How to Make Everyday Cooking Easy + My Six Favorite Non-Recipes
Food, glorious food! I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, planning, and seeking out good food. Whether it’s a simple one pot dish at home or a Michelin-starred tasting menu, I live by the credo that it should delicious, healthy, and occasionally decadent. Obviously this is easy enough when eating out but when it comes to cooking for ourselves, it’s a different story.
Historically, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with cooking. Sometimes, I found it to be a fun creative outlet and other times, it just felt like a chore. But I’ve finally reached a point where I don’t dread having to cook. I put on some music or a podcast, pour myself a glass of wine or sparking water with a twist, and enjoy the process of putting a meal together. I found that the key, like with most things in life, was to simplify the whole process. Let me share with you how I did that and how you can too.
The first thing to do is to develop a cooking repertoire of meals that you can make easily and quickly. This may sound intimidating but if you make a list of things you can make readily (it can be as basic as pasta with jarred sauce) I bet you’ll have at least a week’s worth of meals, if not more. Just rotate what you have to start out and if you need additional recipes, strive for a feasible goal like adding one new one every month or season. Having a list like this takes the stress out of figuring out what’s for dinner and that is half the battle! Mine consists of about 18 dishes and I basically rotate those every three weeks or so. They are mostly pastas, grain bowls, and something grilled in the summer.
The other thing to do is to cook freestyle whenever possible. By that I mean cook without a recipe, using basic ingredients that you always have on hand or even better, leftovers. If you’ve never tried freestyling in the kitchen, don’t be scared. It does involve some basic kitchen skills but the more you cook this way, the better you’ll become. To help you get started, here are the six non-recipes I use the most. Give them a whirl and I bet they will spark ideas for your own non-recipes. (I’m pescatarian but I cook almost exclusively vegetarian so these are all vegetarian recipes.)
Pasta with dark, leafy greens
I always have kale, broccoli rabe, spinach, broccolini, etc. in the house and I just sauté it with some garlic and olive oil, then toss in some type of cooked pasta, and top off with grated parmesan. Eggplant works too. Nothing could be easier or more delicious.
With any leftover protein or vegetable, you can always make a fried rice/grain. Sauté chopped garlic in a vegetable oil then add the cooked grain and heat through. Toss in the leftovers (chopped), add soy sauce (about a teaspoon per cup of grain), and drizzle in a little sesame oil at the end. Scramble in an egg or two in the pan with the grain for added protein. Done and done.
Toasts, tartines & open-faced sandwiches
Whatever you call it, the formula is simple: toasted bread, a spread, and a topping. There are endless combinations but my standbys are: avocado with a poached egg; smashed peas with sautéed mushrooms; and ricotta with tomato and basil tossed in olive oil and balsamic.
Clean-out-the-fridge salads and grain bowls
I usually make some version of this before we go away on a trip and we have produce that needs to be used. But it can also be used when you have a lot of random ingredients that you don’t know what to do with. The answer? Throw it all together in a salad with a simple vinaigrette. (I use 1 part red wine vinegar, 3 parts olive oil, 1/2 part dijon, S&P.) You can add cheese, sliced almonds or other chopped nuts, and dried fruit like cranberries or cherries, as well as a grain like quinoa or couscous for more bulk.
Roasted vegetables over anything
Toss chopped broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli rabe, or any root vegetable in a little olive oil and S&P and roast in the oven. From there, you can do almost anything with them, including the fried grain and salad mentioned above but my favorite is to serve them with pasta tossed with olive oil and grated parmesan. Again. 😀 For an Asian version, toss them with cold soba noodles and a dressing of 1 part soy sauce, 2 parts mirin (or any vinegar), a drizzle of sesame oil, and minced garlic. Add a pinch of sugar if you prefer things on the sweeter side. This dressing is also good just about any meat, fish, or vegetable and served over rice.
The easiest non-recipe of all. Pizza dough can be a daunting proposition but flatbread is something we can all pick up on a regular grocery run. Even pita can work in a pinch. As with the toasts, there are endless combinations but my favorite is a white pizza which calls for a drizzle of olive oil, then cheese (mozzarella, pecorino, parmesan, and/or burrata are good choices) and a sprinkling of herbs (oregano, thyme, parsley or herbes de Provence). Bake until the cheese has melted (5-10 minutes). Top with arugula dressed in olive oil and balsamic for a fresh element. For a red version, add tomato sauce as the first layer. You can top them with just about any vegetable or meat as well.
It goes without saying that everything should be seasoned to taste with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of fresh herbs is great on everything.
So my overarching guiding principle when it comes to everyday cooking is that it has to be easy. When I lived in Paris, a couple of girlfriends and I took a cooking class at the Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse. We made these beautiful scallops, with roasted tomatoes, fried basil leaves, some sort of purée I believe and about 10 other components that I can’t remember. To this day, I’ve never made that dish at home. 😬 I may still attempt it one day for a dinner party but for everyday cooking, simplicity is the key! I hope some of these ideas help you simplify everyday cooking and make meal prep less stressful. I’ll share my thoughts about dinner parties, gatherings, and foodie travels in a future post.