TORONTO—Donna Hay runs a publishing empire devoted to food, but at the end of the day she’s still in the same boat as many working parents—she has to get dinner on the table for her two sons.
“When my boys come in from rugby sometimes it’s not a great idea to tell them that dinner’s going to be half an hour,” the magazine editor-in-chief and cookbook author says during a visit to Toronto.
“They think I run some instant restaurant in my house,” she adds with a laugh.
“The New Easy” is Hay’s answer to the challenge of making food faster, simpler and tastier. In her 22nd cookbook, she shares shortcuts designed to speed up weeknight meals instead of resorting to ready-made food. Then for weekends, when there’s more time, she offers recipes that are more special.
“I can go both spectrums. I love to bake. I have more time on the weekends for recipes that maybe need longer in the oven or they’re a little bit trickier,” says Hay, who lives in Sydney, Australia.
“With people consuming so much food media there’s definitely now people out there who want to stretch themselves and tackle—maybe not every week—but they definitely want to tackle something more inspiring or something they can show to their friends or their Instagram account.”
In “The New Easy” (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.) she offers a “re-style” on some dishes—such as how to make a chic presentation for pepper steak for company and then transform the pepper steak into lunch by placing the meat on a long Turkish loaf with aioli and caramelized onion relish. Or lemongrass chicken salad can be toted on crispy baguettes for a picnic or be transformed into an elegant appetizer by plating it in lettuce leaves.
“If you’re going to teach someone how to cook and they feel comfortable with the recipe, to give them extra ways to do it, I think is just an added bonus,” Hay, 45, explains during a visit to Toronto.
Among her favourite shortcuts for a quick meal is pouring boiling water over rice noodles rather than cooking thicker pastas that take 15 minutes.
She adds richness and depth of flavour to dishes by using purchased items like quince paste or jam, pomegranate molasses, good-quality mustard and spices like smoky paprika. She keeps lemons on hand to make a quick salad dressing with honey.
She has also experimented with ways to reduce the cooking time of meat. By flattening a boned leg of lamb and roasting it at a high heat (240 C/475 F), she found “it caramelizes and cooks in 20 minutes so you don’t have the hour that a leg of lamb takes.”
Similarly, halve the roasting time of a chicken by cutting along the backbone and pressing down firmly to flatten it. With a chicken breast fillet, trim it so the pieces are an even thickness. They’ll cook quicker and the thin end won’t dry out.
“If I’m converting people out of processed food, (I’ve) got to make it easy. It’s got to be super tasty and everyone wants to take a photo of their meal. It has to look amazing as well.”