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12 Essential Recipes to Master This Year

Macaroni and cheese, spaghetti bolognese, and a Caesar salad
Mom on Timeout/RecipeTin Eats/Natasha’s Kitchen

Whether you like cooking or not, everyone should have a few basics in their wheelhouse “just in case.” We’ve selected a dozen easy, popular meals your whole family is sure to enjoy. If you make just one of these dishes each month, by the end of the year, you might even discover you actually enjoy cooking!

You don’t have to be an aspiring chef or a cooking whiz to make these satisfying comfort foods. From a killer grilled cheese to classic spaghetti Bolognese, these 12 recipes cover all the basics and will save you some cash on takeout, too!

A Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Grilled cheese sandwhich
Tasty

A perfect grilled cheese sandwich will impress literally everyone, but especially your little ones. The secret to upgrading grilled cheese is toasting it in a pan—just say no forever to that soggy microwaved bread.

Another handy tip is to slather some mayo on the outside of your slices (don’t knock it ’til you try it!).

Pancakes

Stack of pancakes
AllRecipes

Nothing beats a stack of tasty pancakes in the morning. Sure, you could just grab a mix, but nothing compares to homemade. This recipe will only take you about 20 minutes to make, and once you dig in, you’ll be instantly transported back to grandma’s house.

You probably already have the seven ingredients in your kitchen, so you can start practicing these right now. Top ’em with some maple syrup or strawberries to sweeten the deal.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese
Mom on Timeout

We’re not talking about the kind in the box, either. Homemade mac ‘n cheese is leaps and bounds better than that powdered orange stuff that comes in the box brands. This recipe is a bit more complicated than some of the others on our list.

However, every different type of cheese and spice adds another layer of flavor you’ll be thankful for once you take that first bite. Just take it slow and cook your pasta on low heat the first time you run through this one. This way, you won’t burn any of the dairy products.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken noodle soup
Averie Cooks

Homemade chicken noodle soup is comforting, cheap, and pretty easy to throw together. You can even pick up a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken at the grocery store to speed things up. Don’t omit any of the spices, though, as they add tons of flavor and will also help you keep the salt to a minimum.

This recipe can also be frozen and reheated for up to three months. So, make a big batch and you can enjoy the leftovers for lunch all week!

Stir-Fry

Cooked chicken cubes and stir fry
Dinner at the Zoo

A good stir-fry recipe is really handy to have in your repertoire because you can substitute the ingredients with almost anything you have on hand. It’s also an excellent way to use up any leftover veggies and/or meat from another meal.

The secret to good stir-fry is in the sauce, which is why this honey and garlic recipe is sure to always be a real crowd-pleaser. You can also modify it and use any combination of veggies and protein you prefer. To make it a bit heartier, add some cooked soba or udon noodles.

A Frittata

Frittata in cast iron pan
AllRecipes

A frittata is any combination of beaten eggs, vegetables, and/or meat. This delicious bacon and cheese version is another excellent basic recipe to learn because then, you can tailor it to your (or your little ones’) specific tastes and preferences.

Hate onions? No problem! Replace them with the same amount of potatoes or mushrooms. This one is fantastic for helping you get comfortable with experimenting in the kitchen.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies
Tasty

Everyone needs a go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, but there are so many out there, it’s kinda hard to choose a clear winner.

However, this recipe has thousands of positive reviews and a 94% approval rating, so that’s good enough for us! Baking requires a bit more attention to detail than many of the other dishes on our list, so be sure to read through the instructions before you start.

For example, you should plan to chill your cookie dough overnight. While this particular step is optional, you’ll get a better texture and flavor in your batch of cookies.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Spaghetti bolognese
RecipeTin Eats

Spaghetti bolognese is easy to throw together, but still appropriate for even the fanciest of dinner parties. Oh, and don’t be thrown by the “Bolognese”—it’s just a fancy Italian word (and city) for “meat sauce.”

This is also a fantastic budget dish (if you can omit the red wine). Just use whatever ground meat is on sale at your local grocery store. Make this one early in the day so you can allow the sauce to simmer for a few hours and increase the flavor just in time for dinner.

Chili

Pan of chili
The Wholesome Dish

Chili is the ultimate cold-weather comfort food. And, of course, homemade is so much better than the stuff out of the can.

Chili requires a long list of spices, but you probably already have most of them in your pantry. Just make sure you measure each of them exactly to get the perfect depth of flavor. Then, you can spice things up even more and try these recipes.

Caesar Salad

Caesar salad
Natasha’s Kitchen

Bringing a homemade Caeser salad to your next potluck will impress everyone there. It’s also an easy way to add a side salad that doesn’t suck to your meal.

This recipe teaches you how to make your own croutons and dressing, which will take some extra time and work, but the delicious results are so worth it.

Homemade Ramen

Bowl of ramen
Just One Cookbook

The days of 99-cent, instant ramen are over. While making a homemade version might sound intimidating, this recipe is actually incredibly easy to follow.

It also features plenty of photos and step-by-step instructions to guide you. You’ll probably need to stop by your local Asian grocery store to get some of the ingredients, or, if you have enough time, order them online.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

Broccoli cheddar soup in two bread bowls
Food Network

Another comforting soup to make on a cold winter’s day is broccoli and cheddar. It’s also an easy way to get a good helping of veggies into your (and/or your kiddo’s) meal.

Warning: Never blend boiling soup in a NutriBullet or other personal-sized blender. You’ll need a full-size or immersion blender to make this recipe.

You’ll need a blender capable of puréeing hot soups so you can make it creamy enough. You can also use an immersion blender if you have one. The sourdough bread bowl in this recipe isn’t required, but we highly recommend it if you feel like taking on the challenge!

Vitamix E310 Explorian Blender


Learning how to cook is a handy life skill to have, whether you enjoy doing it or not. If, thus far, you’ve avoided your stove like the plague, these 12 easy recipes are a fantastic place to learn the basics. Once you taste the results, you might even decide to keep going!

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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