Weeknight Cooking

8 Things I've Learned Developing Weeknight Recipes

Tricks and tips for easier, faster meals.

Published Sept. 27, 2023.

The task of getting dinner on the table is never more daunting nor dire as when my two tiny tyrants are howling with hunger and turning my kitchen into their personal wrestling ring. But in my time developing Cook’s Country’s “Dinner Tonight” recipe cards (each a full meal that can be made in less than an hour with 11 or fewer ingredients), I’ve learned a trick or two for streamlining everyday cooking. Here are some of my favorite ways to calm the dinnertime chaos.

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10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.

1. Embrace Shortcut Ingredients

Busy weeknights are not the time to be righteous about making every last thing from scratch. Save time (and sometimes money) by relying on convenience items: Shred a rotisserie chicken and use it for casseroles, chilis, and pasta. Use store-bought pizza doughs and pie doughs. Use vacuum-packed cooked beets. Turn fish sticks into tacos. Add American cheese to keep cheese sauces creamy without a roux. Use ingredients with extra flavor already incorporated, like canned fire-roasted tomatoes or chipotle chiles packed in adobo sauce.


Spinach-Artichoke Macaroni and Cheese

Beloved spinach-artichoke dip plus elbow macaroni equals a stellar version of mac and cheese.
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2. Stock Your Pantry

Keep the basics on hand and you’ll always be just an ingredient or two away from dinner; think canned beans (chickpeas and white beans are both so versatile), pasta, rice, instant polenta, broth, and canned tomatoes and tomato paste.

350+ Recipes

The Complete Modern Pantry

Flexibility is the core of pantry cooking–when every cook needs to improvise. The Complete Modern Pantry captures the ethos of true pantry cooking with a unique approach.

3. Stock Your Freezer Too

I don't mean with frozen meals (though there’s no shame there) but with ingredients to help speed dinner along. Keep a loaf of your favorite crusty bread as an easy side for soups and stews (mine is a rosemary-and–olive oil sourdough from my local supermarket). You can thaw a bag of frozen shrimp quickly enough to go from frozen solid to dinner on the table in less than an hour. Frozen peas, corn, and shelled edamame all are easy last-minute additions to pastas and soups or can be a side themselves when sautéed in butter with salt, garlic, and some chopped fresh herbs.

4. Lean on Time-Saving Appliances

My microwave gets a gold medal for weeknight cooking. I rely on it to jump-start cooking tough vegetables and potatoes, to parcook rice for speedy risottos, and to quickly toast bread crumbs or nuts. The runner-up is my trusty immersion blender: It blends soups, purees, and dressings just as well as a conventional blender but is less bulky, easier to clean, and can do a full pot of soup in one batch. (Honorable mention goes to my rice cooker, which lives happily and permanently on my countertop and takes all of the guesswork out of the shockingly intimidating task of cooking perfect rice.)


Roasted Chicken Thighs with Potatoes and Green Beans

White wine and herbs elevate this simple weeknight roast chicken dish.
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5. Use One Pot

Everyone knows the worst part of cooking dinner is washing the dishes. Make it easy for your future self by minimizing pots and pans. Cook everything in one skillet, roast everything together on one sheet pan (lined with foil for even easier cleanup), or toss vegetables right into the pot when your pasta or grains are almost done cooking.

6. Make Sauces Multitask

It’s no secret that an exciting sauce can make good food great. But there’s no need to whip up separate marinades, dressings, and dips for each component of your meal. A vinaigrette can double as a finishing drizzle over grilled meat, some chutney or compote can get mixed into a dressing, and extra spice rubs or herb pastes can get mixed into a creamy dipping sauce.


Grilled Garlic and Parsley Pork Chops with Potatoes

A parsley-heavy herb paste spruces up simple grilled pork chops.
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7. Build Your Repertoire of Easy No-Think Meals

Have at least one go-to meal in your back pocket that you know you can always throw together with what’s in the fridge, something that is so effortless that it’s ready before delivery would even arrive. For me it’s a fridge clean-out frittata, but an easy pasta or soup also fits the bill.

8. When in Doubt, Grill

Throw a seasoned protein plus a veg or two on the grill, pull them off as they finish, and then drizzle it all with a simple, flavorful sauce, and serve. Just the act of cooking on the grill and the flavorful char it imparts makes an improvised meal feel purposeful and special. 

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