As a chef working in some of the best restaurants around the globe, Curtis Stone assumed writing recipes for home cooks would be a snap.
The more Stone spent time with home cooks, the more he realized today’s busy lifestyles can stand in the way of getting that home-cooked dinner on the table. Sure, Stone knew people face a time crunch, but he now better understands just how busy we are — shuttling kids to soccer practice, late nights at the office, juggling different schedules.
“Trust me, I know what a busy life feels like, and I know you do, too,” said Stone, host of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters and a new dad himself.
In his new cookbook, What’s for Dinner? Delicious Recipes for a Busy Life, ($35, Ballantine), Stone delivers simple recipes, many of which can be made (start to finish) in less than 40 minutes.
Beyond time-constraints, Stone divided up the recipes by day of the week because he sees each day presenting its own set of challenges.
It begins with lighter meals for “Motivating Mondays” to follow a weekend of perhaps a little overindulgence (second helpings, extra glasses of wine, rich desserts).
On “Time-Saving Tuesdays,” a day in which life can get kicked into high gear with deadlines and play dates, Stone offers recipes for meals that can be whipped up in less than 40 minutes — some requiring just half that time. Then it’s one-pot dishes for Wednesdays (a way to keep down the mess in the kitchen), followed by “Thrifty Thursdays,” “Five Ingredient Fridays,” “Dinner Party Saturdays,” and “Family Supper Sundays.” The book ends with dessert recipes.
We recently talked by phone to Stone:
Q. We are all busy. For families not in the habit of cooking a home-cooked meal, how should they get started?
The easiest way to do that is to identify what your challenge is. You might not have time, or you might get overwhelmed by recipes with too many ingredients. You might not want to make a ton of mess and maybe a one-pot recipe is the way to go. … I recommend people have a bit of a road map for the week, and you think, ‘I will cook this on Monday and this on Tuesday’ and what you find is you can do double duty.
If you are peeling the onion and doing the prep work for Monday, you might as well cut up some to put in the fridge for the next day. It’s also helpful to have a plan for the week because it can streamline the shopping experience.
Q. You seem to take a pragmatic approach to cooking, calling for easy-access ingredients. You have some recipes with just a handful of ingredients. Your recipe for panfried salmon with broccolini and orange sauce just calls for five ingredients. Please explain your thought process there.
I want to be honest and true and not complicate it, and it’s sort of a challenge to convince people to cook at home instead of doing take out, and these meals are delicious.
I know we are busy, but a home-cooked meal is worth the effort.
Food tastes better and is better for you when you cook it yourself, and a dinner table is a place that is about being together. … (These recipes) wouldn’t win awards if they were served in a five-star restaurant. … The thing to remember as a cook is, you can try a recipe once or twice, and then you might say, instead of just using a couple fruits, maybe I add some vanilla bean and mint or maybe I try some kiwi.
Q. What is one of your favorite short cuts in cooking?
I tend to cook on the grill. It takes away a lot of the cleanup, and you would be surprised what you can grill — asparagus, peppers, all of those veggies work so well on the grill.
Q. What few ingredients do you always have on hand to make a good meal fast?
The first thing is a well-stocked fridge with the best of the season. Go ahead and get fresh fruits and vegetables — and always go with what’s in season.
I keep curry paste on hand. It allows me to make a curry dish quickly that tastes like I have been spending hours on it.