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.


Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

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.
Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

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.

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Top Comment:
“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.”
— AntoniaJames
Comment

Here’s the scoop:

Lettuce

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).

Mustard

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.

Cheese

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.

Bread

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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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
    AntoniaJames
  • Alex Egan
    Alex Egan
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

4 Comments

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.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 4, 2019
Yay! That dessert sounds A++.
 
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!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 4, 2019
Muenster forever!