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Dinner time in my house really and truly is a three-ring circus. At the last minute I'm scouring my fridge looking for a family-pleasing protein to cook (usually chicken cutlets) and easy sides that won't take eons to pull together. I'm doing this at the same time I'm feeding pureed sweet potatoes to my nine-month-old while my three-year-old son quite literally runs circles around us. By this time of the day I have little brain power left to create a culinary masterpiece, despite having snuck in at least two Food Network shows earlier for inspiration, and the end result is typically a clutter of sad-looking baked chicken cutlets, even sadder steamed broccoli and a pot of overcooked white rice. Your mouth is totally watering, right?

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Upon serving the meal the same two things happen — my husband douses his plate with a ton of hot sauce and my son merely uses his chicken as a vehicle for eating puddles and puddles of ketchup. This is hardly how I spell success.

Playing with Fire star and author of Cook Yourself Sexy Candice Kumai graciously accepted the challenge of giving my lame attempt at dinner a fabulous makeover and her suggestions are delicious, but even more importantly shockingly down-to-earth and easy. For all of the home cooks who need a boost — keep reading.

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•Chicken

"Try a new marinade so when you can get home from work you just throw a couple of ingredients in a bag," says Candice. "One of my staple marinades is really simple – it’s just soy sauce, white wine vinegar, a little bit of ginger, garlic and honey – and you throw the meat in the bag and let the marinade penetrate the chicken for at least 30 minutes. Then when you take it out you can crust it or coat it in an herbed crust, like a panko. It’s a Japanese bread crumb that’s really popular in the culinary world but we would love for the conventional cook at home to use it as well."

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• Rice

"In regards to rice, I would switch to quinoa, which is a grain-like seed," she explains. "I ended up cooking at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel as a line cook when I was much younger and one of the executive chefs taught me to start using a little bit of juice when I was cooking grains. He added a little orange juice while cooking the quinoa, offering a little bit of sweetness. Then when you’re done cooking the grains you throw in ingredients like dried cranberries, walnuts, fresh basil, maybe a little bit of feta cheese, add a little bit of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt and then all of a sudden you have this jazzed up grain. It’s just the same as cooking rice but you’re offering your family something new."

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• Vegetables

"Here’s my favorite way to prepare vegetables: Getting different root vegetables, you can do things like zucchini, broccoli and mushrooms also, but throw a little balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt on them, toss to coat and put them in the oven to roast. Roasting brings out natural carmelization and it really adds an element of sweetness to vegetables that kids might enjoy more this way. Steamed vegetables and kids don’t really go together, unless you have really good kids. It adds another layer of flavor, you’re adding acidity, sweetness, and also a bit of salt so that they can try vegetables a new way. Roast them for about 45 minutes, depending on what it is, potatoes can take about an hour. I love roasted potatoes with olive oil, thyme, sea salt and garlic. It’s a one pan hit. Usually for roasted vegetables it would be at about 350 degrees and put them in for 45 minutes to an hour."

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Find Candice's Smashed Fingerling Potatoes recipe below. For more great ideas, check out her book Cook Yourself Sexy, available now.

Smashed Fingerling Potatoes

Makes 4 servings

2 pounds fingerling, baby russet, or blue potatoes

2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon sea salt

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

2 Wash and completely dry all of the potatoes. Using a fork, poke holes in all of the potatoes, and preroast them whole for 30 minutes, just until tender. Remove the potatoes from the oven and carefully smash them using a fork or the back of a measuring cup to form a flat, rustic shape.

3 Sprinkle the potatoes with olive oil, salt, and thyme leaves. Toss well to coat evenly. Return them to the oven for approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Roast until the potatoes become crisp and golden brown.

What's your go-to dinner idea? Tell us in the comments below or tweet @OKMagazine.

 

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