We’re obsessed with cookbooks and recipes, but knowing a few versatile dishes by heart makes cooking a lot more fun and can be priceless on busy nights. Here are some of our favorite go-to’s to get you started:
Broth, the kitchen workhorse that’s basically free:
Learn the basic formula for homemade chicken broth opens in a new tab or veggie broth opens in a new tab and say goodbye to food waste and hello to flavor. Homemade broth adds rich flavor to tons of sides like pilafs and steamed veggies, and of course, makes a great starter for soups.
Greens are gold:
By now, you’ve probably heard “eat your leafy greens opens in a new tab” as many times as you’ve tied your shoes, and that’s fine for the salad lover in all of us. But the biggest nutritional boost comes from dark greens like collards, kale and spinach. Master cooking these without the mush and you’ll find them on your dinner table far more often than before. Here’s a basic greens recipe opens in a new tab, and one with bacon and a little spice opens in a new tab or fancied up with shallots opens in a new tab. Make extra to mix into casseroles or omelets the next day. And once you’ve got the basics, move on to a customer favorite: Greens with Carrots, Feta Cheese and Brown Rice opens in a new tab.
A few good salad dressings:
Homemade salad dressings are simple to make and often healthier (and tastier!) than the bottled stuff. Mastering good vinaigrette opens in a new tab is priceless! Try classics like Buttermilk Ranch opens in a new tab, Honey Mustard opens in a new tab and Creamy Roquefort opens in a new tab, or add something new to your arsenal with Sesame Garlic Dressing opens in a new tab. Bonus: with just a few tweaks, these become great dips or marinades.
Basic roast chicken and a few fun variations:
For versatility and leftover yumminess, it’s tough to beat basic roast chicken opens in a new tab. Have fun with marinades opens in a new tab, seasonings opens in a new tab and rubs opens in a new tab, and be sure to use the oven time for a pan of roasted veggies opens in a new tab or skillet of cheddar biscuits opens in a new tab. For faster cooking times, try these variations that cut the whole chicken into pieces: Lemon-Herb Chicken opens in a new tab and Peruvian-Style Roasted Chicken opens in a new tab.
Something delicious for pasta (or toast):
Turn plain pasta into a special meal with easy homemade sauces like basic pesto opens in a new tab (and not-so-basic pesto opens in a new tab), homemade marinara opens in a new tab and roasted red pepper sauce opens in a new tab. Bonus: these are just as good on toast or white beans the next day for a simple lunch.
Having a couple casseroles in your mental recipe box makes weeknight meals a snap. Plus, they’re pretty forgiving in terms of measurements and ingredient combos. Once you’ve got the basics down, experiment with what’s in your pantry, fridge and spice cabinet. Start with favorites like Broccoli, Rice and Cheese Casserole opens in a new tab, try an autumn twist using butternut squash and macaroni opens in a new tab and impress breakfast guests with this savory sausage breakfast casserole opens in a new tab. For a hearty dinner with a wholesome twist, try New King Ranch Casserole opens in a new tab.
A couple party-ready dips and spreads:
Knowing how to whip up a homemade dip or spread can save you lots of money and needless ingredients typically associated with packaged dips. Leftovers make instant snacks and are great on sandwiches and in wraps, too. Go elegant with smoked salmon opens in a new tab or garlicky goat cheese dip opens in a new tab, get a little healthier with hummus opens in a new tab or white bean spread opens in a new tab, or embrace the ease of pimiento cheese opens in a new tab and this dill-ightfully simple variation opens in a new tab.
What recipes do you know by heart? Which are the handiest, and why? Tell me in the comments below.