Every other Wednesday, I’m featuring one of my favorite recipes from How to Cook Everything Fast. If you cook it, too, I want to see it—tag it on social media with #HTCEFast. And enjoy!
It doesn’t take long for bone-in chicken to turn water into a flavorful broth. Start with whole pieces, don’t overcook the meat or fuss with the bones, and you’ll have real chicken noodle soup on the table in 30 minutes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 bone-in chicken thighs
4 chicken drumsticks
1 large onion
2 large carrots
3 celery stalks, plus any leaves
4 garlic cloves
5 bay leaves
8 ounces egg noodles or any cut pasta
And though we are also a grilling people, wings seldom make the cut for some reason, being passed over for burgers, dogs, steaks, fish and meatier cuts of chicken, even boneless chicken breasts (which make almost no sense to grill, where they routinely dry out). Perhaps we associate wings with frying, or they seem like too much work for the amount of meat that they yield. This is a mistake; the grill is the perfect place for the wing.
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Attention, significant others of mothers: Breakfast in bed is a thoughtful, time-honored gesture for Mother’s Day. There is, however, an alternative to a precariously balanced tray of eggs, orange juice and coffee, all of which she eats by herself while the kids hang around watching. That alternative is a simple but wonderful dinner, cooked by you and those same adorable children, eaten together at an actual table.
Here’s a three-course meal, easy enough for novice cooks to pull off and impressive enough so that those who know how to cook will be pleased. It features a chicken dish that may become a lifelong standard and a can’t-fail version of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s warm, soft chocolate cake.
I’ve also included a comprehensive battle plan — a timeline for everything you’ll need to do in the kitchen with suggestions for the tasks to delegate to your kids. (If they’re the better cooks, they can delegate to you.) Just remember: Even though you cooked, you still have to do the dishes.
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For something that has almost unlimited potential, the sandwich has become staid and unimaginative. In part this is because we don’t have as many leftovers as we once did (we don’t cook as much), so a meatloaf sandwich is nowhere near as common as it once was. But it’s mostly because we’ve allowed sandwich-making to become something that is either done by someone else or a task to be squeezed in between breakfast and taking the kids to the bus.
But now and then, for a brunch or a party or a laugh, it’s worth showcasing a variety of unusual ingredients and allowing individuals to throw them together, producing post-Dagwood creations that are beyond the ability of others to imagine. Given the same array of options, you and I would surely come up with radically different creations.
It all starts with good bread, a commodity that’s easy enough to find. It continues with spreads, which need not be that out of the ordinary but should be seasoned assertively enough to not disappear. The “body” of the sandwich — which may be open-faced or not — is the key, of course, and it’s here that it pays to open the vault: not just tuna but anchovies, not just ham but prosciutto, not hamburger but beef tartar and so on.
Toppings can make a huge difference, and if you don’t have time to crisp-fry some onions or mushrooms, you can grate some radish or chop some chives or even some olives. Making sandwiches, after all, isn’t so much about cooking as assembling.
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For more than 30 consecutive Thanksgivings — including this one — I’ve written about turkey in all of its guises. Occasionally I’ve protested, pleading with editors that although the bird in its wild form may be traditional and is indisputably indigenous, whether the one you buy is free-range, wild, natural, organic, pumped up with antibiotics or even injected with “butter,” it’s just about the worst piece of meat you can roast.
Believe it or not, there is more than one way to roast a turkey. First, you must ask yourself what you really want. I’ll offer you three options: A fast, crisp-skinned bird, moist and not overcooked, served with roasted vegetables; a leisurely braised bird, also with veggies; or the classic stand-up roast, presented beautifully in all its glory, prepared in a straightforward manner.
If you want speed and don’t mind a novel look, choose the flattened bird, which employs a method that goes by the quaint name of spatchcocking. It takes a little work at first, because it’s a little more physical than other techniques: you have to remove the backbone, flatten the breast and dislocate the thigh joints from their sockets. None of this is difficult, but it may be a bit much for some. The reward is a lovely roasted bird with a not-overcooked breast and perfectly done legs; it also cooks in about an hour — yes, you read that right: an hour. The downside, apart from the butchering, is that some might consider it weird-looking.
There is nothing new or unusual about mashed squash or about mashed vegetables on toast. (What’s new is that the toast is now frequently called crostini, but that’s not exactly revolutionary.) Still, there is such a broad range of foods that can be served on toasted bread that it’s not surprising some of these will come as revelations.
This squash-and-toast combination is served by Dan Kluger, the executive chef at ABC Kitchen. Something about it drives me wild: the squash is creamy but chunky, rather than puréed. There is a lot of complex sweetness, but acidity as well, and it’s lean as well as fatty. (It doesn’t take a detective to see the layer of ricotta underneath the squash.)
Put it on a nicely toasted piece of bread and you have a real winner. But it also occurred to me that the mashed squash alone would make a terrific Thanksgiving side dish.
So I asked Dan’s boss, my friend Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to show me how to put it together.
I would not have figured the dish out myself, which made this a rewarding experience. Jean-Georges peeled the squash: almost any winter squash will yield to a sharp knife and some patience, though as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, thin-skinned varieties like delicata are easier to peel or can be left unpeeled entirely. He cut the squash in half, took out the seeds and sliced it into not-quite-random pieces, mostly about 1/4-inch thick. These he roasted with oil until they were tender enough to mash; by that time, a few had blackish, caramelized ends.
To cut to the chase: next, he confited onion slices with both maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. Veteran cooks will immediately get the idea: Cook the onions awhile, until they’re dark and soft, then add the two liquids and continue to cook until they’re jammy. The process could take as long as an hour, depending on the heat, your attentiveness and the water content of the onions. But it isn’t difficult.
At that point, the two preparations are simply mashed together. If you serve them in a bowl at Thanksgiving, you will be serving something on a, er, higher level than mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Otherwise, lightly toast some good bread in olive oil, spread it with a light, fresh cheese and top with the squash. Do not forget the mint; it’s not the same without it.
Unless you’re a routine visitor to KFC, fried chicken is probably not in your weekly diet. Which is fine: it is, after all, a treat. But even though you can get fried chicken that’s way better than the fast-food variety all over the place, it remains a specialty of home cooking, and one that anyone can handle. To me, the best has a simple, flavored coating of flour or the like, rather than thick, ultracrusty preparations or spongy batters.
After trying a number of contemporary and often needlessly complicated fried-chicken recipes, I decided to refine my own standard, which was first published 14 years ago in “How to Cook Everything” and itself was an adaptation of a recipe that initially appeared as Paula Peck’s Best-Ever Fried Chicken in her 1961 classic, “Paula Peck’s Art of Good Cooking.” That was among my favorites when I was learning how to cook, as varied and sensible a cookbook as existed at the time. (Her other book, “The Art of Fine Baking,” is equally brilliant and provides perfect instructions for making croissants.)
While I never met Peck, and although her cookbooks are out of print (her granddaughter Megan is doing her part to reacquaint new cooks with Paula’s work at meganpeckcooks.com), her cooking remains with me. Her treatment of chicken is a fine example; she was among the first cookbook authors to suggest that chicken breasts substitute for veal (hard to believe, now that it’s the other way around), and she was also a fan of chicken legs.
Read the rest of this column here.