“The World May Have Slowed Down, but Families Are Even More Busy.” A Week of Easy Dinners with Becky Hardin of The Cookie Rookie
If you’ve ever cooked a recipe off the internet (ahem, probably all of you), you’ve probably made something created by Becky Hardin, aka The Cookie Rookie, a super-popular food blog full of easy, family-friendly recipes that make approachable look aspirational.
Becky gets it: Weeknight cooking for busy families is hard (and throw in a global pandemic and it gets even harder). That’s why she’s hyper-focused on developing 30-minute dinners, one-pot dishes, casseroles, and Crock-Pot meals that make the process just a little bit easier. We caught up with Becky in her St. Louis kitchen to talk about the joys of eating three meals a day at home, and the trick to the perfect grilled cheese.
Weeknight Cooking Questions for Becky
How are you holding up?
The past eight months have gone really fast and really slow at the same time. I’m so grateful to have had a steady job throughout all of this. We’re just dealing with boredom and anxiety and we’re being extreme hermits. Obviously I hope everyone is careful, but we find we can’t be too careful. I’ve just seen family and our neighbors. We’re getting a bit stir-crazy. The holidays will be strange, but hopefully as normal as they can be.
Did you see a huge surge of people cooking your recipes once stay-at-home orders were enforced?
In the very beginning, there was a huge increase with people being at home and baking booms and all of that. It’s normalized a bit since then. I think people got more comfortable or learned how to cook — which is my goal at the end of the day.
What other silver linings have you found recently?
A big perk is that we’ve never eaten three meals together as a family like this every day. It’s so fun to have this new routine! I’m looking for the little positives. We got a new outdoor table setup which has been good because we were able to see some people outside. We also got a new puppy! Everyone needs a lot more attention than usual.
What’s your day-to-day schedule like?
My husband, Pat, works from home so we have breakfast together in the morning when we feed the puppy. I love to do make-ahead breakfast casseroles or just heat up chocolate croissants. My son (Henry, 3) is finally back in daycare, but for a shortened day. While he’s there, my husband and I both work from home. My mom comes to help me cook a lot, and on days we’re shooting we’ll make four to five recipes. We’ll usually eat something I made for the blog for lunch. On days when I’m editing and doing web work, I usually don’t cook at all, though, so we’ll have leftovers or order something.
As a food blogger, has the pandemic changed the way you cook at all?
It’s changed a little. I try to focus on pantry-ready ingredients and things that are quicker and simpler for families to make. The world may have slowed down, but families are even more busy. When developing recipes, I try to keep in mind that people are busy, stressed, and they don’t have a ton of time. They want easy stuff. The recipes I see taking off are the simplest ones that people can make with ingredients that they already have.
How are you handling grocery shopping?
I haven’t been to the grocery store since March, which is really strange for someone who’s a food blogger! St. Louis has a lot of options, and I use Instacart and Shipt depending on which store I need. I even have our dog food delivered. With delivery, though, I had to get used to planning ahead for meals. I’m not a good menu planner, but I needed to get food so I could place an order once every two weeks or so, back when the systems were completely booked. Now I can place an order every day, which is good if a recipe comes to mind — I can kind of fly by the seat of my pants.
I usually make five to eight new recipes a week for the site, and that’s a lot of groceries. I use the Notes app on my iPhone with the checklist feature and delete as I go.
What have you found yourself eating over and over?
We love fresh fruit. My son, Henry, has a sweet tooth — and the healthiest way we can interpret his sweet tooth is through fruit. Bananas and strawberries are his favorite, so we always have a lot of those. We also love tortilla chips and salsa, guac, or cheese dip. That’s a staple in our house. For breakfast, we love simple fried eggs and toast and tomatoes. Henry loves his eggs scrambled.
Dinner-wise, we love sheet pan or one-pot recipes. I make this one-pot Tuscan chicken with creamy sauce — our 3-year-old loves it. We’ll have it with pasta one night and rice another. I like to change up little things like that when we’re having leftovers. Our baked spaghetti or baked ziti is a simple one when we don’t want to think.
What kitchen tool have you been relying on most lately?
I impulse bought a Cuisinart toaster oven/air fryer. I never had a desire before, but now I’m obsessed with it. It’s how we reheat pizza and cook frozen chicken nuggets. And it makes the best grilled cheese I’ve ever made.
Do you have a favorite pandemic food memory so far?
In the very beginning, we couldn’t see my mom. But she was still nurturing us through it from afar. She’d drop off food to us and she’s an amazing baker. We got spoiled with that. We did a month where we didn’t see each other at all, and once we felt comfortable, she came over once a week for our cooking days. I learn so much from her and I’m still learning as I go.
A Week of Dinners from Becky Hardin
Breaded Pork Chops
These breaded pork chops are healthy and family-friendly. I love that they bake (still crispy!) on a single sheet pan right with the veggies. It’s one of my go-to recipes to make for when I’m stuck on ideas.
Get Becky’s recipe: Breaded Pork Chops
You just can’t go wrong with baked spaghetti. It’s simple comfort food, which is what we all need right now. I love anything that I can make in a pinch for dinner during a chaotic week. To me there’s nothing more comforting at the end of a long work week than a pasta recipe. (I want my carbs!) This is also my husband’s favorite recipe. It may be messy for our 3-year-old to eat, but he always asks for seconds!
Get Becky’s recipe: Baked Spaghetti
Creamy White Chicken Chili with Cream Cheese
This is the kind of cozy and creamy chili that I crave all winter long. Cuddle up with a big bowl and there’s nothing better. It takes just 30 minutes to make, and it freezes really well, which is why I love to make big batches of this at a time.
Get Becky’s recipe: Creamy White Chicken Chili with Cream Cheese
Yes, another chili. We like chili around here! When I have a busy day, you can bet this slow cooker version is what’s for dinner. I like that I can set it and forget it, but still have a delicious and comforting dinner waiting whenever I return.
Get Becky’s recipe: Crock-Pot Chili
Beef Lo Mein
This is a simple, flavor-packed lunch or dinner that you can make in minutes — all in one skillet. I like to use flank steak and add whatever vegetables I have on hand (mushrooms work really well as an addition!). It is pretty much foolproof.
Get Becky’s recipe: Beef Lo Mein