Tuesday night's dinner had pretty much no plan at all but turned into something really delicious! I want to share it with you to demonstrate that just because you don't have a plan, doesn't mean you can't get something simple and tasty on the dinner table after a long day of work / school / practices / motherhood / fatherhood / etc.. I mean, some days you just can't. Period. I totally get that. Been there, This, however, is for those days when you think you can't but you know you have just a little left in you.
We were out of town last weekend and so I didn't do my normal recipe brainstorm and planning. However, when we got in town on Sunday evening I quickly ran to the store and bought items for big salads plus a few veggies and other staples. I also knew I had some uneaten veggies from last week that were still good.
My initial plan was baked salmon with lemon, a spinach salad and bread. Nothing fancy but it was dinner and it would do. I actually talked to my husband after work around 6:15 and we almost threw in the towel and went out. But then we decided to stick with the plan of salmon and somewhere between picking up the salmon at the grocery after work and pulling into the driveway I had concocted a whole new dinner idea pulling together simple ingredients that I knew we had at the house.
In this post I'm going to list the ingredients I used for this dinner and how I went about getting it all on the table in about 30 minutes. I didn't measure anything so these are ball park amounts. I'll make it again and update with exact measurements in one of the upcoming weeks. However, I think that's the great thing about cooking, sometimes measurements don't have to be exact. You can play around with it to your liking and it can still be great!
Before I give you the rundown of dinner, I want to leave you with 3 take-aways to remember so that you can create your own weeknight dinners when you have no specific plan in mind.
THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR DINNERS WITHOUT A PLAN:
Always have your favorite go-to ingredients stocked in the fridge / pantry. They will be so handy when the unplanned dinner rolls around! (For me this includes things like: feta or goat cheese, a bell pepper, an onion, mushrooms or summer squash, dried herbs, fresh whole grain bread, quinoa or pasta)
Tasty & healthy dinners don't have to be complicated. If you have a few great herbs and spices, you can have a delicious dinner!
It's ok to keep parts of the meal basic. I used to feel like every part of dinner had to have it's own recipe and be something glamorous. Then I realized (a) that's a lot of pressure for one weeknight meal and (b) that's just not how it has to be. For this meal, I focused on the salmon, then kept the veggies fairly simple and our starch even simpler with one of our favorite hearty whole grain breads toasted in the toaster. Protein, veggies, complex carb, DONE!
FOR THIS DINNER YOU NEED:
Two 6-ounce salmon filets (I used coho salmon b/c it's a little meatier and a little less "fishy")
About 2 to 3 cups of fresh spinach
About 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
About 1/4 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese
About 1/3 cup of pine nuts
Pinches of salt, for the spinach stuffing and for the veggies (maybe about 1/4 tsp total but taste test if for yourself)
Pepper, to taste
1 medium zucchini, sliced and then each slice halved (so you end up with half circles)
1 medium yellow bell pepper, cored and chopped into about 1/2 to 1 inch dices
1/2 white onion, peeled and sliced into half moons
About 2 teaspoons + 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
About 1/2 tablespoon Herbs de Provence seasoning (or more, if desired)
2 slices of whole grain bread (we used the Seeduction Bread from Whole Foods)
HOW I PULLED THIS ALL TOGETHER:
My thought process on the drive home that got me from plain baked salmon & spinach salad to what was actually on the dinner table went a little something like this....... "Can I step it up a notch so that dinner is a little more interesting? I really don't want a salad if I think about it. I know I have an extra pepper in the fridge and, oh yeah, the rest of that zucchini that I didn't make last week (if it's still good. I'll have to check that). And what if I stuffed the salmon?! I know I always keep feta in the fridge and I bought some ricotta last week for something I now honestly can't remember, ha. And toasted pine nuts take everything up a notch! Yep, I think this will work". That's how deep my thought process went - clearly, not too complicated.
I got home and found an onion to add to my veggie medley, which was perfect. I quickly sliced up the yellow bell pepper, zucchini (which I found to still be good) and half of that white onion.
In a small skillet, I heated about 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium low heat. To that I added about 2 to 3 cups of fresh spinach, about 2 tablespoons of crumbled feta (I used the last of what we had) and about 2 big spoonfulls of part-skim ricotta so about 1/4 cup, I would say but you could use a little more if you want.
While the spinach wilted and the cheeses all melted together (you need to stir these a little) I heated about 1 - 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Once that was heated I added my sliced peppers, zucchini and onions and let those cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies were softened and browned and the onions looked caramelized (probably around 15 minutes or so). A few minutes into cooking the veggies I added one of my favorite seasonings, Herbs de Provence, and a pinch of salt, stirred and continued to let those cook over the stove while I finished the rest of dinner.
After I got the veggies started I added about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of pine nuts to another small skillet and toasted on medium-low until they were browned and fragrant, about 4 minutes (watch these and you'll know when they are done. They start to brown and you can smell the nuttiness - so good!). You don't need to add any oil to the skillet because as the nuts heat they release their natural oils into the pan. When the pine nuts were done I added them to my spinach & cheese mixture, incorporated well with a rubber spatula, and set aside.
Then I prepped my salmon by cutting a slit in the top of each filet and creating sort of a pocket. I then divided my spinach-cheese mixture evenly and stuffed it into the "pocket" of each salmon filet. I sprayed a grill pan with vegetable oil , heated it to medium-high heat and turned my oven broiler on high. Once the grill pan was hot, I added my salmon filets and let those cook about 5 to 8 minutes until you start to see it cook / turn light pink from the bottom up. I then put my grill pan in the oven under the broiler and let that cook for about 1 1/2 minutes.
While the salmon cooked I gave the veggies another stir and then turned the heat as low as it would go just to keep them warm. The veggies should cook in about 15 minutes.
After 1 1/2 minutes I used oven mitts to take the grill pan out of the oven. While the salmon cooled down just a smidge I toasted 2 slices of whole grain toast in our toaster and set the table. When the toast was done, I prepared each plate adding a stuffed salmon filet, big scoops of warm veggies and the slice of whole grain toast.
This was delish! The stuffing was mild but had a little bit of a bite from the feta and a nuttiness from the toasted pine nuts. The veggies were tender but not mushy and the toast was simple but just as good as always.
I hope this post not only leaves you with a new recipe idea but that it also encourages you and helps you get dinner on the table the next time it's 5:30 PM and you haven't yet really thought dinner through. Remember to use what you have, keep it simple, get creative & don't be afraid to play around with ingredients. Sometimes the best things happen when you don't have a plan!