The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 8, 2001 · Page 54
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 54

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 8, 2001
Page 54
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Forget recipes. Take control. You need only two things for success in the kitchen: confidence and improvisation. They'll get dinner on the table tonight — and tomorrow night. D ESPITE OUR souped- up Idtchens and sagging cookbook shelves, many Americans have trouble getting dinner on the table. I think I know why. Not too many years ago, I was food editor of a national magazine for chefs and restam-ateui's. By day, I'd write inspii-ing copy telling food professionals what they should sei-ve guests. I'd get home from work at 6:30 p.m. to two hungry young daughters and a husband en route. Frantic, I'd open the refiiger- ator door and stai'e. Food was in there, but I didn't know how to turn it into a quick meal. Sometimes, I'd remember to tell the woman who took care of our kids to stick a chicken in the oven. Usually, my first thought of dinner was when I walked in the door. More frequently than we could afford, we'd grab the kids and go out to eat. I was frustrated! It wasn't that I couldn't cook. My aunts, grandmother and mother — fine Southern cooks — had taught me how to fry chicken. make pot roast, \^p up potato salad and bake biscuits without ever cracking a book. But that didn't work for me. Unlike my mother, I didn't have all day to simmer pot roast or an hour to fi'y chicken. I had 30 minutes, max — 20 minutes was better—to get a delicious, nutiitious dinner on the table. I realized I needed a new way to cook. I set out to identify techniques I could internalize and formulas I could memorize. I focused on what would work best in limited time, using the new ingredients of the past two decades. Along the way, I found "recipes" actually wei'e a hindrance to weeknight cooking. The last thing I felt like doing at 6:30 p.m. was to start a recipe, only to discover I was missing several ingredi- A second helping of advice • FOOD NOWORK CHEF MARIO BAIAU ON QUICK COOKING Maiio Batali is host of Mario Eats Italy mid Malta Mario on cable's pop- vlar Food Network. On a recent Saturday afternoon, he baked chocolate chip cookies mth his sons, then talked vMi USA WEEKEND Magazine's Pam Anderson before another hot night at his Manhattan restaurant, Babbo. Q: What's your advice to people who want to cook but say they don't have time? I think it's more of a cleaning issue 8 USA WEEKEND • April 6-8,2001 than a cooking issue. Clean up as you go. A pan is easier to clean when it's wann, anyway. It doesn't take any time at all to do a good spaghetti dish. You don't even have to shop. For spaghetti with aglio olio pepperocini, always have cheese, bread crumbs and chilis in the house. I despise boneless chicken breast. But they have boneless chicken thighs now. It takes five minutes to marinate them, 10 minutes to cook, and they are excellent. I love to make a warm salad. Take chicken whatever, throw them in with a little teriyaki, cook them till just moist, slice them and thi'ow them on top of the salad. You got a one-plate meal. Q: Whafs your fastest supper dish? I can make about anything in 25 minutes. One of my favorites is to go to the fancy grocery store and pick up the prepared ingredients for choucroute. Although it's not anything like the Alsatian classic, you get some bratwurst, you get some smoked pork chops, duck confit and sauerkraut, put it all in the oven for a half-hour with a bottle of beer, and it's good eating. Q: If you could teach the world to make one dish, what would it be? Probably linguine with clams. Q: Fresh clams or canned clams? Only with fresh clams! Even if you are as fai' avray from the ocean as you can be, in the middle of Missouri, clams ship well. One of the things Americans need to learn is that there ai-e suppli- Cover photograph by Rob Kinmonth for USA WEEKEND; illustration by Michael DInges for USA WEEKEND ents. But if I learned the cooking technique, I could create my own "recipes" with whatever ingi'edients were on hand. Over time, my repertoire gi-ew. I quickly learned that a little olive oil, garlic and canned crushed tomatoes became a flavorful tomato sauce (fai- superior to and cheaper than the jarred stuff) faster than it took to bring pasta water to a boil. By remembei-ing the core ingredients and method ("Heat garlic and oil, cookfw tioo; add canned tomatoes, simmer for afetv"), I was free to change the sauce dramatically by adding olives, capers, canned tuna or clams, peppers, herbs, chicken, mushrooms or whatever else I had. By leai'ning to saute ers and retailers who respond to them. Tell them what you want. They will get it It makes it more interesting for them. They wanna see people want new stuff. Q: Women shop for, and cook, 80% of all meals. Do you have any get-cooking advice for men? Saturday is a day where you go, you shop, you take it home. As a family even, not just as Dad, you make something. If the men want to cook, all the tools ai'e easy to access right now: the Food Network, food magazines, food talk — it's a]l out there. Q: What do your two sons beg you to make? You know what? They're 4 and 21/4. The older one is going through a sweet phase. I asked him what his most favorite food was yesterday. He said, "Sugar." I fix some- • thing, he says, "Does that have sugar in it?" and pan-seai-, I discovered that there was not a single-portion size cut of meat, fish or poultry I couldn't cook. If it was on sale, no problem: I could cook it. I developed a series of two- minute pan sauces; if we felt like eating chicken breasts for a week, I could easily vary looks and flavors. I could make a dinner omelet or Mt- tata as long as I had a carton of eggs. With a pound each of meat and vegetables, and a few other staples, there was hai'dly COOKING AT . a soup or stii--fiy I couldn't X USaWeeKeild.COIll make in 30 minutes. In 2000, I turned my discoveries into a cookbook that ditches recipes. How to Cook With- oid a Book. Now I teach this simple style of cooking around the country, and it's fun to see how quickly students catch on. Some confide they don't have the confidence to cook without a recipe, but I assure them they know more than they think. Cooking by heait is like putting together a salad at the deli bai*. Do you question how many tomatoes you want, or whether pickled beets and boiled eggs would taste good? Have you ever doubted youi- ability to build a salad you would ergoy? Of course not. Learn a few pmciples, and you can trust yom* sense of how much chicken you want in your soup and how many olives you want in your spaghetti sauce. Chances ai'e, you'll like it. If not, it's just a meal — and you've leai'ned! I cook daily because it's smait. Groceries ai'e a bargain compai'ed with the $50 or $60 oui- family of four spends at a moderately priced restam-ant. And I cook daily because eating a healthful, well-balanced meal is important — and so is what happens while we prepare dinner, eat and clean up. When else are you supposed to hear about the day, plan the next vacation, or get word of a bad test score or gi-eat business deal? And if that's not enough, a recent YMCA study indicates that kids of families who regularly eat dinner together ai'e less prone to drug and alcohol abuse. Cooking daily is not just for traditional families. Not long ago, I got a call fi'om my financial adviser Newly divorced, he wanted to learn to cook. I asked what he liked to eat, and we rehearsed a few simple techniques to make dinner. In a few days, he was cooking quicker than he could get takeout. And he discovered that women like men who cook. But that's another stoi-y. I'll bet you're finally ready to cook daily, too. Start with the ideas on the following pages, ca Contributing Editor PAM ANDERSON is a finalist for a prestigious James Beard Aimi-dfor How to Cook Without a Book (BROADWAY, S2o). She's also the author of The Perfect Recipe (HOCGHTOX MIFFLIN, S2T) and former executive editor o/Cook's Illustrated. • Meet Mario Batali: Visit our Web site Monday at 3 p.m. ET for a chat with the chef and TV host, it's cosponsored by • Bonus recipes: Download Mario Batali's Linguine with Clams and Pam Anderson's any-meal frittata, a perfect egg dish for this season. "I <:an make just about an^tlmg in 25 minutes." TIDBITS ' When should a cook not use extra- virgin olive oil? I can't think of one moment. I even deep-fry in extra-virgin oil! Your favorite pasta shape? This week, bucatini [a hollow spaghetti]. Your favorite junk food? Chips and salsa. And chips keep getting better: "Cool ranch double scallion." They say all the words you wanna hear. Summer's coming. Is It safe to eat oysters in months that don't have an "R"? It is! Get aquaculture oysters from the far north Pacific or Atlantic. Washington state is putting up great oysters. Mad cow disease: Should we worry? I don't know answers to all the questions [about safety and bioengineered food]. But I'm not willing to bet my gi'andkids' legs on them. I'm vei'y worried about it, and I hope the USDA will do the right thing. They'd better. What meal really satisfies you? A can of tuna, some thin-sliced red onions, tomatoes and arugula with some kind of kidney beans. That kind of a salad is always incredibly satisfying to me. It just feels right. USA WEEKEND • April 6-8,2001 9

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