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I’ve had some people ask how they can make weeknight cooking easier. Boy, I understand that. I have a two-year-old and a full-time job. It’s hard to come home from work and get dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time. Here, I try to provide recipes that can be cooked on a weeknight (most of the time), and if the recipe isn’t inherently fast, I try to come up with modifications that make it quicker to prepare. Just so we’re on the same page, “fast” to me means getting dinner cooked and on the table in under an hour, including prep time.

My advice for weeknight dinners is this: First, plan ahead. Use the menu plans I provide on this blog, or make your own. Either way, take a day a week to look through your pantry and your fridge and figure out what you need to buy at the grocery store to make enough food for the week.

Then, as you plan your week’s menus, pick one element of each meal to concentrate on, and make the rest of it easy. By that I mean, if you are serving a side dish that takes some preparation, like this summer squash gratin, fix easy grilled chicken or pork as the entree. You get the idea.

This recipe should help your weeknight dinners come together quickly. Some foods just lend themselves to fast preparation, and green beans are one of them. This stir-fry only has six ingredients, plus some water, and cooks in less than 10 minutes. It’s also really tasty. I used some of the baby onions and leeks I had on hand in place of the 1/2 onion in the original recipe, and the oyster sauce adds some salty depth to the beans’ flavor. If you don’t have it, just season with soy sauce at the end instead. Be sure to have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go when you start cooking.

Easy Garlicky Green Beans (adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen)

1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 baby onions, cut into slivers about the same size as the green beans
1 leek, cut into slivers about the same size as the green beans
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water (plus a bit more if you check and the pan seems dry)
2 tbsp oyster sauce (comes in a bottle near the Asian foods in the grocery store)

Heat the wok or a heavy frying pan over high heat for 1-2 minutes, until it’s too hot to hold your hand over it. Add the oil and heat about 30 seconds more, then add the garlic, onion, and leeks and cook for 20-30 seconds, stirring the whole time.

Add beans and salt and cook about 2 minutes, stirring several times. Then add water, cover wok, and let beans steam for 5 minutes. Check about halfway through to see if the pan is dry, and added about 1 tsp more water if necessary.

Uncover the pan and add oyster sauce, then cook 2 minutes more, stirring so all the beans are uniformly covered with the sauce. Beans should still be slightly crisp when they’re done. Serve hot.

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I knew I’d be making this recipe as soon as I saw the bounty of squash we received in our last box. It’s one of my favorites, and I’ve made a few modifications to incorporate some ingredients I had on hand. Fresh squash and baby onions mix with an oregano-parsley pesto, cheese, and brown-butter breadcrumbs to make a dish that’s fresh and decadent. Yum.

Now, as written, this recipe can be time-consuming, but I’m including some suggestions at the bottom to facilitate weeknight cooking.


Summer Squash Gratin (adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

zest of one lemon
2 pounds summer squash or zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 baby onions (about 3-4 in. in diameter), thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups fresh bread crumbs*
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese (or Swiss cheese)

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Rub a 13×9 baking dish with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with lemon zest, and set aside.

Place the zucchini slices into a colander placed over a sink, toss with the sea salt and set aside for 10-15 minutes (to drain a bit — this softens them up and makes them cook more quickly) and go on to prepare the pesto and bread crumbs.

Make the pesto by pureeing the oregano, parsley, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes, and olive oil in a food processor or using a hand blender. Set aside.

Make the breadcrumbs by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about five minutes until the butter is fragrant and has turned brown. It will smell deliciously nutty. Stir the breadcrumbs into the browned butter.

Transfer the squash and onions to a large mixing bowl. Add the oregano pesto. Toss until everything is well coated. Add the cheese and half of the bread crumbs and toss again. Taste one of the zucchini pieces and add more seasoning (salt or red pepper) if needed.

Transfer the squash mixture to the lemon-zested pan, top with the remaining crumbs, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes When the dish is finished, you’ll be able to slide a fork easily into the zucchini.

Serves about 8 as a side.

*To make breadcrumbs, tear bread into pieces the size of your thumb, and pulse in a food processor. I like my breadcrumbs a bit larger than the ones you buy at the store, about the size of small pebbles. You can certainly use store-bought breadcrumbs instead of making your own, but reduce the amount to 1 cup, as these are much finer than homemade ones.

To facilitate weeknight cooking, do the following:

  • Use store-bought pesto instead of making your own. Basil would be good, but I’ve seen a Classico sun-dried tomato pesto that I’d love to try.
  • Slice the squash and onions and grate the cheese the night before.
  • Use store-bought breadcrumbs (see note above).

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