Sunday, April 25, 2010


My First Preserves

Last December a friend brought me 15 ruby red grapefruits for Christmas. It was a lovely present, but what the heck does one do with 15 grapefruits when one is living alone? I'm not even supposed to be eating grapefruits or grapefruit juice any time I take my medication to control my cholesterol (though you can hours afterwards). I had a high old time making delicious grapefruit Screwdrivers, but that paled quickly. I had them halved for breakfast and that grew tired. I had one salad of watercress and grapefruit, but you don't exactly crave having another in close proximity. Well...what about marmalade?

I've never canned or "put up" preserves in my life. I would never have attempted to do this in my New York kitchen. But now I'm in Portland and my kitchen is large and such an undertaking is possible. A futile search for pink grapefruit marmalade in my large cookbook collection revealed nothing that interested me, so I went to the Internet and found a recipe that had been adapted from one by Nigella Lawson. It looked simple enough, but was poorly written. I had to convert grams to ounces, and steps were sketchy at best. But it woefully lacked instructions for sterilizing, jars, inside lids and screw bands--and not having specifics about this important part of making preserves could end up making you sick. That's why I turned to a nifty and detailed book on the subject: CANNING AND PRESERVING FOR DUMMIES, 2nd edition by Amelia Jeanroy and Karen Ward (For Dummies, a branded imprint of Wiley; $19.95; ISBN: 978-047050455). Here is a guide that combines excellent recipes for making jams, jellies and preserves as well as canning vegetables and sauces, with the specifics of equipment, utensils, the steps required to both sterilize jars and lids and the necessary water-bath and pressure canning and proper storage.

I was already committed to making the pink marmalade and the closest I got to a recipe in CANNING AND PRESERVING FOR DUMMIES was being inspired to add ginger to the pink grapefruit after reading a recipe called Lime-Ginger Marmalade. But I learned how to properly sterilize my jars separately from the lids, and how much water to immerse the finished jars into, and for how long, etc. I learned how important skimming the top of the bubbling preserves is to the clarity and appearance of the marmalade. I had my first experience trying to fish hot jars of marmalade out of the boiling water bath without the benefit of jar lifters and discovered how much easier it was to use a wide-mouthed canning funnel. I also discovered that you often need things like pectin to help thicken the fruit juices into jelly. I had no idea that preserves, jams and jellies required so much sugar! My marmalade turned out perfectly because I was able to use the recipe instructions to understand when the fruit had cooked to a "jammy" consistency (in this case without pectin)--thanks to this instructive book.

CANNING AND PRESERVING FOR DUMMIES extends to other methods of storing food. Discover how your freezer can truly become another storage extender by knowing what freezes well and what doesn't, find out all about vacuum sealing machines, and how to pack, label and thaw frozen foods safely. There are recipes for freezing your own vegetables from asparagus to winter squash. Extend the life of your herbs by freezing them so they are ready when you are. There are also chapters on drying fruits, nuts and vegetables. Finally there is a chapter on root cellars and alternative storage spaces, making this a comprehensive resource to preserving the best of the growing season so it is available to you throughout the year.

As we move closer to canning season, I now have a raised bed outside my kitchen door. I'll plant vegetables that I can put up during the summer so that I have them during the winter months when good tomatoes are unavailable, asparagus is out of season, and I'm longing for a Chiogga beet. I can make my own pickles, relishes, chutneys, and sauces, preserve peppers, and those gorgeous Atomic purple and orange carrots that I so admired at the farmer's market last summer. I might even try my hand at canning my own creamed corn or Sauerkraut. In this economy making your own food, especially when you can preserve food at its peak makes $sense.

After running through 12 half-pints (shown in photo), another friend in a burst of enthusiasm, gifted me with an additional 12 pink grapefruits, which took up two afternoons and I have enough for another eighteen jars! I now have 12 new, large pint jars of marmalade on my storage shelves in the basement and with CANNING AND PRESERVING FOR DUMMIES, the confidence I need to add this method of making food to my cooking repertoire.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I've got two stories to tell here. There's a charming and very stylish boutique in the Sellwood neighborhood of SE Portland, not too far from where I live. It's called Ste. Maine, and I discovered it last summer when I moved to Portland. They were having a sale of these beautiful porcelain bowls perfect for soup or pasta. When I walked into the store, two things impressed me. The two very chic young women who own it have amazing taste and they sell books. There's a handsome, round table center-stage in the middle of the shop stacked with cookbooks, coffee table art, fashion and design books. The ladies are friendly in a way that you rarely see in retail these days. I recently received an e-mail announcing they were moving. Worried, I dropped by the store to investigate. Elizabeth quickly assured me they were moving around the corner and that it was a good opportunity for the shop. Then she hauled me over to the book table and put into my hands one of the most attractive, oversized cookbooks I've ever seen. INSALATA'S MEDITERRANEAN TABLE (Laura Parker Studio; $32.00; ISBN: 978-0-615-31453) is a privately published book, which you probably will be able to find in a few stores in San Francisco, but for everyone else, it will probably be easiest to find it at It only took a quick thumbing through its beautiful pages to convince me to buy the book. The author is Heidi Insalata Krahling, the owner/chef of Insalata, a justifably popular restaurant in San Anselmo, in Marin county. The book's visual look is the collaborative vision of the author and the inspired artist/publisher, Laura Parker, whose stunning still life paintings of fruit and vegetables not only illuminate the book, but also hang in the restaurant.

Chef Krahling, influences include legendary San Franciscan-based Joyce Goldstein, owner/chef of Square One (now closed) and Mary Risely, founder, Tante Marie's Cooking School, also in San Francisco, as huge influences on her cooking. She presents a really attractive collection of recipes that represent the entire Mediterranean area from Syria, Morocco, Spain, Italy, and France to Turkey, Greece, Portugal and points beyond. Unlike many collections from restaurant chefs which are unnecessarily complicated and inappropriate for home cooking these recipes are ideal for the home cook.

I wrote to a friend who lives in Mill Valley because of something called a Fattoush Salad, may be the most popular item on the menu. My friend wrote back telling me they have dined at Insalata many times, and that her husband had bought the book. Indeed, she wrote, the Fattoush Salad is one of their favorites and they often make it at home. I decided to try it and let me tell you, I may never make a Caesar salad again after digging into this addictive combination of romaine lettuce, English cucumber, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, thinly sliced red onion, and finely chopped cilantro and mint. To this you add crisply baked bite-sized wedges of pita bread, and a refreshing vinaigrette of two different oils, garlic, squeezed lemon juice, kosher salt, toasted and ground cumin seed and black pepper. The garlic is warmed in oil and the whole thing gets tossed together in a big bowl.

We ate that salad at my house last Thursday. It was so good, I made it again for Friday night's supper, with nothing else other than a glass of wine. When I called the artist to obtain a jpeg of the salad for this review, she told me that if Heidi stops making this salad, there would be a revolt in the restaurant. I believe it. It's that good.

Poring over the recipes in this readable book makes me want to cook and eat. There are so many mouth-watering recipes, such as Lamb Riblets with Za'atar and Cumin Yogurt. A spice rub of harissa powder, papricka, oregano, caraway, cumin, pepper and sugar is dusted over racks of lamb riblets, baked and then grilled on the barbecue and served with Za'atar, a flavorful sauce of spices, parskley, shallot, sumac, thyme, olive oil and other ingredients "for drizzling," and cumin yogurt for serving. What a bright alternative to regular pork ribs. I love beets and the Beets with Tahini Yogurt offers another terrific way to enjoy them. Halibut with Yellow Tomato Vinaigrette can be put together in a few minutes. Grill the fish, ladle the made-in-seconds vinaigrette (with only four ingredients), and serve with a side of Picholine-Olive Salsa Verde. It's an astoundingly simple dish to execute. Cataplana is a Portugese clam, chorizo and tomato saute that uses a few choice ingredients that deliver big flavor benefits. There are more elaborate recipes for company such as the Pork Stew with Tomatillas and Purslane, Tunisian Seven-Vegetable Tagine, or the voluptuous Fettucine with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Corn with a goat cheese butter added for richness and more flavor. Chef Krahling loves grains, so recipes for bulgar, Israeli couscous, fregula, quinoa get star treatment here.

In keeping with the Mediterranean traditions, desserts are simple but nobody will be able to resist the Chocolate Pecan Toffee (which Krahling suggests could be crumbled over ice cream or sprinkled on the Chocolate Budino) , a Pumpkin Roulade could be the center of your next Thanksgiving feast, and there's a fragrant Orange-Almond Olive Oil Cake.

I wallowed in the superb chapter with recipes for condiments in the Mediterranean kitchen such as Turkish Yogurt, a Pear and Ginger Chutney, Honey-Pomengranate Glaze, Preserved Lemons, and so much more. Having any or all of these delicious things on hand will only enhance your creativity. And the Mezze, Tapas and Antipasti chapter will turn you into a master of the small plate. I can't find fresh Taramasalata here in Portland of the same quality as can be found at the International Market on 9th Avenue in New York, so I'm thrilled to have a recipe for this favorite spread for crackers or vegetables.

INSALATA'S MEDITERRANEAN TABLE is a success as a cookbook and an art book on food because Heidi Insalata Krahling and Laura Parker had a vision for it that is completely theirs (which is one of the reasons they chose to publish it themselves). I will hate like hell to stain it when I cook, but I have a feeling it will only enhance the beauty of the book, which is a celebration of rustic, bold, earthy, heavenly and healthy flavors in this highly esteemed part of the world. Krahling's food begs to be made


Fattoush is a refreshing and crisp Middle Eastern bread salad with a bright lemony vinaigrette. At Insalata's, it has become one of the most popular items on the menu since we opened our doors. On any given day you can walk through the dining room and see dozens of people enjoying the addictive combination of cucumber and mint, Kalamata olives and sheep's milk .feta cheese. People crave this salad and are so loyal to it that I keep it on the menu year round. The ingredients are easy to find and assembling the dish is quite simple. The addition of poached or grilled chicken makes for a perfect lunch or a light supper.

Serves 6 as a side dish or 3 as a light lunch

2 pita breads


1/3 cup blended oil (2/3 parts canola, safflower, grapeseed or vegetable oil with 1/3 part extra virgin olive oil)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


3 hearts of romaine, torn roughly by hand (about six cups)
3/4 cup crumbled sheep's milk feta cheese
3/4 cup vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup peeled, seeded and diced English cucumber
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/3 cup finely chopped mint

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

To make the pita chips: Trim the edges of the pita breads, keeping a circle shape; split horizontally into two halves. Cut each half into 6 triangles; arrange on a baking sheet. toast in the oven until golden, dried and crispy, about 12 minutes; let cool. Break he chips into large pieces.

To make the vinaigrette: In a small skillet, over low heat, gently warm the Blended Oil and garlic until fragrant. (This is an extra step but well worth it if you have time.) In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil and garlic mixture, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, cumin and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To serve: In a large bowl, combine the romaine hearts, pita chips, feta, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives, red onion, cilantro, mint, and about 3/4 cup of the vinaigrette, toss well, adding more vinaigrette if needed to coat the leaves. Divide the salad among 3 or 6 chilled salad plates. Serve immediately.

If you are in Marin County, you can visit Insalata's in San Anselmo, California. For more details, visit their website at

You can view more of Laura Parker's superb work at

I'm grateful to Elizabeth at Ste. Maine in Portland for bringing INSALATA'S MEDITERRANEAN TABLE to my attention. The store is moving this month right around the corner on Milwaukee Avenue (next to Starrs Antiques). Please stop by to view the gorgeous home furnishings, exquisite tabletop items, handsome accent boxes, their impressive book display, and so much more.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


In 2009 Lake Isle Press published RAISING THE SALAD BAR by Catherine Walthers ($19.95; ISBN: 978-1-891105-33-3). I mention this right at the beginning because in 2010, the publisher has asked me to handle PR duties for Ms. Walthers next book and sent RAISING THE SALAD BAR to me as an introduction to Ms. Walthers' work. I don't review books I work on here at stovetopreadings, so I'm delighted to write about this very special cookbook.

Catherine Walthers is a journalist and food writer who has spent more than fifteen years as a private chef and cooking instructor in the Boston area and on Martha's Vineyard. I don't encounter books that focus on salad very often and when checking to see what is currently available at Amazon. com, I noticed several salad collections from food magazines, Williams-Sonoma, Betty Crocker and other brands. When I opened RAISING THE SALAD BAR, I knew immediately that I was holding a very special collection. First of all, this trade paperback original is gorgeous with it's lovely photographs by Alison Shaw, and is well designed with French flaps and printed on heavy stock. It lays flat on the counter as you cook. And then there are the recipes.

One of the first to catch my eye was Mexican Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad, which I made right away. This is a stellar salad, with roasted cubed sweet potato nicely spiced with coriander, cumin, chili powder and salt It's mixed with black beans, corn kernels, sliced scallions and chopped cilantro and tossed with a superbly flavorful emulsion of chipotle chile (in adobo), garlic, Thai sweet chile sauce, lime juice and canola oil. The dressing had great balance. Just when you think its subtle spiciness might bloom into real heat, that elusive rush quickly dissipated. I served it with simply grilled sweet Italian sausages for a memorable week night meal. The leftovers made a perfect and complete lunch the next. It's a gorgeous-looking salad to bring to the table.

Organized by categories, RAISING THE SALAD BAR does just that. There are salads that pair leafy greens with fruit, such as Baby Spinach and Strawberry Salad or Arugula and Avocado Salad with Shaved Parmesan. There's an extensive chapter on salads featuring chicken, my favorite being Provencal Chicken Salad with Roasted Peppers and Artichokes. There's a main course chapter with meat, including Spicy Thai Steak with Napa Cabbage Salad; a seafood grouping where the Seared Scallops with Watercress and Warm Orange Dressing was a standout. Walthers has chapters featuring potatoes, and a pasta chapter, which not my favorite salad category. However, the Japanese Noodle Salad with Ginger-Soy Vinaigrette is very appealing (because like all the pasta salads here, you dress it just before you serve it). Beans figure prominently in a chapter called Big Beautiful Bean Salads. A Bountiful Italian Bean Salad is a vibrant combination of haricot verts, wax beans, chickpeas and kidney beans brought together with a lemon-lime dressing. And I can't wait to make the Lentil Salad with Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette.

I think the chapter devoted to good grains is what makes RAISING THE SALAD BAR most special. Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus Dressing, Thai Quinoa Salad, Greek Salad with Farro, and Bulgar Salad with Apricot, Radicchio and Parsley, make the most of these lesser known but important grains. Walthers presents appealing salads with wild and long grain rice. I wish there were recipes featuring Italian and/or Spanish short grain rice, as they are particularly adaptable for salad treatment. The book concludes with crunchy slaws and garden vegetable salads along with a chapter on dressings.

Each chapter includes a 101 list of tips and techniques to ensure the best possible results from washing and properly drying lettuces, when to add dressing, and what temperature to serve a salad, to avoiding refrigerating tomatoes, the best way to toss a salad, and other useful information.

RAISING THE SALAD BAR also features familiar salads we all know and love: Greek Salad, Romaine and Cucumber Caesar Salad, Curried Chicken Salad, Avocados Stuffed with Shrimp Salad, and Seared Tuna Salad Nicoise. As I was reading the book, it made me think of creative ways to use leftovers such as roast chicken, a recent Easter ham, and some grilled marinated flank steak. I purchased some salmon at my local market today. Flipping through the book while writing this inspired me to use it in a Seared Salmon with Baby Greens and Mango Salsa Vinaigrette. This marvelous book now fills a empty gap in my cookbook library.

Mexican Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad

"One of our frequent outdoor vacation destinations is Bethel, Maine, home of Sunday River Ski Resort and one of our favorite eating spots: Cafe DiCocco. The cafes'
ever-changing breakfast and lunch menu can include fresh peach scones, homemade bagels, vegetable frittatas, soups and a variety of salads, all made with fresh ingredients by a very creative chef/owner, Cathi Di Cocco. One cafe favorite is this combo of roasted sweet potatoes, corn and black beans with a unique chipotle-sweet chile dressing." Serves 6-8

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Kernels from 3 to 4 ears of fresh corn, or 2 cups frozen kernels
2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained (canned is fine)
3 or 4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Chipotle-Chile Dressing

1 chipotle chile (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chile sauce (such as Maesri brand)
1/2 cup canola oil

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato chunks with the oil to lightly coat them. Sprinkle with coriander, cumin, chile powder and salt and toss again. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until they are golden and at the edges and just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile microwave the corn in a small amount of water for 3 to 5 minutes, or steam for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain excess water. In a large serving bowl, combine the corn and black beans.

2. To make the dressing, in a blender or food processor, place the chipotle chile, garlic, and sweet chile sauce. Process until mixture is smooth. Ad the lime juice and process again. With the machine running slowly add the canola oil, and process until it is emulsified.

3. When the sweet potatoes are done, let cool slightly and add them to the corn and beans. Add scallions and cilantro; gently toss. Pour enough dressing over the salad to just moisten the ingredients and toss again.

Catherine Walthers

Monday, April 12, 2010


When I first heard about Jamie Oliver's new reality TV show which attempts to get parents, teachers and school administrators to re-think about the food served in school cafeterias in the US, my first thought was he's wrong guy for the job. How the heck are Americans going react to a Brit telling them the foods their children are being served in schools are unhealthy and making them sick? Then all sorts of other paranoid questions began to nag at me. Why is this show on ABC-TV in prime time? Then seeing that Ryan Seacrest's production company is listed as the producer. Worse, they were going to do this at a school in a West Virginia town that has the highest rate of obesity in the country. I thought, wrong guy for the message, wrong network, wrong executive producer--wrong, wrong, wrong.

And I took that attitude to the first episode. I didn't hate Jamie Oliver--in fact I respect him enormously. He was able to instigate some big changes in a similar program in British schools and that is excellent. But I disliked that town. I disliked those ladies in the school cafeteria. They may have known the kid's names, but what a tough and unyielding bunch of biddies they were. I was turned off by the superintendent in charge of administering those depressing trays of fast food gruel stuffed into the mouths of young kids. About the only thing I could feel any empathy with was Jamie and the school principal, who genuinely seemed to be the only adult in that town who cared about his charges.

But I stuck with it. The very idea that kids get pizza, french fries, and chicken McNuggets for lunch with chocolate milk is appalling to me. How the hell did we fall apart so badly that a school district would permit this junk to be served to our kids? Some people have to seriously explaining to do. Is this the lesson from school tax cuts? Our kids are poisoned at an early age. I'm not a parent. I had no idea this is what kids are eating in cafeterias all over the country. Jamie couldn't get kids in this community to eat a vegetable--they simply tossed it in the garbage. The resistance by the manager of the cafeteria was criminal. When Jamie found out they don't give children a knife and fork with their lunches and then challenged him to provide proof that British school children are given knives and forks, I was convinced that here was a classic example of bureaucracy in its worse form. And how sad it was to watch young kids utterly fail at identifying vegetables of any sort. I can understand not knowing what an eggplant or a cauliflower looks like. But how can one explain their failure to identify a simple potato, tomato or cucumber?

It was very instructive for Jamie's dramatic presentation to the parents of the kids at that school. Parents are ignorant of the problems themselves. Most of them have been taught nothing about good nutrition. Most of them don't cook real meals--everything is about convenience. Get it on the table and make it snappy. This is the terrible lesson and aftermath of microwave ovens, packaged convenience foods and take-out bars, and TV ads that extol the virtues of the Pop Tart as a legitimate substitute for a good breakfast. McDonald's has done such a great job of marketing Chicken McNuggets, that anything small, fried and containing a smidgen of chicken, chicken parts, chicken byproducts, is now referred to as a Chicken McNugget. With bones, fat, skin, gristle, all ground up together, we are now serving our kids, dog and cat food. Shame on all of us.

The good news is those mothers were shocked and seemed very upset once they had the facts in hand. Once the teacher saw her students couldn't identify a single vegetable, she sprung into action, bringing a huge range of fresh vegetables to school for her class to touch and discover for the first time.

One of the TV critics wanted to know why the show's early episodes are not dealing with the purveyors who sell this junk to school districts. Perhaps Jamie and his crew feared their legal wrath. You don't need to have it spelled out. I would urge all school administrations to seriously review the companies they are doing business with. Perhaps it would be better to have someone locally deal with food issues such as quality and ordering of foods that are consumed at schools. Take a closer look at the food pyramid, which the government has created (at great expense of our tax $--not that I have much faith in it, but it is a start) so that kids can eat a good lunch in school instead of junk food. Have food taught in schools. Involve parents more. Revive the home economics class.

I haven't been in school in many, many years. In the 50s and 60s, schools didn't have dispensing machines with candy and soda easily available. Soda was never on the menu of any school I ever attended. And while cafeteria food is at best edible, never inspiring, it is to be preferred over junk food, especially if made with some care and some nutritional goals in mind. The ladies who cook and serve that junk in this school care deeply about these kids. But they are as ignorant as the students, the parents and the school administrators.

Alice Waters should be given some credit for this. When her daughter first started going to school, Alice was very upset at the food her daughter's school served. How could she advocate for that school as the owner of one of the most respected and visible restaurants in America, when they served such bad food to her daughter. Alice swung into motion and has hounded the media for years. Some of the press has presented her misgivings--but they were preaching to the choir. Yet today, Alice inspired Michelle Obama to create the White House roof garden.

The resistance to Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters, and others courageous enough to continue this battle will continue. Money interests, political power, and mistrust, will continue to dog the mission of making sure our kids get the best possible food in schools. So let's hear it for Jamie Oliver, for having the star power, the guts, the ability to make himself look ridiculous in the service of something so important, the tenacity to see it through, and the heroism and commitment to teaching us all that good, healthy food is essential and necessary to our well being and should sustain us throughout our lives.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Back in the not so distant and formative years of the Food Network, my favorite show was COOKING LIVE with Sara Moulton. Working alone or sometimes with a guest, Sara taught early viewers how to cook. She didn't just demonstrate the steps in a recipe. She talked about why things worked together, and provided plenty of smart tips and techniques that encouraged them to get into the kitchen and not just rely on a cookbook. She answered all those nagging questions that new cooks always have about roasting, braising, frying, sauteeing, preping vegetables, baking a cake or muffins, or cookies and rolling out a pie dough--Sara showed us how to do it all. This was in the pre-celebrity TV chef days. Accessible, friendly with a beaming smile and the encouraging manner of a born teacher, Sara quickly became one of the network's most admired stars. As a publicist with cookbooks to promote, I often booked my clients on her show and I can tell you Sara is exactly the person you see on TV. We don't get to see as much of her in front of the cameras these days (though she pops up on PBS often enough). The good news is that she's produced her fourth cookbook, SARA MOULTON'S EVERYDAY FAMILY DINNERS (Simon and Schuster; $35.00; ISBN: 978-1-4391-0251-0) and in every way, I think it is absolutely her best. Turn to the back cover of the book. There are plenty of admiring quotes from the likes of Marcus Samuelsson, Rick Bayless, Pam Anderson, and Isaac Mizrahi. Everyone likes Sara.

To combat cooking fatigue with the same old dinners over and over again, Sara was determined to rethink the family dinner to get the most important family meal of the day out of its rut. This "has resulted in several strategies," she writes in the Introduction of SARA MOULTON'S EVERYDAY FAMILY DINNERS. "The chapter called "Appetizers for Diner" formalizes my frequent preference for a meal's starters to its "main course. "Two for One" spells out how to make a great new meal with leftovers from the night before simply by making sure that there will be leftovers. In "Five-Ingredient Mains" the challenge was to come up with recipes that are as delicious as they are quick to make." There's a chapter on whole grains, a vegetarian chapter (with icons for easy identification), and most of the recipes contain suggested variations on "how to make it lighter, how to make it vegetarian, what to exchange for ingredients you hate or simply can't find in your hometown. But I'm hoping to do more than provide you with options," Sara states. "I'd like to spark your creativity. Real cooks don't need a recipe. They can look at their ingredients, consider their options and make a meal."

I only had to go to page 12 to find a recipe for a salad dressing that I had been seeking for years. Creamy Garlic Dressing Two Ways: Rich and Slim powerfully reminded me of a similar dressing that I enjoyed on cold, poached leeks at an Alsatian restaurant (now sadly closed) near my former home in Manhattan. Sara presents it in a full-fat version with sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, kosher slat, black pepper, a garlic clove, a small amount of heavy cream (or with yogurt, a lower-fat alternative) and olive oil. I've made it at least a half dozen times. I use the garlic version for meats and omit the garlic for vegetables. This is a versatile and delicious dressing, perfect for warm or cold artichokes, asparagus, those well-remembered poached leeks, cold roasted beets and so many other vegetables, salads, cold chicken, beef, pork and fish. Sometimes I make it with the yogurt too. It is equally delicious.

Here's the innovation of SARA MOULTON'S EVERYDAY FAMILY DINNERS that most captured my attention. Sara done away (almost entirely) with "mise en place," or the concept that all ingredients should be prepped and in front of you before you begin to cook. She still advises in the interest of time to have all the ingredients out of refrigerator and cupboard to be within easy reach when you need them. She has written the steps into each recipe, an interesting and practical departure from conventionally written recipes. You might argue that Joy of Cooking does the something similar, but the thing I've resisted about this classic cookbook all these years is its lack of an ingredients list at the top of the recipe (essential to me).

I'm a sucker for easy desserts that look like you made a lot of effort. The Butterscotch Pudding Cake really works for me. "When it's baked," Sara reveals, "it separates into a layer of cake and a layer of hot, rich butterscotch pudding sauce. It's a snap to make, and you can finish it off with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream." That's all I needed to read and ran to the kitchen. It's a winner. Spring Soup with Bread Dumplings is a great one-pot meal combining chicken stock and asparagus, mushrooms, fava beans (or frozen limas if fava beans are not available), leeks and peas, and given some light heft with the inspired addition of dumplings made with fresh bread crumbs, eggs, parmesan cheese and parsley. This elevated minestrone is sure to put anyone into a good seasonal mood.

There are so many good ideas in SARA MOULTON'S EVERYDAY FAMILY DINNERS. Try the egg chapter, with lots of egg dishes you've never heard of, as well as some interesting riffs on classics, such as Toad-in-the-Hole Italiano. I'm eating more sandwiches for dinner these days and Sara's take on the genre is right in tune with this concept. Southwestern Caesar Shrimp Sandwiches and "Fried" Catfish BLTS are two interesting and different choices. The main course salad is also showing up more frequently on my dinner table. I went a tad upscale one night with the Seared Scallops and Butter Lettuce Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette, and then found myself equally happy with the Bean and Kielbasa Salad with Creamy Chipotle Dressing.

Sara has provided dinner for company, dinner for people on the run, dinner for the family (and for surprise drop-in guests) and dinner for the family to relax and enjoy each other's company. Here's comfort, convenience and tasty food all wrapped up in one source you'll want to go back to again and again.
Spring Soup with Bread Dumplings

First things first: this is a spring soup. It's meant to be made when asparagus and fava beans are in season. Just because you can find these items in the supermarket in November, when they have been flown in from the other half of the world, doesn't mean you should give them a second thought. Eat this soup when our half of the planet is awakening from its long winter nap and you'll feel renewed, too.

That said, when I was finishing preparing it, I worried that this light little soup might not be substantial enough to satisfy The Husband. Poring over the Italian cookbooks in my library, I came across several recipes for "bread dumplings." Now, I have never met a dumpling I didn't like, from gnocchi to pierogi, but these were news to me. Most dumplings require some sort of batter and a bit of prep time. I couldn't believe you could get away with using bread as the batter. Turns out that bread dumplings are a snap to make and, even better, when I added them to the soup, they absorbed a ton of flavor from the broth and puffed up like little balloons. The Husband was happy.

Makes about 8 cups (without dumplings), 4 servings*Hands-on time: 35 minutes*Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Bread Dumplings (recipe follows)
1/2 pound shelled fresh fava beans or shelled fresh lima beans,
or 1 2/3 cup thawed frozen limas or favas or a combo
3 leeks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups homemade chicken stock (or canned broth)
1/2 pound asparagus
1/2 pound small white mushrooms
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup shelled fresh or thawed frozen green peas

1. Prepare the Bread Dumplings (see recipe below)

2. If using fava beans, bring 1 quart salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the shelled fava beans and blanch for 1 minute; immediately transfer them with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and water to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, gently peel the skins from the beans.

3. Trim off and discard the green parts of the leeks, leaving about 5 inches. Cut the white parts in half lengthwise and then into 1-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 cups); rinse them well and pat them dry.

4. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the leeks and cook for 5 minutes, or until they have softened.

5. Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan. Trim the asparagus. Peel the bottom of the stems if the steam are thicker than 1/3 inch; slice the asparagus cross-wise into 1-inch pieces (about 1 1/3 cups). Clean, trim, and quarter the mushrooms (about 2 2/3 cups). Add the asparagus and mushrooms to the leeks and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until almost tender. Microplane the grated cheese (about 1 1/3 cups) or grate on the fine side of a box grater (about 2/3 cup).

6. Add the leek mixture to the chicken stock along with the favas and peas. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low; add the dumplings and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are cooked through. Stir in the cheese and serve.

Bread Dumplings

Beat 2 large eggs in a medium bowl until frothy. Stir in 2 cups fresh white or whole wheat bread crumbs, 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 1/3 cups Microplane-grated or 2/3 cups grated on the fine side of a box grater), and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves. Roll into 12 balls. Cook in the soup as directed above.


This is my adaptation of a dressing for grilled quail that I first encountered in Gourmet magazine. Generally, I steer clear of creamy dressings, because of the extra calories they pack, but this one is so delicious that I couldn't leave it alone. Even so, I present it to you here in full-fat and lighter versions. The lower-fat alternative swaps out the cream for yogurt, which subtracts calories, adds tang, and is still pretty creamy.

Makes about 2/3 cup*Hands-on time: 10 minutes*Total preparation time: 10 minutes

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup heavy cream or plain-low-fat or full-fat Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl until the salt has dissolved. Press the garlic (about 1 teaspoon) into the mixture. Gradually whisk in the cream and then the olive oil. Store in the refrigerator for a day or two.