This one is about real food.
Not fancified, froufrou, food-writer food. No scallops of veal or veal of scallops, no soupçons of creme anglaise or artistically arranged swirls of demiglace.
This one is about real food. This is about the food you cook when you come home after your commute was longer than your work day, after you noticed your boss hinting about job openings you might like at other companies, when you have to take one kid to hockey practice and another to Girl Scouts and another to band practice, and you’re pretty sure you only have two kids.
I asked my colleagues in the Features department about their go-to foods, the food they cook when everyone is hungry and they just don’t have the time or the energy or maybe even the ingredients to make their usual Tuesday night foie gras terrine.
They responded with delightful, easy-to-make ideas that tasted great. Each one, incidentally, included a starch, a source of protein and vegetables. When you’re tired and hungry and pressed for time, apparently, you want the nutritional requirements for an entire meal in one dish.
Even the most exotic of the responses is simple, because it makes use of prepared items you get at the store. Tikka Masala Naan Pizzas begins with premade naan flatbreads, which you then spread with tikka masala sauce that you spoon on straight from the jar.
This dish works so well because that tikka masala sauce from a jar can be awfully good, if you like spicy food. And while the store-bought naan can’t match a freshly made sample from a restaurant, it is certainly good enough for our purposes.
I added cooked chicken and sauteed mushrooms to the naan pizza (which is to say the non-pizza), topped it with shredded mozzarella cheese and added a few leaves of spinach more for visual appeal than flavor. A few minutes in a hot oven melted the cheese and browned the edges of the naan.
It was an easy-to-make Indo-Italian masterpiece.
Sticking to the Italian-ish theme, I next made Hahnilini. This is clearly the creation of a woman who has two children: It is fast, efficient and filling. It looks nice, and it tastes good, too.
Hahnilini begins with a pretty form of pasta — bowtie, shell or fusilli (which the recipe’s creator calls “scroodle noodles”). This you boil as usual, but a couple of minutes before it will be done, you add some broccoli to let it cook with the pasta.
Genius, right? You drain the pasta-’n’-broccoli and toss it with chunks of cooked chicken, garlic salt, butter and shredded Parmesan cheese.
As the recipe puts it, “serve on pasta plates, bowls or regular plates. and tell your family to be happy about it.”
Next up is instant ramen with a difference. Perfect Instant Ramen takes your standard packet of ramen — I bought one for 25 cents — adds broccoli, poaches an egg in it and tops it with butter, scallions, sesame seeds and, um, American cheese.
The recipe is actually an adaptation of a recipe by a Los Angeles-based chef that ran in the New York Times. It’s Korean comfort food, said the chef, Roy Choi; it is how he used to eat ramen when he was growing up and still loves to eat it today.
The addition made by my colleague is the broccoli. The broccoli rounds out and deepens the flavor, and provides nutrients to an environment that is otherwise as rich in sodium as it is in taste.
And finally, I made a quesadilla that is defined less by specific ingredients than whatever you happen to have left over in the fridge. That’s what happens when you’re pressed for time and you need a go-to dinner.
I wanted this one to be vegetarian, which is how the woman whose recipe it is often makes it. I put broccoli in mine (I had some left over from the other recipes), plus sautéed mushrooms and diced tomatoes, plus, of course, shredded cheese — I used Colby Jack.
The woman whose recipe it is took one look and said, “you put more stuff in yours than I do.”
It was good, though. That’s the advantage of a What’s in the Fridge Quesadilla. Pretty much anything you use is going to taste fine.