There’s a scene I love in the movie “The Hunt for Red October”: The sonar
guy is explaining to the captain that their sonar system is based on one
built to detect marine mammals, so when it comes across an anomaly, it tends
to identify it as such. “It just sort of . . . runs home to Mama,” he says.
(The captain is not amused.)

When I don’t know what to make for dinner, when I’m tired or overly busy, I
just sort of run home to Grandma.

Happened two times this week, what with deadlines, a photo shoot and other
responsibilities. One night, it was Grandma¹s tuna cakes — a version of the
Portuguese dish Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters) but with cheaper and easier to find canned tuna (remember: gotta be Coral). Another night it was stir-fried corned beef and cabbage.

Tuna cakes are the easiest quick dinner I know: 2 cans drained tuna, half a
bunch flat-leaf parsley (finely chopped), 1/4 cup minced onion, 2 eggs. In a
medium bowl, use a fork to stir these together. Unlike Grandma, I add a
couple of minced garlic cloves and a few cranks of pepper. Turn the oven on to warm. Line a heat-proof plate with paper towels. Heat olive or vegetable oil in a
large frying pan over medium-high heat; using a large spoon or ladel, drop in two of the tuna mixture (they will spread to small pancake size); fry
until a lacy golden brown crust forms; turn and repeat. With a spatula, place
cakes on paper towel-lined plate and place in oven. Fry remaining batter
(you get about 4 cakes from 2 cans tuna). Serve warm with hot rice. I like
’em with ketchup, particularly my homemade banana ketchup. Good the next
day in a sandwich.

Easy quick dinner No. 2 is stir-fried corned beef and cabbage. When I was a
starving college student, I invited a study group over to my house one
evening. “I’ll make corned beef and cabbage,” I said, and they looked at me
like I had two heads. I¹d never had “real” corned beef and cabbage — corned
brisket, cabbage and other vegetables slowly braised or boiled together so I
didn’t know why they seemed so odd about it. When they arrived and saw my
quick version, they all laughed. “It’s another one of those Hawaii things,”
my girlfriend said. Yep, ‘Tis.

Grandma¹s CB and C: Place a tablespoon of of olive oil and half a stick of
butter in a large wok and heat gently until butter is melted. Add 1 whole
onion, sliced and broken into crescents and allow to caramelize. Thinly slice
half to three quarters of a cabbage; scatter over onions, cover and allow to
wilt over medium-low heat. Open a can of corned beef (Libby, McNeil & Libby,
in the red, gold and black can is the ONLY one to use), place it in a dish
or bowl and break it into chunks. Stir corned beef into cabbage-onion
mixture; cover and cook just until heated through (7-10 minutes), tossing
the mixture occasionally. Season with a few good cranks of pepper. Serve
immediately over hot rice. Serves 4 (or 6 more delicate appetites).

Unfortunately, this dish never tastes as good as the first night. If you
want to avoid leftovers, go with half an onion and a third of a cabbage but
keep the can of corned beef. You may add a splash of shoyu and some finely
chopped parsley or garlic or grated carrot. You can make this with julienned
Portuguese cabbage, collards or kale (this last will take longer to cook).

What’s your quickest dinner?