Cookbook Review: Simplified meals from a ‘smartly stocked’ pantry

‘Dinner Then Dessert: Satisfying Meals Using Only 3, 5, or 7 Ingredients’ by Sabrina Snyder (Harper Design, $29.99)

I know many people who are perfectly at ease around the stove, yet still dread the prospect of cooking dinner. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the satisfaction of making a delicious meal from scratch. It’s the planning, shopping and clean-up that withers the will to put forth the effort.

Many a cookbook author has preached the time-saving benefits of a well-stocked pantry. For those whose “pantry” consists of one small cabinet, that message might fail to resonate. That’s why Sabrina Snyder advocates a “smartly stocked” pantry — shelves pared down to thoughtfully chosen, high-quality ingredients with multiple uses, which are organized in a way that helps us “think about dinner with fresh eyes.”

The California chef details her strategy in “Dinner Then Dessert: Satisfying Meals Using Only 3, 5, or 7 Ingredients” (Harper Design, $29.99), based on her popular website of the same name. She begins with a hefty chapter showing us how to build a “right-sized pantry” for our needs, with a rundown of her favorite staples and how she uses them.

Recipes are categorized by number of ingredients. A pasta dish illustrates how the built-in seasonings of Italian sausage and fragrant fronds of fennel eliminate the need for any enhancement other than salt and pepper. If you can’t find the orecchiette pasta called for, she suggests substituting ziti or mashed potatoes. No fennel? Sliced bell peppers will take that formula in a different, but equally tasty, direction.

Thai green curry paste and coconut milk lift a chicken and rice casserole out of the ordinary, and in another recipe transform an assortment of stray veggies into a lightning-fast curry.

Happily, she extends that minimalist approach to dessert. The one-bowl Nutella Brownies has inspired me to keep the three ingredients called for — eggs, Nutella, flour — on hand at all times so I never have to ponder what to bring to a potluck.

With fewer grocery trips, ingredients to prep, and dishes to wash, you may find yourself cooking every night of the week — and enjoying it.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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