As many of you know, I spent most of my adult life as a spontaneous cook. I would grocery shop one to three times a week (or pick up my weekly CSA box), buying seasonally or by impulse/craving and then make up dinners based on what was in the house. Our dinners never suffered because I enjoyed the creativity and I rarely felt stressed (no kids and working from home = very big bonuses here).
But, as many of you also know, 18 months ago (or more?) I made a 180-degree turn and decided to become a meal planner. I was motivated by a number of issues, but two had the strongest influence on my big switch:
- I wanted more control over over my food budget.
- I wanted to cook all those great recipes I discovered in books, in magazines and online.
Last October, Food52 published cookbook called A New Way to Dinner, which promised to offer seasonal menus geared to meal planning, including tips for do-ahead prepping and bonus lunches. I bought a copy and promptly sat down to study it carefully. I can always use tested recipes and love to learn new techniques.
The first step to using A New Way to Dinner, is to take some time to read the introduction, which explains how to make the recipes and game plans work for you. In addition, authors Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs offer advice for storing foods and ingredients, reheating, freezing, and stocking the pantry.
The cookbook is organized seasonally, and each author provides 2 weeks of menus for each, so (doing the math) we have 16 weekly plans. Each plan comes with a "week ahead" page that lists the dinners plus a few ideas for packed lunches (click the scan above to see an example). We also get a game plan with a list of what to cook ahead (and how to store it) plus a grocery list for the entire week's menus.
Note that each plan covers only five dinners. This is what works in my house, but your mileage may vary.
The meal plans offer a mix of vegetarian, fish, and meat/poultry meals and take advantage of leftovers. Thus, for example, a salad you make for dinner early in the week might appear again as part of another dinner. The menus are also laid out to avoid food waste and food spoilage, two problems many of my friends complain about.
Note that each plan pretty much counts on the dinners being made in order, so if you like flexibility, be warned.
Prepping ahead is one of the keys to getting dinner on the table for many busy families. A New Way to Dinner tells you what to make on Saturday and Sunday so that weeknight dinners come together with little stress and frustration. Hesser and Stubbs suggest having a lot of storage dishes to accommodate the week's prepped food.
The ingredients are generally available, but the authors live in Brooklyn and co-founded Food52, so they have access to ingredients that I, in a small town in central Pennsylvania, do not. Examples of what I'll call tricky ingredients are Meyer lemons, creme fraiche, and fresh fish. On the other hand, I'm experienced enough in the kitchen to substitute or find another way to make the recipe work.
The recipes are what you'd expect from Food52: tried and tested and clearly written. I love that ingredients are measured both in imperial and metric units, making the book nicely international. Most recipes come with a pretty photograph, and many include ideas for substitutions, information on how to get creative, and tips for kitchen success. Hesser and Stubbs also let you know if a dish is freezable.
So, how am I going to use this book? I doubt I'll follow one of the meal plans all the way through as written, but A New Way to Dinner has given me usable ideas for cooking ahead, for extending seasonal ingredients throughout the week, and for putting together my own meal plans. I consider this cookbook to be both a good resource and a great cookbook. If you're interested in meal planning and haven't tried it, Hesser and Stubbs will help you get started. If you're already meal planning, Food52's A New Way to Dinner will give you some new recipes and tips.
Vegetarian/Vegan alert: The menu plans are not going to work for you. However, you will find a number of vegetarian recipes in this cookbook, so consider borrowing A New Way to Dinner from your local library.
For a good chicken recipe, click the scan to enlarge.
Note on the photos: all photos and scans come from Food52's A New Way to Dinner and are used in the context of this review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder, either James Ransom or Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.
Published by 10-Speed Press, 2016
Source: bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)