With the sun shining outside in Chicago for only a few months a year, there’s nothing to keep me inside–not even cooking. But plans at the pool, beach and park don’t have to mean a healthy meal won’t fit into the agenda. In fact, all this running around requires more fuel!

Below are a few quick dinner ideas we enjoy in the summer. Many of them are perfect for on the road.


Shredded lettuce
1 chopped tomato
corn from 2 cobs or 1 can
1 diced cucumber
3 roughly chopped scallions
Shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup prepared beans of choice (black, kidney or pinto)

Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl.

Mexican “Meat”
1/2 package of Tempeh (available at Whole Foods or Trader Joes, near the tofu)
1T chili powder
1t olive oil
1/2t salt
Tabasco sauce to taste

Crumble Tempeh into small bits and saute in oil on medium heat until brown (about 5 minutes). Add spices and salt and saute for 1 more minute.



The pine nuts are the best part, unless you devour them before you serve the dish.

1 package of your choice pasta
1/4 cup pine nuts (dry roasted pine nuts don’t need kosher supervision, according to the CRC)
1 chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic
4 handfuls chopped kale or spinach (do not use frozen)
2T butter
2T dry white wine
3T freshly chopped basil
salt and pepper to taste
2 chopped tomatoes
1/2 block feta cheese

Prepare pasta according to package. Roast the pine nuts over a dry pan on medium heat for 2 minutes. Shake pan and roast 2 minutes more. The smell is divine, so restrain yourself and do not to eat them all.

Saute onion and garlic over butter on medium heat until soft. Add kale or spinach and saute until soft (1 minute for spinach and about 5 for kale).

Add wine and spices. Pour vegetables over pasta and add fresh tomatoes and feta. Top with pine nuts.

Making homemade tortillas every week has meant that I’ve gotten pretty good at flipping them in the pan. So last night when I flipped a tortilla with one hand while holding my baby in the other (not that I’d recommend cooking while holding a baby!), my daughter exclaimed, “You’re like a real cook!” Got her fooled.

Real or not, I certainly don’t want to be a short order cook. But sometimes a few tweaks can keep everyone happy with dinner just the way he or she likes it. Burrito night lends itself to so many variations.

With the same set of ingredients that only took a few minutes to prepare, we came up with three different options: burritos, nachos and taco salad. My kids then each made their own finished product. Turns out they’re not such bad cooks either.



1 cup cooked brown rice
1 can or 1 cup dried black beans
Tortillas (I like Trader Joes because they aren’t filled with unnecessary ingredients)
1 tomato
Spinach (optional, but must be fresh)
Chedder cheese
Optional toppings: Sour cream, salsa (see my post on the food processor for a homemade recipe), cilantro, green onions, avocado

All that’s required to prepare for this meal is the rice (and beans if you use dried). I cook the rice, then add the beans (and spinach if you’re using it) to the same pot, and then spoon it on top of a tortilla for each person. Add the cheese and pop it into the microwave for 30 seconds.  Add the toppings to each person’s liking.

For Cuban flair, add plantains to the top: slice ripened plantains and saute over vegetable oil (not olive!) on both sides until brown. Add salt and juice of one lime.


SHAVED ASPARAGUS PIZZA (from The Smitten Kitchen)

1 pizza dough (see my recipe below)
1/2 pound asparagus
2t olive oil
1/2t course salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
mozzarella cheese
1 scallion thinly sliced
(I also used tomato sauce, but Smitten Kitchen omits this)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Shave the asparagus into strips with a good peeler by holding the large end of it. Place the strips in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out your dough and then sprinkle it with Parmesan and then the mozzarella. Pile on the asparagus shavings and bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese bubbles and asparagus looks slightly browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle on the scallions.

3 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup gluten (optional, but this makes it softer and more doughy)
2t sea salt
2t yeast
3T olive oil
1 cup warm water

Mix the flour, gluten, salt and yeast in a food processor. While it’s running, slowly add the olive oil and the warm water. If the dough is not wet enough, add a little more, a teaspoon at a time. If it’s too wet, remove it and knead in a little more flour. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover it with a wet towel. Keep it in a warm place (like your oven with just the light on) for at least an hour.


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