FOOD FREAK: When TIME is not on your SIDE

A friend recently took to social media for a little help in the feeding-a-family area. A busy mom with three kids, she wanted quick and relatively healthy dinner ideas when she didn’t have much energy after a long day. I can relate. Hectic evenings require quick dinners.

And things can get really crazy over the holidays, with parties, shopping and special events demanding extra time. In this season, we like to think about those special holiday meals, but what about those days in between? Wouldn’t it be nice to have go-to dinner ideas that you can whip up in no time?

Go fish  Don’t over think it. A good fish dinner needn’t be fancy or complicated. Any kind of fish is quick to thaw and even quicker to cook. A thick salmon filet won’t take much longer than 12 minutes or so in the oven. Fish is also pretty adaptable in that you can add breading or sauce to make it appealing to picky eaters.

Staying with salmon as an example, I like to make a sweet glaze with maple syrup or honey, sometimes giving it an Asian vibe with a little soy sauce and ginger. Or use a honey mustard or balsamic glaze. A sweet element means that everyone is more likely to eat their dinner without complaint.

Speedy shrimp  You can thaw shrimp under gently running water in about 15 minutes. The shrimp will cook in less than 5 minutes. The key with shrimp—and most seafood—is to not overcook it, otherwise you get a rubbery texture. Whether you grill, sauté, boil or broil shrimp, keep watch. It will turn pinkish-orange and curl when done. Sauté shrimp with garlic, butter, olive oil and vegetables and serve it over pasta with lemon juice. Or stick it in a tortilla for a quick taco.

Tortillas are your friend  Melt cheese between two tortillas, call it a quesadilla and call it done. Or you fill one with meat, cheese, salsa, and avocado and call it a taco.

Tortillas offer so many options for a simple meal, and not just for Mexican fare. We love to wrap them with veggies and hummus or Italian dressing. It’s a great place to use leftover meat. Have some cooked chicken? Chop it up, add some barbecue sauce to it and wrap. Have leftover salmon? Toss it in a tortilla with shredded lettuce and red onion.

Couscous, the quick ‘pasta’  Pasta seems like an obvious choice but here’s something that might not be on your radar: couscous. If this isn’t in your pantry, it should be.

Made from semolina wheat and water, couscous isn’t exactly a grain (it has been processed some) nor a pasta. But it acts essentially as a tiny pasta that cooks fast. The simple preparation begins with bringing water or stock to a boil. Add couscous to the pot, cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 5 minutes. A quick fluff with a fork and it’s done. It’s fabulously versatile and delicious served hot or cold as a base for a salad.

Breakfast for dinner  Eggs cook quickly. Pancakes cook up in no time. Whether it’s a stovetop omelet filled with veggies and cheese, or baked in the oven as a frittata, breakfast food makes a hearty meal any time of day.

Try eggs poached in marinara sauce, a wonderful meal that’s a classic in Europe and the Middle East. Simply bring the sauce to a simmer in a pot or pan, crack a few eggs on top, cover, and let cook for a few minutes until the whites are set, but the yolk is still at least a bit runny. Serve it with toast to scoop up the yolky zesty goodness.

Nachos  These are especially great if you have leftover protein, and people can choose their own toppings. Melt cheese on and in between a few layers of tortilla chips, then provide a smattering of toppings: veggies, meat, sour cream, chopped veggies, black olives, shredded lettuce, salsa, avocado, etc. Not all cheese is created equal, so choose flavorful varieties for an end result far superior in taste. You’re aiming for a meal, after all, not just a snack.

The Wausau Winter Market is open Saturdays 8 am–noon at 212 River Dr., Wausau (near the summer farmers market site). You’ll find plenty of fresh veggies still, including potatoes, radishes, greens and carrots, plus meats, egg, dairy and bakery. Stevens Point also now has a winter farmers market at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 900 Brilowski Road. Open Saturdays 8 am–noon.

Toasted Hazelnut Crusted Salmon


Toasting the nuts first brings out the flavor that won’t occur if just baked on the fish. So this step is a must. To save time, toast them in the oven while it’s preheating, but watch carefully as they can burn quickly.

2 lbs. fresh salmon, cut in fillets (approx. 6 oz. per person)

½ cup hazelnuts

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. maple syrup

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.  In a coffee grinder or food processor grind hazelnuts to a fine consistency. Sauté over medium-high heat for 3–5 minutes, stirring often, until just fragrant. Pay close attention because they can burn quickly!

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place salmon fillets on the sheet then season generously with salt and pepper. In a small bowl mix olive oil and maple syrup then brush on salmon fillets. Coat salmon with the toasted hazelnuts. Bake 12-15 minutes (depending on thickness of fillets).