For me, food is seasonal, and this line of thinking drives my husband nuts. He can sit down and eat a pot roast or lasagna any day of the year – but when it’s hot outside, I want something summery and refreshing! This can make the make ahead meal a little challenging, as one does not think “refreshing” when one thinks “crock pot”. But thanks to a shelf of cookbooks, some treasured family recipes, pinterest and my own imagination, I’ve got a list of family-approved, summer time meals that can be prepped ahead and on the table in no time.
Greek Style Tortellini Salad with (or without) Chicken
In addition to trying to get dinner on the table at night, I bring leftovers for lunch at work. This filling pasta salad tastes amazing, even 2 days later.
- 1 (9 ounce) package cheese filled tortellini (double the recipe if you like leftovers)
- 1 chicken breast, seasoned with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning, cooked and sliced
- 1 (10.5 ounce) container cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1 cucumber, seeded and quartered, cut into ¼ inch slices
- ¼ – ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, quartered
- 1 (4 ounce) container feta cheese crumbles
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
- Fresh basil leaves, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
30-minute Chili with Cornbread
I have actually placed in a chili competition with this recipe – but be warned, I am the world’s biggest pansy when it comes to heat. The inspiring recipe from Martha Stewart.com calls for canned chipotle chilies – which may be amazing – I will never know. This is my modified version:
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 pound ground sirloin (can use ground turkey)
- 3 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice
- 1 bottle (12 ounces) mild lager beer
- 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) black and/or kidney and/or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Sour cream
In a Dutch oven or large (5-quart) heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add tomato paste, chili powder, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, until mixture has begun to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add beef, and cook, breaking it up with a spoon until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes with their juice, beer, and beans. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a rapid simmer. Cook over medium heat until chili has thickened slightly and beans are tender, about 5 minutes.
Make Ahead Tip: This can also be done in a crock pot – just sauté the onions, garlic and beef and add the seasonings- then transfer to the crock pot. Add the tomatoes, beans and beer, program your crock pot for your workday (or at least 2 hours on high) and you’ll come home to hot chili. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make a packaged mix of cornbread and bake it in a round cake pan while doing the breakfast routine. Remove it from the oven and put it in a sealed container- then it is baked and ready when you walk in the door.
Top with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and hot sauce if desired.
I grew up eating these – and while the recipe was originally very complicated and with Japanese influences, it has evolved into a make your own table assembly that my family loves. The rice noodles can be found in the international aisle of your grocery store, and picky eaters can leave off the toppings they’d rather not eat. And if you’re littles have seen Kung Fu Panda, they too can pull a Master Shifu.
- 1 package somen noodles
- Mushrooms, sliced into bite sized pieces
- Deli ham chopped into bite sized pieces
- Cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into bite sized pieces
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 2 eggs
- 2 T sesame seeds – toasted (in a frying pan over medium heat)
- 2 T sugar
- 1 tsp sat
- 1/4 c cooking oil
- 1 T sesame oil (international aisle of grocery store)
- 3 T rice wine vinegar
- 2 T soy sauce
Prepare ham, cucumber, mushrooms and scallions, set aside. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray. Scramble eggs, and pour into heated pan. Allow eggs to set, then flip to cook the other side (it will look like a flat omelette). Remove from pan and set on a plate, allow to cool, then slice into bite sized pieces.
Boil water, cook somen noodles (2-3 minutes per package directions). Drain noodles in a colander, and rinse under cold water. Noodles should be room temperature when served.
Mix sauce ingredients in bottle, shake well. Place noodles into shallow bowls or onto plate, top with ham, egg, cucumber, scallions and mushrooms as desired. Pour sauce over noodles (if desired).
Salmon with Zucchini and sautéed Corn with Salsa
I made this last week for my family, and my son actually said “Mommy, I want to have this every night for dinner”. I’ll call that a win. Further, it took less than 20 minutes to get the ingredients from the fridge to the table.
- 4 salmon fillets (or one large piece of salmon- skin on one side is okay)
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 2-3 medium sized zucchini, cut into 3-inch spears about ½ inch thick
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ cup chopped scallions
- 1 cup fresh tomato salsa (choose your own heat- hot, medium or mild)
Set oven to broil on high, place oven rack 4 inches from the heat. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with oil. Place the salmon, skin side down on the prepared sheet. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper.
Toss the sliced zucchini with 1 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the zucchini around the salmon on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the salmon and zucchini with the chili powder.
Broil the salmon and zucchini until the fish is opaque and the zucchini is tender- about 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the other Tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the corn and garlic – cook, stirring and flipping, until the corn is tender and starting to brown (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat, stir in the chopped scallions and the salsa.
Portion the salmon onto plates using a spatula (remove from the skin). Serve with the zucchini and corn mixture.
Chicken, Black Bean & Corn Enchiladas with Green-Chili White Sauce
This might be my husband’s favorite meal, which is awesome because it’s easy to make. The ingredients are easy to keep on hand, it’s easy for him to bake, and (more or less) easy to freeze. It also sneaks some fiber and veggies into our diet under the disguise of creamy sauce with cheese.
- 8 small soft flour tortillas
- 1 container of Chicken Verde (or shredded cooked chicken and 1 can diced green chilies)
- 1 can (14 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 bag (10 ounces) frozen corn
- 3 cups shredded Monterey Jack or Mexican Blend cheese
In a large mixing bowl, combine the corn, black beans and 1 ½ – 2 cups of cheese. On a cutting board or plate, fork shred the chicken verde and add to the bowl. Add the remaining Chicken Verde sauce to the ingredients and mix well.
Spray a deep, 9 x 13” baking dish with oil. Arrange the flour tortillas in the dish. Using tongs, fill each tortilla with the chicken, bean, corn, cheese mixture. Roll the tortillas and place seam side down.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken broth (or 2 cups of water and 2 tsp Better Than Bouillon)
- 1 cup sour cream
- 4 ounce can diced green chilies (they’re not even a little bit spicy)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Stir flour into butter and whisk until smooth. Slowly add chicken broth, whisking to combine. Cook over medium heat until sauce boils and thickens.
- Remove the mixture from heat and add in sour cream and chilies.
- Pour mixture over enchiladas and top with remaining cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, in oven for 20-23 minutes.
Make Ahead Tip: I typically make these a day in advance, and store the sauce separately. Leave it with heating instructions since hubby will be the one doing the meal prep. I also double the recipe and freeze a smaller portion. Unfortunately, the sauce does NOT freeze well, so I top the dish with the sauce recipe as well as heating instructions.
Pork Cuban Quesadilla
This is a make ahead/ quick assembly meal. I cook the meat on one of the days that I am home, then store it either in the fridge or the freezer. Since the flavors of the Cuban tend to be more suited to the adult palate, we make a more kid-friendly meat, mustard, and cheese quesadilla for the littles in the house.
- 1-2 pounds bone in pork loin chops (these cheap, fatty cuts won’t dry out in the slow cooker)
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- Salt and pepper
Place the pork chops in a crock pot, sprinkle both sides with the salt, pepper, sugar and spices. Cook on low heat for 4-6 hours. Once meat is cooked (it will be tender and falling off the bone), remove from the crock pot one piece at a time and fork shred on a cutting board. Separate out the excess fat, gristle and bones. Place the meat in a freezer safe ziplock bag or storage containers. Make Ahead Tip: You can portion 2-3 meals into separate containers.
- 8 (10-inch) flour tortillas
- Yellow mustard
- Swiss cheese
- Sandwich cut dill pickles
- Sliced deli ham
- ¾ – 1 pound Prepared Cuban meat, warmed up in the microwave
Place tortilla on a griddle, or in a large frying pan over medium heat. Spread with a layer of yellow mustard. Sprinkle with shredded swiss cheese, or place a layer of sliced swiss cheese. Top with warmed Cuban meat, deli ham and pickles. Place the other tortilla on top, press down with palm of your hand to flatten ingredients together. Using a large spatula, flip to toast the new tortilla. Cook 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and place on a plate. Cut into wedges using a pizza wheel. Serve with mustard if desired.
Santa Fe Chicken with Rice
If you have not heard of skinnytaste.com, I urge you to check out her site. The woman is a genius. After trying several of her recipes (each a huge hit), I bought her cookbook. Her recipes are light, flavorful, and downright delicious. This crock pot meal can be assembled before you leave for work, and if you make the rice ahead of time and store it in the fridge, it can be on the table five minutes after you walk in the door.
- 4 chicken breasts
- 1 (14.4 ounce) can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies (or 1 can diced tomatoes and 1 (4 ounce) can mild green chilies
- 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 8 ounce frozen corn
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 (14.4 ounce) can fat free chicken broth (or 1 ¾ cups water with 2 tsp. Better Than Bouillon)
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper (I leave this out)
Combine chicken broth, beans (drained), corn, tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt in the crock pot. Season chicken breast with salt and lay on top. Cook on low for 10 hours or on high for 6 hours. Half hour before serving, remove chicken and shred. Return chicken to slow cooker and stir in. Adjust salt and seasoning to taste. Serve over rice or tortillas and your favorite toppings.
Tortilla Espanola with Avocado Cream Sauce
When I was in college, I spent a summer studying in Spain. Tortilla Espanola—or Spanish Omelette—is a mainstay of the Spanish tapas (small plates). I lived with a Spanish family, and my “abuelita” taught me how to make this filling, delicious dish. Some finesse is required to get the frying-pan flip done right. But you can also cheat and bake the partially set omelette in the oven. For an authentic Spanish style meal at home, serve with sliced manchego cheese, sliced chorizo, olives, and a glass of sangria.
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 6-8 waxy (Yukon gold) potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ inch thick slices
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 6 large eggs, scrambled in a large bowl
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the vegetable oil. Add the potatoes and onions, making sure they are covered by the oil; add more oil if necessary. Season with salt and pepper, and fry, turning occasionally, until the slices are tender but not browned (15-20 minutes). Using a slotted spoon or spoon, transfer the potato-onion mixture to a colander to drain the excess oil. Then combine the potato mixture with the eggs. Add the salt and mix well. Let stand for 5 minutes.
In a 10-inch by 2 ½ inch deep non-stick skillet, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Pour in the potato, egg, and onion mixture. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook 4-5 minutes, until the bottom of the tortilla is very light brown. Using a flat plate, cover the frying pan and flip the tortilla over onto the plate. Immediately slip the uncooked side back into the pan. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the other side is a very light brown. Slide the tortilla from the pan to a plate and cut into 6-8 wedges. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Cheater tip: If the flip is just too much to master, after cooking for 4-5 minutes to set the bottom of the tortilla, transfer to a 400˚F oven and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the tortilla is set and cooked through.
Make ahead tip: You can make this the ahead and store it, covered with clear plastic wrap, in the fridge. Serve it cold as they do in the Spanish cafes, or heat it up in the microwave.
I like to serve this with an avocado cream sauce:
- 1 large, ripe avocado
- ½ cup reduced fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 Tbsp lime juice
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- Salt and pepper
Slice the avocado in half and remove the pit, scoop the flesh into a food processor or blender. Add the remaining ingredients, pulse until smooth and creamy.