The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook

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A completely revised and updated edition of the cookbook that set the standard for entertaining, featuring new recipes and old favorites with all the great taste, convenience, and ease of preparation that has made it the entertaining bible for more than 500,000 cooks.

We all know that stirring risotto in the kitchen while your guests are gossiping in the living room is no fun. That's why the recipes in The New Elegant but Easy Cookbook can be prepared in advance and refrigerated...

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A completely revised and updated edition of the cookbook that set the standard for entertaining, featuring new recipes and old favorites with all the great taste, convenience, and ease of preparation that has made it the entertaining bible for more than 500,000 cooks.

We all know that stirring risotto in the kitchen while your guests are gossiping in the living room is no fun. That's why the recipes in The New Elegant but Easy Cookbook can be prepared in advance and refrigerated or frozen until your party. While sharing all-new recipes for delectable dishes like Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Mediterranean Couscous Salad, Michele's Corn Pudding, or an astonishing Prepare-Ahead Chocolate Soufflé, Burros and Levine have also included fifty favorites from the original cookbook, like Sherley's Parmesan Puffs, Baked Imperial Chicken, Green and Gold Squash, and Lois's Original Plum Torte (the most requested recipe ever reprinted in The New York Times).

To make your life even easier, the book has an ingredients list with mail-order sources and lists of recipes for specific needs and occasions. Best of all, there are ten foolproof menus, from an Old-Fashioned Casual Dinner for 6 to a Brunch for 16 to a Cocktail Party for 24, each with a shopping list and a two-week "countdown game plan" that will take the fear out of entertaining for even the first-time host.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A completely revised and updated edition of the bestselling and beloved book, first published in 1960, that became an entertaining bible. With dozens of new recipes like Mediterranean Couscous Salad and Michele's Corn Pudding, plus 50 old favorites from the original edition (including Lois's Original Plum Torte, the most requested recipe ever reprinted in the New York Times), The New Elegant but Easy Cookbook emphasizes do-ahead dishes so the cook can spend time at the party.
From the Publisher
Alice Waters, chef-owner Chez Panisse Café and Restaurant and author of Chez Panisse Vegetables These unintimidating delicious recipes can be accomplished with a minimum of effort, allowing us time to enjoy the important ritual of eating together with family and friends.

Marion Cunningham author of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook Marian Burros and Lois Levine have put together a wonderful collection of recipes that give entertaining home cooks a great variety of appealing and delicious dishes for any occasion.

When I'm not using my own recipes (especially when I don't have a staff), I can always rely on The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook for dishes to impress my guests.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With this update of her popular 1960 Elegant But Easy Cookbook, Burros and Levine add their contribution to a lengthening list of revised cookbook classics. Faithful readers will recall that the original featured make-ahead party fare; the same is true in the new edition. Here, however, the hors d'oeuvres, the fish, meat and vegetarian entres, as well as side dish, salad and dessert recipes have all been 'en-lightened' with fresh produce, low-fat dairy products and flavorful multi-ethnic ingredients. Calorie-laden Chicken Divan, for example, has given way to Marinated Grilled Chicken with Mango Salsa; grape jelly and chili-sauced cocktail meatballs cede their space to piquant Pickled Shrimp. Toasted Mushroom Rolls made with crustless slices of white bread rolled thin are minimally modified (calling for exotic mushrooms if available). Where once there were instant mashed-potato flakes, canned vegetables and Jello, there is now Polenta with Wild Mushrooms, Parmesan Braised Fennel and fresh Strawberry Sorbet. Two souffles, which can be prepared in advance and baked at the last minute, are standouts. Burros provides useful tips (e.g., how to pasteurize egg yolks), offers several knockout short-cut pie crusts, lists mail-order sources and includes a chapter with 10 menus plus 'game plans.' Above all, this collection once again encourages home cooks to be guests at their own parties.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684853093
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/1/2003
  • Edition description: First Simon & Schuster Trade Paperback E
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 477,360
  • Product dimensions: 7.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Marian Burros is the bestselling author of twelve previous books, including Cooking for Comfort, 20-Minute Menus, and Eating Well Is the Best Revenge. A columnist and writer for The New York Times since 1981, she lives in New York City and outside Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt


In 1995 I was on a countrywide tour with my new cookbook, Eating Well Is the Best Revenge. Often, while I was autographing the new book, copies of Elegant but Easy, dog-eared, food-stained, and occasionally in such bad shape that the pages were held together with a rubber band, would be handed to me to be autographed, too.

The conversation with the owner generally ran something like this:

Book owner: I just love your Elegant but Easy. I cook from it all the time.

Me: Do you still use it?

B.O.: (sheepishly) Well...(and then brightening) I make some things but I've changed them a lot. We don't eat the way we used to.

Hardly anyone does. Cooking a single onion in H cup butter; flinging MSG around as if it were salt; using processed cheese food to make a dip and serving
Jell-O molds for every dinner party — not likely.

My coauthor Lois Levine and I have wanted to revise Elegant but Easy for at least fifteen years, but it wasn't until Elegant but Easy's publisher, Macmillan, was purchased by the publisher of my last three books, Simon & Schuster, that a revision became possible.

Lois and I cook so differently from the way we cooked when Elegant but Easy was originally published in 1960 that we often laugh nervously when someone mentions a recipe that contains mushroom soup mix or refrigerator biscuits or canned condensed tomato soup. In hindsight we think we should have known that these products of technological progress were not making food taste better, but, like almost everyone else, we were conned into believing that these timesavers would not compromise the taste or integrity of a dish and would give us more free time. Free time to do what? Work harder and longer hours at other jobs.

I have long since given up convenience foods, having found better-tasting ways to cook quickly while also controlling what goes into my food. But there's no point in making fun of what we did almost forty years ago. In Stand Facing the Stove Stand Facing the Stove (Henry Holt and Company, 1996), the delightful biography of Irma Rombauer and Marion Becker, the mother and daughter who produced Joy of Cooking (my bible for years), Anne Mendelson writes: "It's ridiculous to be uppity about condensed milk, cherry Jell-O, canned vegetables, thick white sauce, processed cheese, condensed tomato soup, canned fruit cocktail, or spaghetti cooked to the consistency of baby cereal.

"Plastering retrospective snobberies over such foods because they are not chic today is purely silly. The fact is that all cultures form their own accommodation with the resources that their agriculture and technology make available to them. The attitude that some of our grandmothers or great-grandmothers held toward the products of American know-how precisely parallel the attitudes of modern gourmetdom toward 'boutique' olive oils or 'artisanal' cheeses."

Rereading an article I wrote for the New York Times in 1985 and reprinted with comments from readers in The Best of De Gustibus (Simon & Schuster, 1988), I was reminded why I should know better than to make fun of my old recipes.

Ellen Brown and Ann Brody, both food consultants, invited me to a black tie "Déjà Vu" dinner in Washington. They thought it would be interesting to see how people would react to a meal based on recipes from the 1950s and '60s.

I reported on the event in the New York Times: "While the fifty guests enjoyed much of the food, the tomato aspic was an unmitigated failure. 'It was universally decided,' Brown said, 'that our palates had progressed past the point at which we would tolerate tomato aspic.' Which probably explains why it has been at least twenty years since I made my version of tomato aspic, which contained raspberry gelatin as well as horseradish."

After I got through poking fun, the mail began to arrive and I stopped laughing. "Help," wrote a reader from Westchester County, New York. "I did not realize that recipes and food are dated. Elegant but Easy happens to be one of my favorite cookbooks. What should I replace it with so that my cooking can be 'now'?

"Your column in today's Times was really depressing. Are there any recipes in your book that can still be used without appearing gauche? Just three or four weeks ago I made Sweet and Sour Meatballs and all the guests thought they were wonderful. Does this mean we are all out of touch?

"All kidding aside, is there another cookbook that tells you where to stop when preparing a recipe in advance? I have used Elegant but Easy and Freeze with Ease for at least seventeen years; both books have been reliable; now I feel self-conscious when selecting a recipe."

Worse still was a note from an equally upset Connecticut reader: "I consider it needlessly unkind to ridicule the food preferences of other times, places, or people. Some of us like tomato aspic, though I never get to serve it because my family decided it was unpalatable (icky) in the 1940s, considerably ahead of the guests at the Déjà Vu party."

This is not the way for a cookbook author to get people to buy her books. For all the outdated recipes and ingredients in the original Elegant but Easy, including the aspic, there are still some dishes I never stopped making — Toasted Mushroom Rolls, Sherley's Parmesan Puffs, Frozen Grand Marnier Soufflé, Lemon Angel Trifle, and, of course, the Fruit Torte, which is now called Original Plum Torte and is the most requested recipe I have ever published in the Times. It was one of Lois's contributions to the book, and every fall the letters and calls come in asking me to reprint it because the one from the previous year has been lost.

There are about fifty recipes from the first edition in the new one. So why not start anew? Because the concept behind Elegant but Easy is as good today as it was in 1960: recipes that can be prepared in advance so that the cook can enjoy her (there were hardly any "his" then) party instead of slaving over the stove. The idea of stirring a risotto while everyone else is gossiping in the living room is (still) not my idea of fun.

While a few cookbooks today do suggest how much of a recipe can be prepared in advance, most don't, usually because the dish cannot be prepared ahead of time and maintain its texture and flavor. Much current cooking is à la minute, which is great for restaurants where the chef's staff preps it and cooks it and you eat it. Right away. That kind of cooking does not translate well to the home unless you have a kitchen staff, and if you do, you don't need this cookbook. The result is that fewer and fewer people give dinner parties or parties of any kind at which they serve their own food.

Fortunately there are still some who would really like to try, a fact that was brought home to me in December 1996, when I wrote a piece for the New York Times about giving a dinner party and spreading the work over a two-week period. It provided a game plan so that the cook could include strategies to get the food on the table without a meltdown of either the cook or the food. In a recent nationwide survey, 26 percent of Americans said the hardest part of entertaining is preparation, like cooking.

The menu for the article came from the new version of Elegant but Easy. What surprised me was the response from readers: the article was being clipped from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles because the recipes and the game plan had put entertaining at home within the reach of anyone who knows how to toast a cheese sandwich.

The Easy part of the original book title still holds. As in the original Elegant but Easy, there is a snowflake beside each recipe that can be frozen and a refrigerator sign with a number indicating how many days ahead a dish can be made and refrigerated: 2 for two days.

Elegant? As Americans have become more sophisticated about food, it's unlikely that many think of black bean chili or chicken cacciatore as elegant, and while there are plenty of dishes that can be served at today's version of a formal dinner party, there are even more that are informal. This is a cookbook for those who still want to entertain, at least once in a while, with as little stress as possible, whether it's two for a Sunday night supper, company invited only that morning, or something more impressive like a sit-down dinner for twelve. In addition, many of the recipes in the book, which came from my "Plain and Simple" column in the New York Times, are so quick and so easy they would be perfect for a family supper.

Despite my reputation for featuring low-fat food with moderate calories, The New Elegant but Easy is about entertaining, not about day-in and day-out healthful eating. I don't think entertaining is the time to watch every fat gram and calorie. If you do that the rest of the week, some splurges are not only perfectly acceptable but absolutely necessary.

The keynotes here are taste and ease of preparation. Wherever less fat has no impact on the taste of the dish, I've cut back and suggested lower-fat alternatives such as light sour cream and nonfat yogurt. But there is plenty of heavy cream, butter, and cheese, even though the idea that I use them may come as a shock to those who think I never stray from the low-fat path.


Copright © 1998 Foxcraft, Ltd. and Lois Levine

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First Chapter


Toasted Mushroom Rolls

The changes in this recipe are minimal, but do take advantage of the fact that today cultivated wild mushrooms are available all over. The wild mushrooms add more flavor to the rolls, but the rolls are also superb with white button mushrooms.

Oh yes. The MSG has been eliminated, but the white bread should be the spongy white stuff we used to roll into spitballs. The bread has to be very soft to roll well.

These were served at my daughter's wedding in 1992.

1/2 pound white mushrooms or exotic mushrooms like portobello, cremini, shiitake, or some combination
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus melted butter for brushing
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup light cream or half-and-half
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
21 slices white bread (two 16-ounce loaves), crusts removed

1. Wash, trim, dry, and finely chop the mushrooms. SautT them in 4 tablespoons hot butter for about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend in the flour. Stir in the cream and return to the heat, cooking until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat. Stir in the chives and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

2. With a rolling pin, roll the bread slices thin. Spread each slice with some of the mushroom mixture; roll up and place, seam side down, on cookie sheets. Brush with additional melted butter. Leave on the cookie sheets and freeze, if desired, or refrigerate. After they are frozen or chilled, they can be removed from the sheets and stored in a plastic bag, if desired.

3. To serve, let the frozen rolls defrost; preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toast on all sides for about 15 minutes, until the rolls are golden. Cut in half and serve warm, not hot.

yield: 42 rolls

Copyright © 1998 by Foxcraft Ltd. and Lois Levine

Baked Imperial Chicken

This is very close to the original recipe. We've substituted egg whites for some of the whole eggs, and of course now we use fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano.

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 cups fine unseasoned bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt to taste
1/4 cup sesame seeds
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
3 pounds bone-in chicken breasts, skin removed
Nonstick pan spray
Cumberland Sauce (recipe follows)

1. Stir the cheese, bread crumbs, basil, thyme, rosemary, salt, and sesame seeds until well mixed.

2. Mix the whole eggs and egg whites together in a medium bowl.

3. Wash and dry the chicken breasts and dip them into the egg mixture, then into the cheese-crumb mixture, and place the pieces in a shallow greased baking pan. Refrigerate or freeze.

4. To serve, let the chicken defrost, if frozen. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the tops of chicken with nonstick pan spray. Bake in the lower third of the oven for about 45 minutes. Serve with Cumberland Sauce.

yield: 4 to 6 servings

note: Boneless chicken breasts can be substituted for the bone-in breasts. Reduce the cooking time to 20 to 25 minutes. Allow 1 small whole chicken breast per person.

Cumberland Sauce

1/4 cup red currant jelly
1/4 cup defrosted frozen orange juice concentrate, undiluted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the jelly, orange juice, lemon juice, sherry, water, ginger, mustard, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Refrigerate.

2. To serve, reheat.

yield: 2 cups

Copyright © 1998 by Foxcraft, Ltd. and Lois Levine

Sesame Asparagus

This can be made several hours before dinner and served at room temperature.

2 pounds asparagus
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1. Thin the tough part of the asparagus stems from the tender part by bending and breaking at the point where the stems break easily. Depending on thickness, steam the asparagus 3 to 7 minutes and drain. Set aside.

2. In a pot large enough to hold the asparagus, heat the oil until it is warm. Add the sesame seeds and asparagus, stirring to coat and warm the asparagus slightly. Stir in the soy sauce and serve.

yield: 4 servings

Copyright © 1998 by Foxcraft Ltd. and Lois Levine

Macaroni and Cheese, The Canal House

The Canal House restaurant is in the SoHo Grand Hotel, a very New York, very downtown place where everyone wears black and everyone is very thin and very chic. But not from eating this grown-up version of macaroni and cheese.

The quality and the sharpness of the cheese are all-important to the success of this dish. Choose a white Cheddar that has been aged at least two years. (See page 22.)

Other corkscrew-shaped pastas can be substituted for the cavatappi; the sauce adheres beautifully to this shape.

This makes a perfect side dish for simply grilled chicken or meat, too.

1 cup diced onion (about 4 ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cups low-fat milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
10 ounces extra-sharp aged white Cheddar cheese, grated, plus 2 ounces, grated
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
8 ounces cavatappi
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. In a large saucepan, cook the onion over low heat in the melted butter until the onion is soft but not browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the flour. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk until thoroughly blended. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard and the 10 ounces of Cheddar cheese, the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and hot pepper sauce.

2. Meanwhile, cook the cavatappi according to package directions until just al dente. Drain but do not rinse. Stir immediately into the prepared cheese sauce until well blended. Adjust seasonings.

3. Spoon the mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Top with the remaining 2 ounces of Cheddar cheese and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Refrigerate, if desired.

4. To serve, let the dish return to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake about 30 minutes, until the mixture is hot, bubbling throughout, and golden.

yield: 3 to 4 serving as a main dish, 6 servings as a side dish

Copyright © 1998 by Foxcraft Ltd. and Lois Levine

Original Plum Torte

Because of reader demand, this recipe has been published in one form or another in the New York Times almost every year since I went to work there in 1981. Lois brought this recipe, originally called Fruit Torte, to Elegant but Easy, and its appeal comes from its lovely old-fashioned flavor and its speed of preparation.

When I had been married just a couple of years, I had worked out an assembly-line process for making many tortes and putting them in the freezer. A friend who loved the tortes said that in exchange for two she would let me store as many as I wanted in her freezer. A week later she went on vacation for two weeks and her mother stayed with her children. When she returned, my friend called and asked:

"How many of those tortes did you leave in my freezer?"

"Twenty-four, but two of those were for you."

There was a long pause. "Well, I guess my mother either ate twelve of them or gave them away." Her mother must have liked them as much as I do. And the children. And possibly the neighbors.

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
Pinch salt
24 halves pitted Italian (prune or purple) plums
1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream the butter and the 3/4 cup of sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt and beat to mix well. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Cover the top with the plums, skin sides down. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

3. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired.

4. To serve, let the torte return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm, if desired. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.

8 servings

note: I've tried this with other plums, too. It's great.

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