Big Little Recipes

A 15-Minute Dinner for When I Don't Want to Cook Dinner

December  3, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a highly foolproof dinner.


Most nights, cooking dinner is how I unwind. My husband, Justin, shakes a couple martinis (always gin—two olives for me, one for him) and one of us turns on music (always loud—Lana del Rey if it’s me, bluegrass if it’s him). Then we slice and chop and stir while we catch up about the day.

I said most nights.

Other nights, I don’t want to cook. There, I said it—recipe developers are people, too. On those nights, we do one of three things:

  1. Tear apart the freezer for anything that will thaw in time.
  2. Walk downtown for a chick-Parm pizza or stir-fried eggplant with garlic sauce.
  3. Make what we’ll call a not-dinner dinner.

A not-dinner dinner can be many things—but it’s gotta be stupid-simple and thrown together with ingredients that you have on hand more often than not. For me, this means pasta with anchovy butter, kale, Parmesan, and black pepper, or brown rice with scrambled eggs, kimchi, and nori, or, my current favorite, mustardy salad with grilled cheese croutons.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My family is a Muenster-only grilled cheese family too. I only wish this post included one of your Insta cooking videos!”
— Alex E.

Here’s the scoop:


I’m having an escarole moment. I love its kinda-bitter flavor, happy-green color, and how it’s just as great raw as it is braised. That said, this salad is lawless and maybe you only have kale or arugula or iceberg. Anything works (as long as it’s not being recalled).


You’ve probably been told to stir a little ground mustard or cayenne into your mac and cheese for balance. The same holds true here, where we’ll whip up a Dijon dressing. Dijon is winey and spicy and zippy, which your ooey-gooey grilled cheese croutons won’t be able to get enough of. It’s also an emulsifier, aka an oil-water binder, so your dressing doesn’t break.


I’m a Muenster gal all the way. It’s a little funky and very melty—two qualities that grilled cheese sandwiches value highly (as do I!). Cheddar, provolone, Monterey-jack, or American all work great, too. And if you’re expecting me to say something like, Cut your cheese by hand, the pre-sliced stuff just isn’t as good, well, I won’t. Pre-sliced works just as well and saves several minutes, which I can now spend dancing with my cat. Turn up the music.


If you start with ho-hum bread, you’ll get a ho-hum grilled cheese. And if you start with a ho-hum grilled cheese, you’ll get ho-hum croutons. Find a nearby bakery you adore and become their best friend (all this takes is swinging by often and eating pastries—not too shabby). I like a sourdough or whole-wheat or seeded something-something. Cut it thick because more is more. Also important: Seasoning the outside of the sandwich with salt and pepper before pan-frying—don’t skip this.

The whole thing comes together in less time than it takes to catch up about the day. Which is good because we still need to make those martinis.

What’s your go-to not-dinner dinner? Share in the comments!
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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


AntoniaJames December 3, 2019
I'm in! As in, tonight.
I mean that. No escarole, so red leaf lettuce and arugula will just have to do. ;o)
P.S. Leftover homemade no-churn vanilla ice cream drizzled with leftover vanilla Riesling syrup from poached pears, for dessert. Life is pretty darn good.
Emma L. December 4, 2019
Yay! That dessert sounds A++.
girlwithaknife December 15, 2019
Can you please tell me more about this no churn vanilla ice cream??
Alex E. December 3, 2019
Love the sound of everything about this. My family is a Muenster-only grilled cheese family too. I only wish this post included one of your Insta cooking videos!
Emma L. December 4, 2019
Muenster forever!