This cookbook changes the dinner game

Read this cookbook: “Dinner: Changing the Game” by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter, $35)

By Wendell Brock

If you are a food-loving New York Times reader, you probably know Melissa Clark, who writes the weekly column, “A Good Appetite,” and comes across in the companion video series as perky, likeable and real.

As far as recipe developers go, Clark is among the best in the biz. She is the author of 38 cookbooks, and has operated as a kind of equal-opportunity collaborator over the years, writing books with famous New York chefs (Daniel Boulud) and infamous Southern ones (Paula Deen).

Packed with 220 new recipes, Clark’s latest is a response to the changing traditions of the American dinner table.

As Clark argues (and I believe she’s correct), when it comes to supper, our fast-paced, global, health-conscious lifestyles have transformed our eating habits.

Instead of sitting down to traditional meats-and-twos (like meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas) we have become consumers of grain bowls, big salads and single-dish meals. (Perhaps you’ve heard of this genius trend of roasting everything on a sheet pan, and calling it dinner.)

Here, Clark provides inspiration for ending the day on a high note, be it Smoky Paprika Chicken with Crispy Chickpeas, Roasted Lemon and Baby Kale; Summer Grain Bowl with Browned Corn, Black Beans, Chiles, and Arugula; or Cacio e Pepe with Asparagus and Peas.

I love that she devotes so much space to roast chicken (two pages of tips plus eight delicious-sounding recipes). I love the chapter called “The Grind.” (But since it doesn’t include a subtitle or explanatory note, I’ll provide one: “How to turn ground meat into burgers, meatballs, kebabs, chili and sausage dinners.”) I love that there are plenty of options for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores, too.

And I’m OK with the fact that she leaves out cocktails, appetizers and desserts altogether. Her focus is unwaveringly on the main.

But simple?

Sure, there’s a sprinkling of straightforward recipes that call for minimal ingredients (Salt & Pepper Chicken, Aparagus Carbonara, Miso-Glazed Salmon, for example), and many of Clark’s creations can be put together in less than an hour. A good many other dishes, however, will require a well-stocked pantry and a bit of planning and prep.

Still, you won’t hear me complaining about Five-Spice Duck Breasts with Crisp Potato Pancakes. Or Spicy Thai Fried Rice with Sausage and Greens. Clark has developed a book of recipes suited to a new style of dining at home. Her recipes are bright and smart – like her. Brava!

Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).

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