Every time you open the refrigerator and your cupboards and put together a meal— even something as simple as bread and cheese and a salad—you are cooking from the hip. With this book, I’m hoping to expand your options, share a few of my tricks, and take you to a place where you feel comfortable winging it, even when guests are coming for dinner.
Cooking on Iron Chef America honed my own ability to cook from the hip. Improvising in the kitchen is partly a question of skills, but it’s largely a matter of attitude. You can make the mental shift so that preparing a good home-cooked meal every night isn’t a chore but a time to be with your family. Learn how to let them help you, all the while making it fun. There are never enough chances in this fast-paced world to connect with friends and family, and cooking gives you an opportunity to do just that. If I pass along only one thought—let your family and friends help you make dinner—this book will be a success for me.
While traveling across the country, I get to talk with lots of home cooks. And in every town, from Jackson to Las Vegas, Ann Arbor to Austin, the same questions come up again and again: Do you cook differently when you’re eating with your son? What do you do with leftovers?What’s the easiest thing you make at home? What do you make when friends come for dinner? This book answers those questions while sharing my “go with what you’ve got” philosophy. Cooking from the hip means being flexible. It means using what’s on hand and not being afraid to substitute ingredients. Cooking is like exercising. If you come at it with the idea that it can be fun and creative, then suddenly it becomes the high point in your day instead of a chore. If you have a couple cans of beans in your pantry, some fresh mint, and a bottle of sherry vinegar, you can make a refreshing (and refreshingly easy) salad. Have a day-old baguette and some summer tomatoes? Make bruschetta. I’ll show you how to cook from the hip using leftover rice from Chinese takeout and how to jazz up a fast stir-fry by adding fresh peaches or mangoes. I’ll also show you how to get your hands dirty by slathering a quick herbal paste on a pork roast for a spectacular Porchetta that your guests will long remember. And when life gives you lemonade concentrate, make Lemonade Cookies—they’ll take you only about fifteen minutes! I’ll share what I keep in my own pantry at home and show you how to put together a meal that’s fast, easy, fun to make, or phenomenal, for those occasions when you want to pull out all the stops.
A woman in a bookstore in Oxford, Mississippi, told me, “I want to put a meal on the table that doesn’t embarrass me in front of my friends, but I don’t want to spend my whole Saturday in the kitchen.” Cooking from the Hip is for her—and for all the other home cooks who requested meals that are both simple and sensational. This book aims to cut down steps, combine just a few ingredients in creative, inventive ways, and, most important, change your mind-set about cooking being a solitary activity. Some of my favorite family meals call for my family to help prepare them. Take a sushi party, for example.
“Uh-oh,” you’re thinking. “Raw fish. I don’t want to deal with that.” OK, so skip the raw fish. Fill your rice rolls with mango chunks and teriyaki chicken. Or fill them with feta cheese, chopped cucumber, roasted red pepper, and kalamata olives. (I call that one the Zoran Roll, because my son fell in love with this when he was only eighteen months old.) Your sushi can be anything you want it to be. The trick to sushi is good rice, which I’ll show you how to make. You put out the rice, fill small bowls with ingredients that you know your family will love (getting in as many veggies as possible), then roll, baby, roll. Everybody makes their own meal, and it’s fun, easy on your budget, and nutritious. We have at least one “sushi (without the fish) bar” every month at my house. I’ll give you lots of suggestions for what you can put in your sushi. Try it, and you’ll find it becomes a staple at your house too.
My favorite recipes—the ones I make for my own family—have to be fast and easy. My Watermelon Gazpacho has brilliant color and terrific flavor—and it’s a blast to whip up watermelon in a blender. You’ll find out how to make Smoked Salmon Rillettes and Dilled Yogurt, a savory spread that’s great the day after salmon and bagels. You’re using your leftovers, making a dish that impresses your friends, and, best of all, spending less than five minutes in the kitchen, because your food processor does all the work.
That’s the heart of this book. These recipes are simple to make and offer lots of ideas for pulling in lleftovers. They’ll wow your friends and even get your kids to eat better foods. The book is divided into four sections: Fast, Easy, Funnnnn, and Phenomenal. You can turn to the section that suits your mood, whether you need dinner on the table in twenty minutes or fantastic recipes for a spur-of-the-moment Friday night get-together. Most of us, especially in households with kids, tend to fall back on the same recipes over and over. I’ve written this book to give you more than new recipes—I want to change your attitude about dinnertime. I want to offer ideas that let you come home from a hard day at work and look forward to making dinner, instead of ordering a pizza. I want to encourage you to set up adult time—and some special adult foods—so that when you go back to parenting, you’re rejuvenated. Time is what we Americans most lack—and yet the families who cook together and spend time together at the table are healthier and happier. Can a cookbook make you and your family healthier and happier? Let’s just say that encouraging you to spend time together in the kitchen and around the table is a great place to start.
Smoked Salmon Rillettes and Dilled Yogurt Serves 6 to 8
I often set out an easy Sunday spread of smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, capers, tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onions. I came up with salmon rillettes as a way to use up the leftovers. Traditionally rillettes is a paste made from meat or fish. My version is like a tartare: easy, light, and delicious with bagel chips. You also can serve it with mixed greens as a dinner salad. It’s worth making the adoli for this recipe, but if you have cream cheese or crcme fraîche on hand, by all means use what you have.
1⁄2 pound smoked salmon 1⁄2 small red onion, finely chopped 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives or scallions (green tops only) 1⁄4 cup drained and coarsely chopped capers 2 tablespoons Easy Adoli (page 238), light mayonnaise, cream cheese, or crcme fraîche, homemade (page 239) or store-bought 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper Dill fronds for garnish (optional) Crisped Bagel Chips (page 3), pita chips, crackers, or baguette slices Dilled Yogurt (page 6)
Mince the salmon by hand or in a food processor. In a medium bowl, mix the salmon, onion, chives, capers, adoli, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Mound the rillettes on a serving platter. Garnish with dill fronds, if using. Serve with bagel chips, pita chips, crackers, or baguette slices. Have your guests top their rillettes with a spoonful of dilled yogurt.
Cat’s Note I like to chop the onion, chives, and capers by hand and the...