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Food & Wine No time to cook? Chuck Hughes and other food pros share their go-to last-minute meals

Anyone old enough to be in charge of feeding themselves (and potentially others) has resorted, now and then, to cobbling together a quick meal when everyone’s hungry, nothing has been planned, there are no leftovers to reheat and takeout isn’t an option. Even chefs and food writers find themselves in this situation on a regular basis. If, on nights such as these, you aspire to more than a bowl of cereal or avocado toast for dinner (not that there’s anything wrong with that), a few of our favourite food personalities have shared their go-to emergency meals that come together quickly with ingredients you likely already have in the pantry.

Elizabeth Baird

Cookbook author, former Canadian Living food editor

Grilled cheese. The secret is the mustard – a good slather of Dijon on the bread, preferably whole grain or sourdough. Old cheddar, cut or shredded – no slices. Butter the top, set on heated griddle buttered side down, and butter the top. Turn, pressing periodically when the bottom is golden, and cook until top and bottom are crisp, and the cheese oozy. Good with a salad – a wedge of iceberg is good with dressing – or sliced tomatoes. The sandwich is subject to dressing up: On the bottom slice, add sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced sweet onion or ham, caramelized onions or sautéed mushrooms if you have them in the fridge, strawberry jam, yes! – or salsa, chutney or chili sauce, bread and butter pickles, sliced dills, roasted sweet peppers… or make combinations: Brie and cranberry sauce, provolone or mozzarella with salami, pepperoni or prosciutto. And it’s good with a fried egg on top.

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Chuck Hughes

Chef, cookbook author, TV personality and co-owner of Garde Manger and Le Bremner in Montreal

Chuck Hughes's emergency meal begins with a jar of P.E.I. bar clams and will be determined by whatever else he has in the pantry.

Handout

My go-to emergency meal starts with a jar of P.E.I. bar clams. A jar of these beauties can be found across Atlantic Canada. If you don’t live there, have a buddy bring you some. The meal will be determined by whatever I have in the pantry. If it’s dried pasta, then I’m making a simple clam pasta, if I have some potatoes and onions, it’s clam chowder. The clams just need to be chopped up, the clam juice added and a bit of butter and cracked black pepper and it’s good to go.

Michael and Anna Olson

Chefs, educators, TV personalities and cookbook authors

For us, a quick meal also has to be comfort food, and choucroute garnie is as quick and interesting as you can get. We usually have an assortment of sausages in the freezer that come from our local butcher or the Polish superdelicatessen. With a jar of proper wine sauerkraut in a shallow pan, we smother it with the assortment of sausages within quick reach: honey garlic, smoked Debrezeiner, kielbasa, maybe double-smoked bacon and yes, pork or veal wieners. Three minutes of assembly, 30 minutes in the oven while we take care of other things, and then the ridiculous parade of mustards that reside in the fridge door. And, of course, some sour cream for Anna. – Michael Olson

Anita Stewart

Cookbook author, food laureate at the University of Guelph and founder of Food Day Canada

Anita Stewart says a crustless quiche is the perfect weekend morning breakfast or quick weekday supper.

Julie Van Rosendaal

A quick crustless quiche. You can add a myriad ingredients – sautéed mushrooms, steamed asparagus, a few stalks of leftover stir-fried broccoli, one of those grilled sausages that no one had room for at the end of a summer barbecue. Bits of cheese can be shredded for the topping or use a lovely Canadian marble or cheddar. A bit of flour added to the egg helps it puff up and give it some texture. And the bonus? It’s Canadian dairy and eggs at their very finest! A perfect weekend morning breakfast or a quick weekday supper.

Ricardo Larrivée

Cookbook author and TV personality

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Ricardo Larrivée likes to make risotto with whatever ingredients are left in the fridge.

Julie Van Rosendaal

The quick favourite in my family is a risotto using whatever we have left in the fridge.

You could add asparagus: Blanch it in the broth that will be used for the risotto, or broil stalks on a baking sheet. Add the asparagus pieces as you finish cooking the risotto. Or green peas: Defrost the peas under hot running water and add to the risotto at the last minute – this is very good with spicy sausage. Or butternut squash: Cook diced squash in a little butter in a skillet, and add as you finish cooking the risotto.

Michael Smith

Chef, cookbook author, TV personality and chef/co-owner of the Inn at Bay Fortune

Michael Smith says every parent who scrambles to get the family together for a meal knows the power of pasta.

Handout

Every parent scrambling to pull their family together around the table knows the power of pasta – a simple meal you can throw together in the time it takes to boil water and cook noodles is straight-up gold. Crisp a handful of chopped bacon slices, lightly brown a couple chopped onions and a few cloves of minced garlic. Add a can of diced San Marzano tomatoes that you just happen to have lying around because you’re an obsessive chef… and a generous sprinkle of oregano, bring to a simmer, et voila! Best of all? You can stir in a full package of baby spinach with the steaming noodles to add a jolt of tasty green goodness.

Suresh Doss

Food and travel writer, CBC Radio personality and food tour guide

A colleague of mine introduced me to an Egyptian-style ful mudammas a few years ago, and I’ve created a version that has become my go-to emergency meal. Take three to four types of canned beans; I like the combination of kidney, black, pinto and navy beans. Use a mortar and pestle to make a basic sambal with garlic, chilies, salt and pepper. From there, you can add some cumin seeds or coriander, or make it spicy with Szechwan peppercorns and chili flakes. About a tablespoon is plenty. Save the liquid from one can of beans and drain the rest. Warm all the beans and the liquid in a pot, add the sambal and cook for about 5 minutes. Finish with two tablespoons of good-quality tahini, which gives it a luxurious creaminess. I usually cook up a pot Sunday night and portion it – that way I have a quick breakfast or midday snack. If you have time, serve it with a fried egg on top.

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