mac and cheese

Photo: Alison Gootee

If You're an...Enthusiastic Entertainer
You enjoy nothing so much as putting together a simple yet stunning spread for the ones you love—a passion you share with chef Marcus Samuelsson, author of the forthcoming cookbook Marcus Off Duty. Here, he gives his key ingredients for a swell dinner party (good friends, great cocktails, Abba on the stereo) and a doable, delicious main course that lets you visit with your guests instead of standing at the stove.

This bacon and collard-studded version of the crowd-pleasing classic (above) is perfectly suited to a dinner party, since it can mostly be made ahead and warmed up as guests arrive—and because few things spread good vibes like nostalgia for a childhood favorite.

Get the recipe: Marcus Samuelsson's Mac and Cheese with Greens Recipe

"Some of my happiest experiences have happened while entertaining—like the night I threw a big house party and met my future wife. Definitely my best gathering yet."
Marcus Samuelsson

Dinner Party Pointers

Samuelsson fills in the blanks on what makes a great shindig.

My go-to party kickoff is..."A fantastic cocktail. It's a quick way to set the tone. I love the Brownstoner, which pairs nutmeg-infused bourbon with elderflower and cherry liqueurs. Delicious!"

One of my entertaining secrets is..."Keep people moving. Have drinks in one room, dinner in another and dessert somewhere else. It lets your guests mingle with new faces."

The thing you really don't need to stress about is..."People showing up on time. Just go with the flow."

The dessert I always buy instead of make is..."Meringues. They're a fun, lighthearted end to the meal, and most store-bought versions are just as good as homemade."

Eat to the Beat

Samuelsson's playlist philosophy is simple: Start with something that gets people talking, play some hits, then slow it down. "Abba makes people laugh, and Michael Jackson's Off the Wall makes it feel like a party," he says. Over dessert, ease down the tempo to signal the night's end.

Photo: Alison Gootee

If You're A...Make-Ahead Master
You don't have time to prepare dinner on weeknights, but you've found a way to cook multiple meals on Sunday. Ina Garten, whose newest cookbook is Make It Ahead, shares her ironclad rules for harnessing the power of preparation—plus a freezer-friendly dinner that goes from oven to table in half an hour.

Get the recipe: Ina Garten's Ham and Leek Empanadas Recipe

Ina's Dos and Don'ts of making Ahead

DO prep what you can beforehand, even if it's just chopping vegetables and storing them in the fridge.

DON'T forget that some pre-prepped veggies need extra care. Cut potatoes should go in a bowl of water so they don't brown, and though herbs can be washed three days in advance, always save chopping for the day of.

DO make batters ahead of time. If you want breakfast but don't want to wake up early, mix muffin batter the night before and store it in the fridge.

DON'T freeze a baked lasagna—cooked cheese can lose its texture. Instead, freeze before cooking and bake when ready to serve.

Photo: Alison Gootee

If You're an...Efficiency Expert
Do you prize speed, simplicity and—most of all—shortcuts? If so, you've got a lot in common with Mark Bittman, author of the new cookbook How to Cook Everything Fast, who's found all kinds of ways to cut corners, save time and make life far easier in the kitchen.

The Most Underappreciated Kitchen Appliance

How often do you turn on your broiler? Bittman guesses not often enough. He uses his for about a quarter of the meals he cooks. "Almost anything you make on the stove can be done faster under the broiler," says Bittman, who turns it on to sear fish and meat, finish roasted vegetables with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan—hello, gratin!—and cook eggs for a crowd.

Broiled Eggs

Heat broiler to high. Position top rack 6" from heat source. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with 2 Tbsp. butter and crack 1 egg into each cup. Broil until eggs are just set (yolks should still be slightly runny), 6 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and ground black pepper and serve. Total time: 10 minutes.

Miso Magic

When Bittman thinks a dish needs just a little something, he reaches for miso paste. "A tablespoon can add tremendous flavor to sauces and marinades," he says. "And don't be timid—you can't really overdo it like you can with hot sauce. Plus, miso actually tends to get milder as you cook it." Here, some of his favorite uses:

1. Vinaigrette "Whisk together 3 Tbsp. miso paste, 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar, and 1 Tbsp. sesame oil, adding water 1 Tbsp. at a time until it's the consistency you like."

2. Condiment "Stir 1 tsp. miso paste into 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise for a more exotic tartar sauce for fish or spread for sandwiches."

3. Rub "Rub 1 Tbsp. miso paste on a cut of steak or fish fillet before cooking."

Mark's Tried and True Tricks

1. Consolidate chopping. "Don't chop or mince ingredients like garlic, ginger, chilies and scallions one at a time. Instead, peel the garlic and ginger, trim the chilies and scallions, put them in a pile and cut them all together. And really, unless it's garlic you're going to eat raw, a rough chop usually suffices."

2. Don't wait for the oven. "Except when you're baking. Otherwise, throw vegetables or meat into the oven before it reaches the temperature you set."

3. Oil and preheat your baking pans. "Put a baking sheet or a roasting pan with a little oil in the oven as it heats. When you add whatever you're roasting, it'll immediately get the sizzle and sear you want."

Get the recipe: Mark Bittman's No-Roll Meatballs Recipe

spiralizer recipe

Photo: Alison Gootee

If You're a...Healthy Chef
You're committed to eating right—and you know that doesn't have to mean eating bland.

Gina Homolka, blogger at Skinnytaste and author of The Skinnytaste Cookbook, can help you keep making your wholesome food wholly tasty.

Spiraling Out of Control

"I'm obsessed with my spiralizer," Homolka says. "It takes seconds to transform cucumbers, zucchini, sweet potatoes—you name it—into gorgeous strands that can be tossed into salads." Here (above), Homolka spiralizes apples and carrots for a colorful slaw that's delicious served with roasted chicken or pulled pork.

Bye-Bye Butter

Homolka is always looking for ways to slash fat when baking. One of her most brilliant breakthroughs: substituting avocado for butter in her chocolate-walnut cookies. "Avocado is creamy and nearly flavorless," she says, "so swapping equal amounts mashed avocado for butter in cookies, cakes, and brownies typically works really well."

Get the recipe: Skinnytaste's Double-Chocolate Chunk Walnut Cookies

Power Snacks

Instead of reaching for a granola bar, Homolka makes her own under-200-calorie snack combinations that offer both fiber (so she feels satiated) and protein (to help stabilize blood sugar). Three to try:

Roasted Edamame with Dried Cherries ¼ cup roasted edamame + 1 Tbsp. dried cherries (160 calories)

Pear and Blue Cheese ½ sliced pear + 1 ounce blue cheese (155 calories)

Avocado Toast 1 slice whole-grain bread, toasted + 2 Tbsp. mashed avocado + Sriracha to taste (120 calories)

Photo: Alison Gootee

If You're a...Short-Order Cook
Stop us if you've heard this one: A picky kid, a gluten-free friend and a vegetarian walk into your house...and you have to feed them all tonight.

Curtis Stone's ingenious solution? Bowl them over with a fully customizable meal.

Get the recipe: Curtis Stone's Quinoa Bowl with Pork Tenderloin and Butternut Squash

Perfecting Your Meal

Advice from Curtis Stone on taking your dish to the next level—and pleasing a variety of palates in the process.

1. Start with a vegan base. When you're cooking to feed a range of tastes, make it easy on yourself by building the meal around a cooked grain, a green salad or a risotto simmered in vegetable broth. Cook side items, including vegetables and a tasty protein, individually to give people the greatest flexibility.

2. Add crunch. Top off your meal with nuts or seeds—peanuts in an Asian recipe, for instance, or pine nuts on a salad. A hit of crunchiness can be so satisfying when it's different from textures in the dish.

3. Don't underestimate the power of a great sauce. A sauce or a dressing not only adds flavor, it also unifies a dish and makes it highly customizable: If you keep the sauce on the side, diners can decide how much or little they want in their meal.

4. Leave one thing raw. Tossing a fresh herb or green into your dish—like the arugula in this quinoa bowl—adds freshness and makes a nice contrast with the cooked ingredients.

5. Finish it off right. A dash of high-quality olive oil or a coarse finishing salt sprinkled on before serving can work wonders. The salt brightens flavors, the oil adds richness and both instantly make even the plainest food more delicious. I keep them on my dining table at every meal.