Monday, October 12, 2009

Easy Weeknight Dinner Tips

People are always asking my husband and I how we work all day and still find time to enjoy a fresh home cooked meal together each night. Honestly, it’s not that hard. Although, it might take a little effort we both feel it’s worth it.

Here’s how we manage to make it work night after night:

1. Plan, plan, plan. We spend a few minutes on Saturday mornings hashing out what to make during the upcoming week. We put together a list and we shop for what we need.
2. Make the meals simple. Not every meal has to be 5 courses or take 3 hours to prepare. We are always looking for recipes that cook quick and don’t require much prep time.
3. Keep your pantry stocked with essentials. I always have things like chicken stock or canned tomatoes on hand.
4. Prep ingredients in advance. I try and do whatever I can the night before.
5. Be flexible and open to new ideas and ingredients. Don't be afraid to experiment.
6. Keep a list of your “favorites” to fall back on.

Below are two recipes we found that make perfect weeknight meals. I hope you enjoy them.

Rigatoni with Pancetta and Peas
adapted from Italian Cooking and Living magazine

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 thin slices pancetta, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 ½ cups frozen green peas
¾ cup chicken stock
1 cup tomato puree
Salt and pepper
1 pound rigatoni (we substituted spaghetti)
¼ cup freshly grated Grana Padano

In a large skillet with high sides, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and sauté until golden brown. Add the onion, and cook until translucent. Stir in the peas, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Mix in the tomato puree, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes or until it reduces to a sauce consistency.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with Grana and serve.

Chicken with Fennel
adapted from Italian Cooking and Living magazine

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch strips
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 fennel bulb, cut into wedges, fronds reserved
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted
In a large nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the skillet and sauté until golden on all sides. Add 2 tablespoons of water, the rosemary and fennel, and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the olives, and cook for 1 minute. Serve drizzled with olive oil and garnish with the fennel fronds.


  1. All great tips. People can do it if they just "plan and prep!" So true.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I think for me it all comes down to planning. I make the big meals on the weekend, when I have more time, and then gorge myself on leftovers throughout the week.

    I really like your quick-and-easy recipes!

  3. Such great tips! These both look excellent!

  4. The key is definitely in the planning, isn't it? Both of these dishes look really lovely and flavorful. Well done!

  5. If I would only learn to plan in advance... I must like life on the edge, lol. These look great!

  6. Both of these dishes sound delicious! I am always looking for new ideas for weeknight meals. Thank you!

  7. Who wants to pick up fast food on the way home from work when you can have meals like this. I think it's great that you and your hubby plan and prep together!

  8. I have to plan ahead as I have so many to feed. Pasta will always feature if I haven't had time to do the shopping!

  9. Oh wow...I want BOTH of these dishes for dinner tonight! You're right...planning is key :D

  10. Great post! I find it more foreign how people DON't cook than how others cook every night. :-)

    But it's true what you say - not every meal has to take 5 hours to make - you can whip something up in 30 minutes and it'll be healthy and nutritious and much better than any take-out you can get.

  11. great tips! I find that i cook much less often on work nights if I don't meal plan...

  12. I so agree with you! I work full time and have a very busy schedule. Planning ahead is the main thing. I plan very simple menus, cook the main dish in large amounts and then creatively stretch it out making two or sometimes three new meals from the leftovers and it doesn't take any longer to prepare my meals than it does for those who resort to icky things like hamburger helper or frozen dinners!