For my generation, dining out wasn’t really a thing. If our family of five was going to a restaurant back in the day, it was a whole production: We planned for the outing, wore our best clothes and definitely were on our best behavior.
The opposite is true for my own family now, except for the requiring of good manners. Eating at home is less common these days. That is, until we were all told to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nowadays, I find myself poring over cookbooks, watching cooking shows on TV and scrolling through websites and videos for meal ideas. With a couple of picky eaters in the house, it’s always a balancing act. I’m digging through my pantry, making grocery lists and looking up substitutes for ingredients like buttermilk and other things I don’t always have on hand. I ask all of my friends what they are making for dinner and share recipes via text.
If you are feeling the same way, we’re here to help. Times food and lifestyle editor Michelle Stark and I are going to take turns sharing our weekly menus, along with recipe suggestions.
Here are six dinners I’ve cooked this week, plus a few desserts. We order takeout food at least once a week to support local restaurants during the shutdown.
Baked chicken and vegetables: I use whatever chicken pieces the store has available when I order groceries. If I’m lucky enough to have fresh herbs, I use them. But I mostly use whatever is in my spice drawer. Just remember: Dried spices tend to be stronger, so use less.
I serve that with Ina Garten’s popover recipe. Getting the greased pan very hot before adding the batter is the key.
I also made a no-bake chocolate cheesecake to top off this Sunday dinner.
Shrimp fried rice: Make the rice early in the day and pop it in the fridge. I make a large pot to feed a family of four. I also use a lot more soy sauce (low-sodium) than most recipes call for. I put some frozen egg rolls in the oven to serve alongside the rice bowls. I always keep a bag of frozen shrimp on hand for dinners like this or for salad toppers.
Hamburgers and steak fries: I ordered some frozen burgers from a steak company, along with a few beef fillets to stock up. I am also in the habit of freezing hamburger buns for a quick dinner. I have an indoor, smokeless grill that I use on the countertop for these burgers. We top them with lettuce, tomato and cheese. I slice potatoes in long wedges, coat them with olive oil and salt and pepper, and toss them on a sheet pan in the oven. We like them a little crispy on the edges.
Columbia’s 1905 Salad: We love this salad from the Columbia Restaurant and it’s really easy to make at home, especially since the restaurant provides the recipe on its website, columbiarestaurant.com. The splash of lemon and Worcestershire sauce just before dressing the salad is critical.
Because this is a lighter meal, I make a hearty, crusty bread. I use this popular, no-knead recipe that we all love.
For dessert I made a one-pan chocolate cake that was delicious. It required no eggs or butter and can be mixed in one bowl. I watched a YouTube video by Jenny Can Cook and had great success.
Tacos: These are a family favorite. I can do some of the prep work ahead, which makes the meal more manageable. I roast a little chicken and fry some ground beef, because half the family prefers chicken and the other two want beef. I grate extra sharp cheddar cheese, prepare a bowl of salsa, julienne some lettuce and prepare a couple of sides. My children love corn and yellow rice with their tacos.
I use a combination of flour tortillas that I heat in the microwave oven and corn tortillas that I fry on the stove. That’s the way my mother made them, so that’s what I do with corn tortillas. For the salsa, I use a can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes as my base and add fresh chopped onions, a little extra tomato sauce and some diced jalapeno peppers from a jar. I tip a bit of the liquid from the jar into the mixture for some extra zing.
Corn chowder: Comfort food doesn’t get much better than a bowl of warm chowder. This is especially good on a rainy night for some reason. I like this recipe from Laura Jolly of our Taster’s Choice food panel. I add a little cooked bacon and top it with a bit of cheddar cheese. Biscuits are a preferred side to this hearty meal. I went with Almond Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies from the blog politicsandprovisions.com for dessert.