I’ve posted a LOT of recipes here over the last few years, but I thought it would be fun and helpful to put together a list of the recipes I go to again and again when I need quick easy meals!
I thought pasta would be hard to give up. I was wrong. Zucchini noodles — or “zoodles” — are a darn tasty stand-in! And with an inexpensive, easy-to-use spiralizer, they make for a super quick, easy side dish. This one is so quick that I often add it to my lunch, when the main dish hasn’t quite filled me up.
Seriously; it will probably take you longer to read this post than it will to whip up the dish, once you’ve got your stuff lined up.
Another thing that makes this quick and easy is that I don’t measure. All my instructions here are for one serving, but this could easily be scaled up to serve more.
- zucchini or yellow summer squash
- butter, olive oil, or the fat of your choice
- garlic clove(s) – 1 per person
- salt and pepper
- optional: Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, fresh basil
First, to make the zucchini noodles. You want these ready before you put anything on the stove.
This is the spiral cutter (or spiralizer) I use:
I like it because it’s very simple, and doesn’t take up a ton of storage space. You can see it has a smaller chamber for carrots and other thin veggies, and a larger one that works well for zucchini and summer squash.
I got it at BB&B, but you can also order it from the comfort of your own home here!
It’s around $15 at both stores. (Using this link takes you to my store; I get a 4% cut [ha!] without any additional cost to you. But feel free to buy local, too!)
As I said, I won’t be giving measurements, but these before-and-after pics should give you an idea about how much I fix for just myself — probably about a third of a large zucchini:
You can, if you like, gently press them between paper towels to remove some of the moisture, but that’s not essential. Some people recommend salting them to remove more moisture, but I find that just makes them soggier, because it breaks down the cell walls.
You’ll also need to mince one garlic clove.
Then heat a small frying pan over just-under-medium heat. Add about a tablespoon of butter, and an approximate equal amount of olive oil. You could use any alternate fat you like here — I know some people don’t include butter in their Paleo diet — but I really like the flavor combo of these two. I happened to have some basil butter in the freezer today, so that’s what I used, but plain butter is perfectly fine.
Or, as Ina Garten says,
Soon, the butter will begin to bubble. You can throw the zoodles in now, or you can wait a bit till the butter and garlic has browned just a bit. Both are shown here:
Letting things brown a bit will give a toaster, more complex flavor. You want to be careful, though: once garlic gets too brown, it turns bitter, and there’s nothing to do but throw it out and start over. So if you’re nervous — or just in a big hurry — feel feel to toss the zoodles in as soon as the butter is good and hot.
(Note: I haven’t made this with other fats, so I’m not sure what to expect, browning-wise, from coconut oil or bacon fat.)
Then just toss the noodles with the butter a few times; all you’re really doing is heating them up and softening them a tiny bit. Too long on the heat, and they’ll get mushy. Then taste, and add salt and pepper if necessary.
This shot was from a day when I didn’t let the garlic brown…
And this is when I did:
The second shot also has a sprinkling of black pepper and a few snips of fresh basil.
And here’s another day’s shot, with a little bit of Parm on top:
Pine nuts would be another nice addition!
How do you like your zoodles?
Some of my best — and easiest! — lunches are born out of “what do I have in the fridge and freezer today?” This Gyro-inspired wrap is one of them.
I usually have already-cooked sausage or seasoned hamburger in the freezer, crumbled and divided into quarter-pound servings, in individual sandwich baggies. I also try to always keep romaine in the fridge, and now that I’m no longer doing a strict Whole30, I also keep plain Greek yogurt in the fridge. (Use dairy-free yogurt for Whole30 or strict Paleo.) And I always, always keep diced onions at-the-ready. All that’s needed to round out this lunch is tomatoes, cucumber, and a little dill.
No measuring involved; these directions are for one serving: Just put a “plop” of yogurt in a small bowl or ramekin (I’d guesstimate that’s about 2 or 3 tablespoons), add a pinch of dried dill weed, and a generous dash of garlic salt. Stir those together and set aside.
Defrost and warm up the ground beef or sausage. (Here’s a short video showing how I season the hamburger as I cook it.)
Dice some cucumber, tomato and onion.
Next, lay out three medium-sized heart-of-romaine leaves — or similar sized lettuce leaves, or other gluten-free wrap of your choice. (Have you tried this gluten-free flatbread recipe?)
Then layer them with a smear of the yogurt sauce, one third of the heated meat mixture, and top with the diced vegetables according to your taste. Top with more yogurt sauce, if desired.
The reason for putting some sauce on the bottom is that the juices from the meat will mingle with it and create a more complex sauce. The extra yogurt on top stays cold and provides a contrast to the warmer contents below.
Of course, you can tweak this suit your leftovers: use guacamole in place of the yogurt mix and swap out the cucumbers for your pepper of choice for gluten-free taco wraps. Swap mayo (and/or ketchup, if you allow it) for the yogurt mix, and sub pickles and/or mustard for the cukes, and you’ve got an American burger wrap. What else could you come up with?
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your leftovers! It opens up a lot more possibilities for quick, easy lunches!
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Making healthy food more convenient is the way to kick the convenience food habit! But I can’t deal with the kind of meal prep that requires having 12 different casseroles in the freezer to drop in the slow cooker. What works for me is having a lot of different ingredients and meal components chopped and/or cooked, so they’re ready to be thrown together at a moment’s notice, for quick, easy meals — not just dinner, but also super easy lunches, since I work from home.
Lately, I’ve been on a tuna salad kick. It’s a perfect lunch for summer – no cooking needed! I do sometimes do the super-simple version of throwing a packet of tuna, a bit of homemade mayo, and some lemon pepper together and eating it on romaine hearts. Might even throw in some chopped celery and/or pickle, if I feel like a little something extra. But lately, I’ve been doing variations on a tuna salad dressed with oil and vinegar, rather than mayo. And this is a great way to work in lots of veggies, too!
This would work great for a lunch to pack for work, school, or a picnic, too.
The core recipe is:
1 2-to-3 oz. package of tuna
about 1/2 c. of diced onion (but you can eyeball* it)
1 T. of lemon juice or rice vinegar
2 to 3 T. of olive oil (use 2 if the tuna is packed in oil; 3 if it’s packed in water)
1/4 c. chopped parsley – again; just eyeball* it
1/4 to 1/2 avocado
1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1/4 t. regular salt)
1/4 t. fresh ground black pepper – or more to taste
a pinch or two of dill – optional
*”Eyeball it” = just throw in an amount that looks to you like it would fill a measuring cup of that particular measurement. If you’re not comfortable doing that straight away, measure it out and pay attention to what that looks like, and remember it for next time. This saves you the few seconds of getting out a measuring cup. (And saves some space in the dishwasher.)
This is where my meal prep comes in handy. I always keep a container of already-diced yellow onion in the fridge, and a container of already-chopped parsley in the freezer. I squeeze fresh lemons every few days and keep a bottle of that in the fridge. If you’re cool with the pre-squeezed stuff that comes in a bottle, I won’t judge! I also keep tuna packets in the fridge, so the tuna is already cold when I add it to the other salad stuff. When I buy a bunch of parsley, I chop it all and put it in a baggie in the fridge. It stays a nice green and is super easy to grab what you need and toss it into any dish.
Avocado is something that’s best cut up at the last minute, but thanks to the acid in the dressing, the avocado won’t turn too brown if you need to hold this for a few hours.
Then add the other veggies of your choice, and stir it all together gently. It’s best if you can let it chill for a couple hours or so, but I rarely think ahead that far! Whenever you’re ready to eat it, taste it first and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add more salt if it’s just overall bland; more lemon/vinegar and/or pepper if it needs more zing!
Here are some of my variations…
This has been my standby combo for years: to the basic core recipe, I add some chopped bell pepper — also something I keep ready in the fridge — and some chopped tomato. (Tomatoes should always be kept at room temp for best flavor, so those can’t be stashed in the fridge.) Measurements aren’t important; just add it till it looks like an amount you’ll like.
Lately, I’ve been trying to live without nightshades — a family of plants including potatoes, tomatoes, and all peppers except black pepper. (Not because these veggies are bad for you! But some people have a sensitivity to them, and I’m experimenting to see if they have any impact on how I feel.) So here are a few nightshade-free tuna salad variations.
Here, I used diced cucumber to replace the crispy texture of the bell pepper, and pine nuts to fill the role of the sweetness of the tomatoes. It turned out quite nice!
And here’s another slight variation on that: still with cucumbers, but I’ve also got some diced celery, chopped celery leaves, and homemade paleo Ranch dressing added to the mix. Oh, and half a hard-boiled egg — another thing to keep on hand, if you like them.
Another alternative for those avoiding tomatoes: blueberries! I know, it sounds weird, right? But don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! The blubes have a sweet-slightly-tart flavor that makes an excellent sub for tomatoes.
Pretty easy lunches, huh? I hope this gives you some inspiration: with some of your favorite pre-diced veggies in your fridge and a couple other staples on hand, you can mix up any number of variations of your own favorite salad, and it really just takes a few minutes.
These could serve two people for a light lunch; especially if you serve something else with it. I must confess, though, that most days, I polish it all off on my own!
Once locally grown tomatoes are in season in Kansas, I always start craving BLT’s! (Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich, for any poor souls who are unacquainted with this little bite of summer.)
I made some homemade bread last week just for this. Added some smoked turkey to punch up the protein. But to keep my carbs and proteins (sort of) in balance, I limit myself to one piece of bread per meal. After devouring one delicious BLT — ripe, sweet juiciness of the tomato contrasting with the salty crunch of the bacon — I wanted more! Looking hungrily at the remaining tomatoes and bacon, I wondered if the bread were really necessary.
So I took a bit of romaine, smeared it with a little mayo, and topped it with tomato and bacon. Added a slice of avocado to some of them. Oh yeah! It’s all the best flavors and textures of a BLT, without the carbs! Perfect for the gluten free, low carb, Paleo or Whole30 diet. They’d make a great snack or appetizer, too.
(Plus a recipe for Emergency Herbs de Provence)
It was one of those days when 4:30 was here before I knew it, and I didn’t have dinner planned. I have no good excuse. Not even a lousy one.
What to do? Same as usual, when “the usual” doesn’t sound good… Hit a recipe website I trust and search for “quick.” After a couple other stand-by’s (All Recipes, Simply Recipes), I landed on Pioneer Woman and came up with her Herb Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Preserves. Which sounds and look very elegant, but is super, super simple, and comes together in 30 minutes or less.
|photo by Pioneer Woman|
Basically, you salt and pepper a pork tenderloin, then coat it generously in Herbs de Provence before roasting. Top it off with a simple fruit-preserves-based sauce.
Not having any Herbs de Provence on hand, I googled for a recipe. I came up with several, but ended up using (as a starting point) this one by Emeril. (Yeah, we’re on a first-name basis.)
|Herbs de Provence often contains lavender, but I didn’t have any on hand. :/|
Why this one? Well, because all the herbs have the same proportion, and I like simple! From what I understand, Herbs de Provence has some standard ingredients that are almost always in the mix, but the mix has evolved over time and also, every cook has his or her own variation. Which is great, because there were several ingredients I didn’t have on hand. So here’s my variation:
Recipe: (Emergency) Herbs de Provence
1 t. dried basil
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. dried ground sage
PW’s original recipe called for 8 tablespoons of H.d.P. That’s half a cup – yikes! She was cooking up two whole tenderloins; I was just fixing one tenderloin, slightly over one pound. So I just used all of the above mix, and I still thought it was plenty potently ‘picy!
A note on cooking pork… Rather than cooking by time, use a meat thermometer. Pull the roast from the oven when the temp hits 140-145 F. Then tent lightly with foil and let rest at room temp, till the internal temp hits about 160. Slice and serve. Mmm… perfectly tender and juicy!
For the sauce, PW recommends fig, peach, plum, or whatever preserves you wish. I used blackberry. It adds a lovely sweetness that mellows the pungent herb crust. Perfect for a quick dinner for just me and the hubs — but impressive and foolproof enough to serve special guests!
Recipe: Salmon with fresh tomato-avocado salsa
How to butterfly salmon
Try it — I think you’ll love it! 🙂
This dish is delish — I mean, truly restaurant-worthy — but it’s also super easy and totally healthy.
I have to give the hubs partial credit for this one.
I had made this spice-rubbed salmon for dinner one night, but hadn’t really figured out a vegetable to go with it, and Eric was doing Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet (which is NO carbs), so I served the salmon with some romaine spears alongside and some ready-made guacamole to dip them in.
But instead of using the guacamole as dip, he put it on top of his salmon — and loved the combination!
Since then, I’ve evolved the recipe a bit. I started out with a recipe called “Broiled BBQ-spiced Rubbed Salmon,” from The Sonoma Diet Cookbook, but I’ve tweaked the spice combo each time I’ve made it, and I was really happy with the way it came out this last time I made it.
For the guacamole, I use Wholly Guacamole brand, and it comes in these boxes that contain individual-use packets. Which is just brilliant! If you just need a bit for a recipe, or you just want a quick easy snack, these are the perfect size, without the risk of the rest of batch turning brown before you can use it. I use the “Classic,” but they also make a “Spicy” version.
Recipe: Ancho-crusted salmon with avocado crema
2 8-oz. salmon fillets, about 1″ thick
1/2 T. ancho chili powder
1/2 T. paprika or smoked paprika
1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1/4 t. table salt)
1/2 t. granulated garlic
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/4 t. ground cumin
2 T. olive oil
1 2-oz. packet of guacamole (that’s one two-ounce packet, not a 12-ounce packet)
2 oz. Greek yogurt (or sour cream, or dairy-free yogurt)
optional, for garnish: diced red onion
You will preheat the broiler later in the recipe.
Measure the thickness of the salmon at its thickest point. You want to be accurate to within 1/4″. To do this, I push a toothpick into the thickest point of the salmon, then pinch the toothpick so my thumb and finger just touch the top of the fish. Then, keeping my fingers in the same place on the toothpick, I remove it from the fish and move it to a measuring stick. Make a mental note of the measurement. (Or a written note, if you have a short memory.)
Drizzle the olive oil in the pan, then spread it around. This recipe is for two servings, and for that I use a 6 x 8″ baking pan, but for more servings, you’ll need a larger pan. This photo is post-drizzled, but pre-spread:
Mix together all of the spices in a small dish. Before you begin to season the salmon, fold any super-thin edges under (or over) so that the thin part is doubled, and the fillet is a fairly uniform thickness across, like this.
Just press it down a little with your fingers; the fish is a bit sticky, so it will sort of adhere to itself.
Next, sprinkle half of the seasoning mix over the top side of both fillets. Pat the spices gently onto the fish.
Then turn them over and season the other side, using the rest of the spice mix.
Move your top oven rack to 4 to 6″ below the broiler, and preheat broiler. Let the spiced salmon sit at room temp while the broiler heats up. Then place them in the oiled pan, folded side down, and put the pan in the oven.
Remember your fish thickness in inches? Now’s when it matters! Cook your salmon for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness. So if your salmon is 3/4″ thick, cook it for 7.5 minutes. 1″ thick: 10 minutes. 1.25″ thick, 12.5 minutes. And, turn it over once, half way through baking.
While the salmon is cooking, mix together the guacamole and the yogurt. I don’t bother to measure the yogurt; I put the guac in first, then just “eyeball” the yogurt so that it looks like about the same amount.