Save for all those Emmy awards, best-selling cookbooks and million-dollar paycheck, Rachael Ray and I could be twins.
We both sing the praises of extra-virgin olive oil, are fans of Primanti’s cap-and-egg sandwiches and love preparing simple comfort foods for our families. In fact, we both think cooking is the best way to relax and unwind after a long day at the office.
Huh? America’s favorite sweetheart chef actually spends time in front of the stove for fun?
“When I cook at work, it’s about storytelling and getting others excited in the kitchen -- it’s not about the joy of cooking,” the celebrity chef explained on a recent phone call from Austin, Texas, where she was preparing to speak at the 14th annual Texas Conference for Women. Her voice was raspy from exhaustion. “But when I do it at home, it’s an emotional thing for me. It’s very calming and makes me feel centered. ... I don’t have to be talking and can just be quiet and enjoy cooking.”
While she’ll go out after a lengthy day of filming her TV show if she has to for an event, she’d much rather be in her socks and pajamas, listening to music and sipping a glass of wine while she rustles up some dinner for her husband. Even on those days when she makes 10 meals for multiple episodes in front of the camera.
“Then I go home and make number 11,” she said.
Then again, she’s Rachael Ray -- the woman who taught America how to make tasty home-cooked meals in 30 minutes or less. What about the rest of us non-professionals?
Her latest cookbook aims to take the stress out of answering the perennial question, “What’s for dinner?”
“Week in a Day” culls more than 200 of her favorite recipes from her popular cooking show of the same name. But as the title suggests, she takes a different tack in ordering them.
You can cook any or all of the many soups, stews, casseroles and pasta sauces any day of the week, of course. But what she suggests in 43 chapters is taking a day or afternoon (she mega-cooks on Sundays) and preparing enough food for as many as five nights and storing it in the freezer or fridge.
As she writes in the intro, “When the day is especially long or you’re feeling extra exhausted, imagine how comforting it is to know that dinner -- your own homemade delicious food -- is waiting for you as soon as you walk in.”
To that end, each TV-crew-tested recipe was picked specifically for its “make-ahead-ability.”
The poultry-centric menu for Week 27, for example, includes Mulligatawny Soup with Green Raita, Chicken Tetrazzini, BBQ Chicken Burritos, Braised Chicken Thighs and an absolutely terrific Catalan Chicken Stew (see recipe below).
Doesn’t sound like your pot of fun? Even if you only commit an hour to making two or three meals, “at least you’d have one in the pocket, an ace in the hole for the freezer or fridge for that day when you just want to go home and not be bothered,” she said.
Not to mention, you’ll have something great to heat up when people stop by unexpectedly during the holidays.
The book also includes a section that teaches readers how to get three meals out of one bag of groceries (including QR codes for a scannable shopping list), along with “foundation” recipes for basic poached chicken, stock, roasted tomatoes and pulled pork. Sprinkled throughout are storing and serving tips and QR codes for cooking videos.
“You don’t have to be able to cook everything all the time,” she said, “but there is an emotional benefit to being able to cook a few things well that make you happy.”