People ask me this question all of the time. First, I mention that I wrote a cookbook. They exclaim, "That's awesome!" and "I really need to cook more!" Then they slip into a guilt-ridden revelry. Maybe they start thinking about how busy they are, and how they really need to go grocery shopping, and sigh.
Do I cook every day? Heck no! Who has time for that? I'm a working girl. I have a demanding career and personal writing projects. There are plenty of nights when I get home from work and would rather collapse than pull out a casserole pan. (Plus, let's be honest--like any other young urban foodie, I consider going to restaurants a favorite extracurricular activity.)
But it depends what you consider cooking. I don't slave over a hot stove every night. But I do manage to eat at home a lot of the time, especially during the week. I shouldn't even say manage--that makes it sound like a chore. The truth is, I honestly like and prefer to eat at home most of the time.
Wait, what's the difference? For me, eating at home means cooking a big dinner on Sunday, like crispy roast chicken or a gooey lasagne. It means stumbling home on Monday night and having something comforting to warm up. It means having great go-to ingredients that can be thrown together for fast, flavorful meals that will see you through the rest of the week.
Making your own food is cheaper, quicker, and healthier. (You can pack a sandwich in less time than it takes to wait in line at the deli! You can shake a stir-fry way faster than you'll get that greasy delivery!) Most people get that, at least in theory. You might even have good intentions. But we all live in the real world, and when it's 8 o'clock on a Tuesday night and you're so hangry that you're ready to chew your arm off, it's all too easy to lean on the cupboard door with despair, and say, "F* this! I'm getting a burrito!"
It's times like these when I take a deep breath and refer to my mental catalog of "stuff I like to eat." Here are my top 10 favorite 10-minute dinners (yes, 10 minutes!), for those nights when you just can't see straight.
1.) Cowboy Chicken Salad (page 92)
Chop and drop some romaine, tomato, avocado, and chicken, throw in some black beans and corn, and drizzle it with lime juice and olive oil. Come and get it, cowboys and girls.
2.) Tossed Pasta with Tomatoes, Olives, and Fresh Mozzarella (page 45)
Pasta is cheap and fast, and my book includes several variations. I love bolognese or fresh basil pesto, but when I want to keep it super fresh, I turn to this quick combo of bursting cherry tomatoes, briny black olives, milky mozzarella, and fragrant basil leaves. Dinner is done in the number of minutes it takes to boil your pasta.
3.) Polenta with Marinara & Mozz
Did you know that polenta comes pre-made in tubes? Thickly slice and panfry it in olive oil. Douse with marinara, sprinkle with cheese, and you have a high comfort, low effort plate.
4.) Tortellini en Brodo with Kale (page 51)
Plump tortellini simmered in a rich beef broth is really as simple and delicious as it sounds. I drop in a handful of kale leaves to make it a meal. Don't forget to make it rain parmesan and fresh pepper.
5.) Existential Ramen with Chicken & Egg (page 89)
We're not talking packets, but it's pretty much that easy. Boil some noodles. Crack an egg into it. Add a handful of shredded chicken, if you've got it. Load up with fresh herbs, sesame oil, and hot sauce. Grab your chopsticks and go to town.
6.) Sriracha Fried Rice with a Sunny Egg (page 42)
If you've already got a pot of cold rice sitting in the fridge, dinner is just minutes away. Let it sizzle in a hot pan, scattershot it with veggies, and slide an egg on top.
7.) Sautéed Sole with Mango & Avocado Salad
Fish is always fast, especially thin sole fillets. I sauté them in olive oil, sprinkle them with cumin and chile, and toss together a fresh salad of arugula, mango, and avocado to pile on top.
8.) Beany Cheesy Burritos
Old-school ground beef burritos (page 106) are my jam, but on exceptionally lazy nights, skip the meat. Slap down a tortilla, mound with black beans, corn, and cheese, and warm through. Top with avocado, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and dig in.
9.) Grain Bowls
Make a big pot of brown rice, quinoa, or farro on Sunday, and you have a great base for lunches and dinners all week. NYTimes throws out some cool ideas with kale and kimchi and chard and chorizo. I'm just as likely to go fridge diving and come out with more humble broccoli and cheese or asparagus and mushrooms. Don't hesitate to put an egg on it.
10.) Trendy Toast
Toast is super hot these days, which I find hilarious but also validating. (Every twenty-something has banged cheese on bread into the toaster and called it dinner, right?) The current more glamorous variations include smashed avocado, fluffy ricotta, and hummus. I feel like everyone has forgotten how fabulous a smoked salmon tartine can be. But you can't go wrong with scrambled eggs. Imagine you're a short-order cook at a 50s diner: Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck 'em! Order up!
*You can find the full recipes for the southwest salad, tossed pasta, tortellini, ramen, and fried rice in my cookbook, How to Feed Yourself.
What do you make for dinner when you just can't?