The world is hard, dinner doesn't need to be...
a.k.a. how I figure out what to make for dinner on a normal night + some easy go-to meal ideas
There is so much happening. Our newsfeeds, inboxes, emotional capacities….they’re all FULL. With it all in mind, I just wanted to share how I actually figure out what to make for dinner on a normal night. Because everything is hard enough. Dinner doesn’t need to be.
FIRST SOME HELPFUL REMINDERS:
Not every meal you eat has to be the best meal you’ve ever had
Not every meal you eat has to go on social media
Normalize eating when you’re hungry, even if it’s not a ‘normal’ meal time
Sometimes a PB+J on a paper towel is just the thing
BASIC EITHER/OR QUESTIONS I ASK MYSELF + MY SPOUSE GRACE WHEN DECIDING WHAT TO MAKE FOR DINNER:
Hot or cold?
Crunchy or soft?
Spicy or not so much?
Bright-and-tart or slow-and-low?
Grilled/charred/crispy or steamy/tender/cozy?
These questions will often help me and Grace figure out what we actually want to eat.
LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE + THEN THINK ABOUT A TYPE OF CUISINE YOU LIKE [ALSO WORKS WELL THE OTHER WAY AROUND]:
Here are a few examples of how this goes down in our house.
“We have some chicken and potatoes to use up. Are you feeling a kind-of Greek vibe, a Southeast Asian vibe, or a BBQ vibe?”
→ depending on the answer, I would then make:
CHICKEN + POTATOES, GREEK VIBE: slow-roasted chicken + potatoes with lots of lemon/olive oil/dried oregano + serve with crumbled feta and maybe a cucumber salad OR sautéed chicken with some frozen spinach + feta with a side of crispy air-fried potatoes tossed with lemon + dried oregano
CHICKEN + POTATOES, SOUTHEAST ASIAN VIBE: a simple coconut curry: sauté a chopped onion, add a big spoonful of curry paste (here’s my favorite), a can of coconut milk (here’s my favorite) + then add chicken (cut into pieces), diced potatoes, maybe some carrots if I have any + some greens from the freezer / serve over rice / top with nothing or you can do some toasted peanuts and/or cilantro and/or fried onions / this also works beautifully with fish or just vegetables!!!!
CHICKEN + POTATOES, BBQ VIBE: rub the chicken with smoked paprika + garlic powder, air-fry or grill or roast, then slather with BBQ sauce (here’s my favorite) / serve with mashed potatoes + some garlicky greens or a super quick cabbage slaw
“We have eggs, cheese + some cherry tomatoes. Want to take those to Mexico? Maybe down South? Or to Italy?”
→ depending on the answer, I would then make:
EGGS, CHEESE, TOMATOES / MEXICAN VIBE: cheesy egg tacos with a quick pico (chopped tomatoes, finely diced onion, chopped pickled jalapeños + some juice from the pickled jalapeño jar)
EGGS, CHEESE, TOMATOES / SOUTHERN VIBE: cheddar grits with roasted tomatoes + a fried egg on top
EGGS, CHEESE, TOMATOES / ITALIAN VIBE: spaghetti with raw tomato sauce (halve the tomatoes - see here for how to do this quickly!!, toss with olive oil, minced garlic, salt + fresh basil if I have it or just a pinch of dried oregano, a shake of vinegar- red wine or balsamic), topped with a fried egg + Parmesan
LASTLY, HERE ARE SOME GO-TO MEALS I REGULARLY MAKE— MAYBE THEY’LL STRIKE A CHORD WITH YOU, TOO?!
Fish from our freezer defrosted and then either air-fried or broiled with butter + lemon plus air-fried diced sweet potatoes + a salad or another vegetable / a little yogurt dill sauce is nice with this (yogurt + salt + chopped dill + squeeze of lemon + shake of garlic powder)
Fish tacos: white fish cut into pieces, tossed with garlic powder, paprika, a little cumin + salt— into air-fryer! Then simple cabbage slaw of shredded cabbage massaged with salt with lime + then mix in a spoonful of mayo / serve those on charred corn tortillas
Stir-fry + rice: usually I do just veggies for this and top with roasted, salted peanuts + sometimes some crispy fried onions
Air-fried crispy tofu / rice / veggies / a yummy sauce (usually equal parts mayo, soy sauce + rice vinegar)
Roasted or grilled chicken / roasted or boiled baby potatoes / garlicky greens or an arugula salad
Coconut curry over rice made with fish, chicken, or vegetables (see notes above for how I make this)
When it’s cold outside: brothy soup with lots of stuff in it. Usually chicken broth made with Better Than Bouillon that I’ll poach a chicken breast or two in, shred the chicken, then add some diced carrots + kale (often from the freezer). Let simmer until everything is nice and soft. Finish with a raw minced garlic clove + serve with some rice or pasta in it, or with garlic toast on the side
I also love a stewy soup in the spirit of a minestrone…usually it means browning turkey sausage out of its casing, adding a chopped onion, some chopped carrots, and chopped cabbage. Then a can of diced tomatoes + some chicken broth. Let that simmer for like an hour and eat with lots of grated parmesan or pecorino / garlic toast on the side!!
What do I mean by garlic toast? A big thick slice of bread toasted, rubbed with a raw garlic clove, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt….or mash a clove of minced garlic into softened butter and spread on toast!
Pasta with garlicky greens — sometimes we add browned turkey sausage to this— and lots of parmesan, sometimes a fried egg on top
Best weeknight pasta: brown a pound of Italian sausage (we use turkey sausage) out of its casing, add a jar of Rao’s tomato sauce + a splash of cream or half-and-half, mix with cooked pasta….yummmm
Baked potatoes (regular or sweet potatoes) cracked open with chili on top (either the Best Vegan Chili from Simply Julia or turkey chili which I make the same way, I just do ground turkey instead of tofu!)
In the summer: hot dogs + grilled corn + salad!
I hope these thoughts + ideas help make dinnertime a little easier. For paid subscribers, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about your go-to dinners. What’s east to make and clean up? Fun + comforting to eat? What are you having for dinner tonight?? Feeling stuck? Let me know some ingredients you’ve got in your kitchen + I can share some ideas!
Before I sign off, just wanted to remind you all that this coming Sunday, July 10th, will be my final class of the summer (taking a break before returning to regular Sunday classes in the fall).
It is going to be a special pride class because pride doesn’t end in June! It will be a chance for queer + trans people, and the people who actively support our rights, to gather from all over the world in our home kitchens at the same time and just make some food together + celebrate ourselves and our community.
We will honor our queer + trans ancestors and talk about how to center joy in our experience as queer + trans people. This will be a queer + trans centered class and space. This means that everyone is welcome, no matter how you identify, but queer + trans stories and voices will be front-and-center.
This class will be on a sliding scale (including free!*) and all proceeds from this class will be divided between Sins Invalid, The Okra Project + the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. There will be special guests including Rabbi Rabbi Elliot Kukla!
On the menu: we will be making a colorful, festive Hibiscus Rum Punch (it’s just as good without rum!), my spouse's absolutely favorite Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits, and a Tofu Scramble. Let’s have some fun! SIGN UP HERE!!
*EVEN IF YOU’D LIKE TO ATTEND FOR FREE, PLEASE REGISTER SO THAT YOU GET THE RECIPES + ZOOM LINK*