Imagine it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s getting near dinner time, and the usual options aren’t all that appealing (or simply aren’t possible.) You’ve got nothing to eat at home; your favorite neighborhood restaurants are either booked solid or forcing diners to pay for exorbitant tasting menus; takeout places are running more than an hour wait time; you’ve got nothing to eat at in the house; and the thought of trekking to the grocery store in the cold on a Sunday evening just sounds like a bit more than you can bear. Well, if you live near a convenience store, minimart, liquor store, or even just a gas station, there’s hope of being able to grab what you need in just five minutes inside the store and whipping up an easy Valentine’s Day dinner for two. Here, some convenience-store hacks to use in a pinch. It might not be lobster and caviar, but it’ll do. Oh, and next year? Plan ahead.
Photo: Stocksy/ Ina Peters
If you can find a box of spaghetti or other pasta, the world is your oyster (whoops, didn’t mean to mention oysters, those aren’t usually available at minimarts). You just need a few other ingredients from the store and a little creativity.
Spaghetti Carbonara: All you really need to pull off this classic pasta dish are eggs, black pepper, olive oil, parmesan cheese (which you’ll have to grab from the shelf, as they probably won’t have the refrigerated kind), and some kind of pork. We actually found a single-serving of prosciutto at a 7-11, but bacon or even deli ham will do. For a little extra richness, throw in some heavy cream or half and half.
Spaghetti With Browned Butter Sauce: It doesn’t get any simpler. Heat a few tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat until the butter begins to foam and starts to brown, then toss with the pasta. Spaghetti With Sardines and Lemon: We couldn’t help but notice that that every store we visited carried sardines. (Some even offered more than one brand). To use the ubiquitous shelf-stable fish in a pasta dish, grab a couple of tins, sauté with olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, and maybe some capers, which we spotted at a few stores and toss with your pasta. If you feel like going the extra mile, buy a loaf of sliced bread to make some simple breadcrumbs to add a bit of texture.
Spaghetti With Tomato Sauce: Yes, we mean the jarred kind that every convenience store sells. Hey, no judgments. It’s fast, easy, and cheap. (We’re sure there’s a Valentine’s Day date joke in there somewhere.)
Photo: Stockfood/ Gräfe & Unzer Verlag / Thorston Suedfels
They look and sound fancy enough to make for a V-Day dinner, and they’re actually cinch to cook with just a few convenience store items. Pair with a side dish of green beans or peas (both readily available in the can), which you can doll up with diced tomatoes, a little mustard, or a bit of parm.
Tuna Croquettes with Creamy Mustard Dipping Sauce: It’s canned fish to the rescue yet again. You just have to mix with mustard (Dijon if you can get it), eggs, salt, and pepper, and crushed Ritz crackers to form a cake and sauté in a pan of olie oil. Then just combine some of the mustard, mayo, and lemon together for the dipping sauce.
Corn cakes With Sriracha mayo: You’ll need to make a quick roux, which (thankfully) just involves sautéing some butter and flour and then whisking in milk, all three of which are easy to grab at a minimart. After adding canned corn and rolling the cakes in crushed crackers (or breadcrumbs, if possible) just drop them in a few inches of oil. As for the dipping sauce, Sriracha and mayo are actually all you need for this Srircaha mayo.
Photo: Stocksy/ Laura Stolfi
The beauty of a frittata is that it just requires eggs and whatever other ingredients catch your eye as you peruse the store. Try cheese, bacon, olives, canned veggies, or even tuna. And there’s also this version made with cooked pasta.
You can often find corn or flour tortillas at the corner store (especially on the West Coast) if you want to keep it casual with quesadillas. For cheese, go with cheddar or jack, usually available in small sizes, but if it’s slim pickings, you can always grab a few mozzarella sticks, try cream cheese, or, in truly desperate times, buy a packaged sandwich and use the cheese slices. Bonus: condiments like salsa, hot sauce, and sour cream are nearly always readily available. As for other ingredients for your filling, try canned items like beans, corn, and jalapenos, or try a fresh sliced apple, which’ll pair perfectly with the cheddar. And here’s an easy hack if you want to add a little meat: Diced, cooked chicken is just a can of chicken-noodle soup away.
Photo: Stocksy/ Jayme Burrows
Forget making a formal meal (OK, maybe formal is the wrong word given the above, but still) and try a spread of appetizers instead. Throw together a cheese plate with crackers, a sliced apple, and a little honey. Put out a bowl of almonds or mixed nuts and add some dried fruit and olives to your spread. Hack together an easy dip by combining a container of sour cream with a packet of dried onion soup or a jar of salsa and pair with just about any chip (because convenience stores seem to offer every single kind in existence). Some n chains like 7-11 are even offering snacks like hummus, snap pea crisps, and wasabi peas these days to mix things up.
Besides all those chips, here’s where minimarts really shine. Chances are whoever you’re cooking for wouldn’t complain if you showered him or her with mini donuts, Hostess cupcakes, candy bars, and one big cinnamon roll, but if you want to get extra points for actually kind of making something, try one of these hacks instead.
Chocolate Fondue: This one’s an easy with warmed-up chocolate syrup for dipping cut-up apples and bananas, pretzels, marshmallows, dried fruit, and yes, maybe a few of those mini-donuts.
Baked Apples: A perfect and warming winter dessert that’s super easy. Core a couple of apples and stuff with a mix of butter, chopped nuts, and sugar (brown sugar is ideal if you can find it) and bake upright in a water bath for about an hour. Yes, this one requires a bit of time, but if you pop them in when you get home from the store, the timing will hopefully work out just right.
Ice cream+chocolate syrup+chopped nuts+whipped cream+Maraschino cherries = an amazing dessert any day of the year.