Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings

Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings

by Susan Spungen
Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings

Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings

by Susan Spungen


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Simple, stylish recipes for fearless entertaining from the renowned food stylist, New York Times contributor, and founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living.

As a professional recipe developer, avid home cook, and frequent hostess, Susan Spungen is devoted to creating perfectly simple recipes for good food. In Open Kitchen, she arms readers with elegant, must-make meal ideas that are easy to share and enjoy with friends and family.

An open kitchen, whether physical or spiritual, is a place to welcome company, to enjoy togetherness and the making of a meal. This cookbook is full of contemporary, stylish, and accessible dishes that will delight and impress with less effort. From simple starters such as Burrata with Pickled Cherries and centerpieces such as Rosy Harissa Chicken, to desserts such as Roasted Strawberry-Basil Sherbet, the dishes are seasonal classics with a twist, vegetable-forward and always appealing. Filled with practical tips and Susan's "get-ahead" cooking philosophy that ensures streamlined, stress-free preparation, this cookbook encourages readers to open their kitchens to new flavors, menus, and guests.

Perfect for occasions that call for simple but elevated comfort food, whether it's a relaxed gathering or a weeknight dinner, Open Kitchen shows readers how to maximize results with minimal effort for deeply satisfying, a little bit surprising, and delicious meals. It is a cookbook you'll reach for again and again.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525536673
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 462,878
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Susan Spungen is a cook, food stylist, recipe developer, and author. She was the food editor at Martha Stewart Living from its founding in 1991 to 2003. She was the culinary consultant and food stylist on the feature films Julie & Julia, It's Complicated, and Eat, Pray, Love. She is the author of Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook, What's a Hostess to Do?, and Short Stack Editions' Strawberries. She also co-authored Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook, which was a bestseller. Susan lives in New York City and East Hampton, NY.

Read an Excerpt

A few years ago, I came across the word sprezzatura. Not only did I love the way it sounded, I was intrigued by its translation, which, simply put, means “studied nonchalance.” It deeply resonated with me because that is what I always aim for when I cook— and espe-cially when having people over. I want my food to be deeply satisfying, a little special, a little surprising but not seem like it’s trying too hard. I want my friends to feel cared for and considered, but I don’t want them to feel bad, as if I went to too much trouble for them (sometimes people do!). So even though I may have put a considerable amount of work into preparing a meal, I want it to seem effortless and uncontrived but still elegant and a little undone, like a messy bun on a beautiful girl or a guy’s shirttail sticking out just so.

This idea translates to a kitchen strategy that involves breaking down my prep into stages, so I can spread it out over a day or two (or three) so that in the end it feels kind of nonchalant for me too. Doing everything all at once for a meal usually results in a sink full of pots and pans, and if it’s just me, it can be hard to keep up. I like getting some of the work— and the cleanup— done well ahead of time. The one thing a professional home cook like me has over the ordinary home cook is years of experience as a restaurant chef, a caterer, a food editor, and a food stylist. These experiences have taught me how to “mise” things out (that’s French for getting all your prep ready) in the best way possible. I know what I can do ahead of time and what I need to leave for the last minute— that final toss of the salad, sprinkle of herbs, drizzling of sauce— the things that inciden-tally make things look beautiful and taste their best and freshest. This innate sense of timing takes time and experience to learn, but in this book, I guide you through each recipe with tips that tell you what you can do when— beyond what the recipe itself tells you. My hope is that, armed with this more granular guidance on how to get ahead, you will develop your intuition and have more fun cooking, with some of the stress taken out of the equation. I hope it will help you get a beautiful meal on the table without too much last- minute fuss. 

This is not a book about make- ahead food, even though some of it is, but rather about the concept of “get- ahead cooking.” Once you discover the joy of getting ahead, you will become a planner even if you never were before. If you want to be in the moment with your guests and join the party, it’s absolutely essential to start thinking and cooking this way. In fact, the recipes themselves are engineered specifi-cally to make cooking for a party easier, whether it’s for four or fourteen. You won’t find things that need to be finished à la minute standing at the stove. Your oven is your best friend when it comes to getting ahead, and it is used often in this book; whether  it’s to warm the French Beef Stew (page 101) you made two days ago, gently reheat the Italian- ish Ribs  (page 95) you cooked the day before that, or to  bake off the Quac ’n Cheese (page 269) or Winter Vegetable Lasagna (page 201) you assembled yes-terday, sending delicious aromas through the house and giving you a hands- off hour to do other things, be it setting the table or taking a shower. Your choice.

I really love cooking for people, and I do it often. Cooking makes me happy, and it’s a way I can make other people happy too. I feel like I’ve really given something of myself, and because it is usu-ally so enthusiastically appreciated, it is an incredibly rewarding experience. The by- product of all of this is that you’ve created a shared experience that will be remembered for a long time by everyone involved. 

Being a professional recipe developer means there are days when I’m cooking enough for a huge crowd and there’s no one there to enjoy it, at least not in the moment. It’s an occupational hazard I struggle with. 

In my old days, cooking in the test kitchens of Martha Stewart Living, where I was once the top banana, I was grateful for the “little kitchen,” aka the pantry, where everyone in our office stopped for a cup of coffee, or a pretzel log, or, yes, a little gossip or venting over the water cooler. All day long, my staff and I would plop our creations down on the counter and watch them disappear (and sometimes not— those recipes didn’t make the cut), but it would have felt really weird to be cooking tons of food all day long and have no one there to eat it. What would be the point? 

I studiously avoid the word entertaining, as the stuffy stereotypes it conjures up are a bit dated. I used to cater parties in New York when I was younger— often cooking in Park Avenue apartments (where I used the service entrance leading directly to the kitchen) and stodgy houses in Southampton where we had to choose which of six sets of china we were going to serve on. The tables were set with linens and crystal and silver. Things have changed, thankfully. I guess they never were like that in my world. This book is not about that kind of entertaining. The pressure is off and the doilies are long gone. My husband, Steve, and I have a lot of nice things we collect and like to use to serve food on, but our quirky tastes run more to handmade ceramics, especially Japanese ones. The food looks handmade too, so they complement each other. It’s all more wabi- sabi than fancy-s chmancy. Matching up the food you cook with a beautiful platter or bowl is half the fun and makes everything look more special. 

We like to gather friends around our table as often as possible, and as casually as possible. Like so many people, we have an open kitchen, which has made me embrace get- ahead cooking more than ever before. As if the kitchen wasn’t already everyone’s favorite gathering place, when people come to our house, they are standing around our open kitchen, which is what it was designed for! Our “ dining room” is a long table right next to the back side of our stove (which is on a peninsula), which we often use as a buffet. 

Most of the food in this book is designed to be made at least partly, if not completely, ahead of time, and to be served family style, by which I mean on shareable platters and bowls— whether they are set on a buffet or passed around the table. Quite a few recipes are meant to be served at room temperature— something to consider when assembling a menu (for more on menus, see page 354)— and others can be served straight from the oven or from a simmering pot on the stove. I try to minimize last- minute grand ges-tures like sautéing fish on the stovetop or anything else messy, smelly, or that requires too much con-centration when you’re already hosting and should be having fun yourself.

You’ll notice that a bunch of recipes have a “Project” tab at the top of the page. This is just a heads up that that particular recipe may take a little more time to prepare than some of the others in the book, but it has the distinct advantage of being done completely ahead of time.

Although this book is not organized seasonally, I cannot help but indulge my proclivity for highly sea-sonal cooking, because that’s what inspires me and drives my creativity. This isn’t to say that every recipe in the book depends on access to a backyard gar-den, a CSA, or a farmer’s market— though they are everywhere!— there are plenty that take advantage of and draw inspiration from seasonless everyday foods found in any supermarket. Building and bal-ancing flavors is something that can be done any time of year. You will find just a few recipes that are so highly seasonal that you might be able to make them for only two or three weeks of the year— I can’t leave these recipes out, because I want to inspire you to shop with the seasons— and when you find those gems, you’ll know just what to do with them. But I always try to give substitutions for highly sea-sonal ingredients. In the winter, at least on the East Coast, that is what we have to work with. 

You’ll also notice that there are a lot of vegetable-based recipes and dishes that are easily made vegetarian with the omission of one nonessential but perhaps flavor- enhancing ingredient, like a bit of pancetta. I am not a vegetarian, but I eat plenty of vegetarian meals and have plenty of vegetarian friends whom I don’t want to neglect when having people over for a meal. Like a lot of people, I’ve cut down on the amount of meat I eat, and I also just really love vegetables and am always finding new ways to use them. That said, this is not a healthy cooking book, per se— I like a little luxury, espe-cially when feeding friends— but I want my guests to go home feeling nourished in body and soul and indulged but not weighed down. There are many things I want to give my friends when I feed them— a food coma is not one of them. I am not a fan of gra-tuitous richness— it’s easy to make things taste good with lots of fat and salt, but I prefer to coax out flavors in more balanced ways.

I’m not gonna lie— cooking good food does take some planning and work. I don’t want to make prom-ises of effortlessness— I just want to help you get closer to that, and to the appearance of effortless-ness. But it’s pleasure that fuels the work. Going to the farmer’s market, going to the fish market to see what looks good, being creative in the kitchen— all of these joyful things happen while you are making this “effort.” 

Cooking is how you learn to be a good cook. Just like anything else, cooking is a practice, so as you keep cooking you’ll find yourself getting more and more comfortable and better and better at it. You won’t get better at cooking just by reading this book— you need to get yourself into the kitchen and cook, without fear of failure, because there really is no such thing.

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