I’ll admit it. I’m kind of spoiled. Most days, my husband is the one who does all the cooking. Sometimes it’s fancy — herb-crusted pork loin, risotto cakes, and minted peas. Sometimes it’s kid-friendly — spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, red beans and rice. Sometimes the kids eat soup, and we eat spicy tofu. And sometimes we just get tired of washing dishes and order takeout. The food is always delicious, but the main thing that I like is that I don’t have to worry about it.
Making sure the kids are wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day? Me. Buying birthday presents for parties? Usually me. Remembering when library books are due, when we have to pay the power bill, and what nights trash and recycling go out? Me, me, and me.
But groceries, meal-planning, and cooking? Not it!
Sometimes I’ll get the urge to cook something or I’ll see a recipe that I’d like to try, and I enjoy being in the kitchen, chopping, sautéing, zesting lemons, sprinkling salt, tasting, tweaking, adding a splash of wine. But cooking for a family of picky kids at the end of a long, hectic day is not nearly as gratifying as cooking used to be in my grad school days, when I had hours to make something elaborate and my friends had hours to enjoy it while they showered me with effusive praise and kept refilling my wineglass.
Of course, sometimes I do have to cook — when my husband is sick or out of town or just tired of cooking.
On those days, I have three go-to meals, all of which my kids will eat without complaint (unless they’re in a mood) and two of which have actual protein (my kids and I would happily go days on carbs alone). They’re not gourmet, and they’re not particularly healthy, but they’re better than just ordering pizza (which is my fourth go-to meal in a pinch).
Slow-Cooker Chicken Chili
There are about 80 million recipes for this. This is the one I use because it requires literally six ingredients, including spices, and it requires absolutely no chopping or mincing or dicing. I’m not overpromising here — this probably is not the “world’s best chicken chili.” But it is exactly what it says it is: chicken chili that you make in the slow cooker.
- 1 package of chicken breasts
- 2 cans of cannellini beans
- 1 jar of your favorite salsa (I like Frontera Roasted Tomato)
- 1 tablespoon of chili powder
- 1 teaspoon of cumin
- 1 bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Put the first five ingredients in your slow cooker, and cook for six hours (or until you’re able to get home and turn it off).
- Take the chicken out, shred it, and return it to the slow cooker.
- Stir in the bag of shredded cheese, and cook for 1 more hour on low.
- Serve with rice — or just out of bowls.
Pasta with White Beans, Lemon, and Tomatoes
I watched Sara Moulton make a version of this when I was home on maternity leave with Ruby. I forget how she made it. This is my version. I’m sure it’s not as good as hers, but I make it all the time.
- 1 onion, diced
- Olive oil
- 1 lemon, zested and then juiced
- 1 can of cannellini beans
- 1 can of diced tomatoes
- 1 pound of cooked pasta
- Cook the onion in olive oil; add some salt after about 3 minutes, and then continue cooking for at least 15 minutes if your kids are anywhere near as offended by “crunchy” onions as mine are.
- Add the zest and juice of the lemon, along with the beans and tomatoes.
- If you have wine or stock, you can add a splash, but it’s fine if you don’t.
- Let it simmer while the pasta finishes cooking, and then stir it all together.
- Top with Parmesan if you’ve got it.
This is the basically the recipe above with all protein stripped out. Sometimes I serve this with a rotisserie chicken if I’ve planned ahead enough to have purchased a rotisserie chicken. This is the meal my children will probably associate with me long after I am dead and buried.
- Olive oil
- A couple of cloves of garlic if you feel like chopping it up (I make this without garlic at least half the time)
- 2 lemons, zested and juiced
- Cooked pasta
- Any herbs you like and/or have on hand and/or feel like dealing with (I make this without herbs at least 75 percent of the time)
- Melt about a half-stick of butter with an equal part (4 tablespoons) of olive oil.
- Add the garlic if you’re using it, and cook for about a minute.
- If you’re skipping garlic, add the lemon zest and juice, along with the salt. (I use unsalted butter; if you use salted, you may not need salt at all.)
- Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce to coat, and sprinkle with herbs if you’re using them.
- Again, this is good with Parmesan on top. (Most things are.)
What are your go-to meals?