BACK WHEN FOOD TV was in its infancy, it was all about education. Luminaries such as Jacques Pépin, David Rosengarten and Sara Moulton (my favorites) actually taught the home chef how to cook. Today it’s all about entertainment, game shows and ratings. Ah, those were the days.
I had the opportunity to meet up with chef and TV personality Sara Moulton recently at her demo and book signing at Melissa’s Produce where she introduced food bloggers and writers to her latest cookbook: “Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better” (Oxmoor House, $35). I had long been a fan and had been making her husband’s Aunt Rifka’s succulent Red Wine Braised Beef Brisket with Flying Disks for years. (Find the recipe on her website saramoulton.com.)
“It turns out that Rifka’s flying disks are nothing more exotic than matzo balls formed into silver dollar-sized disks and served in brisket gravy instead of chicken soup,” she writes.
After graduating from the culinary school, Moulton spent seven years working in ‘restaurants. soufflés “I thought only about what chefs do and was disdainful of things like flavorless oils and freezers,” she recalled. Her years in Gourmet magazine’s test kitchen and as host of Food TV’s “Cooking Live” switched her focus to home cooks. But it was having a family that brought her chef skills and focus on the home cook together. “We have a daily religion to have family meals every night of the week. I started thinking about how to make that happen. ”
The result is a comprehensive and very approachable guide to making better meals easily in your own kitchen. “I took my chef knowledge and applied it to home cooks,” she said. More than just a collection of soulful recipes, “Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101” is actually a teaching manual for the home cook with detailed instructions and accompanying how-to photos. “Each recipe specifically demonstrates a tip or method that can make you a better and more confident cook while also teaching you to make your dishes taste better.”
Illustrated instructions show you how to trim an artichoke, slice and arrange apples for French Apple Tart, cut up a chicken, how to stir-fry and make spaetzle. Even experienced “old dogs” will learn some “new tricks.” One of my favorites: a quick way to clean mushrooms (yes, you can toss them briefly in water!) And, darn, throwing a potato into an over-salted stew doesn’t really work.
You’ve been making hard-cooked eggs the same way for a million years, right? Try steaming them over boiling water, covered, for ten to 12 minutes, and you’ll be a convert for life. “The whites are more tender, and they’re easier to peel,” she explained.
Try Moulton’s Spiced Lamb and Hummus Pita Pizzas for an easy summer appetizer or casual family dinner. “Do not skimp on the fresh herbs,” Moulton warns. “They brighten up the whole dish and should be added more frequently to any salad, especially now that they are so widely available.”
Think that beautiful soufflé with its fancy topknot is beyond your reach? Think again. “Traditional soufflés are notoriously delicate, but this apricot soufflé is basically bullet-proof,” she promises. “The soufflé batter is sturdy enough to be shaped and to hold its shape when baked. And the soufflés in their ramekins are so rugged that you can park them in the fridge for an hour or two ahead of time before putting them into the oven to bake them off without fearing for a second that they’ll collapse or fail to rise.” For detailed instructions on how to shape the soufflés properly – there are photos in the book – as well as how to fold egg whites properly go to jlifesgpv.com.
The biggest surprise: “Forget about mise en place,” that once sacrosanct admonition to prep and measure all your ingredients before cooking. “While heating up the pan, you can chop the onions. While the onions are cooking, I mince the garlic. You could waste up to 20 minutes with mise en place.” (The one exception: stir-fries.) Most important of all: “Read the recipe first from start to finish, so you don’t miss ‘chill overnight.’”
Spiced Lamb & Hummus Pita Pizzas with Herb Salad
YIELD: 4 servings
If you were born with the anti-cilantro gene, you’re welcome to substitute basil or mint. (There really is a gene that makes some people hate cilantro.)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra for brushing pitas
8 ounces ground lamb
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup chopped plum tomatoes, with juice and seeds
1 tablespoon minced garlic, plus 1 clove, cut in half
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-inch) pitas (unsplit)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups fresh parsley leaves
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup plain hummus
1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in large skillet over high heat. Add lamb and pinch of salt, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer lamb with slotted spoon to bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, the onion, and hefty pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, cumin, and red peppers flakes; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Return lamb to pan with 2 tablespoons water; cook, covered, 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2 Meanwhile, arrange pitas in single layer on baking sheet, brush lightly with oil, and bake until crisped, 8 to 10 minutes. Whisk lemon juice with salt and pepper to taste in medium bowl until salt dissolves. Whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon oil, parsley and cilantro.
3 Transfer pitas to individual plates. Rub surface of each pizza with cut garlic clove; sprinkle lightly with salt. Top each pizza with hummus, 1/4 lamb mixture and 1/4 herb mixture.
YIELD: 6 servings
6 ounces dried California (not Turkish) apricots
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided, plus more for coating ramekins
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cognac or dark rum, optional
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Fine sea or table salt
Melted butter for ramekins
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Confectioners’ sugar, lightly sweetened whipping cream, and small mint sprigs for garnish
1 Combine apricots, 1 1/2 cups water, and 1/2 cup of the sugar in small saucepan. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat; simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Transfer mixture to blender; purée until very smooth. Transfer purée to large bowl; stir in lemon juice, cognac, if using, vanilla, and pinch salt. Cool purée completely. (Purée may be made 2 days ahead, kept in small bowl, surface covered directly with plastic wrap, and chilled.)
2 Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter six (7-ounce: 3 1/2- x 1 3/4-inch) ramekins and coat them with additional granulated sugar, dumping out excess. Chill well.
3 In large bowl (preferably copper) with electric stand mixer, beat egg whites with pinch salt until foamy. And cream of tartar and beat until eggs just hold soft peaks. Continue beating, while adding remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time; beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Continue beating, while adding remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time; beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 of the whites to apricot purée; whisk until well combined. Fold in remaining whites, gently but thoroughly. Ladle or spoon batter into prepared ramekins and shape soufflés, if desired. Set ramekins on rimmed baking sheet. Bake on middle oven shelf until puffed, golden brown, and just set in center, 20 to 25 minutes.
4 Remove soufflés from oven, sift a little confectioners’ sugar on top and transfer to plates. Using soup spoon, lift off a mound of soufflé, place a spoonful of whipped cream in the indentation and top whipped cream with the mound. Garnish with mint sprigs and serve immediately.
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.