I feel better when I eat home-cooked food, but in my house, every night is a fire drill: Gather groceries during a break from work; forget essential grocery item, thus requiring a second trip to the store; prep ingredients while toddler entertains herself by applying peanut butter to her hair using a stale bagel; slide a messily-prepared meal in the oven early enough that food will appear at just about the minute that everyone has passed out on the couch in exhaustion. Sometimes we eat bread and cheese for dinner, and that's okay. But I miss cooking meals that are just a little more inspiring (and yes, balanced, too).
So I mined the Serious Eats archives for the quickest meals we could muster—dishes that are fresh, comforting, and full of flavor. With this week-long plan on hand, I can organize my shopping a bit more efficiently and avoid another night of sad, congealed pizza delivery.
A Note for Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot Enthusiasts: There are a few pressure cooker recipes below, but if you have one of these magical devices, you can basically consider all your cooking-in-a-hurry problems solved. Start with lightning-fast chicken with chickpeas and tomatoes, or super-easy chicken, lentil, and bacon stew. You can make your own Pho Ga or excellent (and speedy) green chili. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Debating which cooker to buy? Here are Kenji's picks for the best pressure cooker, both stovetop and electric.
Baking is one of the things that I miss most when I'm busy, so I've been trying to set aside some time on the weekend to stash my freezer with homemade baked goods. After an easy omelette breakfast, I'll knock out muffins or scones for upcoming breakfasts (and, you know, sample one for quality assurance purposes.) Dinner is a hearty kale and sausage soup that only takes ten minutes of prep and thirty minutes overall; I'll count on the leftovers for lunch Monday and Tuesday. If you miraculously find yourself with a bit of extra time, consider batching up some homemade hummus and Yemenite hot sauce for the week to come.
Brunch: Diner-Style Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyère Omelette for Two or Diner-Style Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyère Omelette for Two.
Snack: Raisin-Bran Muffins or Bakery-Style Cream Scones With Milk Chocolate. The scones can be portioned, wrapped tightly in plastic, and frozen. Then, just pop them straight into a 400 °F oven, no thawing required. Just be sure to sprinkle the sugar on before serving, rather than immediately after cutting the dough.
Dinner: Caldo Verde (Portuguese Potato and Kale Soup With Sausage) with a loaf of bread.
Dessert: Fruit and, if you want to get fancy, Marbled Chocolate Ganache.
It's easier to face Monday with homemade baked goods and a pre-prepped lunch. Dinner's as easy as it gets with spicy chorizo quesadillas and a fresh cabbage and onion slaw. The Margarita isn't required, but just in case you need it, you'll find the recipe below.
Breakfast: A muffin or scone and yogurt.
Lunch: Leftover Caldo Verde.
Snack: Hummus (homemade, or, let's be honest, storebought) and veggies, with Zhug if you like it spicy.
Dinner: Chorizo Quesadillas With Radish and Fennel Salsa, Spicy Cabbage and Red Onion Slaw, and a classic Margarita.
Early in my food writing career, I volunteered to subsist exclusively on mac and cheese as I attempted to narrow down New York City's best options. I (mostly) didn't regret my commitment to such an important piece of journalism, and it's still a go-to comfort food, especially when making it is as easy as Kenji's three-ingredient version. If you're feeling a little fancier, try Daniel's saffron-laced risotto instead.
Breakfast: Cereal or a bran muffin or scone.
Lunch: Leftover Caldo Verde or Avocado Toast With Boquerones and Smoked Paprika
Snack: More hummus, veggies, and zhug.
Dinner: 3-Ingredient Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese or Risotto alla Milanese with a Winter Greens Salad With Fennel, Citrus, and Creamy Citrus Vinaigrette.
Breakfast: Fluffy Scrambled Eggs.
Lunch: Sichuan Shirataki Sesame Noodle Salad With Cucumber, Sichuan Peppercorn, Chili Oil, and Peanuts or Easy Make-Ahead Carrot and Chickpea Salad With Dill and Pumpkin Seeds .
Snack: Microwave Popcorn in a Brown Paper Bag or Whirley Pop popcorn.
Dinner: Crispy Pan-Seared Salmon Fillets and 5-Minute Radicchio and Watercress Salad. No time to get fish? Make Spaghetti Puttanesca or Cacio e Pepe instead.
Note: If you'd like to make a smoothie Thursday morning, freeze a tray of kefir cubes Wednesday night! Make the quinoa salad for lunch while you're at it.
As Kenji put it, "Chicken + Egg + 15 Minutes = Dinner", and that's the kind of math I can really get behind. I'd add "+ Rice Cooker" in there, too, because I love how hands-off a rice cooker is and how much it assuages my rice-technique anxiety. Oyakodon is a classic dish of simmered chicken and egg, served with rice (and a raw egg yolk if you're into that sort of thing; feel free to skip it if not.) If you're craving a little more green stuff, take that rice another way: fry it up with blistered green beans and stir in fresh basil leaves.
Breakfast: Blueberry, Ginger, and Kefir Smoothie or Toast With Refried Beans and Avocado.
Lunch: Make-Ahead Quinoa Salad With Cucumber, Tomato, and Herbs.
Snack: Dried fruit and nuts.
Dinner: Oyakodon (Japanese Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl) or Fried Rice With Blistered Green Beans and Basil.
I love a good cream cheese-topped bagel with nova on top, but sometimes you don't have a decent bagel around, and sometimes you want to mix up your routine a bit. Enter the smoked salmon-topped avocado toast, spread with tangy goat cheese and sprinkled with capers. It's sophisticated enough that I'm sure you'll forgive my Friday lunch plan.
Breakfast: Avocado Toast With Smoked Salmon, Goat Cheese, and Capers.
Lunch: Microwave Nachos for One. It's Friday. Give me a break.
Snack: Apple and peanut butter.
Dinner: Mussels With Thai Red Curry Broth and Rice Noodles or 30-Minute Pressure Cooker Split Pea and Ham Soup with bread.
Nothing says weekend like waffles, but we don't always have time to fuss with a fancy yeast-raised version. Stella's buttermilk vanilla waffles are perfect for those times: prepped in just five minutes, and fully ready in twenty. Dinner's made quickly on the grill—delegate that job so you can stir up a quick butterscotch pudding for dessert.
Breakfast: Buttermilk Vanilla Waffles and fruit.
Lunch: Leftover soup or Quick-Marinated White Bean Salad and Feta Lettuce Cups.
Snack: Cheese and salumi.
Dinner: Grilled Chicken Cutlets With Rosemary, Garlic, and Lemon and Grilled Green Bean Salad With Red Peppers and Radishes.
Dessert: Stovetop Butterscotch Pudding.
After a Sunday of chasing a certain toddler around the playground, I'm wiped. And I want someone to feed me something nice—someone who has more time to cook than I do. But the secret is that an elegant meal doesn't have to take long: This glazed pork tenderloin, including its snazzy fig and bourbon sauce, requires just half and hour from start to finish. Pair it with a Boulevardier and say goodnight.
Brunch: Shakshuka (North African-Style Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce).
Snack: Bread or veggies and hummus or Black Olive Tapenade.
Dinner: Easy Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Bourbon-Soaked Figs with Green Salad With Tomatoes, Scallions, and Toasted Kasha.
Dessert: Leftover pudding, if there is such a thing.