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Great Food Without Fuss: Simple Recipes From The Best Cooks

Great Food Without Fuss: Simple Recipes From The Best Cooks

by Frances McCullough

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Two seasoned food professionals--one a cookbook editor and the other a caterer--match wits here to solve the kitchen dilemme of the '90s: how to serve imaginative, lively food without spending hours fussing or compromising on soul-satisfying flavor. Their solution is just to look to the great cooks--from Julia Child to James Beard to Diana Kennedy--for the simple dishes that are hidden away in even the most complicated cookbooks. They've assembled a treasury of superb recipes that depend on perfectly balanced flavors. The range is broad, from favorite American classics like spoon bread, corn fritters, and the only really delicious oven-fried chicken to exotic new tastes like Moghul Lamb, Bangkok Chicken, and Pasta with Vodka. For each recipe the editors offer tips, variations, suggests, and down-to-earth commentaries about how to work with exciting new ingredients as well as giving their own tried-and-true favorite recipes, simple winners they've cooked for years to great applause. Altogether there are 119 master recipes with 81 variations and 34 Editors' Kitchen recipes, a true culinary gold mine.

In their pursuit of the secrets of true flavor, Frances McCullough and Barbara Witt come up with some unusual approaches, rethinking some of our basic ideas about how to prepare roasted chicken and turkey (in a very hot oven), pasta (one method lets it sit in hot water off the flame), and baking potatoes (they're particularly wonderful baked to death). Here you'll find a lot of nitty-gritty information about entertaining, a refresher course on how to make a really good green salad, lists of canapes and tidbit desserts, a collection of quick breads, and microwave notes.

In a warm, intimate, encouragingly frank style, McCullough and Witt constantly encourage cooks to improvise by offering a range of variations, to start them experimenting with foods and flavors to develop their own recipes. This is a unique, user-friendly book that works for beginners who are reasonably sophisticated eaters as well as for experienced cooks. It will become the contemporary cook's favorite sourcebook for distinctive food.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466882928
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/07/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 273
File size: 812 KB

About the Author

Frances McCullough is a well-known editor who specializes in cookbooks, literary works, and poetry. She was the editor of Sylvia Plath's Journals and Holiday Home Cooking, an anthology of the Book-of-the-Month Club members' recipes.

Barbara Witt is a food constultant and private chef well known to Washington, D.C., restaurant goers as former owner and manager of The Big Cheese Restaurants.

Frances McCullough is a well-known editor who specializes in cookbooks, literary works, and poetry. She was the editor of Sylvia Plath's Journals and Holiday Home Cooking, an anthology of the Book-of-the-Month Club members' recipes.

Barbara Witt is a food consultant and private chef well known to Washington, D.C., restaurant goers as former owner and manager of The Big Cheese Restaurants.

Read an Excerpt

Great Food Without Fuss

Simple Recipes from the Best Cooks

By Frances McCullough, Barbara Witt, Arlene Cooper

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1992 Frances McCullough and Barbara Witt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8292-8




Sweet Pea Guacamole
Cottage Cheese Dip with Garlic and Herbs
Herbed Yogurt Cheese Dip
Anchovies Gremolata
A Pepper Boats with Black Bean Puree
Prosciutto and Breadsticks
Salami, Radishes, and Turnips
Smoked Salmon and Cucumbers
Potted Spreads


Mushroom and Hazelnut Soup
Yellow Squash Soup
Cold Tomato Soup
Fresh Coriander Soup
Cold Buttermilk Soup
Billi Bi
Oyster Avgolemono Soup


Piquant Prawns
Bourbon Shrimp
Bay Scallops with Sautéed Apples


Pasta with Caviar
Cappellini with Lemon and Basil
Skillet Pasta
Quick Pasta Sauces


Avocado with Radishes
Celery Hearts with Peppercorn Dressing
Thai Cucumber Salad
Mushroom and Cheese Salad
Parsley Salad
A Really Good Green Salad

We often hear caterers remark that their clients seem to remember the beginning and end of their meals with great clarity, while the main courses remain a little vague. And there are those who judge a restaurant by the quality and style of the bread and butter, the very first presentation from the kitchen. We've never had a memorable meal that didn't both begin and end very well indeed.

But do you really need to serve an appetizer? Arrigo Cipriani, of the legendary Harry's Bar in Venice, doesn't think so, on the grounds that starters actually dull the appetite. That may be true, but appetizers can be so appealing that many would prefer making an entire meal of them. If you are such a dedicated nibbler, try eliminating the seated first course and offer three or four successive taste-teasers with aperitifs. Good choices would include crisp croustades topped with marinated vegetables, such as roasted peppers, mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes, or bits of previously grilled eggplant, leeks, or red onion. Follow with a smoked fish and/or miniature kebabs of spicy cooked meat. Expand the array with a dish of special olives, or your favorite flavored roasted nut, or one or two of the myriad new "crispies" in the specialty food stores. This approach works particularly well with ethnic meals because it heightens the drama of what follows and allows you to offer a wider range of flavors than the entree alone can present.

The quick dips, spreads, and finger foods at the beginning of this chapter will give you ideas, or possibly just reminders, of simple, tasty nibbles for serving with cocktails, whether there is a starter course or not. The contemporary cliché is the platter of crudités — those lackluster veggies so laboriously prepared and dutifully received. While it's appropriate to offer today's health-conscious guest an alternative to the super-rich canapé, we suggest that the canapé not only pique the appetite but buffer the system against the rapid effect of alcohol. An adventurous selection of a couple of cheeses, perhaps one low-fat Chèvre, would be more effective and palate-pleasing than carrot sticks and celery. Add some interesting vegetables and a dip or two (see here). The abundant cheese board with its lavish choice of rich and runny cheeses should be avoided. High-fat cheese is very filling and will dull the meal to follow.

We encourage you to adapt and re-create these recipes just as our expert cooks have done. Several of the appetizers could become entrees or components of a multidish buffet or even a collection of treats for a cocktail buffet. If you have trouble trying to decide if a particular appetizer will be right with a certain main dish, try to visualize it on the same plate and see if it balances out in your imagination. Don't despair when you make mistakes; all of the cooks represented in this book have erred their way to excellence. Most of the time your own improvisations will delight your guests, and the fact that you have personalized the dish will add to their pleasure.


Sweet Pea Guacamole

Michael Roberts

Unlikely as this recipe sounds, it's quite delicious in a completely different way from traditional avocado guacamole. Ripe avocados are often scarce — usually just when you want to make guacamole — but sweet little frozen peas are always in the freezer section at the supermarket, so you can always prepare an appealing substitute.

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ bunch cilantro, trimmed of long stems
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, or 2 serrano peppers, seeded
1 pound frozen peas, thawed
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ medium red onion, finely diced


Combine oil, lime juice, cilantro, and jalapeño in a blender or food processor and blend until cilantro and hot pepper are roughly pureed. Add peas, cumin, and salt and blend until smooth. There will still be some lumps, but this adds to the textural interest of the guacamole. Scrape into a mixing bowl and add the diced red onion. Serve as a dip with tortilla chips or potato chips.

Serving Suggestions: Not only does this sweet pea mixture make a tasty dip with the ubiquitous corn chip, it is ideal as a side dish on the Mexican buffet table because, unlike the real thing, it doesn't quickly lose its appetizing green color. For the same reason it also works well on dishes that call for a guacamole garnish.

Variation: Use more jalapeños and cilantro for a livelier dip.



Everyone still loves the classic sour cream Fifties' dips, whether they admit it or not. Try making these dips a bit more contemporary by using cottage cheese or yogurt as the base. We think you'll agree that these versions lack nothing in flavor or seeming richness. Serve them with interesting raw vegetables — baby turnips, snow peas, endive leaves, strips of different colored bell peppers, or sticks of fennel, kohlrabi, or jicama.

Cottage Cheese Dip with Garlic and Herbs

Process 4 large garlic cloves with 1 cup parsley leaves and 8 to 10 trimmed scallions until finely minced. Add to the mixture 1 cup cottage cheese and ¼ cup light sour cream. Process until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with toasted pita bread triangles.

Herbed Yogurt Cheese Dip

Drain 2 cups yogurt in a sieve set over a bowl in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Stir in minced fresh herbs and pressed fresh or roasted garlic puree to taste.


These are tasty, no-fuss tidbits, many of them based on ingredients you usually keep on hand. They'd all go well with a dish of interesting olives or a plate of paper-thin slices of aged Parmesan.

Anchovies Gremolata

We know: Everyone you know hates anchovies — but they'll love these. The trick is to soak the anchovies (canned Spanish or Italian fillets) in milk for 30 minutes to sweeten them. Then pat the anchovies dry and arrange them like the spokes of a wheel on a serving platter. For each 2½-ounce can of anchovies, mince 1 garlic clove and a handful of parsley very fine and fluff together with the grated zest of 1 lemon to make a gremolata. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the anchovy fillets and scatter the gremolata over them. Serve with toasted bread triangles and sharp cocktail forks or toothpicks to spear the anchovies.

Pepper Boats with Black Bean Puree

Cut fresh red, green, and yellow bell peppers into long, slender "boats," following the natural ribbing of the vegetable. Take out the seeds and ribs, trim down any very thick tops, and fill with bean puree. For 4 medium bell peppers, in the food processor puree 2 cups well-rinsed and drained canned black beans (1-pound can) with 2 minced or roasted garlic cloves, 1 or 2 seeded and chopped pickled jalapeño peppers, and ¼ cup minced onion or scallion. Add enough sour cream to loosen the mixture and spoon some down the length of each pepper boat. If you like, zap the boats in the microwave for a couple of minutes, just long enough to take away the raw edge from the peppers and heat the beans. In that case, some shredded cheese on top would be great. Freeze any leftover bean mixture for another time.

If you prefer, use canned white beans or cannellini. Proceed as for black beans but substitute 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, and/or parsley) for the jalapeños and use olive oil instead of sour cream to loosen the puree. Top with capers or shredded white tuna (albacore).

Prosciutto and Breadsticks

Wrap a half slice of paper-thin prosciutto around one end of a grissini (thin breadstick). Rest the sticks around the rim of a serving platter, ham ends to the center, leaving a circle to fill with black and green Italian olives and/or chunks of raw fennel.

Salami, Radishes, and Turnips

Find a good Italian hard salami or garlicky cervelat and have it peeled and sliced paper thin. Put a dot of chive cream cheese in the center of each slice and fold the salami over in half and again in quarters, using the cream cheese as the glue, to make an easy morsel to pick up. Or spread each slice and roll it up like a cigarette. Arrange the salami on a serving platter with radishes, either cut crosswise into fans and crisped in ice water for at least 1 hour or left plain with a tiny touch of the green top. Include baby white turnips when available; they are sweet and delicious raw, dipped in salt. Add some raw kohlrabi, peeled and cut into sticks and dipped in salt.

Smoked Salmon and Cucumbers

Mix minced smoked salmon trimmings with cream cheese and chives to taste. Cut a cucumber crosswise into ¼-inch slices, mound the salmon mixture on top, and decorate with a sprig of fresh dill.


These small rounds of oiled, seasoned toasted bread make wonderful canapés with drinks. You can buy them in specialty shops under several labels. Better yet, make your own. Cut a French baguette into ½-inch rounds, brush both sides with olive oil, and lay out on a cookie sheet. Bake until crisp at 300°. Be certain the crostini are crisp all the way through. Toppings can be as simple as cheese (Chèvre and herbs, fontina and prosciutto, Brie and almonds) melted under the broiler or in the microwave, or as complex as grilled eggplant pureed with onion and sweet red pepper. If you keep a jar of black olive paste on your shelf, you can just spread some on the crostini and serve.

Potted Spreads

A crock of piquant buttery spread is always welcome. Use just enough unsalted butter to carry the seasonings and to make a spreadable paste (about 3 tablespoons butter to 1 cup fish or meat cubes). Process until smooth but not homogenized. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you want to make the spread well ahead, simply pour a thin film of melted butter over the top to seal it from the air. Store covered in the refrigerator for about 1 week. Some good combinations are:

• Cooked shrimp with fresh dill and a touch of mustard

• Smoked trout and toasted hazelnuts (delicious spread on apple slices dipped in lemon juice)

• Smoked chicken with sun-dried tomato and minced scallion

• Ham with garlic, parsley, and a dash of brandy or port

• Gorgonzola and walnuts

• Roast beef with horseradish

• Cremini mushrooms sautéed with fresh herbs and dry sherry (wring the mushrooms dry in a clean dish towel after sautéing)


Nuts are the easiest finger food of all. Here are some ways to dress them up for special occasions.

• Toasted pecan halves dipped in Roquefort mixed with cream cheese

• Macadamia nuts mixed with candied ginger and chunks of fresh coconut

• Salted peanuts mixed with minced dried apples

• Black walnuts mixed with minced dried apricots

• Pecans or cashews roasted in curry butter at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, salted and cooled (keep in a covered container until ready to serve)

• Brazil nuts wrapped with strips of prosciutto


Mushroom and Hazelnut Soup

Joyce Goldstein

Mushroom soup can be sublime or disappointingly flat, depending mainly on the quality of the mushrooms. Not this one, though; this singular combination is always rich, complex, and elegant.

1 cup hazelnuts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 cups sliced onions
14 cups, loosely packed, fresh white or brown mushrooms, cut in chunks (or left whole
if small)
5 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350°. Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet until the skins crack a little, then rub them in a kitchen towel to remove as much of the skins as possible. Don't be disheartened if you can't get them clean for a little skin won't hurt the soup. Grind the nuts in a food processor and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sweat them, covered, about 5 minutes. Add enough chicken stock to barely cover and heat to boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer about 10 minutes.

Puree the mushrooms and onions with the nuts and a little of the hot stock in batches in a blender or food processor. Thin the soup to the desired consistency with hot stock. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped fresh parsley, if desired. This soup can be made ahead of time and gently reheated. Thin it with chicken stock if it thickens too much.

Serving Suggestions: This is the ideal starter for a pristine sautéed chicken breast or roast chicken main course. The addition of sherry or marsala and cream makes the soup worthy of a holiday feast of turkey, ham, or roast beef.

Note: Brown mushrooms, Romans or cremini, are usually found in the supermarket packaged like the white ones. They have a more intense flavor and more character than the white, and we tend to use them in all recipes calling for cultivated mushrooms.

Fourteen cups of chopped mushrooms will be a little less than 2½ pounds. Quarter the mushrooms if they're not small.

Variation: Add a jigger of sherry or marsala mixed with cream.

Tip: From Julia Child: If you're slicing or chopping onions, refrigerate them first — no more tears.

Yellow Squash Soup

Diane Rossen Worthington

Yellow crookneck squash may seem an unexciting base for a soup — but this soup is not only sunny and cheerful-looking, it's also delicate and delicious. It can be served hot as well as cold, and you can make it a day ahead if you like; the flavors will improve.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ pounds yellow crookneck squash, shredded
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
3½ cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup sour cream
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper


¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives


Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shredded squash and chives and sauté until just softened, about 3 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Place in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until pureed. Refrigerate until cool.

Whisk in the lemon juice, sour cream, salt, and pepper until well combined. Taste for seasoning.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the sour cream and chives.

Serving Suggestions: This soup is not assertively spiced, so it makes a particularly refreshing starter for a spicy summer dinner. It would also be just right served before a chicken or seafood salad.


If homemade chicken stock is beyond you, substitute canned chicken stock. Get one that's labeled low-sodium; it will also have fewer additives.

From Julia Child: For a mock homemade stock, simmer 3 cups canned chicken broth, ½ cup canned beef bouillon, and ¼ cup dry white wine or vermouth with ¼ cup each minced carrots, celery, and onion, for 30 minutes on top of the stove or 10 minutes, covered, in the microwave. Strain before using.


Excerpted from Great Food Without Fuss by Frances McCullough, Barbara Witt, Arlene Cooper. Copyright © 1992 Frances McCullough and Barbara Witt. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Main Dishes,
Quick Breads,
Also by Frances McCullough,

Customer Reviews