5 Must-Make Midwestern Winter Dinners from Shauna Sever
Shauna Sever is a talented baker with a handful of highly-rated cookbooks, including the recently published Midwest Made, to show for it. But we can’t live on baked goods alone, so when mealtime rolls around, the cookbook author channels her Midwestern roots to concoct homey, comforting dinners for her family of four. This includes regular use of her slow cooker, and a weekly pasta night. Here, Shauna shares a week’s meal plan with us, and tells us how she does it.
A Week of Easy Family-Friendly Winter Dinners
For me, baking is something special, but cooking often feels more like an obligation — I “have” to cook, but I “get” to bake. And if there are kids involved, daily cooking can feel like it’s got you in a chokehold, especially when trying to accomplish the trifecta of dinners: relatively balanced, quick to make, and oh, yeah — something the little ones will actually eat.
My kids are now 11 and nearly seven, and ever since my older daughter was stable enough to sit in a high chair, our family has made a habit out of sitting down to dinner together. This year, we’ve reached the age where both kids have some after-school activities. That can interfere with a regular dinner time, which pains me, but I still try to make sit-down dinners at least five or six nights a week. I’m not a devoted weekly meal planner, but on weeks when I can get it together and really map out the week with the shopping and the cooking, it’s a lot less stressful.
Given that we live in the Midwest, I believe in the power of carbs and comfort meals, especially on cold, dreary, winter weeknights. Overall, I’ll aim to balance a few heartier meals with beef, pork, or chicken with a couple lighter ones that are seafood-centered or meatless.
Monday: One-Pot Orecchiette
We typically have one pasta night a week. Sometimes I make a meat sauce (which could be anything from a Sunday pork ragu that cooks all day, to a jar of Rao’s stirred together with browned ground turkey, let’s be real). Other times we go meatless. I’ll make Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce with butter and onion, and then toss it with rigatoni and some teeny mozzarella pearls. They get a little melty, which my son loves. To keep pasta dishes from feeling super carb-heavy, I like to use a less than a full box of pasta, and bulk up the rest of the pot with protein and veg, like this peppers-and-greens-filled orecchiette.
Get the recipe: One-Pot Orecchiette with Sausage, Peppers, and Greens
Tuesday: Lemony Chicken Thighs
Most of our favorite meals center around a protein. I love the ease of adding a veg to protein and calling it done. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are my love language — they are endlessly versatile and always delicious, even if you just throw some into a 425°F oven on a sheet pan with a little Lawry’s seasoned salt — no oil required.
No shame about Lawry’s. This is the flavor of my childhood and I always have that cheery little orange-and-white jar in my spice cabinet. Another little-used spice that I think more people should celebrate is celery salt. Maybe it’s because I grew up on Chicago hot dogs, but man, there is nothing like a simple chicken salad made with mayo and celery salt. Another way I love to use it is in a buttermilk marinade with lots of lemon for a unique herbal hit.
Get the recipe: Lemony Celery-Salted Buttermilk Chicken Thighs
Wednesday: Sheet Pan Shrimp and Broccoli
One meal that has been in our rotation for years and never does us wrong is Melissa Clark’s Roasted Shrimp and Broccoli. My husband and I turn to this on nights when we’re feeling virtuous, and the kids are begging for nuggets or Amy’s mac and cheese. I keep a bag of Costco shrimp in the freezer (31-40 size is most versatile), and broccoli in the crisper, and those genius microwavable bags of organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s. It’s a light, complete, utterly satisfying meal made out of staples that totally doesn’t taste like it. I tell everyone I meet about this recipe.
Get the recipe: Melissa Clark’s Roasted Shrimp and Broccoli from The Wednesday Chef
Thursday: Redemption Chicken Salad
Another borrowed recipe that serves as a perfect midweek reset is Jenny Rosenstrach’s Redemption Salad. Most weeks, I’ll buy a rotisserie chicken, bring it home, and immediately shred it up. Then I use it throughout the week for easy lunches, quick high-protein snacking, or this perfect salad. Over the years I’ve streamlined it by using a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix as the base, slicing a few handfuls of whatever greens I have around, and adding thin strips of red bell pepper, along with a pile of that aforementioned shredded chicken. The zippy, salty dressing and crunch of the peanuts are magical. Leftovers make an excellent desk lunch the next day.
Get the recipe: Redemption Chicken Salad from Dinner: A Love Story
Friday: Slow Cooker German-esque Short Ribs
I’ll typically plan for one slow cooker meal per week, especially on days I know I’ll be writing or recipe testing all day, and won’t even want to think about dinner when the time comes. It’s also good for a day when we might all be getting home at different times. You can never go wrong with short ribs in a slow cooker, and this one is one of my favorites. I sometimes make this with brisket instead, slow cooked in the oven — either way, the star is this German-inspired, veg-heavy gravy, a combination of tomatoes, zingy sauerkraut, and (as the secret ingredient) applesauce, which adds just a hint of sweetness. It helps balance the notoriously rich flavor of the meat.
Depending on what kind of comfort we’re needing that day, I’ll serve this with mashed potatoes (the recipe from The Zuni Café Cookbook is the only mashed potato formula you’ll ever need) or egg noodles (my Gramma’s trick for perfect egg noodles every time: boil for three minutes exactly, cover tightly and shut off the heat, and let sit for 10 minutes — I do what I’m told). If I want something lighter, I’ll have it with simple steamed greens. Occasionally I’ll make a very Midwestern creamy cucumber salad with a yogurt-based dressing, which my kids love.
Get the recipe: Slow Cooker German-esque Short Ribs
Want something sweet to round out the evening? Shauna’s got you covered!
Get a recipe for dessert: Midwestern Baking Queen, Shauna Sever, Shares a Week of Desserts
Meal planning isn’t always easy — especially if you’re just getting started. But we’re firm believers that it’s the secret to stress-free weeknight dinners. We want to help you find inspiration and ease some of the pain points that come with getting dinner on the table night after night, whether you’re cooking one or a family of four or five. Every week we share a new meal plan solution specifically customized for you from reader requests or from a guest contributor, for Next Week’s Meal Plan!