Find our top 4 picks for the best weeknight cooking cookbooks of the past 25 years.
We distinguished the best weeknight cooking from the more reductive approaches to fast recipes because some supersimple recipes
are just too limiting. Sometimes a little extra time and a few more ingredients pay off with a beautiful dinner that's still
doable on a busy night. The cookbooks here, though they contain their share of very simple recipes, fill that wider weeknight-cooking
definition, which, to our thinking, makes them much more versatile and more relevant to serious cooks. The food-loving cook
who has one eye on the clock will find much nourishment in these pages.
Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food: More Than 100 Delicious, Super-Fast, and Easy Recipes By Gordon Ramsay, Sterling Epicure, reprint edition, 2012. Paperback. $25; 256 pages
Ramsay's best side—instructive and encouraging—is on display here. Most of the recipes use a handful of ingredients, deployed to dazzling effect. The food is simple but not simplistic. Dishes like Beef Rib-eye with Baby Turnips in Port make easy weeknight meals feel special. And Ramsay delivers for every occasion, from company-worthy Salmon Ceviche and crowd-pleaser apps like Bruschetta with Tomato and Prosciutto to kid-friendly meals like Pan-Fried Crumbed Fish and Chunky Fries.
GIVE THIS TO: Hurried home cooks looking to serve memorable meals that don't feel rushed. —Tim Cebula
The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket By Katie Workman, Workman Publishing Company, 2012. Paperback. $17; 366 pages
Katie Workman structures this family cookbook around 20 real-life challenges, from "making lunches that won't get tossed" to "just eat the damn fish," and offers five fast, easy recipe solutions for each. Because many of the recipes include variations, you get more than the promise. Workman is frank, funny, and friendly, offering a commonsense approach that is laid-back and real: She is not afraid to tackle the sticky matters of bribing reluctant eaters with brownies or faking out your kids (her brother-in-law coaxed his girls into eating salmon by dubbing it "Barbie Chicken"). Her "Fork in the Road" approach, of setting aside a portion of a dish for tender palates before adding bolder flavors for the rest, is sensible.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks deep in the everyday struggle to find shortcuts while feeding their families deliciously. —Julianna Grimes
Real Simple Easy, Delicious Home Cooking: 250 Recipes for Every Season and Occasion Edited by Allie Lewis Clapp, Lygeia Grace, and Candy Gianetti, Time Home Entertainment Inc., 2012. Paperback. $25; 368 pages
Interesting recipes with short ingredient lists and uncomplicated procedures—does that sound good? The book oozes the signature style of the magazine from which it's born (a magazine produced by the company behind Cooking Light). All is easy, approachable, and streamlined.
While the majority of dishes are weeknight-speedy, like 25-minute Seafood Chowder with Crispy Bread Crumbs, the book also offers a few longer-cooking offerings with little hands-on time. In the end, this is a straightforward book that busy cooks can turn to often.
GIVE THIS TO: Any cook looking for no-nonsense recipes. —Vanessa Pruett
The Bon Appétit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook By Barbara Fairchild, John Wiley and Sons, 2008. Hardcover. $35; 770 pages
This is a substantial cookbook, with 1,100 recipes designed to minimize time spent chopping, stirring, and prepping. Recipes are laid out concisely, without the distracting marginalia you'll find in many other fast-cooking cookbooks. Clean design doesn't mean a shortage of useful info, though: Shopping tips, make-ahead advice, freezing/reheating options, and ingredient information abound. If you can't locate plain bulgur, for example, you can use "one cup of bulgur from two boxes of tabbouleh wheat salad mix (but don't use the seasoning packets)"—practical advice rooted in real-world experience. Recipes capitalize on fresh ingredients, which need little work to be delicious. Some recipes take very little active time but may require hours of marinating. But that's easily doable on a workday, when all you have to do is finish the dish once you get home—something nice to look forward to.
GIVE THIS TO: Busy cooks who like a big cookbook. —Adam Hickman