Let’s face it: Sometimes spatulas and skillets can seem like instruments of torture rather than tools used to make dinner. Whether you’re in a rush to put a meal on the table after work, or you’re simply the eat-to-live type who enjoys no-fuss dinners, cooking night after night can seem like the biggest chore of all. In your book, the term “fun recipes” just isn’t a thing.
You might still prefer a trip to the dentist over spending time in the kitchen in some cases, but these recipes at least try to make cooking a little more enjoyable. Some are winners because of their laid-back assembly and straightforward ingredients, but in most cases they take dinner out of the box a little bit. If you’re tired of the same pasta dish week after week, switching it up a bit could be just what the chef ordered.
We promise these dishes will at least encourage you to get a little more creative, even if it’s only for one night a week. You might be surprised by how much you like making these recipes — or at least how much you enjoy eating them.
1. Meatball Sub on a Stick
I was in a serious cooking slump of spaghetti and taco nights a few months ago when I stumbled upon this recipe from Cookies & Cups. It was perfect for a light Friday night meal that didn’t take much work, but was also fun for something different. It also goes to show that everything tastes 10 times better when it’s served on a stick. The process for these is simple: All you have to do is make some turkey meatballs (you could use ground beef instead if desired) and then skewer them with pre-made breadstick dough — or strips of pizza dough in a pinch. Serve with marinara sauce and maybe a side of fruit, and you’ve got a quick meal that’s fun to make and eat.
- 1 pound lean ground turkey
- ½ cup Italian bread crumbs
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley or ¼ cup fresh chopped
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can breadsticks (the author suggests Pillsbury)
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 12 (10-inch to 12-inch) wooden skewers
- Marinara sauce for dipping
Directions: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, mix together ground turkey, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and spices. Roll into meatballs, about 1 inch wide.
Open can of breadsticks. (I’ve also cut a roll of pre-made pizza dough into strips, if the grocery store doesn’t carry the breadsticks.) Starting at the end of one breadstick, thread through a skewer, and then stick a meatball on the stick. Alternate two more times with the breadstick and meatball, ending with the dough. (The blogger suggests spreading the dough away from the meatballs by about ¼ inch, so the dough can rise and the meatballs can finish baking.) Make additional skewers with your remaining ingredients.
Bake for 20 minutes until meatballs are cooked through. Remove from the oven and sprinkle skewers with shredded mozzarella cheese, and place back into the oven for 2-3 minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately with marinara sauce.
2. Spinach Lasagna Rolls
You’ve made lasagna before, but sometimes all it takes to make it a little more exciting is to change its shape. The end result is perfectly portioned rollups. Adding in the spinach is optional (we suppose), but it might be the easiest way ever to eat your vegetables — and convince picky eaters at your table to do the same. The trick, as the blogger at Skinnytaste notes, is to make sure the spinach is completely drained, so it doesn’t make the lasagna filling watery. The recipe also calls for a simple pomodoro sauce, although you’re able to use any sauce you prefer.
- 9 lasagna noodles, cooked
- 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and completely drained
- 15 ounces fat free ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
- Salt and fresh pepper
- 2 cups pomodoro sauce
- 9 tablespoons (about 3 ounces) part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, mix together spinach, ricotta cheese, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper. Spread about 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of a 9-by-12-inch baking pan.
Lay out your cooked and dried lasagna noodles, either on a piece of wax paper or a clean dish towel. Spread 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture evenly over the noodle. Roll up, careful not to rip edges of the noodle, and place seam side down in the baking pan. Repeat process with the rest of the noodles.
Spoon sauce over the noodles in the pan and top with about 1 tablespoon of mozzarella cheese. Cover pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
3. Chicken Crescent Wreath
Pre-rolled crescent rolls not only make dinner prep incredibly easy, but they also add the ability to get creative without much fuss. If you’ve never made a crescent wreath before, have no fear. Taste of Home provides the recipe for a perfect chicken and broccoli filling, and Pillsbury fills in the gaps with pictures of how you should overlap the squares to make it. It’s simple, unique, and your family is sure to love it.
- 2 (8-ounce) tubes refrigerated crescent rolls
- 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
- ⅔ cup condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
- ½ cup chopped fresh broccoli
- ½ cup chopped sweet red pepper
- ¼ cup chopped water chestnuts
- 1 can (5 ounces) white chicken, drained or ¾ cup cubed cooked chicken
- 2 tablespoons chopped onion
Directions: Arrange crescent rolls on a 12-inch pizza pan, forming a ring with pointed ends facing the outer edge of pan and wide ends overlapping.
Combine the remaining ingredients; spoon over wide ends of rolls. Fold points over filling and tuck under wide ends (filling will be visible). Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
Freeze option: Securely wrap cooled wreath in plastic and foil before freezing. To use, remove from freezer 30 minutes before reheating. Remove wreath from foil and plastic; reheat on a greased baking sheet in a preheated 325 degrees oven until heated through.
4. Personal pizzas
No matter which night of the week is Pizza Night in your household, it’s time to share the cooking love when it comes to making delicious slices at home. All you have to do is make this easy dough from Food Network ahead of time, and then have everyone roll out their pizza rounds and choose their own toppings — likely based on the cheeses, veggies, and meats you already have in the refrigerator. It makes meal prep a breeze, and guarantees you’ll have company in the kitchen.
- 1 package active dry or fresh yeast
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 cup warm water, 105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing
Directions: In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and honey in ¼ cup warm water.
In a food processor, combine the flour and the salt. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and remaining ¾ cup of water and process until the mixture forms a ball. (The pizza dough can also be made in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed until the mixture comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl and starts to climb up the dough hook).
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand 2 or 3 minutes longer. The dough should be smooth and firm. Cover the dough with a clean, damp towel and let it rise in a cool spot for about 2 hours.
Divide the dough into 4 balls, about 6 ounces each. Work each ball by pulling down the sides and tucking under the bottom of the ball. Repeat 4 or 5 times. Then on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll the ball under the palm of your hand until the top of the dough is smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest 1 hour. At this point, the balls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to two days.
To prepare pizzas, roll out dough to desired size and thickness, then add toppings. Bake as you typically do for raw pizza doughs (Typically 450 degrees or higher for 20to 25 minutes.)
5. Easy Feta Dip
You know a recipe has promise when “easy” is already in the name. Best yet, this dip recipe doesn’t require you to use your oven or stovetop at all. Chopping up a few simple ingredients like tomatoes and green onions is all you need, but you’ll combine them with crumbled feta cheese, olive oil, and other seasonings to make a dip that’s perfect for pretty much any occasion. If you focus on high-quality olive oil as your base, you’ll be set. The Girl Who Ate Everything gives the run-down for making this easy and fun appetizer (and let’s be real, potential full meal, depending on the day.)
- About ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 4 to 5 green onions, sliced thinly
- 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 to 3 teaspoons Greek seasoning
- Fresh baguette, sliced thinly
- Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Directions: On a large plate or platter, drizzle olive oil in a thin layer on the entire bottom. Add the tomatoes, green onions, and feta on top of the olive oil. (The blogger suggests using a block of feta and crumbling it by hand, since the cheese tends to be more moist.) Sprinkle with Greek seasoning to taste.
Carefully mix the ingredients together with a spoon. You can drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar on top, if desired. Serve with sliced baguettes (the blogger suggests warming them up for serving.)
6. Pierogies with Sausage, Cabbage and Pear
Who doesn’t love these pre-made pockets of savory potato, cheese, and pasta? As Country Living notes, they’re a great short-cut item you can pick up in the freezer section, but you still have the ability to make a full and satisfying meal in a few steps. Boil the pierogies if you like them soft and pillowy, or pan fry them with a bit of oil or butter for a crisp outside, and creamy inside. Cabbage, sausage, and pear come together with complementing flavors to round out the dish, and all it takes is a simple sauté.
- 1 (16-ounce) box frozen onion pierogies
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ pound fresh bratwurst, casings removed
- ½ small head green cabbage, shredded (8 ounces)
- 5 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 firm ripe pear, cored and sliced
- 1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Directions: Cook pierogies according to package directions.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bratwurst and cook, breaking into pieces with a wooden spoon, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add cabbage and scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until just wilted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add pears, vinegar, and mustard and cook until pears are warm, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve sausage mixture topped with pierogies.
7. Bacon BBQ Chicken Bombs
There’s so much going on in these delicious chicken rolls from Cakes Cottage, you can’t fit all the main ingredients in the recipe name. Essentially, you make jalapeño poppers, cover them in thin chicken breast strips, and wrap the entire thing in bacon strips. The final touch is a coating of barbecue sauce. It might seem like a lot for one bite, but it comes together incredibly well. Serve with a quick vegetable or two, and you have a full meal with all the fun flavors of appetizers.
- 5 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 10 fillets
- 5 jalapeños, seeded, sliced in half lengthwise
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 20 slices bacon
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re using chicken breasts, cut them into two thin fillets. Between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap, pound the fillets flat, until about ¼-inch thin. Season with salt and pepper.
Wash jalapeños, stem, and slice lengthwise. Clean out the center, removing all seeds for milder taste. (Optional: Keep seeds for spicier version.) If removing seeds, rinse jalapeños another time and pat dry.
In a small bowl, combine cream cheese and cheddar cheese until well mixed. Fill each pepper half with about 1 tablespoon of cheese mixture, or more depending on amount left over.
Place each pepper half cheese-side down on the chicken fillets, rolling the chicken around the pepper. Starting at one end, wrap two bacon strips one at a time around the chicken. Tuck bacon into itself to seal the ends closed. Repeat with each pepper and chicken fillet.
Place rolled chicken fillets on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes, turning once halfway through. (The blogger suggests draining the bacon fat at this point. Alternatively, before baking crinkle foil in fan fashion and rest chicken on top, so the fat drains off the pieces.)
Reduce oven heat to 375 degrees. Brush each chicken “bomb” with barbecue sauce, rotating to cover the entire surface. Return to the oven for 5-6 minutes. Remove and brush once more, and place under broil setting for 2-3 minutes, or until bacon reaches desired crispiness. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
8. Chicken Mini Empanadas
Based on this recipe from Food Network’s Sandra Lee, it doesn’t take much to introduce some Latin American fare into your kitchen. Pie crust mixes make this an easy dinner, but also fun to roll and stuff for a unique meal. Rotisserie chicken guarantees good flavor, as does salsa mixed in with it. From there, you can customize them when serving with hot sauce, sour cream, or other condiments.
- 2 (11-ounce) packages pie dough mix
- 1 (9.75-ounce) can white chicken meat, drained, or 1 ½ cups shredded rotisserie chicken
- 1 cup chunky salsa
- 1 (3-ounce) can sliced ripe olives
- 1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
Directions: Prepare the pie dough according to the package directions for a double-crust pie. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken, salsa and olives. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Cool slightly.
On a flour-dusted surface, roll out the dough to an inch thick. Using a 3-inch-round cutter, cut out 36 circles, re-rolling the scraps as needed. Place about 1 tablespoon chicken mixture in the center of each circle. Moisten the edges with water.
Fold the circles in half and pinch to seal. Pierce the tops with a fork. Place the empanadas on a baking sheet and bake 15 minutes, or until golden. Serve hot.