Go-To Dinners from the Pros

Top chefs and bloggers share their family-friendly weekday meals, from fried rice to  fish tacos. 

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Curtis Stone


Chef-owner of Maude restaurant in Beverly Hills and author of Good Food, Good Life. Father of Hudson, 3, and Emerson, 11 months.

What's your go-to weekday dinner for your family?

A super quick but seriously tasty and comforting penne dish with sausage and broccoli rabe or kale—it just depends on what’s in the garden or the fridge. I can’t help but go back for more (and more) of this dish as I’m a sucker for all the delicious ingredients…the silky tomato sauce, sweet Italian sausages and sprinkling of pecorino cheese. It’s a true à la minute meal; it takes just minutes to make and should be enjoyed as soon as it comes together. My little guy, Hudson, loves it!

What was your worst kitchen nightmare?

Touch wood…I haven’t had any serious kitchen disasters at home with the family. However, Hudson has no qualms about spitting out my food when he isn’t a fan of a certain ingredient, flavor or texture. My biggest kitchen nightmare actually took place in London in my late 20s at a restaurant I was running called Bluebird. They had this big, old wood-fired oven, and it hadn't been used for a couple of years. The old chef had just left it there, and no one had used it, so I just assumed that it hadn't been used because he couldn't be bothered or whatever. So I said to my sister, "Come in. Bring all your girlfriends, and I'll cook all the food I'm going to put on this new dinner menu." 

I wanted to see how hot this oven could get, so I'm burning loads of wood in there. I had it cranked, and she arrived, and they sat down and got their glass of champagne and some bits. Then all this smoke was coming out of the flue of the oven, and I kind of thought, "It must be because it hasn't been used for so long," and it progressively got worse. What had happened was there wasn't an appropriate fire void above the oven, so it started a fire in the ceiling. I almost burned down this incredible, AAA-rated heritage building, all in the name of cooking this massive meal for my sister. How’s that for a nightmare?

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Curtis Stone's Penne with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe



PREP TIME: 5 minutes

COOK TIME: 15 minutes




4 sweet Italian sausages (about ⅓ pounds total), casings removed

½ bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and sliced (about 2 cups)

2 garlic cloves, chopped

½ cup dry white wine

1¼ cups tomato sauce

10 ounces penne

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons freshly shredded pecorino cheese




1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and cook, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon, for about 6 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the broccoli rabe and garlic and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the broccoli rabe leaves are wilted. Add the wine and then the tomato sauce, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by one-fourth.


2. When the water comes to a boil, add the penne and cook, stirring often so the pasta doesn’t stick together, for about 8 minutes, or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water.


3. Toss the penne with the sauce, adding enough of the reserved cooking water to thin the sauce to the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve immediately.


Recipe from Curtis’ cookbook Good Food, Good Life: 130 Simple Recipes You'll Love to Make and Eat.

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Gina Homolka


Blogger at Skinnytaste.com and author of The Skinnytaste Cookbook. Mother of Karina, 21, and Madison, 5.

What's your go-to weekday dinner for your family?

My family loves picadillo, a quick, flavorful Cuban dish made with sautéed ground beef simmered with olives in a flavorful tomato sauce, served over rice. It’s a dish I grew up eating as a kid.

What was your worst kitchen nightmare?

I was making a sauce in the blender. I plugged it in and didn't realize it was already on. I had red sauce everywhere from the ceiling to my clothes and in every nook and cranny. 


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Gina Hamolka's Slow Cooker Picadillo



At least once a month—if not more—it’s Picadillo Night at my house. My whole family loves when I whip up this flavorful Cuban dish, and I love it because it’s so easy and inexpensive. I grew up on this dish, which was one of Mom’s specialties. Throughout the years, I’ve adapted her version by using leaner beef; and rather than making it on the stove, I find it convenient to make this in the slow cooker, which helps make the meat very tender. Some people also add raisins, but my family prefers it without them.



2 1⁄2 pounds 93% lean ground beef

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 small tomato, chopped

1⁄4 cup drained alcaparrado (olives, pimientos, and capers) or pitted green olives

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 tablespoon of the brine from the alcaparrado or olives

1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin, plus more as needed

1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 bay leaves



Set a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, add the beef, and season it with the salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cook, using a wooden spoon to break the meat into small pieces as it browns, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain the liquid from the pan. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic to the meat and cook until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker and add the cilantro, tomato, alcaparrado, tomato sauce, brine, cumin, garlic powder, bay leaves, and 11⁄4 cups water. Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours.


To serve, taste for cumin and add more as needed. Discard the bay leaves. Serve a generous 1⁄2 cup per person.


Skinnyscoop: Alcaparrado is a mixture of olives, pimiento strips, and capers, and it is used in many Latin dishes. Pimiento-stuffed Spanish Manzanilla olives can also be used in their place.

Reprinted from The Skinnytaste Cookbook. Copyright © 2014 by Gina Homolka. 

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Alex Guarnaschelli


Chef, owner of Butter Restaurant, Iron Chef and judge on Chopped. Mother of Ava Simone, 8.

What is your go-to weekday dinner for your family?

My mother always made homemade BBQ sauce and we slathered it all over chicken and shrimp, so I’ve kept that tradition alive. Lately we’ve been making my Ultimate Woodbridge BBQ Shrimp recipe. It’s the perfect dish to pop on the grill for a quick, easy supper. Plus, it combines two of my favorite summer flavors: fresh seafood and BBQ sauce.

What was your biggest kitchen nightmare?

I made a vibrantly green parsley puree to whisk into a butter sauce for a party of 60 people in the fancy restaurant where I worked in Paris. Right when I was ready to serve the dish, I whisked the parsley into the butter sauce and, because there was a lot of lemon in the butter sauce, the parsley hit the lemon juice and the sauce went from beautiful grassy green to split pea army green in 5 seconds flat! The chef gave me a Darth Vader stare that sends chills down my spine to this day! (Needless to say we quickly whisked in some water and a ton more parsley and the sauce was okay.) 


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Alex Guarnachelli's The Ultimate Woodbridge BBQ Shrimp

Shrimp BBQ.jpg

SERVES 4 to 6 

Note: Incorporates Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi wine and Woodbridge Wine ‘Cue Sauce in the recipe, which is cooked, (grilled or) broiled and glazed. Pairs with Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon.

For the BBQ Sauce:

1 cup Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon

1 cup Woodbridge Wine 'Cue Sauce

¼ cup cider vinegar

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon dry mustard (preferably Coleman’s brand)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons chili powder

4 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 lemon, cut into ½-inch-thick slices

For the Shrimp:

16 to 18 “U-10” shrimp, peeled, deveined

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 lemon

1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger


Preheat the grill.

Make the BBQ sauce: In a large pot, simmer the Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon until it reduces by about half. Stir in the Woodbridge Wine 'Cue Sauce, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, dry mustard, Dijon mustard and chili powder. Whisk to blend. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemon slices. Simmer on the stove for 20 to 25 minutes, until the aroma of the vinegar mellows slightly. Taste for seasoning.

Cook the shrimp: Season the shrimp on both sides with salt. When the grill is hot, place a large sauté pan on the side of the grill to get it hot. Place the shrimp in a single layer on a hot spot of the grill. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a pair of tongs to turn shrimp and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the butter to the sauté pan. Allow the butter to melt and toss the shrimp in the pan, basting them with the butter. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and stir in the ginger. Drizzle them generously with the BBQ sauce. Transfer to a platter and serve with additional BBQ sauce on the side, if desired.




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Deb Perelman


Blogger at SmittenKitchen.com and author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Mother of Jacob, 5.

What's your go-to weekday dinner for your family?

My sizzling chicken fajitas.

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Deb Perelman's Sizzling Chicken Fajitas


SERVES 4 to 5

Fajitas were traditionally made with skirt steak, and the name fajita or arrachera referred to the cut, which was once considered a throwaway cut, given to cattle hands along with other unpopular cuts as part of their pay. Here’s a great article on fajita history. Needless to say, thin strips of skirt steak would be excellent here too. You could also use an increased medley of vegetables to make this vegetarian.

For the chicken
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (though, frankly, a little more or less will be fine here)
2 tablespoons lime juice (half a juicy lime)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
Few dashes hot sauce, optional

To assemble
8 (6-inch) flour or corn tortillas
Olive oil
2 large bell peppers, cut into thin strips (I use a mix of green, red and other colors, if I can find them)
1 large yellow or sweet onion, halved and sliced thin
Coarse salt

Fixings (pick your favorites)
1 1/2 cup cooked black beans (1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
Salsa or pico de gallo
Sliced avocado or guacamole
Shredded cheese or sour cream
Minced white onion or pickled red onions
Chopped cilantro, pickled jalalpenos, hot sauce and lime wedges

For complete recipe please click here.  

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Ming Tsai


James Beard Award–winning chef, author and host of PBS's Simply Ming. Father of David, 15, and Henry 13.

What's your go-to weekday dinner for your family?

That's a no-brainer. It's fried rice made with basically whatever meats and vegetables are in the refrigerator. We always have rice (either fresh and left-over) available. I make a 50/50 blend of both white and brown rices. It adds the more nutritious properties of brown rice, yet satisfies the "discerning" palates of young boys. A particularly delicious and surprising flavor addition is sliced smoked turkey luncheon meat. It adds an incredible richness to the dish.

What was your worst kitchen nightmare?

My wife and I were visiting her parents in the Florida Keys. We all were trapped in the house by a severe storm. I decided to make dinner with whatever they had on hand and discovered a box of Tuna Helper (I had never used anything like this before.) The issue was I "seasoned" all the ingredients in the pan with salt and pepper as I typically would with any sautéed meal. Unfortunately, this was on top of the seasoning already included in the flavor packet. Yuk. It was so over-salted. No one could even finish a bite. Thing is, I should have known better. You should always taste as you go and then adjust as necessary. I learned my lesson.

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Ming Tsai's Chicken Fried Rice

fried rice.jpg



Canola oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

1 onion, cut into small dice

3 carrots, grated

3 ribs celery, cut into small dice

5 cups cooked House Rice (recipe below) or from leftovers

1/2 cup sliced scallions, for garnish


1. In a wok or nonstick sauté pan coated well with oil over high heat, add chicken, season with salt and pepper and stir-fry 3 minutes, until just cooked through. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

2. In the same wok, add a touch of oil and add garlic and ginger and stir-fry until soft, about 30 seconds. Add onion, carrot and celery and stir-fry 3 minutes, until al dente.

3. Add the cooked chicken and rice; toss thoroughly until heated through. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and check for flavor.

4. Transfer to a platter, garnish with scallions, and serve immediately. Enjoy!




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Cat Cora


Celebrity chef and author of the forthcoming memoir Cooking as Fast as I CanMother of Zoran, 11, Caje, 8, and Thatcher and Nash, both 6.

What's your go-to weekday dinner for your family?


We usually go to the harbor to our local fish monger, get the fresh catch of the day and grill fish tacos. It's easy, local, and everyone can customize their own.


What was your worst kitchen nightmare?


The time I caught someone's oven on fire filming a roasted chicken episode. The oven was old and small, so when the chicken was about three-quarters done I took off the cover to let it brown. It started popping juices and caught the oven on fire. We had to extinguish the chicken, the oven and basically dinner, and the TV shoot was blown!  


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Cat Cora's Basque Fish Tacos



This spicy, citrusy recipe is a healthier take on fish tacos. Opt for grilled firm white fish, rather than a fried version. Serve with a tangy slaw, and customize with your favorite taco toppings, such as sour cream, salsa or radishes.


1 pound fish (tilapia, snapper, cod or mahi mahi)
2 medium limes
1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon dried orange zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 small head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
6 to 8 soft corn tortillas
Sliced avocado, for garnish
Hot sauce

Place the fish in a baking dish and squeeze a lime over it. Add the garlic, cumin, chili powder, and 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper, then evenly coat with marinade. Refrigerate and let sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the slaw and warm the tortillas.

For slaw, combine cabbage, onion and cilantro in a large bowl and squeeze a lime half over it. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and mix thoroughly; set aside.

Brush grill pan or outdoor grill with oil and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Remove the fish from the marinade and place on the grill.

Cook undisturbed until fish has grill marks and is white and opaque on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip and grill the other side until white and opaque, about 2 more minutes. Transfer the fish to a plate.

Taste the slaw again and season as needed with more lime juice. Slice the remaining lime halves into wedges and serve with the tacos.

Serve each taco with some cooked fish, place it in a warm tortilla, and top it with slaw and optional garnishes. Enjoy!

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Jenny Rosenstrach


Author of Dinner: A Love Story, a book inspired by her blog of the same name, and Dinner: The PlaybookMother of Phoebe, 13, and Abby, 11.

What's your go-to weekday dinner for your family?

This time of year, it’s anything that doesn’t require turning on the oven and that barely even feels like cooking. We’ll often grill some good-quality chicken sausages bought at our farmers’ market and serve them with a shredded kale salad or cucumber, mint and yogurt raita and some olive oil–brushed grilled bread. 




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Jamie Oliver


Celebrity chef and author of the forthcoming Everyday Super FoodFather of Poppy Honey, 13, Daisy Boo, 12, Petal Blossom, 6, and Buddy Bear, 5.

What's your go-to weekday dinner for your family?

There isn’t one dinner simply because we like to vary it around. Jools does a lot of the cooking during the week while I’m at work, but if I’m home early then I’ll knock up something delicious and healthy. At the moment, the fish tacos from my book are very popular.

 What was your worst kitchen nightmare?

I don’t really have one anymore. When I was a kid working in Dad’s pub, I was boiling up a tin of evaporated milk to make a caramel sauce and the whole thing just exploded and left sticky blobs all over the kitchen. And of course there was one Valentine’s Day long, long ago when I thought it would be romantic to cook for my wife in the nude. I will just say that more than the dinner got burned that night!