I was emailing with my friend Mindy the other day and signed off the way I always do with certain friends…
“What’s for dinner tonight?”
As a food writer, I’m in the business of family dinner, so it’s a good way to discover new and exciting dishes that my husband and teenage kids might like. Mindy works full time, has three daughters and is a great cook, so she’s usually reliable for some inspiration. This is what she wrote back:
We are having the dreaded Chili Mac. I can’t eat a bite because I’ve been making the thing for soooo many years, but the girls love it because it’s both chili and mac and cheese and it fuels the swim practice. I’ll give you that one, if you give me your easy recipe that you hate!
I knew exactly what she meant, and I immediately replied with a link to Diana Henry’s Mustardy Baked Chicken. In 2015, we had this so often in my house that it became known as, ominously, “The Chicken” before we agreed as a family to suspend it from the rotation. I made The Chicken at least once a week for a year because I always seemed to have the ingredients on hand, and the high return on investment (i.e., its mega-deliciousness) was completely out of proportion to how quickly it came together. Wow, was it a crowdpleaser. But what’s that they say about too much of a good thing?
Mindy’s idea got me thinking. Just because we’re all sick of making our own easy family dinners doesn’t mean our friends would be. In fact, if a meal was hated by a great cook only because it suffered from overuse, it was probably a pretty solid indication that we were actually in the presence of a genius weeknight meal. So, I started asking everyone I knew: What’s the easiest family meal that you’ve loved to death? As predicted, the replies came back fast and furious.
From our Joanna: Simple chicken quesadillas or spinach quesadillas. “They take two seconds to make, it’s easy to leave certain ingredients out for kids, and of course everyone loves them. But omg I’m so sick of this dinner.” (My reaction: Totally making this tonight.) “We also make tons of scrambled eggs,” she adds.
From magazine vet Pilar Guzman: an old Emeril recipe for Moroccan chickpea stew. “I still crave this dish weekly,” she says, “It’s my kids who are sick of it because I make it so often. It’s delicious and infinitely riffable.” And don’t let the long ingredient list fool you, she says. “You can skip the celery, eliminate chickpeas even. It’s all about those spices and tomatoes.”
Chowhound’s Hana Asbrink hasn’t quite reached the breaking point with her family’s favorite dish — chilled zaru soba noodles with a simple tsuyu sauce — but she’s definitely worried about it. “It’s so easy to throw together,” she says. “You can add scallions and wasabi to amp up the ‘soup.’ I’m hard pressed to find refreshing dishes to eat on muggy New York days, but I better come up with something else soon because I know the clock is ticking.”
Chris Morocco, senior food editor at Bon Appetit and father of two young kids replied, “Ours are pasta and meatballs, chicken katsu, or tacos filled with Amy’s refried beans and cheese (and nothing else). Those are in such heavy rotation, I am sick of everything, HELP!”
And it’s hard to imagine Smitten Kitchen‘s Deb Perelman getting tired of anything that appears on her table, but she’s got one: chicken milanese with escarole salad. “I probably make this once every two weeks, which is way more than I ever would if I were single,” she says.
For a dinner enthusiast like me, it felt like my birthday! Or like I was hosting a giant clothing swap, and here was a friend giving me that perfect black cocktail dress in exchange for my tired old Levi’s.
Take ’em! Please!
So, what are you dreading for dinner tonight? I’d really love to know.
(Photo illustration by Maud Passini.)