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How to Get Dinner on the Table When You Don’t Have a Kitchen

How to Get Dinner on the Table When You Don’t Have a Kitchen



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Between the packing, the unpacking, the navigating new streets (read: getting lost on new streets; darn you GPS), you arrive home exhausted… and hungry.

As anyone who has moved across the country can tell you—the process of uprooting your life and relocating in a new city, a new neighborhood, and a new home is beyond challenging. Between the packing, the unpacking, the navigating new streets (read: getting lost on new streets; darn you GPS), you arrive home exhausted… and hungry.

This presents a challenge in and of itself, because the last thing you have time for is setting up your kitchen—let alone finding the energy to cook a from-scratch meal. Whatever is keeping you out of your kitchen (renovations can be a nightmare), there are a few ways you can still feed yourself and your family nutritious, wholesome meals. Here are four tips for getting dinner on the table with minimal effort—and without a takeout menu.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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1. Rely on pre-prepped ingredients.

You can barely find space on the counter to chop veggies, but the real issue is that you have no idea which moving box is currently hiding the chef’s knife. Forget about it, and embrace the convenience of prepped ingredients. Lettuce comes triple-washed and cut into bite-size pieces. Butternut squash is sold in the produce department peeled and cut, ready to be roasted or simmered into soup. Sweet potatoes are now spiralized for you. Chicken thighs are pre-marinated. Salmon burgers are seasoned and formed into patties. These shortcuts may cost a little more, but the time and sanity you save is priceless. Recipe: These sheet pan roasted veggies can be done in no time if you buy pre-chopped/pre-cubed/pre-sliced veggies.

2. Supplement with fully-cooked sides or mains.

I’ll happily throw together a salad if I don’t have to roast a whole bird, so a hot and tender rotisserie chicken is always welcome at my kitchen. So is prepared pesto—I have yet to meet someone who finds the task of washing food processor blades enjoyable. Also frequently spotted in my grocery cart: deli-made chicken salad (just add Triscuits and fruit for a totally serviceable meal) and good bakery bread. Nobody said you had to cook every part of dinner. Recipe: This tortellini salad is made with the barest minimum of effort.

Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

3. Embrace the sheet pan dinner.

If you don’t have the space or energy to cook a feast, you certainly won’t feel up for doing dozens of dishes. Skip the headache of scouring pots and casserole dishes with a sheet pan dinner. This genius idea makes smart use of the real estate on one single rimmed sheet pan. Why sear chicken on the stovetop, roast veggies in the oven, and toss a salad in a separate bowl when you don’t have to? Recipe: These sheet pan nachos are also made with rotisserie chicken and whatever easy toppings you can think of.

4. Go outside.

Got a grill? Use it! Although we often think of outdoor grills as a way to make meaty mains shine, you can easily cook an entire dinner al fresco. Slicing vegetables into small pieces and using a grill basket, so they don’t fall through the grates, means they will cook quicker. Bread can be brushed with a little oil and grilled to round out the meal. You can even make dessert on the barbecue. Recipe: Try these salmon packets with asparagus for a quick outdoor meal.

At the end of the day, remember this: You don’t have to be a hero. You just have to get dinner on the table. Sometimes, that’s enough.


How To Degrease Every Surface in Your Kitchen

You don't need fancy products to de-gunk your kitchen this spring &mdash simply raid your pantry for hardworking items that get the job done.

No matter how clean of a cook you think you are, your kitchen is inevitably going to get a little greasy. Blame it on the butter, the olive oil, the non-stick spray — over time, those little particles of grease can build up everywhere from your cabinets to your range top to your microwave handle, countertops, canisters and more. There&aposs no better time than spring to do a thorough deep clean of your kitchen, including de-funking all that gunk. We talked with cleaning experts to get a handle on the basics of degreasing your kitchen. The great news? You don&apost have to do a massive cleaning product haul — many of these tips require simple ingredients you likely already have on hand.

So, why should you care about degreasing your kitchen, anyway? One major reason is that, hopefully, you&aposll feel more inspired to whip up something delicious. "A clean kitchen is everything. No one likes to cook in a kitchen with grease everywhere," says Val Oliveria, owner of Val&aposs Services, a cleaning company in Chicago. That&aposs why, she extols, great degreasers can actually save your life.


You Don’t Need A Recipe

M y day job is recipes. As the food editor of The New York Times and the founding editor of NYT Cooking, I spend a lot of time laying out strict instructions for how best to prepare specific dishes. These recipes take a particular form: a list of ingredients followed by step-by-step directions for how to use them. I think of these recipes as sheet music, a form of notation that allows home cooks to recreate the cooking of others.

But I don’t just cook with recipes, and I am not alone. Indeed, cooking without recipes is a kitchen skill same as cutting vegetables into dice. It’s a way to improve your confidence in the kitchen and to make the act of cooking fun when sometimes it seems like a chore.

Every Wednesday for the past four years, I have published on The New York Times one of these no-recipe recipes. What follows are some highlights from our archive of them, suggestions for things you might cook yourself, without a recipe.

Sign up to receive the What to Cook newsletter and get no-recipe recipes every Wednesday.


Toast is a well-loved breakfast staple, but why not bring it to the dinner table too? With these two recipes, you’ll be on board!

When it comes to starches to pair your dinners with, we often think of pasta (of course!), rice, potatoes… et cetera! For whatever reason, toast is generally reserved for breakfast – but we’re putting it in the spotlight for dinner with both of these delicious vegetarian recipes. The best part? Both of them take less than 30 minutes from start to finish. That’s a weeknight win!

Toasted bread is a perfect starting point to literally start stacking flavor. In our Mushroom Toast recipe, the crispy bread goes perfectly with whole grain mustard, flavorful sauteed mushrooms and kale, and perfectly runny eggs to top it all off. Pair it with some soup or a salad and you’ve got a full-fledged weeknight meal that just takes a few minutes to toss together.

If we’re talking about something totally crowd-pleasing for the entire family, Giada’s Pesto Pizza Toast is an absolute fan favorite. I mean, how could you go wrong with pesto, cheese and broiled tomatoes on top of crispy bread (and how about that crispy cheese still left on the pan?!) Paired with an arugula salad or a classic Caesar, this is an A+ dinner that the little ones are gonna be asking for on repeat.

Looking for more delicious toast recipes you can eat at any time of the day? Tap the recipes below!


03. BLEAT Sandwich by Pip and Ebby

This creative new twist on a classic is just the thing for someone who wants something other than the good old BLT. Pip and Ebby’s BLEAT Sandwich (that’s bacon, lettuce, egg, avocado, and tomato) elevates the everyday with a runny yolk and smooth avo. Switch it up with microgreens, banana peppers, kimchee, hummus, or whatever delights you find on fridge cleaning day.


Open-Face Ham and Cheese Sandwich with Chipotle Mayo

Waterbury Publications Inc.

An open-face sandwich is an easy way to cut back on calories because there is only one slice of bread involved, so you can still satisfy your sandwich craving. It's all about what you're putting on top of that slice that matters, and in this hot ham and cheese open-face sandwich, we add chipotle mayo and eggs to give you extra protein with a kick. You won't even miss that other piece of bread!


Tips for Conversation

What are some conversation suggestions for younger children?

Even if they’re unable to have longer conversations, younger kids like to be included in dinnertime chit chat. Sometimes, a simple “What did you do today?” will result in fun answers about what the child saw on a walk or did during playtime. Asking kids to describe their favorite games, cartoons, or toys will also spark their interest and generate engaged responses. You might ask, “What can your favorite toy or cartoon character do that you’d like to do?”

Additionally, images and photos are great conversation starters. If you have a photo that you don’t mind getting messy, try bringing it to the dinner table and asking your child to describe what he or she sees. If it’s a family photo, the child may ask who’s in the picture and what they’re doing. This could lead to a fun discussion about different family members and their lives.

Children love telling and hearing about stories of their parents, grandparents and their ancestry. You could also try kicking off a story with one of the following questions:

  • “Do you know the story about how your parents met?”
  • “Do you know how your name was chosen, or how your parents’ names were chosen?
  • “Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences they had during their childhood?”
  • “Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?”
  • “What is the earliest story you know about an ancestor?”

Our one-line conversation starters are also great for kids this age. Asking your child, “If you could be an animal, what would you want to be, and why?” is a wonderful way to begin a lively exchange.

Do you have any conversation ideas for children ages 9-13?

This is a great age for conversation, since kids are able to hold longer discussions and think about more complex issues. We have plenty of conversation starters for this age group, too. Asking your child, “If you had three wishes, what would they be?” is bound to create some interesting responses.

Kids also enjoy telling stories, particularly about their experiences or interests. After asking about a child’s day at school, a parent might try to piggyback off their response. For example, if a child tells a story about not getting a part in a play, a parent may want to tell a story about a setback he faced and what he learned from it. Stories that start out with something negative but end up positively are associated with greater feelings of life satisfaction.

Discussing historical figures or people who are currently famous can also be fun. Which public figure does your daughter or son admire most? If they could meet anyone throughout history, who would it be? For more questions like these, check out our “Inspiration” conversation starters.

Finally, try conducting “family interviews.” It can be startling how little we know about the daily lives of our family members!

I always run out of things to talk about with my teenager. How can I get past “I’m fine”?

It can be a challenge to get teenagers involved in family dinner discussions. Many of our one-line conversation starters are fabulous for helping them open up, including, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?” and “Did anyone read anything interesting online or in the newspaper today?”

Teenagers also enjoy discussing public figures they like, including sports heroes, artists, actors, and politicians. If your teenager could have one person over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be? What would they talk about? What would they serve?

Presenting a morally ambiguous or thought-provoking situation is a great way to spark conversation. Present one of our “Conversations of the Week” at dinner, and ask your teenagers to give their opinion. There’s often not a clear “right” or “wrong” answer, so these should generate some interesting debates.

Additionally, it’s often helpful to speak about your own experiences of the day in a way that is honest and self-disclosing, perhaps revealing something that was embarrassing or challenging. This will provoke your son or daughter into honestly sharing their own experiences. You might even repeat a joke that you heard at work, in order to lighten the mood.

Last but certainly not least, you might try asking your teenagers about their favorite films, inventions, or music. Our “Thoughts and Opinions” conversation starters can help your teens open up about likes, dislikes, and opinions on a variety of topics.


10 Simple tips that make hosting a dinner party a snap

Hosting a fancy dinner party can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

These simple tips help you effortlessly (and inexpensively) take your ho-hum dinner to elegant new heights. All it takes is a little focus, creativity and some yummy food.

1. Set the table

Image: Town and Country Living

Even if you don’t have the finest china, setting your table ahead of time will make the night feel special. The best part is, this is the time to get creative. You can go with a classic table setting or something more casual and modern. Some small, unscented tealight candles in the center of the table go a long way toward setting the mood. And if you can’t afford flowers, then look for different foliage around your neighborhood. A few trailing pieces of ivy along the table, an elegant branch, some smooth white stones &mdash these natural elements can be worked into your table setting for free. Also look around your house, and see what you have to decorate with. Adding small knickknacks to your tablescape can be fun, and any fabric scraps you have from crafting could be used as a table runner or place mats.

2. Serve an appetizer

Image: Honestly Yum

Setting the mood for your party is just as important as what you serve. When your guests arrive, serve them a drink and some finger food. It can be as simple as some white wine with a bowl of olives and a bowl of almonds, or you can go all out with a cheese and charcuterie platter. Either way, the night begins with a fun social element that will help your guests relax before dinner.

More: 19 Holiday appetizers that take almost no time to prep

3. Choose a star ingredient

Image: Foolproof Living

Getting caught up in the allure of a fancy dinner party can often lead to a spent budget and lots of stress. Not many of us can successfully execute four super-fancy dishes on our own (without tearing out our hair by the end of it, that is). Instead, choose one star ingredient, and focus your meal around it. It can be anything from a prized bottle of olive oil or special wedge of cheese you want to feature in all your dishes to a perfectly roasted chicken that will be the main event. Choose just one thing to highlight, and you won’t have to worry about spreading yourself thin.

4. Sauce strategically

Image: Jill Hough

You don’t need to rely on heavy cream sauces for your dishes to feel fancy &mdash a simple pan sauce will help your dish be all the more tasty. Basically what you want to do is get all the delicious cooked-on flavor up off the pan you cooked your food in &mdash usually chicken, beef, pork or another meat, but you can use this method with roasted vegetables too. To do this, you simply deglaze the pan, add some aromatics and extra liquid, maybe a knob of butter and let the sauce thicken. You can try this method on pretty much anything you cook in a pan, and the resulting flavorful, silky sauce will make your dish feel luxurious &mdash without taking hours of preparation and a gallon of cream.

5. Fuse near and far

Image: Popular Paleo

One way to make your go-to dishes taste a little special for your next dinner party? Go international, and fuse unexpected flavors into your meal. Jazz up your classic roast chicken with a Moroccan spice rub add some coconut milk, fish sauce and a squeeze of lime to your mashed sweet potatoes or season your roast beef with a chile and cocoa spice blend. It will make your meal feel extraordinary without taking a lot of extra time or money.

6. Add freshness

Image: Tracy Benjamin/Flickr

Never underestimate the importance of fresh ingredients when it comes to livening up a dish. Dinner party fare can often be heavy, so making sure your flavors are balanced is a must. A squeeze of lemon or lime here, freshly cracked black pepper and minced fresh herbs there, some diced preserved lemon or a spoonful of capers &mdash these bright, fresh flavors will make the rest of your dish live up to its true potential.

7. Garnish with glamour

Image: Havoc in the Kitchen

Sometimes your garnish can liven up even the most humble ingredients. Shortbread gets fancy when sprinkled with coarse vanilla sugar or rosemary sea salt. Elegant curls of aged Parmesan resting delicately atop a plate of pasta are a far cry from the grated “cheese” you get in a plastic canister. Edible flowers make every dish lovelier. And a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh herbs and lightly toasted nuts can jazz up your store-bought dips and hummus so no one will ever guess they weren’t made from scratch. Even simple carrots, radishes and tomatoes can elevate your plate with the right technique. As long as you’re paying attention and making sure your garnish adds a little something special to your meal, it’s hard to go wrong.

8. Pair wisely

Image: Yelp Inc.

You don’t have to stress about your drink pairings too much, but serving bacon-wrapped scallops with a can of Diet Coke won’t exactly add to the atmosphere of your party. If you’re going the soda route, try an Italian sparkling lemonade or blood orange soda or even some glass bottles of sparkling water. For pairing wine, beer or cocktails, keep things simple. Check out this wine pairing chart, this beer pairing chart and these cocktail and food pairings for guidance. The right pairings can make your dinner party really stand out.

9. Serve courses

Image: Connie Ma/Flickr

To really add some class to your next dinner party, try serving your meal in courses. Soup, salad, entrée and dessert are all you need, and with some careful planning, it won’t require that much extra work. In most cases you can set up your salad ahead of time, either keeping it in a big bowl, tossing with dressing and serving individually when you’re ready to eat, or by keeping individual salads in the fridge until ready to serve with a homemade dressing in a cruet or other vessel on the table for guests to serve themselves. Soup can be made ahead of time and kept warm in a Crock-Pot to free up stove space. If your entrée is in a nice baking dish, you can bring it to the table and serve family-style, or if it’s in a less-than-pretty vessel, you can transfer it to a pretty platter before serving. Alternately, you can plate your entrée in the kitchen, then serve your guests in the dining area. This option is extra posh, and as long as you don’t have too many people over (or if you have an extra set of hands for help), it’s totally doable.

10. Go out with a bang

Image: Dylan Adams/Flickr

Your guests just finished their entrée. Now what? Instead of rushing to dessert, do like the French do, and serve a cheese course. One or two cheeses served with crackers or bread and maybe some complementary dried or fresh fruit will make your guests feel utterly pampered. When it’s time for dessert, offer your guests coffee and/or a digestif to accompany their sweet treat. And when it comes to dessert, don’t let yourself get too stressed. A nice tart from a local bakery, some chocolate truffles or other confections from a candy shop will do. You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen whipping something up when you can get something tasty and beautiful that’s premade.


5-ingredient chili

There's nothing quite like walking in from the cold to the smell of a giant pot of chili bubbling away on the stove. It's one of the ultimate comfort foods, and it seems like everyone has their tried-and-true recipe. Sometimes, it's passed down through the generations and involves the kind of family lore where at least one person was sworn to secrecy. Everyone abides by that, lest they meet the fate of the last person who shared the recipe, and brought an ancient curse down upon their children.

We may have been watching too many cheesy horror movies, but the principle is sound: people take their chili seriously, secret ingredients and all.

While it's nice to put a pot on the back burner for a long, all-day cook, sometimes you just want to come home, throw something together, and get all the warm, comfort food feels of chili without all that work. That's why we decided to streamline one of our favorite chili recipes into a 5-ingredient chili that's ready in just half an hour. It's long enough to fill the kitchen with all those delicious smells, but quick enough to make on a busy weeknight. There's also enough wiggle room here that you can customize a few things for what you have handy. If there's one thing we love more than a recipe that's quick, easy, and tasty, it's one that's quick, easy, tasty, and versatile.


Here's What To Do With All Those Frozen Meatballs Stashed Behind The Ice Cream

What weeknight dinner staples do you keep in the kitchen? Most families usually have some pasta in the pantry, ground beef in the freezer, and so on. But if you love easy, hearty meals, these recipes to make with frozen meatballs will help you get dinner on the table and clear out the recesses of your freezer.

When you think of meatballs, you probably envision them on top of a heap of steamy pasta and marinara sauce, which isn't a bad vision at all, but it's not the only way to enjoy them. Not only are they delicious in sandwiches, soups, and healthy grain and veggie bowls, but they can make excellent appetizers and pair with just about any flavor profile you want them to. They're also delicious at dinner, and they reheat well in leftover lunches, so they're a meal prepper's best friend.

Whether you make a homemade batch and freeze them for later or buy your favorite brand at the store, frozen meatballs can really come in clutch when you're out of ideas for dinner. When you're searching for recipes, don't be afraid to browse the ones that call for homemade meatballs, too. You can always brown your frozen ones in the skillet, season as needed to complement the dish you're making, and toss them in. No one will ever know the difference.