Slate Plus

What We Really Cook for Dinner

It involves tortillas. Trader Joe’s tortillas, specifically.

writers' food.
“If I kept a stash of Kraft Mac & Cheese and ground beef … that would probably win.”

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Makia Minich.

Most food media is aspirational. If you flip through Bon Appétit or browse the New York Times’ cooking database, you’ll find an abundance of complicated recipes calling for unusual ingredients that require at least an hour to prepare. This is all well and good for people who enjoy dedicating their weekends to assembling elaborate feasts, but it’s not particularly helpful when you’re trying to figure out how to recombine the contents of your refrigerator on a harried weeknight.

So, in the interest of realism, we asked some of our favorite writers, both inside and outside Slate, what their go-to recipes are when they get home hungry and tired and maybe a little bit tipsy. Their answers ranged from the predictable (pasta) to the not-so-predictable (millet). I hope they serve as inspiration the next time you’re staring wistfully into your pantry at 8 p.m.

Sad to put this in writing, but I can’t remember the last time I came home late, tired, hungry, and tipsy. (I really need to have more fun.) But when I find myself cooking for myself (and not my two kids) my go-to is skinny egg noodles with a shit-ton of butter. If I kept a stash of Kraft Mac & Cheese and ground beef in my kitchen that would probably win over the noodles, but either one does the job. Those were the two meals that used to be my go-to after-school “snacks” when I was in high school and I’d come home from sports practice and gorge. —Jenny Rosenstrach, Dinner: A Love Story creator and author, most recently, of Dinner: The Playbook

Spaghetti carbonara: While the water’s boiling, throw together three eggs, three garlic cloves, and a cup of parmesan and/or pecorino. Forget the fancy pancetta: Chop up some bacon, fry it, toss in some white wine, and reduce. Pour the eggy stuff over the cooked spaghetti, and the bacony stuff over that. Douse with black pepper; feel Italian; get fat. No shopping required, and it’s all done in the time it takes to prepare a pack of pasta al dente. —Will Oremus, Slate senior technology writer

I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with millet. It goes beautifully with veggies, meat—anything, really. I like mine super fluffy, so I err on the side of more water rather than less (recipes differ with respect to this). So, without further ado, millet with fall vegetables:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a bit of oil over medium heat in a medium pot, add 1 cup of millet and toast, turning, for a minute or so (until it starts smelling nutty). Add 3 cups of boiling water, turn down heat, and simmer with lid on until liquid is gone (about 30 minutes). While millet cooks, pull whatever veggies you want (for fall, I like butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, sage, and apples; the last is technically fruit, but who’s counting?), cut up into dice, coat with olive oil and salt, and stick in oven. They will be done about the same time as millet, and you can put them right on top. Sometimes I’ll also add a fresh avocado, or add pecans to the veggies while in the oven—anything goes.  Make it once and it lasts for days and reheats beautifully. —Maria Konnikova, New Yorker writer and author of the forthcoming The Confidence Game

Fusilli with a ton of butter, parm, salt, and pepper. A little underdone, with good parm from Di Palo’s. And so much black pepper it looks like a cloud of gnats. —Julia Turner, Slate editor in chief

The best quiche, taught to me by an old French lady. Takes 10 minutes to make, 45 minutes to cook and cool. Always looks fancy. The filling can be basically anything that’s in your fridge that you can sauté quickly, but for the best of the best quiche: Combine 4 eggs, 1 pint sour cream, 1 pinch cinnamon, 1 pinch nutmeg, 1 cup grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté 1 onion, half a bag of frozen peas, 1 can high-end tuna (in water), and 1 bunch chopped mint in 2 tablespoons butter. Add the cooked stuff to the cold ingredients, and bake in a ready-made piecrust at 400 for 35 to 40 minutes. Do this on a Sunday and have drunk food for the whole week! —Victoria Fine, Slate director of strategy and audience development

Whatever leftovers are in my fridge, wrapped in a Trader Joe’s “handmade” flour tortilla, often with cheese and/or a sprinkle of Maggi sauce, microwaved until hot. I’ve come to the realization that flour tortillas are my favorite food in the entire world. —Dan Pashman, host of The Sporkful and You’re Eating It Wrong

Sautéed kale with chickpeas, smoked paprika, and fake chorizo. (Field Roast’s Mexican Chipotle “grain meat” sausage is very good, but I guess you could use real sausage if you insist.) Sometimes when I’m really hungry and tired, I skip the kale and just pan-fry a couple of chopped “sausages” and a drained can of chickpeas and call it a night. —L.V. Anderson, Slate associate editor

A recipe that is worth the time and energy no matter how little time and energy I have is for half-assed quesadillas. It goes like this: Rapid-preheat the oven to 350. Toss two tortillas (ideally Trader Joe’s habañero-lime tortillas) on a cookie sheet. Top with whatever is handy: frozen corn, canned black beans, chopped zucchini or peppers or pretty much any vegetable, because any vegetable is OK if you melt cheese over it. Cover with cheese. Bake until cheese is melted. —Laura Helmuth, Slate science editor