Don’t over complicate dinner

I’m probably the last person to give this advice. I almost always over complicate meals, especially when I have guests. I live to impress, with both quantity and quality. It’s part of my culture, I guess. In Romania, you always make several courses when you have guests, and you make a lot of food. See, in poor countries, you show your wealth by the amount of food you can put on the table when you host a dinner. There is also no concept of guests bringing stuff. When my friends come over, they always ask “What should I bring?”. I’m learning to get past my instinct of saying “Nothing, duh, you’re a guest” and asking them to bring a side dish or dessert. That’s a completely non existent concept in Romanian culture. You host, you make everything and incur all the cost. Beverages included. You may get flowers as a gift from guests, but that’s it. Bleh, stupid culture!

Aaaaanyway, dinner. I work a lot and I don’t have much time to cook in the evenings. So most of my weeknight dinners look like this: meat with a side of something (sometimes) and a salad. And I do all of that in 15-20 minutes tops.

Meat

The trick with meat is either getting something that cooks very fast, like sausages or fish, or pre-cooking it on the weekend. See below my choices for all of the different types of meat.

Beef and Pork 

Sous vide chuck roast. Garlic sauteed shiitake mushrooms. Lettuce dressed with lemon juice and olive oil

If you don’t have a sous vide, stop whatever you are doing right now and go buy one. Seriously! It has changed the way I cook. Basically I drop a 4-5 lbs roast in the sous vide on Saturday, pull it out on Sunday, sear it for a couple of minutes on all sides and done. I have dinner (and lunch) for the week. Here’s a recipe I use a lot for sous vide chuck roast. I have the Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooke and I really recommend it. It may seem expensive at first, but you’ll get your money back in no time. You’ll be able to buy much cheaper, traditionally tougher cuts of meat and they’ll come out as tender as expensive steaks.

The slow cooker is also a fabulous tool to cook for the entire week. I drop a roast or a beef tongue in there for 8-12 hours and again, meat for the week. I do not recommend doing chuck roast in the slow cooker though. It’s too tough. The sous vide breaks down the connective tissue but the slow cooker won’t. You’ll need a better cut of meat.

Chicken

Grilled chicken. Spinach strawberry salad topped with cheese curds and dressed with honey poppy seed dressing

I have never made chicken in the sous vide or the slow cooker. I prefer it grilled. I get a couple of pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, season them with salt and pepper and grill them. I prefer thighs over breast because it’s juicier, has a lot more flavor and is way cheaper. Grilled chicken like this is also great on salads for lunch.

Fish

Fish is super fast and easy to do so I always make it fresh. I do have to admit though that the only fish I make is salmon, so I’m not much of an expert on this. But, that being said, I make a mean salmon with garlic and dill.

Sausages

French garlic sausage. Lettuce, tomato, radish and green onion salad with homemade ranch dressing

Yes, sausages deserve their own category because they’re amazing. They’re packed with flavor and take at most 20 minutes to make. You can toss them on the grill while you’re working on the salad or side dish. If you’re lucky and live in Portland, OR, I highly recommend Scratch Meats. Their sausages are the best I’ve ever had. But, Applegate sausages are a good alternative in terms of quality and variety.

Side Dish

First off, I don’t always make a cooked side dish. More often than not I do a salad instead.  There are dishes like roasted vegetables which are super easy to make but you’re still looking at 45 minutes of roasting time. So I choose vegetables or dishes that are fast, but not necessarily simple. Below are some of my favorite side dish recipes to make during the week.

I’ll be updating the above list of side dishes as I discover more. Check back every so often.

Salads

Salad with tomato and hard boiled egg. topped with goat feta. Dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.

Salads are my favorite side dish. I can go as simple or as creative as I want. I can go sweet or savory. Let’s talk dressings first since those tend to take the longest to make. I usually make a couple of dressings on the weekend and store them in jars in the fridge. Below are some of my favorite recipes.

But if I don’t have a dressing pre-made and I don’t have time to make one, lemon juice and olive oil are a life saver. For about 1/2 bunch of lettuce, just squeeze half of a lemon and drizzle about 1 tbsp of olive oil on the lettuce and toss to coat. Sometimes I get adventurous and use arugula instead of lettuce, or shred Parmesan on top! I’m wild like that.

I also make a lot of salads that do not have lettuce in them. Wait, what? Salad with no lettuce?? Yep, and they’re so good!

  • Tomatoes and Avocado. Not a real recipe, just chop up a tomato, 1/2 of an avocado, sprinkle with salt and olive oil and eat.
  • Tomatoes and Mozzarella.
  • Tomatoes and Feta. Again, not much of a recipe. Just chop tomato, sprinkle with crumbled feta and olive oil.
  • Cucumbers in Yogurt (make this ahead of time, and store it in a jar in the fridge)
  • Mango Avocado Salsa (you can also make this with grapefruit)

One last thought

Invest in a good knife. Chopping vegetables can be quite time consuming and doing it with a knife that doesn’t hold its edge is frustrating and discouraging. I have owned a  Shun DM0702 Classic 7-Inch Santoku Knife for over 5 years and have only had to sharpen it once. I highly recommend it.

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