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.
But the more Stone spent time with home cooks, the more he realized that 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.
But 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 over indulgence (second helpings, extra glasses of wine, rich desserts). So for “Motivating Mondays,” Stone includes a recipe for grilled chicken with arugula and zucchini salad with lemon-caper vinaigrette. He also has a recipe for turkey meatballs in his Monday section. 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. (A recipe for a cumin-cilantro couscous can be on the table in 15 minutes). 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.
The AJC recently talked by phone to Stone, who is schedules to do a discussion and book signing at the Atlanta History Center Monday, April 15.
Q: We are all busy busy. For families not in the habit of cooking a home-cooked meal, how should they get started?
A: 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 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.
A: 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 betters 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?
A: I tend to cook on the grill. It takes away a lot of the clean up, 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?
A: 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. It’s going to be the freshest, best tasting and cheapest. That gives you a place to start. And then, I do this a lot myself, but you don’t have to, I make my own pickles and relishes and onion jam and it allows you to quickly make something. I keep curry paste on hand it it allows me to make a curry dish quickly that tastes like I have been spending hours on it.
Poached Salmon with Green and Yellow Bean Salad
Hands on: 15 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes (which includes 10 minutes of cooking and 45 minutes chilling time)
4 sprigs of fresh tarragon
10 white pearl onions, peeled and thinly sliced
Four-ounce skinless salmon fillets
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces thin green beans, trimmed
12 ounces thin yellow wax beans,trimmed
6 radishes, sliced into paper-thin rounds
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Remove the leaves from tarragon; reserve the stems. Coarsely chop enough leaves to make 2 teaspoons.
2. Slice one lemon into thin rounds. In a large skillet, combine the lemon rounds, tarragon stems, and one-third of the onions and add enough cold water to come two-thirds of the way up the sides. Cover and bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat.
3. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Lay the fillets in the skillet and add hot water if needed to submerge them completely. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook the salmon, without simmering, for about seven minutes, or until opaque with a rosy center when flaked in the thickest part with the tip of a small knife. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the salmon fillets to a baking sheet. Refrigerate, uncovered, until cold, about 45 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the green and yellow beans and cook for about three minutes, or until crisp-tender. Drain well, then plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to cool. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels.
5. In a large bowl, toss the beans, radishes, and the remaining onions with the chopped tarragon. Grate the zest from the remaining lemon over the vegetables. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and add to the bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.
6. Place a salmon fillet on each of four dinner plates. Divide the salad among the plates and serve at once.
Note: Stone says he buys wild salmon whenever he can, as he prefers its flavor to the farm-raised kind. While this recipe is a dish in the section for Mondays, he also likes to serve when entertaining, because you can make the components ahead of time. Steamed baby potatoes would make a good accompaniment, he says.
An Evening with Curtis Stone, “What’s for Dinner: Delicious Recipes for a Busy Life” discussion and book signing.
7 p.m. Monday, April 15.
$5 for members;$10 for non-members.
Advanced purchase of tickets is recommended but not necessary.
Atlanta History Center, 130 W. Paces Ferry Road N.W., Atlanta. 404-814-4150.