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Spend less time cooking, more time at the table

Who wants to spend all Thanksgiving Day long in the kitchen? Not I — and I bet not you.

Here are two recipes to add to your holiday repertoire. The first is a convenient and portable French toast casserole to serve for breakfast or brunch. It’s super-luscious, but we’re not counting calories today. I tested it on my colleagues who gobbled it up.

The second recipe is a stuffing — or dressing, if you wish — that incorporates five vegetables. It’s considerably healthier than most traditional versions and so good I may start serving it as a side dish year round.

Both recipes come from the same book, called “One to Five” by Scott Ryan, a restaurateur, chef and TV cooking personality. I see his new cookbook as a game-changer, and caught up with him for an interview.

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Q. I love how you take 20 ingredients and show how each one can be prepared then made into five different recipes. Almost half of those ingredients are vegetables. I tested two of your bread recipes, and one of them, for Savory Butternut Squash, Kale and Mushroom Stuffing, is also packed full of vegetables. Why so many vegetables?

A. Why Not? Vegetables are inexpensive, packed full of vitamins, proteins and nutrition. The old-school rule of trying to sneak vegetables onto your kid’s plate does not need to happen. You just need to make them taste good. Have fun with them, have fun cooking them and treat them with respect. To know that you can eat kale raw, braised, baked, fried, or turn them into a salsa verde excites me! It also shows the versatility of other vegetables.

Q. You write in your intro that “good food doesn’t always need to be made from scratch.” You have recipes relying on canned tuna, canned chickpeas and biscuit dough. Do you think “made from scratch” is overrated for today’s home cook?

A. I do not think it is overrated. I think it comes down to people’s time. I do not see shortcuts as cheating, I see them as efficiency. To me the old-school way of breaking bread at the table and asking your loved ones how their day was, is gone, and submerged in work, emails and the fast-paced life we have today. If I can get you to cook a meal, sit down with your loved ones, and have a engaged dinner, with a couple shortcuts to make that happen, then woohoo “One to Five!”

Q. With office carry-ins, parties and the meals themselves, what advice to you have for surviving the holidays?

A. It’s all about dishes you can reheat or serve at room temp. Dishes you do not have to rely on temperatures. For instance, something you will not sweat over, worry about, but can still be a rock star when you present it. For example, my deviled eggs; meatless cobb salad with homemade ranch; my San Francisco Giant Pizza Balls; Cauliflower, Bacon and Jalapeno Bake; Carrot Hummus or Turkey Kalessarole — these are all dishes which you can take to an event, do at a holiday party or serve during the holiday season. Trust me, there are a million more in the book.

Q. What’s the most insightful thing you learned in the process of writing this cookbook?

A. I have a very salty palate :) It’s true. No seriously I have a really salty palate. On a serious note, I wrote recipes that I love and enjoy to make. It took some thinking outside the box. It was cool to expand my culinary horizons and backtrack on what I have learned in my 20-plus years of cooking, and put into a book. I really learned that I have “Chef” in my title, but cook like everyone else. I want zesty, enjoyable, flavorful, fast-food that is homemade, and that is what I brought to “One to Five.”

Q. Will you be writing another cookbook?

A. I see many variations of “One to Five” in my culinary future. “One to Five Entertaining,” “One to Five vegetarian,” “One to Five Meats,” “One to Five Desserts,” then “One to Five” retirement.

CREAM CHEESE CUSTARD FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE

1½ cups heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese, softened (about 1 cup)

4 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

1½ cups whole milk

¼ cup granulated sugar

1½ tablespoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ cup maple syrup

1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt

6 cups cubed or torn leftover bread

1 (16-ounce) package frozen strawberries

¼ cup water

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Process the cream, cream cheese, eggs, and egg yolks in a blender until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the milk, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, nutmeg, ¼ cup of the maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon of the salt; stir until smooth. Add the bread, and stir until fully incorporated. Chill for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the strawberries, ¼ cup water, the remaining ¼ cup maple syrup, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to low and simmer, mashing the strawberries often with a potato masher, until they are fully cooked and completely broken down, about 5 minutes. Cook a little longer if you want a thicker sauce. Remove from the heat.

3. Transfer the chilled bread mixture to a 9-inch square baking dish, and mash it down with a spoon or spatula. It may seem soupy, but that’s what you want. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.

4. Put the casserole dish inside a large roasting pan with high sides, and put the roasting pan in the preheated oven. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the casserole dish. Bake until a wooden pick or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. If there is still too much liquid, bake an additional 10 minutes.

5. Heat the strawberry sauce over low just until warmed through. Dust the casserole with the confectioners’ sugar, and serve the French toast with the warm strawberry sauce.

SAVORY BUTTERNUT SQUASH, KALE, AND MUSHROOM STUFFING

12 cups cubed or torn leftover bread

1 cup whole milk

3 cups diced yellow onion

2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms

½ cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon red chile flakes

6 cups chopped kale leaves

1 (10-ounce) package frozen cubed raw butternut squash

1 cup scallions, chopped

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the bread and milk in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish; let stand for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine the onion, mushrooms, oil, salt, pepper, and chile flakes in a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot over high. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the kale, squash, and scallions; cook until the kale is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in the stock and lemon juice. Add the bread mixture, and stir to combine. Stir in the eggs.

3. Wipe the 13- x 9-inch baking dish clean, and lightly coat it with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer the stuffing mixture to the prepared baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Increase the heat to broil, and broil until the top is browned and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

From the book: “One to Five: One Shortcut Recipe Transformed into Five Easy Dishes” by Ryan Scott; 256 pages, $24.95. Published by Oxmoor House, 2016.

What you get: Twenty common ingredients (including some precooked or ready-made foods) multiplied by five recipes equals 100 quick and easy recipes that are great for weekdays, weekends and even special occasions.

In his own words: “When it comes to cooking at home, if I can’t prep it, cook it, and sit down to eat it in an hour or less, I don’t want to do it. It’s just that simple.” — Ryan Scott.

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