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Using prepared salsas, pestos, high-quality baking mixes, and other packaged items, recipes that once took a whole afternoon can now be assembled quickly and easily. Almost from Scratch makes the most of prepackaged foods to streamline the way home cooks prepare everything from soup to dessert, whether you're making a weeknight dinner for the family or entertaining on a Saturday night.
With recipes for appetizers, salads, soups, sauces, meat dishes, seafood, pasta, grains, stir-fries, vegetables, and desserts, Schloss shows you the never-ending possibilities of cooking with shortcuts.
Sumptuous starters such as Herbed Artichoke Dip, Parmesan Shortbread, Blue Cheese Quiche with Potato Crust, and Tomato Tarragon Tart will be the perfect start to any evening. For a light meal, try Three Corn Chowder, Pizza Rustica, Mango Brie Quesadillas, or Smoked Turkey and Chickpea Chili. For a more substantial dinner, sample recipes such as Deep Dark Pot Roast, Mediterranean Vegetable Lasagna, Dutch Country Chicken and Potato Dumplings, Grilled Salmon with Olive Vinaigrette, and Lemon Pork Chops on Artichoke Bruschetta that will keep your family -- and your taste buds --happy.
Who knew that decadent, awe-inspiring desserts could be created in a flash using packaged ingredients? Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, Blueberry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake, and Chèvre Cheesecake with Fig Coulis are just some of the sweets that will wow your guests.
Finally, a sophisticated, gourmet cookbook that allows home cooks to make great-tasting meals without spending all day in the kitchen.
The New Convenience Cuisine
Home cooking has changed, and cookbooks hardly noticed. But supermarkets did. Look at lettuce; whole heads have been replaced with prewashed, pretorn, pretossed, and crouton-studded cellophane sacks. Salad dressings have blended into marinades, mustards have morphed toward mayonnaise, and meats are sold stuffed, filleted, roasted, and grilled.
And still most cookbook recipes call for chopping carrots, mincing garlic, and tearing heads of lettuce. They ignore the myriad of Thai sauces, Jerk seasonings, Asian dressings, Mexican condiments, and Mediterranean pestos that crowd the shelves of every supermarket in every town. Cookbooks give directions for marinades and grill sauces that are clones of bottled dressings; they call for sifting dry ingredients or for sautéing vegetables when a bottled dressing, baking mix, or jar of salsa would yield the same results in a fraction of the time and with far fewer ingredients.
There has been an explosion of convenience foods in the American marketplace, and like the condensed mushroom soup, dehydrated onions, and French dressing of generations past, these foods are not just convenient facsimiles of finished dishes. They are high-powered ingredients in their own right.
A jar of tapenade doesn't just give us something new to spread on bread. It flavors a grilled chicken breast and seasons a salad dressing. It can be plopped atop a baked potato, swirled into vegetable soup, or used to thicken a lamb stew. With time and use, tapenade changes in our mind from an esoteric condiment to a kitchen staple that has elevated the way we cook and eat to another level.
The notion of using convenience ingredients to create powerfully flavored recipes is not new. American home cooks have been modifying scratch cooking for years with manufacturers' box-top recipes, but too often these are little more than dumbed-downed versions of family favorites. They fail to take advantage of the hidden power of the new generation of convenience ingredients: the ability to cook like a chef at home.
When a chef turns out Pesto-Stuffed Grilled Chicken Breast with Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce, the pesto has already been prepared, the sun-dried tomatoes have been soaked and puréed, the garlic has been chopped, the stock has been reduced, and the spice rub has been blended. A few years ago if you wanted to duplicate this dish at home, you would be facing half an afternoon in the kitchen. Now your local supermarket provides all the prep work. Pesto is available jarred, refrigerated, or frozen. Sun-dried tomatoes come puréed into pesto, minced to a powder, or chopped in a vinaigrette. There are spice rubs ranging from ancho-garlic to lemon-basil, and chicken breasts are trimmed in every conceivable form. The preparation that once took hours now takes minutes. It is the vision of Almost from Scratch that this is not a phenomenon confined to individual ingredients but rather is a new way of cooking that streamlines the way home cooks can prepare everything from soup to dessert.
THE CONVENIENCE KITCHEN
Several years ago we attended a family reunion. We were staying with cousins in Atlanta, and the first morning I woke early to make pancakes for everyone. Rummaging through the kitchen I found most of what I needed. There were the expected necessities for a family with young children: two gallons of milk, a dozen eggs, a giant jar of peanut butter, and even a calcified tin of baking powder, but there was no flour. I was getting dressed to run to the store when my wife's cousin awoke. She knew there was flour. She had just bought some in the hope that I might bake something. And sure enough she pulled out a package that I can only describe as an envelope of flour containing just two cups, enough for one cake or a pan of muffins, about 8 ounces.
I hadn't seen it because to my eye it was invisible. As a chef and an only-from-scratch home cook, I bought my flour in large sacks and used it not only for baking but for thickening sauces, browning meat, dusting pans, and frying chicken. What did it mean about the current state of American home cooking that this well-equipped kitchen was stocked with a dozen bottles of salad dressing but only a token packet of flour? What had happened to the American pantry while I was busy cooking from scratch?
Obviously things had changed. Scratch baking had become esoteric, and salad dressing had become an all-purpose sauce. Mayonnaise, enlivened with vinegar and herbs, had become de facto salad dressing, and mustard, spiked with honey, horseradish, or watercress, had become a mini convenience industry. Relish, reinforced with sun-dried tomatoes, mangoes, and lime, had become chic. Pesto was being peddled alongside ketchup, Thai sauces came canned, and Jack Daniels was manufacturing barbecue sauce. And all of these items were instantly ready to produce the kind of flavor that I needed a laundry list of ingredients to create. The world of scratch cooking had been usurped by the very preparations it had popularized.
For decades the amount of time spent preparing dinner has decreased, while opportunities for obtaining dinner in other ways has increased. The proliferation of chain restaurants, ethnic eateries, take-out shops, and dinner delivery services has made cooking from scratch just one option for getting dinner on the table. And as our options have expanded, so has our taste for exciting flavors and foreign cuisines, leading to a revolution at the supermarket.
The array can be mind-boggling and somewhat daunting, especially if you are new to the products. The following lists are offered to help you find your way and take charge.
THE CONVENIENCE PANTRY
The first task is to set up a pantry. Although I have tried to mine the depth and breadth of available ingredients in this book, it is helpful to keep a core group of items on hand. With them in your pantry you will be able to prepare a good number of the recipes in Almost from Scratch by adding one or two fresh ingredients, such as a chicken breast or a fish fillet. To assist in setting up your pantry, I have divided the list in two: what is essential and what is nice to have on hand.
The following directory will answer most of the questions you may have about unfamiliar ingredients. In general I have avoided the mention of specific brands. The recipes were tested with as many brands of a specific item as I was able to purchase at the time of testing, and although I found some differences in flavor and consistency among brands, most of the time the disparity was not great. Usually all the results were acceptable, and brand preferences were more a matter of taste than quality. When a particular brand did make a difference, I have suggested its use. When a brand name precedes the description of the product, I am making a strong suggestion and can't guarantee the proper results if another brand is used. However, when the brand is introduced with the phrase "such as" or "preferably," do not feel restricted by my recommendation. Other brands are likely to perform quite adequately, and I am only mentioning the brand to offer some guidance.
Most of the new convenience products fall into one of two groups:
In regard to the first group, you probably already purchase the ingredients in a less prepared state (whole unwashed heads of lettuce, bunches of carrots, and unpeeled whole potatoes), and you may notice that the processed products seem more expensive. For example, a 10-ounce bag washed and torn romaine leaves sells for the same price as an unwashed head of romaine that weighs twice as much. However, after you wash the head of romaine and discard its core, larger ribs, and any damaged leaves, you are left with about 12 ounces of servable lettuce - making it not much of a price difference after all.
The second group of ingredients is a different story. Not only is purchasing a jar of basil pesto cheaper than buying the ingredients needed to make it, but you are unlikely to ever prepare pesto, tapenade, curry sauce, or Thai peanut sauce outside of a specific recipe, which eliminates these preparations from your day-to-day cooking. By stocking your pantry with fully prepared sauces and condiments you give yourself the same tools used by professional chefs to create elaborate-sounding, highly flavored dishes. Just having them on hand will revolutionize the way you cook.
A word about cost: Some of the prepared ingredients can seem quite pricey. For instance, a 7-ounce container of demi-glace concentrate usually sells for about $12, which is a lot for a little jar. But since that jar yields more than sixty servings, the cost per serving is less than 20 cents. Also, the concentrate will keep for six months in the refrigerator and can be used to boost the flavor of almost any pan sauce, meat glaze, or soup.
Before buying any packaged product you should take a look at its ingredients list and nutrition label. You might be pleasantly surprised. Even though many manufacturers are more conscientious concerning the nutritional and ecological impact of their products than they used to be, you may want to use or avoid certain preparations or brands depending on your particular health concerns. The object is to determine the healthfulness or harmfulness of any food for you, whether it is manufactured or harvested. This can only be done by knowing your needs and seeing how well the qualities of that product meet them.
AT THE MARKET
The ingredients given below are grouped as they would be in your supermarket: produce; sauces; condiments; ethnic foods; grains and beans; meats, poultry, and seafood; dairy; desserts; seasoning; coffee and tea; and miscellaneous. Then they are alphabetical within each grouping.
The traditional image of whole heads of lettuce, bunches of beets, and ropes of garlic has been transformed. In every area of the market, produce has been cut and trimmed to fit the way you cook. The following list describes most of what you will find in a well-stocked produce area, as well as some produce options in other parts of the market. I have included only those products that I personally would use. For instance, I buy asparagus fresh and whole, because to my palate frozen and canned asparagus compromise the quality of the vegetable too much. On the other hand, I have described types of canned tomatoes in depth, because for most of the year the quality of tomatoes in the can is superior to what it is available fresh. Canned tomatoes are just cooked tomatoes, and if you are using a recipe in which your tomatoes will be cooked, the canned products give you a head start.
Artichoke hearts and bottoms: Fully trimmed and cooked artichokes (minus their leaves) are available canned and frozen. Hearts, comprising the inner core of leaves and a small piece of the bottom, are cheaper than bottoms and are more commonly available. The bottoms are creamier and slightly sweeter. When making dips, sauces, or spreads, you can use either canned or frozen, but if you are serving them as a side dish, frozen will give you fresher-tasting results.
Broccoli: Florets of fresh broccoli, loose and in bags, are ready to cook without further washing, trimming, or peeling. The stem section is sold shredded as broccoli slaw. It is both crisper and less acrid than the budding tops. Broccoli is also sold in bunches and as separate stalks, which are cheaper per pound than buying florets but require some trimming. Broccoli is also available frozen, but with the convenience of fresh trimmed broccoli stalks, there is no advantage; by the time you get it thawed and cooked, you could have fresh broccoli on the table.
Canned fruit and vegetables: Usually I don't use canned produce. The processing is too severe and destroys the color, texture, and flavor of all but the hardiest fruits and vegetables. There are some exceptions, such as tomatoes, corn, and beans. Canned yams make great pie and pudding, canned pumpkin makes better pumpkin pie than anything freshly cooked, and canned fruit in sugar syrup is ready-made for puréeing for a fruit sauce or to freeze for an instant sorbet. (See the individual entries for information on specific products.)
Carrots: Fresh carrots are available shredded, sliced, diced, cut into sticks, and trimmed into 2-inch lengths, when they are called baby carrots. Any fresh carrot product is ready to use in salads or for cooking.
Excerpted from Almost from Scratch by Schloss, Andrew Excerpted by permission.
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|Introduction: The New Convenience Cuisine||1|
|Chapter 1||Elegant Appetizers and Spur-of-the-Moment Snacks||35|
|Chapter 2||Soups Uncanned||63|
|Chapter 3||Sauces: Lots of Flavor, Little Work||87|
|Chapter 4||Meat Meals in Minutes||111|
|Chapter 5||Escaping the Chicken Rut||135|
|Chapter 6||Seafood Elaborated||159|
|Chapter 7||Completely Meatless||183|
|Chapter 8||Incredible Vegetables for Every Meal||209|
|Chapter 9||Distinctive Grains||239|
|Chapter 10||Salads and Dressings in and out of the Bottle||263|
|Chapter 12||Gone Grillin'||317|
|Chapter 13||Stir-Fries from Around the World||339|
|Chapter 14||There's Always Time for Dessert||361|
|Appendix A||Ingredient Sources||397|
|Appendix B||Metric Equivalencies||399|
Posted August 31, 2006