Auto Pilot

What to cook when there’s no time or energy or food


I’ve had many a night, when I’m out of ideas or energy or the cupboards are bare, and the last thing I’m feeling inclined to do is consult a cookbook or search online for some ideas.

With a half blue heeler at my side, who is my loyal companion whenever cooking, in hopes that a tasty morsel might fall to the floor, the image of Old Mother Hubbard is one that I try to avoid.

cook when the cupboard is bare.

That’s why I’ve managed to sharpen my winging-it skills with dishes that I can pull together on auto pilot — dishes that call for just a few ingredients, require no measuring, and pass muster with a hungry and sometimes cranky crew.

Despite my love for super foods that promise all sorts of fabulous benefits as they course through the digestive tract, the arteries and the like, most of these dishes don’t promise carry any particular health claims. In fact, it’s because of some of these dishes that super foods are particularly appreciated when they do make it to the table.

Case in point is the dish that tops the list:

Pasta Alfredo

Cook time: 10 minutes     Prep time: 2 minutes

Fettucini Alfredo


  • 12 oz. Fettuccini (Penne or other short pasta will do. Spaghetti isn’t optimal, but it works fine in a pinch.)
  • About 1/2 cup half and half (heavy cream or whole milk will work, but NOT nonfat milk.)
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese


Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to the same pot. While the pasta is still piping hot, butter, cheese and half and half. Toss gently until butter is melted and cheese is evenly distributed. Serve hot.

For a lower cholesterol and (some might say) taster variation on the above concept …

Pasta with olive oil and garlic

Cook time: 10 minutes        Prep time 3 minutes

Pasta with olive oil, garlic and fresh tomatoes


12 oz. spaghetti
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4-5 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Fresh herbs, fresh, spinach, chopped fresh tomatoes (optional)


Cook 12 oz. of pasta (spaghetti works best here) according to package directions
Heat 3 Tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet and add minced garlic. Heat on medium high for about 2 minutes, watching closely to ensure the garlic does not burn.
Drain pasta and add to the skillet with the garlic and olive oil. Toss gently and top with Parmesan cheese.
OPTIONAL: Add chopped parsley and/or basil, or a few handfuls of fresh spinach leaves or a few chopped tomatoes.

Pasta with Pesto

Pasta with Pesto and BroccoliA

Pesto  is easy to make, but since I’m not always up for getting out the food processor and then cleaning up all the interlocking parts and pieces, I shoot for twice or even three times as much pesto as I’m going to use whenever I make it. A container of pesto in the fridge is a wonderful thing. It’s delicious mixed in with salad dressings, mixed with mayonnaise, or as a sandwich spread all by itself. And the greatest thing about having leftover pesto in the fridge is … when a few tablespoons are tossed with hot pasta, you have yourself a dinner. If broccoli is on hand, steamed broccoli can be added to the mix and dinner now includes a vegetable. Awesome.

And then there’s the option of broccoli as the actual base for the pesto.

Broccoli Pesto


Steam 2 cups of broccoli florets until they are very well cooked (about 7 minutes). Drain the broccoli, returning it to the same pan and add 3 Tbsp olive oil, 3 cloves minced, garlic, and 1/’3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Mash together with a fork, and toss with hot pasta

And depending how one is inclined to define “easy” on any given evening …

A  delicious batch of Pesto Salmon Cakes can be whipped together in a flash with 1 14 oz. can of red salmon, 2 eggs, 2 Tbsp of pesto and breadcrumbs.

Best ever salmon cake recipe

Crustless Quiche

Prep time: 5 minutes     Cook time: 40 minutes

Mushroom onion quiche

Prep is a snap, cook time not so much, so if FAST is the main goal, consider a big omlette instead.


  • 4-5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Monterey jack cheese (Almost any cheese or combination of cheeses works. My original recipe called for 1 cup shredded Swiss and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan.)
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (optional)

*A plain quiche is perfectly delicious. When I have the time, or the ingredients on hand or the desire to take it up a notch, I’ve added: Canned or leftover salmon; or sliced tomatoes and basil; or sauteed greens; or sauteed mushrooms and onions; or frozen spinach, thawed in the microwave and drained in a colander with the excess liquid squeezed out and mixed into the quiche along with 1/2 tsp. of freshly ground nutmeg.  If time is not a at a premium, or there’s some leftover, cooked brown rice in the fridge, a Beet Green Quiche in a Brown Rice Crust adds a whole new dimension to quiche concept.


  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Coat a 9″ pie plate with cooking spray.
  • Crack eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk together with milk and Dijon mustard.
  • Combine shredded cheese. Pour into prepared pie pan.
  • Bake for 40 minutes or until quiche sets
  • Can be served hot, warm or cold

Tortilla Pizza

Yep. Just like it sounds. A tortilla as the crust for a pizza.  I’ve tried a sauce-free Margherita Pizza with just mozarella cheese, basil (or dried oregano), red onions and fresh tomatoes. And then there’s the more standard option of pasta sauce topped with mozarella cheese, possibly mushrooms. Once the shredded cheese and any other ingredients are assembled on the tortilla (which is on a baking sheet), just place it under the broiler on a low setting for about 4 minutes — stand by and watch closely to ensure it doesn’t burn.

Tortilla Pizza


Essentially, we’re talking grilled cheese, using tortillas instead of bread. A little non-stick cooking spray or vegetable oil on a skillet. A tortilla, a layer of shredded cheese,  another tortilla. Grilled on a medium heat and flipped when the cheese appears melted or the first side is a little crispy. Plain quesadillas are quite tasty. And of course, there’s all kinds of options for taking it up a notch: fresh spinach or grilled onions, red or green peppers or mushrooms. Fast, filling, and crowd pleasing any way you slice it. Pictures here is a plate of sauteed vegetable quesadillas with pico de gallo and guacamole on the side, that Sarah made for some friends.

vegetable quesadillas


One thought on “Auto Pilot”

Leave a Reply

Seasonal. Local. Surprising