Chapter One: Stock Up! With a Better-than-Basics Homemade Pantry
This first chapter is very special to me. It’s been specifically constructed to help busy people to fulfill their desire to provide wholesome, delicious foods for themselves and their favorite people, easily and consistently, even with a hectic weekday agenda. Actually, it’s usually when we’re the busiest that we feel the need to reconnect and reaffirm our priorities, embracing the comforts of family and home. So, in this first chapter, you’ll learn how to set up your kitchen to, at the drop of a hat, fortify your home with luscious tastes, soothing textures and wonderful aromas.
You can use an occasional “down-day” (or the closest you get to that) to make a few different dry mixes for things like cornbread and corn muffins, tender biscuits and scones, and one that makes everything from buttermilk pancakes to the most tender and delicious cupcakes and layer cakes. You can make spice blends to quickly perk up grilled or roasted chicken, steaks, shrimp, fish and even cookies and pastries. Or, cook up a rich, robust homemade barbecue sauce that’s good enough to use as a table condiment, or a variety of stocks to be used later, to enrich your rice, bathe your stews or as the base for your soups.
My hope is that the recipes in this chapter will enable you to take away more creative ownership from the act of cooking and baking.
Chapter Two: Now That’s Breakfast!
In this chapter you’ll find lots of ways to help you (and yours) to start each day in an extra satisfying and self-fortifying way. Since most weekday mornings are frenetic and it’s almost impossible to get people to gather around a table, I’ve provided an assortment of muffins and scones, since they all stay in great condition for several days, when wrapped securely in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature. And, although, in many recipes, it’s easiest to use one of the mixes in Chapter One, every recipe also lists the ingredients needed to make each recipe without a mix. In several of the hot recipes, you’ll notice that I give ingredients for a single serving, which is unusual in cookbooks featuring “family food.” I thought that, rather than ask you to scale down a recipe, I wanted to give you a way to quickly put something hot and great tasting on the table, just for yourself or for your family members, as they traipse into the kitchen. Having said this, these recipes also multiply perfectly, so you can just scale the ingredients up, as you wish. I truly love the recipes in this breakfast chapter. I hope you find some new favorites that will become trusted morning traditions.
Chapter Three: More Than a Mouthful – Great Food with Cocktails
As a cooking teacher, I’ve never had a student (regardless of their level culinary expertise) who wasn’t anxious to learn a great new recipe to serve with cocktails, before dinner. In this chapter I’ve featured dishes that are both boldly flavorful and enticing to look at.
When you’re deciding on “starters,” remember that these are the first scents, sights, tastes, and textures that your guests will experience in your home. Think aroma first, since that’s what greets people upon entering. Having said this, you can always choose to serve something great tasting that requires no cooking at all (like a gorgeous platter filled with halved chewy dates, stuffed with creamy cheese and wrapped in prosciutto). Under these circumstances, however, I’ll almost always prepare a basket full of crisp slices of freshly broiled garlic toasts, since their aroma promise to make even a stoic swoon. Regardless, I hope you’ll approve of the following assortment of dishes that run the gamut from being piping hot and crisp, to chilled, smooth, and spicy. They all continue to make me and mine very happy.
Chapter Four: Substantial & Satisfying Salads
In this chapter, you’ll find a vast array of savory main-dish salads, featuring beef, chicken, fish, sautéed vegetables, fruits, nuts and cheese. And, because I know that it’s so easy to get into a real rut when it comes to serving the same old vinaigrette every night, I’ve also provided lots of really delicious salad dressings, to help bring more diversity to your salad. These dressings can all be made ahead and kept refrigerated, so you’ll have one less thing to think about at the end of a hard day.
When serving hearty salads as a main dish, all that’s needed to complete the picture is a loaf of great bread or a basket full of fresh biscuits. And, because the preparation of several of these salads is done in stages, do take advantage of the all the steps that can be done in advance.
Chapter Five: Hearty & Robust Main Dish Soups, Stews & Pasta
The comfort provided in this chapter might not always be instantly attained, but I can promise you that the recipes are worth any effort that’s required. Having said that, I think you’ll be surprised when you see that some of the stew and soups here don’t require lengthy simmering. Depending on the ingredients involved, you can have a saucy, soothing simmered dinner on the table in a matter of minutes. And if you take advantage of my timing strategy, provided at the end of each recipe, you’ll be able to get that much more done, without the last minute frenzy associated with weeknight meals.
The pasta recipes are hearty yet (with the exception of one) are totally vegetable based, making them a great choice when serving vegetarians or those who are kosher. And, although most of the soups are on the large side, it’s for good reason. Since soup freezes so perfectly, choosing to “cook big and freeze” helps the cook maximize their overall “take” from time spent in the kitchen. Then, on days when you’re tired or when time feels nonexistent, a truly wonderful homemade dinner is just around the corner. Whether your meal features soup, stew or pasta, all that’s needed is a crisp salad and a great piece of bread to complete the picture, perfectly.
Chapter Six: It’s No Big Deal – Great Grilled, Roasted & Pan-Fried Meat, Poultry & Fish
If you’re looking to quickly fill your home with aromas that will get your family and friends to the table in a hurry, this is certainly a great chapter for you! Just to name a few of the choices, there’s a sizzling platter of steak, chicken or shrimp fajitas, or an enticing pile of succulent baby back ribs, or broiled swordfish steaks dressed in bubbling browned butter, flecked with tender nuggets of candied garlic, strips of roasted peppers and piquant capers. There’s a huge prime rib roast, worthy of the most special gatherings and a gorgeous pair of scampi-scented, stuffed and roasted lobsters, which are perfect for a romantic evening, for just the two of you. There’s detailed information on how to build and maintain heat in a charcoal grill, and a great indoor pan searing-oven roasting method for chops and butterflied poultry that yields fabulous results. This way, summer-fun food is always do-able no matter what the season. Regardless of which method you use, I trust that the food in this chapter will help you all to come to the table, happily.
Chapter Seven: Great Things on the Side Makes a Meal Feel Big & Abundant
To me, a great meal is like an emotionally-moving painting. Whether on canvas or on the family table, every component is strategically placed to work as an ensemble, to create a good feeling and to hopefully satisfy those present. So, side dishes are every bit as important as the entrée since here is where a cook has the opportunity to transform a shared meal experience into a lush scene that’s truly memorable.
The side dishes featured in this chapter are so satisfying that you might even to get a child who claims to hate vegetables, to happily partake. There’s long, whimsical spaghetti-like strands of zucchini, sautéed fresh carrots and spinach that’s perfectly punctuated with sautéed garlic, several rice pilafs, and a creamy mashed potato casserole that’s loaded with chives, grated parmesan cheese and garlic-laced cream. There are fried strips of sweet potatoes, crisp hashed browns that are as great with dinner as they are with breakfast, and a corn pudding that (if you’re like me or mine) you’ll find yourself dreaming about, long after the meal ends. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a crisp chive-laced Yorkshire pudding, to serve with an elegant rib roast.
Chapter 8: Make a Real Impact – Make Homemade Bread, Biscuits, and More
Of all the things I do (and teach) in the kitchen, making homemade bread definitely feels the most rewarding. If you’ve always thought that perfect bread had to be made by professionals, think again. Actually, when many of my cooking students first come to me, they’ve never made bread and now they do it regularly, and find joy in the entire process. If you love to cook and would like to try your hand at bread-making, I hope you’ll trust the breads in this chapter to take where you’d like to go. Whether you love bread that’s soft and perfectly tender or impeccably crusty on the outside and chewy within, the breads I’ve provided in this chapter, cover quite a lot of territory.
I think you’ll be surprised at how few tools are needed to make beautiful plump loaves like country white bread, or a six-strand braided raisin challah that’s as impressive to look at as it is delectable to eat. Other artisan breads that will make you proud and eager to share are the voluptuous pane di casa, a whimsical fougasse and a savory batch of stuffed onion ficelles. You’ll also learn to make delicious corn muffins, soothing biscuits and even a tender stack of homemade flour tortillas to accompany a sizzling platter of fajitas.
Judging from the reactions of my family, friends and students, I feel sure that the breads featured on the following pages, will make you and yours very happy.
Chapter Nine: Please, No Ditsy Desserts!
Personally, I’ve never been attracted to tiny, jewel-like confections. I’m much more enticed by a big platter of full sized gorgeous desserts. So, if you’re like me, I think you’ll find what you need in this chapter that’s chock full of voluptuous layer cakes and cupcakes, both stemming from the pancake mix, in Chapter One. There are big fat cookies, chubby filled pastries, and even Mixed Nut Butter-Crunch toffee, which I call “the sexiest candy alive.” If you’re after a dessert that’s as whimsical (and lifelike) as it is delicious, try making a batch of long, crisp Cigar Cookies, complete with a great tasting cinnamon or cocoa ash mixture, for dipping. Sometimes I’ll pass them around the table cradled in an opened humidor! There’s also a slab of moist, yummy brownies, studded with chocolate chips and swirled with sweetened cream cheese, and a really easy and extra creamy parfait, made from banana-infused mascarpone cheese, layered with crushed chocolate wafer cookies and fresh strawberries. In addition to all of this, there’s also a fabulous recipe for homemade lavender-scented ice cream, served with buttered, sugared and broiled fresh figs. And, speaking of ice cream, wouldn’t you love to be able to enjoy the authentic taste and varied textures in a luscious chocolate-covered Tartufo, without having to go to the neighborhood Italian restaurant? If so, you’ve come to the right place.