I’m the laziest cook on the planet. I love to cook. I think it’s fun, it calms me down, and I do a lot of good thinking while I chop onions (and if I need a good cry…well, you know). But. My skill set is not exactly that of a Chopped Champion. I like to cook things that are fun, pretty healthy, delicious, and really easy. So, below is a main dish (fancy people pizza) and three super versatile, quick side dishes that will impress your cool friends (or your hot date) and not stress you out. These are all pretty healthy recipes, but are also delicious, which means sometimes they have some less than favorable ingredients. For me, I always look for store bought sauces, canned veggies, frozen items, and meats that have zero added sugar. Always. That’s a nonnegotiable for when I’m cooking at home. It’s easy to avoid and there’s NO reason for it, flavor-wise or otherwise. It’s pretty easy to find once you start looking and learn the brands you like! Additionally, I make other healthy swaps (like cashew milk for regular milk, which is one of the few nut milks I’ve found I can cook with without a funky texture or flavor), and leaving out the cheese/butter/creamy awesome stuff when I can. But sometimes…ya just can’t. That’s when moderation and a little post-dinner walk (or kicking your butt a bit harder at the gym the next day) come in to play. BALANCE, PEOPLE. Okay, but that’s the boring stuff. Let’s talk about the foooooood.
- Easy date night gourmet pizzas:
M and I were looking for a fun, cheap way to inject a little excitement into our Wednesday night without having to change out of our pjs. Enter MYO Pizza Night! These pizzas incorporate easy, store bought ingredients (you can control how health conscious or not these are) with fresh toppings and plenty o’ creativity. Marshall’s pizza was a chicken-bacon-alfredo pizza topped with avocado. Mine was a spring-y (and amazing) pesto pizza topped with cheese, asparagus, peas and prosciutto. Holla. Here’s what you’ll need:
For the alfredo pizza:
- Store bought crust (unbaked). You can go with the pop-can style pizza crusts, some dough from the grocery store or your local pizza place, or some of the premade gluten-free dough styles. All that matters is that you like it and you can bake stuff on it.
- A few slices of bacon (this is wear your own level of neediness comes in. No sugar added? Turkey bacon? Pre-cooked? Whatever. Buy it, make it crispy, get ready for action.)
- 1-2 cups of shredded chicken (we buy a rotisserie chicken and shred it up because, like I said, we are SO lazy.)
- Alfredo sauce in a jar. Don’t make this. Buy it. You are going to smear it on a pizza and top it with bacon. It will be fine.
- Grated parm or pecorino romano. Something salty and nutty to sprinkle on your pizza. Whatever you think the Barefoot Contessa would tell you to buy (jk, she’d tell you to travel to Italy for your cheese.)
- Sliced avocado
Assemble (spread a thin layer of sauce, top with chicken, crumbled bacon, avocado slices, and finally, cheese). Bake on a cookie sheet at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes (but check any specific recommendations for your dough!)
For the green pizza:
- Crust (see above where I assure you that you’re capable of making your own decisions and it’s all going to be okay.)
- Pesto sauce (again, I use a really good quality store bought pesto for this. Then I save the rest and put it on *literally* everything I consume until it’s gone)
- Asparagus with the tough ends removed and sliced into thin rounds (think the way you’d slice scallions). You’ll want about a cup.
- Frozen peas, about 3/4 of a cup. Let them thaw a bit.
- Prosciutto, 2-3 slices, chopped or torn into small pieces
- Mozzarella cheese and grated parm
- Lemon zest (about a tablespoon for extra fanciness)
Assemble (spread the pesto on the dough, sprinkle mozzarella cheese, add asparagus and peas, top with grated parm). Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. After it comes out of the oven, add sliced prosciutto and sprinkle with lemon zest. Close your eyes while you eat it for extra emphasis.
- “I’ve been cooking all day” corn pudding: Delicious, creamy, easy. A fun side that’s a little less boring than a salad and fulfills your summer corn needs without needing to fire up the grill or stand over pots of boiling water. Good hot, warm, room temperature, cold, at midnight, whatever. Make it.
- 3/4 cup frozen corn, thawed
- 15 oz can creamed corn
- 4 oz (1/2 package) cream cheese
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped (you may want to add an extra one or a pinch of cayenne pepper if you want a little extra kick!)
- 2/3 cup cornmeal
- 2/3 cup milk
- 3 tbs melted butter
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra to top
- Salt and pepper to taste
Throw it all in a bowl and combine with electric mixer. Stick it in a greased casserole dish (1 qt). Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, top it with a little extra cheese (because, duh) and let it set up for 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Party-style caprese salad: This one’s even easier. It’s fresh, light, but has a ton of flavor. Think caprese salad…but better. It tastes even better the longer it sits, so make it ahead and bring it to a summer rager.
- Variety of cherry tomatoes, quartered and seasoned with salt (I buy the red and the yellow ones for presentation bonus points)
- 1 cup of cubed fresh mozzarella
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 tbs balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar (optional!)
- 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
- Chopped chives and basil
- Salt and pepper
Quarter the tomatoes, season with salt. Grate over 1 clove of garlic (I grate my garlic so no one bites into a raw garlic chunk, and I don’t have to mince it myself). Add the mozz chunks. Set aside. In a small saucepan, dissolve the brown sugar into the balsamic vinegar. Bring it to a simmer and let it reduce a bit and get sticky (just a few minutes). Add the mustard and the olive oil and whisk like a mad woman. Drizzle over the tomatoes and cheese and add the fresh herbs. Toss and eat.
- “Bougie but also healthy until you dunk them in butter” steamed artichokes: These babies are strange to eat, and your friends will judge you, but then they’ll fall in love. M recently had his first artichoke experience and he had no complaints, though they are weird to eat at first. They are great on their own for a light lunch or dinner or as a side with some protein (grilled chicken or skirt steak, perhaps?). They were on sale the other week (3 for $5, holla), but even so, they are pretty cheap and so, so delicious.
- Fresh artichokes (duh)
- Water or chicken stock (water is really fine if you’re not into stock, or veggie stock works too for an all vegetarian option!)
- White wine (about 2/3 of a cup, whatever you’re drinkin’ is fine)
- Lemons, 1 or 2 lemons, halved (zest them first and set the zest aside)
- 4 garlic cloves
- Salt and pepper
- Plenty of melted butter
Put about 4 inches of water or stock in the bottom of a large saucepan. Add the garlic cloves (smash ’em up a bit), the sliced lemon halves, the wine, and salt and pepper. Bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, slice the bottom stems off the artichokes so they sit flat. Slice about 1/2 inch or so off the top so the leaves are exposed. Rip off the tough, dark leaves at the bottom of the artichokes. Sit them in your delicious wine and garlic bath, cover the saucepan, and let them steam for 30 minutes.
To enjoy, remove them from the saucepan. Peel the leaves off of the artichokes (dip them in melted butter with salt and lemon zest added in for awesomeness) and scrape the meat from the fat part of the leaf with your front teeth. Weird, but soooo good. Once you get through most of the leaves, you’ll be left with a tiny pyramid of little, purplish leaves surrounding some weird hairy stuff. Remove the leaves and scrape the hairy stuff away (that’s the choke-y part). What’s left is the really fleshy part of the artichoke. Scrape this out, dunk it in butter (or don’t, but you should probably), and enjoy. A little effort for your dinner can’t hurt!
There you have it, friends! 4 super easy, light and summery recipes (plus some bacon-alfredo comfort food goodness because, sometimes you just need it) that won’t make you feel terrible, will impress even the most obnoxious of your foodie friends, can feed a crowd or leave you with lots of delicious leftovers. Try them out, play around with them, and let me know what you think!