A dinner shortcut — so good I feel guilty!

As a fairly regular fixture in the kitchen, I’ve started to somewhat pride myself on the homemade-ness of our little family’s meals, snacks and baked goods. We don’t buy cookies in boxes or muffins from the grocery store. Our freezer is shockingly empty save for a few things I’ve made ahead and frozen for another time. And though it’s frustrating on occasion when one of us (OK, probably me) is suddenly starving and there’s nothing to just grab from the pantry that doesn’t require some sort of effort in preparation, our readymade snack situation is none too impressive. As a general rule, we try to refrain from buying anything we can’t reasonably make or bake ourselves. Yes, that requires some effort and forethought, but it’s made such a difference in how we eat and shop. Our food is healthier. We know what we’re putting into our bodies. And the grocery bill has shrunk. Woo hoo!

So maybe we spend a bit more time in the kitchen than the average bear, but it’s something we both agree is important. Still, like everyone else in this busy, busy world, our days get crazy, schedules are hectic, and sometimes you just want something that can be on the table in 20 minutes and fill you up completely. And salad doesn’t count.

With the Bean’s debut getting unbelievably close, I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that, at least for a little while after she’s born, I’m going to have to relinquish a bit of control in the kitchen. Fortunately, Jared is a super handy cook, especially when left to his own devices (a.k.a. when I finally leave him alone and just let him do his thing). Still, I figure the more I can plan ahead of time with a list of meals that either of us can throw together quickly without too much trouble (you know, in between cat naps and continual staring at our newest little roommate), the better off we’ll be. Happy parents make for a happy baby, I suspect. And happy tummies make for happy parents.

While searching for a few more throw-it-together-in-a-flash recipes over the weekend, I came across one from Real Simple that looked quick, delicious and uncomplicated. The problem was it called for those pre-made raviolis that you buy in the refrigerator section of the store, something I never purchase because it always feels like such a cheater ingredient. But these are desperate times (not really, but let’s pretend they are for the drama it adds to the story), and it was probably time I took another good look at my food-buying principles. So after hemming and hawing for a while about whether to give the recipe a try, I proceeded to have an enlightening conversation with myself concerning this whole to-buy-or-not-to-buy dilemma. It went a little something like this:

Me: Self, I feel guilty buying pre-made ravioli.
Me: You are crazy beans! You don’t make your own dried pasta, and you buy that all the time.
Me: True.
Me: And you’ve never made your own cheese. Granted, that’s a smell-related issue, but still.
Me: That’s true. I don’t like cheese-making smells.
Me: Well, you crazy self, this is just cheese, which you don’t make, inside pasta, which you don’t make.
Me: Touché, self. Touché.

I suppose that’s the secret to shortcuts. You can’t beat yourself up about taking advantage of those dandy little tricks that make a meal come together faster than the speed of light as long as you’re not foregoing flavor, deliciousness or quality. A package doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it does mean you have to read those labels a bit more carefully. My more reasonable self won the coversation that day, and together we gave the recipe a try. I’m glad we did. It was fast. It was easy. It was delicious. One for the make-this-post-baby menu for sure. That Real Simple knows its stuff.


Ravioli with Sautéed Zucchini
Adapted from Real Simple

• 1 pound cheese ravioli (fresh or frozen)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 small zucchini, sliced into half-moons
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how much spice you like)
• ¼ teaspoon onion powder
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Cook ravioli according to the package directions, then drain them and return to pot. In the mean time, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper and onion powder and cook until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the zucchini mixture and ¼ cup of Parmesan to the ravioli, and toss gently to combine. Serve with the remaining Parmesan.


What’s your favorite fast and easy dinner recipe? Do you ever take advantage of pre-made shortcuts? If so, what are they? And how do you decide what’s OK to buy? Let the recipe sharing commence!


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11 Comments on “A dinner shortcut — so good I feel guilty!

  1. WHYYYYYYY do I always read your blog before lunch?!? It just makes my pathetic pb&j even more sad. I have so much food envy right now… :)

  2. When our local warehouse club has ravioli or tortellini for less than $7 for 2 packages I stock up. Easy to make and add fresh veggies and becomes a quick and easy meal, especially after being at work and heading to the gym before heading home at the end of the day. Sometimes shortcuts are a blessing to my sanity when it comes to getting a somewhat healthy, fulfilling meal on the table. Give yourself some slack every once in a while.

    • It’s always good to stock up when the sales happen, that’s for sure! And you’re totally right; adding the fresh veggies is an easy way to make a mighty good, tummy-satisfying meal.

  3. I love your decision to make good home made healthy food. We are like that too and really it is not so hard is it!.. And sometimes you just have to be kind to yourself , have a little holiday and make an easy meal! c

  4. Dear Katrina, it’s good to hear that your wiser self won the argument. It’s not nearly so important *who* made what as *what* was made (and what it was made *of*), if you ask me. Speed and simplicity are essential for all of us mere mortals, not least of all those expecting an imminent addition to the family and/or those with a very recent one! A tasty sounding concoction, too. Cheers!

    • So true. The what’s-in-it question is a good one to ask, and as long as it isn’t filled with crazy things I can’t identify, I suppose I should give myself a break. :) We should never underestimate the power of simplicity!

  5. yum yum yum this looks so good! love the idea of using zucchini… i usually cook down some spinach whenever i do an artichoke ravioli but i actually think zucchini sounds good too! great post!

    • Ooo, artichoke ravioli sounds great! You could definitely throw spinach in this recipe, too, along with the zucchini. Veggie-filled and so yummy!

      • yes, artichoke ravioli. i actually pick them up at Trader Joe’s .. they are bland unless you add some cooked greens and a tasty sauce (i usually do a cream sauce)… but since your recipe is from Real Simple i’m sure this dish is amazing!

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