Five Easy Dinners for Your Weeknight Rotation
How has your week been? It's been a crazy one over here. We've been incredibly busy at work and at home, burning the candle at both ends. Rosie and Clara turn three this weekend, and we were busily planning their doggy-themed birthday party until they both got fevers, causing us to postpone the festivities.
When weeks are like this, I want to put the least amount of thought and effort as possible into my dinners. With a family of six, takeout isn't often a great option—it's expensive and more often than not, a good chunk of us are unsatisfied or unhappy with what was ordered. My one savior is my weekly menu plan. When I know I have a busy week coming up, I try to fill my menu with lots of tried-and-true weeknight dinners.
These five easy dinner recipes are tops on our busy-week, comfort-food menu. We've cooked them so much that we bust them out like short-order chefs in a diner. (Pasta's up!) It's not as easy as takeout, but we always know it will be good and the kids will eat it.
I discovered this ground chicken larb recipe from Bon Appétit a little over a year ago, and we must have made it approximately three times per month since. I always smile in solidarity with BA's senior web editor Alex Beggs who said "It's almost embarrassing how much I make this larb now." Um, yeah. It's the perfect weeknight meal: quick to put together and full of flavor. If it were exclusively up to me, we would be eating it a lot more.
We tend to double the recipe for our crew and pull back a bit on the jalapeño for the kids (serving more sambal on the side for the adults). The pickled red onions are a game changer. The recipe has a super fast way to make them, but Zach likes to make his in large batches in a slightly different way. He boils 1C rice vinegar (enough to cover the onions) with 1T salt and 1t sugar. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour over thinly sliced onions and let sit for at least 10 minutes. If you want to get fancy, you can add thinly sliced fresh jalapeños or a bit of lime juice. Boom: delicious pickled onions ready for this recipe and so many others.
The dish comes together (truly) in about 25 minutes. The kids love the flavors, and I love the flexibility in making a healthy version with butterleaf lettuce as wraps. You can't go wrong with this one.
This recipe is the perfect example of a dish that is selected purely for the kids but makes me feel like it's OK as an adult. The kids want pizza; I want something else. I make Jenny Rosenstrach's salad pizza for us and a regular pizza for the kids.
We get pizza dough and sauce from Trader Joe's. I roll out one piece of dough for the kids, and another for our pizza. Jenny suggests that you oil your baking sheet and stretch it out in the pan. As a wannabe baker, I thought that sounded ludicrous and that I should roll my dough out properly. Nope. Don't do it. Jenny is right, of course. It's easier to stretch it in the pan, and it gets it thinner. It is important to let your dough come to room temperature before you start to stretch it, though. I pull mine out as early as I can remember so it rises and warms up.
I don't think we've cooked out of any cookbook more than we have Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. It's practical, tasty, and it has gorgeous pictures for every recipe (sells me every time). Zach has a penchant (read: obsession) for Mexican food. While we haven't made legit chilaquiles, we make this very simple version all the time. It's really quick if you get a rotisserie for the chicken. If you don't have that, you can always boil chicken in water to shred or do my new favorite thing: make shredded chicken in the slow cooker (I love to make a big batch for salads throughout the week).
We alter this recipe by swapping tortilla chips with lettuce to make more of a salad. Don't think we're too healthy though . . . we do add a heap of tortilla chips and feta on top for extra flavor.
I still consider myself a slow cooker newbie, and I tend to use it most during the winter, but this recipe has me pulling out my slow cooker out year round. My family knows this as the dinner I make when they first arrive in town. It's great because it can sit in the slow cooker as long as needed, in case a drive or flight takes longer than expected. Then, when you're ready to eat, you have very flavorful shredded chicken taco meat that needs just a few fixings to make a meal. For this recipe, we like to double the spices and lime juice.
I have found it's hard to find really great slow cooker recipes—The Williams-Sonoma Quick Slow Cooking cookbook is my one reliable go-to (please let me know if you have other sources!).
This lemony pasta dish requires your mise en place in order for it to be a really quick weeknight meal, but if you have your food prepped, it comes together really quickly. We approach this meal using the venn diagram of family eating: our kids eat different pieces of the meal, and we eat the whole thing. It's fresh, filing and so full of flavor.
Images: Linda Xiao, Bon Appétit; Dinner: A Love Story; Martha Stewart; Williams-Sonoma; Chelsea Kyle, Epicurious