11 February 2017

Weekend Cooking: Food52's A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs

Food 52's A New Way to DinnerAs 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.
It was a bit of rocky road at first, trying to work out a method that would work for us. But now I'm hooked. We eat well, I still love to cook, and our food budget is under control.

Food 52's A New Way to DinnerLast 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.

Food 52's A New Way to DinnerThe 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.

Food 52's A New Way to Dinner

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
ISBN-13: 9780399578007
Source: bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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The Candid Cover 2/11/17, 6:56 AM  

This sound like the perfect recipe book for me to try! I am also one of those who just wings it most of the time and I do end up going to the grocery store a few times a week. While I do love the flexibility of this, it is not very time efficient or cost effective. I love that there is a shopping list for the week and the bonus lunches would be perfect. Thanks for sharing this! :)

Molly 2/11/17, 7:44 AM  

It sounds like a great book to teach me how to plan ahead, preparing more food on the weekend when I have the time, and then use the leftovers during the week.

Like you, I'm not sure I'd follow through each plan week after week, but I know I can up my meal planning game by reading these techniques. Thank you for the recommendation!

Tina 2/11/17, 7:53 AM  

A book that is divided for seasonal cooking has my interest but I will take your advice, checking it out of the library. We are eating meat again but not regularly, maybe 3 times a month. I always like looking through a new cookbook

rhapsodyinbooks 2/11/17, 7:59 AM  

Sounds like full of good ideas!

bermudaonion 2/11/17, 8:29 AM  

That looks like a great book! Our schedule is so chaotic these days, I rarely cook or meal plan.

Katherine P 2/11/17, 9:48 AM  

I have tried other Food52 books and really enjoyed the way the recipes are done so I'm really intrigued by the sound of this one. I'm not sure I'd follow all the meal plans but I'd really love to read it and think more about the concept. I love the idea of tailoring a menu to avoid wastage and the it is laid out seasonally.

Claudia 2/11/17, 11:04 AM  

This sounds like a book I'd like to visit, not necessarily stay, but enjoy for a bit. Informative and interesting with some ideas I could put to good use. We're not at the harried, too busy stage of life, but planning never hurts.

jama 2/11/17, 11:07 AM  

I like the idea of doing things on the weekends to make weekday cooking easier. Will look for this at the library.

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! 2/11/17, 11:33 AM  

I have a 2 volume set from Food52, I have had for many years. To be honest, I have not used them a lot, but time will tell. I am still not a planner but I have become better organized to take advantage of the food we buy and enjoy it at it's freshest. It is a long way to a full-service market, and while I have made some strides, I have a long way to be better enough to call it my new way of doing things...Thanks for hosting, I always enjoy what you offer for review!

nishitak 2/11/17, 11:34 AM  

Too bad the meal plans don't work for veg/vegan, but I suppose there are plenty of individual veg recipes?

Esme 2/11/17, 11:44 AM  

I like Amanda's books. I just finished reading Cooking for Mr. Latte and have The Cook and The Gardener being delivered as I type. Her Food 52 cookbooks are quite good.

Deb in Hawaii 2/11/17, 11:52 AM  

Great and thorough review. I subscribe to the Food 52 emails and often pin their recipes or ideas--they have some great soup recipes. I would probably check out the book as you suggest as I don't eat meat or poultry but would enjoy picking up some tips to being more planful.

Laurie C 2/11/17, 12:05 PM  

I think we are going to use a Food52 cookbook for our cookbook club meeting in May! I think I first heard about the Food52 books from you and others in Weekend Cooking posts. We can get creme fraiche in our local supermarket now, amazingly enough. I always thought you lived in New York, for some reason!

Vicki 2/11/17, 1:51 PM  

Interesting, I think I'll take a look at this book.

ChaosIsAFriendOfMine 2/11/17, 10:42 PM  

I've fallen off of the meal planning wagon lately. Maybe this book would give me a jump start to get back on track!

Jackie McGuinness 2/12/17, 2:15 PM  

I also tend to just plan on the spur of the moment and grocery shop several times a week, but agree you do spend more. When we get home I am going to try and reduce the amount of waste in our kitchen which is caused by impulsively shopping.

Andrea 2/13/17, 7:16 PM  

As I said on Litsy, my hold on this just came in - interesting to hear your take, as I'm already decades long meal planner and still hope to get some new ideas out of it!

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