My first impression of the new cookbook Dinner: Changing The Game by Melissa Clark is that it might be an aggressive example of what marketing geniuses call “on-trend”. Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, check. Crunchy Chickpeas, check. Labneh, check. Harrisa, tamarind, and za’atar, but of course. Do you love Sichuan, Thai, and Middle-Eastern? Well, all the current darlings of the culinary globe are colorfully represented. There’s even a whole chapter dedicated to topping some yummy something with an egg. Oh and just in case this book should lose some of its market share to Molly Gilbert – they expertly chose to put a sheet pan supper right on the cover.
But this book cannot simply be dismissed as another timely collaboration between a great cook and the marketing geniuses attached to her apron strings. Because the truth is Melissa Clark has an uncanny grasp of what people want in the moment – and she always has. Unlike many writers who might choose to put both seitan and newly chic butcher cuts of steak in their books because they think they’re supposed to, Clark actually gets the rhythm of how people eat these days. More importantly, she knows how cooks want to spend their time in the kitchen. This means Dinner: Changing The Game is a cookbook you’ll want to take seriously.
Dinner: Changing The Game by Melissa Clark
There are more than 200 recipes in Dinner and none of them are fluff. This isn’t to say you won’t have to put some effort into finding just what it is you want for “dinner”. It’s easy to get distracted by all the choices and all the differing styles. I decided to spend some time with the book before I committed to a direction for this post.
The sausage recipes in this book (there are nine) immediately caught my eye. But as I flipped through the pages I began to get excited by a chicken dish loaded up with all the flavors of your favorite take-out pizza. Now that sounds creative! Of course, I’ve also been looking for an approachable Sichuan recipe to get an introduction to bold flavor combinations. I found a Crispy Salt & Pepper Pork with Sichuan Peppercorns on page 85 that fits the bill.
As I said the choices in this book are very diverse and appealing. But are they too diverse and too appealing? Hmmm…
Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed I find it best to motivate myself with a real-world application. So, in the case of this cookbook, I decided to have a real-world dinner for eight. What better way to put this book to the test?
It’s been unseasonably warm in Los Angeles and a casual outdoor event seemed a logical choice. After all, the first al fresco dinner party of the season is always a festive occasion. With my parameters set, I found it much easier to navigate the book. The weather seems to suit a Mediterranean menu, so I put my focus onto recipes with a Middle-Eastern flair. Besides, I’ve been diddling with an extra jazzy za’atar mix and this menu seems like a good time to unveil it.
“Each recipe in Dinner is meant to be dinner—one fantastic dish that is so satisfying and flavor-forward it can stand alone—or be paired with a simple salad or fresh bread on the side. This is what Melissa Clark means by changing the game.”
That’s a quote from the publisher, so you know it’s true. I, however, found the range of choices well-suited to a larger event of family-style passed plates and had no trouble choosing three compatible recipes to suit the tastes of my guests. I figured whether they filled their plates with just one choice or went all-in—this would be a Dinner worth sharing with friends. GREG
Horta Salad with Feta and Olives and Pomegranate Quinoa with Crunchy Chickpeas
Za’atar Chicken with Lemon Yogurt (Adapted for Skewers)
I was sent a review copy of Dinner: Changing The Game by Melissa Clark. All opinions are my own. Also, I never heard back from the publicist about sharing recipes. So out of an abundance of caution, the only recipe I’m passing along today is my own recipe for the Za’atar I used in the chicken marinade.