Hey, got 10 minutes to spare?

The Baltimore Sun

Scenario one: You and your significant other both work demanding jobs. At the end of the day, neither of you wants to spend an hour in the kitchen. It's so much easier to let takeout Thai and a glass of wine serve as supper.

Scenario two: By the time you get home after picking up the kids from school activities and day care, everyone's yowling with the low-blood-sugar heebie-jeebies. Wouldn't it just be easier to do drive-through again?

Scenario three: You'd like to hit the gym on the way home from work, but you don't want to eat dinner at 10 p.m. again. Sounds like cereal for supper.

What these scenarios have in common is time. Or, to be more precise, a lack of time. Ask around, and you'll find dozens of reasons for not preparing meals at home but one common theme: "There's no time to cook."

Sometimes that means "I don't have an hour to invest in dinner." Sometimes it means "I don't have 30 minutes to invest in dinner." But sometimes it means "I barely have 10 minutes to invest in dinner."

"Home cooking is constantly evolving toward ease and speed," says Andrew Schloss in Homemade in a Hurry. "Twenty years ago, the 60-minute meal was promoted as fast; since then the notion of speed has devolved from 30 minutes to 20 to 15 to instantaneous."

Takeout food may not be the best answer. If the high cost doesn't trouble you, maybe the nasty nutrition profiles should. Drive-through is easy, to be sure, but it doesn't set a very good example for your children.

Preparing and eating a meal together provides a decompression time for adults and children. It strengthens bonds and helps children develop good table manners.

A 1994 Lou Harris-Reader's Digest poll revealed that kids who eat family meals tend to do better in school, and that high-achieving teens who eat with their families are happier and more optimistic about their futures.

Also, study after study shows that meals shared with someone else bolster health and a sense of well-being. Children in families who eat together get better nutrition and have fewer problems with weight control and substance abuse, a 2004 University of Minnesota study showed.

But it's not just about the kiddies.

Friends who eat together share expenses and save time. They reinforce good nutrition for each other, and teach each other to try new things.

And singles who take a few minutes to prepare meals for themselves remember that they're worth the trouble. Older singles, especially, benefit from a good evening meal.

Those are all pretty good reasons, no? So take a minute to make a plan. And take 10 minutes, starting with the accompanying three recipes, to put dinner on the table, even on the busiest nights.

Robin Mather Jenkins writes for the Chicago Tribune.

Steamed Salmon With Confetti Vegetables

Makes 4 servings

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon each: red-pepper flakes, sugar

4 fillets salmon, about 6 ounces each

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

1 cup each: shredded carrots, pre-cut mixed diced onions and peppers

Heat 1 inch of water to a boil in a steamer or Dutch oven over high heat. Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, red-pepper flakes and sugar in a small bowl; set aside.

Season the fish with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the fillets on the steaming rack. Scatter the carrots, onions and peppers over the fillets. Drizzle the soy-sauce mixture over the vegetables and fish. Place rack in the steamer. Cover; lower the heat to medium.

Steam the fish and vegetables until the fish is translucent and just flakes, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Per serving: 313 calories, 14 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 107 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrate, 39 grams protein, 615 milligrams sodium, 1 gram fiber

Recipe analysis provided by the Chicago Tribune.

Scrambled Eggs With Tomatoes and Peppers (Piperade)

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups mixed pre-cut onions and bell peppers

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained

8 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers and tarragon; cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes; cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 1 minute. Pour the eggs over the vegetables.

Cook, stirring often with a spatula, until eggs are almost cooked through, about 2 minutes (they will continue to cook off-heat). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Adapted from Elizabeth David's "French Country Cooking"

Per serving: 217 calories, 13 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 423 milligrams cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrate, 14 grams protein, 561 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber

Recipe analysis provided by the Chicago Tribune.

Salt-and-Pepper Shrimp

Makes 4 servings

1 bag (16 ounces) coleslaw mix

1/4 cup lime juice

1 tablespoon each: soy sauce, toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon each: coarse salt, freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder (optional)

1 1/2 pounds large peeled, deveined shrimp

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place the coleslaw mix in a large bowl; set aside. Whisk together the lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar until sugar dissolves; pour over coleslaw. Toss to mix; set aside.

Place cornstarch, salt, pepper and five-spice powder in a large food storage bag; seal. Shake to mix. Add shrimp; shake to coat shrimp with mixture.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the shrimp, in batches if necessary, stirring, until shrimp turns pink and cooks through, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to paper-lined plate to drain. Divide coleslaw among 4 plates. Top with shrimp.

Per serving: 340 calories, 13 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 258 milligrams cholesterol, 18 grams carbohydrate, 36 grams protein, 842 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber

Recipe analysis provided by the Chicago Tribune.

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