In her newest cookbook, the two-time Golden Globe winning actress and TV personality shares some of her family's most treasured recipes.
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Valerie's Home Cooking
Credit: Courtesy of Time Inc. Books

Valerie's Home Cooking, now available at bookstores everywhere

Whether it's just Tom and myself or our entire family, dinner is a special time for me. It's more about coming together to share conversation than it is about consuming a meal. The best way to get everyone to the table on time is to let the aroma of a delicious meal serve as its own calling card. That's how it was when I was a child: Dinnertime meant family time—kids around the table, my dad at the head, but my mother in charge.

We might be playing outside and as it started to get dark, we would catch a savory hint in the air of something delicious happening in our kitchen. It was a subtle tap on the shoulder, a gentle whisper in our ear. Dinnertime. And we would run home, knowing Mom would be just about ready for everyone to sit down. In Delaware, where we lived until I was 9, we ate around a large dining room table. After moving to California, we gathered in our larger kitchen, reserving the dining room for special occasions.

For meals with both family and company, my mom relied on a greatest hits lineup of roasted chicken, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and risotto, though she also branched out enough to fill a box with 3x5 recipe cards. In terms of quality and consistency, she set a high bar, as did so many women of her generation who saw their job as staying home to cook, clean the house, and raise the family. When I set out on my own, I worked full time and had a lot of catching up to do in the kitchen. During my first marriage, my husband had very little interest in food. His music provided all the nourishment he needed. Today, my life is different. Tom loves food, and also loves to cook. We schedule date nights in the kitchen where we share chef duties. We put some music on, open a bottle of wine—my idea of the perfect date.

I have carefully engineered the selections in this chapter to get everyone in your family to the dinner table, too. The recipes I’ve chosen represent an array of options from quick and easy weeknight meals to soups and pastas and time-savers you make in a slow cooker, along with favorites of mine for special occasions. As you’ll see from the marinated flatiron steak, my mom’s risotto, a quick and simple rotisserie chicken gumbo (there will be a chilly night and you’ll thank me), my Aunt Norma’s sauerkraut and pork, and a spicy arrabiata penne that is literally a three-times-a-week go-to in my house, I’ve shared dishes that are practical and personal. I took dozens of recipe cards from my own files, arranged them across my dining room table, and gradually narrowed them down to be of the most use to you across a variety of needs.

These dishes represent many years of experience in the kitchen. My evolution from a girl who thought her first slice of New York pizza was the ultimate in fine dining to being able to confidently whip up a mouth-watering pasta alla vongole on short notice has taken decades. And I’m still learning. It takes time to acquire the experience of my mom and the women of her generation. That sort of intuitive knowledge and expertise does not happen overnight. However, that’s the beauty of the recipes in this chapter. They enable us to take advantage of the past and put our own stamp on the present.

Now, what’s for dinner?

Try the recipes:

Slow Cooker Pasta Bake

Slow Cooker Pasta Bake
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Hamburger Helpa

Hamburger Helpa
Credit: Greg DuPree

Excerpt and recipes reprinted with permission from Oxmoore House, an imprint of Time Inc. Books.