Dinner Shortcuts from the Freezer Aisle That Really Work
These small tweaks turn frozen convenience foods, from chili to pierogi, into star suppers.
"You Sure You Didn't Make This?" Chili
Depending on how ambitious you're feeling, frozen chili—like Kettle Cuisine Three Bean Chili
and Angus Beef Steak Chili with Beans
, which are minimally processed—can taste impressively homemade. To start, heat the soup in a saucepan along with some frozen corn. Once it's hot, sprinkle shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar on top. Step this up with some canned chopped tomatoes (the ones that are seasoned with olive oil and basil deliver more oomph than plain tomatoes) and serve the chili over Fritos. Super bonus points: Stir in a tablespoon of strong coffee—it's an instant punch of deep flavor—and top with deep-fried tortilla strips.
The college student staple is cheap, filling and, if you doctor it up with fresh vegetables and herbs, suitable for a grown-up meal (especially if you start with a low-salt version, like Amy's new Light in Sodium burritos
, which won't taste overly salty once you add more ingredients). Although most directions say you can heat your frozen burrito entirely in the microwave, we find this often leads to explosions, or at least leaks. Avoid the mess and the prospect of a possibly gummy tortilla by zapping the wrap for about 30 seconds. Then, cook it in a skillet coated with nonstick spray, turning often, until golden, slightly crispy and heated through. Top with homemade salsa, avocado slices, chopped cilantro and a few squirts of lime juice.
Photo: Mrs. T's Pierogies
Pierogi à la Française
Pierogi (we're fans of Mrs. T's Potato & Cheddar Pierogies
) are a fine late-night snack on their own, dipped in sour cream. But they become a substantial, even guest-worthy dinner when you bake them into a crustless quiche. You can play with the mix-ins; we like thin slices of red bell pepper, chopped mushrooms and wilted baby spinach. When you layer the pierogi in a casserole dish with milk, eggs, the vegetables and shredded Asiago cheese and heat the entire thing, it puffs and browns lightly. Cut it into squares and serve this homey dish with a salad and crusty bread.
Get the recipe: Crustless Quiche
Mac 'n' Cheese: Plain or Fancy
We'll admit, if you're going to make high-end mac 'n' cheese (this lobster version
comes to mind), you'd be selling the dish short by using the frozen, boxed stuff. But for many other additions, frozen macaroni and cheese is a perfectly solid beginning point. Try stirring warm, shredded ham or leftover braised beef from a stew or brisket into cooked mac 'n' cheese for a rich and satisfying meal. And this recipe's sage–bread crumb topping
adds savory crunch (sprinkle it on for the last 10 minutes of cooking).
Garlicky Pretzel Bread That Outshines an Italian Restaurant's
Who hasn't been seduced by the garlic bread sticks at her local trattoria that are so good they could suffice as their own meal with a soup or salad? Making your own is easy and—trust us—even better. Take frozen pretzels (Superpretzel
is the classic) and spritz them with garlic-infused olive oil using a spray bottle like this refillable one from the Pampered Chef
. Before baking, sprinkle with flaky sea salt such as Maldon or Casina Rossa Truffle & Salt
—the latter of which, Oprah says, "adds an aromatic note of luxury to everything."
Spinach That Goes from Greek-Style Shrimp to Poached Eggs
A box of Birds Eye or other brand-name frozen leaf spinach is one of the best deals you can find at the grocery store (just steer clear of supermarket brands, which tend to have more tough stems). You probably know that after you defrost it and squeeze as much water out with paper towels as you can, it's an indispensable addition to quiches, frittatas, homemade pizzas, lasagnas, dips, omelets, soups and other dishes. But here are two more brilliant ideas for this cheap and healthy freezer staple: Toss it with feta and use it as a bed for Greek-style shrimp
, or sauté it with shallots and turn it into a nest for eggs Benedict.
Keep reading: Store-bought shortcuts: What's worth it, what's not