Some days you just don’t have time to whip up an entire meal from scratch. Some days real life zaps your cooking brain and you know you need to feed it, but it isn’t cooperating and helping you decide on a dish.
For some reason, I always feel immensely guilty when I use pre-jarred pasta sauce or grab a box of gluten-free macaroni and cheese. It’s irrational. It’s silly. And some days there just isn’t time or energy to cook from scratch.
On my too-tired days, I make dinner using one of these pantry-friendly shortcuts.
Skillet / Simmer Sauces
These are the shortcuts that I feel least bad about – they shorten the time required to make a balanced, tasty dinner but still require a bit of effort. Some of my favorites are the sauces from Rick Bayless / Frontera. They make taco night or enchilada night quick and easy but don’t add the kind of chemicals/ingredients that I find objectionable in most packaged foods.
I’ve been a fan of Indian food since college but a good curry can take hours to cook properly – who has time for that on a Tuesday night? Curry paste can shorten that cooking time but still deliver the complex flavors intrinsic to a warming Indian dinner. The concentrated pastes give you a little more control than already-done simmer sauces (which is good for my kitchen control-freak self). The curry pastes from Patak’s are gluten-free and free of artificial colors and preservatives.
This might be the one I feel guiltiest about. Jarred sauce on top of dried pasta leaves me feeling like I phoned it in when it came to dinner. And that is partially true – it means I can have dinner in just about 15 minutes. I don’t do it often, but I always end up craving basic pasta or needing a super easy meal whenever I don’t have a jar of sauce handy, so I try to keep one on hand at all times.
Soup in a box
Most canned/condensed soups aren’t gluten-free, but I like to keep a package or two of soup in the pantry. A roasted red pepper soup goes great with a gluten-free grilled cheese or with some leftover rice stirred in.
Macaroni & Cheese
I am just fine admitting that some days I have the palate of a 5 year old. Maybe it’s the years that passed between the last time I had some from that iconic blue box and my discovery of a gluten-free variety, but that powdered cheese brings some comforting nostalgia. And it makes an excellent Saturday lunch after a late Friday night.
What’s your favorite cheat/shortcut ingredient?