The Best Easy Dinner Recipes for Beginner Cooks

Here are great recipes to help you start building confidence in the kitchen.

May 18, 2020
By: Katherine Lok

FNK ONEPOT SPAGHETTI WITH FRESH TOMATO SAUCE Food Network Kitchen Food Network Spaghetti, Olive Oil, Tomato Paste, Tomatoes, Basil, Garlic, Red Pepper Flakes, Parmesan

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

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Whether you're a recent grad or just someone looking to sharpen your basic cooking skills, there's no better time than the present to work on some delicious dinner ideas. The dirty little secret is that cooking isn't that hard. Once you arm yourself with basics — the right knives, quality pantry staples and a few techniques — you'll be well on your way to making great dinners each night. To help get you started, we've rounded up some quick and easy recipes that require minimal ingredients and equipment but deliver maximum deliciousness and flavor.

One-Pot Pasta Meals

One-pot pasta meals should be in every starter cook's arsenal for their simplicity and minimal clean-up. Rather than taking the time to boil your pasta separately in a different pot, add it to the same pot with the rest of your ingredients for a delicious dinner you can make in well under 30 minutes, start to finish.

Before you even turn on the heat, toss all the ingredients except for the cheese into a deep skillet. Once brought to a boil, this dish comes together in the time it takes to boil pasta to al dente. Stir in grated Parmesan to thicken the sauce and garnish with more fresh basil leaves to enhance the flavor.

Many stores now carry great pre-made fresh ravioli, but if you can't find mushroom ravioli, substituting with another kind is perfectly fine. While draining the pasta, reserve some of the starchy cooking water, then add it back to the pot with the cooked ravioli to make a Parmesan cream sauce. Frozen peas and fresh parsley add a verdant pop.

Turn to pantry staples like chicken stock, canned tomatoes and garlic for this simple soup that simmers in minutes. Packaged cheese tortellini and frozen spinach make great additions, but you can also substitute in fresh spinach or add shredded rotisserie chicken.

For other easy dinners like Cacio e Pepe and Penne alla Vodka, take a look at these One-Pot Pastas.

Sheet Pan Dinners

If you're just getting started cooking in the kitchen, we recommend getting a sheet pan or two for easy prep work and foolproof meals that come together in the oven. This kitchen workhorse is a great vessel for getting dinner on the table without time spent dirtying a bunch of pots and pans.

Ree made this easy sheet pan dinner with her recently graduated daughter in mind. A quarter sheet pan is a great size for one or two servings, but a regular full-size pan will do just fine, too. Use a clean lidded jar to shake up a simple soy marinade, then toss it with frozen veggies to go on one half of the pan and brush onto chicken for the other half.

All the prep work for this classic hoagie is done on a sheet pan divided into three parts for the sausage links, bell peppers and sliced onions. Spacing them apart and spread in a single layer ensures they roast evenly and become slightly crispy and charred.

For more quick no-brainer dinners like barbecue chicken and shrimp scampi, take a look at our Super-Easy Sheet Pan Dinner Ideas.

Grown-Up Dorm Food

Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you have to leave behind the food of your youth, but it may be time to kick things up a notch. These grown-up twists on these dorm staples are even better than the classics.

Our grown-up version combines the flavors of that classic duo, tomato soup and grilled cheese, by adding roasted tomatoes to the classic grilled cheese mix. Slow-roasting your tomatoes may seem labor-intensive, but most of the work is done in the oven and can even be done a day ahead. Using a waffle-maker to press the sandwich together gives it a crispy, crunchy exterior without time spent standing over the stove.

For this surprising twist on ramen, ditch the seasoning packet that comes in the bag and make your own sauce. Trisha Yearwood's recipe makes the most out of shortcut ingredients like rotisserie chicken and frozen veggies, and even uses soy sauce from a take-out packet for her peanut butter chile sauce.

3-Ingredient Desserts

Now that you've got dinner all planned out, why not take it a step further and make a super-simple dessert that requires just 3 ingredients? These easy recipes are sure to impress your dinner party guests.

This easy banana bread comes together in no time with this secret ingredient: spice cake mix. The cinnamon and nutmeg in the cake mix add a wonderful warmth to the bread, and an extra banana sliced in half lengthwise and baked over the top turns it into a stunning loaf worthy of anyone's Instagram feed.

No flour? No problem. This simple cookie dough is not only gluten-free but also flour-free. All it requires is your favorite creamy, salted peanut butter, brown sugar and an egg. The rich taste and texture will fool anyone who tries to guess what's in these cookies.

Ree's easy brownies don't require any chocolate chips or cocoa powder. Instead, the chocolate element comes from your favorite chocolate-hazelnut spread. Mix in flour and eggs and bake until set.

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