Read an Excerpt
By Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison
TEN SPEED PRESSCopyright © 2002 Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHome-cooked dinners are one of life's great pleasures. But these days, many of us are so caught up in the goings-on of everyday life that we find our cooking time reduced to practically nothing. It often seems easier to eat take-out food, frozen dinners, and the heavily processed products lining market shelves.
We have long felt that great home-cooked dinners are not dependent on endless chopping, rare ingredients, fancy pots and pans, and gourmet cooking skills. Night after night, we build our meal around a fast-to-prepare entree made with fresh ingredients. A typical week might include pan-fried sole sewed with lemon wedges and tartar sauce; chicken marinated and roasted with barbecue sauce; and pasta with steamed mussels and a store-bought pesto sauce.
Quality ingredients are the foundation for great-tasting, simply prepared entrées. Start with the best, and lengthy preparations become superfluous. Purchase the freshest possible meat, seafood, and vegetables. Cook the food within two days to capture its peak flavor. Accent it with premium spices, condiments, oils, and vinegars. If you season broiled fresh fish with freshly ground black pepper, a sprinkling of salt, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, the result will be an intensely satisfying fast entrée.
Match a fast entrée with a crusty baguette, Chinese-style steamed rice, or pasta tossed with a premium pasta sauce and a sprinkling of imported Parmesan cheese. In our home, if Hugh makes the entree, then Teri prepares a dinner salad or a vegetable side dish either starting from scratch or utilizing what's ready-cut from the market.
For work-night dinners, we never serve meat or seafood entrées with both a vegetable course and a salad. This is unnecessary nutritionally and gastronomically. By preparing either a salad or a vegetable side dish, you'll have more time to enjoy a leisurely dinner.
Make use of what's available at the market to simplify your side dishes. You can find a vast number of packaged grains and pastas; breads, rolls, and tortillas; refrigerated salad mixes; and excellent designer salad dressings. Often we'll slightly embellish a market product to give it a homemade taste. We'll stir toasted nuts into a rice pilaf, squeeze lemon juice into couscous, or intensify a salad dressing with a squeeze of lime juice, dashes of chile sauce, and some chopped herbs. But we think you'll find that the side dish recipes provided in this book are as easy to make as most store-bought products.
A note on the recipes: each one provides advance preparation instructions. On most nights, we'll be heating up the oven, warming a sauté pan, or lighting a barbecue fire while completing these prep steps. But if you prefer to complete the preparation ahead of time, it can be done up to 8 hours in advance of cooking. All the recipes also provide menu suggestions, and often refer to our easy side dishes. Take these as starting points for surrounding your entrées with simple dishes that play a supporting role.
We invite you to join us on the endlessly satisfying adventure of simple home cooking. Read through the chapter on cooking techniques, review the suggested side dishes, and choose a couple of fast entrées to make over the next few nights. Gather your family and friends. Let these fast, flavor-intense recipes be the catalyst for lively dinners night after night. It's one of the easiest and most wonderful ways to enrich the lives of those we love.
The Essential Pantry
Good cooking begins with great ingredients. This means not only purchasing the freshest vegetables, seafood, meat, and herbs, but also choosing the best types of oils, vinegars, Asian condiments, and other seasonings. Buy the highest quality whenever possible. The best brands of Asian condiments are rarely found in American markets, but are readily found in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai markets. If you're unsure about where to look, ask the owner of your favorite Asian restaurant for recommendations on where to find the best Asian markets.
Chile Flakes, Crushed Red: Sold in the spice section of all markets, and appearing on the table at pizza restaurants, these chile flakes are usually labeled "crushed red pepper."
Chiles, Fresh: The most commonly sold fresh chiles are serrano and jalapeño. Use them to add heat to any recipe, or as a substitute for chile sauce. To use, trim off the stem, and then mince the chile, without removing the seeds, in an electric mini-chopper. If you prefer less heat, you can discard the seeds before chopping.
Anchovy Paste: A combination of puréed anchovies, vinegar, garlic, and spices, anchovy paste is sold in small tubes. It acids a rich taste without the strong anchovy flavor that so many people find objectionable.
Bread Crumbs, Dry: Sold in every supermarket, we prefer the unseasoned type. Japanese bread crumbs, called panko, are coarser, resulting in a crunchy crust.
Butter: Always use unsalted butter, never margarine or other fake butters. Substitutes: Flavorless cooking oils, such as peanut, safflower, corn, or olive oil.
Capers: The flower bud of a bush native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia, capers are sold pickled in a vinegar brine. Rinse before using.
Cheeses: There are many small manufacturers of excellent American goat cheese (such as Laura Chenel) and blue cheese (Maytag blue), but American-produced Parmesan cheese has a scalded-milk taste. For Parmesan, always buy Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Chicken Broth: While we prefer using the frozen chicken broth available at some supermarket dells, all the recipes in this book will taste fine using a store-bought low-sodium chicken broth.
Chile Sauce, Asian: This is a general term covering many Asian chile sauces, variously labeled as "chile paste," "chile sauce," and "chile paste with garlic." Refrigerate after opening. Best brand: Rooster Delicious Hot Chile Garlic Sauce. Substitute: Your favorite hot sauce.
Chili Powder: A blend of chiles and many different spices processed into a powder and sold in the spice section of every supermarket. Used for making American-style chili.
Chipotle Chiles in Adobe Sauce: These smoked jalapeños simmered in a spicy sauce are sold in 4-ounce tins at every Mexican market and in many American supermarkets. To use, finely mince the chiles, including the seeds, and use along with the sauce. A word of warning: these are extremely spies! To store, transfer to a glass or Tupperware container and refrigerate. Lasts indefinitely.
Coconut Milk: Canned coconut milk is available in Asian markets and many supermarkets. It is used more for the consistency it gives sauces than for its subtle flavor. Look for brands with just coconut and water listed as ingredients. Stir or shake the coconut milk well before using. Once opened, coconut milk is highly perishable and should be refrigerated no longer than one week. It can also be frozen. Best brand: Chaokoh from Thailand. Never substitute low-fat coconut milk, which has an off taste.
Fish Sauce, Thai or Vietnamese: Pungent, salty fish sauce, made by fermenting anchovies or other fish in brine, is as ubiquitous in Thai and Vietnamese cooking as soy sauce is in Chinese cooking. Purchase fish sauce produced in Thailand or Vietnam, since they have the lowest salt content. Once opened, fish sauce lasts indefinitely at room temperature. Best brands: Three Crab, Phu Quoc Flying Lion, or Tiparos. Thin soy sauce can be substituted for fish sauce, although the flavor is quite different.
Five-Spice Powder: A powdered blend of anise, fennel, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and cloves, it is available at most supermarkets and all Asian markets.
Garlic: Always use fresh garlic and mince it yourself (see page 14), rather than purchasing prepared minced garlic, garlic paste, or garlic powder.
Ginger, Fresh: These knobby brown roots are sold by all supermarkets in the produce section. Finely minced, ginger is a great addition to many non-Asian dishes such as guacamole. salsa, and fish chowder. Buy firm ginger with smooth skin. Peeling ginger is unnecessary unless the skin is wrinkled. Store uncut ginger in the refrigerator at room temperature. There is no substitute for fresh ginger.
Herbs, Fresh: Available throughout the year at most supermarkets, fresh herbs have a far more intense bouquet than their dried counterparts. To prepare most fresh herbs, separate the leaves from the stems, discard the stems. and then chop or mince the leaves. The exception to this procedure is cilantro, for which both the stems and the leaves should be used, hence you'll see that we call for minced cilantro sprigs rather than leaves. In an emergency, dried herbs can be substituted for fresh herbs, using about half the amount of fresh herbs specified.
Hoisin Sauce: This is one of the Asian condiments most loved by Americans. A thick and sweet, spicy, dark sauce, it is made with soy beans, chiles, garlic, ginger, and sugar. Once opened, it keeps indefinitely at room temperature. Best brand: Keen Chun Hoisin Sauce. There is no substitute for hoisin sauce.
Hot Sauce, Your Favorite: Use an Asian chile sauce (see above), or any spicy chile sauce from around the world. Don't select a simple tomato-based sauce-the spice is good!
Mustard, Honey and Dijon: While we don't have specific brands to recommend, we do suggest that you avoid the inferior tasting American-made bright yellow mustard. The more expensive brands are higher in quality, and therefore taste better.
Oil: In this book, we call for a variety of different oils. For sautéing and general cooking, use mild-flavored vegetable oils, such as peanut, safflower, and corn oils. Extra virgin olive oil smokes at a low temperature, so is often used for flavor rather than cooking. Plain olive oil has a higher smoking point, so is used in recipes where extra virgin won't perform well. Plain olive oil and flavorless cooking oils can be used interchangeably.
Olives and Tapenade: Olives purchased with the pit still intact are less salty and have a more intense olive taste than pitted imported olives. For the small amount of olives needed in most recipes, it doesn't take long to dislodge the pit yourself, especially if you have an olive pitter. If you don't have an olive pitter, gently crush the olives with the side of a knife, and then extract the pit. Never use American canned olives, which have been chemically processed. Tapenade is a thick paste made from olives, garlic, and seasonings.
Oyster Sauce: This Asian cooking sauce, also called "oyster-flavored sauce," gives a rich taste to a dish without a hint of its seafood origins. We use it in many European dishes in place of salt. It will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. Best brands: Sa Cheng Oyster Flavored Sauce; Hop Sing Lung Oyster Sauce; and Lee Kum Kee Oyster Flavored Sauce, Old Brand. There is no substitute, but oyster sauce is widely available in supermarkets and Asian markets.
Peppercorns, Green: These are soft, unripe peppercorn berries that are sold both dried and submerged in brine. If in brine, rinse before using. The peppercorns should be minced in an electric mini-chopper rather than a mortar and pestle, which leaves larger pieces.
Pita Bread: A Middle Eastern pocket bread made of white or whole wheat flour, pita bread is available at most American supermarkets.
Plum Sauce: This chutney-like sauce is made with plums, apricots, garlic, red chiles, sugar, vinegar, salt, and water. It makes a great foundation for barbecue sauces. Plum sauce is available at most supermarkets and Asian food stores. Once opened, it will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. Best brand: Koon Chun Plum Sauce. Substitute: your favorite chutney.
Red Peppers, Roasted: Red bell peppers take on a wonderful sweet, smoky flavor when roasted, peeled, and seeded. They are available bottled, sold alongside the pickles and relishes at every supermarket. To roast your own, see page 39.
Sesame Oil, Dark: This is a nutty, dark golden-brown oil made from toasted and crushed white sesame seeds. Do not mistake dark sesame oil for the clear-colored sesame oil made from untoasted seeds, which has no flavor; or for "black sesame oil," which has an overwhelmingly strong taste. Dark sesame oil is used in small amounts just to add flavor to Asian dishes, but never as a cooking oil since it smokes at a low temperature. Dark sesame oil will last for at least a year at room temperature, and indefinitely in the refrigerator. Best brand: Kadoya Sesame Oil.
Sesame Seeds, White: These small white seeds can add a subtle, nutty flavor to a variety of dishes. Look for them in the spice section of every, American supermarket. Avoid pretoasted sesame or brown seeds, which are inferior in taste.
Sherry, Dry: Asian cooks would use rice wine, not sherry, but it is only available at Asian markets. Inexpensive dry silent, Japanese sake, or dry vermouth make good substitutes. A good brand of Chinese rice wine (not to be confused with rice wine vinegar) is Pagoda Shao Xing Rice Wine.
Soy Sauce, Dark: Also labeled "heavy" or "black," this soy sauce has slightly more body than regular soy sauce due to the addition of molasses. Dark soy sauce will add more flavor and color to food than thin soy sauce. Best brand: Mushroom Soy Sauce.
Soy Sauce, Thin: "Thin" or "light" soy sauce is a mildly salty liquid made from soybeans, roasted wheat, yeast, and salt. If you are concerned about sodium, decrease the quantity of soy sauce in a recipe or use a naturally made low-sodium brand. Best brands: Pearl River Bridge Golden Label Superior Soya Sauce, Koon Chun Thin Soy Sauce, or Kikkoman Regular Soy Sauce.
Tomato Sauce: The best-tasting brands of bottled tomato sauces are Classico, Newman's Own. Muir Glen, and Coppola.
Tortillas, Flour and Corn: Always buy fresh tortillas when available. Frozen tortillas have an inferior taste. You'll find the best tortillas at Latin markets.
Vinegars: Japanese rice vinegar has 4 to 5 percent acidity, as compared to American and European vinegar with 6 to 7 percent acidity, and the very mild Chinese vinegar with 2.5 percent acidity. If a recipe calls for rice vinegar but all you have is a European vinegar, use a little less than the recipe specifies. Rice vinegar is available at most American supermarkets.
With these essential pantry ingredients on hand, it takes only seconds to add a splash or dash of flavor to a dish, elevating it from mundane to inspired.
Excerpted from Fast Entrées by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison Copyright © 2002 by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.