Dinner, for when you don’t want to cook dinner

By Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Quesadillas, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

 This one is about real food.

Not fancified, froufrou, food-writer food. No scallops of veal or veal of scallops, no soupçons of creme anglaise or artistically arranged swirls of demiglace.

This one is about real food. This is about the food you cook when you come home after your commute was longer than your work day, after you noticed your boss hinting about job openings you might like at other companies, when you have to take one kid to hockey practice and another to Girl Scouts and another to band practice, and you’re pretty sure you only have two kids.

I asked my colleagues about their go-to foods, the food they cook when everyone is hungry and they just don’t have the time or the energy or maybe even the ingredients to make their usual Tuesday night foie gras terrine.

They responded with delightful, easy-to-make ideas that tasted great. Each one, incidentally, included a starch, a source of protein and vegetables. When you’re tired and hungry and pressed for time, apparently, you want the nutritional requirements for an entire meal in one dish.

Even the most exotic of the responses is simple, because it makes use of prepared items you get at the store. Tikka Masala Naan Pizzas begins with premade naan flatbreads, which you then spread with tikka masala sauce that you spoon on straight from the jar.

This dish works so well because that tikka masala sauce from a jar can be awfully good, if you like spicy food. And while the store-bought naan can’t match a freshly made sample from a restaurant, it is certainly good enough for our purposes.

I added cooked chicken and sauteed mushrooms to the naan pizza (which is to say the non-pizza), topped it with shredded mozzarella cheese and added a few leaves of spinach more for visual appeal than flavor. A few minutes in a hot oven melted the cheese and browned the edges of the naan.

It was an easy-to-make Indo-Italian masterpiece.

Sticking to the Italian-ish theme, I next made Hahnilini. This is clearly the creation of a woman who has two children: It is fast, efficient and filling. It looks nice, and it tastes good, too.

Hahnilini begins with a pretty form of pasta — bowtie, shell or fusilli (which the recipe’s creator calls “scroodle noodles”). This you boil as usual, but a couple of minutes before it will be done, you add some broccoli to let it cook with the pasta.

Genius, right? You drain the pasta-’n’-broccoli and toss it with chunks of cooked chicken, garlic salt, butter and shredded Parmesan cheese.

As the recipe puts it, “serve on pasta plates, bowls or regular plates. and tell your family to be happy about it.”

Next up is instant ramen with a difference. Perfect Instant Ramen takes your standard packet of ramen — I bought one for 25 cents — adds broccoli, poaches an egg in it and tops it with butter, scallions, sesame seeds and, um, American cheese.

The recipe is actually an adaptation of a recipe by a Los Angeles-based chef that ran in the New York Times. It’s Korean comfort food, said the chef, Roy Choi; it is how he used to eat ramen when he was growing up and still loves to eat it today.

The addition made by my colleague is the broccoli. The broccoli rounds out and deepens the flavor, and provides nutrients to an environment that is otherwise as rich in sodium as it is in taste.

And finally, I made a quesadilla that is defined less by specific ingredients than whatever you happen to have left over in the fridge. That’s what happens when you’re pressed for time and you need a go-to dinner.

I wanted this one to be vegetarian, which is how the woman whose recipe it is often makes it. I put broccoli in mine (I had some left over from the other recipes), plus sautéed mushrooms and diced tomatoes, plus, of course, shredded cheese — I used Colby Jack.

The woman whose recipe it is took one look and said, “you put more stuff in yours than I do.”

It was good, though. That’s the advantage of a What’s in the Fridge Quesadilla. Pretty much anything you use is going to taste fine.


Naan pizza, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)


Yield: 4 servings

4 naan flatbreads

1 1/2 cups tikka masala simmer sauce (from a jar)

4 chicken thighs, cooked and diced

1 1/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

6 large mushrooms, sliced and sautéed

1/2 cup fresh spinach, washed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the naan on baking sheets and heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from oven and spread with the tikka masala sauce. Top with the chicken, mushrooms and cheese. Place whole leaves of spinach on top. Bake until cheese is melted and naan is browned at the edges.

Per serving: 642 calories; 24 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 168 mg cholesterol; 47 g protein; 63 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 1,338 mg sodium; 315 mg calcium

Recipe by Gabe Hartwig

Bow-tie pasta with broccoli, chicken breast and parmesan cheese, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)


Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 pound bowtie pasta, shell pasta or fusilli

Florets from 1 head broccoli, chopped into bite-size pieces

2 to 3 cooked chicken breasts, diced

Garlic salt, to taste

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. During the last 2 to 3 minutes of boiling, add the broccoli. Drain. Add chicken, garlic salt, butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Toss. Serve on pasta plates, bowls or regular plates, and tell your family to be happy about it.

Per serving (based on 4): 640 calories; 13 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 82 mg cholesterol; 41 g protein; 87 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 821 mg sodium; 178 mg calcium

Recipe by Valerie Schremp Hahn

A bowl of ramen topped with an egg and American cheese, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)


Yield: 1 serving

3/4 cup broccoli florets

1 pack ramen noodles with flavor packet (save on sodium by using 1/2 packet)

1 large egg

1/2 tablespoon butter

2 slices American cheese

1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

1/2 scallion, green part only, thinly sliced on the bias

1. Bring 21/2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the broccoli and cook for 2 minutes. Add the noodles and cook 2 minutes. Add the flavor packet and continue to cook 30 more seconds.

2. With the broth at a low simmer, carefully add the egg. Do not stir; pull the noodles over the egg and let sit for 3 minutes to poach.

3. Transfer everything to a serving bowl, add the butter, cheese and sesame seeds, and mix everything all together. Garnish with scallions.

Per serving: 732 calories; 44 g fat; 22 g saturated fat; 257 mg cholesterol; 27 g protein; 58 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 2,607 mg sodium; 672 mg calcium

Adapted by Amy Bertrand from a New York Times recipe by Roy Choi


Yield: 1 serving

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 flour tortillas

1 cup cooked broccoli florets

4 sliced mushrooms, sautéed

1/2 large tomato, diced

1/4 cup shredded cheese, such as Colby Jack

Note: These fillings are only suggestions. Use whatever you have leftover in the refrigerator.

1. Heat oil in a skillet until hot and add 1 tortilla. Cook 1 minute, then remove. Place the other tortilla on the skillet and scatter evenly with the broccoli, mushrooms and tomato. Top with the cheese. Place the other tortilla on top, oiled-side up. Cook 1 minute until bottom tortilla is nicely browned.

2. Flip quesadilla and cook until cheese melts, 1 to 2 minutes. Cut into quarters and serve immediately.

Per serving: 485 calories; 20 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 25 mg cholesterol; 19 g protein; 60 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 659 mg sodium; 456 mg calcium

Recipe by Norma Klingsick