Here’s What Our Food Staff Makes When (Almost) Too Tired to Cook – The New York Times

Here’s What Our Food Staff Makes When (Almost) Too Tired to Cook

It may come as no surprise: The list includes a lot of low-effort pasta, rice, eggs, toast — and anchovies.

Credit…Craig Lee for The New York Times

If it’s your job to think about food all day, your enthusiasm for meal planning may have plummeted as the pandemic has worn on. Though members of the NYT Food team may occasionally be tired of cooking, they never tire of talking about cooking. These are the dishes that perennially sustain, nourish and even inspire them.

Image
Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

When the last thing in the world I want to do is cook, the best thing to do is order a pizza. When cooking is only the second-to-last thing in the world I want to do, it’s time for a grilled cheese sandwich or, lately, a kimchi grilled cheese sandwich. And if it’s not so much the cooking that’s got me down but the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of life in 2021, I just boil some water for pasta with brown butter and Parmesan, then don’t brown the butter because I’m tired. SAM SIFTON

Image

Credit…Julia Gartland for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Ali Slagle.

I decided years ago that penne alla vodka is a complete meal because good canned tomatoes count as a vegetable and heavy cream is full of protein. At this point, I could probably make it under general anesthesia. (Our recipe has several ingredients that are completely optional: onion, pancetta and fresh oregano.) JULIA MOSKIN

Recipe: Pasta Alla Vodka

Image

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

I throw together sardine toast for myself and my husband: Toast the bread, put out the salted butter and lemon wedges. And, on really exhausted nights, I just open the sardine tin and plop it on the table on a saucer, since the tin gets oily. It’s a make-your-own-toast situation. Sometimes I’ll slice up an onion. Our daughter, Dahlia, eats either Cheerios, or buttered toast and Cheddar cheese cubes. But in the summer, when I’m less exhausted, I’ll make these sardine toasts with tomato. Dahlia still eats Cheerios. No sardines for her. Not yet. MELISSA CLARK

Recipe: Sardine Toasts

Image

Credit…An Rong Xu for The New York Times

I am made of at least 35 percent sardine. I also keep a jar of tuna belly around; usually I’ll have that with lemon, olive oil and a “salad” of random vegetables. I’ve usually got radishes and scallions and lettuce, but sometimes it just goes on a Wasa cracker with butter. Same with smoked salmon, which I almost always have. Oh, and I like anchovies, radishes and butter on bread, ideally with an 8-minute egg and arugula or radish tops, or feta with raw or cooked vegetables, dried herbs, oil, maybe a hard-cooked egg. And if all else fails: frozen bratwurst, sauerkraut, hot dog bun. PETE WELLS

Image

Credit…Beatriz Da Costa for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Frances Boswell.

I always, always have the main ingredients for Judy Kim’s saucy, spicy chile-oil noodles in my pantry: dried noodles, chile crisp, sesame oil and soy sauce. While the noodles cook, I’ll chop up whatever vegetables I have kicking around to add to the dish right before serving. I love julienned carrots, scallions, thinly sliced cabbage and any soft herbs that might be on their last legs. Leftover protein, like rotisserie chicken or roasted tofu, is also a welcome addition. BECKY HUGHES

Recipe: Chile-Oil Noodles With Cilantro

Image

Credit…Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

We almost always have some cooked grains floating around in the fridge, so I make a lot of grain bowls. I toss in some greens, any fresh or roasted vegetables, lemon juice and a drizzle of oil. If there’s an avocado in the fruit bowl, it’ll go in there. On a good day, I’ll add a scoop of crushed or puréed cooked beans, and all bowls are topped with a boiled egg. On less tired days, it’s fried rice with cold stovetop rice, eggs, pork (usually bacon), scallions and a lot of ginger. YEWANDE KOMOLAFE

Recipe: Basic Stovetop Rice

Image

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

For me, it’s scrambled eggs with toast and cottage cheese. I am working on my master’s degree in anchovy studies at Melissa Clark University and so I sometimes make something like this anchovy toast, too. And then there’s pasta with tuna or, in the summer, Scarlett’s tuna salad. EMILY WEINSTEIN

Recipes: Soft-Boiled Eggs With Anchovy Toast | Pasta With Tuna, Capers and Scallions | Scarlett’s Tuna Salad

Image

Credit…Suzy Allman for The New York Times

I’m always too tired to cook; these bones hang heavy. Still, one has to eat. The thing that’s been sustaining me near daily for months has been a piece of good toast topped with a single sunny-side-up egg, a heap of hot sauce or chile crisp, and a shower of flaky sea salt. But if I’m looking for something a little heartier, I’ll reach for the tomato sauce in the freezer (these days, Marcella Hazan’s extremely easy recipe) and slather it onto some al dente pasta, finished with a towering heap of the good Parmesan. KRYSTEN CHAMBROT

Recipe: Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

Image

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

Does a bowl of cereal count? If so, that’s my go-to, if the kids have eaten. If I need something for my girls, I’ll often make the simplest version of jian bing: Toss a beaten egg into a hot skillet, tortilla on top, cook until set and flip out. When I have a touch more energy, I love Lex’s five-ingredient miso pasta, and will throw a bag of baby spinach or frozen peas into the pot right before draining the noodles to get something green into dinner. I do the same with soba, when I want something a little lighter, tossing the cooked noodles and greens in a one-bowl, no-cook sesame-soy sauce. GENEVIEVE KO

Recipes: Chinese-Style Breakfast Egg Wrap (Jian Bing) | Five-Ingredient Creamy Miso Pasta | Soba Noodles With Chicken and Snap Peas

Image

Credit…William Brinson for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Raina Kattelson.

My go-to emergency dinner is risotto. I always have arborio rice on hand. Since dried mushrooms are among my pantry staples, I would go to Sam Sifton’s vegetable risotto adapted from Elizabeth David, or my risotto with morels. Making risotto is no big deal, takes no more than 30 minutes, and does not require constant stirring. I sometimes improvise, depending on what vegetables I have on hand, and do not hesitate to add a dollop of anchovy paste to the mushroom risotto. FLORENCE FABRICANT

Image

Credit…Craig Lee for The New York Times

My most reliable meals, when I’m really not in the mood but I absolutely have to make something to eat, tend to be things like sesame noodles, or toor dal with extra peanuts, things I love but don’t require much thinking for me. And I always have enough energy to dress spaghetti with fried garlic, anchovies and chile flakes, or make some quick, soft-scrambled eggs on rice and put a little nice soy sauce on top. When it’s really hot, Scarlett’s tuna salad is about all I can handle cooking, and all I want. TEJAL RAO

Recipes: Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles | Toor Dal (Split Yellow Pigeon Peas) | Scarlett’s Tuna Salad

Image

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

I eat two to four bowls of Puffins, topped with flaky salt (to feel something), chased with a bowl of skyr yogurt more often than I care to admit. I’m an extremely insatiable person. When I can muster a little bit more energy, I love Yewande’s baked tofu with peanut sauce, but I swap the peanut butter for almond butter or tahini because I’m allergic to peanuts. It’s very adaptable to different proteins, which is perfect for me, since I always have the other ingredients on hand. VAUGHN VREELAND

Recipe: Baked Tofu With Peanut Sauce and Coconut-Lime Rice

Image

Credit…Andrew Purcell for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Carrie Purcell.

Mornings are when I am the most spent of both time and energy. I often just eat a little leftover white rice, splashed with cold tap water. (Yes, I eat it cold like a heathen.) This gets stirred into a bland, loose tangle with gim, Korean roasted seaweed, all of which is easy on the stomach. On weekends, when I have more time, not necessarily to cook but to eat, Genevieve Ko’s sheet-pan bacon and eggs have changed the game for me. I can feed my family in one fell swoop: Paired with a bowl of fresh (hot) white rice and a side of kimchi, it’s the breakfast upgrade I look forward to after a week of tap-water rice. ERIC KIM

Recipe: Crispy Oven Bacon and Eggs

Image

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

On particularly wild days, a bag of store-bought frozen meatballs is my best friend. I toss the meatballs into a slow cooker with a jar of Rao’s marinara sauce, a little water, a glug of olive oil, and sometimes I add oregano, basil and black pepper. Heat on low for 3 to 4 hours, then serve over pasta or on toasted hot dog buns for mini-meatball subs. Requiring slightly more effort is this white beans with sausage and sage recipe from “The Silver Spoon for Children” cookbook. My 8-year-old takes the lead, and I play sous chef. We like to double the white beans and serve it over ditalini, tossed with a touch of heavy cream and grated Parmesan. MARGAUX LASKEY

Recipe: Baked White Beans and Sausage With Sage

Image

Credit…Craig Lee for The New York Times

At my absolute laziest, I go for Sam Sifton’s baked potato recipe, which isn’t so much a recipe as much as a foundational guide to making baked potatoes: oil, salt, 450-degree oven, and 50 minutes. I’ll add my own twist by throwing some brussels sprouts into the mix. I clean them up, cut them in half, and hit them with olive oil, salt and black pepper, and pop them into the oven on a sheet pan at the same temperature for 20 to 25 minutes. The potato and the brussels sprouts come out of the oven at the same time and, voilà, you have a semi-balanced dinner. NIKITA RICHARDSON

Recipe: Baked Potatoes

Image

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

A quesadilla is my go-to when I’m too tired to cook. I toast two flour tortillas on a cast-iron comal, flip them, then cover one tortilla with a shredded Mexican cheese blend. Once the cheese gets a little melty, it’s time to place the other tortilla, toasted side down, on top of the cheese. I let it sit for 10 to 15 seconds to meld, then flip, and griddle both sides of the quesadilla until they are browned and crackly. I dispatch the quesadilla to a plate, cut it into sixths with a pizza wheel, and douse it in hot sauce, preferably Valentina or El Yucateco. If I’m lucky, the fridge is stocked, so I can also slather the quesadilla with sour cream and jalapeño slices. If you need a little more heft, follow Sam Sifton’s lead and put an egg on it. SARA BONISTEEL

Recipe: Fried Egg Quesadilla

Image

Credit…Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

My go-to is the lazy person’s secret weapon: popcorn, popped in a saucepan, with salt and olive oil, because even melting butter can be too exhausting. But if I can muster the energy to boil water, I’ll make Mark Bittman’s pasta with sardines, bread crumbs and capers, all ingredients I have on hand, just needing a quick toss. Parsley? Nah. Lemon zest? Maybe. PATRICK FARRELL

Image

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

My easiest (and cheapest) mainstay has always been spaghetti aglio e olio. Sauté garlic in olive oil, then toss the al dente pasta in the pan with a splash of the starchy cooking water so it gets glossy. There are a lot of opinions about embellishments, but you do you; I enjoy chile flakes or a little anchovy cooked with the garlic, and at the end, some lemon juice or zest, Parmesan, parsley or easily wilting greens. And for a truly no-fuss main, I turn to Mark Bittman’s salmon and tomatoes in foil. MARK JOSEPHSON

Recipe: Pasta Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino | Salmon and Tomatoes in Foil

Image

Credit…Julia Gartland for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Liza Jernow.

I’ve got some go-to recipes for those kinds of nights: huevos rotos, chickpea pasta, one-pot zucchini pasta, and this crispy gnocchi with brussels sprouts (even my daughter will eat it!). Then when I’m really tired and burned out, I turn to one of two things: eggs or tortillas (or both, like Sam’s fried egg quesadilla). Sometimes, I make a frittata, using whatever I have on hand or need to clear out, and sometimes just avocado toast topped with a fried egg. These easy dishes allow me to use whatever I have on hand and can easily be customized to each person’s taste. KIM GOUGENHEIM

Recipes: Huevos Rotos (Broken Eggs) | Creamy Chickpea Pasta With Spinach and Rosemary | One-Pot Zucchini-Basil Pasta | Crisp Gnocchi With Brussels Sprouts and Brown Butter | Fried Egg Quesadilla | Avocado Toast

Image

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times

When I’m tired, it’s rice in a bowl. This is mentally available only because a rice cooker lives on our kitchen counter. I fry an egg to put on top, or maybe I’m lucky and there’s already a hard-boiled egg in the fridge. I drizzle on toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar (or a squeeze of lime). Mixing these items in a separate bowl in a measured ratio is out of the question. I add toasted sesame seeds, more salt and sliced cucumber or sautéed bok choy, but only if the stars align and we have a vegetable. The full exhaustion version is just rice, egg and chile oil. EMILY FLEISCHAKER

Image

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

For a no-cooking night, I just buy a baguette and have it with whatever odds and ends of charcuterie and cheese bits are in the fridge. For a cooking-but-only-just option, I usually go with chicken paillard with lemon-caper-butter pan sauce. It’s easy to keep chicken breasts and the other ingredients around. I serve it over greens (I almost always have arugula). In the summer, it’s hard to beat pan con tomate — but I won’t choose between the three recipes we have, for fear of offending Sam or David Tanis! BRIAN GALLAGHER

Recipes: Melissa Clark’s Pan Con Tomate | Seamus Mullen’s Pan Con Tomate | Garlicky Tomato Toast (Pan Con Tomate)

Image

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

If I am running on empty, I’ll make a bowl of full-fat yogurt swirled with crunchy peanut butter and berry jam, pan con tomate or a big plate of scrambled eggs with chile crisp on top. On days when I’ve got a bit more fight in me, I’m probably making cast-iron pizza with store-bought dough I keep stashed in the freezer and whatever toppings I have handy; picadillo; beef and cabbage stir-fry; or tomato-poached fish using canned tomatoes and chile oil. I am also partial to quesadillas, sometimes with cheese or with smashed avocado and cilantro, which ultimately isn’t a quesadilla at all, but, when griddled in a cast-iron pan and served with sour cream, lime and pickled red onions, it gets the job done. TANYA SICHYNSKY

Recipes: Seamus Mullen’s Pan Con Tomate | The Best Scrambled Eggs | Picadillo | Black Pepper Beef and Cabbage Stir-Fry | Tomato-Poached Fish With Chile Oil and Herbs

Image

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

The thing about being a professional recipe developer married to a professional chef is that people always marvel at how well they think we must eat. And yes, we do eat very well, but just like anyone else, I also sometimes cobble together dishes I’d never dream of serving others. I could survive on grilled cheese alone, especially tucking in kimchi, pickles or whatever cooked vegetables my fridge might contain, and we always have leftover rice, which can be repurposed innumerable ways, including Sam’s whatever you’ve got fried rice recipe. But for the days where I have a little more energy to pick up a few groceries, I turn to Sue Li’s black pepper beef and cabbage stir-fry and Ali Slagle’s kua kling. Both introduce so much flavor with little effort, and reignite my love of cooking. ALEXA WEIBEL

Recipes: Whatever You’ve Got Fried Rice | Black Pepper Beef and Cabbage Stir-Fry | Kua Kling (Southern Thai-Style Red Curry)

Image

I believe in keeping the freezer stocked with emergency items. A couple of favorites of our boys (ages 4 and 6) are chicken sausages (New Orleans-made Vaucresson crawfish or Creole chicken sausages if we’re lucky, though grocery store brands do the trick) and tater tots (I’m from the upper Midwest). I eat mine with kimchi or sauerkraut. I loosely follow Sam’s fried rice no-recipe recipe a couple times a month, often with diced Tasso or the ham I don’t use making my kids’ school lunches, and use Kim’s Can’t-Miss Rice technique whenever I make white rice. BRETT ANDERSON

Recipes: Whatever You’ve Got Fried Rice | Can’t-Miss Rice

Image

Credit…Romulo Yanes for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Vivian Lui.

For me, I do a simple take on this midnight pasta: Boil some water for pasta, sauté a lot of garlic in good olive oil, add a bunch of anchovies that will melt in the pan, and a few shakes of red pepper. If I have some capers, I’ll toss those in, but they’re not necessary. Make the pasta and then toss with the sauce. Serve with a dry Italian white or Bourgogne Aligoté. If I’m really desperate, it’s peanut butter on whole-grain bread with raisins. And a beer. ERIC ASIMOV

Recipe: Midnight Pasta With Garlic, Anchovy, Capers and Red Pepper