Local eateries share go-to-ideas for when meal inspo eludes you
There are some timeless, universal questions that nag at us all. We’re not talking the meaning of life, at least not now. More like the age-old chorus of “What’s for dinner”? Because, no matter how meticulous a planner one might be, sometimes we just don’t know.
As we hit that bridge where summer slides into autumn, life tends to kick up with busyness like fallen leaves on the breeze. From back-to-school bustle to renewed rhythms after vacations end, there are plenty of distractions that can throw meal prep plans into disarray. Sometimes we all need a good standby to satisfy regardless of time and what’s on hand (or not). When you hit this familiar wall, we’ve got your back. We’ve reached out to local culinary aficionados who generously delivered low-fuss, simple and versatile ideas that will have you savoring a delicious dinner in minutes.
Dish: Veggie Scramble
“Sometimes breakfast for dinner – or Brinner as [our son] likes to call it, makes for the most satisfying standby with an added sense of fun,” says Laura Gaibler, co-owner of The Garden Gate Café alongside her husband, Steve. “Scrambled eggs are easy to throw together and become even better when you add your favorite (including leftover) veggies, meat and cheese to them. Because there is no specific recipe to follow, you can add as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. Plus, people usually have these items on hand in the refrigerator, making a scramble with toast or coffee cake, a great option for a quick meal.”
How to Make
- Sauté your vegetables in a nonstick pan with some butter first, if desired.
- Crack eggs into a bowl, add a pinch of salt and whisk the eggs together.
- Add a little more butter to the pan, pour in the eggs and immediately use a silicone spatula to swirl the eggs around the pan.
- After the scramble starts to thicken, start making long sweeps across the pan until the eggs are softly set.
- Remove from the heat and top with shredded cheese if desired.
Gaibler loves dishing up a scramble with a serving of her grandmother’s Blueberry Coffee Cake (full recipe on the next page). “I love pairing with blueberry coffee cake, blending savory and sweet. Most of the coffee cake ingredients are mostly pantry staples as well,” she says. “You can even use frozen blueberries, or none at all.”
Blueberry Coffee Cake
- 1-¾ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ¾ tsp. salt
- 2 ½ tsp. baking powder
- 5 tbs. softened butter
- ¾ cup buttermilk or milk
- 1 egg
- 1-2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- 3 tbs. firm butter, cut up into
(Once the topping is on the cake, you can add more butter pieces on top, filling in where needed.)
Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together in one bowl. Mix butter, buttermilk and egg together in another bowl with a mixer. Slowly add flour mixture to the wet mix. Fold in blueberries.
Pour mixture into a butter and floured 9 x 9-inch pan and top with topping. Bake at 375° for 35 to 40 minutes, then check every 5 minutes until you can insert a toothpick into the center of the cake and it comes out clean.
Dish: Rice Bowls
“At least once a week we eat Rice Bowls at our house,” says Sean Gafner, executive chef and co-owner with his wife, Rebecca, of Swaylo’s Tiki Restaurant & Bar. “There are always leftover proteins available, like grilled chicken, salmon or steak and am assorted vegetables. We also keep stocked in avocados, cilantro and lime. This dish is a typical lunch or dinner item, often more than once
How to Make
Simply cook some rice, chop up leftovers and place over the top. Serve warm or cold.
- Vegetables are great sautéed, grilled or fresh.
- Garnish with sliced avocado, lime wedges and a sprinkling of cilantro.
- Tie everything together with a tablespoon or two drizzle of simple Lime Mayo (recipe below).
Cilantro Lime Mayo
- ½ Cup mayonnaise
- Juice of ½ lime
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1-2 tablespoons such as sriracha or ValentinaBlend or whisk all ingredients together until combined and smooth.
Dish: Summer Pasta with Roasted Vegetables, Garlic and Olive Oil
“I love how versatile, quick and easy this is, and it doesn’t require a recipe,” says Carrie Olson, owner of The Mountain Fountain in Hygiene. “It also allows you a lot of freedom. It’s a great vegetarian dish and can be made vegan. My daughter loves pasta, so I make variations of this on a pretty regular basis. It’s also great paired with protein, like roast chicken, Italian or Greek sausages or lamb chops.”
How to Make
- First, get a baking sheet and line it with parchment paper if possible. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Next, gather any combination of vegetables you have on hand – zucchini, summer squash, onion, fennel, mushrooms, peppers, chilies, tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, even baby broccoli or cauliflower will work. Wash the vegetables and chop – either a rough chop – or you can chop them a little finer if you don’t want it too chunky.
- Spread the vegetables evenly on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried thyme and oregano – or herbs de Provence, or dried Italian herb mix, or even some Rose harissa for some spice, whatever you have and like, then drizzle with olive oil. All of these quantities should be to your preference.
- Place in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, then remove from oven and toss veggies gently and place back in oven for 5 to 10 more minutes.
- Mince two cloves of garlic at this time and any fresh basil, if you have it and set aside. If you don’t have basil, don’t worry; it will be fine. You can also use powdered or granulated garlic if you don’t have fresh.
- Meanwhile, cook your pasta. You can choose any pasta you have on hand.
- When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a little of the water (a couple of tablespoons).
- Remove the veggies from the oven.
- Pour the pasta and remaining two tablespoons of pasta water into a large wide dish and toss with salt, minced garlic and some ground pepper. Place veggies on top, sprinkle with basil and serve
- If you find you’ve made extra veggies, hang onto them and use them for burritos! This method is the how veggies are prepped for the burritos at the The Mountain Fountain too, Olson says.
- You can also toss the veggies and basil with the pasta and sprinkle with any cheese you have on hand before serving. Olson recommends Parmesan, Manchego or Romano. Or, roast a block of feta with the veggies and then toss all together – the possibilities are endless!
Dish: Chipotle, Black Bean & Corn Salad
“The thing I love about this recipe is that it’s easily adjusted to fit what you have on hand,” Olson says of the popular Mountain Fountain salad. “You can use frozen corn and omit the squash and/or avocado if you don’t have them. You can swap in pinto or kidney beans for the black beans or even chickpeas.”
Yield: 6 sides, 4 main
FOR THE SALAD
2 ears fresh corn, roasted
1 zucchini, roasted and diced
1 yellow squash, roasted and diced
1 TB chili powder or taco seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped red onion
1 (14.5 oz.) can black beans
1 red or orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 Anaheim chili, minced
½ cup loosely packed fresh chopped cilantro (plus a bit more for garnish, if desired)
½ c Cotija cheese
FOR THE DRESSING
2 tablespoons cider vinegar – or wine or rice vinegar
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar or Agave syrup
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 -3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon Mexican oregano (or regular dried oregano if you don’t have it)
1 teaspoon cumin
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 small, canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (2 peppers, not 2 cans)
- Coat corn and squash with olive oil and lightly dust with a little chili powder or taco seasoning – no more than 1 tablespoon total, and 1 teaspoon salt. Roast corn and squashes, either on a grill or in a 400 degree oven, turning frequently until they browned nicely on all sides (about 15 to 20 minutes.) Set aside to cool.
- Place the beans in a sieve; run under cold water to rinse well. Let drain completely and set aside.
- Dice the squash.
- Holding the cooled corn upright in a large bowl, cut the kernels off the cob in strips.
- Add the beans, red onion, squash, Anaheim Chili, bell pepper and cilantro.
- Make the dressing by combining all of the ingredients in a blender or mini food processor; process until smooth.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Right before serving, cube the avocado. Toss the salad gently, then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Garnish with crumbled Cotija Cheese and a bit of fresh cilantro if desired. Serve cold.
- You don’t have to use any cheese if you want to keep it vegan. It’s delicious either way!
- Enjoy as a side salad or a full meal.-Make it even more amazing with tortilla chips.
By Wendy McMillan | Longmont Magazine