Fact: we’re all busy. But that’s no reason to give up the great pleasure of sitting down to a home-cooked meal at the end of the day — and Curtis Stone is ready to help you make it happen.
The Top Chef Masters star is also the author of the new book What’s for Dinner?, our pick for May’s Cookbook Club. In it he offers enticing recipes for each day of the week, plus solutions for every obstacle home cooks may encounter. Trying to eat healthily? Dishes for Motivating Mondays are chock full of fresh vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins. On a budget? See the Thrifty Thursdays chapter for plenty of affordable dinner ideas. And when the weekend rolls around, you’ll love his elegant suggestions for your Saturday dinner party.
In the Q&A below, we asked Curtis for the story behind the book, his best tips for busy home cooks, and no-fail family meals. Read on for his responses (and favorite recipe!) and scroll to the bottom of this post to learn more about our Cookbook Club.
What was your inspiration for writing What’s for Dinner?
I had been thinking about writing this book for a long time. I used to film a television show called Take Home Chef, where I’d go into people’s homes and teach them to cook a meal for their partners. After 140 episodes, I got it: we’re all super busy. And dinnertime for so many people is really stressful, whether they’re time poor or dealing with picky eaters. It wasn’t until I had my own son that I really got it. I actually considered naming the book The Art of One-Armed Cooking, because every night I’d be holding the baby on one side and trying to make dinner with the other.
For me, fancy food is fun. But it took a lot of training and practice to get the culinary skills to pull off those kinds of meals. Great food doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need master chef skills to make a delicious dinner. It starts with the right recipe, which is one that works for you, and some quality ingredients.
What’s something – a tip, recipe, method or ingredient – from the book that may be new to people, but you’d encourage them to try?
My Korean mother-in-law Diane makes the most spectacular kimchi. The spicy fermented cabbage only needs a little leftover steamed rice to make a delicious meal. What’s more, it’s rich in vitamins and has the same kinds of beneficial bacteria as yogurt, which helps digestion.
What are some of your best tips for getting dinner on the table during busy weeknights?
One of the best ways to save time in the kitchen is to turn leftovers into a quick meal. You can even plan for it by making a little extra when you cook. Sunday’s pot roast becomes gorgeous open-faced sandwiches on Monday. The vegetable gratin you made on Tuesday turns into an easy one-pot frittata the next night. And extra roasted vegetables start off a flavorful soup any day of the week.
You cook for your wife and your young son. Any suggestions for preparing meals the whole family will enjoy?
One way to get everyone excited is to make the meals fun. The Five-Ingredient Fridays chapter in What’s for Dinner? is filled with ideas. Whether you’re making your pizzas, tacos or quesadillas, you can let everyone customize their own creations, without whipping up different meals for everyone.
What’s your favorite day of the week to cook and eat dinner?
I love cooking every night of the week. I know everyone doesn’t see it this way, but for me cooking dinner really is a time to play. I have a beautiful veggie garden, so most meals start with a walk in the garden to see what’s ready for harvest.
We asked Curtis to share two recipes from the book — the first for a busy weeknight and the second for a weekend dinner with friends.
New Orleans “Barbecued” Shrimp with Amber Ale
This dish is so satisfying and it can be pulled together in 15 minutes, from start to finish. Have some crusty bread on hand because you’ll want to soak up every bit of the buttery sauce. Even better? You get a little messy eating these, which is always fun.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 minutes
2 pounds extra-large (16 to 20 count) shrimp in the shell
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup amber ale
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce, such as Crystal or Tabasco
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Sliced French bread, warmed or lightly toasted
Using a small sharp knife or small sharp kitchen shears, cut down the back of each shrimp just deep enough to expose the dark vein. Devein the shrimp under cold running water, leaving the shells intact.
Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, then add 2 tablespoons of the butter and swirl to melt it. Add the garlic, sprinkle with the cayenne pepper, and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook for about 1 minute, or just until the garlic is tender. Add the shrimp and toss to coat well with the butter mixture. Add the ale, lemon juice, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce and simmer for about 2 minutes, or until the shrimp are almost cooked through, turning the shrimp after 1 minute.
Add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, the parsley, oregano, thyme, and rosemary and simmer gently for about 1 minute, or until the butter melts and the shrimp are just cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer the shrimp and sauce to four wide shallow bowls. Serve with the bread to sop up the sauce. Serves 4.
Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork Sandwiches with “Fireworks” Coleslaw
This is what Sunday dinners should be—slow cooked and tender. I had never had a pulled pork sandwich until moving to the US and I spent a lot of time perfecting this recipe. The coleslaw makes a great accompaniment to loads of recipes, so make a little extra.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 hours, plus 30 minutes cooling time
Make-Ahead: The pork can be made up to 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated; reheat over medium heat before serving.
One 4-pound boneless pork shoulder roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
2 medium red onions, quartered
2 large carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 navel orange, quartered
4 large sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
About 3 cups Apple-Bourbon Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows), warm
6 kaiser rolls with poppy seeds, split
“Fireworks” Coleslaw (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
To cook the pork: Season the pork with salt and pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive or canola oil, then add the pork and cook, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown all over. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the Dutch oven.
Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are golden brown. Return the pork to the pot, add the wine, and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Boil for about 3 minutes, or until the wine is reduced by half. Add the broth, vinegar, orange, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns and bring to a simmer.
Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the pork is fork-tender. Remove from the oven, uncover, and let cool for 30 minutes.
Transfer the pork to a baking dish. Using a fork and knife, pull the meat apart into large chunks. Moisten the shredded pork with some of the braising liquid and then toss with some of the warm barbecue sauce. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
To make the sandwiches: Heat a grill pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Grill the rolls, cut side down, until lightly toasted. Pile the pork on the bottoms of the buns. Top with more of the sauce, the coleslaw, and the tops of the buns. Serve hot. Serves 6.
Apple-Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Make Ahead: The sauce can be made up to 2 weeks ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated; reheat before using
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup bourbon whiskey
1 cup cider vinegar
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the garlic is tender.
Stir in the paprika and dry mustard, then stir in the bourbon and vinegar, bring just to a simmer, and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the broth, ketchup, brown sugar, chilies and their sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Add the apples and lemon juice and bring the sauce to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring often to prevent scorching, for about 1 hour, or until the sauce reduces and thickens slightly. Remove from the heat. Makes about 5 1/2 cups.
Prep Time: 20 minutes, plus at least 10 minutes standing time
Poppy Seed Dressing:
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 head napa cabbage, cored, cut in half, and then cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-wide slices (about 3 cups)
1/2 head red cabbage, cored, quartered, and then cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-wide slices (about 3 cups)
1 large carrot, cut into thin matchstick-size strips
8 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro
To make the dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk all the ingredients to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to develop the flavors.
To make the slaw: Using your hands, gently toss the napa cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, scallions, and cilantro in a large bowl to combine. Toss the coleslaw with enough dressing to coat (reserve any remaining dressing for another use). Serve immediately. Serves 6.
Love collecting cookbooks? Enjoy trying new recipes? Join us for a monthly Cookbook Club class. Led by our talented culinary experts, these exclusive cooking classes showcase recipes from a different cookbook each month.
- Each 1½ – to 2-hour class features cooking tips and techniques and a three-course tasting menu from the book’s best recipes, prepared while you watch.
- Class fee of $75 includes the cookbook with signed bookplate.
- Participants receive a 10% discount on store purchases the day of the class.
- Available monthly at select stores; class times vary by store location.
- Space is limited and reservations are required. Call a participating store to register.