Meal Formula #3: The Shortcut Skillet

What do you make on a Thursday?

No really, at the end of a long week when supplies are running low and the weekend is almost in sight, what's for dinner? 

For me, a Thursday meal has to be easy and fast. It has to make use of any ingredients left in the fridge. And it has to feel virtuous enough to land on a weeknight but indulgent enough to kick-off the weekend. By the way, does Thursday feel like the start of the weekend to you? Maybe I'm just holding onto my college days (pub crawl, anyone?).  

On many Thursdays, I find myself using a quick meal formula that hits all of these requirements - The Shortcut Skillet. Just like meal formula one and two, it works with the ingredients on your Capsule Kitchen List and it's customizable for picky eaters. 

With this template I use as many shortcuts as possible. For example, I usually use pre-cooked proteins. Rotisserie chicken, sausage, canned beans, or leftovers from earlier in the week work well. And I try to use vegetables that are already chopped or easy to chop and prep. Like pre-washed greens, peas, or zucchini. 

These skillets feel somewhat indulgent (cheese and pasta help with that) while still checking the vegetable box. And for me they taste like meals I used to buy from the frozen section of the grocery store but in a delicious, fresh, and more grown-up way.

Here's a formula for how to make The Shortcut Skillet, a few examples, and a step-by-step playbook for dinner tonight:


The Shortcut Skillet =

Pasta + Veggies + Protein + Tomatoes + Basil + Olive Oil + Parmesan + Lemon


Banza chickpea pasta, leftover ground beef, zucchini, and spinach

Banza chickpea pasta, leftover ground beef, zucchini, and spinach

Elbow pasta, kale and chicken sausage

Elbow pasta, kale and chicken sausage

Banza chickpea pasta, zucchini and spicy chicken sausage

Banza chickpea pasta, zucchini and spicy chicken sausage

Rotini pasta, spinach, shallots, and rotisserie chicken (no tomatoes)

Rotini pasta, spinach, shallots, and rotisserie chicken (no tomatoes)

Picky kids version with shell pasta, spinach, chicken, and Parmesan cheese (no tomatoes or basil). Be prepared to pickup the spinach off the floor but consider it a win because you offered a vegetable anyway. 

Picky kids version with shell pasta, spinach, chicken, and Parmesan cheese (no tomatoes or basil). Be prepared to pickup the spinach off the floor but consider it a win because you offered a vegetable anyway. 

Ingredients:

(Serves 4)

  • 8 oz dried pasta
  • 2 cups of cooked protein (shredded rotisserie chicken, sliced chicken sausage, cooked beans, etc)
  • 3-4 cups vegetables, chopped or sliced into roughly bite-sized pieces (If you're using greens use 4 cups as they wilt. For densely packed vegetables like peppers and carrots 3 cups will be enough.)
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh basil
  • 2 TBSP olive oil 
  • 1 ripe tomato, chopped (or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved)
  • A drizzle of lemon juice
  • Grated Parmesan cheese about 4 TBSP or more for a creamier pasta
  • Salt and pepper

Step 1: Cook your pasta - 8 oz dried

Cook your pasta according to package directions until just al dente (you'll be reheating this to finish cooking later). Drain and set aside. 

Some of my favorites include:

  • For gluten-free or wheat-alternatives try - Banza chickpea pasta, quinoa pasta, or brown rice pasta or substitute rice or quinoa
  • For grain-free try - Spiralized zucchini or squash noodles or thinly sliced potatoes

Step 2: Choose your protein - 2 cups cooked

Prep 2 cups of cooked protein by chopping or shredding into bite-sized pieces and set it aside.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Fully-cooked chicken, turkey, or pork sausage
  • Garbanzo beans
  • White beans
  • Leftover proteins from earlier in the week

Step 3: Prep your vegetables - 3 - 4 cups

Choose 1 - 3 types of vegetables and slice or chop into bite-sized pieces. Vegetables shrink while cooking (especially greens!) so if you like lots of veggies, don’t be shy about adding more.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Zucchini 
  • Squash
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard

Step 4: Prep your flavor trio:

Mix the following ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside:

  • 1 ripe tomato, chopped (or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved)
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh basil
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • A large pinch of kosher salt

Step 6: Start cooking

Finish cooking pasta according to the package directions, drain, and set aside.

Heat 1 TBSP of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add your vegetables (except for any greens) and season with salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender but still brightly colored.

Add your protein and your greens (if you're using them) to the same pan, mix with the other vegetables and heat until the protein is warm and the greens are slightly wilted. 

Add your pasta and flavor trio, stir and heat for about 2 minutes.

Add 4 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese, or more for a creamier pasta and stir until it melts. 

Sprinkle with lemon juice, adjust seasonings, stir, and serve. 

Customization tips for picky eaters:

  • For those who like things plain - set aside cooked protein, pasta, and vegetables before you mix things together
  • For non-grain eaters - try zucchini noodles, potatoes, or double up on the protein and veggies and skip the grains
  • For non-meat eaters - use white beans, garbanzo beans, or toasted pine nuts
  • For big appetites - double up on the protein, add extra cheese, or add pine nuts to the top at the end

Are these meal templates helpful? If so let me know in the comments below and I'll be sharing more from time to time. If you're loving these formulas, check out this quick course for many more ideas.

Next up, I'm excited to share a real life example of someone living through a kitchen renovation and somehow managing to cook! Stay tuned...

Happy Cooking,

Kelly

P.S. I can't wait to see what you make! Tag your Shortcut Skillets with #realfoodhouse #improvcooking.