I enjoy cooking. I really do. But what I enjoy the most is when I can find truly simple recipes that don’t require hours in the kitchen, yet still taste as if it did. On the other hand, I can’t stand it when a recipe claims to be “simple” or “quick & easy,” when in fact the list of ingredients is as long as my arm, you have to chop like 11 different veggies, and it calls for chicken that is already cooked and diced. Um, in my world that is not at all a “simple” recipe.
It’s possible that my definition of a simple recipe differs from the mainstream, but perhaps there are many of you out there who have experienced the same frustration that I have. If you’ve been finding all these so-called simple recipes and wondering why you’re still spending so much time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning, then allow me to offer some thoughts on how to recognize the counterfeit ones and spot the legitimately simple recipes -ones that will actually simplify the dinnertime craze at your house.
The following is a list of questions to ask yourself and things to look for in a recipe to help you determine if it will truly live up to its claim of being quick, easy, simple or the perfect dinner for a busy weeknight. Most of these tips may seem completely obvious, and I don’t mean to offend by oversimplifying, but I also know that sometimes things can be so obvious that they are overlooked until someone points them out.
So let’s get started.
1. How many ingredients does the recipe call for?
Generally speaking, more ingredients equals more time to prepare. It may not seem like it makes much of a difference, but when you have to measure out a bunch of seasonings or open a bunch of cans or packages, the time begins to add up. And sometimes you have to wash your hands multiple times if you’re dealing with messy ingredients or things like raw meat and eggs. Those seemingly little bits of time can really increase the time it takes to get the food prepped and into the oven or on the stove.
2. Are there any steps that are implied but not explicitly stated in the recipe?
This is probably the most annoying one to me. It really irritates me when a recipe lists cooked chicken or cooked noodles as an ingredient in the ingredient list, but then doesn’t actually include a step for cooking them. Another example of this is when the recipe lists something like chopped zucchini but doesn’t explicitly list out chopping it as one of the steps. I’ve noticed this is a very common practice in recipes, so be cognizant of it when you’re on the hunt for simple recipes. As you read through the ingredients, make a mental note of these types of tasks, so you can get a more realistic idea of how long the recipe will actually take to prepare.
3. How much cookware will you need to use?
Call me lazy if you want, but sometimes I will avoid a recipe just because of how much cookware I will need to dirty in order to make it. If it’s a recipe where you have to chop veggies on a cutting board, brown meat in a saucepan, cook noodles in a pot, then mix all the ingredients in a large bowl to then pour into a casserole dish… then that means later on in the evening you will have to clean a cutting board, a saucepan, a pot, a large bowl, and a casserole dish! Compare that with a one-pan recipe where you throw everything into the saucepan, or a casserole where you mix everything together in a bowl and pour it into a casserole dish to bake. Now I’m not saying I never make recipes that require getting everything in my kitchen dirty, but I do try and avoid planning those types of meals for busy nights.
4. How many steps are there?
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that more cooking steps means more time in the kitchen. Read through the steps and visualize everything you will need to do to prepare the food. How long does each step take? Are any of the tasks difficult or advanced? How much time do you have to wait in between steps? Try to get a realistic idea of how many steps there are, and how long you think it will take you (not the recipe’s author) to make it. However, don’t only look at the number of steps listed as a measure of simplicity. I have noticed that sometimes people will post a recipe with 12-15 steps, but as I read through it, I realize that many of those steps are actually part of the same task and could be combined, making it more like 5-6 steps. The basic idea is to just read through all the steps, so you know what you’re getting yourself into before committing to it.
5. How much time do you have to be actively cooking/supervising it?
Take into consideration the amount of active cooking time versus passive cooking time. Active cooking time includes things like stirring, regulating temperature, waiting to add certain ingredients until precisely the right time, or supervising the food in some other way. Passive cooking time is when you’ve already done all the work, and you’re just waiting for your food to cook in the oven or the saucepan. As a little side note, one thing I love about oven recipes is that you can get a head start on cleaning the kitchen while the food cooks, making these types of recipes a dinnertime simplifier in and of themselves.
6. How long does it take? Is the “time to prepare” that’s listed in the recipe a realistic estimate?
I would estimate that nine times out of ten it takes me longer to prepare a recipe than the amount of time that is listed by the recipe’s author. Am I the only one experiencing this!? In any case, this is a good question to ask yourself when searching for a simple recipe. As you read through the instructions, again, make a mental note of what you will need to do and come up with your own realistic estimate.
As I wrap up this post, I want to end with a little disclaimer. Although I think these are great questions to ask yourself when searching for simple recipes, and I do think they can help you spot the fake ones out there, don’t expect to find a perfect recipe that satisfies every single one of these questions. Think of these questions more as guidelines, in which you generally want to follow.
And if you’re in need of some inspiration for simple recipes, allow me to share a few of my favorites…
I very recently discovered 3-Ingredient Brown Sugar Chicken. Oh. My. Goodness. It is SO DELICIOUS and SO EASY, and has been a family favorite at our house lately. Seriously, I can’t make it often enough.
For one that doesn’t get very many things dirty and is super quick to prepare, check out my Simple & Savory Meatloaf. It also makes a lot, so it should leave you with leftovers.
I also can’t help but plug my 4-Ingredient Golfer’s Chicken, due to the fact that it is so easy, delicious, and versatile (because of its various cook time options.)
One of my favorite slow cooker recipes is Slow Cooker Bourbon Chicken. The recipe calls for very common ingredients, and you basically just mix everything together and let it cook. Easy peasy.
I also recently discovered Green Chili Chicken Bake, and it is insanely easy and incredibly delicious as well.
Another one of my family’s favorites is Sweet & Sour Meatballs, which I love because it is so simple and made with ingredients I readily keep on hand.
For even more inspiration, visit my Pinterest page, where I have pinned numerous other simple recipes. And feel free to share your favorite simple recipes in the comments below. I’d love to add to my collection!!