What to Cook after Vacation

What to cook after vacation?


Just don’t.

You just got back from vacation and if it’s anything like over here, unpacked three bags worth of stuff. (Somehow a one- year-old single-handedly destroys the dream of not checking luggage. We travel with 10x more now that there’s a baby.) The last thing you want to worry about the night back from vacation, which is often also the night before going back to work, is standing in front of the stove. What are you, Betty Draper? No. Grab a beer and order a pizza, or Indian food, whatever. Relish the last moments of total freedom and just don’t bother.

I have a long-standing tradition of cleaning out our fridge completely before we leave for vacation. Bare bones. Total deep clean. I don’t do much grocery shopping before heading out of town so anything that’s in there is either a leftover, long forgotten, or never to be consumed. The day before we take off, I throw away most of it (usually old vegetables and jars of who-knows-what; so, please don’t get all up in arms about food waste). This results in coming home to a clean slate and very little pressure to cook immediately.

Then, once I’ve snapped out of “ugh back to reality” mode and checked days’ worth of unread work email, I can plug into cooking. Very recently, I’ve developed a system which is proving to be no fail. As always with my blog - limited effort, maximum result. So, the answer to what to cook after vacation? Roast a chicken. (Not immediately, do it on a Tuesday night. Trust me. It pays off for the rest of the week.)


Here’s what you do. Pull a chicken out of the freezer to defrost the night you get home. Or, if you don’t have one, buy one. This is where you’re probably rolling your eyes at me because roasting a chicken sounds SO labor intensive. It doesn’t have to be! The below recipe isn’t totally mine, it started from the genius mind of Mark Bittman. However, I’ve adapted it a bit to satisfy my taste and to make it even easier. Make either one, I promise it’s not hard.

Seriously, the whole thing has like seven ingredients and one of them is a skillet.

Mark Bittman’s Version

Easiest Roast Chicken


  • 1 whole chicken, not too big.

  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

  • 1 head of garlic, cut into wedges

  • olive oil

  • salt

  • pepper

  1. Heat up the oven to 400°F.

  2. Meanwhile, take your whole bird, remove everything that might be inside, and pat down the entire thing with paper towel. Use half a roll if you need to but the dryer the crispier the skin.

  3. Place the bird in a cast iron skillet.

  4. Rub the chicken all over with olive oil.

  5. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Seriously, don’t skimp on these.

  6. Cut a lemon into 4 wedges. Stuff them inside the bird.

  7. Cut a head of garlic into wedges. Stuff inside the bird. Don’t even bother peeling it.

  8. Roast for 30 min at 400°F then turn the oven down to 350°F and roast until the chicken is golden brown, and an instant read thermometer reads 155 to 165 degrees. Or, if you’re me, just cut into the thing and see if the juices run clear. It’s probably fine.

  9. Remove and rest the bird for at least 15 min before serving.

  10. Carve and serve.


Serve the chicken with mashed sweet potato, baked potato, sautéed green beans, or even just some sliced tomato and cucumber!

When you’re done eating and ready for clean up, make your partner do the dishes while you do this:

  • Take all the meat and put it aside in a Tupperware container for the rest of the week. Make chicken salad, put some in a sandwich for lunch, throw it in some pasta, or make Tomato Basil Chicken Paella. Easy meals for the rest of the week!

  • Take all the bones from the carcass, all the fat and olive oil at the bottom of the cast iron skillet, the lemon, the garlic, and put in the fridge - post about what to do with these soon!

That’s it! That is it.


Tomato Basil Chicken turned Paella

In my last post I introduced a new series on the site, Quick Recipes, For Busy Parents. Idea behind the series being, how to make one meal with enough leftover to transform it into something totally different for dinner the next night. 

I'm going to keep this one short, just like the prep and cook time for this dinner. Tomato Basil Chicken leftovers transformed into paella. (If you're a paella truther, please forgive me. This is a homemade, take the bare elements of paella, no time to cook because the baby is crying version of the dish.) So, here's what you do: get home from work and make the decision not to order out. Do not pick up some pita and dip it in hummus and call that dinner. Do not pour a bowl of cereal and pretend you're back in college. And for the love of everything, do not slice up an avocado and insult yourself by putting it on toast. Make a real meal because you worked all day and you've earned it. All you need are the aforementioned leftovers and 30 minutes for light cooking. Frankly, this recipe is more mixing and boiling than cooking. No cutting, just a little stirring. 


Let's make this.


Tomato Basil Chicken turned Paella 


  • Leftovers from the Tomato Basil Chicken recipe
    • We had two chicken thighs and a ton of the vegetables in their juices.
  • 2 cups jasmine rice
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 tsp saffron
  • fresh basil, torn into pieces
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  1. Steep saffron in 1/4 cup of hot water.
  2. While saffron is steeping cook 2 cups jasmine rice in a pot. (Directions for cooking rice should be on the back of the packaging.)
  3. Meanwhile, grab the leftovers from the fridge. Using a fork, or if you're me, just your fingers - shred the leftover chicken into a large pan. 
  4. Dump your leftover vegetables and any juices into the pan with the chicken. Literally, just empty the Tupperware into the pan. 
  5. Drizzle some olive oil on everything and heat pan on low. 
  6. Once your rice is done cooking, pour the steeped saffron, water and all, into the rice and mix well. 
  7. Mix the rice into the warmed pan of now shredded chicken and tomato basil leftovers.
  8. Turn up the heat and stir everything together for a few minutes. 
  9. Adjust seasonings to taste. For me this meant adding a bit more salt + pepper. Also, some paprika and red pepper flakes. Top everything with shredded basil and shaved Parmesan (if you feel like it). Squeeze lemon 'cause why not?
  10. Eat!

That's it! You've made a variation of paella out of something that was decidedly very different the night before. Eat your meal out a bowl, drink a glass of wine, be in bed by 9:30PM. 

Oh the parent life! 



Tomato Basil Chicken

Last week, after 16 weeks of being home with Ben, I returned to work. There are so many thoughts swirling in my brain about maternity leave, child care, balancing work and spending time with my son while also leaving time for dusting, mopping, sorting, washing, folding, combing, carrying, drying, combusting, reading, painting nails, etc. You get the point. But, I want to start with the relatively practical items. First things first, we can't fall back into bad habits of ordering or dining out on weeknights because (1) it's not healthy (2) we're paying for daycare now (3) I'd rather spend that money on cute baby clothes. 

So, here we are. If I thought I didn't have time to cook before, HAHAHAHAHAHA. I was wrong. I had all the time, I was just... Who the hell knows what I was. By the way, let's bookmark this one? A post all about, "What did I do with all that free time?! I could've read all the books and learned how to knit or something." 

Anyway, back to the problem at hand: Cooking at home but not having it take hours, so there's no downtime, and having leftovers BUT not so many that by Wednesday we're ordering out again. because who wants to have the same thing three times in one week? Not us.

The solution? First installment in a new series! Quick dinners for busy parents. recipes that you can pull together in an hour or less and use leftovers the next day in a different meal that takes even less time. 

All you need for this meal are chicken thighs, tons of fresh basil, tomatoes of all sorts, shallots, red peppers, and garlic. Also, one big oven safe pan. Ready? Here we go.

 But first, here are some pictures because this is a blog. 


tomato basil chicken

(loosely based on this Jamie Oliver recipe)


  • 1 package skin on chicken thighs (breasts would work too)
  • 1/2 lb fresh basil, rough chopped. Stems and all! 
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut length wise
  • 4-5 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 pack cherry tomatoes
  • 1 heirloom tomato, chopped up
  • 1 red pepper cut up into quarter inch pieces
  • 1/2 lemon, 3-4 slices and the rest reserved for squeezing
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • salt + pepper
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp paprika

I also used Trader Joe's "Everything but the Bagel" seasoning, because I use it on everything now. It's the best. You can substitute any poultry or spice rub that you have, or skip and make your own spice mix from what's listed above and whatever you have on hand. 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  2. Pour a glug of olive oil into your pan and heat it up. 
  3. Toss in tomatoes, garlic, shallots, red pepper, and basil. Cook down for just a few minutes. No more than five.
  4. Dry your chicken thighs and rub spice mix into the skin. 
  5. Turn off the heat on the vegetables and squeeze chicken into the tomato/basil/pepper situation. 
  6. Place slices of lemon on each piece of chicken and drizzle the remainder of your olive oil on top.
  7. Bake in the oven for 35-40 min. Finish off on the broil setting for an additional 5 minutes. The chicken should be browned and the spice mix will look blackened a bit. It's not. Don't worry.
  8. Serve on a bed of mixed greens and freshly grated Parmesan or cheese of choice. Squeeze the remainder of your lemon on top of everything. 
  9. You're going to have leftovers. Scoop them all, including the juices in the pan, into some Tupperware (not endorsed). 

Ok, so what to do with the leftovers tomorrow? Stay tuned!