The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook

Delicious, Inspiring Meals for Busy Families


By Debra Ponzek

With Mary Goodbody

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Have a fridge full of staples, a family of finicky mouths to feed, and only a few minutes to get something on the table? If this sounds all too familiar, chances are you’ll find dinner and more in this can-do approach to mealtime. The Busy Family’s Survival Cookbook is designed with the modern-day family in mind-too busy, with not nearly enough time to eat together-and makes delicious meals come together in a snap. With a focus on accessible recipes with only a few simple ingredients, this guide takes the humble pantry staple and transforms it in minutes into delicious restaurant-quality dishes. The more-than 125 recipes are organized, not by course or time of day, but by the way people really cook: categories like pasta, vegetable dishes, salads, chicken, slow-cooking, fish, and more make the dinner dilemma easy. Try Butternut Squash and Pear Soup, Bronzino Veracruz, Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto, Roasted Chicken Enchiladas, and Meatloaf Burgers. This revolutionary approach will change the way you see dinnertime.




Mary Goodbody, who knows how to make magic out of my thoughts and words. Your beautiful writing and fun spirit make it enjoyable to work together.

My agent, Jane Dystel, who has been a longtime supporter. She always knows how to point me in the right direction.

Kristen Green Wiewora, my editor, whose enthusiasm for the book saw me through the process of writing it.

Sarabeth Levine, whose creative spirit and exceptional knowledge of baking were so helpful to me during recipe testing.

Cyril Chaminade, our talented pastry chef, and the pastry team at Aux Délices for help testing and retesting recipes and for coming up with such great ideas.

The chefs and staff at Aux Délices, who were so helpful during the process of writing the book and who understood that my time constraints were even crazier than usual.

Lynn Manheim, who shared many of the excellent recipes from her collection with me.

My wonderful husband, Greg, who is always willing to try a recipe “one more time.” Best of all, his love and passion for food match my own.

My children Remy, Cole, and Gray, who thankfully feel free to offer their culinary opinions and who were such good sports while I tested (and asked them to sample) recipes. I will always love cooking for you.

Finally, my parents, Phil and Marion Ponzek, who understood and joined in my enthusiasm for food, even from an early age. I will always be grateful.


I started my professional life as a restaurant chef, moved on to entrepreneur and caterer—and along the way became a wife and mother. I guess you could say I have been around the culinary block. Like most of you, I wear many hats. My husband, Greg Addonizio, and I own a business in Connecticut called Aux Délices, which has four stores where we offer company-branded, prepared foods and a hand-picked collection of specialty foods. We also cater and give cooking classes for both adults and kids. All this keeps us extremely busy.

On the home front, I feed a hungry and growing family . . . nearly every day of every week of the year. I may be a highly trained chef but nonetheless, there are times when it is a struggle to come up with ideas for what to cook for dinner. I may be crazy-busy but because I believe in cooking—and, frankly, love to cook—I came up with this collection of easy recipes that, I hope, appeal to most home cooks. Many are quick, but not all. My cooking is more about flavor, balance, and appeal than time-saving strategies, although I also pass these along as they pertain to my recipes. As I am sure is true of many of my readers, there are times when I realize I am cooking the same-old same-old, week after week. When that particular lightbulb goes off in my brain, I purposely come up with something out of the ordinary, very often using ingredients and flavor combinations I know and love. A lot of these dishes found their way into The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook.

How do we get “stuck” with the five or six recipes we know how to cook? Easy. We usually have the ingredients needed for our standard chicken dish, meatloaf, or spaghetti with meatballs and so that’s what we make. I recently read that more than half of us make the same dish at least once a week, and more often than not, we cook chicken!

Aren’t there times when you yearn to change it up? Sure, we all love our time-tested recipes using pasta and ground beef, but who wants to make the same thing week in and week out? That’s what this book is all about: easy, accessible recipes that you can add to your weekly rotation. That will help you survive the challenge of planning meals day after day.

I hope you will dive into the pasta chapter or try a different burger every week. Are you someone who likes to cook chicken? Turn to page 69 and try a few of the chicken and turkey recipes. You will find ideas and recipes you will want to re-create many times over, and your family will thank you for it.


If you’re anything like me, you probably cut recipes out of magazines, bookmark them online, and stick Post-Its throughout cookbooks. These are the recipes you want to try, that sound good and that you are pretty sure the kids will like. Some might be ambitious dishes that you fantasize making for your next dinner party, while others are far easier. Guess which ones actually get made? I’m a chef, and while it’s nice to tackle the more complex recipes now and again, the recipes that are most apt to get tried in the Ponzek-Addonizio household are those that are most accessible.

Every recipe in this book falls into that category. Accessible. Easy. Often quick. Family tested. Believe me, if anything seemed like a pain when I was testing, it did not make the cut. My family and friends patiently ate their way through more than a year of trial and error, and the best, most popular results made it into the book.

I hope you find several—or more!—dishes here that resonate with you and your family. I want them to become part of your routine; I hope you will make them over and over so that before you know it, the dishes are more yours than mine. I would be honored.


I organized The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook to reflect how many of us cook today. Most of us have a thirty-second conversation every day that goes something like this: “What’s for dinner?” “What do you feel like eating?” “What do we have in the ’fridge?”

We are as apt to say, “Let’s have pasta tonight,” as “Let’s grill this weekend,” or “I feel like a salad.” It’s easy to imagine them as starting points for a whole meal and so I arranged the book so that when you feel like chicken, there’s a chicken chapter. If you want a sweet ending to the meal, there’s a chapter with recipes for baked goods and other desserts. If your family likes eggs and pancakes for supper, go to the chapter called “Breakfast for Dinner.” And if you feel like spending a lazy afternoon making a stew or braise, there is a chapter on long, slow cooking. This is how we cook nowadays, and this is how I present the food that I hope you will want to make for your family and your friends.


I believe in planning ahead. Like yours, my life gets ridiculously busy, but if I take a few minutes in the morning or the night before to marinate a steak or fish fillet, I actually look forward to dinner. Same is true of chopping an onion or carrot, making a salsa, washing and drying salad greens, blanching vegetables, or measuring dry ingredients for a cake. Just a few short minutes of ahead-of-time prep make a significant difference at the end of the day. Try it once and you will see what I mean.

Despite this belief, between work, home, and the kids, I don’t always take my own advice, and therefore I treasure the weeks when I sit down on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning and plan an entire week’s meals. With this forethought, I am on easy street. In the end, I usually make only four or five of these planned meals, but I feel like I’m ahead of the game!

I might make a simple and quick pasta tonight and at the same time, put together a marinade for pork or beef, which we will eat tomorrow. I am always glad when I make the time to do this. As I drive home after a hectic day and remember that I have something marinating, I feel lighter. “Oh good! Dinner is just about ready.” And it’s true.

If I can, I nearly always measure and mix the dry ingredients for baked goods ahead of time and grill or roast extra veggies. These two very different activities save time and energy and demonstrate that with a little bit of planning, dinner is nearly done. It’s waiting for you and your family.

The next two sections outline some of the things I suggest we all try to do to make it more fun and relatively effortless to cook tempting and healthful meals for our families.


Make a comprehensive shopping list based on the meals you plan to make for the week. When you have the ingredients on hand, cooking is not frustrating. If you plan a week’s worth of meals, understand that you may miss a meal or two. Best laid plans and all that! Still, having ingredients on hand lowers stress levels, and you can always freeze the chicken breasts or sausages for a later meal.

Before you head for the market, take a look through your pantry. Most of us could probably make several meals from the stores on those shelves. I might check the freezer in the morning and pull out some chicken breasts or pork chops that I had forgotten I had. Main course, check! Rice in the pantry, check! Now I have only to worry about a vegetable to round out the meal.

In addition to my needs for the week’s meals, I try to keep the following on hand:

One or two extra cans of beans and tomatoes (I have always bought extra tubes of toothpaste; why not extra pantry staples?)

One or two extra jars of marinara sauce

An extra bottle of soy sauce and an extra bottle of hoisin, which are integral to so many marinades and sauces

A few jars of roasted red peppers to use when I don’t have time to roast fresh red bell peppers

Extra olives to toss into salads and cooked dishes

The best olive oils and vinegars available (remember to store oils away from heat)

Extra cans of quality chicken stock (freeze what you don’t use for later)

Washed salad greens in plastic bags

Pasta, quinoa, couscous, and rice

Pre-cut butternut squash

Crumbled feta, goat, and blue cheeses

Roasted chickens from reliable stores


Always, always prepare a little more than you need. This is particularly true for foods such as vegetables, chicken, beef, and shrimp, as well as for condiments and vinaigrettes with good shelf lives. Think about how you eat. Does your family like leftovers? Make a lot of sandwiches? Like savory foods for breakfast?

When I cook I try to:

Roast or grill extra vegetables (onions, eggplant, squash, potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms, to name a few) to eat the next day. They are great in omelets and scrambled eggs, tossed with pasta, and added to sandwiches.

Cook more brown rice than needed and refrigerate to use for quick fried rice with veggies and tofu, chicken, shrimp, beef, or the Dinnertime Burritos on page 199.

Freeze leftover pancakes and waffles, stacked and wrapped in plastic. This way they are ready to microwave in the morning for breakfast.

Form hamburger patties from ground meat, wrap them individually, and keep them in the freezer.

Double soup recipes and freeze the remaining half for later use (don’t freeze soups with cream).

Cook a second flank steak or extra chicken breasts to use for sandwiches and salads the next day.

Freeze fresh breadcrumbs to always have them on hand.

Make good use of marinades by mixing them in the morning and letting chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and fish soak for hours in anticipation of dinner.

Prepare pot roasts, stews, braises, and chilis the day before. This serves two purposes: I cook when I have the time and inclination and these dishes always taste better the second day.

Blanch and then shock green vegetables early in the day and refrigerate for later use in stir-fries, rice and pasta dishes, and soups.

Double recipes for condiments that can be refrigerated for a week or more. Use them on sandwiches and with grilled or pan-seared meat and poultry to jazz up later meals.

Refrigerate vinaigrettes in lidded glass jars. When needed, shake and drizzle over salads and other foods.

Measure the dry ingredients for baked goods ahead of time and then mix them with the liquid ingredients just before baking. This saves time and encourages me to actually bake something wonderful. And I find I measure more accurately in the evening than early in the morning.

As a final note, as much as I like to plan ahead, I am not the kind of cook who stocks up on massive amounts of food at big box stores. I buy only two or three cans and jars of foods I like and use a lot. I don’t fill a chest freezer with half a steer or dozens of chicken breasts. Frankly, I am not organized enough for such bulk shopping and storing. I know I would forget about the supplies stashed at the rear of the pantry or back of the freezer and would end up tossing dusty, rusting cans and freezer-burned meat. Many people shop this way and I admire their organizational abilities, but I am fortunate to live in a region of the country where the supermarket, farmers’ market, butcher’s, and fish shops are short drives from my house.

Nevertheless, a little forethought pays off and surviving the challenge of cooking every night is a lot easier and far less stressful when you plan ahead. Take my word for it.


When you leaf through the pages of The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook, you will note a number of sauces, salsas, pestos, and chutneys. These are what make eating fun and adventuresome. Anyone can grill a pork chop or chicken breast for an everyday meal, but if you team it with the Rosemary Chimichurri on page 104 or the Nectarine Chutney on page 119, it turns into something quite memorable.

I have nothing against store-bought condiments, but those you make yourself are far more flavorful, colorful, and interesting. It’s well worth your time to make them often and keep them in the refrigerator. Doing so is inspirational. You’ll be more eager to make a simple turkey sandwich if you know you can jazz it up with the Pineapple-Jicama Salsa on page 114 or to grill tuna for supper if you have some of the Mango Sauce on page 55 on hand. They might look new and unfamiliar to you now, but I guarantee you will come back to them time and again to dress up other foods. It’s reassuring to know they are in the fridge, waiting for you to pull them out when you need them. It is a way to deepen your cooking, to make it more exciting and appealing for everyone who eats at your house. This is the kind of thing that brands you as “a good cook.”


In the end, I believe in cooking, and cooking is what this book is about. It is a skill that demands some attention to the quality of the ingredients and proficiency with certain techniques. The food you buy makes a big difference in the taste of any dish and when I think it’s important to go the extra mile to insure you have the best, I will say so. When I use “exotic” ingredients for Asian or Mexican food, I try to use the same ones a few times over so that once you buy a bottle of rice wine or a can of chipotle peppers packed in adobo sauce, you can use it several times. Finally, without being tedious, I aim for precision in the recipes, paying close attention to prep instructions, heat intensity, and visual cues for doneness to insure success.

The recipes in The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook are easy. Sure, some are a little trickier than others, but all can be mastered by a home cook. Not every recipe is quick. I don’t subscribe to the under-30-minutes style of cooking, although some of the dishes here fall into the category. For instance the Gingered Salmon Burgers on page 173, the Asian Chicken LettuceWraps on page 94, and the Simple Spaghetti with Arugula and Parmesan on page 154 come together in less than half an hour. I love it! Yet, I never dumb down recipes to meet this criterion. On the other hand, nothing on the following pages requires that you spend hours in the kitchen, using every pan and bowl you own as you fuss with ingredients you have never before seen, touched, or tasted.

During the years I have cooked for my family, I have become a fan of shortcuts in the kitchen, as long as they don’t compromise the flavor and integrity of a dish. For instance, there was a time when I wouldn’t dream of using canned beans and would soak and then cook dried beans. I also used to cook and drain lasagna noodles. No more. I am happy to use canned, drained, and rinsed beans, and I am fanatic about no-boil lasagna sheets. As long as you cover them with sufficient sauce, they are great. Both of these marvels are terrific time-savers.

I don’t wince when someone uses store-bought pie crust. I find it easy to make my own, and my recipe for a flaky crust on page 236 is not only delicious, it’s close to foolproof. Still, I would rather you use store-bought than miss out on the Coconut and Lime Cream Pie on page 235.

While I don’t expect you to whip up complicated sauces or pastries, to spend hours reducing veal stock, or to figure out how to use a piping bag, I hope you will pay attention to the wonderful tastes, textures, and smells that are so integral to good cooking. Most of all, I hope these recipes will make your time in the kitchen just a little more rewarding, a little more flavorful—and a lot more fun.

















I AM THE FIRST TO ADMIT THAT MANY OF THE PREPARED SOUPS AVAILABLE THESE DAYS ARE WONDERFUL. After all, at Aux Délices we always offer a soup or two for takeout, and our customers are nothing but enthusiastic and grateful. As delicious as these are—and I have been known to take them home for a family supper on many occasions—there is something about making soup from scratch that is just plain satisfying. When I make my own, I usually end up centering the whole meal around the soup, adding perhaps a green salad and a loaf of bread, as well as a glass of wine for an end-of-day mellow.

I realize that I have an advantage when I make soup because I have access to homemade stock at Aux Délices. Making your own is easy but admittedly it’s time-consuming, requiring that you be at home while it simmers for hours and then leaving you with a pot full of spent, boiled bones and gristle. Luckily, there are some excellent brands of stock on the market, such as Swanson Certified Organic Chicken Broth and Imagine Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, which make more than passable soups. Soups made without cream freeze beautifully—another bonus as it’s easy to double a recipe and freeze the extra. As much as I love a good, hearty soup, I am equally partial to smooth, satiny ones. To achieve this lovely texture all you need is a good blender—and I prefer a blender to a food processor.

Following the soups on these pages are salads, which are accompanied by some very easy vinaigrettes. I object to being too exacting when it comes to salads, as a little more lettuce, a little less tomato, or a different kind of cheese can make a salad your own. Instead, I tempt you with the unexpected, such as the robust raw kale salad and the more fragile watermelon salad. I absolutely love the recipe that relies on shaved Brussels sprouts and once you try it, I hope you agree with me. Just about anything goes when it comes to salad.


For a lovely, elegant chilled soup, try this one: It’s just right as a first course or a light summer lunch. The sweet mango and the fire-hot jalapeño cut the richness of the avocado for a perfect balance of flavors and a beautiful pale green hue. I like to use Greek yogurt, but any plain yogurt works well. This is a gorgeously smooth soup.

Serves 4 to 6

2 ripe avocados

2 English cucumbers, sliced

1 mango, peeled, pitted, and flesh removed

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Juice and grated zest of 2 limes

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint leaves

1 teaspoon finely diced jalapeño pepper

Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Scoop the avocado flesh into a large bowl.

Add the cucumbers, mango, yogurt, cilantro, lime juice, lime zest, salt, mint, and jalapeño. Add 1 ½ cups of water and stir well.

Transfer the soup to a blender. You will have to do this in two batches. Purée until smooth and return to the bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until very cold. The soup will keep for up to 3 days.

Season to taste with pepper and more salt and lime juice, if needed. Garnish with cilantro or mint leaves.


Everyone wonders what to do with summer’s bumper crop of zucchini. The green squash overflows baskets at farmers’ markets and grows like crazy in backyard gardens. This curried soup is one of the best ways I have come up with to use the somewhat mild-tasting squash. And when we offer it at Aux Délices, it’s always a top seller.

Serves 8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium-size carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

3 ribs celery, thinly sliced

1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon curry powder

3 zucchini, trimmed and cut into large dice (about 3 pounds)

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

½ cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat and when it begins to bubble, add the carrots, celery, onion, and curry powder. Cook, stirring, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetables soften.

Add the zucchini and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes or until the zucchini is tender. Stir in the cream, let the soup return to a boil, and then remove it from the heat.

Transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender and process until smooth. Return the puréed soup to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Reheat, if necessary, and serve hot.



  • Bobby Flay
    “I love when talented chefs show us a little behind-the-scenes glimpse of their family meals. Debra Ponzek is the perfect chef to guide you through the rough-and -tumble chore of feeding your household—no one will want to leave the table.”

    Sarabeth Levine, author of Sarabeth's Bakery
    “Creative simplicity is what makes award-winning chef Debra Ponzek's cooking so delicious and perfect for everyday. This recipe collection will be kept within arm's reach on my kitchen shelf to enjoy with family and friends for years to come.”

    Publishers Weekly
    ”A charming book full of fresh, inspired, and tasty recipes that is sure to shake up your family's dinner routine.”

    "This first-time cookbook from an East Coast restaurant chef turned caterer is simple and sophisticated. Ponzek emphasizes using the best ingredients in straightforward ways, often with enough of a twist to keep things interesting…evening meals for families, couples, and singles don't have to be something microwaved. Any level of home cook, from novice to professional, can relax and execute these 125 recipes, which are full of goodnesses and local seasonal ingredients."

On Sale
Apr 2, 2013
Page Count
256 pages
Running Press

Debra Ponzek

About the Author

Debra Ponzek is a busy mother and former chef at New York City’s Montrachet, where she became, the first female chef to be awarded three stars by the New York Times. She now owns the East Coast gourmet take-away shops Aux Delices. She lives in Connecticut.

Mary Goodbody is a frequent co-author of more than thirty titles, including Running Press’s Choclatique. She lives in New York.

Learn more about this author