My new approach to cooking: Filling in the holes

15 Mar

At my high school, we were allowed to bring in cheat sheets for all our chem, physics, and even religion tests. Those cheat sheets had limitations, of course: a periodic table with anything written on the front side, one sheet of formulas, or a bible, annotated however we saw fit. But as my husband and I were talking about this the other day, I realized that those cheat sheets helped teach me how to develop effective systems.

As a result, systems generally work for me. I’ve created systems around many of the nuisance things in life, like where I put my keys (in the same pocket in my purse every time or on the same table in our house) and how I take care of bills (unpaid bills sticking up in a folder on my desk, paid bills tucked inside the folder). Efficient systems help me deal better with odious or annoying tasks because I can get them done faster and with less thought.

That’s why I was kind of surprised that the Dinner: The Plan system was not working for me. But after my mild crisis, described in self-pitying detail in my last post, I realized that I needed to adapt the system to me. Trying random recipes was kind of stressful. My brain likes categories. I realized I needed to fill certain buckets of recipes, rather than just build new repertoire generally.

What I really needed were two to three tried-and-true ways to prepare all of the things we regularly eat. I also needed some recipes that were fast from start to finish and some recipes that I could put in the oven for at least 30 minutes so I’d have time to leave, get the Bug at daycare, and have dinner be ready when I got home. When I thought about it this way, I was much, much closer to my goal than I thought I was.

So here’s my (in progress) list of go-to recipes. I still have many holes to fill, but you get the picture:

Chicken parts

  1. Apricot-dijon glazed chicken
  2. Cornflake-crusted chicken

Whole chicken

  1. Roast splatchcocked lemon chicken
  2. Bittman’s simplest whole roast chicken, with variations (I actually roast mine according to the recipe in the original How to Cook Everything, but I am going to try the cast-iron skillet approach)

Pork: tenderloin or chops

  1. Spicy pork with parsnips and sweet potatoes. You can use cayenne or any rub.

[Some sort of beef]

  1. Oat-based meatloaf

Fish (especially salmon, trout, and shrimp)

  1. Shrimp and vegetable tempura
  2. Miso-glazed salmon


  1. Roasted veggies, especially sweet potatoes (or other root vegetables), broccoli and cauliflower, and Brussels spouts.
  2. Green beans with ginger and garlic
  3. Braised and glazed Brussels sprouts
  4. Brussels sprouts, apple, and bacon hash
  5. Lemon-garlic Brussels sprouts
  6. Greens with double-garlic


  1. Any pasta with Dave’s homemade red sauce and meatballs
  2. Penne with butternut squash, kale, and pecorino

Slow-cooker or other make-in-the-morning, eat-at-night dishes

I could use some help here.


  1. Roasted chickpeas (easy to make, and a big hit with the Bug)
  2. Perfect chocolate chip cookies (labor intensive, but they live up to the name)
  3. Any stir-fry or fried rice (great way to use up leftovers)
  4. Jim Lahey’s no knead bread (not fast, but very little hands-on time and good for when you’re spending a lot of time at home, say, with a newborn)
  5. Yogurt (like the no-knead bread, it’s not fast but good for when you have a lot of partially occupied time)
  6. Pizza with this sauce and this dough.

Not all of these are super fast, but they are reliable, tasty recipes that I can cook while only glancing at the recipe. I clearly need to fill out some of the categories, but it’s much more encouraging to think that I only need one more chicken parts recipe than that I need A BILLION NEW, EASIER RECIPES TO COMMIT TO MEMORY OR ELSE OUR FAMILY WILL BE EATING MAC AND CHEESE AND PEAS FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES! (Which, I am embarrassed to admit, is kind of how I’d been thinking.)

Do you have a favorite recipe that fits in these categories? Share it in the comments below.


2 Responses to “My new approach to cooking: Filling in the holes”

  1. Lindsay March 21, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    Hey Nicole! I always enjoy reading about your cooking adventures. 🙂 Here are my fast go-tos these days:
    Ridiculously easy and delicious tomato sauce for pasta:
    Pulled pork (I use tenderloin so I don’t have to cut off a bunch of fat. Day 1: pulled pork tacos Day 2: pulled pork sandwiches with sriracha mayo)
    Chicken pitas with tzatziki: shredded store-bought rotisserie chicken combined with lemon juice and whatever seasoning you like + greek yogurt with dill, cucumber, mint, and minced garlic
    And boxed couscous is my latest side dish to everything since it takes exactly five minutes to make.


  1. Lea & Perrin’s pulled pork | Recipe report card | Seamripper - April 20, 2015

    […] bout of cooking. I have two brownie recipes to add after this, and then I think I’m done. In my cooking revamp comeback post, my friend Lindsay shared her pulled pork recipe, which she uses to make pulled pork sandwiches […]

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