Dinner in One Cookbook Review
After our long-term love for Melissa Clark's 'Dinner in French', we are so pleased to welcome her latest book, 'Dinner in One' to our shops. Team member Cary has jumped right into cooking his way through this book and had the following feedback to share...
Imagine creating/preparing a wonderful, elegant, and nutritious meal using only one cooking pan. That’s the premise of Melissa Clark’s 2022 cookbook, Dinner in One. New York Times food writer and video blogger, Melissa Clark is a New York Times food columnist, well-known food writer and cookbook author. Indeed, she has over thirty cookbooks to her credit. Besides Dinner in One, her most recent books include Kid in the Kitchen, Dinner in French, and Comfort in an Instant. Her work has been honored with awards by the James Beard Foundation and IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) and has been selected for the Best Food Writing series. Melissa is a regular guest on the Today show and Rachael Ray. She has also been a judge on Iron Chef America. She’s been a frequent guest host on the NPR radio show The Splendid Table and is a regular guest on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC. She received an MFA in writing from Columbia University.
Clark writes that in her early days in the food industry she would watch some of New York’s finest chefs work. One memory that stood out was that as soon as a chef used a pan, a dishwasher would whisk it away to be cleaned. Chef might use more than five pans to prepare one dish – none of which the chef had to clean! As she writes in the Introduction, “[I] understand why many recipes in chefs’ cookbooks are such a pain to make in my home kitchen. Chefs don’t care about using every pot and pan in the house, because they don’t have to think about having them pile up in the sink!”
If you’ve read her columns or watched her vlogs, you’ll note that she has long been committed to streamlining the cooking process. This book came out of that commitment: Could the home cook make delicious, interesting meals using only one cooking pan and far fewer bowls and utensils? She hopes that the recipes in this book are weeknight-friendly, yet tasty and attractive enough for a weekend dinner party.
Clark organizes her cookbook by cooking vessel such as: sheet pan, skillet, Dutch oven, soup pot and instant pot/multicooker. Almost half her recipes are meatless, and the meals might be described as “Streamlined World Cuisine,” and in most cases, made with readily available ingredients. Some have a certain degree of heat, but this is easily adjustable.
Melissa Clark’s recipes find a balance not often found in cookbooks. On the one hand, her recipes are quite detailed and specific. On the other, her instructions offer flexibility, inviting the cook to experiment and adjust. Of note, many recipes include several adjustment annotations such as “Veg it Up” which offers suggestions on adding more vegetables to the recipe, “Swap it Out” offers substitutions for ingredients, and “Vegetarian or Vegan Upgrade” offers just what the title suggests allowing the cook to create vegan or vegetarian versions of the dish. Her directions are clear and easy to follow, again stemming from the philosophy of streamlining the process.
A family favorite is Clark’s recipe for Roasted Chicken “Tagine.” Tagine in the title is in double quotes because the recipe doesn’t make use an actual North African/Indian clay pot known as a tagine, but rather this recipe mimics the rich, complex flavors of tagine cooking. The combination of spices (readily available at SKORDO) used as a semi-dry rub on the chicken ends up melding with the vegetables to create a slightly exotic, deeply flavorful sauce that gently caramelizes the veggies. The chicken comes out browned and crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. Ms. Clark suggests serving with flatbread or couscous as “you’ll want something to catch all those glorious golden juices.” The ingredients roast in a sheet pan, and the vegetables are tossed in oil in the same bowl that was used to marinate the chicken. This clearly represents the central premise of the book, that a family cook can create something that is wonderfully tasty and nutritious – in an hour or less – in a single pan – using readily available ingredients. Yum!
Having prepared a half dozen recipes from the book, we might offer the following tips:
- We recommend measuring and preparing each of the ingredients before you begin cooking. Chefs call this “mise en place,” and it will go a long way to decrease stress and increase the enjoyment of preparing her recipes.
- Clark offers many chicken recipes. Note that some call for skinless, boneless, but some call for bone-in, skin-on. Our recommendation is to heed her directions. For example, the skin-on chicken used in the Roasted Chicken “Tagine” recipe is needed to form those wonderful browned bits on the surface of the pan which, in turn, flavors the juices.
- Clark asks that you take ingredients portions as suggestions. We suggest that the first time you prepare one of her recipes, you follow her suggestions closely. Then you can adjust from there. My family, as an example, finds some of the recipes a bit salt heavy. Now, I cut back on salt by a third.
- There is wisdom in that old joke – “I often cook with wine; sometimes I even put it in the recipe!” If you drink wine, have a glass nearby. It adds a bit more fun to the process.
Dinner In One by Melissa Clark offers a wonderful collection of one-pot recipes that are as fun to prepare as they are delicious to eat. We give it our highest recommendation.