Thursday, January 20, 2011


We’re are the beginning of 2011 and most of us have staggered away from the orgy of Christmas cooking that overtakes us during the holidays.  Most convenience-centered cooking flies right out of the window as we ambitiously prepare the time-consuming dishes we love.  In our modern age, once the carnage of the holidays is past, the need to get real sends us back to reality.  I’ve always been a big fan of quality short-cut or fast-cooking.  For me it started with The 60-Minute Gourmet cookbooks by Pierre Franey some thirty years ago, but the genre has been extended and polished. Jacques Pepin, Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart and many others have been slicing away at the time it takes to put a meal on the table:  30-minutes, 20-minutes, 15-minutes.  But there are others that are looking to be very selective about what short-cuts they will take while still delivering convenience and good taste, Sara Moulton accomplished this in her recently published Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.  Pam Anderson is the latest to capture my imagination, and her work deserves to be in every one's kitchen.  This review was originally written by my guest reviewer, Jennifer McCord and then I made one of the recipes from the book and decided that we both would weigh in on it.

Cassoulet-Style Italian Sausages and White Beans

We recently looked through PERFECT ONE-DISH DINNERS: All You Need for Easy Get-Togethers (Hougton Miffin Harcourt; $32.00) by Pam Anderson, food columnist for USA Weekend, and the author of a number of bestselling cookbooks. Anderson’s latest has numerous kinds of one-dish recipes in a number of categories, including Stews for All Seasons, Worldly Casseroles, Roasting Pan Complete, Big Summer Salads and Grilled Platters.  The author’s introduction explains how the idea was planted for this book. She was teaching a cooking class and an attendee raised her hand and said "I can make one dish just fine, but when I have to orchestrate the rest of the meal so it all comes out at just the right time, I get flustered." Anderson insists "that a memorable meal can be as simple as bringing out one beautifully complete dish at a time." She shows how to do this on a video that can be found when you search for the book on  Here Anderson puts together a Cassoulet-Style Italian Sausages and White Beans casserole in record-breaking time without breaking a sweat.  In a large roasting pan, she combines Italian sweet sausage links, cherry tomatoes, one chopped onion, sliced garlic cloves, extra-virgin olive oil, a few drops of balsamic vinegar, some dried thyme, bay leaves, salt and freshly ground pepper, which she roasts in the oven. Ten minutes before the dish comes out of the oven, she adds a few cans of white beans and the dish is complete.  You could sprinkle fresh bead crumbs toasted in some butter for a final touch, she suggests, but it’s an extra bit, and not part of the recipe.  Fast, flavorful food doesn’t get any easier than this.

The meal Jennifer and her husband, Murray, choose is called Tamale Pie. “It made me think about the first time I tasted a Tamale Pie,” relates Jennifer. “I was in junior high and my mother was trying out new casserole recipes. This casserole passed the test and we were very fond of the dish for years.  This was the kind of dish that could be taken to church suppers or get-togethers with family and friends such as Campfire Girl end-of-year suppers. Tamale Pie was one of the first dishes that I made for my husband after we were first married.” 

Tamale Pie

“Reading about Tamale Pie in PERFECT ONE-DISH DINNERS brought back such fond memories. It was easy to compile the ingredients and begin cooking. As we added the chili powder, cilantro, pinto beans, green chilies and salsa it looked and smelled so enticing.  We spread the corn meal mush over the top of the cast iron frying pan and sprinkled on the cheese and cilantro. The pan went into the oven that was set on broil.  We snuck peaks and then waited for it to be done.  The dish came out looking golden brown. We waited the recommended five minutes and then dished it up in bowls.  It was the perfect evening supper for a rainy night.  I gave some to a friend of mine who stopped by to take home. She has already called and asked for the recipe.  There is nothing better than a hot, flavorful meal on a Sunday evening before the next week begins.  We plan to make this again soon.”

PERFECT ONE-DISH DINNERS works wonderfully well for family dinners and for company. The six veal shanks called for in Osso Bucco with Dirty Polenta, can add big bucks to the cost of a meal, but Rioja Beef with Chickpeas, Peppers and Saffron or Coq au Vin Blanc with Spring Vegetables, are affordable, easy and deliver a flavorful punch when eating in or serving guests.  Each one-dish meal offers appetizer, salad and dessert options--all of them easy to prepare and comes with a wine recommendation.  This is a book that takes the stress out of producing a multi-course, multi-dish meals worthy of standing ovations.   

Cassoulet-Style Italian Sausages and White Beans

Serves 8

If there’s time, sprinkle buttered bread crumbs over each plated portion for a nice touch. Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Toss 2 cups fresh bread crumbs (made in the food processor from a good European-style loaf) with 2 tablespoons melted butter and a light sprinkling of salt. Add the crumbs to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Stored in the refrigerator and warmed on the stovetop or in the microwave, this dish means instant dinner later in the week.

2½ pounds sweet Italian sausage links
3 pints cherry tomatoes
1 medium-large onion, cut into 1½-inch chunks
4 large garlic cloves, sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cans (about 16 ounces each) white beans, undrained

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix sausages, tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, thyme, bay leaves, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper in a large heavy roasting pan. Set pan in oven and roast until sausages are brown and tomatoes have reduced to a thick sauce, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, stir in beans, and continue to cook until casserole has heated through, about 10 minutes longer. Serve.

Drink An earthy, full-flavored Languedoc or Grenache

Tamale Pie

Serves 6

You can use ground beef or even meat-loaf mix in place of the turkey. Onion lovers, sprinkle the casserole with ½ thinly sliced red onion along with the cheese and cilantro. You can make the tamale pie a day ahead, including topping it with the cornmeal mush. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the pie to prevent a skin from forming. An hour or so before serving, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap, top the pie with cheese, cover with heavy-duty foil, and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle with the cilantro and the red onion, if you like, then follow the broiling and resting instructions in the recipe.

Any leftovers can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days and reheated in the microwave.

1½ pounds ground turkey (94% lean)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chili powder, divided
1½ cans (about 16 ounces) pinto beans, undrained, ½ can mashed
1 can (4.5 ounces) chopped green chiles, undrained
2 cans (2.25 ounces each) sliced black olives, drained
1 jar (16 ounces) store-bought salsa (2 cups)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup (8 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese

Adjust oven rack to middle position and turn on broiler. Heat a large (11- to 12-inch) deep skillet with an ovenproof handle over medium-high heat. Add ground turkey and cook, stirring frequently and seasoning lightly with salt, until it loses its raw color, a couple of minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons chili powder, then beans, chiles, olives, salsa, and ¼ cup cilantro and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 3 cups water, cornmeal, remaining 2 teaspoons chili powder, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, whisking frequently, until mixture thickens to mush. Pour cornmeal mush over hot meat mixture, spreading with a spatula to completely cover. Sprinkle with cheese and remaining ¼ cup cilantro. Broil until cheese melts and mush gets a little crusty, about 5 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Drink: A dry rosé or beer

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