped onion if you like, too). While that’s cooking, place a handful of corn chips at the bottom of a bowl.  Pour off the rendered fat from the ground beef, then spoon your finished ground beef on top of the chips.  Top with shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, and avocado. Voila – taco salad.

That’s a week worth of meals that are fast, easy for beginners, and don’t require huge pantries full of ingredients. Man, woman, or child – anyone can whip up these dinners. Enjoy, and let me know your favorite semi-homemade meals in the comments.

Whitney