10 Super Simple Recipes For Our #TakeOutTakeout Challenge

A few months back, Zoe Bain went boldly where neither of us had gone before: She completely barred herself from anything takeout (yes, even coffee) for two entire weeks, including the weekends. Everything she consumed had to be made by her own two hands, in her own kitchen (or someone had to cook for her, like I did one time in the entire two weeks... Sorry, Zoe!).

When Zoe wrote about her experience on Refinery29, we were amazed by how many of you responded, shared, commented on, and enjoyed her story. The one piece of feedback you had was that you wanted more — more info, more details, more everything — and you guys wanted to participate, too. So, as part of our New Year, Do You initiative, we decided to do a 2.0 version of Zoe’s no takeout challenge, but this time we're going bigger and bolder than before by getting all of you in on the action.

Welcome to our #TakeOutTakeout Challenge: Starting January 4, 2016, Zoe and I vow not to consume ANY form of takeout whatsoever for two weeks — and that includes office coffee and snacks! Because we're hoping that you'll join us on this journey, we’re planning ahead and providing you with 10 easy-to-make recipes that will help you keep your fingers off the Seamless button. What's more, we’ll be blogging on R29 every day to let you know how we’re doing, what we’re learning, or why we're this close to giving up. You can participate by sending us pics with the hashtag #TakeOutTakeout on Instagram and Twitter — your posts and commentary could be included in our daily updates.

Whether your New Year’s resolution is to save money, cook more, or you just love a good challenge — join us! It’s going to be fun, torturous, interesting, and educational. And, we’ll all be in it together.

The Rules

Time frame: Two weeks, from January 4 to 17.

1. NO takeout.
Yes, really! For two weeks, say goodbye to Seamless.

2. NO restaurants.
If you're got brunch plans, invite your friends over instead!

3. Homemade all the way.
All meals you eat should be either homemade by you or someone else. Not to say you should order from a chef-based meal service for this challenge, but if a friend wants to cook you dinner one night to help you succeed, we're all for it!

3. NO office coffee or snacks.
We added this rule because we are lucky enough to get a lot of great snacks and caffeine at the office and it would be WAY too easy to subsist off of office food for two weeks. But, if you want to do a slightly more manageable version of the challenge you can keep your office freebies and just make sure your three meals for the day are home-cooked, either by you or a friend. And if you don't get free coffee at work, we suggest bringing your own — you'll save even more money during this challenge as a result!

*Snacks and other pre-made foods that you buy from the supermarket are A-okay, as long as you're packing it in your lunch or it's part of a meal you're making for yourself. So chips or veggies and dip to snack on as as a side for the sandwich you made yourself get the green light. But, buying a whole microwavable meal? Not so much.
Photographed by Davide Luciano; Food Styling by Claudia Ficca
Elettra: Vegan Butternut Squash Coconut Soup
This soup is a kitchen quickie that I like to make in bulk and eat over the course of the week. (It can also be frozen!) Pro tip: Add some pre-cooked quinoa to it to make it more filling.

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion
2 capfuls olive oil
1 (13.5 oz) can full fat coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Halve a large butternut squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and peel it with a vegetable peeler. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside. Medium dice 1 medium onion and set aside.

2. In a large Dutch oven, sauté diced onion in 2 capfuls of olive oil over medium heat until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add in your can of coconut milk, plus 3 cans of water.

4. Add in cubed butternut squash so it is just covered by liquid. Turn heat to high, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Remove 1 cup of the cooking liquid and set aside. Simmer the butternut squash for 20 minutes, or until fork tender.

5. If you are going to add quinoa to your soup, this would be the perfect time to put it on the oven.

6. When squash is cooked, blend the soup, adding your reserved liquid to achieve the desired creamy consistency.

7. Serve immediately (with quinoa, if desired) or you can freeze and enjoy later.
Photographed by Davide Luciano; Food Styling by Claudia Ficca
Elettra: 8 Minute Salmon & Lazy Man’s Risotto
This recipe serves one person, so you’ll need to up the quantity if you want to have extra to take to work the next day! The Lazy Man’s Risotto is also excellent on its own, over a big bed of spinach, or mixed in with raw arugula and chopped cherry tomatoes, if you’re a vegetarian or don’t want to eat fish. BTW, this is my favorite spinach cooking hack of all time.

1 salmon filet, skin on
1 tsp coconut oil
Big handful of spinach
1/3 cup orzo
1 tbsp marscapone
1/4 cup Parmesan plus more to taste
1/2 – 1 tbsp olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon, plus zest
Salt and pepper to taste
Hazelnuts, crushed and toasted

1. Before you start cooking, take your salmon out of the fridge to bring to room temperature. Pat it with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

2. Put water up to boil.

3. Crush up some hazelnuts for your garnish and set aside.

4. Put spinach at the bottom of a colander and leave in the sink.

5. Place the coconut oil in skillet over high heat and let it melt. When skillet is hot, add the salmon, skin-side down, and turn down heat to medium. Leave cooking for 3-4 minutes then flip over the salmon. Turn off heat and allow the salmon to cook, about 2-3 more minutes (more if filet is very thick or if you like salmon well done). If your salmon filet is very thick, once you flip it over, leave the heat on for about 1 minute and then turn it off and allow it to rest in the hot pan for another 2-3 minutes. I personally like my salmon on the rare side, but if it’s too rare for you, just turn the heat back on to medium and cook to your liking.

6. Meanwhile, boil the orzo. Drain the orzo over the spinach and shake a few times to ensure water is drained out. Voilà! Cooked spinach with no effort whatsoever!

7. In a medium-large bowl, combine the orzo, spinach, 1 tablespoon of marscapone, 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, your Parmesan, and juice from 1/2 a lemon, and mix very well. Add more olive oil, if desired. Add salt, pepper, and more lemon zest to taste.

8. Quickly toast your crushed hazelnuts, taking care not to burn them.

9. Spoon orzo onto a plate and top off with a salmon filet.

10. Garish with the hazelnuts and some lemon zest. Serve immediately.
Photographed by Davide Luciano; Food Styling by Claudia Ficca.
Elettra: Melted Leeks Carbonara Pasta
This is one of my favorite dishes I have ever created. I have never had it for leftovers, but I imagine it would be yummy cold, or chopped up and cooked into a frittata. That basically means scrambling a bunch of eggs, pouring them into a skillet, adding the chopped pasta in, and baking it until it’s cooked.

1 cup of diced pancetta or bacon
3 uncooked eggs, whisked
1/2 cup Parmigiano reggiano, plus a small handful for finishing touches
3 leeks, chopped
1 package of pasta (whatever shape you like. I recommend fusilli or spaghetti)
Zest from a whole lemon
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
Parsley for garnish (optional)

1. Before you dive into cooking, let’s get our stations set up: Put a dish with paper towels on top to drain your pancetta/bacon. Set this near your skillet, or wherever you are cooking the bacon. Chop up your leeks and set aside. Squeeze your lemon juice and set aside. In a separate bowl, zest your lemon and set aside. Now you’re ready to get cooking!

2. Dice your pancetta/bacon into about 1/4-inch pieces and cook until crispy, about 10-15 minutes. Once cooked, drain the pieces on your paper-towel lined plate, and then place them on a cutting board to dice into even smaller pieces. Don't discard the fat from the pan! Set aside 2-3 tablespoons of bacon fat.

3. Put your water on to boil. Keep in mind: You will have to save 1/4 cup of boiling water before you drain the pasta into your colander! Bring water to boil, but DON’T cook pasta yet. You need the pasta to be piping hot and freshly cooked!

4. Break eggs into a bowl and whisk, add Parmesan to the bowl, set aside.

5. Put 2-3 tablespoons of fat back into same flat pan that cooked your bacon/pancetta and cook the leeks until they are completely soft, (10-15 minutes), stir frequently so they don't burn!

6. Once leeks are completely soft, put them in a blender and pulse them until they look sauce-like.

7. Add the blended leeks, lemon juice, and bacon bits into a medium/large bowl and combine with the eggs and cheese. Stir to mix together well.

8. Now, put in pasta in boiling water to cook. Before draining pasta, save 1/4 cup of the boiling water!

9. Drain your pasta and immediately add the pasta to the bowl with eggs, bacon, parmesan, lemon juice, and leeks.

10. The high heat from the pasta will cook the eggs and you can gradually add 1/4 cup of boiling water to keep up heat and add moisture, if needed.

11. Garnish with extra Parmesan, lemon zest, parsley.

12. Stuff your face immediately.
Photographed by Davide Luciano; Food Styling by Claudia Ficca.
Elettra: Dana Cowin’s Chili Of Forgiveness
Chili can be deceptively difficult to make and get right, but Dana Cowin’s recipe is exactly what it says it is: forgiving. This recipe is really hard to mess up, and you can sub things in and out without stressing too much. I’ll be making a big batch of this and it’ll be a repeat feature on my #TakeOutTakeout challenge for sure. As Dana notes in her book, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen (an awesome read, by the way) this chili can be refrigerated for up to one week. It also freezes well for up to two month — boom!
Photographed by Davide Luciano; Food Styling by Claudia Ficca
Elettra: Split Roasted Chicken
This is the fastest way that I know of to roast a whole chicken. If you have leftover herbs after this, you can make this pasta (skip the rosemary though), which is light and delicious, and would work well to bring to work for lunch the next day! During the challenge, I’ll likely make two of these chickens at the same time so I have extra to stretch for a few meals in the form of chicken salad, chicken with some pasta, or just roasted chicken if I am feeling super lazy.

1 whole chicken (3 1/2 lbs)
1/2 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped and divided evenly
1/2 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped and divided evenly
1/4 cup oregano, roughly chopped and divided evenly
1/8 cup rosemary leaves, roughly chopped and divided evenly
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from a whole lemon
Salt & pepper

1. Heat oven to 450°F. For this recipe, I use a cast iron skillet, but a baking pan with parchment paper or a greased baking pan would work fine, too.

2. Take the backbone out of the chicken (or, if you ask your butcher nicely, I’m sure they would do it for you). I had no idea how to take the backbone out of a chicken and found this video helpful. It’s easier and faster than it sounds. Also, I don’t randomly have cooking shears laying around (do you?!), so I used a huge, sharp knife to do the job. I had to put some elbow grease into it, but it worked!

3. Make sure you pat the entire chicken completely dry. In fact, dry it a few times before you put the oil and herbs on. Getting the chicken as dry as possible will help get the lovely golden brown color and crackling skin.

4. Mix half of all your herbs with the olive oil. With chicken completely dry, pour olive oil/herb mix onto the chicken and rub all over to coat the entire chicken evenly.

5. Put chicken breast-side up in your skillet or baking pan and sprinkle salt all over the bird generously (not just a tiny pinch of salt, guys!).

6. Cook for 40 minutes or until meat is 160°F. If you want the skin more browned once it is cooked, put the chicken under the broiler for 5 minutes BUT WATCH IT LIKE A HAWK. A strong broiler can char anything within seconds! Speaking from experience here…

7. Let chicken rest for 5-10 minutes.

8. Mix the lemon juice and remaining herbs and spread evenly on chicken before serving.
Photo Courtesy of zeeeebs/Instagram.
Zoe: Steel-Cut Oatmeal For The Week
I've been making this recipe from The Kitchn for years now because I am a LAZY breakfast person. I need to eat breakfast in the morning, otherwise I'm a starving mess, but I'm really bad at taking the time to make it myself. After a particularly bad phase where I was spending $8 on a latte and pastry every single morning, I decided enough was enough and started looking for a way to make breakfast for the entire week on Sunday. That's where this steel-cut oatmeal comes in. You make a plain batch on Sunday that you can portion into five days and then you can add in whatever toppings you like when you eat it! Plus, since it's steel-cut, it doesn't get gross and soggy sitting in the fridge for a few days.

Find the full recipe through the link above, but here's how I do it: I portion the oatmeal into 8-ounce mason jars and then pack myself an additional small container for each day with 1/2 an apple, chopped, 2 tbsp chopped walnuts (buy the pre-chopped bags for baking!), and a nice sprinkle of cinnamon. Then I take the lids off and heat the jar in the microwave at work for 1-2 minutes. I top it off with some almond milk and add spoonfuls of my apple/nut mixture as I eat. This works great with other fruit/nut/spice combos, too!
Photo Courtesy of zeeeebs/Instagram.
Zoe: My Go-To Veggie & Quinoa Stir-Fry
Serves 4-6

Okay, so if I'm being really honest, "my" go-to veggie and quinoa stir-fry is actually my boyfriend's go-to veggie and quinoa stir-fry. He's been making variations of this dish for years and graciously gave me the recipe back in college. Since then, it's taken a healthier turn —veggies instead of meat, quinoa instead of rice — but the beauty of this is you can choose any mix of vegetables/proteins/starches you want and it always goes great with the sauce. (If you do include chicken or another meat, cook the chopped meat first, then set it aside and add it back to the pan when you add in the sauce.)

Warning: This makes a whole lot of stir-fry, which is perfect for the purposes of this challenge, because that means leftovers and lunches to pack, but if you just want to try this out and not feed a small army, you might want to halve the quantities.

3-4 (3 medium to large or 4 small) heads of broccoli, chopped into small florets, plus peeled and chopped broccoli stems
1 red pepper, chopped
8 ounces sliced white mushrooms
1 yellow onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp canola oil
1 cup quinoa, cooked according to box instructions

For the sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sriracha

1. Lightly coat a large sauté pan or wok with canola oil. Sauté onion for a couple of minutes until the slices begin to turn translucent.

2. Add garlic and mushrooms and sauté for another 2-3 minutes until the mushrooms begin to soften. Add broccoli and red pepper and continue to sauté until veggies are cooked to your liking. (I prefer them to retain a little crunch so I only cook all the veggies together for a few minutes.) If your pan is too full to stir properly you can cover with a lid to make sure all the veggies cook evenly.

3. When the veggies are done, pour the sauce ingredients over top and stir for 1 more minute to combine and heat the sauce.

4. Spoon cooked quinoa into serving bowls and top with stir-fry. Enjoy!
Photo Courtesy of zeeeebs/Instagram.
The Easiest Chicken Soup Ever (A.K.A. Liquid Gold)
Serves 6-8
One time a few years ago, when it was freezing out and I had a rip-roaring cold, I was complaining to my parents that being a grown-up SUCKS because your parents can't make you chicken soup when you're sick. They then (nicely) explained to me that I was being ridiculous, because chicken soup is actually super easy to make and not a magical thing that only works when your mom makes it. It requires hardly any work, very few ingredients, and you don't really have to simmer it for hours and hours like your grandma did.

Needless to say, I've been making big batches in the colder months ever since, rip-roaring cold or not. Here's my recipe, which is my family's plus a few modifications. This recipe also makes a ton of food, yay leftovers!

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts,
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut in half
3-4 celery stalks ends/leaves cut off, cut in half
2 parsnips, peeled and cut in half
2 small-medium white onions, peeled and cut in half
1 bunch Italian parsley
3-4 sprigs thyme
1 package egg noodles
Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Add all veggies to a large soup pot. (Mine is 12 quarts.)

2. Sprinkle both sides of each chicken breast with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Add in the entire bunch of parsley (just remember to remove the rubber band!) and whole thyme sprigs.

3. Pour water over your veggies/chicken until it almost reaches the top of the pot. (If you fill all the way to the top it will boil over. Ahem, trust me on that one.)

4. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. When it boils, you might notice some gross fatty scum bubbling to the top, which you can skim off with a spoon.

5. Turn the fire down to low and simmer your soup with the lid on for up to an hour and a half. If you get impatient, an hour works, too, but I find the soup to be more flavorful with the extra half-hour of cook time.

6. Remove the veggies and chicken, chop, and set aside for assembling soup bowls. (Make sure you throw out the thyme stems and the parsley.)

7. Strain the broth (this is optional, but I find it helps to get rid of any floating bits), return to the pot, and bring to a boil. You can reduce the broth as long as you want, it can only make the soup more flavorful, but be mindful that you're also losing precious soup. (I usually boil down the broth for about 10-20 minutes with the lid off on high.)

8. When you're done cooking down the soup, season with salt, to taste. DON'T do it before otherwise it will end up being way too salty. Also, you're going to have to add a scary amount of salt to get it to the right amount of seasoning, but remember you haven't seasoned the broth at all until now and it's spread out across a LOT of soup.

9. Cook noodles according to package instructions and serve bowls of soup with chunks of chicken, veggies, and noodles.

10. If you're saving some for leftovers, I suggests storing the veggies and chicken, noodles, and broth separately so nothing gets soggy in the fridge.
Photographed by Davide Luciano; Food Styling by Claudia Ficca
Zoe: No Clean-Up Salmon
Serves 4-6

We're big fans of parchment paper cooking here at R29. Not only is it a great way to trap flavor inside whatever you're making, but it also means NO dishes. Elettra turned me on to cooking en papillote (that's the fancy French term for it) a few months back, and I've been hooked ever since. You can follow a recipe or just throw on some mixture of herbs, salt and pepper, and olive oil on a protein and bake away! (Just double check that your meat or fish has cooked through!)

4-6 salmon filets (6-8 ounces each)
Olive oil, for drizzling
1 lemon, sliced
1 small bunch or 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
Parchment paper
Salt & pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place salmon fillets skin-side down on individual rectangular pieces of parchment.

2. Drizzle each piece with approximately 1 tsp olive oil (don't worry about measuring!) and evenly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped basil and lay 3-5 slices of lemon on top.

3. Tightly wrap your pieces of fish (you can tie shut with baker's twine or tuck edges of fold underneath the packet).

4. Bake for 12-17 minutes (depending on how rare or well-done you like your salmon).

5. Serve however you like, over a salad, with some crusty bread on the side, over quinoa — the possibilities are endless!
Photo Courtesy of zeeeebs/Instagram.
Zoe: Pesto Chicken With Roasted Carrots & Potatoes
Serves 2-4

This recipe actually comes from the last time I did the challenge when I was completely overwhelmed and didn't know what to make. Pesto ended up saving my ass more than once, because I used it to marinate chicken and make pasta the next night. I fully recommend having a jar or making a bunch of homemade pesto to keep on hand; it's a flavor lifesaver. Also, if you've never tried roasted carrots before, they are SO much better than steamed it's ridiculous.

1 jar store-bought or approximately 1 cup homemade pesto (I use walnuts instead of pine nuts because they are cheaper!)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
6-8 carrots, peeled and cut into thick strips
6-8 small-medium fingerling potatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil for roasted veggies and cooking chicken

1. Place chicken in a large bowl or a large ziplock bag and pour pesto over top until chicken is fully coated. Place in the fridge to marinate for 20 minutes (you can also prep this the night before and marinate overnight.) I make sure all the chicken breasts are coated with pesto and then reserve some sauce to pour on top before serving. (Make sure you get rid of any extra marinade and only top the cooked chicken with fresh pesto — you can't eat the sauce that the raw chicken was sitting in.)

2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. On separate baking sheets, drizzle olive oil over carrots and potatoes. Season both with salt and pepper and mix veggies on their separate sheets with your hands to coat evenly. Put the both baking sheets in the oven

3. While the veggies are cooking, coat a sauté pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Cook chicken until cooked through, (approximately 4-6 minutes per side.) Make sure it's no longer pink in the middle before you eat it!

4. Stir the veggies from time to time so they all brown evenly. The veggies should cook for about 40-50 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and slightly browned on the outside and the carrots are soft, but still have a bit of a crunch.

Resolutions were made to be broken. This year, want to help you do you — the best you can. Check out more right here.
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