Tired after a hectic day? Wondering what to serve for dinner?
This fall's cookbook authors hear you. Publishers are offering up new books that keep the focus on keeping it simple.
Daily cooking should be "fast, easy and good," says James Peterson, author of the recently released "Kitchen Simple: Essential Recipes for Everyday Cooking," (Ten Speed Press).
After writing 15 other cookbooks, this one features "really the food I cook," he says. The recipes can be mostly executed in a half-hour or less (a few go together quickly but require longer cooking time).
"You'll save a lot of time if you have a well-stocked pantry with things like olive oil, anchovies, pasta, dried beans, canned things (tomatoes, white, pinto or black beans, etc.), spices, dried herbs and so on," says Peterson, a chef, food writer, cooking instructor and food photographer.
"I am not opposed to convenience foods or anything, if it works and people are happy."
Brooklyn resident Melissa Clark, author of the new "Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can't Wait to Make" (Hyperion) is also into simple fare, "encouraging people to cook more seasonally because the food tastes better."
If you can't get to a farmers market, follow the seasons with supermarket ingredients, advises Clark, a self-taught cook, author and co-author of 32 cookbooks and a freelance food columnist for The New York Times.
Peterson's tricks for quick fare include serving baked halibut with beurre blanc or tartar sauce, or braised flounder with a little sherry and a bit of cream added at the end. He tells cooks how to bone salmon steaks, tie them into medallions and bake in parchment paper or foil with a little fresh tarragon (or other herbs), butter and a sprinkling of white wine.
"I also do tuna steaks - grilled or sauteed - with saffron aioli. I suggest people make their own aioli (add a clove or two of crushed garlic to mayonnaise) and basic mayonnaise." His secret to terrific homemade mayonnaise - "much better than what comes out of a jar," he says - "is to start making it with a small amount of store-bought mayonnaise. This eliminates the need for adding the oil a drop at a time at the beginning."
Take leftover or cooked pasta, spread in a baking dish with heavy cream, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, salt and pepper, then bake for the ultimate mac and cheese or gratin. "It's fabulous - no white sauce required."
For a fast egg creation, distribute leftover chopped meat, seafood or vegetables and some cheese in individual ramekins, crack an egg in each and top with a little cream and salt and pepper, then bake in a pan of water until set.
"Flank steak, marinated with soy sauce and thyme (fresh or dried that has been chopped to release flavor) and sometimes garlic (and maybe a little white wine) - is my fallback marinade."
To get fresh fare on the table quickly, Clark suggests limiting the number of ingredients. "Try to use a few intensely flavored ingredients - olives, capers, lemons, roasted tomatoes."
One of her favorite secrets is Turkish chile pepper or the similar aleppo pepper from Syria. "When something comes out bland, sprinkle on a little along with a little sea salt - and (the dish) comes out great."
Her Skillet Chicken with Green Garlic and Lemon Thyme is a basic recipe adaptable to every season, she says. "You can flavor with almost any herbs (she likes tarragon), vegetables (ripe tomatoes, mushroom, Swiss chard, shredded cabbage) and aromatics that you have around."
Her 3-year-old daughter enjoys Carroty Mac and Cheese, roasted cauliflower with cumin, grilled sausages with celery root salad, Brussels sprouts with pancetta and anything sweet.
"I'm big into garnishes. You should add something visually appealing that will lift up the flavor of the dish. It should be something planned ahead and meant to be there, but doesn't necessarily have to be in the dish."