Weeknight Cooking

14 Recipes You Only Have to Make Halfway

February 25, 2016

Does following a recipe to its completion feel like a Herculean task?

...Yes? Me, too.

For desperate times and hungry times—and desperately hungry times—break overwhelming recipes into their constituent parts. While the 12 dinners (and 2 desserts) below might seem complicated, they each have a simpler, more manageable component that you can pull out, prepare quickly, and use creatively.

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For the following recipes, here's what you should skip, what you should make, and how you should use it after:

Make: the cheese- and panko-crusted chicken tenders.
Skip: the pesto and the caponata. Lay the tenders over a green salad or tuck them into a baguette with roasted red peppers, smeared with your favorite dressing (or some butter mixed with roasted garlic).

Or, hey! Slather that sandwich with an any-season pesto made, primarily, from spinach and dried basil, from the recipe below:

Skip: the soup (but save it for another day).
Make: the pesto in the food processor, then mix it with linguine or farro or save it for marinating or topping salmon or chicken throughout the week.

Skip: either one of the two components.
Make: the dumplings—mixed from frozen spinach, chickpea flour, onion, chile, and lots of spice—then nestle them into a pita spread with plain yogurt; or the buttermilk-based, turmeric-colored stew—add a can of beans or cooked and shredded chicken for substance.

Skip: the pasta.
Make: the "slow-cooked" (it only takes 20 minutes!) cauliflower-garlic-anchovy sauce. Spoon it over toasted bread or add it to a frittata. Or put it anywhere you'd put Marcella Hazan's smothered cabbage.

Skip: the squash.
Make: the farro salad, adding in any leftover nuts in your pantry and greens in your fridge.

Skip: the filet mignon (...as if we had to say that).
Make: the ricotta gnocchi—they aren't as prone to toughness as the potato kind (and they don't require any food mills or potato ricers)—as well as the mushroom brown butter sauce. The dough has to sit in the fridge for at least 45 minutes, so consider mixing it up one night and shaping and boiling the dumplings the next. (Leftover sauce? Use it to coat a pan before you fry eggs.)

Skip: the pasta.
Make: the broccoli rabe and white bean sauce (instead of adding the rabe to the pasta water, just blanch it on its own). If you can't find broccoli rabe, use kale or mustard greens.

Skip: the toast.
Make: the squash, onion, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup mixture. Eat it over top of brown rice or on top a pile of sturdy greens (which the hot squash will help to wilt). Or, with a spoon.

Skip: the potatoes.
Make: the Buffalo chicken. When you don't have time to cook potatoes, slice them in half, scoop out their flesh, fill them with chicken you've tossed in cornstarch and pan-fried, and send back into the oven... cut to the chase chicken. Eat the chicken over a puddle of the blue cheese and sour cream mixture.

Skip: the pasta.
Make: the fantasy sauce. A combination of sautéed bacon, leeks, and onion with wilted spinach and plenty of butter, cream, and white wine, ladle it onto anything else you're eating for dinner: cooked greens, roasted chicken, a piece of bread, a bowl of savory oats...

Skip: the noodles and the vegetables.
Make: the ponzu dressing. Keep it in your refrigerator throughout the week to add some excitement to a bowl of rice or baked tofu. Drizzle it over nearly-roasted carrots, then send them back into the oven for just a couple of minutes to concentrate the flavor. Or make a ponzu pool in a shallow bowl and drop in roasted shrimp.

Skip: the cauliflower.
Make: the meatballs (they're broiled in the oven, so no messy pan-frying) and the tahini-yogurt sauce.

Skip: the cake.
Make: the roasted pears. Spoon them into your morning oatmeal or bowl of yogurt. Or top with a quick streusel made from butter, flour, oats, brown sugar, and chopped nuts. Send into the oven—impromptu fruit crumble.

Skip: the banana ice cream (but promise us you'll make it later!).
Make: the chocolate-date cake. Ice cream cake assumes a tolerance for delayed gratification that most of us don't have on weeknights. So go for the cake, which is gooey and caramelly from Medjool dates and bitter and rich from dark chocolate. If you must have ice cream (and you must!) buy a pint at the store.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Cindy
  • 702551
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
  • Sarah Jampel
    Sarah Jampel
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Cindy November 18, 2016
Do people actually eat this stuff? Nothing mentioned even sounded edible. How about some basic food like cubed steak and potatoes or pork roast/ chops? What is wrong with the type of midwestern food I grew up with? Nearly every new recipe I see has some ingredient I've never heard of.
702551 February 25, 2016
As for the filet/gnocchi recipe, it is unnecessarily long (time wise) due to the way the recipe proceeds because the filet is cooking while nothing else is happening in the kitchen. That's poor time management.

Looking at this recipe, I would reorder some of the steps. Put water on to boil for the gnocchi as well as heat up the pan for the filets (the oven should already have reached the right temperature). Sear the steaks, transfer to oven, then put another pan on for the brown butter sauce which proceeds pretty quickly. Boil the 2 batches of gnocchi. By the time the steaks have cooked to the desired temperature and rested, the gnocchi should be done. That would actually improve the dish as it is served, since gnocchi are best freshly cooked (brown butter sauce is also better freshly made).

The big time/effort saver for this recipe would be to substitute store-bought fresh gnocchi or pasta. It is the homemade gnocchi that consumes the most effort in this recipe, not the brown butter sauce nor the steaks.

A lot of online recipes can be made much quicker by reordering some of the steps and/or by making a judicious substitution of one or two ingredients. This recipe can be streamlined by both.
702551 February 25, 2016
Concerning the roasted delicata squash & farro recipe: you don't save any time by eliminating the delicata squash. You can just cut in half, bake, and work on the rest of the recipe while the squash is roasting.

It's actually the farro and its accompanying ingredients that are far more labor intensive. First of all, toasting then cooking the farro takes about twenty minutes. There's a fair amount of vegetable prep: shaving fennel, chopping scallions, seeding a pomegranate, zesting/juice an orange, etc.

The real way to save effort on this recipe is to forget the farro. Just roast the delicata squash, pour yourself a drink, then come back 20-30 minutes later. Scoop out the seeds, and add a pat of butter, some salt and pepper.
Sarah J. February 25, 2016
Those are good points, definitely, and thank you for sharing. I thought that the farro seemed generally more versatile than the squash: It's a recipe open to more interpretation and it can be customized and use throughout the week, which is why I recommended it.
Sarah J. February 25, 2016
Maybe another good suggestion would be: "Skip: toasting the farro."
702551 February 25, 2016
The cooked farro by itself is fairly versatile. Once you combine it with the rest of the ingredients listed in this specific recipe, it will lose its fresh charm quickly.

Roasted delicata squash can last about a week in the fridge.

I noticed this recipe when it said "Skip: the squash" because I know that roasting delicata squash is one of most brainless, low effort things one can do in a kitchen.

Heck, I don't even bother cutting them in half before roasting. I just poke a couple of holes, toss the whole squash into the oven. I'll cut in half when they're done.

As for toasting the farro, a lot of grains benefit from a light toast before cooking with liquid. Rices are often treated this way (pilaf, risotto). Toasting the farro takes five minutes. I wouldn't just stand there by the stove staring at it. There are plenty of ways to use up that time: 1.) clean veggies, 2.) zest/juice the orange, 3.) chop scallions, or 4.) seeding the pomegranate.
Kristen M. February 25, 2016
You are a genius.