Midweek Dinner Hacks
When you’re exhausted and short of time, you probably need a little extra help in the kitchen. I don’t mean you need a butler. What I mean are dishes that make things simpler for you! Recipes that use frozen veggies, or a Thai paste when you have to get dinner on the table swiftly. It’s not cheating, it’s just ad-libbing.
I want to show you how to cheat and not get caught out, with the five ingenious shortcut recipes below. From scrumptious Panang curry, guaranteed to wow at your next dinner party, to easy Mediterranean pizza to deal with the dinner rush – there’s something for any occasion.
Photos are for illustrative purposes
Cheat’s Roast Dinner
It’s the weekend and you want a delicious roast dinner – but you know what a huge commitment that is. Spending hours preparing, cooking and serving just doesn’t seem practical. This recipe will solve all of those problems for you. It tastes exactly like a roast and is ready in about 30 minutes.
This dish uses frozen foods – they’re my secret weapon against waste, ordering a takeaway or food boredom. I cheat with the roast potatoes by using McCain Gastro Roast Potatoes – they’re ultra-special roasts, basted in the finest goose fat, making them deliciously crispy and tasty. I also use frozen veggies, meaning roast dinner can be on the table fast.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large chicken breast, skin on
- 6 frozen roast potatoes (about 200g)
- Frozen carrots, cut in rounds
- 1 small onion, cut into wedges
- Frozen pack of broccoli spears or florets
- 3 thyme sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- 150ml chicken stock, warmed
- ½ tbsp plain flour
- Heat oven to 200°C. Rub one tablespoon of the oil over the chicken skin, then season. Put the onion, frozen potatoes, carrots and broccoli in a small roasting tin with the thyme and bay leaf. Dribble the remaining oil over the top, season well and toss together to coat everything.
- Pop the chicken breast on top of the onions and roast in the oven for roughly half an hour, until it’s cooked and the vegetables are soft.
- Take the chicken, potatoes and broccoli out of the roasting tin and put to one side while you make the gravy.
- Place the tin on the hob over a high heat and add the stock. Bring to the boil, then leave for a couple of mins. Stir in the plain flour and mix continuously until it's lump-free and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat.
- Cut the chicken breast into 3-4 pieces at an angle. Serve with the potatoes, broccoli, carrots and onion gravy.
In a Hurry? Try this Panang Curry
I love Thai food, but it’s never easy to find the various elements needed to make it. This is a speedy, easy dish, that’s sure to leave your taste buds zinging, using basic things you’re likely to have in your cupboards.
Sometimes it’s okay to cheat and make it in a different way, particularly if the result is pretty close to what you’re used to tasting. Ready in just over half an hour, this Panang curry is a simple yet aromatic mid-week meal for the whole family. Even better, it’s low in calories, too.
- 4 tbsp Thai red curry paste
- 400ml tin coconut milk
- 3 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
- 8 skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into chunks
- 250g cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 3 limes, 1 juiced and 2 cut into cheeks or wedges to serve
- 2 large handfuls Thai basil or coriander
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced, to serve
- Rice to serve
- In a pan, warm up the curry paste using a dollop of the thick part of the coconut milk for 3-4 minutes.
- Pour in the remaining coconut milk and bring to a simmer.
- Mix in the peanut butter until it melts into the sauce. Throw in the chicken and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Pop in the cherry tomatoes, and cook for a couple of minutes until they just start to burst.
- Add a splash of fish sauce, the sugar and lime juice. Scatter in the Thai basil and chilli, and serve with rice and the limes to squeeze over.
Cheaters’ Mediterranean-Style Pizza
I don’t know about you, but pizza is definitely on my list of most-wanted cheat meals. It can easily be adapted, so it’s a speedy, guilt-free meal simply by opting for wholewheat thin crust, adding tons of veg, and sticking to olive oil or red sauce.
If you love cheese as much as I do (and, let’s face it, pizza just wouldn’t be the same without it, right?) then opt for low-fat mozzarella, or replace with a light crumbling feta or a shaving of parmesan.
As for meat, choose lean proteins like chicken breast and finish with a scattering of basil leaves.
- 2 large whole meal flatbreads or buns
- 12 cherry tomatoes
- 125ml tomato puree
- 180g drained mozzarella, torn
- 50g finely grated parmesan
- 2 tbsp torn basil or oregano leaves
- Preheat oven to 220°C. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
- Pop the flatbreads on the trays.
- Gently make a small cut in each tomato and, over a bowl, lightly squeeze to get rid of the seeds and extra juice. Split the tomatoes in half and put to one side. Remove the seeds and juice.
- Spread the puree over each flatbread with a spoon so it nearly touches the edges. Divide the tomato and mozzarella between the pizza bases.
- Scatter the pizzas with the parmesan and garnish with the basil. Cook for 10 minutes, so the cheese is bubbling and golden and the base is crisp.
- Remove the pizzas from the oven and set aside to cool on the trays for five minutes. Once cool, serve using a pizza cutter and enjoy!
Cheat-Burger and Chips
What’s not to love about a good old burger and chips? On your cheat day, choose extra-lean minced beef or minced turkey. Better yet, nab some frozen burgers (meat or veggie) to save you the hassle.
Cut out the mayo, pick wholewheat or wholegrain buns, and finish with lettuce, tomato and onion. This delicious dish is loaded with muscle-building protein and packs in more than enough carbs to fuel your body.
Even better, ditch the bun altogether and use half a wholewheat pitta pocket. Want to be super-healthy? Go totally bun-free, with a few slices of avocado and some barbecue sauce. Both of these ingredients provide a fat-like lushness that help counteract the dryness that some ultra-lean burgers have.
- 4 wholegrain buns
- 200g lean minced beef/turkey (or plump for frozen burgers instead, to save time)
- 2 tsp chopped onion
- 30g reduced-fat cheddar cheese
- 2 lettuce leaves
- 120g boiled potatoes
- 15 sprays 1 Cal oil
- 1 medium egg, fried
- 20g cucumber
- 1 medium tomato
- Preheat the oven to 240°C.
- Slice the potatoes into chunks; boil in unsalted water for a few minutes and drain. Dry fully.
- Tip on a baking tray, spray with low-calorie oil and cook for about 30 minutes, turning intermittently until cooked through.
- Preheat the grill to a high heat.
- Split the meat into four portions and flatten, halve the onion and cheese, then top the burger with each half (two in total). Pop the other (plain) burger on top, sealing the edges together to make two stuffed burgers.
- Grill each side for roughly five minutes until done.
- Top with the fried egg, chips and salad.
Cheat’s Version of Indian Veggie Curry
In a hurry, but want a tasty Indian curry? This is rogan josh without all the fuss, and makes a delicious mid-week curry for four. Using an array of veggies and a tasty choice of spices, the sauce is made with single cream.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tbsp mild curry powder
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tbsp easy ginger
- 400ml vegetable stock
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 200g Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1 tin green lentils, drained and rinsed
- 150g fresh young-leaf spinach
- 80ml single cream
- 1-2 tsp sugar
- Steamed rice and natural yoghurt to serve
- Warm the oil in a pan and fry the onion for around 10 minutes, cooking the garlic for the final minute. Mix in the curry powder, spices and ginger, and sauté for a couple of minutes.
- Stir in the stock and tomatoes then bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and pour in the potatoes. Cover and simmer for roughly eight minutes.
- Tip in the cauliflower and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. For the final one to two minutes, pop in the lentils and the spinach.
- Mix in the cream and sugar. Season well, then serve alongside the steamed rice, with a spoonful of natural yogurt.
My cheats’ recipes use a few shortcuts to put a wholesome, filling dinner on the table in a matter of minutes. I hope you find these time-saving midweek dinner hacks useful, so dinner prep is a little easier on you.