Actual Recipes from My Kitchen

Well, we’ve finally made it to the “Actual Food” part of this incredibly lengthy series.

I seem to be a firmly intermediate cook, which is a surprisingly embattled position to occupy in a very food-judgey culture. I am going to kindly ask those of you who are more advanced than I am to please suspend judgment, and those of you who are not as advanced cooks as I am to please not give in to feelings of intimidation or obligation. We all start from where we are.

This is simply an example of foods that I cook – not foods I require or expect anyone else to like or cook. I am hoping you will all share your own recipes or meal concepts in comments.

You will notice that many of the below recipes are distinctly American, or else Americanized versions of other cuisines. I’m a decently adventurous eater, and I especially love heavily-spiced food. Living in Toronto, I am very lucky because I can access food from so many different places in the world, and I like trying new things.

However, when I cook at home, I stick to simple, culturally familiar food because I’m comfortable with the cooking techniques required, and because it gives me a homey feeling. (Though I am not averse to busting out a stir-fry or new combinations of spices when I feel like it.)


Below is a brief sampling of the recipes in my stash. Many of them come from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 12th Edition which is the first cookbook I ever owned, handed down to me from my mom when I was 19 and living the country housewife lifestyle for the first time.

It still has my pencil-scrawls in it from when I was about 8 years old and baking cookies for the first time. I still remember the trip my mom and I took to the bookstore to buy it, and how it was handed to her over the counter, carefully wrapped in its (long since lost) dustcover. It is one of my most cherished possessions.

I basically taught myself how to cook out of it, after reading it cover-to-cover and after much (very much) trial and error, so it holds a special place in my heart – as do all older American cookbooks, like Joy of Cooking, McCall’s Cookbook, Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, and Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.

However, with these kinds of older encyclopedic cookbooks, I do sometimes need to tweak the recipes for flavour or to make them more convenient.

One of my favourite newer cookbooks is Cook’s Illustrated The New Best Recipe, but most of the recipes are too involved for weeknight meals, in my opinion. Everything I’ve made from it so far has been amazing, though, and if you are of a food science bent at all, you’ll love reading their discussions of how the recipes were developed.

Another favourite cookbook represented below is Pantry Raid by Dana McCauley. This is a Canadian cookbook, but it is not necessarily traditional Canadian food. It is, however, full of simple weeknight recipes that also happen to have tons of flavour, with hardly any modifications needed. It’s out of print, and I don’t own a copy, but I originally got it from the library.

Every year or couple of years, I will get a bug and borrow a ton of recipe books from the library, and then copy down anything that seems likely onto recipe cards to try. I find the process of copying by hand allows me to fully think through the recipes, and also to adapt the instructions to suit my kitchen and my particular collection of bowls, pots, and pans.

I often streamline the instructions before I ever try the recipes. However, I always cook the recipes with the exact ingredients called for the first time around, before I make modifications for flavour. Then I make notes on the card of what needs changing.

Honourable mentions: Cool Kitchen (recipes for when it’s too hot to cook), Aunt Maud’s Recipe Book (recipes from L. M. Montgomery), and Baking in America (includes Emily Dickinson’s fruitcake recipe.)

I very rarely buy cookbooks, because you can easily over-collect them. Thankfully, my mom-in-law has a huge collection of sometimes old, sometimes strange and wonderful cookbooks (like Food that Really Schmecks, a Mennonite cookbook) that I poke through every time I visit.

I’ve also stolen many recipes from my own mom’s collection, including the Popover Chicken Tarragon recipe below.

Since I mostly cook from recipe cards, and am such a prodigious recipe-thief, I have to carry 3 x 5″ index cards when I travel. I’ve made peace with that.

I keep them in this very 1950s recipe card box I picked up at a flea market years ago. You cannot look at this thing without smiling idiotically.


I consider meals that do require cooking, but don’t require a recipe, to be more Level Two-ish, since they require physical effort, but next to no mental effort.

I also consider recipes that use something pre-prepared, like a sauce or side dish (frozen pierogis, or Uncle Ben’s as a side dish, and possibly even frozen veggies, since they are pre-cut) to be Level Two-ish. Your mileage may vary.

Slab o’ Meat Dinner: This is a broiled piece of meat or fish, with seasoning that doesn’t require a recipe – maybe jerk seasoning or hoisin for chicken, seasoning salt for pork chops, sage or rosemary for pork tenderloin, sausage with mustard, or maybe just salt and pepper – along with potatoes of some kind (boiled, mashed, baked, or even pierogi’d), steamed rice or a packaged rice/pasta side dish, and some kind of very basic vegetable, usually steamed.

Thankfully, I like steamed vegetables with butter and salt, so this is not offensive to my sensibilities – you may feel differently. Cheese can help. I have learned through experience that I feel somehow offended if there is no vegetable with my dinner, despite spending much of my youth indifferent or openly hostile to vegetables. Even something very basic will make me happy – for example, if there are tomatoes in the sauce, or a pre-prepared salad on the side. I’ll eat cocktail carrots or an apple in a pinch.

Pasta with Sauce, Protein, and Vegetables: Vegetables can be in the sauce and/or on the side via salad. I can either make sauce from plain canned tomatoes, or use jarred sauce. The protein can be ground beef or veggie ground round, or whatever else will sauté up easily in a pan, like shrimp or baby clams. I can also add store-bought garlic bread or make it myself from a loaf of French bread toasted in the oven, with real garlic mashed up in the butter. If there is salad it’s almost always from a tub, because I really hate tearing lettuce and I really love baby spinach or arugula. I love spaghetti like a 10-year old, probably because my mom used to make it for me, and that is how I made the fateful and life-altering discovery of garlic.

I know there are more non-recipe meals, but because they don’t have recipes they require me to trawl my memory, which is undercaffeinated at the moment. So, onto the actual recipes.


Most of these will be around Level Three.

Savory Casserole of Chicken – Fannie Farmer. We’ve made this only about three times. When I hear the word “casserole” I expect “meal in a pot,” so I throw a cup or two of rotini or pasta shells into the pot for a starch. I also add a whole green pepper instead of the measly and timid “2 tbsp finely chopped green pepper” because I love the taste of green pepper. With bread and salad, or even just bread, it’s pretty good.

Linguine with Clam SaucePantry Raid. I have gone on about this one at some length. This is a definitely Level Two for me, possibly bordering on Level One. It only requires pantry ingredients, for the most part, and I have it memorized. It also makes a meal-in-one, so I don’t have to bother with a side dish unless I am feeling particularly bready or salad-y that day. Incidentally, Pantry Raid is also one of the few cookbooks with recipes I don’t have to modify. Make of that what you will.

Citrus-Tarragon Roasted SalmonPantry Raid. I have one thing to say about this, and it’s that this is absolutely delicious and wonderful. It is another Slab o’ Meat meal, but it requires a recipe because my memory sucks. I usually have a pasta primavera packaged side dish, and broccoli (though sometimes Saucy Brussels Sprouts from BH&G New Cookbook, but they have to be fresh sprouts because frozen ones taste like sulfur when cooked.)

Popover Chicken TarragonBH&G New Cookbook. This makes the starch along with the chicken, so all you’re left with is to add a vegetable on the side. I think I made some kind of fancy green beans from The New Best Recipe with this once, and I liked them, though Jeffrey didn’t.

Boiled BeansJoy of Cooking. This is the most uninspired recipe name ever, but it makes an actually kind of elegant-looking creamy white set of beans with chives on top. I drink every bit of wine that comes into my home on sight, so I use a few tablespoons of sherry instead. (FACT: I will eat anything that has sherry in it.) Usually I add to this some kind of fancy bakery bread and salad. I try to make beans on the weekends because life is just cheaper that way, and because then I have leftovers I can freeze for future lunches.

Beans BretonneFannie Farmer. I have been making this one for ages. It is rather surprisingly spicy, for a Fannie Farmer recipe. It’s bright red-orange, and since I got rid of my food processor and my blender is a pain to clean, I usually skip pureeing the pimientos and just cut a big can of roasted red peppers up into strips or chunks. Again, salad and bread with this…or nothing, if I’m feeling lazy. If I’m making beans, it means I had to soak something overnight and refuse to cook anything else on principle. Although once I did make this as a side dish with sausage.

Jeffrey’s Clam Chowder (no recipe linked because it’s his family’s recipe to share, not mine) – We have not had this in a while, but it’s Jeffrey’s papa’s (that’s English for grandpa) recipe. It is very easy and we usually eat it on holidays. It’s a red clam chowder. I grew up eating only New England clam chowder, because that’s how we do it on the Oregon coast, and even I will eat the hell out of this with some homemade bread. FACT: I will also eat anything with canned baby clams.

Chicken CacciatoreFannie Farmer. I haven’t made this in a while, but I used to make it all the time. It’s getting up there to a Level Three for me, as it requires soaking things, chopping things, AND grating things. I usually add orzo to the pot to soak up the liquid and make an easy starch. Because I am lazy, and I like orzo. This recipe requires me to have white wine on hand, which is probably why I don’t make it anymore.

Pork Tenderloin TeriyakiFannie Farmer. (Link is an adapted version, not exactly as I make it.) Another Slab o’ Meat that requires a recipe. This is one of the first recipes I ever successfully made from scratch. I make this a lot because it is simple, I love pork tenderloin with my whole heart, and because I love the marinade. I serve it with some kind of rice and some kind of green thing. This is one of the quickest meals I make, though the broiling makes the smoke alarm go off.

Creamed Chicken and MushroomsFannie Farmer. I love mushrooms, and this also has sherry in it, so you know I will eat the hell out of this. It’s totally delicious with mashed potatoes because it makes a gravy. I usually have green beans with it.

Moroccan Spiced Pork TenderloinPantry Raid. Totally sweet and flavourful. Because I really don’t know what in the hell I’m doing with anything Moroccan, I just serve it with rice and some kind of easy vegetable.

Bean and Vegetable SoupFannie Farmer. This is maybe a Level Four, actually, because it requires extensive chopping of fresh vegetables, as well as more than an hour of cooking. But it is absolutely delicious, involves Parmesan cheese and bacon crumbles, and you can get away with just bread on the side. I would only make this on a weekend, like with beans.

That’s only part of my box of recipe cards, so I will spare you the rest. The point is (and I guess we will talk about meal planning at some point) I keep the weeknight dinners simple. I will probably cook 2 to 3 actual-recipe meals a week, and fill in the rest with leftovers, pasta, slabs o’ meat, or pre-prepared food – or, in summertime, hotdogs. I really like hotdogs.

Whatever happens, we sit down and eat together at an actual table most nights. Not because it is a moral imperative, but because we both feel well-fed that way. Better-fed than if we busted out the dinner party fare once a month, and spent the rest of the time eating the Rice-a-Roni of resentment.

If you are resentful or rebellious about cooking, lower your standards and figure out some Level Two or Level Three recipes. You won’t suddenly become a bad cook (or a bad person) if you rely on basics.

…Or even if you totally screw up a recipe. Ruining food has been my own private cooking school, and I will gladly fall back on Kraft Dinner or takeout if I mess up.

Willingness to experiment and make mistakes, and to possibly keep a frozen pizza on hand when something doesn’t work out, will only make you a better cook.

Let the recipes fly in comments!

Just a warning: if your comment contains more than 5 links, I’ll have to fish it out of the spam filter, which might take a while.






83 responses to “Actual Recipes from My Kitchen”

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Awesome, thank you! Also, I love coq au vin, and cabbage rolls too! In southern Ontario there’s quite a lot of Ukrainian cooking around, so pierogis and cabbage rolls are very popular. My mom-in-law makes great cabbage rolls and gives us huge freezer bags full of them to eat in the winter – this was the first way I ever had cooked cabbage, and learned that I actually liked it.

      1. Dave Avatar

        Mmmmm. Cabbage rolls are a personal favorite of mine, too :)

  1. Mary Sue Avatar
    Mary Sue

    My version of Slab o’ Meat: cook meat in frypan. On the last flip, throw in vegetables and a couple tablespoons of water with the meat. Throw on plate. Nom.

  2. R Skye Avatar

    I’ve got some recipes I started compiling on the Frugal Spoonie blog, along with others to try and balance cooking with not feeling so great. We’re slowly starting to rock some recipes on there, so it’s worth a peruse. My favourite of the moment is pulled pork, made Southern US style.

    Oh man my kingdom for clam chowder – but finding clams here isn’t very easy, even though we’re on the seaside. I’d have to order in a delivery. But I am SERIOUSLY tempted.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      We use canned baby clams for everything, which I find surprisingly good, given that I grew up eating only fresh clams from the dredge at the beach.

      1. R Skye Avatar

        Even canned clams is difficult to find – it’s weird, but so it is. I have found a seafood supplier who can accommodate. I’ll be having a boil at mine if I can manage it!

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Oh that’s right – I even have trouble finding canned clams in the U.S. sometimes. They seem very popular here for some reason!

          1. flightless Avatar

            I sent the boyfriend to procure clams & tomatoes, and am eager to make linguine! But they did not have the proper number of ounces per can. Half a can of leftover baby clams: freeze? store in a jar in the fridge for a few days?

          2. flightless Avatar

            (And because this is a nutrition blog, I feel I can say [TMI] that I’m ferociously premenstrual and am interpreting my strong craving for that dish as soon as I read about it as meaning my body knows it wants iron!)

          3. Michelle Avatar

            It’ll be interesting to see if it tames the beast!

          4. Michelle Avatar

            I think they’ll be okay in the fridge for a few days. I’ve never frozen them, but it might be worth a shot.

            Canned baby clams are really common in Canada, or at least in southern Ontario, and I completely forgot that they may not be readily available elsewhere. Who knew land-locked Canadians would have a thing for clams.

  3. Marie Avatar

    I always cooked from recipes, because I thought that was the only way to do it. I found them really constraining and irritating, but I didn’t know how to begin learning how to improvise — I’m too much of a perfectionist, so the idea of making constant mistakes until I somehow magically figured out how to make a real meal was just overwhelming.

    What I finally got was The Flavor Bible, and it is just the most amazing thing for me. It lists ingredients, and underneath each, lists what other ingredients go well with it. I’ve been able to start with some bare bones “not a recipe” like the ones above (meat and veggies, pasta and veggies/meat) and just start thumbing through The Flavor Bible, adding a bit here and there, until I’ve come up with my own recipes.

    It’s also helped me figure out what types of ingredients I really love to death, which has helped me in looking up new recipes. Like, balsamic vinegar? Put it in everything. Put it in cocktails. Drink it straight, oh my god, LOVE IT. So when I’m looking for a new recipe, I can google “balsamic vinegar” and “mediterranean”, knowing that those are two types of ingredients I seem to return to over and over, so I will probably like whatever recipe I find.

    For those of you who get annoyed by recipes, I could not recommend this book enough!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I totally need to read this! In the last post, another commenter mentioned An Everlasting Meal, which is also an alternative method of cooking. I am hoping to practice this kind of thing more. I can usually improvise if I feel like it, it’s just not much of a habit with me – I think it would make things more convenient if it were.

      I love balsamic vinegar.

    2. FatChickinLycra Avatar

      Another good way to have balsamic — dribbled over fresh sliced strawberries with a sprinkling of fresh ground black pepper on top. Although the concept throws people at first, believe it or not, it’s awesome.

      1. Marie Avatar

        Oh my god, yes! I make this salad and dressing that I put together from The Flavor Bible:

        Red onion
        Chicken cooked in the dressing (if I want it to be heartier)

        The dressing is:
        Olive oil
        Balsamic vinegar
        Dijon mustard
        Fish sauce
        Sri racha
        Lemon juice
        Brown sugar
        Soy sauce

        It’s always a bit different every time, and it’s just this glorious mixture of different flavors, and it tastes AMAZING over those strawberries.

        Another recipe I came up with, which I never would have thought to try without The Flavor Bible:

        Salmon, flaked over quinoa, mixed in with shredded carrots and spring onions that have been cooked in butter. Add some strawberries, and a touch of soy sauce on top. OMG.

        1. Natasha Avatar

          I recently tried a recipe for a spinach salad with mushrooms fried in balsamic vinegar and olive oil (throw the mushrooms on while still warm). It had red and green onion and cheese (the recipe said mozza but I used edam) and I added some toasted pecans. Sooo good. :)

    3. Marie Avatar

      I will also say that The Flavor Bible helped me immensely when I was trying to change my nutrition. I tracked my food for a few months to see what I was low on (intentionally omitting calories, because I wanted to keep it about nutrition and not wake the Weight Loss Kraken). Then I looked up what foods had the highest content of what I needed (vitamin E, iron). Then I looked those foods up in The Flavor Bible and scanned down the list of ingredients until I saw a few that I liked, then figured out how to work this food I needed into a recipe with the ingredients I loved.

      Like, I am not overly fond of spinach, but I needed more of it, so I figured out a turkey/rice bake with pureed spinach and fresh herbs that just tastes AMAZING. It is:

      Fresh oregano and fresh sage
      Olive oil
      Lemon juice
      Orange juice (really!)

      Put it in the blender till it’s good and goopy. Pour it over cooked ground turkey and rice. Maybe add some tomatoes and mushrooms if I feel like it. Sooooooooooooo good.

    4. Lani Avatar

      The Flavor Bible is magnificent! A truly amazing resource. I bought it for Mr. Lani for his birthday this year.

    5. Trippmadam Avatar

      The Flavor Bible sounds good. I am afraid we do not have a book like that in my country. I love spicy food and vegetables and always try to find out which spices and vegetables my foreign-born neighbours and colleagues use. I hate spinach, but if I mix spinach leaves with tomatoes and add some garlic, salt and pepper (a Croatian recipe, it seems), I almost like it.

  4. FatChickinLycra Avatar

    I’ve often thought that if I ever wrote a cookbook, half of the ingredient quantities would be either “until it looks right” or “as much as you want.” And half of the ingredients would include “or whatever else you have in your kitchen.”

    Too often, I believe people think food has to be precise and exact. It’s actually pretty forgiving. You can get away with a lot of finagling and still have a fantastic meal. I consider recipes to be suggestions, or simply a basic framework on approximately how to cook it. Of course, my whole philosophy of life tends to be that however it turns out, act like I meant to do it exactly that way.

    1. Erin B Avatar

      In my case the precise and exact thing comes from two places. I lack confidence in my skills and money is tight so if I am going to try a more expensive ingredient and it flops, it is a big deal throwing it out and making something else. The first time I tried cooking with asparagus (beyond the just steam and enjoy level) it went really badly. The recipe was supposed to feed 6-8 so I had budgeted with leftovers in mind. Suddenly, there was a big hole in my meal plan and no money to fill it.

  5. Linda Avatar

    I collect recipes like nobody’s business, but I rarely have the funds or desire to make the time and effort to experiment with what I think of as “special food” — food that takes ingredients that I don’t already keep regularly stocked and that I’m not used to using and that I have to think about how to use. So my usual diet consists of some very basic (for me) staple ways of preparing food. For a long time this meant lots of cheese (which makes just about anything nom-worthy) and lots of pasta-based dishes (so easy, cheap, and grocery-store accessible!) Then I discovered that some health problems I was having were directly related to my consumption of dairy and wheat (and to a lesser extent grains in general.) There was an unpleasant transition period where I literally did not know how to feed myself. No cereal! No toast! No ice cream! No sandwiches! No spaghetti! It was terrible. Thank goodness for our local natural food co-op that has a great food bar where I got some ideas. I’m still learning (especially in regards to meat, which I’m a complete novice at) but what I’ve settled on for now I’m very satisifed with. It is all (for me) level two-ish.

    1. Roasting vegetables with olive oil and S&P. Then sometimes mashing them. Such comfort food and so easy. Favorites: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans.
    2. Saute-ing vegetables in olive oil and S&P. Takes more attention, but still super easy. Favorites: zucchini, summer squash, carrots, snap peas, green beans, cauliflower, kale, cabbage. At the end with the heat on low (so it doesn’t get bitter) I throw in some crushed garlic. For breakfast I will fry some eggs in the same pan after the veggies are done.
    3. Frying good quality hamburger or pork. I use the high-fat stuff, tastes better. At the end I often throw in a bunch of frozen peas and just let them thaw, also garlic as above.
    4. Over any of the above I often dice an avocado. So good all together.
    5. Occasionally I will make a pot of brown rice to go with any of the above. This has a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve got it it is pretty effortless. I yummy it up with ghee (butter oil, has no allergy-inducing milk protein) and S&P.
    6. Chili: soak the beans overnight, then simmer about an hour. (Again, a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve got it it’s very simple and effortless.) Fry onions, garlic in at the end. Fry hamburger. Mix all together in a pot with chili powder and a big can of diced tomatoes (including juice.) Simmer on top of stove as long as you can stand. This is just so simple and so comfort-food good.
    7. Baked fish. Pour olive oil in the pan, then slab of fish (I like salmon A LOT), then slather with mayonnaise. Bake at 350F 18 minutes or so, and the broil a bit at the end to get a little carmelized browning on the mayo. You can get fancy and sprinkle some fish-friendly herbs over the top but it is not necessary.
    8. Chicken soup. Simmer an organic grass-fed chicken (tastes way better and when you can’t have macaroni & cheese this MATTERS) for about four hours. Separate chicken from broth and cool; remove meat from chicken and return to broth. Saute onion and garlic and celery; chop carrot. Throw it all into the broth with the chicken, and simmer until the carrot is tender. Salt to taste (the salt is really important to the savoriness and depth of the flavor, it is surprising how much.)
    9. For lunch I either have left-overs or I grate up a bunch of vegetables and toss them with a garlicky oil & vinegar dressing. The grating makes it nicely juicy. (I’m not a fan of gnawing on whole raw vegetables.) This is how I became a fan of beets, of which I always admired their color but not the earthiness. With grating and mixing with other vegetables the sweetness comes out, and the deep red is so pretty! Oh, I should mention that the quality of oil and vinegar is incredibly important for making this something I want to eat. Extra virgin and aged balsamic.

    That’s it, that’s how I keep my palate satisfied and my body happy.

  6. Linda Avatar

    Oops, I meant to post this here, but put it on the “perfectionist” thread accidentally:

    I forgot a level one recipe that I LOVE and that gets me through when I can’t bear to cook but need something to sustain me: a can of tuna fish, mixed with bunch of mayo, and peas, and pepper. Surprisingly good.

    One of my barriers to cooking used to be not having decent knives. I grew up with only butter knives, seriously, and had no idea that was half of why cooking was so frustrating. My must-haves are a big heavy chef’s knife with a curve (so you can rock it) and two medium-sized serrated knives (one finely serrated) and a knife sharpener.

  7. Lauren Avatar

    The Cooks Illustrated 30 Minute Meals is great for weeknights and I subscribe to Cuisine at Home magazine, which has delicious recipes and often fairly easy.

    We also like to have “picnic” dinner with bread, cheese, salami, olives, veggies, hummus, whatever we can pull out of the fridge. My kids (ages 4 and 6) will eat a pretty healthy meal if I put out a lot of choices. And NO cooking!

  8. TropicalChrome Avatar

    A few quick thoughts:

    I’m one of those who thought she hated vegetables, but what I really don’t like is how bland most plain steamed vegetables are. Butter, salt, and pepper help a lot, but what I found is that when I started experimenting with spice blends, how the flavors popped and how I adored them. (Try peas with a fried chicken seasoning blend. Fantastic.) These aren’t blends I make myself – they’re straight out of the jar from Penzey’s or Savory Spice Shop or McCormick’s (their roasted garlic and herb is particularly good).

    Also: grilled vegetables. Fast and easy if you have a gas grill, and the dark grilled spots create more interesting flavors. I never fry eggplant anymore, even if the recipe calls for it – so much more flavor grilled! (Basic technique: peel/slice, toss with some oil to coat so they don’t stick and cook evenly, and grill until they’re as done as you like.)

    On brown rice: it takes forever to cook at this altitude, so any dinner involving brown rice will automatically take at least an hour to make. But I discovered that rice freezes beautifully :). So when I make brown rice, I make a lot, portion it out into ziplock baggies, and freeze it. When we want rice with dinner, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes in our microwave and it’s ready.

    I’d also like to mention my favorite basic cookbook, the “Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook” (I have no ties to this company, just a well-used and stained copy.). When I was learning to cook, one of my big stumbling blocks was that I didn’t know what the food was supposed to LOOK like. This book has a color picture of every single dish. I still go back to this book when I don’t know what to cook or want a good basic recipe, and it has yet to fail me.

    1. Kim Avatar

      I have found to dress up veggies I also sometimes use frozen vegetables (or fresh) and sprinkle italian dressing packets, ranch packets, onion soup packets, whatever over and bake. It is tasty!

  9. Jan Avatar

    I don’t have time to post actual recipes (though I bookmarked a couple of yours to try), but just a shout-out for my favorite cookbook — How to Cook Everything, which I love because it doesn’t just have recipes, but it has guidelines on how to cook stuff. So, a recipe with three variations and then a text description of how else you might vary it. Which I like because it is a rare day when I want to make a special trip to the grocery store because I lack a specific ingredient.

    We always have some combination of carrots, celery, cucumber, mushroom, pepper, tomato in the fridge, and on many, many nights, the vegetable with the meal is some o’ that with ranch dressing on the side. The kids will eat it happily, which makes me happy.

  10. alana skye Avatar
    alana skye

    Stuffed pancakes (English style pancakes, not the smaller and fluffier American ones.)

    Open a tin of tomatoes and dump into a large bowl. Chuck in 3 slices of bread worth of breadcrumbs, some mixed herbs (basil and oregano are good) and a tsp of Marmite (leave this out if you’re a Marmite hater.) Leave to soak together and peel and chop and fry an onion and a couple of garlic cloves. Throw the onion and garlic in the tomatoey breadcrumbs. Make a pancake batter out of flour, milk and an egg, whisked together until it’s runny but not too smooth. Heat some oil in a frying pan, cover the bottom completely with the batter and cook through, repeat until all the batter is used up. Fill the pancakes with the stuffing mix and roll up into a tube, then heat briefly in an oven or microwave oven so it’s nice and warm. Can also be served with cheese sauce on top but I find it filling enough without. I sometimes add sliced peppers or maybe some red kidney beans to the filling.

  11. Meghan Avatar

    My level-one coping mechanism is this: some sort of greens (up to and including frozen spinach), orange juice, yoghurt, and various fruits–I keep strawberries, raspberries, and bananas in the freezer basically all the time. Blend the hell out of this, and consume. The spinach (which you should blend first, with the OJ) gives it an appalling color, but you’re getting fruit, veg, and dairy/protein all in one glass. Serve it with some pretzels and you’re good to go.

    My other level one is an exercise in speed and laziness–I used to make this all the time to take to work for lunch. Toss 1/3 c couscous into a bowl, and add 1/2 c water or stock. (Don’t bother heating it. Lazy, remember?) Add spinach–fresh or frozen–and drained & rinsed canned chickpeas. Sprinkle with lemon juice (or bits of preserved lemon, depending on what’s in your fridge) and parmesan. You can also add jarred artichoke hearts, capers, or roasted red peppers for variety. Let your bowl sit for about thirty minutes to give the couscous time to rehydrate, then eat hot or cold. I can make this, including fresh-grated parm and chopped preserved lemon, in under five minutes, and it leaves exactly no dishes.

    Level two (for me) stuff:
    1. Cook soba noodles. While they cook, slice a cucumber, bell pepper, and green onion. Also get out a bag of pre-shredded carrots. If you have energy, cube up some tofu and pan-fry that (five minutes) or pull out some premade chicken chunks. Drain noodles. Toss with veggies and chicken. Make dressing of 2 parts chicken broth, 1 part soy sauce, 1/2 part lime juice, garlic, ginger, and sweet pepper sauce. Consume. This whole deal, including cooking the tofu, takes under thirty minutes, plus I keep most of the veg in my fridge, often pre-sliced.

    2. Make a few giant salad things once in a while, and use them for lunches all week. Last week I made baba ganoush (blitz cooked eggplant, garlic, tahini, and lemon juice together), hummus (chickpeas, garlic, lemon, tahini, blender), tzatziki (yoghurt, cucumbers, dill, garlic, mix), and a quinoa salad with lots of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and feta. Various combinations of those things kept us alive for the week, and in total, it took under an hour to make them all. It’s one level three day followed by a bunch of level ones–I’m calling it a two. :)

    3. This requires some planning ahead, but very little effort. For carnitas, in the morning, put pork butt, beer, garlic, and a sliced orange in the crockpot. Leave on low; ignore all day. That night, chop a tomato, onion, and avocado, chop some cilantro, and toast a tortilla. Fill tortilla with fork-pulled carnitas meat (if you reheat the meat in a skillet, you’ll get the lovely crispy bits, but that’s more effort and it’s good without), the veg, and a blob of salsa verde.

    4. Pasta with roasted veg: Put a pot of water on to boil. While that happens, heat your broiler, chunk up some zucchini/onion/garlic/tomato/eggplant/cauliflower/whatever. Put those things on a sheet of tinfoil on a baking tray and pop them under the broiler until they’re browned, then close the oven and turn off the broiler, letting the veg stay in the heat. When the pasta water is boiling, cook your pasta. Drain pasta, toss it with olive oil, balsamic, and the slightly soft and browned veg, top with mozzarella or parmesan. I’m not a big fan of pasta with red sauce, but I can do this in the same amount of time, and it’s healthier and more delicious.

    5. Call it a day and let yourself have some fruit cobbler for supper. Chop some stone fruit (or apples) and toss them with a little sugar. Mix together butter, brown sugar, lots of oats, and a little flour, and toss that over the top of the fruit. Put into the oven at 350 for a little while–until the topping is browned and the fruit is soft. Have it with a blob of slightly sweetened yoghurt on the side. Did this one last night, and it was great!

    I’d argue, too, that almost as important as what you’re eating is what tools you have to work with. Getting a food processor changed my life–we eat loads of slaws and noodle salads with shredded veg, because I can shred a pound of carrots in a minute and a half. Having a relatively high-powered blender means that I can have a smoothie in two minutes. Obviously not everyone will need the same tools, but it’s worth considering what you use and what you could make use of!

    1. closetpuritan Avatar

      I’m not a big fan of pasta with red sauce, but I can do this in the same amount of time, and it’s healthier and more delicious.

      Is it healthier? It sounds like the tomato version, at least, has pretty much the same ingredients as red sauce. Do you get a little more veggies per pasta volume with your version? (And as Michelle has taught us, “healthier” is a matter of context… Many people are trying to get in more veggies, but for, say, a cancer patient, getting more calories might be more important.)

      I guess if you eat this version and not a red sauce version, it’s by definition “healthier” for you, though…

      1. Renee Avatar

        Not all “red sauce” is created equal. When it comes to food I’ve noticed a lot of people have this idea that “red sauce” has to be full of olive oil and excessive amounts of garlic and must be topped with an insane amount of cheese. Not so! As an Italian I always found this kind of hilarious. My regular base sauce is tomatoes, fresh garlic, basil, parsley and salt and pepper. I usually add various vegetables (peas, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, onions, even spinach) depending on what I’m making with it. If you make your own red sauce it can be as healthy as you want it to be. =)

  12. buttercupia Avatar

    I seriously, seriously recommend you get a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking. It is so much more than a cookbook. It transformed me from a competent home cook to a phenomenal one.

    I have a few recipes here.

  13. Kiya Nicoll Avatar

    My go-to punt dinner is Chicken Over Vegetables, the procedure for which is something like:

    Have some chicken parts (legs, breasts, whatever, with bones generally)
    Have some vegetables (generally done with onions, whatever cooking greens we have available, and Other Stuff That Works For This Kind Of Thing)

    Chop up the vegetables and put them in the big glass pan.
    Put the chicken on top of them.
    Sprinkle stuff over the chicken like salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.

    Bake in the oven until the chicken is cooked. Something like an hour at 350 but honestly I just kind of fiddle with it.

    Exciting variations include: put spices in the vegetables too! Add cream to the pan! Add lemon juice to the pan! Use different vegetables! (Exciting vegetables to use include celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes, both of which are tasty root vegetables.) Make rice to go with it!

    A long time ago one of my go-tos was what wound up being called ‘stoup’ or ‘stewp’, sort of between a stew and a soup, and which actually evolved out of a gravy recipe. THe procedure for that one goes something like:

    Take a can of cream of mushroom soup.
    Take an onion and some garlic, chopped up.
    Take some boneless chicken, chopped up.
    Take some Worcestershire sauce and other appealing flavoring stuff.
    Put them in a pot with some water (maybe a little less than is called for to make soup).
    Cook over medium-high until the chicken is done.

    Can be modified with exciting things like additional vegetables (does well with some greens like spinach, actually).

    One of my “waaah, comfort me” quick meals is “a steak done fast on the griddle and either boxed hash browns made with plenty of good butter or boxed scalloped cheesy potatoes”.

    Nummyrice: put a little tasty oil in the bottom of a saucepan and brown a little garlic in it; add pepper and a splash of lemon juice. Then add a can of broth and use that as the ‘water’ to cook some rice. THis is more a snack than a meal, but it’s awesome.

    That should do for contribution.

  14. knutty knitter Avatar

    Level one is pasta with a bought tomato sauce and a tin of smoked tuna and some frozen peas added when cooked.

    Level one and a half – meat and three veg. Mostly sausages/grilled meat with boiled potatoes, carrots and a green steamed above the boiling stuff (one pot wonders). I make sauces so there is a selection of these for people to add as they like.

    level two would be green potato mountains – basically boiled potatoes with lots of finely chopped parsley, a grated onion and a tasty grated cheddar cheese mixed through with salt and a little cayenne to taste. This I normally serve as is but for fancy I make them into large soft balls coated with breadcrumbs and bake in a tray along with lots of bacon (pre-cooked in the same tray in the oven first). A knob of butter on top makes them nice and brown.

    Most of the rest of the stuff I do tends to be entirely unique, i.e. just chuck in whatever until it tastes right and serve :)

    The standard book in my collection is the one my grandmother started in about 1923. For the rest – the local Edmonds Cookbook is good for all things cake and biscuit. I tend to use the internet a bit too just to look up anything new.

    viv in nz

  15. mickey Avatar

    One go-to meal that I will make on week nights, especially when we have unexpected company, is chalupas. Maybe a level-3 meal? Though, I don’t use a recipe, so I consider it a level-2. I grew up eating meat, but now mostly eat a veggie/fish based diet, so this is an adaption of one of my mum’s dishes. The process is something like this:

    –Saute chopped onion in oil until soft. Add ground cumin, chili powder, and seasoned salt to taste. I’ll omit any of those that my guests don’t like. Until I developed a mild garlic allergy, I’d also saute up some minced garlic, too.

    –Add veggie ground round and one can small can (6ish oz, I think) of tomato
    paste + plus one can of water. Stir, simmer, and reduce the liquid until desired consistency. (If you’re a meat eater, I *think* the meat can be browned starting at about the same time as the onions, but it’s been a long time since I cooked any sort of red meat or poultry.)

    –While the onions are cooking and/or the sauce is reducing, heat up a can of refried beans in the microwave. Also, chop up lettuce, tomatoes, and sweet peppers for toppings (if desired). Grate some cheese. Warm some corn tortillas or tostadas. …even better, ask a partner to do these for you. :-) The “meat” mixture is pretty forgiving, if these tasks take a while. It reheats beautifully.

    –Allow guests to assemble their own chalupas on tortillas/tostadas. The order on my chalupas are beans, chalupa “meat”, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers.

    Below is probably a level 4- or 5-recipe. But for me, this shrimp risotto is also mostly a pantry/freezer meal, thus requires virtually no planning. I made it after my running group last week, on week night:

    The last time I made the above, I used veggie stock (…from the freezer. I’m sure bullion or canned would work just as well), rather than make a shrimp stock, and replaced the shrimp with frozen salmon. It was even better than the original recipe.

    Probably once a week, often on a Sunday, we’ll have a nice bread, cheese and fruit platter for dinner. Hardly any dished to clean up!

    I also <3 burritos: Flour tortillas, can of refried beans, and cheese/onions/lettuce/tomatoes/sweet peppers, depending on desire/seasonal availabilty. Assembly and microwaving is like 5 min.

    Another pantry meal for us: Cut some tofu into strips, bake in the toaster oven. (Sometimes, if I'm feeling fancy, I'll brush the tofu w/olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and onion powder. Most of the time, however, I bake it plain.) While that's baking, saute some onions and sundried tomatoes in olive oil. Serve over pasta, with the tofu on the side. If tomatoes are in season, I'll also chop a few up and toss on top of the pasta. For me, this is boardering on a level-1 meal. It's not any harder (for me) than Kraft Dinner. …which is not a slight on Kraft Dinner at all, we have that at least once a month!

    I'm loving this thread and all the wonderful ideas. Thanks everyone.

  16. lynn Avatar

    In the summer we like sandwiches. Last summer we ate a lot tomato & basil with mayo on toast, and we like burgers (beef or veggie) dressed up with tomato and avocado.

    On the side I’ll often serve a salad. I don’t really have recipes, but here are the bare bones:

    –slaws, such as mango-basil slaw (dressing = lime juice) or a red cabbage with carrot (and sometimes mandarin oranges) and a traditional slaw dressing.

    –pasta: my favorite is to mix cooked orzo, black beans and corn and add whatever kind of vinaigrette I happen to have on hand. Plus I’ll throw in whatever veggies I have time to dice, such as red onion, bell pepper and celery; and fresh herbs such as cilantro if I have them.

    –french potato salad: quartered small red potatoes with skin on, thinly sliced green onions, lots of chopped parsley, white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper. Best served warm right after assembly.

    We usually have roast chicken and vegetables at least a couple times a month, this time of year grilled veggies and rotisserie chicken. I mix butter, lemon juice and leaves of lemon thyme together (salt if needed, pepper) for under-the-skin basting and rub some on the skin too, then pop a lemon into the cavity and then truss up the chicken. Typically we do this on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

    There are a couple vegetable recipes I find easy and yet crazy good:

    –blanche chopped cabbage and frozen corn for about a minute, then drain them and add butter or oil, celery seed and caraway seed, salt & pepper to taste.

    –saute both pea pods and shelled peas in olive oil with fresh thyme, salt & pepper to taste.

    When I’m planning to be out all day, or my (at-home) work load is heavy, I become the slow-cooker one-dish-meal queen.

    Right now, I am that queen because I am using a wheelchair as a result of an accident and — especially being a very short person to begin with — cooking is tiring, uncomfortable and at times unsafe. However, I can work chopping vegetables at the kitchen table just fine. Today I assembled a chili in the slow cooker that will feed us three times: chili, chili mac, and taco salad. Some of the batch can be frozen if we don’t want all these options this week.

    Next up I may make a potato and lentil soup with sliced hot dogs and chard from the garden, or a chicken corn chowder. I usually begin each of these dishes by sauteing a lot of chopped onion, celery and carrot but it doesn’t have to be that way. Either of them can be as involved as I want them to be, or as simple as I need them to be.

  17. Heidi Avatar

    We do a lot of Stuff On Pasta and Stuff On Rice.

    Favorite Stuff On Pasta recipe:

    Bacony pasta

    Chop up bacon, as much as you like. We probably use somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 pound, I think. Thick sliced is better. Pancetta is best, but only if you can make cubes of it!

    Chop up an onion and some garlic, maybe 3 cloves (add more garlic if you like).

    Saute bacon pieces until they’re the level of doneness you like – I like it fairly golden but still a tad chewy. You might want to drain the bacon fat as you cook but do keep a couple of tablespoons for flavor. Dump bacon out on a paper towel. Add a little olive oil to the reserved bacon fat in the pan. Saute onion and garlic until translucent/soft. Toss back in the bacon. Add a jar of premade spag sauce (you can also go with a can or two of crushed tomatoes but I like the added flavor of the spag sauce. Simmer for a bit. 10 minutes? 15 minutes?

    Serve over pasta with Parmesan!


    Current favorite Stuff On Rice: You could saute some chicken up beforehand and use that instead, or fish, or whatever. And I opt for around 1/3 t of cayenne instead of the 1t they call for, as I like kick without burning out my mouth.

    Both are quick and easy. I hate, hate, hate, involved meals in the evening after work, so quick, easy, and flavorful are my go-to options.

    Baked potatoes are REALLY good work night options – if you microwave them for about ten minutes and then toss them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes (or until tender) you get the texture of oven-baked with the relative speed of the microwave. I like to use a sweet potato instead of a regular. Add toppings you like – we go with chopped bacon bits (home-cooked, not purchased is to our taste), coleslaw, grated cheddar, broccoli, salsa, whatever.

  18. Chris Gregory Avatar
    Chris Gregory

    Funnily enough, the Fannie Farmer cookbook is not well-known outside of the US. Ah, perhaps it has something to do with the title, which to us sounds like a bizarre sexual fetish.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      True facts: Edith Wharton’s nickname was Pussy. The more you know.

  19. Meowser Avatar

    Slow roasted salmon. It’s waaaay easier than it sounds. A 200 degree oven, put it on foil on a cookie sheet with a little topping (oil/brown sugar/curry paste is my preference), cook for 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness. From this recipe here (without the spinach part):

    And cornmeal-crusted catfish. Again, much easier than it sounds. If you have cleaned fish, you don’t have to rinse it or dip it in egg or anything like that. Just put the cornmeal on a plate with some fish/poultry rub mixed in (start with 1/2 teaspoon per pound of fish, taste it, add more if you want more), dredge the fillets, heat up a pan with some olive oil on medium heat, cook it, flipping a couple of times (just be careful not to dislodge the crust) until it’s done all the way through (if you can get a spatula through the thickest part easily, it’s done). Made that one up myself! Cutting the fillets in half will help if you’re not experienced at pan-frying fish.

    I have a ceviche recipe that’s my own hybrid, which is a great recipe for the summer when you don’t want to turn on heat-generating appliances (lime juice cooks the fish overnight). But I sort of eyeball and taste that one; basic ingredients are lime juice, shallots, tomato (diced canned is fine), cilantro, ketchup, and avocado for garnish after it’s done curing, plus whatever seafood I’m using (any shellfish or firm-textured fish will work). For half a pound of fish, maybe half a shallot, two tablespoons of cilantro, two tablespoons of tomatoes, and a tablespoon of ketchup, plus enough lime juice to cover the fish. Maybe some lemon juice, if it seems appropriate. But it’s highly flexible, as long as the lime juice is there in sufficient quantities for curing. Taste it and adjust to your liking.

  20. Lani Avatar

    I know that he’s been pretty boneheaded (to put it nicely) when it comes to the realm of HAES/intuitive eating/not being a judgmental prick when it comes to food and health, but I love Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals (the corresponding cookbook for the show is “Meals in Minutes). They do tend to run me a bit longer than 30 minutes because I am not a trained cook, but the recipes are varied and delicious and there are a lot of good shortcuts and multi-tasking tricks in the preparation that I find really useful. Oh, and some seriously delicious recipes.

    This is one I make all the time and it’s been a smash hit with everyone I’ve ever given it to:

    Mashed sweet potatoes with feta cheese:

    2 medium sweet potatoes (any variety, though I like the bright orange ones for color)
    1 regular potato (I like Yukon gold the best)
    1/2 a lemon
    olive oil
    1 red chili
    big bunch of cilantro
    feta cheese

    Chop the potato and sweet potatoes into big chunks and put them in a microwave safe bowl. Put the half lemon in the middle with the cut side up. Season with salt, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and microwave for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Remove the plastic wrap and discard the lemon half. Coarsely mash the potatoes together (really coarsely–you don’t want to puree them like American mashed potatoes). Chop the red chili and cilantro as finely as you can stand, and toss them into the bowl with a couple slugs of olive oil. Mix well. Add chunks of feta cheese (as much or as little as you want!) and season with pepper. Voila. Seriously delish. I stuff myself on these potatoes. :)

    And of course you can leave the cheese out entirely for a vegan/lactose-free version!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I always liked him before he became an anti-obesity crusader. He was willing to use ingredients from the corner store and whatnot to make good food late at night.

      1. Lani Avatar

        Yeah, that’s what I always liked about him too. That and he never seemed afraid to just say flat out when it wasn’t worth making something yourself, which I appreciate. I wish he’d shut up about the obesity stuff and just let us all enjoy his recipes.

  21. Sue Ellen Avatar

    I do Slab O’ Meat meals a couple of times a week – usually a piece of Atlantic salmon, which makes me drool just thinking about it, or the fantabulously good crumbed lamb cutlets that my local butcher sells me for a painfully high price (thanks to 10+ years of drought, lamb is horribly expensive in Australia at the moment). Or sometimes chicken thighs. WITH skin. :) Said piece of meat or fish is generally accompanied by potatoes, usually boiled and served with butter and salt, corn on the cob and broccoli. Or perhaps pumpkin and zucchini. Whatever I have, really. Sometimes it’s potatoes and a handful of frozen veges, if the care factor is low enough.

    And you know, for years I felt embarrassed to be eating like this. I felt like I should be apologising for eating such boring food, the traditional ‘meat and three veg’ meal. I have recently realised that, whilst I do like – and often cook – more complicated, spicier, more ‘interesting’ meals, I actually like the so-called boring food too. Why the hell should I apologise for that? I like it and my body is more than happy with it. So yeah, now I’m unapologetic about the boring food. :)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I agree – You absolutely do not need to apologize.

      I have felt the same way at times, and you know what? It actually makes me kind of angry. People who eat perfectly well and are happy with their food don’t need additional pressure to do anything different, unless they just want to. I am totally down with what I’m sure some people see as boring food. To me, it’s homey and nurturing, it makes me feel good physically, and it makes me happy to eat it.

      It also doesn’t cost a ton of money, or use up all my time and energy.

  22. Erica B Avatar
    Erica B

    So I just realized that I basically only rely on level 2 and 3 meal all the time. O_o I often feel hurried at meal times (we have two small children and my spouse has a demanding job/picky tastes and will rarely eat leftovers), so unless I’ve got the recipe memorized, I just don’t ever cook that way.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Same here. I rarely make anything fancier than a 2 or 3 (very occaaaaaasionally branching out into a 4) because I simply don’t have time. (And I don’t even have any kids!)

      One other thing – cooking just isn’t my hobby as it is some people’s. And I really wish people could just accept that and be okay with it. I like cooking just fine, and I get fed well – that’s enough. I don’t need to be a foodie to eat good food and be perfectly happy with it. I choose to do other things with my time and energy.

      The whole point of this “levels” thing was to encourage people to not look at cooking as an all-or-nothing enterprise. Too many people only know how to make incredibly fancy food OR Kraft Dinner. I think people who can hang out somewhere in the middle (or low-middle) part of the scale probably end up feeding themselves better food more consistently over the long-term than those who fly high, then crash and burn.

      No worries – you’re doing well :)

  23. naath Avatar

    I can only tolerate “slab o’ meat” vary rarely, I normally tend towards veggie food but even when I do eat meat I like it, um, disguised. (slab o’ fake meat is no more appealing to me). This is sort of irritating as it is very easy to prepare! A vegetarian thing which is almost as easy it to fry or grill slice of Halloumi (squeaky cheese!) and aubergine (er, eggplant in the US I think) and put in a burger-bun with some hummous and salad if you like that sort of thing.

    My current favourite recipe book is:

    But I mostly get recipes from:

    Which has a really useful search thingum (well, in the world according to me it’s really useful anyway).

    1. Michelle Avatar

      As a kid and young adult, I really couldn’t stand slabs o’ meat, so I can totally sympathize. I’m a big fan of meats or TVP broken up into bits in sauce or casseroles. Thanks for the links!

  24. Natalie L. Avatar
    Natalie L.

    Another devotee of Fannie Farmer! I have my mother’s copy from the early 70’s and it’s one of my most treasured belongings. I learned to cook from it and it’s always the first place I go when I need to figure something out. I think the older editions are better because the recipes seem a bit more basic and have room for improvisation than the newer editions do.

    We do a lot of level two cooking at our place–and most of it is exactly what you describe. We will often pan-sear slabs o’ meat in order to get some nice color on them and then finish them off in the oven. We’ve also started brining our pork chops so they’re a little less dry. I say we when really it’s my husband who does 99% of the cooking. I am a good cook, but I don’t like to do it for Reasons (that I’m still trying to figure out).

  25. rydra_wong Avatar

    Huge shout-out to Nigel Slater’s “Real Fast Food,” which is like the apotheosis of Level Two and Three cooking, with a good number of glorious and shame-free Level One moments thrown in.

    I got a copy around the time I went to university and started having to cook for myself, and it has served me well ever since then.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Awesome! I love the shame-free aspect.

  26. calantheliadon Avatar

    I’m trying Beans Bretonne for the first time tonight! Thanks for the link.

    Here’s my favorite one-pot meal, courtesy of my mom:

    Pan Haggerty

    Slice some potatoes (russett types work best) and some onions. Grate some cheese (I prefer cheddar). Heat a little olive oil (or whatever oil you prefer) in a large skillet and layer potatoes onions and cheese, starting with a layer of potatoes and ending with cheese on top. Season to taste as you go. Cook, covered, until done.

    I usually add slices of cooked ham, sliced carrots and celery and sometimes mushrooms in amongst the layers. If you have an oven-proof skillet, you could bake this in a 350 degree oven instead, but then you should add a little chicken broth.

    For those hot days where turning on the oven just isn’t an option (not that there are many of those around my neck of the woods), I love to throw together a salad of tomato, basil, red onion, bocconcini and various types of olives, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and seasoned with salt (Maldon salt is awesome, but regular salt is just fine too)and pepper. My roommate and I eat this right out of the dish, each of us starting at one side and meeting in the middle.

  27. SoRefined Avatar

    You may want to check out The Stone Soup:

    She takes a 5-ingredients-plus-salt-pepper-and-cooking-oil approach and focuses on keeping prep/cook time low. (Ten minutes, but I find that for me I always need to budget more time than any recipe suggests.) She also has a tendency to throw out a few variations that I think are a good way to get in the mindset that you can alter recipes to suit your specific tastes and what you have onhand.

    Sprinkled amongst the posts are also more general, “Here’s how to assemble a meal” type things. She also encourages a flexible approach to meal planning that is more manageable if you don’t have a completely fixed routine ( and/or are intimidated by or frustrated with a more traditional approach to meal planning.

    Sometimes some diet woo gets in there, but it’s not a regular feature and can be easily avoided, especially if you skip right to the recipes.

    On the subject of people who like cooking as a hobby (and I count myself amongst those people), I fully get where you are coming from. Most people probably have a half dozen or so goto things that they can make because everyone’s got to eat. And sometimes, the more prepared things are, the less tasty they become, so there is a diminishing return on investment in time spent cooking unless you already love being in the kitchen. (For instance, fresh or steamed or simply roasted vegetables are no-to-low on the effort scale, but generally taste pretty great.)

    If you don’t have a hobbyist’s interest, why WOULD you bother to to do something more “exciting” to a potato than give it a roll in olive oil, salt the outside, poke some holes in it and throw it in the oven to bake? It’s going to taste awesome and you’re only going to have to do a minute of work. If what you’re trying to get out of cooking is food that tastes good, you don’t need to love cooking to get there. A potato tarte tatin or a gratin *might* taste marginally better, but you’re going to spend an hour or more on them. If the experience of trying new techniques or learning how to deal with puff pastry is something you want to get out of cooking, the time will probably seem well spent to you. For a person like me, watching the process where a fresh pumpkin is turned into, say, pumpkin shrimp bisque is interesting and worth my time. I enjoy moving that transformation along separately from my enjoyment of the finished food.

    It doesn’t need to be that way for everyone. That is completely and totally okay.

    As to my own cooking, I’d say most of my meals are a mix. If the side is a level 4 or 5–something totally new (I like to experiment), then the main is probably going to be in the realm of the slab-o-meat, and the starch is going to be rice or couscous or similar. If the main is a 4 or 5, the sides are going to be 2s. At least once a week, there will be pasta or some other one pot meal.

    In closing, sardines. Look into them people. Lots of uses. Easy to crumble up.

  28. s.h. Avatar

    Out of curiosity, besides the two bean dishes, do you have any other vegetarian dishes you come back to again and again? I mostly cook vegetarian so I’m curious.

    Here are some favorite go-to recipes:

    Insalata Caprese! Fresh mozzerella. Fresh basil. Fresh tomato. If you are feeling fancy, some olive oil, salt, and pepper. If you are feeling like a sandwich then get some bread (toasting optional but delicious) to put it on and maybe a touch of balsamic vinegar. Not necessarily cheap (fresh basil where I am runs expensive and you can certainly spend a lot buying fancy mozzerella … which I am totally guilty of! It’s just so gooooood), but it’s quick — wash the tomato and basil, cut up the tomato and mozzerella and layer the three things on top of each other. For me it’s a Level 1, but god it’s a fancy Level 1 that you can spend a goodly chunk of cash on if you go to a fancy Italian restaurant.

    French onion soup! The basic recipe I use is here: but I take shortcuts. I don’t do all of the fancy finishing steps. Just ladle the soup in a bowl, put cheese on top, microwave, and have a few pieces of bread on the side for dipping into the soup. I like it because it’s total comfort food — with a lot of wait time that I use to clean up the kitchen and do dishes — that’s on the cheap: I keep stock frozen in my freezer (I make my own because I am one of *those* people, but keeping bullion or base on hand is an easy way to have the makings for stock without actually having to keep liquid stock, plus they’re useful as a flavor aid for other stuff too), I always have onions, and a bottle of white wine for cooking. So really the only things I need to worry about are the cheese (~$5.50 for a block of Gruyere that will last me through many servings of the soup) and the bread (which I either make from scratch when I have the time — yeast and flour are pantry staples for me — or that I buy at the store for about $3 if I’m feeling more rushed).

    Roasted broccoli! Basically: cut broccoli into florets, put on cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil & salt & pepper, put some garlic cloves sprinkled throughout, roast (~20 min at 375 F), take out of oven and immediately sprinkle with lemon juice, lemon zest, and grated parmesan. Sooooooo good. I love this because most of the ingredients come from my pantry: I have olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and parm on hand at all times. I also have a jar of fresh lemon juice on hand, if I get lazy and don’t want to buy a lemon and grate & juice it. So, really, the only thing I NEED to buy for this is broccoli. And the recipe is incredibly adaptable — I’ve swapped out broccoli for cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, and brussel sprouts. All that you really need to worry about when you swap out veggies is the amount of time you leave it in for — for thinner veggies like beans and asparagus you’ll just want to check it around the ten minute mark to make sure they aren’t over cooked. And, if I want to get fancier and make this into a more substantial meal, I cook up some pasta and maybe open a can of white beans and mix that all up with the broccoli for a pasta dish.

    Veggie salads! I used to hate salads because they never filled me up, but then I realized it’s just a matter of putting enough of the right things in them. For me enough of the right things boils down to this formula: greens + at least three kinds of additional veggies and/or fruit + some kind of protein + cheese. (I am a weird person: I don’t usually use salad dressing … never have. IDEK) I tend to like using nuts and beans for the protein and blue cheese and goat cheese for the cheese. The veggies and fruits are more seasonal but the rotation includes: avocado; tomato; radishes; leftover roasted veggies like beets, sweet potatoes, and squash; corn; peas; pears; grapefruit; berries …

    Other go-tos include: fried rice (great for using up leftovers, including various take-out, and frozen veggies, and really forgiving if you have too much/not enough of something), curried squash soup (the best soup ever for freezing), vegetarian split pea soup (the second best soup ever for freezing), kale & white beans (this is really random go-to but I love it … it evolved from a totally experimental salmon & white beans over rice thing, to white beans over rice, to white beans over kale which I discovered my love for last summer), various types of pizza (I make my own crust but for an even easier version you could use store bought crust and add your own toppings, super adaptable and delish), white bean & rosemary soup (another forgiving dish, though I will always associate with Major Life Events, like when my grandfather died), various black bean soups, lentil curry, smoothies, sandwiches (grilled cheese!), and various baked goods — quick breads/yeast breads/muffins/scones/biscuits. My new favorite thing ever: making cheese and garlic biscuits (like the red lobster ones I used to stuff myself on as a kid). SO GOOD.

  29. deeleigh Avatar

    I consider meals that do require cooking, but don’t require a recipe, to be more Level Two-ish, since they require physical effort, but next to no mental effort.

    I guess everything I cook is level two. Huh. (I hate following directions to the letter and do most of my cooking intuitively)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      This is how I aspire to be, but I am obsessed with reading instructions and with index cards themselves and with the act of writing things down. I admire people who can just improvise in the kitchen. I do it on occasion, but it’s not my primary mode.

    2. KellyK Avatar

      I’d tend to put improvised meals at level 2.5 to 3, unless they’re really simple. The mental effort of figuring out a recipe is a step above doing something that’s too simple to need a recipe. Like, if I make up some kind of random marinade and grill chicken, or use a baked chicken recipe mostly for the timing and the general idea, but substitute liquids and spices like crazy, I’d call that 2.5. Possibly bumping it to 3 if I do something more complex side-wise than frozen french fries and frozen veggies.

  30. Yan Avatar

    I think a lot of my non-recipe cooking (which is most of it, as the brain power required to follow directions isn’t a pantry staple on work nights) involves “recipes” like your early ones up there.

    I often do beans and rice that involves a can o’ beans, some veg, and whatever rice I have in the house (I buy small quantities in bulk so I can have different varieties, and I use a rice cooker because I am constitutionally incapable of properly cooking rice stovetop.) So black beans, can o’ tomatoes, some spices (or just salsa) and rice. Or white beans with garlic and onion and green pepper (all pre-chopped, the latter two frozen) and whatever other vegetables I have in the house, over pasta.

    Or stir-fry, which is usually every vegetable in the fridge thrown in plus a pot of rice and sauce — sometimes homemade, sometimes from a bottle.

    Or chopped salads, with cubed ham, beans, or shredded chicken, with (again) whatever vegetables I have in the house.

    My favorite cookbook, hands down, in that it gets the most use, is Vegan with a Vengeance. When I bought it, I was not vegan. Then I was eating vegan only for a while, mostly because I found so much to love in that cookbook. And now I’m not again. It’s still an excellent resource.

    I do try to make at least a vague meal plan for the week, but most often, I go to the produce section, buy what looks good, and keep pasta, rice, quinoa, and potatoes in the house. I don’t like buying the meat at my grocery store, so when I buy it, I get most of it on a separate shopping trip. Sometimes I plan around what protein I have in the house instead. With either protein or veg as the driving force, I enjoy most of what I cook — at least part of each meal usually comes out.

  31. Travis Avatar

    Oh wow, my mom has that exact recipe box! (It’s a set with a yellow one with a more baking-themed design.)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Oooo, now I need to keep my eyes peeled for the yellow one.

  32. Travis Avatar

    Oh, and lately my favorite easy meal has been stir-fry.

    First brown some garlic and green onions and ginger (I love garlic, so will use like half to two-thirds of a head) in sesame oil, then add in all your veggies. And I mean all. Whatever you like, whatever you have in the house. Last time I made it, I used Japanese eggplant, kabocha squash, bell peppers, celery, carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms. The last three I had bought already chopped/cut, so that saves a lot of time if you can just dump them in. The bell peppers had also been previously sliced (by me) and put in a ziploc bag, because I had used half of them for a previous batch of stir-fry (same with the green onions). Add a little water and stir every once in a while, but you don’t have to do it constantly (I like to wash dishes during this point, so there’s less of a mess at the end). For sauce, use 2/3 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup sake, and 1 tbsp of corn starch to thicken. Dump that over the veggies and let it cook for a bit longer until they’re at your preferred level of crunchiness/softness and the sauce is thickened. Eat with rice.

    You can also add meat if you want. I work at a grocery store and get a ton of cheap meat that’s gone past the expiration date, so I usually have some in the freezer and try to put it in everything I can. XD Last time I made this, I thawed a chunk of pork shoulder the night before, chopped it up, cooked it in sesame oil, then set it aside and used the same pan for the veggies. I just add the meat back in to reheat towards the end.

    I live alone and generally make a large wok full at a time, so it lasts me for ages.

    1. KellyK Avatar

      Nice! I really like the idea of cooking the meat first, setting it aside, and warming it up at the end. I usually have trouble when stir-frying meat and veggies all together figuring out what wants to go in when.

      Also, I can’t believe I’ve never realized that you’re supposed to add corn starch to thicken it and get an actual sauce!

  33. Amanda Avatar

    I only found this blog today and it has done incredible things for me and my self-esteem in just the few minutes I have been reading it.

    I know this isn’t a place to put my life story (not sure anyone particularly would care) but I gained a lot of weight 12 years ago when I was pregnant and for reasons no one, including many doctors, can not understand, I just don’t lose weight. I am a healthy eater and a healthy cook; I’m a sorta spazzy person that doesn’t sit still for more than a few minutes at a time and I get tons of excessive, though not much standing-there-and-following-random-prescribed-excessive-routine type stuff, that’s freaking boring and I don’t do bored very well. I feel so grateful to see that confirmed in your blog when comparing what you do and what I do.

    Really I want to write so much more, but I will stop and just say thank you so much for being here. I treasure this and I intend to read every bit. Also, if you don’t mind, I would love to post a link to your site (probably on pinterest, or on my blogspot blog), but I will wait for permission. Again, really thank you so much.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Please feel free to link to me anywhere you want – and we always like life stories around here :)

  34. closetpuritan Avatar

    For a long time homemade pizza (with homemade dough and jarred sauce) was sort of my “default” meal, but I needed a lower-level default meal now that I’m not working nights all the time. This is becoming my default meal:
    It’s not as quick as the author claims, but for me, no recipes are. (Probably mostly because of knife skills–I can cut things well, but not quickly.)
    Tofu keeps in the fridge unopened a lot longer than meat, carrots are usually on hand (I add 1-2 chopped carrots when I put in the onion), and most of the time I skip the cilantro. Everything else is a pantry staple. I use chicken stock instead of water if I have it on hand.

    You’d think when reading that something says “tofu and lentil” that it would be unappetizing health food, but it’s actually very savory and delicious. The salt and spices definitely help.

  35. Lara Avatar

    I generally like Nigella Lawson’s recipes. Most of them seem really fancy but they’re often just things like slab o’ meat with pan sauce with something made from frozen peas or beans. Also, she won’t give you a guilt trip about liking food with butter or lard in it. :)

    One of my go-to recipes is: slice up a couple of chorizo sausages and fry them in the bottom of a large saucepan. Let them get a bit charred. Add a couple of (drained, rinsed) cans of chickpeas, a couple of big handfuls of baby spinach, some garlic, cumin, chili and salt to taste, and cover it with tomato purée (I buy big jars of passata when they’re on sale). Simmer over a low-medium heat for a while until it’s reduced a bit, taste and add more spices if you like. You can eat it by itself or with rice, quinoa, mash, etc. Freezes well too. You can use pretty much any tasty meat cut into small chunks for this, but it really does work well with the chorizo because they’re so flavorful on their own and they bring spicy lard to the recipe. ;)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I got How to Eat over Christmas, and I’ve really liked reading it so far.

  36. Kim_n21 Avatar

    I am NOT a food person at all. I can cook pretty basic things, but anything more complicated than a weeknight dinner is probably not happening. That being said, here are my 2 best quick and yummy dinners. They both make enough for at least 2 meals for 3 adults and they both freeze really, really well if you don’t want to eat it twice in one week.

    Salsa Chicken: Take a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Put in crockpot. Dump 16 oz jar of hot salsa on top. Cook on low for 8ish hours. About 30 minutes before you want to eat, take the lid off the crockpot, shred the chicken with a fork and stir around in the sauce. You can add a can of black beans and a can of corn at this point if you like. Put the lid back on and let it cook for another 30 minutes. Serve as taco filling, quesadilla filling, over salad, what have you. You do want HOT salsa, even if you don’t like it very spicy, because the salsa gets watered down and broken down all day in the crockpot, and anything less than hot salsa is pretty tasteless at the end. We have found that it’s better to add more hot sauce or salsa to it at the table than in the crockpot itself if you like it spicier because it gets too diluted otherwise.

    Chili Beans:
    1 small onion chopped (red is better, but whatever)
    2 portobello mushroom caps, cubed
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    minced garlic (maybe a tablespoon?)
    cumin (maybe 2 teaspoons)
    chili powder (maybe 2 teaspoons)
    2 bell peppers, chopped (I like red, but any will work)
    1 can black beans
    1 can dark red kidney beans
    1 can beans with chili sauce (like these, for example:
    1 can corn
    1 16 oz jar of salsa, any heat

    heat oil in a pot with garlic, cumin and chili powder. When hot, add onions and mushrooms and saute until they get a little color and you can smell the spices. Add chopped bell pepper. Drain and rinse black beans and kidney beans. Add to pot with corn and stir to combine. Add beans in chili sauce and jar of salsa. Stir to combine, let simmer for 10-15 minutes (or longer). Serve over rice, or baked potatoes or plain or whatever. Cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips won’t go amiss here, either.

  37. Camilla Avatar

    Fettucini with greens:

    Boil fettucini. Melt a big knob of butter (3 tbsp?) in a wide frying pan, and add either a chopped scallion or some minced garlic. Wash and stem the greens, then cut them crosswise into ribbons. Add them to the pan, with the water still clinging to their leaves. Cover the pan until they’re wilted and then take the cover off, and pour in some heavy cream (1/4-1/2 cup) and simmer for a few minutes until the greens are tender. Add some grated parmesan cheese (1/4 cup) and when the pasta is ready, drain it and toss it. Serve with black pepper and more cheese.

    I like beet greens or Swiss chard as the star player, but I generally use whatever’s on hand. I try to keep tough peppery or mustardy greens (kale, collards, turnip greens) to less than 50% of the mix, and I slice them finely if I do use them. Arugula, spinach, chicory greens all work well; a big handful of parsley can perk up a mild selection.

    I can pull this one off in the time it takes to boil the pasta, unless the greens are terribly gritty. I often blanche and freeze greens and I find that while many of the greens that have a bitter astringency aren’t to my taste alone, I like them in combination with other greens.

    (I am mildly sensitive to garlic… and omitting the garlic makes many of the side-dish-of-greens recipes fall flat. This recipe is fine with no garlic.)

  38. closetpuritan Avatar

    Has anyone read An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy And Grace? An article I was reading mentioned it, and it seemed like it might be on-topic.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I am reading it right now!

      Unfortunately it has some BS about how grocery store eggs are unfit to be eaten right near the beginning. But I am trying to ignore that and press on.

  39. Betsy Avatar

    I love this ginger-miso dressing from Whole Foods–it’s so simple, and it’s delicious on salad, pasta, grilled or broiled meat, and steamed vegetables. It stays good in the refrigerator, too. Just mix together:

    2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated (I use the kind from a jar)
    2 T. mild white miso
    3 T. tahini
    1/2 c. water (I use warm water so that it all blends better)
    3 T. fresh lemon juice

    Stir together, or shake in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, till smooth.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      This sounds really good – thanks!

  40. Julie Avatar

    Off topic–has anyone ever told you that you look like Jennifer Tilley?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I really honestly don’t, but I love Jennifer Tilly so I’ll just go with this.

    2. Sue Ellen Avatar

      THANK YOU! Every time I look at Michelle’s profile pic I think, “Gosh, she really reminds me of someone in that photo. BUT WHO IS IT??” You’ve just saved me from making myself crazy every time I’m here. :D

      1. Michelle Avatar

        That photo is SO OLD now. It was a couple years old when I started the site, but now it is almost entirely irrelevant. I need to change it, but I’m not super wild about getting my photo taken and it will be a pain to get it with just the right amount of contrast to match the site design.

        But I don’t want anyone to think I am trying to lie about my appearance or anything – just be aware: that picture is like 5 years old. I don’t really look much like that anymore. I am fatter, my hair is different, and I now have many facial creases.

        1. Sue Ellen Avatar

          Heh… ditto. Plus grey hair. :D However, I also thought you looked like Jennifer Tilley in the photos with your recipe book and box. I think it’s the shape of your eyes and mouth.

  41. Laura Avatar

    A quick go-to meal for me is a simple “beans and greens”. It’s a good pantry meal because I always have frozen greens (chard, kale, spinach, …) in the house (my hobby garden produces them in great amount), canned beans, and prosciutto (awesome for sandwiches and even more satisfying, to us, than bacon). The recipe, such as it is:
    – in some amount of oil, lightly brown however much onion and garlic you feel like chopping
    – add prosciutto, cut into smallish pieces, and cook until fairly crispy
    – add frozen greens and drained, canned beans. Heat through, and eat with bread

  42. Tam Avatar

    My requirements for food I make at home are that it be cheap, extraordinarily easy to make, and contain vegetables. Some examples:

    * jarred pasta sauce (I like vodka sauce especially) with either sauteed cut up boneless/skinless chicken thighs, or a can of chickpeas, and maybe some zucchini, served with a chunky pasta. (I prefer long pastas like angel hair but I want a huge amount of those; chunky pastas are more satisfying for me in smaller amounts, so I can get more servings out of a box.)

    * you can make a super simple pasta sauce ‘from scratch’ with two large cans of tomato products (choose whatever sounds good – I usually use a can of diced and a can of sauce), a pound of spicy Italian sausage (if it comes in links, I cut them open and just use the meat inside), and (optionally) garlic. Just sautee the sausage, then put in the tomato products and garlic, then let it simmer for a couple of hours.

    * a box of parmesan pasta roni with a ton of frozen spinach (like a whole cup; put it in with the water and milk, bring to a boil, and proceed as usual) and a can of wild salmon (add when you stop boiling the pasta, prior to letting it sit for 5 minutes)

    * Rice a Roni has a line called something like ‘Nature’s Way’ and there is a parmesan risotto. It’s very good if you add sauteed boneless/skinless chicken thighs and a frozen vegetable like broccoli or spinach.

    * Red beans and rice. I cook the beans (kidney beans) from scratch, but the only ingredients I add are smoked sausage and a bag or two of frozen ‘cajun mirepoix’ (onions, celery, and peppers) or any bag/bags of frozen diced onions and peppers. (Sometimes I also put in cayenne pepper.) Cook the beans forever, then when they are soft, take out a bowl, mash them, and add them back in, to get the proper silky texture (otherwise you’ve made bean soup, which is different). Serve with rice.

    These hardly seem worth mentioning as “recipes” but they can fill a nice spot if you hate cooking but want to eat something semi-nutritious, cheap, and still tasty.

  43. closetpuritan Avatar

    I was looking up a Massaman curry recipe and came across one that made me think of this post and the Perfectionist Cooking Paralysis post, because of the title and the commentary related to the title. How NOT to Make Massaman Curry in 10 Minutes The author is plugging her book pretty hard, but she has some useful tips for how to cut down on cooking time (and therefore maybe avoid perfectionist cooking paralysis). And she has a nice list of variations, which might be especially helpful for people in the process of learning how to improvise in the kitchen. (I think I’m going to go with this slightly-more-complicated-but-still-not-much-hands-on-time version instead, though. Dammit, I want my potatoes and carrots like in the restaurant!)