So let’s talk about dinner.
When you’re working 8-5 and sometimes longer than you’d like to admit, the worst thing in the world seems like cooking. Cooking for parties, sure. Cooking for a date, great. But cooking for yourself can be a major bummer, mostly because you’re tired AF and when it comes to prioritizing sleeping or eating, sometimes you’d rather just sleep (and do not sit there with your judgement and tell me I’m the only one who has wished I could do both simultaneously). But as soon as I think that, I catch my brain flipping through goals I’ve filed away like an old rolodex from the 80s: saving money, not eating food that is horrible for me, eating less red meat, etc. etc.
Now, let’s set the record straight: it took me a very, very long time to be convinced that cooking took just as long as picking up food. I grew up in a household where fast food was a staple, so 10-minute trips to Whataburger were a-ok because it was either Whataburger or bust. When I met Zach in college, he cooked, and that was very weird to me. We’d come home from the bars, I’d stumble into my room to change into pajamas and by the time I got back, I’d find Zach in a half-buttoned t-shirt and boxers heating up some potatoes in a cast-iron skillet. And when we got a little bit older, I’d call him after work lamenting about my day, asking him if we could just snag some fast food really quick instead of cooking. But he always insisted it would take just as long to cook.
Now, let’s be real: cooking for one isn’t the cheapest thing in the world, and the time required to cook vs. pick up food isn’t vastly different, but I think we can all agree there is a huge difference in the nutritional value between the two.
In the summer of 2012, I worked at a place chock-full of general athletes and health nuts and ex-Olympians (note: not an exaggeration) who lived incredibly healthy lives. At the same time, I was living in a spare bedroom at my friend’s parents’ house, and out of courtesy, I never wanted to occupy their kitchen for too long. Feeling the pressures of each environment, I got really damn good at the 15-minute dinner.
These recipes have become our staples, but they all have one thing in common: they are truly fast. For me, the advantage of take-out is the time savings, so I’ve designed these recipes so that they require approximately the same amount of time as driving to the nearest fast-food chain (about 7 minutes), waiting in line (about 5 minutes), and driving back home (about 20 minutes total time). They also are healthier and approximately as cost-effective (though TBH I am willing to pay a bit more for the added nutritional benefit).
Ultimately, I’ve created these recipes to be so mindless that not making them puts me in a whole other category of stubbornness that I am just not willing to admit to. They have multiple options for one ingredient in case you don’t have something on hand and are almost endlessly modifiable. Let the record show that I’m fully aware the techniques I outline break well-established rules. I’m sure Chef Gordon Ramsay would roast me for advising anyone to let the steam escape from the rice and I’m sure Betty Crocker is reeling from me not mentioning it should be fluffed with a fork. But these recipes are made for real life, not tv characters or advertisers, and I hope you find them helpful in breaking your raccoon-like eating habits of rummaging through the pantry and deciding to eat Triscuits for dinner (because we’ve all been there).
BAKED SALMON IN PARCHMENT PAPER
*Indicates potential substitutes available, see notes below recipe
6 oz. fresh salmon filet
1/2 handful fresh basil, thyme, sage, or some other herb you like*
1 clove fresh garlic, minced**
1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil or Nonstick Cooking Spray***
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 425°.
Cook rice on stovetop according to package instructions. For faster cooking, keep water boiling with lid on, shaking pot to ensure rice doesn’t stick to bottom of the pan.
Remove peel and chop garlic. Set aside in a little pile. (Garlic sucks to peel. To speed this up, put garlic on its side, lay knife or something flat on top of it, and bang down on flat side of knife. This should smash the garlic and allow you to remove the peel easily; 10-second high-quality video clip here)
Chop/cut herbs into small pieces about the same size as garlic pieces. Sprinkle over salmon.
Grab a grater and zest the lemon directly over the salmon until salmon is lightly covered. If you don’t have a grater, hang on to your lemon until after the salmon is cooked.
Meanwhile, tear off parchment paper the length of a cookie sheet (roughly 3-4x the width of your salmon). Fold in half (hamburger half, not hotdog half) to crease. Unfold and place on cookie sheet.
Once rice has absorbed all the liquid, remove it from the stove and scoop it onto one side of the parchment paper. Put salmon directly on top of rice, skin side down.
Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over salmon. Sprinkle garlic over salmon.
Spray top of salmon with nonstick cooking spray, ensuring salmon is covered. Alternatively, pour the oil on the salmon and rub in with the toppings.
Flip the 2nd half of the parchment paper over the top of the salmon and fold matching edges together to create a loose seal.
Cook for 12-15 minutes until salmon is opaque and flakes off easily with a fork.
Slide food off parchment paper onto a plate and squeeze lemon on top.
* 1/2 tsp dried herbs will work too
** if you’ve only got garlic powder, 1/4 tsp of that’ll do, and fun fact: minced garlic in a jar is even better for you!
*** I recommend Coconut Oil Cooking Spray because it’s easiest and it’s near impossible to mess up; totally okay if you have canola oil, avocado oil, etc. instead