How Being a Professional Recipe Developer Made Me a Worse Home Cook

A Food Network Kitchen chef pulls back the curtain on her secret home-cooking life.

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Photo by: Andrew Purcell

Andrew Purcell

If I had a penny for every time I heard it, I would be rich: “Oh! You create recipes for a living. Your fill-in-the-blank (significant other, family or child) must eat so well!”

It’s a delightful notion. It is also not entirely correct. Yes, I am a professionally trained chef. Yes, I spend my days creating user-friendly, delicious and inspired recipes for Food Network Magazine. But I have a dirty little secret: just like you, when I get home and hear the cry of “what’s for dinner”, I freeze, panic and then start digging through the fridge or freezer to see what on earth I can make happen in the next 20 minutes before hanger and whining sets in. And just like you, the answer is often frozen fish bites, boxed soup, grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. And I’m okay with that.

Let’s break it down: I am a working mom with a mortgage and a 3-year-old in preschool and aftercare. Life is busy and tiring and after a full day of perfecting chewy cookies, fluffy cakes and juicy chicken breasts, all I want to do when I get home is pour myself a bowl of cereal and perhaps a glass of wine. Cooking and creating is both physically and mentally challenging and the bulk of my day is hands-on cooking while also thinking about the best way to make that recipe easy to understand and easy to follow with as few pots to clean as possible. And then write it down accurately. But regardless of how many recipes I cooked that day, my growing, perpetually hungry son still needs a satisfying dinner.

My main goal is to try and keep things balanced when it comes to what I can cook myself and what I’m going to rely on that’s prepared. Shortcuts and leftovers have become my best friends. I take advantage of a bit more time over the weekends to roast or grill big batches of chicken breasts or thighs or cook a large flank steak that can be sliced as the week goes on. In the winter I’ll make a big stew or soup. An extra special day is when there are leftovers from work that are neither too spicy nor flecked with green things (that toddler life) that I can reheat. With one big part of the meal set, I can simply boil some pasta, scoop some hummus and cut up some veggies.

Dinner doesn’t have to feel like a completed dish. Rather, it will combine lots of different elements until our plates feel satisfying and nutritious. It’s also a fun way to discover new flavor combinations. Who knew that a scoop of hummus over scrambled eggs would be so tasty! Diced cheddar and chicken stirred into heated prepared broccoli soup with a crumble of pita chips is delicious and hearty.

Don’t get me wrong, I love getting my kiddo in the kitchen and stirring up muffin batter or stretching homemade pizza dough. I’m hoping to dust off my pasta rolling machine soon and make a real (i.e. fun) mess of it in the kitchen with some homemade noodles. But, professional or not, we are all human and deserve a break when it comes to the day-to-day pace of life. If you need any advice for dinner, I’m here to help you out, but I’ll be over here making a grilled cheese.

More ideas for busy weeknights:

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