Several months ago I was driving to Trader Joe's to do my usual grocery shopping, and right as I pulled into the parking lot, an interesting story came on NPR. They were interviewing a Journalist named Elizabeth Segran who had written an article for Fast Company about Blue Apron and the whole boxed meal craze going on right now. People were paying $12 per person per meal to have a little kit sent to their home with "idiot-proof recipes" as Segran calls them, and pre-portioned ingredients. All they had to do was chop a few veggies, follow the directions, and voila -- dinner was served.
Segren admitted to using the meal kits because she and her husband are millennials who grew up with parents that were so busy working to support them, they never cooked much or taught them how to cook. As much as she loves food, she admits, "my husband and I find ourselves wanting to come home to a nice home-cooked dinner at the end of the day. But we're too busy and too inexperienced to make that happen."
The whole interview reminded me of Michael Pollan's latest book, Cooked. In the Intro, he writes, "The amount of time spent preparing meals in American households has fallen by half since the mid-sxities . . . And yet at the same time, we're talking about cooking more -- and watching cooking, and reading about cooking . . . We live in an age when professional cooks are household names, some of them as famous as athletes or movie stars . . . there are now millions of people who spend more time watching food being cooked on television than they spend actually cooking it themselves."
All of this was making me rather sad, but then I started thinking about how elaborate many shows on the Food Network had become. Chefs were experimenting with exotic ingredients, like squid ink, and perfecting elaborate new techniques using molecular gastronomy. Everyone was trying to out-do each other with the most unique, inventive dishes possible. Of course cooking had become a spectator sport -- who had the time or skill level to attempt any of this at home?
Even my own blog went through a phase where I was showcasing complicated recipes from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery cookbook. But listening to Segren's interview challenged me to scale things WAY down and go back to the basics. To encourage the average person -- millennial, or otherwise -- to feel empowered to feed themselves and to take pride in what they make. For cooking to be fun and not overwhelming, because making a basic dinner is not rocket science, friends. And it certainly doesn't need to cost $12 per person, per serving.
With that in mind, I present you with 5 easy dinner recipes that anybody could throw together. These are my go-to meals when I am tired and busy and just want to make something quick, dependable, and tasty. I hope you will find at least one that strikes your fancy, and if you do, please leave a comment or snap a quick photo of what you make. I'd love to hear about it :)
1. Chicken and Veggies Stir Fry from Laura in the Kitchen Her homemade stir fry sauce is incredible, and way healthier than any bottled one you can buy in the store. To make this recipe even easier, try buying a pack of pre-cut, stir fry vegetables from Trader Joe's, or wherever else you shop.
2. Turkey Meatloaf With Feta and Sundried Tomatoes by Giada De Laurentiis Yes, you will have to get your hands dirty mixing all the ingredients together, but other than that, it couldn't be simpler. It's also the moistest and most flavorful meatloaf I have ever had.
3. Spinach Ravioli With Carmelized Onions and Tomatoes by Entertaining With Beth Use whatever type of ravioli you like. Sometimes I will buy two different types and mix them together. The full recipe is listed below the video when you click on the word "More" and then scroll down.
4. Lemon Chicken Breasts by Ina Garten This couldn't be easier. Just dump all the ingredients in a baking dish and throw in the oven. While the chicken is cooking, you can make a salad and wrap some french bread in foil and throw it the oven during the last 5-10 minutes. One other important note: you need boneless chicken breasts with the skin on, which means you will need to purchase chicken breasts with a bone in them and then ask the butcher to de-bone them for you. Seriously, it's not hard. Just grab any old package of chicken breasts with the skin on them, hand them to the butcher, and he will open them up, de-bone them, and then repackage them for you. Butchers are rad, so don't be afraid to utilize them.
5. Lime-and-Honey Glazed Salmon With Warm Black Bean and Corn Salad by Rachael Ray This recipe involves a bit more chopping than the rest, but if you pour yourself a glass of wine and turn on some music, you might be surprised to find the prep work is actually enjoyable.