We’ve all had rough nights sometimes, especially over the past year, while many of us have been stuck inside. Sometimes no matter what you do, you find yourself burning a bit of the midnight oil. Such nights can feel odd and aimless, a little weird no matter how you’re feeling, so it pays to have something to eat. But while ready-made meals and packaged snacks do have their place, and ordering from some 24-hour joint can be okay in the short term, it’s better to make something yourself when you have the late-night munchies. For one thing, it’s less expensive in the long term. For another, even if it’s not healthy, it’s probably healthier. It’ll also give you something to do during those strange, aimless hours, something to focus on other than the occasional intrusive thoughts. With that in mind, here are some ideas to get you started. They’re more like guidelines than actual recipes, but with a bit of work, you can make these recipes your own or add your ideas to the list.
- 1 pan or cast-iron skillet you don’t mind possibly burning
- 1 stove
- 1 spatula
- 1 fork
- 1 table knife or butter knife
- 1 bowl
- 1 cookie sheet or baking sheet
- 1 brownie pan
- Parchment paper, waxed paper, or tinfoil
Alternates where appropriate:
- 1 toaster oven
- 1 microwave
Chances are, if you’re up in the middle of the night cooking, you’re in something of a mood and don’t have the time or energy to follow directions exactly. In recognition of that, use your best judgment. Night cooking is more an art than a science anyway, and apart from materials, all of this is to taste.
Meat & Eggs
One thing that happens when you can’t sleep and you’re up all night is that you start craving a lot of protein. Your body burns more energy when you’re struck by insomnia. This dish, a variation on the “Pastrami and Eggs” dish from Kenny Shopsin’s incomparable book Eat Me (a mildly offensive but nonetheless essential cookbook for home use), will give you all the heaviness and protein you crave.
- 2 eggs
- Bacon or cold cuts of your choice (do not use lean meats for this)
- A stick of butter (to grease the pan)
- In a bowl, crack two eggs and stir/whisk with a fork until a consistent yellow color.
- Salt and pepper your eggs in the bowl.
- Turn your stove up to high, put your pan on the burner, and drop a slice or two of butter into the pan. Swish them around until the bottom of the pan is fully covered, so things don’t stick.
- Tear the meat into strips and drop them into the pan. Move them around as they cook, so they brown evenly and the juices mix with the butter in the pan
- Pour the eggs over the meat. Use the fork to occasionally move the meat strips so the eggs flow around them and the meat becomes mixed in the egg.
- Once the eggs are cooked (use best judgment, but they should be mostly solid), slide them on to a plate and enjoy.
What makes this one great is that the grease from whatever meat you use (the writer recommends a good salami or ham, but you can’t argue with bacon, it’s one of the classics) and the butter soak into the eggs and add extra seasoning and flavor.
If you’re feeling fancy, you can also sprinkle shredded cheese over the egg mixture while it cooks (somewhere around step 5) or fold it over into a quasi omelet if you like. You can also toast and butter bread, or if you don’t feel like doing that, just slide the eggs in between two pieces of bread and then just cook the entire sandwich in the pan. It’s versatile like that.
Frozen Breaded Chicken
Frozen chicken is a very “set it and forget it” sort of thing, but like most things, it pays to put in a little effort, even if it’s the minimum amount. First, it’s important to remember that you should stick mainly to store-brand or in-house brands of frozen food. Not only will your wallet thank you, the in-house brands are usually a lot tastier and a little healthier, so your stomach and taste buds will too. I recommend Kirkwood Farms from Aldi. It’s the workhorse of low-effort meals, tasty and a little heavy while not being greasy or too difficult to cook; something that goes with just about anything. Here are some ideas.
First, to cook frozen chicken, if there’s a temperature and time range, always go for the maximum on both. Lay it out on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, though tinfoil will do in a pinch. You want it crispy, but as long as it isn’t completely blackened, it should be fantastic. Also, as a side note, a lot of these ideas use un-sauced chicken, so use your best judgment when using the sauced variety. Second, after making any frozen food in the oven, pull it out and let it sit for a minute or two. This will ensure it’s nice and crisp. If you have some left over, put it in the fridge and save it for later. It’ll usually be able to sit for a day or two and pops right back up if microwaved.
Chicken and Fries
- 1 bag frozen breaded chicken
- 1 bag frozen fries
- Preheat the oven, following the instructions on the bag
- Put the parchment paper or aluminum foil over the baking sheet. (a note: Frozen food sticks to aluminum foil.
- Put as much of the chicken and fries as you can on to the sheet, evenly spaced. If done right, you can usually put them both on the same sheet.
- Cook in the oven, using the time on the bag of chicken. Occasionally check to make sure the fries don’t come out too burned– a little burned is fine, it just means they’re crispy.
Now that you have a basic method of cooking chicken, there are several things you can do with it.
- Put a bun in the toaster oven. If you don’t have a toaster oven, put whatever spreads you want on the bun, and microwave it for 30-60 seconds, then let it sit. The bun will be cooked, and the spread will soak into the bun.
- Put 1-2 pieces of chicken (using the above method) on the bun.
- Serve with the fries that were baked with the chicken.
- Put leafy greens in a bowl.
- Rip up the chicken you made (using the above method) and hand-mix it in. Make sure your hands are clean, but it’s the middle of the night, and they’re your hands, so don’t get too squeamish.
- Add cherry tomatoes or any other vegetables you prefer
- Add shredded cheese if you prefer
- Top with your favorite dressing, toss with a fork, eat.
- Cut or rip up the chicken you made.
- Chop or rip up the fries
- Spread a tortilla with your choice of spread, whatever you have around
- Add vegetables if you want
- Add shredded cheese if you think it needs it
- Wrap the whole thing in a tortilla
A variation on an Italian dessert, sometimes you just have a craving for caffeine and just don’t feel like going to sleep for a little while. It can even serve to lift the mood a little. While this isn’t an actual affogato since those are usually made with vanilla gelato and espresso, dumping vanilla soft serve into fast food coffee is good enough for the New York Times. An insomniac with a spoon and access to slightly better coffee, can probably do a little better than that.
- 1 cup of black coffee (your choice of coffee)
- 1 spoonful or scoop of ice cream (your choice of ice cream)
- Make a cup of coffee, as fancy or plain as you like. All you have to do is make sure it’s black coffee.
- Dump a scoop of ice cream into the coffee. Flavor is no object. (Don’t use coffee ice cream in your coffee. Don’t be that person)
- Either eat with a spoon until it becomes too melty, or just wait a few moments until the whole thing becomes soft enough to sip
If you’re willing to get a little fancy, you can do a lot with brownies. Sure, it takes a little more effort than buying ready-made cookie dough and eating it out of the package, but it also mitigates the risk of food-borne illness. And, there are fewer steps than baking cookies. Either way, it’s an essential way to get that blood sugar you need when you spend too long awake.
- 1 Box of brownie mix
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Stick of butter or something to grease the pan with
- Preheat your oven according to the instructions on the box
- Grease a deep, oven-safe pan
- Use whatever brownie mix looks best to you. This isn’t about making things from scratch; this is about quick, dirty food in the middle of the night. The instructions on the box usually also have some suggestions for changing up the recipe.
- While mixing the batch of brownie mix, experiment with adding other things into it. Pieces of chocolate are a given, but if you want something a little different, try adding a spoonful of ground coffee to the mix. If you want a bit more kick, maybe add a splash of dark liquor. For spice, add cinnamon pumpkin spice mix. Squeeze some orange into the batter for a little bittersweet flavor in your bite. You can even add a handful of nuts if you’re weird about it. Experiment as much as you want; as long as you remember, you’re going to have to eat them. Taste the batter before continuing to the later steps if you’re not sure. If all you taste is brownie, add more to whatever you mix in.
- Dump the mixture into your greased pan and put it in the oven
- Let cool for five minutes once they come out of the oven
- Eat. Don’t worry about how big or small a piece of brownie or how many you have. Everyone who would judge you is already asleep.