8 Easy (and Affordable) Recipes for the Non-Chef That Will Impress Guests

Posted March 25, 2013 by in Lifestyle

To someone just picking up a chef’s knife for the first time, the kitchen can be an intimidating place.

But everyone must start somewhere, and I’m a firm believer that it’s best to do so with your culinary training wheels on.

Fear not, dear non-chef. I’ve put together some of my favorite simple recipes—each one only requires seven ingredients or less—to make sure that you don’t bite off more than you can chew—until dinnertime, at least.

Fontina Cheese Dip With Rosemary

Appetizers are great gateway dishes. Instead of the usual cheese board (i.e. every non-cook’spiece-de-resistance), try this simple baked fontina dip. Since the cheese is being doctored with garlic and herbs, you can afford to use a cheaper variety than what you’d ordinarily select for cracker consumption. Pro tip: Danish fontina comes in a red rind and is much more affordable than imported Italian fontina. (Makes 6-8 servings)


  • 1 pound fontina, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. 2. Arrange the cheese cubes in an even layer in a small, oven-proof, 6-inch casserole dish, ramekin or cast-iron skillet.
  3. 3. Sprinkle the rosemary, garlic, salt, and chili flakes over the top. Drizzle the olive oil over the other ingredients.
  4. 4. Bake in the oven until bubbling and slightly browned around the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. 5. Serve alongside toasted baguette, foccacia or crackers.

Pesto Shrimp Skewers

Skewers are a great base for beginner finger food—just don’t forget to soak them before you start or the wooden sticks might just burn! If you’ve never worked with shrimp before, no stress. Just make sure that you buy peeled and de-veined shrimp; you can even ask them to remove the tail shells in the store. Pre-made pesto is available at most markets, but it’s much cheaper to make your own. If you have a food processor, it’s also incredibly easy. Pine nuts are very pricey these days, so feel free to mix and match herbs and nuts. I happen to love this Almond-Chive Pesto. (Makes 6 servings)


  • 1 pound large peeled, de-veined shrimp, tail shells removed
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pesto
  • ½ baguette, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes (about 2 cups)
  • 20 skewers (6 to 8-inches), soaked in water for 20 minutes


  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. 2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the shrimp together with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pesto. Add the bread and toss (just to coat the pieces). Thread the shrimp onto the skewers, head first, then add a piece of bread, and thread the skewer back through the tail of the shrimp. (If using smaller shrimp, you may need to just thread the bread on after the whole shrimp.) Repeat with the remaining skewers.
  3. 3. Place the skewers on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven until the shrimp is pink and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Taste one for seasoning, and sprinkle with salt if needed.

Honey Mustard Chicken Wings

Chicken wings are one of the cheapest proteins around. The skin-to-meat ratio might not be the best thing for your waistline, but it also means tons of flavor without any added ingredients or work. To make this dish even easier, buy premade honey mustard and follow the cooking directions below. (Makes 2-4 servings)


  • 2 pounds chicken wings
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, pushed through a press or minced


  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. 2. Pat the wings dry and arrange in an even layer on the baking sheet. Season with salt. Cook on a middle rack in the oven until crispy and golden, about 30 minutes.
  3. 3. Meanwhile, stir together the mustard, honey, garlic and tarragon in the mixing bowl. Add the cooked wings to the bowl and toss until well-coated.
  4. 4. Drain the pan, or switch out the greasy parchment for a new sheet. Turn the sauced wings back out onto the lined baking sheet. Return to the oven for about 3 minutes, until they’re just beginning to form brown spots on the top, but still saucy.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Herbs

One of my non-chef friends once asked me, “How do I cut into a sweet potato?” Answer: Just cut into it. Use a peeler to remove the skin, and then cut the potato lengthwise into flat planks. You’ll be shocked by how many fries a $1 potato will give you! But, then again, you’ll also be surprised by how quickly they get eaten. (Makes 2-4 servings)


  • 1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons loosely packed fresh rosemary, thyme, or oregano leaves
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon paprika


  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. 2. Toss the sweet potatoes in a large mixing bowl with the olive oil, herbs, salt and paprika.
  3. 3. Arrange the sweet potatoes in an even layer on the baking sheet. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-30 minutes, redistributing once during the cooking process, until browned and crispy. Allow to cool slightly—they will get even crisper and firmer as they come to room temperature.
  4. 4. Serve the fries alongside ketchup, lemon aioli and perhaps a turkey burger, if you’re feeling adventurous.

Capellini with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes tend to be available year round. I love using little yellow ones to create this simple, oven-roasted pasta sauce. The natural juices concentrate in the pan, and you barely need to add any other ingredients to make the sauce sweet and delicious. And feel free to substitute any of your favorite pastas—this fresh sauce is great on both long and short shapes. (Makes 2 servings)


  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes (yellow or regular)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ pound capellini
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan (optional)


  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  2. 2. In a large cast iron skillet or baking dish, toss the tomatoes together with the salt, sugar and olive oil. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tomatoes have released a lot of liquid and their skins have begun to burst.
  3. 3. Turn the heat up to 500° and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the skins are blistered. Set aside to cool.
  4. 4. In the meantime, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente (about 3 minutes). Drain and add to the pan with the tomatoes. Toss to combine and taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with fresh basil and parmesan (if using), and serve immediately.

Whole Roasted Trout with Lemon and Thyme

Whole roasted fish sounds pretty fancy. But, really, all you have to do is assemble and pop it into the oven. Trout is also one of the cheaper varieties of fish, at about $8 a pound. They’ll often have whole, de-boned, butterflied trout at the fish counter; if not, just ask the fishmonger to clean one for you. You can also just ask for two fillets, and sandwich them together with the lemon and herbs. Need more detail? You can refer to thesestep-by-step pictures. (Makes 2 servings)


  • One 1 ½ pound whole rainbow trout, deboned and butterflied
  • Sea salt
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • ½ a lemon, cut into thin rounds
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kitchen twine


  1. 1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. 2. Season the trout cavity (the inside of the fish) with salt & pepper.
  3. 3. Arrange the thyme sprigs & lemon slices in an even layer.
  4. 4. Tie the trout crosswise with 2 pieces of kitchen twine, about 2 inches apart. You don’t want the twine to be too tight, or the fillets will break while cooking. Rub the trout with 1 tablespoon oil & transfer it to an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.
  5. 5. Bake the trout, turning once, until cooked through & golden brown on the outside (~15 minutes).
  6. 6. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining oil with the lemon juice in a small bowl. Season with salt & pepper.
  7. 7. Remove the twine from the trout, separate the fillets into 2 pieces & discard the head. Reserve the lemon and thyme for garnish, or leave them on one of the fillets.
  8. 8. Transfer the fillets to serving plates and drizzle with lemon-oil before serving. Garnish with lemon slices and thyme.

Kale Caesar Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

Caesar salad is a restaurant mainstay, but it’s really not that hard to make at home. I use kale instead of romaine to give this dish extra nutrients. Simply rinse each leaf of kale, and then tear the leaves off the coarse stalk. You can buy Caesar dressing or try making your own. This salad would also taste great with roasted garlic vinaigrette,bagna cauda vinaigrette or lemon-caper vinaigrette. (Makes 4 side servings)


  • 1 bunch Dinosaur or Lacinato kale
  • ¼ cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs or croutons
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
  • ½ cup Caesar dressing


  1. 1. Remove the thick stalks from the center of the kale. Pile the leaves on top of one another and roll together into a cigar. Cut the kale into thin ribbons (a similar process is used to julienne basil).
  2. 2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the breadcrumbs together with the olive oil in a small mixing bowl and spread in an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Toast in the oven until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes.
  3. 3. In a large mixing bowl, toss the kale and dressing. Add 2 tablespoons Parmesan and toss again. Divide among 4 plates and top with the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmesan.

Chocolate Chip Macaroons

I may not be a non-chef, but I’m certainly a non-baker. This recipe is literally as simple as opening a can of condensed milk, cutting open a bag of flaked coconut and a bag of chocolate chips, and then mixing the ingredients together. So … my style of baking. (Makes about 50 small cookies)


  • 1 14 oz. bag flaked coconut (Baker’s Brand)
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (Carnation brand)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla (not imitation)
  • 1 12 oz. bag Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. 2. Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Use a teaspoon to drop one inch apart on non-stick baking sheet (I prefer to use regular Pam on my baking sheets and a small melon-baller instead of a teaspoon).
  3. 3. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool a minute or two, then remove and place on waxed paper to cool. Voila!

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