Cooking

Family Meal

Melissa Clark's new cookbook will simplify the way you make dinner
Change the Way You Cook Dinner
Photos: Rachel Vanni/Tasting Table

Breakfast's tenure as the most important meal of the day is under siege, thanks to a new book by New York Times columnist Melissa Clark.

Dinner: Changing the Game, available today, is here to help you streamline your weeknight cooking strategy, master new techniques and support you when you call scrambled eggs dinner. In fact, it'll tell you to go right ahead and add smoked trout and silky cream cheese.

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"Making dinner isn't necessarily comforting for everyone," Clark concedes, saying that even seasoned home cooks admit that preparing dinner day in and day out can get overwhelming. It's no secret, either, that we've witnessed an overall decline in meals prepared at home in the last 50 years; it's what the Washington Post calls "the slow death of the home-cooked meal." But with Clark's help, you'll be able to combat that trend and any dinner-prepping fatigue, one roast chicken at a time. Seriously, though, if you're on the market for a reliable chicken dish, Clark gives you no fewer than 26 choices.

Take her one-pan smoky paprika chicken, which proves to be so much more than just a buzzy cooking trend. The one-pot technique is a highly efficient way to get a complete dinner on the table, and Clark shows off how to do it style, turning the weeknight routine dinner "from a dreaded chore into a beautiful dance." In this recipe, chicken starts off the show, chickpeas enter stage right halfway through and kale shows up for the finale (see the recipe).



If there's anyone to trust with your dinner menu, it's Clark. The James Beard Award-winning columnist has written 38 cookbooks and, quite simply, loves dinner. Growing up, she didn't sit down with her parents every night, because they both worked late. "This is something I wanted to do differently in my family," Clark says. "Even just an hour or two together on weeknights: Cooking and eating together is important to me now."  

The now-widespread availability of ingredients like kimchi and quinoa provide "a path out of the tyranny of a perfectly composed plate with three distinct elements," Clark points out. She also prizes simple tricks, like adding garam masala to stovetop mac 'n' cheese, to dress up beloved staples.

One of the most simple but telling confirmations that Clark has your back is that each recipe is conveniently printed on a single page. That's because the author and mother knows that on most nights, you can flip only one thing, and there should be no question if a mirin-sweetened Japanese omelet is in the running.

But even though every recipe is designed to stand on its own, it's impossible to resist combining them for a no-fuss dinner party.

Pair that smoky paprika chicken with Clark's pea pesto-topped ricotta (see the recipe). Trust us, you'll want this effortlessly stunning dish on hand to appease hungry guests as they walk in the door.

The dish is so straightforward that you can even ask guests to help you prepare it, following one of Clark's favorite dinner party tricks: Give people something to do. "It breaks the ice, helps them feel engaged and gives you a sous-chef." Save the tough jobs for yourself though: "I asked my friend to carve a goose, and he almost (but not quite!) ended up in the emergency room after slashing his hand. But it's a good story! And the goose was delicious."

For one last dish, take the menu from everyday meal to dinner party ready with Clark's panko-topped gratin (see the recipe), one of her go-to moves for cooking to impress. Melted goat cheese oozes out from underneath shingles of eggplant and tomato, which are made fragrant by fresh thyme, lemon zest and minced garlic.

Whether you make a whole meal or just one dish, cooking dinner is about to feel a lot more approachable and exciting with Clark's book in hand. "Carve out the time (even 15 minutes), put on your favorite music, chat with your family," Clark encourages. "Drink wine, unwind and enjoy the process. This is what will keep you cooking."

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