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So many cookbooks and nothing to cook

I need a quick and easy dish "weeknight dinner" main dish to that has enough "wow" serve to my mother-in-law. No seafood, no citrus, nothing hot/spicy. Lighter would be better, ie., not too butter or heavy cream.

For some reason, my mind is an absolute blank. (Actually, it's not blank. The congestion from my headcold is hogging all of the space, pushing all other sane thoughts out.) I've done a mental scan of all of the COTM dishes I've loved, and they all seem to be spicy or summery or complicated.

I was hoping for a super simple, but delicious pasta dish. Any ideas? Thank you! ~TDQ

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    1. re: kengk

      I second this. Carbonara is sooo simple, yet always seems to impress if you do it well. I'm a big fan of Marcella Hazan's recipe if you want something more specific.

    2. Baked ziti w spinach and tomatoes.. This is simple and really good.


      1. TDQ, if you are open to ideas other than pasta, there is a very nice, light and simple chicken recipe in Around My French Table book - the picture is on the cover. The whole chicken cooks in a sealed pot with various vegetables and makes lovely one pot meal. Roden has a few orange salads in her New Middleeastern Cookbook which will be a nice edition and simple to make.

        1. I just saw the latest Food & Wine in a waiting room, and they had what looked to be a super simple baked ziti recipe...

          1 Reply
          1. re: roxlet

            That did look delicious, didn't it?
            Any pasta, tossed hot with a little olive oil, salt pepper and parmesan, and diced sauteed veg. of your choice, would be appropriate and require almost no time if you cut the veg. and store them ahead, then just saute them before dinner and do the mixing. If you like Asian flavors, you could toss Soba noodles with sesame oil, soy sauce, a touch of peanut butter and a spot of ginger: then add not-too-shredded chicken and bean sprouts and some sliced celery. You could make a layered salad in advance, too, and use a vinaigrette instead of mayonnaisey dressing. (The one I make has pasta and baby shrimp in it: if you'd like the recipe I'll be glad to post it.)

          2. Here is a favorite recipe of mine that I think meets your criteria.

            Pan Sauteed Chicken and Mushrooms with Garlic Spinach

            serves 4 - 5

            olive oil
            2 tablespoons butter, divided
            3 large boneless chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise into 2 thin cutlets each
            2 cups sliced baby portebello mushrooms
            2 bunches of baby spinach, washed and drained and paper towels
            3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
            1 tablespoon flour
            1/2 cup white wine
            1/2 cup chicken stock
            squeeze of lemon juice

            Heat a large saute pan to medium high and drizzle with olive oil and about 1 tablespoon of butter. Season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Saute for 3 - 4 minutes per side until lightly browned. Remove cutlets from pan and cover with foil to keep warm.

            In the same pan, drizzle a little more olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms. Saute for 5 - 7 minutes until they begin to brown slightly. Remove from pan and keep warm with the chicken.

            In the same pan, drizzle a little more olive oil and add the spinach in 2 batches. Cook each batch until the spinach is wilted and most of the water has cooked away. Remove spinach to a plate. Add garlic to pan and cook for 1 - 2 minutes until it just begins to brown. Add more olive oil if the pan seems dry. Add back the wilted spinach and a pinch of salt and pepper and toss to combine. Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

            In the same pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. When it just begins to bubble, whisk in the 1 tablespoon of flour. Cook for about 30 seconds. Whisk in wine and stock and cook for 2 - 3 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Turn heat to low and keep sauce warm.

            To serve, place Garlic Spinach on a large platter. Top with the sauteed chicken and mushrooms and drizzle with the wine sauce. Serve.

            1. I often make the following chicken pasta dish which has lots of flavours and is hearty without being too solid or heavy; I think it meets all the criteria you mentioned!:-

              Cut some chunks of chicken breast, wedges of red onion and large pieces of red and yellow pepper. drizzle with oil and bake in the oven until tender - about 20 -25 mins. Meanwhile, cook some pasta shapes, halve some cherry tomatoes and cut some small dice of feta. Stir it all together with a couple of tablespoons of pesto and serve straight away. The texture and freshness of this is great, especially when served with garlic bread slices.

              4 Replies
              1. re: flashria

                This has my interest because it's got oven cooking time while I'm doing some stove top stuff. What temp do you set the oven? And those chunks of chicken, onion and pepper are bite sized pieces, I assume?

                Lots of great ideas here, folks. I forgot to mention we're feeding our infant table food and I wanted to be able to feed him off of my plate (hence the "no spice" and "no seafood") , so no raw eggs or nuts either... And I'm not sure about mushrooms!


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Penne tossed with feta and olive oil (and a little of the pasta water) is one of my favorite things. Lots of tasty additions such as flashria;s idea above. I like it with caramelized onion, sun dried tomato and basil. For us always with red pepper flakes and garlic infused into the oil..

                  It is really, really, good to take a boneless chicken breast and bread it and fry until crispy. Slice the fried chicken up into strips and put on top. Very crispy, think chicken crouton.

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Oven 200 deg; and I would say probably BIG bitesize pieces - I always think of it as quite rustic at the end rather than uniform and diced - peppers cut into maybe 8 pieces rather than actually chopped - but obviously you could do it as you choose, just adjust the length of time it's in the oven.

                    SORRY I meant to reply to TDQ rather than kengk!

                    1. re: flashria

                      Thank you everyone for these great ideas. I get so panicked cooking for my MIL so I appreciate these ideas and shall be employing them.


                2. as a lighter alternative to carbonara, marcella has a very simple and good pasta recipe the main ingredients of which are shells (I think, a cut that would catch some of the sauce) ricotta, sauteed bacon and baby peas. black pepper and cheese (probably pecorino, but maybe parm) provide added flavor.

                  This has always been a family favorite in my house and it is fallingoff the log simple. Whole milk ricotta is best.

                  1. Sometimes I am lazy, and I don't feel like rolling my own lasagne, and I really don't like boxed lasagne much, so I make cavatappi (squiggly, with a hole in it) with Bolognese, Bechamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

                    It's a cross between Marcella Hazan's lasagne and Carmela Soprano's baked ziti, and the cream sauce always surprises people (in a good way). You can make the sauces a day or two ahead of time, and assemble right before you bake it. Add a salad and good bread, and there you have it.