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Cooking From the Hip: Fast, Easy, Phenomenal Meals
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Cooking From the Hip: Fast, Easy, Phenomenal Meals

by Cat Cora, Ann Krueger Spivack (Contribution by)

As the star of the smash sensation Iron Chef America, Cat Cora is used to improvising exciting dishes on a moment's notice. In this book she shows you how to do it too, whether you want a spur-of-the-moment supper or a spectacular dinner that doesn't require spending your whole Saturday in the kitchen.

Cooking from the Hip is divided into four convenient


As the star of the smash sensation Iron Chef America, Cat Cora is used to improvising exciting dishes on a moment's notice. In this book she shows you how to do it too, whether you want a spur-of-the-moment supper or a spectacular dinner that doesn't require spending your whole Saturday in the kitchen.

Cooking from the Hip is divided into four convenient sections, each with its own appetizers, soups, salads, main dishes, sides, and desserts. You can turn to whichever chapter best suits your needs and mood, knowing that every dish will be simple and special.

Fast: Spicy Chicken and Peach Stir-Fry, Creamy Fettuccine with Sausage, Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes

Easy: Watermelon Gazpacho, Thai Chicken Salad, White Cheddar Corn Bread

Fun: Sunday Cheesesteak Sandwiches, Crispy "Fried" Chicken, Lemonade Cookies

Phenomenal: Mango Margaritas, Pomegranate-Glade Cornish Hens with Wild Rice, Italian Cream Cake

Cooking from the Hip is all about flexibility. You'll be able to use what you've got on hand without being afraid to substitute. You'll learn how to cut down on cooking steps, combine just a few ingredients in inventive ways, pull in leftovers, and wow your family and friends.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Cora, the lone woman to be anointed an "Iron Chef" in the Food Network's American version of the series, aims to translate the fast, flashy style of that high-pressure kitchen into recipes that home cooks who have similar time constraints but comparatively modest gadgets and pantries can enjoy. The results are generally pleasing and more accessible than many of the concoctions presented on TV by battling chefs. Four sections break the food into "fast," "easy," "fun," and "phenomenal" categories that are a welcome change from the traditional progression through each course and show Cora's spontaneous, easygoing yet stylish way to its best advantage. Simple variations on classics stand out, as in a Curried Broccoli Salad ("fast") and spiky, flavorful Watermelon Gazpacho ("easy") even when some recipes' placements are questionable: a silky Potato-Celery Root soup is nice, but hardly phenomenal, and beginning or busy cooks may find recipes like hand-rolled Dolmathes or sushi more frustrating and time-intensive than fun, even if friends help. Fortunately, Cora's sunny, can-do attitude and the boxed tips on ingredients and preparation sprinkled throughout will help to dispel many doubts. Home cooks will appreciate the way they expand the repertory of recipes that are upscale enough to impress company, but simple enough to encourage use throughout a busy week. Color photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Although she has worked in a number of high-profile California restaurants, Cora is no doubt best known as the only female chef on Iron Chef America. The recipes in her second cookbook are divided into four categories-"Fast," "Easy," "Fun," and "Phenomenal"-and most of them are quick and easy, even the "phenomenal" ones, which are for special occasions. She has a young son, and some of his favorite dishes are included here; other recipes are more sophisticated but still simple to prepare. Cora encourages flexibility and spontaneity, and she includes variations as well as other useful suggestions to that end. Striking color photographs illustrate many of the dishes. For most collections.

—Judith Sutton

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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7.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


Every time you open the refrigerator and your cupboards and put together a meal— even something as simple as bread and cheese and a salad—you are cooking from the hip. With this book, I’m hoping to expand your options, share a few of my tricks, and take you to a place where you feel comfortable winging it, even when guests are coming for dinner.
Cooking on Iron Chef America honed my own ability to cook from the hip. Improvising in the kitchen is partly a question of skills, but it’s largely a matter of attitude. You can make the mental shift so that preparing a good home-cooked meal every night isn’t a chore but a time to be with your family. Learn how to let them help you, all the while making it fun. There are never enough chances in this fast-paced world to connect with friends and family, and cooking gives you an opportunity to do just that. If I pass along only one thought—let your family and friends help you make dinner—this book will be a success for me.
While traveling across the country, I get to talk with lots of home cooks. And in every town, from Jackson to Las Vegas, Ann Arbor to Austin, the same questions come up again and again: Do you cook differently when you’re eating with your son? What do you do with leftovers?What’s the easiest thing you make at home? What do you make when friends come for dinner? This book answers those questions while sharing my “go with what you’ve got” philosophy. Cooking from the hip means being flexible. It means using what’s on hand and not being afraid to substitute ingredients. Cooking is like exercising. If you come at it with the idea that it can be fun and creative, then suddenly it becomes the high point in your day instead of a chore. If you have a couple cans of beans in your pantry, some fresh mint, and a bottle of sherry vinegar, you can make a refreshing (and refreshingly easy) salad. Have a day-old baguette and some summer tomatoes? Make bruschetta. I’ll show you how to cook from the hip using leftover rice from Chinese takeout and how to jazz up a fast stir-fry by adding fresh peaches or mangoes. I’ll also show you how to get your hands dirty by slathering a quick herbal paste on a pork roast for a spectacular Porchetta that your guests will long remember. And when life gives you lemonade concentrate, make Lemonade Cookies—they’ll take you only about fifteen minutes! I’ll share what I keep in my own pantry at home and show you how to put together a meal that’s fast, easy, fun to make, or phenomenal, for those occasions when you want to pull out all the stops.
A woman in a bookstore in Oxford, Mississippi, told me, “I want to put a meal on the table that doesn’t embarrass me in front of my friends, but I don’t want to spend my whole Saturday in the kitchen.” Cooking from the Hip is for her—and for all the other home cooks who requested meals that are both simple and sensational. This book aims to cut down steps, combine just a few ingredients in creative, inventive ways, and, most important, change your mind-set about cooking being a solitary activity. Some of my favorite family meals call for my family to help prepare them. Take a sushi party, for example.
“Uh-oh,” you’re thinking. “Raw fish. I don’t want to deal with that.” OK, so skip the raw fish. Fill your rice rolls with mango chunks and teriyaki chicken. Or fill them with feta cheese, chopped cucumber, roasted red pepper, and kalamata olives. (I call that one the Zoran Roll, because my son fell in love with this when he was only eighteen months old.) Your sushi can be anything you want it to be. The trick to sushi is good rice, which I’ll show you how to make. You put out the rice, fill small bowls with ingredients that you know your family will love (getting in as many veggies as possible), then roll, baby, roll. Everybody makes their own meal, and it’s fun, easy on your budget, and nutritious. We have at least one “sushi (without the fish) bar” every month at my house. I’ll give you lots of suggestions for what you can put in your sushi. Try it, and you’ll find it becomes a staple at your house too.
My favorite recipes—the ones I make for my own family—have to be fast and easy. My Watermelon Gazpacho has brilliant color and terrific flavor—and it’s a blast to whip up watermelon in a blender. You’ll find out how to make Smoked Salmon Rillettes and Dilled Yogurt, a savory spread that’s great the day after salmon and bagels. You’re using your leftovers, making a dish that impresses your friends, and, best of all, spending less than five minutes in the kitchen, because your food processor does all the work.
That’s the heart of this book. These recipes are simple to make and offer lots of ideas for pulling in lleftovers. They’ll wow your friends and even get your kids to eat better foods. The book is divided into four sections: Fast, Easy, Funnnnn, and Phenomenal. You can turn to the section that suits your mood, whether you need dinner on the table in twenty minutes or fantastic recipes for a spur-of-the-moment Friday night get-together. Most of us, especially in households with kids, tend to fall back on the same recipes over and over. I’ve written this book to give you more than new recipes—I want to change your attitude about dinnertime. I want to offer ideas that let you come home from a hard day at work and look forward to making dinner, instead of ordering a pizza. I want to encourage you to set up adult time—and some special adult foods—so that when you go back to parenting, you’re rejuvenated. Time is what we Americans most lack—and yet the families who cook together and spend time together at the table are healthier and happier. Can a cookbook make you and your family healthier and happier? Let’s just say that encouraging you to spend time together in the kitchen and around the table is a great place to start.
Cat Cora

Smoked Salmon Rillettes and Dilled Yogurt Serves 6 to 8

I often set out an easy Sunday spread of smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, capers, tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onions. I came up with salmon rillettes as a way to use up the leftovers. Traditionally rillettes is a paste made from meat or fish. My version is like a tartare: easy, light, and delicious with bagel chips. You also can serve it with mixed greens as a dinner salad. It’s worth making the adoli for this recipe, but if you have cream cheese or crcme fraîche on hand, by all means use what you have.

1⁄2 pound smoked salmon 1⁄2 small red onion, finely chopped 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives or scallions (green tops only) 1⁄4 cup drained and coarsely chopped capers 2 tablespoons Easy Adoli (page 238), light mayonnaise, cream cheese, or crcme fraîche, homemade (page 239) or store-bought 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper Dill fronds for garnish (optional) Crisped Bagel Chips (page 3), pita chips, crackers, or baguette slices Dilled Yogurt (page 6)

Mince the salmon by hand or in a food processor. In a medium bowl, mix the salmon, onion, chives, capers, adoli, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Mound the rillettes on a serving platter. Garnish with dill fronds, if using. Serve with bagel chips, pita chips, crackers, or baguette slices. Have your guests top their rillettes with a spoonful of dilled yogurt.

Cat’s Note I like to chop the onion, chives, and capers by hand and then mix them with the salmon, which I’ve minced in the food processor. Ann likes to chop the onion coarsely first, then toss everything in the food processor and whip it around. While her way is much faster and easier, you don’t have the nice flecks of color from the chopped veggies, but she points out that her guests are too busy scarfing it down to miss the subtle colors.

Dilled Yogurt For the dilled yogurt, I prefer to strain the yogurt through a cheesecloth for 30 minutes. (If you don’t have cheesecloth, just spoon the yogurt into a fine- mesh strainer set over a bowl or cup.) Strained yogurt means a thicker, creamier sauce, but you can skip the straining if you don’t have time. Any extra yogurt can be refrigerated and used the next day in chicken salad.

1⁄4 cup plain low-fat yogurt, strained (see above) 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill 3–4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, chopped dill, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

Strawberry Arugula Salad Makes 4 large or 6 small salads

If you start with a spectacular salad, the rest of the meal can be very simple. This one is bright and beautiful, but fast and easy to make. Serve within 5 minutes of mixing the berries and the vinegar, or the berries will be too soft.

1⁄4 cup white balsamic vinegar 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or a sweet-hot mustard 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 scallion, finely chopped 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper 1 pint strawberries, cleaned and sliced 1⁄2 pound baby arugula or organic baby greens, washed, dried, and chilled 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar to drizzle

Combine the white balsamic vinegar and mustard in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Whisk in the scallion, salt, and pepper. Add the strawberries to the vinaigrette and marinate for no more than 5 minutes.

Place the greens in a large bowl and spoon in the strawberries with a slotted spoon. Add just enough vinaigrette to barely coat the greens and toss lightly. Arrange on salad plates and drizzle with the 2 tablespoons vinegar. Serve immediately.

OPTION : With Blue Cheese and Hazelnuts Add 1⁄4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (see page 24 for toasting tips) and 1⁄ 4 pound of your favorite blue cheese (I like Point Reyes, an artisanal farmstead cheese from northern California; see Resources on page 245). Crumble the cheese evenly over the salads before drizzling with vinegar.

Spicy Chicken and Peach (or Mango) Stir-Fry Serves 4 to 6

Feel free to use the veggies you have on hand in this stir-fry. If you don’t like broccoli, just add more carrot slices, strips of red bell pepper, or some canned water chestnuts. Try using canned pineapple chunks (just a few) in place of the fresh peaches or mangoes. Anything goes: this is definitely cooking from the hip.
I love the zing and the color that fresh peaches or mangoes add, and I like to cut the fruit in a big wooden bowl to save all those great juices. Stirred into the pan at the last minute, they add lots of flavor to the sauce.
The one thing to watch is the amount you have in the pan. A stir- fry cooks quickly, but if your pan is overfilled, cooking slows way down. I often double or triple this recipe, but when cooking it, I stir-fry in two or three batches.
Cut up the chicken the day before and marinate it overnight for better flavor. If you peel and slice the veggies the night before and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, you can have dinner ready in less than 30 minutes the next day.

M A R I N A D E 2–3 Thai or serrano chilies 1⁄4 cup soy sauce 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger 2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 1⁄2-inch-thick strips

T I R - F R Y 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour or cornstarch 1 tablespoon sesame oil or vegetable oil 1 medium onion, diced 1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced on the bias 1 cup broccoli florets 1⁄2 cup snow peas, strings removed 3 peaches, halved, pitted, and sliced, or 3 mangoes, peeled, pitted, and sliced (see page 61), any juices reserved Soy sauce, if needed 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh cilantro 1 tablespoon chopped scallions 1 tablespoon slivered almonds, toasted, for garnish

For the marinade : With a sharp knife, cut the Thai chili in half lengthwise. Seed by scraping the inside of each chili half with your knife. Thinly slice the chili. (Be very careful not to touch your face or eyes while you’re working with the chili. As soon as it is sliced, wash your hands and the knife carefully.) In a medium Pyrex dish or bowl, combine the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and chili slices. Add the strips of chicken and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate.

For the stiir-fry: Sift the flour into a small bowl and set aside. (If using cornstarch, you don’t need to sift it.) Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet set over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, stir for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the chicken strips, lifting them out of the marinade with a slotted spoon. Sauté quickly just until the chicken begins to brown and then pour in the marinade. Add the carrot slices and broccoli and lower the heat to medium-high, covering the pan with a lid to keep liquids from evaporating. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Toss in the snow peas and the peach or mango slices and their juices and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. If there doesn’t seem to be much liquid in the pan, add 1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Stir 3 to 4 tablespoons of the pan liquid into the reserved flour or cornstarch, mixing well until completely smooth. Add the mixture to the pan, moving the vegetables to the side with a spatula and stirring the sauce with a small spoon to thicken. Toss in the cilantro and the scallions, give everything one last good stir to mix, and heat it through. Sprinkle with almonds before serving.

O P T I O N 1 : Vegetarian Stir-Fry You can make this vegan by leaving out the chicken. Mix the chili, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic and add to the stir-fry with the broccoli and carrots. You can also add tofu cubes, if you like, or extra almonds.

O P T I O N 2 : With Leftover Chicken To make this with leftover chicken, pull the meat off the bone, discard the skin and bones, and dice the chicken. Make the marinade, but add it directly to the pan after cooking the onion. Heat the chicken in the marinade for just 1 minute.

Cat’s Note Toasted slivered almonds improve almost any stir-fry, and toasting the nuts intensifies their flavor. To toast the nuts, toss a few tablespoonfuls into a small, dry skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring, or (my preference) spread them on a baking sheet and toast in a 350°F oven for 2 to 3 minutes. When you can smell their aroma, they‘re done. Remove the nuts from the hot pan so they don’t burn.

Watermelon Gazpacho Serves 4 to 6

People sit up and take notice when you carry this lovely summer soup to the table. The watermelon gives it gorgeous color, and the sweetness of the melon is a perfect counterpoint to the onion, pepper, and lime juice. I like to use a whole jalapeno pepper, but it’s smart to start with half a pepper and taste the gazpacho before adding the rest, because jalapenos can vary in intensity. If the weather is extra hot, chill the soup bowls in your freezer until you’re ready to serve the gazpacho.

6 cups chopped, seeded watermelon; reserve juice 1 cup peeled, seeded, and diced cucumber 1 red bell pepper, diced 1 yellow bell pepper, diced 1⁄2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced 3 celery hearts, diced 1⁄2 small red onion, finely diced 1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh mint 1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lime juice (from 2 large limes) 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 1⁄4 cup crcme fraîche, homemade (page 239) or store-bought (optional)

Puree the watermelon and any reserved juice in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the cucumber, peppers, celery, onion, herbs, lime juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour the watermelon puree over the vegetables, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.
Taste and season with more salt and black pepper or jalapeno, if it’s not spicy enough. Serve very cold, topped with a spoonful of crcme fraîche, if you like.

Sunday Cheesesteak Sandwiches with Homemade Provolone Sauce

Makes 4 big sandwiches

This is a regular treat at our house during football season. Yes, I know—it’s an extravagance to use rib-eye, but because these steaks are better marbled than most steaks, they have the best flavor. For a traditional cheesesteak sandwich, you can slice the raw steak into ultra-thin slices and cook the slices in a hot pan. Because I don’t want to miss the game, I sear the entire rib-eye and slice it thin after it’s cooked.

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced 1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms 1 large onion, cut into paper-thin slices 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 11⁄2 pounds rib-eye steak, about 1 inch thick 4 crusty hoagie rolls, sliced Homemade Provolone Sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 250°F.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet (or any heavy skillet) over medium- high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil to the pan. Add the peppers and mushrooms and sauté until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and sauté until it’s just the way you like it. Transfer the peppers, mushrooms, and onion to an ovenproof platter and place in the oven to keep warm.
Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in the pan over medium- high heat. Add the oregano, salt, and pepper to taste and sauté quickly. As soon as the seasonings are hot, sauté the steak for 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the steak and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes for medium-rare.

Remove the steak from the pan, place on a cutting board, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Thinly slice the steak. With tongs, divide the meat among the hoagie rolls and top with the onion mixture. Spoon some of the cheese sauce over the meat and vegetables, cover with the top of the roll, and serve.

Cat’s Note If you want a traditionally ooked cheesesteak, wrap the rib-eye in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove the steak from the freezer and cut it into very thin slices. Sauté the slices in olive oil with oregano, salt, and pepper.

Homemade Provolone Sauce Makes 2 cups

Slow, gentle heat is the key to a smooth, creamy cheese sauce.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1⁄2 pound provolone cheese, diced small 2 large egg yolks, beaten 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 11⁄2 cups whole milk Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Half fill the bottom of a double boiler with water and place over medium heat. Melt the butter in the top of the double boiler. (If you don’t have a double boiler, melt the butter in a stainless-steel bowl set snugly inside a saucepan filled with a few inches of water.) Add the cheese and let it soften slowly, stirring.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, flour, and milk. When the cheese has melted, pour the egg mixture into the top of the double boiler and whisk until the sauce is warm and begins to thicken. Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking constantly. Add salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce is thick, turn the heat to low to keep it warm while you assemble the sandwiches. Use immediately. Cover and refrigerate any leftover sauce.

Lemonade Cookies Makes 4 dozen cookies It’s like a magic trick to pull a can of lemonade out of the freezer and say to the kids, “Do you think we can make this lemonade into cookies?” If you want to make the cookie dough ahead of time, it can be refrigerated for several days if you seal it in two layers of plastic wrap. Dough straight from the refrigerator should bake for about 12 minutes; dough at room temperature bakes in 8 to 10 minutes.

1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate 1⁄2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 1 cup sugar, plus extra to sprinkle over the cookies 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (optional) 2 large eggs 21⁄2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1⁄8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Fill a large bowl with warm water and plop in the unopened can of lemonade to thaw while you mix the cookie dough.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a hand mixer. Add the lemon zest, if desired. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until the mixture is light and creamy, 4 to 5 minutes, then set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Measure out 1⁄2 cup of the thawed lemonade and set the rest aside. Add about one third of the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Stir, then add about one third of the 1⁄2 cup lemonade. Continue adding the flour and lemonade alternately, stirring after each addition, until the mixture shows no streaks of flour. Beat on low speed with the mixer just until all the ingredients are combined.
Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake the cookies, checking them after 8 minutes. When the edges are just starting to brown, remove the cookies from the oven. (The centers will still look soft.) Using a pastry brush, immediately brush the top of each cookie very lightly with a little of the remaining lemonade concentrate, then lightly sprinkle with sugar. Transfer the cookies to a rack and allow them to cool completely.

Copyright © Catherine Cora. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Meet the Author

CAT CORA made television history when she became the first female Iron Chef on the Food Network in 2005. In 2006 she received the Teacher of the Year Award from Bon Appétit and was named executive chef of the magazine. She is the president and founder of Chefs for Humanity, which raises funds for emergency and
hunger-related causes. The mother of four boys, she is the author of Cooking
from the Hip
, and she recently launched the restaurants CCQ at Macy’s in Costa
Mesa, California, and Kouzzina at Walt Disney World.

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