A collage of three images: poached eggs on toast, chickpea curry stew with rice and a tortilla pizza.


5 Dinners that Are Faster Than Takeout

Sep 11, 2017

Ordering dinner is tempting when it’s been a long day and you’re tired and hungry — trust me, I get it. But I try to remember that when I’m tired and hungry everything tastes better, even a vegetable soup or something from the freezer. Ordering pizza (or popping a frozen one in the oven) is quick and easy, but it’ll still take 20 minutes to deliver or preheat the oven and bake. Here are five things you could make from scratch in equal or less time, using ingredients you probably already have in the pantry. (And a few tips that will help expedite dinner in a pinch.)

Quick Pasta

Two bowls of spaghetti and meatballs.

Most of us default to spaghetti and jarred tomato sauce when we go for a quick pasta dinner, and there’s nothing wrong with that — but in the 12 minutes it takes to boil pasta, you can quickly cook some chopped bacon and whisk together eggs, Parmesan cheese and pepper for a quick carbonara, or add frozen peas for the last few minutes of cooking time and toss your pasta and peas with butter and Parmesan. Or make almost instant spaghetti and meatballs by squeezing fresh Italian sausages out of their casings into a hot pan in1-inch pieces, making perfect meatballs that are already seasoned and will hold their shape. Brown them in a skillet while the pasta cooks, then pour in jarred tomato sauce or passata (pureed, strained tomatoes) and simmer to heat the sauce and finish cooking the meatballs through.

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Poached Eggs on Toast

Poached eggs on toast with servings of baked beans.

This was our default dinner when I was a kid, and it’s perfectly reasonable, particularly when you have a good loaf of bread on the counter. My mom would warm a can of browned beans to serve on the side, but when I have greens (kale, chard, spinach) in the fridge I like to sauté them quickly in a little oil and garlic to serve on the side, or underneath the egg on the toast. Once you get into the eggs-and-toast habit, you’ll discover all kinds of things that can be warmed and added on top or alongside.

Chana Masala

A bowl of chickpea curry served with rice.

It sounds fancy, but it’s super fast to simmer a chickpea curry. I like to have chopped onions and peppers on hand in a ziplock bag in the freezer to shake directly into a hot skillet; you can add other veggies too, if you like — try chopped zucchini, garlic, ginger or cilantro. Once softened, dump in a drained can of chickpeas and a spoonful of curry paste or shake of curry powder. Add a can of tomatoes and/or coconut milk and a big pinch of salt and simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens slightly. Rice is nice if you want to cook it at the same time (12 minutes), but I’m happy with a stewy chickpea curry on its own or with a chunk of bread.

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Pita or Tortilla Pizzas

Tortilla pizza with cheese, sauce and sausage, baked on a sheet of parchment paper.

A staple of my childhood birthday parties, I’m still a sucker for crispy-edged, thin-crusted pita or tortilla pizzas, which these days could be described as bar-style. Pita pizzas are self-explanatory: lay pitas out on a baking sheet, top with tomato sauce (I like using a small can of tomato paste, which is sweet on pizza), cheese and your toppings of choice and bake at 400˚F until golden and melty. Flour tortillas sound too thin for pizza but totally work — start them on the stovetop in a hot cast iron skillet, which will crisp them on the bottom, top with sauce, cheese and toppings and slide the pan under the broiler for a minute to do the same on top. Irresistible, and so much cheaper/faster than takeout!

Garlicky Shrimp + Crusty Bread

If you have a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer, dump them into a colander and thaw under cool running water while you heat a good chunk of butter in a wide skillet. Add a few crushed or thinly sliced cloves of garlic and a pinch of dried red pepper flakes and the raw (I like tail-on) shrimp and cook, shaking the pan until the shrimp are opaque. If you like, tear in a handful of fresh torn or baby spinach just until it wilts. Serve with a baguette or crusty bread for mopping up the buttery juices.

Article Author Julie Van Rosendaal
Julie Van Rosendaal

Read more from Julie here.

Julie Van Rosendaal is the author of six best-selling cookbooks (with a seventh due out this fall), the food editor of Parents Canada magazine and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One. She is a recipe developer, TV personality, food stylist and writes about food for local, national and international publications. She is perhaps best known as the voice behind her popular food blog, Dinner with Julie, where she documents real life at home in Calgary with her husband and nine-year-old son. Connect on twitter @dinnerwithjulie.


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