Side Dish for June 7, 2012

Book offers solutions for supper

I’ll bet someone in most families does what my children always did: Come home, head straight for the refrigerator and stand there with the door open, asking, “What’s for supper?”

Their question wasn’t always easy to answer.

Today I sometimes find myself doing what my kids did, staring into the refrigerator wondering what to prepare for supper without having to make a dreaded trip to the grocery store. That’s why I was interested in a new cookbook written by a Southern Living Test Kitchen specialist — it offers some practical, quick solutions for that age-old question.

The title of “Southern Living What’s for Supper 30-Minute Meals Everyone Will Love” by Vanessa McNeil Rocchio (Oxmoor House, $19.95, paperback) is a bit misleading. While its recipes require no more than an estimated 30 minutes of hands-on preparation time, some do take longer to cook. Still, none of its 250 recipes are difficult and they provide a nutritious alternative to take-out.

The 256-page book opens with some simple ideas for quickly preparing salads, beverages, breads and desserts for supper. Next comes the Dinner’s in the Pantry chapter which suggests ideas for creating meals from staples, such as pasta, canned vegetables and rice. Skillet Lasagna uses a jar of pasta sauce and a package of extra-wide egg noodles while Cumin-Crusted Pork Cutlets is made with a self-rising yellow cornmeal mix. Of course, using this chapter’s recipes requires a well-stocked pantry. I, for example, couldn’t make Mexican Beef ’n’ Rice without stopping at the grocery store since my pantry doesn’t include ready-to-serve Santa Fe rice nor do I have any refrigerated salsa.

Other chapters offer recipes for quick favorites that “taste so much better than fast food,” such as Pork Tenderloin Tacos With Radish-Avocado Salsa and Sweet-and-Hot Pork Stir-fry.

There are recipes for No-Cook Suppers, slow-cooker options, and ones to appeal to picky eaters.

The Cooking for Two chapter has recipes portioned for two people without leftovers. The Weeknight Company chapter’s recipes for casual get-togethers are sure to impress guests, but are easy to put together.

The author also offers test kitchen secrets, technique and time-saver tips plus suggestions for side dishes. Some recipes are labeled as “healthy,” “kid-friendly,” “for company” or “know by heart” but none include the nutritional breakdown.

Beautifully illustrated with lots of full-color photographs, the book provides plenty of inspiration to answer the “What’s for supper? question.

Cookbook signing

Julie Kay, who writes the What a Crock! column in Food, will be at the Jones Creek Regional Branch Library, 6222 Jones Creek Road, at 7 p.m. Thursday speaking about slow cooking and her cookbook, “Slow Cookin’ in the Fast Lane.”

Copies of the book will be available.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is

Advocate-tested recipe

Herbed Tomato Tart

Serves 6. The “for company” recipe is from “Southern Living What’s for Supper: 30-Minute Meals Everyone Will Love.” by Vanessa McNeil Rocchio.

2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced (about 3/4 lb.)

1/2 pint assorted small tomatoes, halved

3/4 tsp. salt, divided

1 (17.3-oz.) pkg. frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed

1 (8-oz.) pkg. shredded mozzarella cheese

1 (4-oz.) pkg. crumbed feta cheese

1/4 cup finely chopped chives

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped assorted fresh herbs

1 tbl. olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.

2. Meanwhile, roll 1 pastry sheet into a 14-inch square on a lightly floured surface; place on an ungreased baking sheet. Cut 4 (12- x 1-inch) strips from remaining pastry sheet, and place strips along outer edges of pastry square, forming a border. Reserve remaining pastry for another use.

3. Bake at 400 degrees for 14 minutes or until browned.

4. Sprinkle pastry with mozzarella cheese, feta cheese, chives and garlic. Top with tomatoes in a single layer. Sprinkle tomatoes with herbs and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; drizzle with oil.

5. Bake at 400 degrees for 14 to 15 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Note from Vanessa: We used basil, thyme and parsley, but just about any combination of herbs that pairs well with tomatoes — such as oregano and tarragon — would also work.