the daily dinner conundrum and some thoughts on cooking

June 27, 2013 |  Category:   life we ate this





I think most people assume that we eat really well just by the pure fact that we have a chef in the house – and for the most part we do, but we’ve gotten into a food rut lately. Maybe you can relate? We suffer from a lack of dinner inspiration sometimes, which is to be expected if you’re cooking 98% of all meals at home. As you might be able to tell from the lack of recipe posts, we aren’t exactly cooking elaborate dinners. Truth is, a lot of times dinner is thrown together because of our busy schedules and I’ve since realized that I don’t have the patience to style and fuss with food; at the end of the day, we just want to eat. To our credit (which all goes to Mark) we’ve avoided the trap of take out and eating out mostly because we still have a strict food budget that we need adhere to. We also rarely buy pre-packaged, processed food because that can become a slippery slope once you head down that road. More often than not, this is the scenario that goes down at our house:


Mark: “Anyone got any dinner ideas? I’m going to the store.”
Blank stares all around.
Mark: “C’mon. Throw out some ideas. I don’t know what to make.”
C: “Pasta.”
Mark: “We had pasta yesterday.”
C: “More pasta.”
Mark: “No.”
C looks at Mia who looks at me and we all just blank stare and shrug.
Mark (mumbling as he shuffles to the door): “Oh alright, I’ll figure something out.”
If you’ve been reading here awhile, then you know I don’t cook (yeah, I didn’t make that pizza, above). I think people who don’t know us assume that I also bake, but I’m useless in a commercial kitchen. I’m a bit more useful in our home kitchen, but I could probably count on all ten fingers all the times I have made dinner since the kids were born. I know…pathetic! But somewhere along the way, roles were divied up when I first became pregnant with debilitating nausea and the roles just stuck for the last 10 years – so much so, that on rare occasions when Mark has to go out of town for a few days without us, the girls react completely confused and ask in all seriousness without any sarcasm, “How are we going to eat?”
I mean, really, girls?? Do they forget who makes them breakfast and get their lunches together nearly every single day? Me! Sure, it may not really be “cooking”, but come on!
So I’ve decided this year that I’m going to ease my way back into cooking. I only know how to cook vegetarian dishes and I think I’ll just keep it that way since I have absolutely no idea what to do with a chicken leg, so I have made baked ziti (er, twice) and a watermelon feta salad with mint. I know, no big deal, but yes…big deal!
“WHAT. YOU’RE cooking dinner?? What’s happening??” (um, thanks kids).
So we’re not even 3 weeks into my Year of Cooking (and driving, but that’s a different story) and I’m already at a loss on what to make. Any suggestions? What is your favorite go-to dinner? Now, let me let you in on a little secret: I don’t really enjoy flipping through cookbooks or looking at recipes online. I mean I like looking at pictures of pretty food, sure, but I could care less if there was a recipe attached. I think you can already guess that cooking isn’t my favorite activity, but I’m trying. I am actually pretty decent at it (or was when I did cook a lot years ago), but damn it, I am trying because I don’t want to be THAT mom who doesn’t know how to cook for her children and whose girls tell stories to their spouses one day that their mom fed them cheddar bunnies and toast for dinner every time their dad wasn’t around (for the record, I have never done that).

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  • Jo June 27, 2013 at 3:09 am

    I know this feeling so well, for the first five years that I was married I never cooked, because when we first got together I had no idea how to, so we agreed, he cooked, I cleaned. It worked really well until we had kids and I stayed home full time… then I had to learn, and while it took a while, I am a great cook now. It’s still not my favourite activity, but I do find that an hour or so on the weekend spent planning our weekly meals is time very well spent. It stopped the 4pm tail-spin, meant that we had appropriate food in the house, and if I didn’t feel like cooking it when hubby got home from work, then at least he had everything on hand to feed us. I read somewhere that we really only eat about 28 different meals, and just rotate them, so if you spend the time to work out what you like to eat, and plan out at least 14 different ‘go to’ meals, it makes such a big {positive} difference. Good luck with this, I’d love to read how you go in a month or two. Jo x

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 11:41 am

      Thanks. It’s sort of like the exercising….have to make myself do it, you know?

  • Katie June 27, 2013 at 6:04 am

    Ahh, that pizza pictured looks pretty yummy!

    I’m working in africa for the month, & even though i’m not a great cook, one thing i miss HUGELY is being able to cook my own food!

    i think salads are a good start though! Make some croutons – chop up bread into cubes, mix up in a bowl with a couple spoons olive oil, seasoning & rosemary – & fry in a non-stick pan (you won’t need to use oil again as mixing it in the bowl makes sure all the cubes are covered)

    For the rest of the salad: spinach leaves & arugula are nice, with maybe thinly sliced onion, cherry tomatoes, olives, tinned tuna, some slices of avocado.. basically, anything you like :)
    (if you’re feeling adventurous/non-veggie, you could buy chicken breast (easiest to handle), chop it up with a pair of scissors, & fry it & then add to the salad…

    Happy cooking!

    Katie x

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 11:38 am

      we definitely can make better salads. The one thing both Mark and I are lazy about are the salads. Our salads are often sad….mostly because again, just a lack of time, but now I have more time so I’m going to look to make better salads.

  • neta June 27, 2013 at 6:40 am

    I love cooking and baking, but that conversation is the exact one we have before each weekend, because I love to make new things’ otherwise I get bored…But hardly any co-operation here as well.
    a recommended easy dish that anyone can do: rice in dutch oven

    In a pot ( I use le creuset ) that has a tight lid and can go in the oven :
    2 and a half cups of rice ( I use basmati )
    one half cup of oil ( i use canola )
    3-4 carrots ( shreded )
    a bunch of chopped parsely
    1 chopped onion
    2 chopped garlic cloves
    4 and a half cups boiling water
    cover and put in a hot ( 180 celcius ) oven
    after 15 minutes check and give it a stir, cook for another 5-7 minutes until ready
    you can add a few tablespoons of pine nuts ( with the rest of the stuff)
    hope you enjoy

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 11:39 am

      Thank you for taking the time to write down this recipe here. Appreciate it!

  • Mary June 27, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Oh, I definitely know what you mean. I do all the cooking, but it’s the inspiration part that’s hard. Just the deciding what to make every night. Ugh. I try to plan out the week ahead of time so I’m not faced with the decisions every day, but it’s tough. I also post some of my weekly menus or recipes I’ve tried to my blog, because then I can use that. I’ll go back to the year before and see what we ate to gather ideas.

    Our go-to meals – definitely pasta dishes of all kinds, quesadillas/burritos, soups (esp. in winter of course). And homemade pizza – one of our faves. I also try to cook seafood at least once a week. You can check out some of my posts here:

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 11:40 am

      Yes, it’s the inspiratation. Mark doesn’t mind cooking every day and he is fast which is another reason why he took on that role but he always complains that the hardest part is figuring out what to make every day.

  • Holly June 27, 2013 at 7:30 am

    I think cooking’s definitely the kind of activity that gets easier to get into once you start!

  • kate o. June 27, 2013 at 8:04 am


    I know you just said you wanted to stick to vegetarian meals, but bacon is easy. And really there is only a small window during the year when you get to eat fresh tomoatoes. Add a good mustard, fresh greens, an avocado, and even an egg is you want to get crazy. We used our first ripe tomato from our garden the other day and made kick ass BLT’s. I know it’s not fancy, but they were SO good.

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 11:40 am

      Mia loves BLTs!

  • Carol June 27, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I am the cook in our family, and I love looking at recipes. I have so many bookmarked that I think I might have to retire and stay at home just to make them all. By the way, Mark is adorable and the Flea cookies were incredible! I brought the biscotti home to Toronto and have it in my freezer for a special day. It was so nice meeting him, I had to overcome my shyness this one time :)

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Oh, we have never frozen the cookies. Let me know how they are? The biscotti in particular have a pretty good shelf life. Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by last week!!

  • Jamie June 27, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Stir-fry! Especially in the summer when vegetables are everywhere it’s so easy. Start with onions and garlic and add whatever you have on hand. Sweet potatoes, asparagus, swiss chard. It all works. Then you can put whatever sauce you want. Sometimes I throw on soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha. Sometimes I toss the veggies with pesto after they’re done cooking. And you can servie it over rice, pasta, quinoa, farro, whatever. You can add protein in, tofu if you eat it, or meat if you get comfortable with it eventually.

  • Lulu June 27, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I go to Costco and buy several roast chicken. Its $4.99 something like that. The chicken can be eaten plain, or i would make a simple chimichuri sauce or aji sauce or shredded into salads, sandwiches and taco, or cut it up to be gently tossed into a simmering pot of curry or whatever simmer sauce i have on hand. I went to a Peruvian rotisserie place and realized how versatile a simple roast chicken can be.

  • Julia June 27, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I had the same family set-up as your girls. I hardly ever saw my mom in the kitchen, and now whenever people ask questions like what “what was your mom’s favorite dish growing up” I just laugh and say it was my dad who was the cook and a good one too:)

  • Funaek June 27, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I spent most of my adult life eating out or ordering in and the most I ever cooked was microwaving tortillas and cheese and calling it a quesadilla. After a job and location change where I had less money, no friends in the area, and few takeout options, I decided to start cooking and I get that stuck in a rut thing near the end of every season! I use Pinterest and theKitchn for finding recipes. My favorite standbys are soups in the cooler weather and grain/bean salads in the warmer weather. Lately my favorite easy to make ahead and eat cold dish is a Spanish “tortilla.” Oh and when all else fails, sometimes just adding a fried/poached egg or two can completely change a meal! I’m already looking forward to soup season though so I’m starting to feel the rut soon. Also, those pizzas look amazing!

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Is it weird that I never get excited about soup? I’m not really a soup fan though I used to make a pretty good minestrone. I do like tortilla soup (I think we even have a recipe on the blog). Maybe I shall make that next week.

  • Theresa June 27, 2013 at 11:29 am

    We are in pretty much the same situation. My husband is a chef and cooks most meals. We don’t eat out often with the kids (maybe once a month tops) and we don’t eat take out (nothing good in our neighborhood). We don’t eat processed or premade unless we are in the U.S. and then I love Trader Joe’s premade food sections. As my husband has been working a lot lately, I’ve been forced to make at least two meals a week. It’s kinda killing me. I have no patience for reciepes but below are my fairly fast and easy go-to dinners:

    1: Black bean burrittos, taco salads or quesadillas w/ cocktail tomato, cilantro, red onion, etc. salsa
    2: Spinach & egg soup. I toss spinach in garlic and EVO, add tiny bit of yellow curry add turkish yoghurt and then into blender. Reheat and serve with a poached or soft boiled egg. Works with kale or peas too. I do a lot of veggie soups with greek or turkish yoghurt!
    3: Pasta with cocktail tomatos and herbs & parm. cheese
    4: Veggie pie (quiche): I usually make my own crust but sometimes buy. Fill it with whipped eggs, veggies and cheese of choice.
    5: Oven baked pancakes. It’s a Swedish classic… google it. Pancakes are stuffed with pancetta and served with peas and lingonberries
    6: Baked whole chicken or fish filets served with sauteed something…. usually kale or spinach or broccoli with a fast cocktail tomato salad.

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to write down these suggestions, Theresa!

  • dolittledesign June 27, 2013 at 11:45 am

    My kids asked me, “Do you know how to use the microwave to make popcorns?” Yeah, my husband cooks and does grocery shopping. I make salads and buy fresh bread when he is out of town. I tell the kids salads is mommy’s specialty. It is healthy and they should eat it all. Oh, and my husband packs kids’ lunches too. I am “that mom.”Don’t send me hate mail.

  • Janine June 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    We have got into a massive shopping/cooking rut since we moved last summer Our rental has a teeny tiny under counter fridge (the American’s amongst you probably can’t even conceive how tiny!!) with no freezer so we haven’t really got into big supermarket shopping trips. We don’t eat take-outs or ready-made food (except pizzas for the kids) but we just haven’t been planning meals. My husband has been doing a lot of the cooking but has a limited repertoire. I think I must force myself to plan at least a few days ahead and try something new. We made a thai chicken/veg curry using a bought paste, coconut milk, chopped coriander, fresh ginger for the first time in year and it was such a refreshing change. I used to do a veggie version with red pepper, sweet potato and thin green beans – coconut milk makes anything yummy! I’m going to join you and make more effort, I want the children to remember my wonderful cooking – at the moment they are just getting pasta, “quesadillas”, pizza and boiled eggs. It’s a disgrace!

  • Fiona June 27, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    How about chickpeas and tomatoes with pita? I do it with cans, but I know that violates your rules. You can figure it out with local stuff, if you prefer.

    I buy a can of tomatoes with something (fire-roasted, with basil, whatever). I buy a can of chickpeas. Same sized cans. In a skillet I heat olive oil, put in the chickpeas, and season (usually kosher salt, cracked pepper, and some kind of herb. Most often that’s thyme, sage, or basil.). Let the chickpeas fry until they smell good and are a tiny bit golden. Then add the tomatoes and let it all simmer for a while (15 minutes?). Then you eat it. I like to mop up the goo with pita bread. You could serve a cucumber salad with a Greek vinaigrette, too.

    It’s yum.

    Another option: boil some baby potatoes (like 15 or 20 minutes in a big pot, test for doneness by poking with a knife. No resistance? Done. Then drain). Roast some asparagus (on a sheet pan, drizzled with OO and sprinkled with salt and pepper, 425 for 8 minutes or so – adjust for fatness of asparagus).

    Let the veg cool while you make chimichurri. Chop a ton of parsley (I like curly), some garlic, and some lemon zest. Put those in a bowl with a bunch of olive oil and salt and pepper. You can add chile flakes but I don’t because I’m weak.

    Toss potatoes and asparagus with chimicurri. You’re done. You can add parmesan if you want to make it vegetarian rather than vegan.

    And to echo a previous comment: salads are the best in summer. Just add veggies and cheese and it’s a meal.

    • Jenna June 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Oh, ha…canned beans don’t violate our rules. We don’t really have rules, per se. And we don’t buy pre-packaged mostly because it would quickly blow through our grocery budget. I wouldn’t actually have a problem if our freezer was filled with some healthy pre made food stuffs once in a while.

  • jen June 27, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    both my husband and i like to cook so we just take turns cooking and we plan our meals for the week on sunday. we eat a lot of chinese and italian food because we found them to be the fastest to prep and cook. one staple in our kitchen is pesto. a very simple recipe that requires very little prep and cooking. we have three kinds but i’m sure you can really mix it up here but we make the traditional basil pesto (basil, olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts and garlic), roman pesto (cherry tomates, almonds, garlic, olive oil and parmesan) and broccoli pesto (steamed broccoli, olive oil, garlic and parmesan). throw everything in a food processor. toss with any hot pasta and your good to go, plus your kids will eat their vegetables!

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      We do make pesto fairly regularly and thank goodness even C likes it….

  • Margaret June 27, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    I could really eat that pizza right now!! In our house we’ve been planning the week’s meals in advance for years, do one big weekly shop and then each day we know what we’re eating. Really helps when you have busy schedules, clubs to get the children to etc. and avoids the “what shall we have for dinner?” question when it’s already dinner time! Also, if we cook something like chilli, we’ll make a huge pot, eat some and freeze the rest for another day – our own home made ready meals! I hope you enjoy getting back into cooking and get inspired!

  • Kiana June 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Whenever my husband and I have no idea what to make, we end up making scrambled eggs. Sometimes we´ll throw stuff in them like peppers, mushrooms, or herbs. Someone above recommended a Spanish tortilla de patata which is also really easy and equally good cold with a small salad. I don´t know if time is an issue for you but if it is, do you like couscous? It´s very versatile. I like putting sauteed butternut squash and spinach in it and it´s quite filling especially if you add a protein like chicken or even cannellini beans.

    Good luck to you guys! And bravo to Mark for being the family cook! I´m the principal cook in my house and it´s a tough job indeed.

  • Linnea June 27, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Have you heard of the website “Dinner: A Love Story”? Some of my favorite, easy, tasty, go-to recipes come from there.

    Quick and Easy Fried Rice (I pack it with whatever veggies I’ve got)

    Burrito Bowls

    Spicy Shrimp (serve with naan – this is my fave, and takes just 10 minutes)

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      I have. I’ll check these specific recipes out, thanks!

  • Jen June 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I can only imagine how difficult it is to figure out what to eat every week with the kids. I don’t have kids so my suggestions may or may not work for your family:
    – Simple sauteed vegetables with brown rice or quinoa: Two or three nights a week we eat a no-frills, affordable, fairly healthy dish we don’t have to think twice about. So it could be collard greens or bok choy or tat choy sauteed for a few minutes in coconut oil, with black pepper, salt, whatever herbs you want, served with quinoa or brown rice.
    – Two summer time Korean staples (or at least our take on them): Vegetarian bibimkusu – soba noodles (which are cooked in just a few minutes), carrots, cucumbers, mizuna (or other greens), hard boiled eggs, and sauce (gochujang – we use Annie Chung, rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce), or my childhood favorite Bulgogi and lettuce – we buy the thin slices of local beef (depending on time, you can marinate ahead of time or not – in soy sauce, vinegar, with or without little bit of sugar, onion, garlic, green onions) then we eat it wrapped in fresh Farmer’s Market lettuce with some raw garlic and kimchi and white rice. We love eating this during the summer.
    – Soba noodles – in addition to using it in bibimkusu, we sometimes on a hot day have it Japanese style – cook noodles, top with green onions, eat with sauce of grated white radish in soy sauce, and you can customize this dish to as simple or as fancy as you like. Super fast and easy.
    – Bean Burgers with lettuce: Black bean or chickpeas (for the chickpea burgers – we use turmeric, cumin, cayenne, garlic, honey, and panko).
    – Vegetable wraps with tortilla, black quinoa,vegetables, sauce of mustard/honey. Or simple vegetable cheese sandwiches.
    – Pasta salads are always easy and make easy leftovers.

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Yup, it’s the addition of the kids that makes it a bit difficult sometimes. I could eat that Korean noodle dish your describing every week…

  • Alice June 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Our go-to is make your own kimbap. I guess it’s like Korean taco night (hey! that’s also a good idea, but never done it). Put out half sheets of kimbap/sushi kim/nori, and a big bowl of rice. Put out various fillings. We use raw julienned cukes, carrots, pickles, dacquang (korean/japanese pickles), avocado, egg strips. You can add whatever your family likes: sausages, crab stick, etc. (This is also a good way of using leftovers.) We make a sauce of soy sauce and wasabi that everyone can sprinkle on. Assemble each roll by laying down sheet of kim, a little bit of rice, top will fillings, sauce, then roll and eat! Good for summer, because everything can be eaten cold. Good for picky eaters (my older daughter), because you can choose which fillings and how much of everything. Vegetarian-friendly. Sometimes we make miso soup with tofu as a side. My knife skills aren’t great, but with a chef around I guess it would be easy. (You could also break out the mandoline, but who wants the hassle?) We have already had it twice this week, so I am trolling these comments for ideas for tonight.

    • Alice June 27, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Ohhh, what is really good if you get Korean ketnip (related to shiso leaf, I think?), and put a leaf of that between the nori and rice. I suppose you could use any fragrant greens.

  • mikamera June 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Oh I hear you… And as a coincidence I came across this one today. I will try next week. So easy and healthy. But once again PASTA :-)

  • Renita June 27, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    All of the recipes offered sound great. I don’t cook either – it’s more about function to get me through the day. However, I
    do work for a producer of gourmet cooking oils, so I just add finishing oil to whatever it is that I make. At the moment I am stuck on pesto – with either kale or pasta. Then I drizzle it with our roasted walnut oil. I would be happy to send you samples … …. our toasted pumpkinseed oil would be great with the Jen’s suggestions

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      maybe we can do a trade!

      • Renita June 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm

        Absolutely! Send me an email.

  • Ilenia June 27, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    I don’t like to follow recipes either so I keep doing what my mum and nanna taught me, mix ingredients you think will go well together without too much effort.
    I have two favorites: the first one is to put zucchini, mushrooms, onions and tomatos cut in squares or pieces in a baking pan and drizzle them with olive oil, 45″ after you’ll have an amazing veggie entree (something like a ratatouille) to pour over rice or just eat it by itself – it’s sooo good!
    the second one is cauliflower and chickpeas, roast them in the over with some olive oil, as soon as they’re golden mix them with some white wine vinegar, olive oil and dijion mustard.

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      I love roasted cauliflower. We have a recipe on the blog that I love. The tricky part is making something that all 4 of us will want to eat.

  • sylvï June 27, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    i love oven-roasted parsnip ‘fries’. and lately have found the joys of cooking radishes.

    often my meals are random asian-y soups with whatever greens i’ve got at hand, garlic, ginger, seaweed, mushrooms, dashes of soy sauce and rice vinegar, miso, and at the end i whisk in an egg or leave it to poach. for garnish, nori flakes and sesame oil, and some fresh herbs like shiso or chives. tofu is nice in there as well, or them canned beans, especially butter beans.

  • nichole June 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    I think once you get started cooking, it kind of gets under your skin. Even though I love to cook, if I do fall into a rut, I need something inspiring to get me out of it, then I am up and running again.

    If I am in a rut, watching a cooking show usually does the trick.Barefoot Contessa or Giada.

    When another friend of mine talked to me about hating to cook, I recommended this book by Donna Hay:

    Fresh ingredients, EASY. It worked and she now loves to cook.

    It has one of my favorite recipes in it: Coconut Curry Chicken

    It’s basically one can of Maesri curry paste, one can of coconut milk, a bit of fish sauce, chicken thighs, sweet potatoes and cilantro. You can throw it together in about two minutes and it has to simmer for about a half an hour. There are times we eat this once a week (over rice).

    I LOVE to talk food (it’s one of my only outlets when I am busy), so let me know if you want to chat. 😉

  • Nancy June 27, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    I think even when you love to cook and know how to cook, you can still get into a rut. I do nearly all the cooking in this house because I’m the one that is home all day, and I do enjoy it most of the time. My motto is to keep it really simple. Since my husband is Puerto Rican, I end up making a fair amount of rice and beans, roast chicken or roast pork. I also make burritos and tacos a lot… super easy.
    Here’s the dinner I made last night, because I had no groceries in the house:

    Also, Dinner: A Love Story and Smitten Kitchen– good blogs to keep tabs on.

  • Josephine June 27, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I know you just said flicking through cookbooks isn’t your thing, but if you can bring yourself to do it, Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals is full of excellent quick ideas.

    Otherwise, my favourite fallback meals include miso noodle soup (I buy a tub of miso paste, you then dissolve some tablespoonfuls in hot water and add whatever takes your fancy – most of the time I add whatever greens are wallowing in the crisper or some frozen green beans I keep for such instances, udon noodles and tofu if it’s handy). It’s really quick, filling and very healthy. My other favourite is a frittata. Any veggies can go in this, but I like grated zucchini, lemon zest and basil. Some feta or goats cheese is also an awesome but non-essential addition. The good thing about frittata is it’s a one-pan wonder and on the table in about 20 minutes.

    Hope this helps! Talking about food and hearing what food is part of other people’s lives is one of my very favourite things :-)

  • Addie June 27, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Japanese “taco rice” is really simple and satisfying. Put a bed of rice on your plate and then top it with taco ingredients: shredded lettuce, ground beef or chicken, salsa, etc. We love it and almost always have the ingredients on hand, so it makes a great go to meal or backup!

  • Vivian Doan June 27, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Jenna, You crack me up! I love you for being so honest. My husband literally forgot how to cook the moment we hooked up. Now that I have a 2 year old, I give up!! I wish someone would email me a recipe and send me ingredients every day so I didn’t have to think about this dinner conundrum! I’m with you!! going to read the recipes to get some inspiration. I have about 20 cookbooks and honestly, maybe cooked 10 recipes from the entire lot. I am glad I am not alone!!

  • Kayce June 27, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    True story, I was mentally going through some of my go to recipes and good number of them are from here. Thanks Mark!

    Here’s a favorite, with a super short ingredient list, easily adaptable and vegan to boot:

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      That’s cool! Back when we posted recipies!

  • Wendryn June 27, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    We meal plan every week because otherwise we’d eat the same three things and they’d be boring. I’ve been working on using cookbooks a lot more; my current favorite is Moosewood’s Simple Suppers. Here’s one, their Southwestern Bean Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing, which came out beautifully (and our almost-2-year-old enjoyed):
    Southwestern bean salad:
    1 15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
    1½ cups cooked corn kernels
    ½ cup Cilantro Lime Dressing
    2 avocados
    8 cups salad greens
    tortilla chips
    Optional: chopped green olives
    Optional: sour cream or grated cheese
    In a bowl, toss the beans and corn with the Cilantro Lime Dressing. Peel and pit the avocados and cut them into wedges or cubes.

    Arrange the salad greens on individual serving plates and mound the bean and corn salad in the center. Top with the avocado wedges and ring the bean salad with tortilla chips. If you wish, top with olives and optional sour cream or grated cheese.

    Cilantro Lime Dressing:
    (we decided that we like about twice the amount called for in the recipe or you can’t taste it very well)
    ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or 2 thinly sliced scallions
    ¼ cup lime juice
    ½ teaspoon salt
    Optional: ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    ¼ cup olive oil
    Whisk together all of the ingredients in a bowl. Or for a bright green, smooth dressing, in a blender on low speed, whirl the cilantro, scallions, lime juice, salt, and red pepper flakes, if using, until smooth. Add the olive oil in a steady stream and as soon as the dressing is thick, turn off the blender.

    Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

    Adds a wonderful flavor to rice, potato, or bean salads, such as Southwestern Black Bean Salad; delicious drizzled on avocado cubes or shredded jicama; excellent as a dressing for fish or shrimp.

    Also, that pizza looks amazingly good!

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you so much for typing this recipe out. I love bean salad so I’ll have to give it a try.

  • Emily June 27, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I’m sure others have said it, but tacos are amazing and I’m always up for them! We keep some canned beans on hand in addition to dried, for when we’re all forward-thinking like that. Tacos are a good vessel for a lot of the vegetables in the summer, and in the winter cheesier tacos with beans and sweet potatoes are great.

    I’m also a fan of making a giant pot of soup to eat with rice. I’ve found sweet potato ginger to be one of my all time favorites-sometimes we make it more substantial by adding some cubed tofu.

    Risotto is also delicious and you could get the girls to do the stirring part while you chop vegetables and monitor the rice doneness, and it’s another good vessel for all the good summer vegetables.

    (This is helpful for me too, I’m just getting out of the first trimester queasy food aversion period so I’m actually interested in eating more than popsicles and pasta again.)

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      Yup, we have taco night every week!

  • Tina June 27, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Have you tried cooking easy dishes you had growing up? I’m not an intuitive cook like my husband. I rely a lot on recipes. Once I became a stay at home mom, I became the main cook and started making easy Chinese dishes I remembered eating as a child. One dish my whole family loves is oyster chicken. It is so simple. I braise chicken drumsticks in oyster sauce, chicken broth and a little soy sauce. I usually add sliced ginger and garlic cloves in the sauce as well. That’s it! I serve it with vegetables like sauté cabbage and rice, the sauce is so savory and so good with the rice. My husband, who is caucasian, said if we were ever to get a divorce, he would steal this recipe from me.

  • angela June 27, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    i read through all your comments just so i could get some ideas about what to cook. =) my mom always used to keep sheets of dried seaweed (nori?) around to eat with plain rice. not the most healthy….but not terrible either. or you could get fancy and bake the rice with crab/shrimp/veggies and some japanese rice seasoning! i guess it’s like a taco – but with a seaweed shell.

  • Shayna June 28, 2013 at 12:26 am

    I know you said you’re not into reading recipes but Mark Bittman put out lists of “100 recipes” over the last few years (100 summer salads, vegetarian dishes, etc) and they’re all amazing, easy and delicious. Most of them are once sentence long “recipes”. They were NY Times articles. Good luck!

  • Melissa@Julia's Bookbag June 28, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Jenna! You must check out Dinner a Love Story. And also, you might want to embrace the idea ofTaco Tuesday. I started doing it in our house, and it’s the greatest thing ever. I always know Tuesday is going to be some kind of Taco creation. And I’m going to spam you with my “Yo, It’s Taco Tuesday! Pinterest board :)

  • Sophia June 28, 2013 at 11:31 am

    I’ve been expanding my salad repertoire recently and it’s been truly helpful both time wise and budget wise…not to mention the health benefits. I think the key is to have a variety of things cooked, chopped, shredded and ready to go. Another key thing is to store them in glass containers with tight fitting lids ( mason jars) as to keeping them fresh…it’s amazing how fresh things taste and how long they last stored this way compared to say storing them in plastic bags or containers.
    Takes a little time to prep, but having the leisure to decide what suits your mood is easy to do just by switching up a few ingredients and placing the appropriate dressing. Asian salad..add rice stick noodles, sesame seeds. Mexican, add pepitas, cilantro, etc. the list goes on!
    Anyway, it’s truly been a time saver because I can either use this method to make a side salad with a main, or I can make a more substantial salad as my main meal by adding more protein.
    Wow…long post about salads. Sorry.

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      interesting about the glass containers…

  • rj June 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    same dilemma here.
    for me, a quick and easy meal is anything with kimchi (which I try to always have in the fridge). i like to make kimchi fried rice (add any veggies you have in the fridge and/or meat, kimchi, sesame oil…), add a fried egg with a drizzle of sesame oil and sprinkle sesame seeds all over.

    • Jenna June 28, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      I love kimchi fried rice. And I love putting a fried egg on anything. Mmmm, want it now. Wait till you have to feed the kids food RJ!

  • Mackenzi June 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    My standbys:, the next day make tacos with leftover shredded greens & cilantro.

    Homemade chili with Mark Bittman’s skillet cornbread (we add pickled jalepenos and cheese), then “fancy” quesadillas (whole wheat tortillas, chilli, fancy cheese) with salad the next day (loaded with radishes, pepitas, and lime vinaigrette).

    We eat these all day long with aioli and lemon wedges. They’re great cold, plus they work just as well with frozen broccoli and can be ready in 20 min.

    This: make this like immediately.

  • ayetwobee June 28, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    My favourite side dish when it is cooler out is roasted squash and parsnips. Butternut squash cut up however you like it. Parsnips as well. Both skin on. sprinkle with ample olive oil and toss with salt, pepper, crushed coriander seeds, fennel seeds, flaked red pepper and crushed garlic. Roast at 350(ish) until browning and soft (like al dente pasta I dont like my veggies mushy!).

    in summer I love shrimp curry: melt some onions in olive oil. toss in jalapenos, garlic, ginger. simmer for a bit. Add red peppers and whatever other veggies you like. Snow peas are good. Toss in turmeric, cayenne, salt, pepper. toss around to coat everything. Let the peppers get a little soft. Turn up heat and add shelled shrimp. Cook until they are pink but not tough. You can add chicken stock if you want it more saucy.

    Put on top of jasmine or basmati rice. Sprinkle with a heap of chopped coriander with a slice of fresh lime.

    yum. Now I am hungry. I do not do the cooking most of the time but I do end up coming up with the meal list. It is hard to do since sometimes he is not inspired by my selections. Cooking when uninspired is tedious!

  • isabelle June 29, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Hi, it is the first time I leave a comment on your website. I love your blog and find it very touching and inspirational, being myself a mom of girls in NYC.

    I had the same problem until I discovered Donna Hay in a bookshop. She also has a website. Her recipes are very simple and modern. A lot of fresh herbs and nice flavors. And so, so easy. Difficult to describe but you should really try. She has changed my life!

  • wendy June 29, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    jenna, the pizzas look delicious! i am in the same boat. we’ve been resorting to eating take out a lot (too much). i am a huge fan of one pot meals and like making soups (chicken noodle soup is relatively easy), and we use our slow cooker a lot during the winter. you can make big batches and have leftovers, provided your family is ok eating leftovers. here’s a blog with lots of good recipes: our favorite is the garlic chicken recipe. its 20-40 cloves of garlic, chicken parts, an onion. throw it in the slow cooker and let it do its thing. serve over rice. delicious, especially on a cold day!

  • erica @ expatria, baby June 30, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    As a fellow chef-wife, I kinda totally feel this post! I’m not that talented in the culinary department, but I do feel a compulsion to create something relatively healthy and more-or-less palatable for us to eat in the evenings.
    My go-to dinner is roast chicken. Which sounds hard, and looks impressive, but is actually totally easy. Once that thing is in the oven (and it may take five min to get there), your work is OVER! I usually put some herbs or maybe half a lemon in the cavity, throw some butter on the skin (or if i’m feeling particularly ambitious, under the skin), salt, pepper, done.
    I like to make roast sweet potatoes (lots of salt, lots of oil), and zucchini fritters with fetta cheese. I serve both of those with bit of yoghurt mixed with lemon and garlic. o easy. so delicious.
    A day or two later, I make a stock with the chicken caracas, which then becomes soup that feeds us for a few more meals. It’s pretty economical. Healthy, and easy, too.

  • Gina July 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    This is my favorite kale salad. I make the dressing and prep/clean veg (and store separately in ziplock bags) on Sunday. During the week I toss together just enough ingredients either for my single serving lunch or for me and my husband for dinner. Great with grilled chicken or tofu on top.

    Houstons-like Kale Salad
    Based on

    Peanut Vinaigrette Ingredients
    1/2 cup peanut oil (I also use canola oil. has less omega-6 than peanut oil)
    2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
    3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
    1 tablespoon soy sauce
    2 tablespoons honey
    1-2 tablespoons Sriracha Sauce (or to taste)

    Salad Ingredients
    4 cups lacenato/Tuscan kale washed and de-stemmed, chopped into fine ribbons
    1 cup finely slivered green cabbage
    1/2 cup chopped fresh mint (I used peppermint. I cut most into a large chiffonade then sprinkle remaining
    smaller leaves as a garnish)
    1/2 cup chopped cilantro (it’s really good, but honestly, I usually don’t put in cause I get lazy)
    1/2 cup grated carrot (not in original recipe but really good)
    3 scallion, chopped
    3 tablespoons finely chopped peanuts (I used more)

    I dress the salad and let sit about 30 minutes to kind of soften the kale a bit.

    • Jenna July 2, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      I love kale salad and the kids will generally eat it too so I will give this a try. Thank you.

  • Rachel July 1, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Here are a few tried-and-tested favorites. (Several are from Food 52’s Genius Recipes column. It’s funny, the recipes were already keepers but I guess Kristen Migliore knows what I like because she’s ended up posting so many of them on the site!)

    Martha Stewart’s Macaroni Cheese:
    – I’ve yet to try one that beats this. Leave off the croutons if you can’t be bothered…and using a food processor saves the hassle of cheese-shredding.

    Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce:
    – Ridiculously simple. I use canned San Marzanos in place of fresh.

    Jamie Oliver’s Smoked Beets:
    – If you like roasted beets, this is INCREDIBLE.

    Roast Pumpkin and Spinach Salad:
    – Feel free to sub squash for the pumpkin; I usually do.

    Baby Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce:
    – Bee has a comprehensive arsenal of easy Chinese recipes. This is so easy and quick.

    Kung Pao Chicken:
    – Another of Bee’s recipes. Authentic and straightforward.

    I hope you enjoy your kitchen sessions! :)

    • Jenna July 2, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      Thanks for all these links Rachel! Appreciate you took the time to get these together.

  • stacy July 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Hi Jenna, I know Im late to this party- but here are a few easy go-to’s in my house:
    1. baked potato with roasted broccoli and melted cheddar (if we’ve had a big lunch that’s all we’ll have, otherwise we’ll add a grilled chicken breast
    2. Summer stir fry: sautee shrimp in a skillet with olive oil and garlic, remove shrimp and now sauté halved cherry toms, sliced zucchini and fresh corn shaved off the cob. Add S/P to taste, and add shrimp back in and voila- a pretty healthy dinner. Add crusty bread if you want.
    3. Mexican Pizzas: on a flour tortilla, top with salsa, then sprinkle black beans, sliced red bell pepper, cheese, and scallions on top, then bake them at 400 for about 10 -12 minutes until bubbly. Easy and yummy. Hubby and I usually eat 1 1/2 each, kiddo 1.

    I hate cooking ruts! Have a great holiday weekend. xx