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

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 […]

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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)

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

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

Traci J. Lewis

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