Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs have been friends for more than a decade, and in that time they've tested some 1,700 recipes, published 10 books and built a community of cooks at digital and social food hub Food52 that is millions of users strong. As busy as they've been building their business and growing their families, the women have managed to hold on to the weeknight family (and sometimes, friends) dinner routine that was so special to them both while growing up. Figuring out the logistics took some work, though.
A New Way to Dinner
"I used to shop and cook on the same day, but when we started Food52, I began cooking recipes on the weekends and figuring out ways to tie the ingredients together," says Hesser, who has 9-year-old twins. Once Stubbs had kids (now 4 and 1), she followed suit. The two of them rely so heavily on cooking ahead, they made it the focus of their book, A New Way to Dinner, out this fall. "Cooking this way is so much more efficient," says Stubbs of dishes like the make-ahead meatballs her family loves. "And it leaves you more time for the important things."
Genius Make-Ahead Tips
Try these winning dinner strategies from Hesser and Stubbs.
Make a Stir
Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing. "When I started doing make-ahead meals, I would make a big batch of stew or roast a bunch of stuff, and I got totally bored," Hesser says. "I felt like I wasn't cooking interesting food. That's when I shifted toward cooking recipes with more layers of flavors." To follow her lead, try new recipes for make-ahead dishes, like these vegetable-packed meatballs, and serve them in different ways: Over spaghetti is classic, but you can also make meatball-topped pizza, or a meatball sandwich with fresh mozzarella and basil. Be creative!
Add Some Style
Making the kitchen a fun place to hang out means that you'll look forward to your weekend cooking sessions. "Kitchen tools should be easy to look at and to use," Stubbs says. "People don't think of storage containers as pretty, but if you have your ingredients in a beautiful container, you're more likely to be inspired."
"Merrill is my tried-and-true cooking buddy," Hesser says. "Otherwise, I'm happiest cooking when my husband is helping me or when my kids are reading in the kitchen." Invite a friend over, crack open some wine and catch up as you whip up meals for the week to come or to store in the freezer.
Change it up
Make entirely new meals out of your leftovers so they're just as exciting the second time around. "Visuals are almost as important as taste," Stubbs says. "Making the food look different goes a long way toward making it feel new." For instance, she'll transform leftover pork roast into tacos, or add day-old spaghetti to a frittata with fresh herbs. Same ingredients, totally different dinners!
Spaghetti with Make-Ahead Meatballs
Once frozen solid, store the meatballs in a resealable plastic freezer bag -- they'll last up to 3 months!
Green Salad with Creamy Anchovy Dressing
Keep a batch of this dressing in the fridge for tossing together salads on the spot. If you're concerned about the raw egg, you can skip the yolk entirely.
Seasonal fruit compotes, like this sweet-tart rhubarb version, are make-ahead stars: Serve on ice cream, as a crepe filling or with biscuits and whipped cream for shortcakes. Hesser swears by these tender cream biscuits, inspired by a recipe by late cookbook author Marion Cunningham.
Let's Get Social
Pull up a hashtag and join the party! Follow @rachaelraymag and @food52 for behind- the-scenes pictures from our photo shoot. Tag your family meals with #dinnerwin -- we'll be regramming all month long!