By keeping a few quality ingredients on hand, you can quickly transform your dinners every night of the week. We partnered with Johnsonville to share a few ways we like to make a weeknight meal feel like Sunday dinner.
The other night, I walked in from work at about 7:10. My husband, on a later commuter train, was a few minutes behind me. Our daughters, ages 13 and 15 texted they’d be home soon—they wanted to go for a quick swim at the neighborhood pool before dinner. Dinner! What were we going to eat? I had no idea, which doesn’t happen very often with me.
I’m the author of three books about family dinner and almost always have a plan for something to throw together fast on a weeknight. I say “almost always” because the exception to this rule is at the end of the summer, when a confluence of beautiful things (camp-free lazy days; peaking produce; evenings still warm enough for dining al fresco) make even a weeknight meal feel as relaxed and recalibrating as Sunday dinner. The usual on-the-clock urgency is replaced with something resembling…calm. I spied some tomatoes and corn on the counter (always a welcome sight) and sausage and chicken thighs in the fridge. My mind goes instantly to a cheater’s version of maque choux, the Louisiana-style corn and sausage stew that we’ve been making in our house forever. It was exactly the kind of meal I craved—something quick and substantial, but summery and un-fussy. We ate on the patio, watched the golden sun sink, lingering long after we slurped up the last of the sweet-and-spicy dish.
In a summer-induced haze I wonder, Why can’t every night feel like this? Why can’t every night feel like Sunday dinner?
Well, for starters, there’s no Algebra homework to rush off to complete. There’s no bedtime deadline looming. There’s no kid coming home from a cross-county meet at 8:30. As soon as back-to-school routines kick in, “lingering long” becomes a weekend-only phrase.
But you know what phrase doesn’t have to be relegated to Sunday? “Relaxed and recalibrating.” Sure, you don’t have as much time on fall weeknights, but if you do a little advance planning with the food—yes, on the weekend—you can at least hold on to the important part of family dinner. The sitting down part, the staring-into-each-other’s-eyes part, the so-what’s-going-on-with-your-friend-Sophie? part. It’s Sunday dinner concentrated to its essence.
Advance planning doesn’t necessarily mean cooking up a whole stew on the weekend and freezing it for later. (Though it certainly wouldn’t hurt and that cheater’s maque choux is an ideal candidate for this kind of thing.) It can be as simple as chopping up a few onions or making a vinaigrette ahead of time; or simply remembering to transfer your sausages from the freezer to the refrigerator on Tuesday morning, so they thaw in time for Tuesday evening. I am a big fan of morning sous-cheffing when I have the time. Even taking five minutes to make, say, the yogurt-lime-cilantro sauce for my favorite taco dinner is going to be a huge help in simply getting the momentum going later in the day. (About those tacos: Like most of the meals in my Monday-to-Thursday rotation, they are simple. The most laborious part of the recipe is a quick sear of chorizo coins, which will then be stuffed inside tortillas with cabbage and avocado.)
Picking three or four of these kinds of easy meals for the weekly menu? That’s the most important kind of planning, and guarantees to inject at least a little Sunday into your weeknights. Here's how to roll up my stromboli, plus the recipes for a few of my go-tos:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 ounces smoked andouille sausage, sliced into coins)
- 6-7 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 1/2 medium jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Red pepper flakes to taste
- 2-3 cups fresh corn kernels, uncooked
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- Fresh thyme or chopped fresh basil
- Squeeze of fresh lime
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 2/3 cup cilantro
- juice of 1/2 a lime
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- Salt to taste
- 12 ounces fully cooked chorizo sausage, sliced crosswise into rounds
- 8 corn tortillas
- 1 handful fresh spinach
- 1/4 small napa cabbage
- 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
- 3/4 cup canned, crushed tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove
- pressed olive oil for rubbing, plus more for brushing
- 16 ounces store-bought pizza dough, preferably at room temperature
- 8-10 fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 4 ounces smoked sausage, sliced
- handfuls red onion slices
- roasted red peppers from a jar (optional)
- 3/4 cup frozen spinach, thawed and well-squeezed
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
- 8-10 drops dollops of fresh ricotta
- Freshly grated Parmesan to taste
- 1-2 shakes of red pepper flakes
- Sea salt to taste
Johnsonville's all-natural, cooked dinner sausages (no fillers here!) come in styles like Three Cheese Italian, Chorizo, Andouille, and Smoked so you can do Sunday dinner with hardly any lift. Read more about their products here.