Do you need help with that nagging question of "what's for dinner?"
You'll find plenty of options with upscale, contemporary, and international flavors in Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors With Breathtaking Ease, by Rozanne Gold (Rodale Books; $35) and Real Simple Dinner Tonight: Done! 189 Quick and Delicious Recipes, edited by Allie Lewis Clapp and Lygeia Grace (Time Home Entertainment Inc.; $24.95).
"My goal is to ramp up the ease of preparing great food every day," says Ms. Gold, a former chef who "believes the best food in the world is often the simplest." She shares 325 fresh recipe ideas with a bit of "chef thinking" in each. "Radically simple food and real cooking are, in fact, soulmates."
"Cooking from scratch does not need to take a long time or be difficult," adds Ms. Clapp, Real Simple's food director and the mother of a 2-year-old. Culled from columns in the magazine, the book's recipes "are meant for real people cooking real dinners every night of the week.
"This is my style of cooking and the life of so many people," says Ms. Clapp, adding that "if you care about the health of your family, it takes only a little longer to prepare a home-cooked meal than to pick up takeout."
Ms. Gold's latest cookbook, her 12th, features her expanded ideas "where the interplay of time, technique, and essential ingredients becomes the focus. I've grown and changed and so has my cooking," says the author of nine books in the 1-2-3 series that explored cooking with only three ingredients per recipe and were a way to get people back into the kitchen.
"I really believe cooking is more about ease, not easy," says Ms. Gold, adding "cooking should be pleasurable, eliciting a feeling of abundance without the burden. I don't race against the clock."
However, about two-thirds of her latest recipes can be on the table in a half-hour or less.
For a quick dinner, try smoked and fresh salmon en chemise -- wrapping fresh salmon filets in thinly sliced smoked salmon and baking at a high temperature a short time. "An instantaneous room-temperature fresh sauce, made from tomatillos, basil, cilantro, onion and lime, is a striking accompaniment."
The 500-degree cod with macadamia butter and radicchio comes together in 10 minutes. Tortellini with yogurt, mint, and smoked paprika oil, a take on a Turkish pasta dish called manti, is also fast.
"I really call this restaurant food -- fresh and seasonal -- you can do at home.
"I see myself as a bridge between the restaurant kitchen and home kitchen in all my volumes but this new book is the best representation of the way I cook. I'm a seasonalist."
Some of her favorite staples to jazz up food on a moment's notice include za'atar and small canned whole beets along with coconut milk, sriracha sauce, smoked paprika, cumin, papadu peppers, olives, canned tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, and more.
A pesto with za'atar, olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan makes a wonderful dip with bread sticks or for spooning over tomato slices. Za'atar is also a good rub for chicken.
Processed with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic, the beets can be transformed into a soup in minutes. Or use beets to make a vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
A sheet pan spinach utilizes a novel sauna technique that keeps the vegetable vivid green. Green corn, made by rubbing steamy ears of fresh corn with salted fresh basil leaves, is the essence of summer.
"My whole buttered onion soup deploys a radical technique that doesn't require you to slice onions, but relies on four hours in a slow oven for its creamy (though creamless) sophistication."
The delicious one-ingredient pink tomato frappes are fashioned entirely from ripe tomatoes that have been whirled in a blender.
"If you want the quickest thing in the world, throw a chicken breast or a steak under the broiler or on a grill. With a plop of my four-ingredient magic green sauce (cilantro, capers, green onions, olive oil processed together), dinner becomes an instant winner."
For a stellar dessert, whip up the little black dress chocolate cake baked in 20 minutes.
The majority of the Real Simple recipes, each accompanied with a color photo, are "easy enough for novices but interesting enough for experienced cooks and take 30 minutes or less total time," says Ms. Clapp. "We try to keep ingredient lists short and the recipes are written to include a main dish and side dish together." Nutritional information for each recipe is listed in the back of the book.
Ms. Clapp's all-time favorite is the roasted chicken with grape tomatoes and kalamata olives. She also is partial to the fabulous frozen peanut butter cup and pretzel terrine and the caramel-almond ice cream torte, both utilizing vanilla ice cream as the base.