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Sparks in the Kitchen

Sparks in the Kitchen

by Andrea Strong, Quentin Bacon (Photographer), Katy Sparks

From Katy Sparks, who dazzled a devoted clientele at her restaurant Quilty’s in New York City, here is a wonderfully creative collection of recipes and culinary wisdom. It is a book for people who love to cook, enabling you to put to work in your own kitchen the secrets and inspirations a gifted chef can offer, particularly one who now cooks at home for her


From Katy Sparks, who dazzled a devoted clientele at her restaurant Quilty’s in New York City, here is a wonderfully creative collection of recipes and culinary wisdom. It is a book for people who love to cook, enabling you to put to work in your own kitchen the secrets and inspirations a gifted chef can offer, particularly one who now cooks at home for her own family.

From snacks, small plates, and cocktails to relishes and desserts, Sparks makes it clear that good ingredients are all-important. So she offers guidelines on what to buy seasonally, how best to judge freshness, and how to store foods effectively. She loves to combine flavors in unexpected ways, utilizing a wide range of spices and coaxing the essence from fresh herbs and zests.

Whether she is detailing a dramatic dish to start off a special dinner, such as her Oysters in Gewürztraminer Cream (crowned with a nest of crispy fried leeks) or the playful Middle Eastern–inspired creation Spiced Lamb Meatballs in Eggplant “Leaves,” or a simple, satisfying family meal like Grilled Chicken in Marjoram Marinade or Pork Chops Smothered in Lentils, she encourages the home cook to be creative. As she guides you through a recipe, you will learn invaluable lessons: what makes a good soup, ways to keep meat tender and juicy, foolproof methods of grilling a whole fish and roasting a chicken, keys to successful deep-frying. And sidebars like “Leftover Alert” and “Weighing Your Options” encourage you to improvise with leftovers, experiment with interesting substitutes, and create delicious accompaniments.

A pat of one of her compound butters, a splash of her homemade flavored vinegar, or a dollop of her Papaya-Ginger Salsa or Onion-Sage Confit might contribute to the sparkle that makes each finished dish so delicious. Try her Sesame-Roasted Green Beans, Coconut-Simmered Fingerling Potatoes, or Beet Pickled Eggs dipped in Spice-Seasoned Salt for revelations in flavor.

And, if there’s still room, a Sparks dessert is not to be missed. Three different pots de crème, chocolate bread pudding, apple tarts, raspberry tarts, maple tuile cookies, and Mohr im Hemd (individual souffléd cakes drenched in dark chocolate) are among the family favorites gathered here.

Above all, Katy Sparks shares the fun and drama of cooking, interweaving stories from her childhood on a Vermont farm and her odyssey from college dropout to star chef. The kitchen is where she feels most happily at home, and with this book to inspire you, so will you.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sparks's food looks comfortably rustic, corresponding to her childhood on a Vermont farm, occasional visits to Germany and a move to New York, where she opened Quilty's, a SoHo restaurant that felt like a country inn (it closed after 9/11). The chef's hallmark is combining flavors and textures in unexpected ways; hence, there's papaya in her Gazpacho, ground star anise and coriander in a Seasonal Country Salad, and chilled cucumbers against hot scallops in Seared Sea Scallops on a Cool Cucumber, Sesame, and Dill Sauce. Sparks is no fusspot, advising readers "have fun and don't sweat the details." For example, in the recipe for Simple Roast Chicken, she notes, "Chicken is a perfect vehicle for experimentation," so try stuffing the bird with a half a lemon, a sprig of herbs, a few mushroom stems-anything that'll release flavor and aroma. Most of the 160 dishes featured can go fancy or casual; a perfect example is Smoked Trout Tartare with Cucumber, Feta, and Dill, which can be "dressed down with a beer or gussied up with a glass of sparking wine." Sparks's family features prominently in the essays and recipe introductions, adding to the homey, casual feel of this handsome volume. Photos. (Jan. 6) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sparks has cooked at a number of well-known New York City restaurants and was chef at Quilty's in Soho for five years, where she gained a loyal following; she is now culinary director of Balducci's gourmet retail markets. In this very personal cookbook, she presents the food she likes to cook at home for family and friends, recipes that do not require a brigade of sous-chefs but that do reflect her perspective and experience as a chef; among these recipes are Roasted Black Mussels with Almond-Garlic-Thyme Butter, Kabocha Squash Soup with Lemongrass and Ginger, and Venison with Fox Grape Poivrade. Her recipe instructions are very reader-friendly, and she provides a lot of information in an unintimidating way. Her cookbook will appeal to ambitious home cooks and, of course, fans of her restaurants. For area libraries and other larger collections. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.05(w) x 9.44(h) x 1.11(d)

Read an Excerpt

Grandma Sparks's Maryland Crab Cakes
My grandmother, who lived her entire life just outside Baltimore, was a great cook, and these crab cakes were mainly responsible for burnishing her culinary reputation. You will be forgiven, dear reader, for thinking that the Sparks clan is obsessed with mayonnaise. And you may be rightso many of my family's culinary treasures use this humble but essential ingredient. We're a little particular about it toounless you are willing to make your own, only Hellman's (not Hellman's Lightthe real thing) will do. These crab cakes also depend on finding the freshest lump crabmeat.
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over gently for any stray shells or cartilage
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Colman's dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 slices fresh bread, crusts removed, diced into very small cubes Butter, for sautéing
Serves 6 (makes about 8-12 small cakes)
Carefully mix all of the crab cake ingredients together in a large bowl. Don't break up the crabmeat; big cunks are so much more satisfying to eat. When your crab cake batter is thoroughly mixed, let it rest for several hours in the refrigerator—this allows the bread cubes to soak up the moisture from the crab so they won't fall apart in the pan.

Shape your cakes into any size you wish—large ones for lunch, or tiny ones for hors d'oeuvres.When you're ready to serve them, heat a nonstick or heavy-bottomed skillet, add a generous amount of butter, and sauté the cakes over medium heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
Weighing your options: We serve our crab cakes with just a squeeze of lemon, but for a more assertive and modern accompaniment, you can pair them with Smoked Chile and Caper Remoulade (pg. 271); it will give them a nice kick.

Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Smoked Salmon and Kumquat Relish
I have hijacked this essentially Mexican dish to allow for multicultural flavor combinations. It is so easy and satisfying to sandwich any number of good cheeses between two crispy sheets of tortilla. (Tortillas, by the way, keep very well in the freezer). The quesadilla is a great vehicle for using up bits of cheese in your fridge as well as cooked leftovers like shrimp, chicken, beans, mushrooms—wherever your imagination takes you. Add a salsa and you have an impressive first course, or a light lunch.

This quesadilla is a fun and tasty one, and I have listed several others for you to try below as well. But I encourage you to create your own, enlisting the kids to help you.
Eight 6-inch flour tortillas
12 ounces creamy goat cheese
1/2 small red onion, minced Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the kumquat relish:
1 dozen kumquats, sliced into rings with seeds removed
1/4 fresh green chile, minced
1 small bunch cilantro leaves, minced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound smoked salmon, cut into 24 small pieces
2 ounces salmon roe or caviar or per your preference and budget
Serves 6
Trim the tortillas, going around the edge of an inverted bowl (it should just fit inside the outer edge of the tortillas) with a sharp knire; this makes a neater presentation. Spread 4 of the tortillas out on a work surface, and divide the goat cheese among them. Scatter the minced red onion over the cheese, season lightly with salt and pepper, and press the remaining 4 tortillas firmly over each bottom tortilla. Wrap the quesadillas with wax paper between them. They can be stored in the fridge at this point for a day or two.
Make the relish: Combine the kumquats, chile, and cilantro in a small bowl, and stir gently.
Cook the quesadillas: Heat an 8-inch nonstick pan or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Coat the pan with a film of vegetable oil, and when it gets hot, add a teaspoon of butter; when it sizzles, add a quesadilla (see Chef's Trick). Using a spatula, peek at the underside periodically—you are looking for a golden brown color; this should take about 2 minutes. When the tortilla is brown, carefully turn the quesadilla over, tilting the skillet at 45 degrees, to prevent a "splashdown" of oil when the quesadilla hits the pan again; then brown the second side. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Cook the remaining quesadillas, adding more butter and oil as necessary. Keep the cooked ones warm in a 200 degree F oven, or simply assemble the garnishes and eat them as quickly as they come out of the skillet.
To serve, cut each quesadilla into sixths with a very sharp knife or pizza wheel, and place a s lice of smoked salmon on each piece. Top the salmpon with a spoonful of the kumquat relish and a dab of the caviar.
Weighing your options: The basic technique explained above is the same for all these recipes. One cautionary note: Keep the amount of filling to a reasonable level. Too much will make a soggy quesadilla, which is not a good quesadilla. The italicized ingredients are garnishes for toppings the cooked quesadillas, and recipes for them are found in the Dressings, Pickles, and Relishes chapter.
• cooked shrimp or lobster with feta, hummus and Tomato and Citrus Salsa
• roasted wild mushrooms with ricotta cheese and a drizzle of Red Chile Oil
• aged cheddar and Monterey Jack with pickled jalapeños and Tomato, Basil, and Caper Salsa
• Taleggio cheese with Dried Fig and Almond Chutney
Chef's Trick: Butter tends to burn and turn bitter when cooking at a high temperature. To prevent this, fry in a combination of vegetable oil and butter—what we call in the business "fortifying." The vegetable oil raises the smoking point of the butter an gives you that rich buttery flavor without the burn.

Spiced Lamb Meatballs in Eggplant "Leaves"
I have the good fortune to belong to a member-owned and operated food coop here in Brooklyn. It's a unique places that dabbles in delicacies like smoked salmon and duck liver—all from creatures raised organically and sustainably. I occasionally run across a shipment of ground lamb from the Catskills region of New York State, and I snap some right up. I love Middle Eastern spices with ground lamb, so I season it heartily and shape it into small meatballs that I broil and wrap in thin slices of roasted eggplant. The wrapped meatballs are then topped with a piquant pomegranate and coriander yogurt sauce and popped into the waiting mouths of my family. I've found these meatballs good to serve as cocktail hors d'oeuvres—the eggplant leaves make them easy finger food.
For the lamb meatballs:
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (if you can't find ground lamb, you can buy lamb shoulder to grind at home)
3 ounces French feta (French feta is milder than Greek, and I prefer it in this recipe)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 scallions, minced (white and a little of green part, too)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
2 jalapeños, minced, or 1 serrano chile, minced Hearty pinch chopped cilantro Blend of salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg to taste (1 teaspoon to start)
Olive oil, for sautéing test piece of meatball
For the eggplant "leaves":
2 Japanese or Asian eggplants, or 1 large purple eggplant Olive Oil as needed for roasting Salt and pepper
For the yogurt sauce:
Seeds of 1 pomegranate, or a scattering of finely diced tomato if pomegranates are not in season
1 cup whole-milk yogurt, preferably Greek because it's so thick and rich
3 tablespoons minced cilantro, plus a few whole sprigs for garnishing Salt and pepper
Serves 6
Prepare the meatballs:
Fold together the ground lamb, feta, garlic, scallions, ginger, coriander, cumin, chiles, cilantro, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl. Let flavors develop by resting the meat in the fridge while you roast the eggplant and make the yogurt sauce.

When ready to broil the meatballs, pinch off a small pice of the lamb mixture and sauté it in a drop or two of olive oil. Thi is the only way to taste for seasoning. Cook the pinch of lamb mixture until just pink inside and taste. Then add more salt and pepper if needed. Once you have seasoned the meat, shape it out into 24-36 small meatballs.
Make the eggplant "leaves:"
Preheat the broiler. I use a plastic Japanese mandoine to cut the eggplant into very thin, 1/8-inch slices, but a steady hand and a sharp knife will do the trick too. Once you have sliced the eggplant thin, cut the slices into roughly 1 1/2 inches wide by 5 inches long. This size will allow for shrinkage when the eggplant cooks, and the slice will wrap nicely around the small meatballs. Brush each eggplant strip lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast under the broiler on the second shelf from the top to avoid burning the thin slices. When the eggplant is browned and tender, it's ready. Let it cool before handling.
Make the yogurt sauce:
Remove the seeds from the pomegranate: I do this by cutting the fruit in half and plucking the seeds out from between the papery white membranes. Don't wear anything that you mind having speckled with pink dots of pomegranate juice! Stir together the yogurt, the cilantro, and half the pomegranate seeds in a bowl. Reserve the rest of the seeds to garnish the plates or platter with.
Broil the meatballs: Place the meatballs on a baking sheet in the oven, on the second shelf down from the top—if you put the meatballs too close to the broiler, they will overbrown on the outside before cooking through (see note below). Broil the meatballs until just a little pink inside. This will take 5-8 minutes depending on the size of your meatballs. Remove from the broiler and rest 2-3 minutes before wrapping with the eggplant "leaves."

Note: If you have an oven with a broiler "drawer," where the flame is very close to the food, you'll want to bake your meatballs in the oven at about 400° F instead, because they will burn if you put them under the intense heat of such a close flame. Bake the meatballs for 5-8 minutes, depending on the size, and if you need to give them a bit of browning, just pop them under the broiler for a few seconds.

Wrap a strip of roasted eggplant around each meatball and top with a half teaspoon or so of the yogurt sauce. Pass around as finger food or serve 4-6 of them to each person as a main course.

Note: These meatballs taste best at room temperature—not too hot or too chilled. If you have leftovers, bring them to room temperature before devouring.
Weighing your options:
When serving these as a main course, I pair them with the Macademia Nut Couscous on page 243, and an exotic-tasting side salad like Orange and Radish Salad with Mint (pg. 229) or just some simply steamed rice.

Meet the Author

Katy Sparks grew up in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. She attended the cooking school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, and had her early training in that city at Al Forno before moving to Seattle. She later worked at the celebrated Quilted Giraffe in New York before opening Quilty’s in SoHo. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, New York magazine, New York Post, Time Out New York, Real Simple, Food & Wine, and Gourmet. She is the author of The Strong Buzz, a weekly blog (www.thestrongbuzz.com) devoted to New York City’s restaurant and food scene. She lives in Manhattan.

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