Recipes

8 Easy Last Minute Dinner Ideas

So far this school year has been a whirlwind. There has been so much going on. I feel like from the time I wake up until the time I lay down again at night, I’m busy with something! Many families are probably in the same position, especially this time of year. Even in the crazy weeks, I like to sit down as a family for dinner. This has been especially important to me as our kids get older. We don’t often eat breakfast or lunch as a family, so the final meal of the day is where we can come together and spend some time. It’s not even about the food. It is about being together. It’s about sharing your day with people that care about you. As we sit down, we pray, talk, eat and enjoy each other’s company. Don’t get me wrong, it is usually not calm and peaceful at the dinner table with two little ones. However, it’s one of my favorite times of the day because we can be together!

But what do you cook on those crazy nights? Maybe you only have 15 minutes to throw something together. I’ve created a list of 8 last minute dinner ideas that can be put together quickly with little to no prep. My family typically eats at least one or two meals from this list a week. And that’s just fine by me!

1. Tacos

Um… this should be a last minute AND a regular planned dinner. Who doesn’t love taco night? These are so versatile that you can grab anything you have in your pantry, freezer or kitchen to a tortilla, roll it up and you’re done. Make it a taco bar so kids can choose what toppings to put in. Chicken, beef, fish, just veggies… it’s all good. Cheese, lettuce, and salsa with a little dollop of sour cream finishes it off. Put out a bag of tortilla chips and everyone is happy.

2. Quesadillas 

Super similar to taco night, quesadillas are a great anytime meal. My husband is the master quesadilla maker. He has been known to put anything and everything inside. Once, we had leftover Thanksgiving quesadillas, turkey and mashed potatoes included. All you need are some tortillas and cheese. Anything else is a bonus!

3. Grilled Cheese

This is a staple at our house during the week. Often, my husband is gone at least one dinner a week. Rather than cooking a full meal for my two year old and myself, I typically prepare a few grilled cheese sandwiches. Easy and yummy. You can turn a regular grilled cheese into something gourmet by adding a few simple ingredients. Sliced Granny Smith apple with cheddar, adding hummus, or even making it with mozzarella with some pizza sauce! The options are endless. Add some soup (canned or homemade) and it is a delicious meal for a chilly or rainy day.

4. Breakfast for Dinner

I am actually not a huge fan of having breakfast for dinner. I’m not really a huge fan of big breakfasts for breakfast either. But, my family loves it and I know many people love breakfast all day any day. Pancakes, waffles and french toast are classics. There are so many varieties of these that you can do. Add fruit, make it savory, add eggs or sausage to make a complete meal. You can even put your jammies on early and have breakfast for dinner the right way.

5. Salad with Chicken

I try to make a big salad to have with dinner early in the week, that way, it is available for dinners the next few days. However, in a pinch, add more to the salad, throw in some protein like cooked chicken breast (I’ve even thrown in cut up chicken nuggets… don’t judge) and boom! Delicious and healthy! If you have dinner rolls on hand, put them in the oven and have warm, bread ready to go in a few minutes.

6. Pizza

Oh man. Can you ever go wrong with pizza? This is a weekend must. And it doesn’t have to be take out! Our freezer is always stocked with a couple frozen pizzas. I also like to make homemade crusts ahead of time using this recipe from Momsbyheart.  You can freeze these crusts and pull them out whenever you need to whip up a delicious pizza. Sauce, cheese, and whatever toppings you like (and have in the house) make these easy to personalize. If you don’t want to make your own crusts, you can buy pre-made crusts, or use something a little more unconventional. We’ve made the pizzas on tortillas, bagels, English muffins, you could even put it on bread and make pizza grilled cheese!

7. Spaghetti

Always a classic. With meat sauce, without meat sauce, whatever you choose, it is a win. And I’m not talking about making your own sauce from scratch type of spaghetti. Boil the noodles, heat up the sauce from a jar, sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top and there you go. Use some of the salad you made from the previous night to go with it. Butter some slices of bread (anything you have on hand), sprinkle garlic powder on top and put it in the oven for a few minutes on broil, and you also have toasty garlic bread.

8. Baked Potato Bar

This is another recipe that you can work with what you have in the pantry and freezer. Bake the potatoes (or you can microwave them in a pinch) and set out several possible toppings. Butter and mayo, broccoli and cheese, chives, salsa, sour cream, bacon…. Endless options! Add a side salad if you feel the need for more greens.

Make Ahead Pizza Crust – Perfect for a Last Minute Dinner

This is the time of year (unfortunately) I start thinking ahead to the beginning of school again! But rather than getting into my classroom, I start thinking about what I can do at home. Preparing a few make ahead meals is always my goal! Doing this saves me loads of time and stress, especially those first crazy weeks of the school year.

One of our family favorites is homemade pizza. We have pizza at least once a week, but we rarely order out. Occasionally we have frozen pizza, but we really love to make our own. I grew up making pizza. My dad would buy frozen dough, let it thaw, then roll it out to make a few pizza crusts. Everyone could personalize their part (or whole) pizza and make it with whatever sauces, cheese and toppings they chose!

Although those pizzas were delicious, they required a long time in the oven to make sure the dough was fully cooked. We also had store bought crusts, and these were quicker, but not quite as good in my opinion.

Then I found a recipe for make ahead pizza crusts that was simple, easy and delicious!

MomsByHeart.net shared this recipe for make ahead crusts. (There is also a recipe for sauce that I’ve not tried, but would like to!). I’ve adapted the crust recipe slightly here.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • ⅛ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
Instructions:

1. First, combine the yeast, warm water and olive oil in the bowl. Let the yeast sit in the water for just a few minutes (while you prep the other ingredients!)

2. Then, add the flour and salt and use the paddle attachment on the mixer and knead for 5 minutes. (If you don’t have a mixer, you can do this by hand… consider it exercise!) 
  • Sometimes I find that it is too sticky and needs a little more flour, and sometimes it is too dry and needs a few drops of olive oil or water. The dough should be sticky, but not so much so that it won’t form a nice ball!
3. Put it into a bowl that is lightly covered in oil. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until it about doubles in size (about 45 minutes to an hour).

 

4. Divide the dough. If you plan on freezing them, you will want to make sure they fit into the plastic Ziploc bag! The recipe makes six “equal” sized balls of dough which turn into about 10-12” crusts (but no matter how hard I try, they never come out the same size!)
5. Set the sections of dough back in the bowl and let rise for another 5-15 minutes.

 

6. Preheat the oven to 500 ℉ (Yes that hot!)

 

7. Roll each crust out

 

8. Bake for 3-4 minutes until they can hold their shape well.

 

9. If you want to freeze them, make sure they cool completely, place in a sealed bag. They will stay good for several months!

When making the pizza:

1. Preheat oven to 425℉

 

2. Take the crusts out of the freezer (the crusts do NOT need to thaw ahead of time) and add any toppings you want!

 

3. Cook the pizzas for 7-10 minutes. Usually, the more toppings, the more time. Just watch carefully!

 

We love to customize our own pizzas with different toppings. I usually like to have crusts on hand for when guests come too. It’s a great alternative to ordering out, and people have fun making their own pie! You could even have a BYOT (bring your own topping) party and enjoy exchanging flavors! The possibilities are endless!

Blueberry Picking Means Blueberries for Breakfast!

Blueberries

Every year near the beginning of July, a blueberry farm near us opens for U-pick! 

We like to jump at the chance to pick our own! These berries are always bigger, juicier, and some years even cheaper than what you can find in the store. This year, I braved the farm with the two kids on my own. Although it was not a super productive picking session (it didn’t help that my son was fascinated with the porta potty), we had fun and brought home a couple pounds of blueberries!

 

 

The next week meant several blueberry treats! 

Top three recipes:

  • Blueberry Muffins – This was the first (and most obvious) choice. My son really wanted to make them and “helped” bake some delicious, bursting with flavor muffins. I used the recipe here  from Once Upon a Chef. Using just a touch of almond extract when baking tends to give the treats a little extra delicious flavor! I added a few more blueberries and about a half cup of oats (because that is all I had and obviously adding oats makes it healthier) and didn’t use any of the turbinado sugar. The muffins still turned out great! 

 

  • Blueberry Pancakes – We had these tasty cakes a few times before our stash ran out. Typically, we just use a pancake mix and add the blueberries to the batter, however if you want to make your own pancake mix, you can use the recipe here.

 

  • Blueberry Bars – I made this recipe from AverieCooks.com with the intention of them being a dessert, but actually ate a few for breakfast too! One thing about this recipe: if you plan to cut them into bars, make sure to WAIT until they are cooled. I tried to rush things and the first bars ended up being a complete mess. However, the bars taste delicious warm! Add ice cream or whipped cream for extra indulgence. It’s got fruit, which puts it on the healthy side, right? 

Also, you can simply add a handful of the juicy berries to any type of cereal or oatmeal. Quick, easy and still awesome.

There are so many more recipes out there for blueberries that would be great too! We even drove out to the farm again. My husband came with, so we managed to pick a few more pounds than I could the first time! You can bet that we will be making more blueberry treats!

CupBrookies: The Ultimate Treat Mash-up!

I often bake treats to bring into work. Sometimes it is for the teachers – we take snacks very seriously as a staff. Every week, someone is assigned to bring in a treat to share! Other times, I bake treats for the kiddos in my classroom. We have parties, I love food demonstrations and lessons, but sometimes, the students earn their treat. My math classes receive rewards for turning in continuous homework. You can see my post about how that works here.

Recently, one of my classes won a treat day. I asked the students what they would like me to bring in for their reward. Earlier in the year, I had made them “Brookies” which combine chocolate chip cookies and brownies into something rich and delicious. So this time, some students called out “More brookies!” Others shouted “Cupcakes!” We took a vote. The class was split. Since we were at a stalemate, I told the students I would check the ingredients I had at home, and that would ultimately determine the final decision.


Looking in my pantry, I saw I had plenty of cupcake liners, as well as a brownie mix. Why not bake brownies in cupcake liners? This would mean brownie lovers would be happy, and it would mean no cutting and serving brownies (which I always make a total mess of!). I figured I could top the brownies with a type of frosting… and what better flavor to add to this mix than cookie dough! I searched Pinterest, and to my surprise, there were several cookie dough frosting recipes! Win!

Brownie Recipe  

I typically use a box mix because it is super fast and follow the directions for “more cake like brownies”. This usually means adding an egg to the original recipe. However, you can use whatever brownie recipe you choose!    

Rather than putting the brownies in a pan, grab a muffin tin and prepare the cupcake liners inside. Scoop the brownie batter into the cupcake liners. I fill them about half way, making sure to leave extra room for more frosting. After all, these are brownies, not cupcakes, so they are not meant to bake all the way to the top of the liner! While the brownies are baking, make the frosting.

Cookie dough frosting

I found the recipe of this frosting at If You Give A Blonde A Kitchen which is a great site full of other awesome recipes. I haven’t tried the cupcake recipe with the frosting, but I’m sure that would be fantastic as well!

Frosting

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • Mini chocolate chips or Chocolate shavings

Directions

  • In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter (it’s much easier with a stand mixer or electric hand mixer) until fluffy, about 5 minutes. I find that sometimes I need to stop the mixer to scrape the butter down to make sure all the butter is being whipped!
  • On low speed, add the brown sugar and powdered sugar and combine completely, then add the flour.
  • Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the vanilla and salt and until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add the milk a little at a time until it is frosting consistency. I found that you may not need to use all the milk.
  • Stir in some of the chocolate chips or shavings. (I usually do not have mini chocolate chips and the regular ones are too big for this frosting. So what I usually do is take regular chocolate chips and chop them up into smaller pieces! A little rustic, but that is ok!)
  • Use a spatula to put the frosting in a pastry bag (or if you are not fancy, like me, use a regular Ziploc bag).
  • I typically chill the frosting in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so before frosting, until the brownies have cooled completely.
  • Frost each brownie. It helps to have the little extra liner so you can really load up on the frosting.Sprinkle the top with mini chocolate chips or shavings.
  • These can be stored in an airtight container for a few days, but I actually like to keep them in the fridge to make sure the frosting stays the right consistency. My students actually said they are better cold too!

I actually did not have a name for these little wonders at first, but after serving them to my students, came up with the mash up name. One stated that the desserts were like brookies, but better – Cupcake Brookies – and the name “CupBrookies” came to be.

So the next time you can’t decide between cookies, brownies or cupcakes, don’t! Bake up a batch of these and everyone wins!

 

Grand Rapids White Bean Chicken Chili

It’s spring here, but the weather hasn’t figured that out yet. Our spring break was filled with rain, clouds and cold winds. Not super nice weather, but hopefully the sunshine plans to break out soon. The outside temperatures has made me want warmth and coziness. This means soup or chili for dinner!

Everyone needs a warm, hearty, delicious and EASY chili in their lives. The kind that you just throw together in 5 minutes and then cook all day in the slow cooker. The kind that if you don’t have the exact ingredients or precise measurements, it will still turn out amazing. This is that chili. This is also that kind of meal that you can deliver to a mom who has been up all night with their newborn. Or someone that has just had a surgery and doesn’t have energy to cook. It can be heated, reheated and frozen beautifully. It can be eaten as a soup, or a dip or poured over chips like nachos. Versatile dishes like this make moms like me happy!

I’m not sure where this chili got its name. The white bean and chicken part I understand, but the Grand Rapids? I’m pretty sure this idea did not originate in Grand Rapids, Michigan–someone in the world had probably made it before. My mom passed this recipe on to me, and she got it from someone else. It’s possible that someone lived in Grand Rapids. Or maybe people in Grand Rapids love to eat it. I mean, I lived in GR for awhile and in the winter (and spring and fall) months, the constant cloud cover, snow or drizzle, require many nights of warm chili.

The best thing about this recipe, is that there isn’t really a right or wrong. You can put more or less of any of the ingredients–it isn’t an exact science. So I listed the ingredients below, but they can easily be adjusted to your liking.

I used two different brands of the beans because that is what we had!

Ingredients:

4-6 chicken breasts cooked and cubed or shredded (You can cook up the chicken yourself, or use a couple of cans of chicken. I’ve also used leftovers from a rotisserie chicken and it worked great!)

1 large jar of salsa (16oz)

1 jar of northern white beans UNDRAINED (or 2-3 cans)

8 oz shredded cheese (I usually use cheddar or Colby Jack because we often have those already, but Monterey Jack is also delicious!)

If you use this in your crock pot, clean up is even easier!

 

Directions:

Dump everything in the crockpot

Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Longer is better.

That’s it!

This chili can be topped with more cheese, cilantro, sour cream, more salsa…whatever you like! We love eating it with tortilla chips. Leftovers freeze beautifully too! I typically make large batches and freeze some for a quick meal another time.

Although I’m ready for summer temps to come soon, having a few cool days and enjoying this chili isn’t too bad either!

Onion Cheese Loaf

When I first started my teaching career, I was single, living in a new town, and knew only one other person near by. Being a first year teacher is difficult by itself, but I also faced the challenges of trying to meet new people and figuring out a new area.

Luckily, the other teachers and staff at my school were amazing. And still are. I was immediately drawn into their circles and invited to events. Even though I was the only non-married person working at the school when I started (it’s a small school!) I didn’t feel lonely when I was there!

One of my favorite memories of that first year was one of these “events.” Another teacher, newly married, had been discussing how she wished she knew how to cook more things and ideas on what to make for dinner. She wanted to make meals for her husband and herself, but was stuck with the same recipes. I mentioned that I like to cook, but currently wasn’t cooking much since I was only making food for one. A more mature teacher, who had been married for more than a couple of decades, overheard this conversation. Immediately, an idea began to form and Cooking Class was invented!

My dear teacher friend invited another wise (and experienced in the kitchen) friend over to help a few of us younger ladies learn some kitchen tricks. We had an afternoon of grocery shopping and recipe sharing while prepping dinner. Then we stayed all night  to enjoy the yummy morsels we cooked up!

The first class (we ended up doing this about two more times throughout the next year or so!) had a soup and bread theme. The temperatures outside were blustery cold and soup with warm bread was exactly what we needed at that time of year. While we chopped vegetables, stirred soup and waited for bread to rise, we all shared stories about food and our lives. It was a moment where I felt at home, even though I wasn’t home, and I hadn’t known these people for very long. But there is something about slowly simmering soup, the smell of baking bread and the sound of laughter that brings immediate comfort. And that’s what I felt.

One of the recipes shared that day was for Onion Cheese Loaf. It has been one of my go to bread recipes since! It is hearty, tasty, and easy. No kneading or rising required in this one! I like to bake up a loaf with big batches of chili, or any kind of soup. It’s savory and delicious.

I hope you make a loaf for yourself. Invite friends over. While the bread is baking and the smell all things good is in the air, have time to sit, chat, laugh, and feel comfortable.

Onion Cheese Loaf

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine in mixing bowl:

1 cup white flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (if you don’t have this, you can just use 2 cups of white flour and it will turn out fine! But in my opinion the wheat flour definitely makes this bread heartier and more rich in flavor!)

1 tablespoon sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon salt

The dry ingredients

Cut in ¼ cup butter or margarine until the mixture resembles coarse meal

Add and stir lightly:

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (I like extra sharp best!)

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Combine in separate bowl:

1 cup milk

1 egg

Add milk and egg to cheese and flour mixture and mix with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn mixture into a greased loaf pan.

Sprinkle over batter:

½ cup finely chopped onion

Paprika (to taste)

Bake loaf for 1 hour. Cool slightly before removing from pan.

This is best when eaten warm, but will last for several days if wrapped with plastic wrap.

Enjoy!

Cookie Dough Brownies

These brownies have a special place in my heart. The first time I tried making these, I was trying to impress a guy. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. My life long friend had roomed with “this guy” for the past year. Since we were all at the same school and hung out all the time, we had sort of ended the year with the possibility of getting to know each other more… whatever that meant! Anyway, classes were out for the summer and “this guy” was in town for a visit. The plan was for the two boys (my friend and “this guy”) to come over to my parents house to hang out before we met others to play frisbee golf. (Side note: I used to love playing frisbee golf but I was terrible at it!).

Of course I needed to make a snack.  I started searching all over the internet for ideas. Mind you, this was before Pinterest. Not much before, but all the same, no Pinterest. I don’t even know how to do anything without Pinterest anymore! But, I was in luck that day because I stumbled upon these doozies. Brownies, cookie dough, and chocolate. Um… yes? I also happened to know that cookie dough was an absolute favorite treat for one particular guy. Winning.

I made these brownies, served them, and loved them. Both boys asked for seconds. I was successful in my attempt to impress! In fact, fast forward three years and I married “this guy”. (Another side note: that friend ended up marrying MY college roommate. Isn’t it funny how life works out?) So ladies, try making these for that special someone in your life! Who knows what will happen!

Before getting on with the recipe, I must warn you: these brownies will kill any sort of diet you may be on! They are not meant to be healthy, but they are meant to be delicious. I typically make these as a special treat for get togethers or a special event.. Not just when they are going to sit around the house, because I would eat them all. The. Entire. Pan.

These start with your favorite brownie recipe. I start with a brownie mix (why go through the effort of brownies from scratch when I actually REALLY enjoy brownies from boxed mixes), but you can definitely make them from scratch if that is how you roll. Prepare these according to the directions and allow to cool to room temperature.

While you are waiting, you start the cookie dough. Mix the flour, butter, sugars, milk and vanilla together until smooth. Notice there are no eggs in here, so no worries about getting sick. Once the brownies are cooled, use a spatula to smooth the cookie dough over the brownies.

Finally, you melt the chocolate chips and oil. I usually use the microwave and stop every 20-30 seconds to stir. Once all the chips are melted, pour the chocolate over the cookie dough layer and smooth with a spatula. Place the brownies in the refrigerator to chill.

Before serving, let the brownies sit out for 5-10 minutes so the chocolate isn’t rock hard, however they should be stored in the refrigerator.

This recipe is for an 8×8 batch of brownies. If you would like a 9×13, just double the cookie dough and chocolate ingredients!

 

Cookie Dough Brownies
Ingredients
For Brownies:

  1 box brownie mix (8×8 or 9×9 pan size)**

            **If you want to do a 9×13 size, you can double the cookie dough and chocolate layer recipes!)

For Cookie Dough Layer:

½ Cup butter

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup sugar

2 Tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour

For chocolate topping:

1 cup chocolate chips

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Directions

Bake the brownies as directed on the box. Allow them to cool.

Cream butter and sugars together with a mixer. Add in the milk and vanilla.

Add the flour a little bit at a time and mix until well blended.

Spread the mixture over the cooled brownies

Mix the chocolate chips and vegetable oil in a microwavable bowl. Heat in microwave for 30 seconds at a time, mixing in between until the chocolate is melted.

Spread the melted chocolate over the cookie dough layer. Let the layer cool and harden.

 

Store in the refrigerator.