Imagine taking notes while dancing.
From day one here, I've been delighted by the wisdom and passion of those readers who are confident cooks and would e-mail me with their stories. But there's another group out there, a cohort of excited new-bies who are daunted by kitchen work. These latter often take up serious cooking in their thirties or forties because they're concerned about the health of kids or spouse or self. For them, a reliable recipe is a lifeline, a successful dish a victory.
The recipes here represent everyday cooking, nothing fancy. There's only one tricky bit—getting pizza dough gossamer thin so that the crust crackles. There's also a way of making pasta in the style of risotto, and a light way to turn chicken skin—this year's fat of choice among hip chefs—into a crunchy topping for chicken thighs.
Hope you enjoy. Find me on Instagram: @scottmowb.
BEET RIBBON SALAD WITH LEMON AND PICKLED SHALLOTS
Hands-on: 15 min. Total: 6 hr. 15 min.
I never ate raw beets until I learned the trick of shaving them ribbon-thin. I now prefer them this way to cooked. This salad contrasts the sweet, earthy taste of the beets with tangy-sweet, aromatic pickled shallots–inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's new book, Plenty More–and a lemony vinaigrette. You can make the pickled shallots first thing in the morning or up to a day ahead.
Salad: 1 pound small white and golden beets, peeled 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley ¼ teaspoon flake salt (such as Maldon)
1. To prepare shallots, combine first 8 ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over shallots; cool to room temperature. Cover; refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. Drain; discard spices.
2. To prepare salad, cut beets crosswise into 1-inch disks. Shave beet disks into thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler or mandoline.
3. Combine rind, juice, and oil in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add ½ cup drained shallots (reserve remaining shallots for another use), beets, and parsley; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with salt.
SERVES 4 (serving size: about ¾ cup)
CALORIES 111; FAT 3.7g (sat 0.5g, mono 2.5g, poly 0.5g); PROTEIN 3g; CARB 18g; FIBER 5g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 2mg; SODIUM 217mg; CALC 45mg
SMASHED BACONY POTATOES WITH KALE AND ROASTED SALMON
Hands-on: 39 min. Total: 59 min.
Since falling in love with very smoky Tennessee bacon (Benton's), I've moved to using it as a flavor agent; I almost never eat it on its own.
Any very smoky bacon will do. This is a hearty winter dish, layering potatoes with kale and crisp-skinned roasted salmon.
12 ounces new or fingerling potatoes 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided 2 smoked bacon slices, thinly sliced crosswise into matchstick pieces ½ cup finely chopped shallots 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided 5 cups packed coarsely chopped kale, large stems removed ½ cup unsalted chicken stock, divided 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided 4 (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets ¼ cup half-and-half 4 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with cool water to 2 inches above potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until almost tender; drain. Place potatoes on a work surface, and crush each with a thick, sturdy glass; you want the potatoes broken open but still fairly intact. Sprinkle with vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
3. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add bacon; cook 3 minutes or until almost crisp. Add shallots to pan; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until bacon is crisp and shallots are browned, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon and shallots from pan with a slotted spoon, reserving any drippings. Add 2 teaspoons oil to drippings in pan. Increase heat to medium-high. Add potatoes in an even layer; cook 2 minutes or until potatoes begin to lightly brown on bottom. Add kale, ¼ cup stock, and rosemary. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until kale is almost tender (you want it still chewy). Uncover and drizzle with remaining ¼ cup stock if too dry; it should be a bit moist. Stir in reserved bacon mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Keep warm.
4. Sprinkle tops of salmon fillets with remaining 3/8 teaspoon salt and remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water evaporates quickly when dropped on it. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add salmon fillets, skin side down; cook, without turning, for 3 minutes. Place pan in oven (salmon should still be skin side down); cook 7 minutes or until a thermometer registers 130° and salmon is still medium-rare within.
5. Just before serving, add half-and-half to potato mixture; stir gently just to incorporate. Immediately place 1 cup potato mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1 salmon fillet, skin side up. Garnish each serving with a parsley sprig.
CALORIES 472; FAT 21.7g (sat 5.1g, mono 7.4g, poly 3.5g); PROTEIN 43g; CARB 26g; FIBER 5g; CHOL 104mg; IRON 3mg; SODIUM 635mg; CALC 159mg
CRACKER-THIN PIZZA WITH SUPER-GARLICKY TOMATO SAUCE
Hands-on: 28 min. Total: 2 hr. 28 min.
This emerged from my obsession with getting store-made pizza dough to be ultrathin and yield a crackerlike crust, perfect for a healthy-portion appetizer. I bake the dough until done and then add a room-temperature garlicky tomato sauce and fresh basil.
To get the dough cracker thin, you have to abandon the rolling pin and tease the dough by hand. It takes some practice, but it's fun. The cutting away of excess dough in step 4 helps preserve the round shape: Start with a circle, and end with a circle. You'll have leftover dough, which you can use to make breadsticks.
1 (1½-pound) piece fresh pizza dough (such as Whole Foods) Cooking spray 1 tablespoon olive oil 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 cup lower-sodium marinara sauce (such as Dell'Amore) Fresh basil leaves
2. While dough stands, make sauce. Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds or until garlic softens but doesn't brown. Add marinara; simmer until slightly thickened (about 6 minutes). Cool to room temperature.
3. Place a 15-inch pizza stone or heavy pizza pan in oven. Preheat oven to 500° (leave the pan in the oven as it preheats).
4. Place dough on a work surface dusted with flour. (Keep a bit of extra flour on hand.) Dough will be about 8 inches across. With a pizza cutter, cut an inner circle of dough by cutting away an outer ring of dough that's about 2½ inches wide. This will leave a round of dough that weighs about 8 ounces. Reserve cut-away dough for another use.
5. Sprinkle dough circle with a bit of flour if it's damp, and begin to tease the dough out with your fingers, working it in all directions. It will persist in bouncing back. When it is flat and as wide as a dinner plate, pick it up with your hands close together, and begin working it by holding the edge and rotating along the edge as the circle dangles, like you're quickly turning a steering wheel. As you rotate the dough, holding the edges, it will stretch downward by its own weight. If it's stretching too fast, you can also put the dough over both of your hands and gently stretch and rotate. Watch for areas that are getting too thin—most of the available dough for stretching is at the edges. Continue working the dough until it reaches a diameter of about 12½ inches.
6. Carefully remove hot pizza stone from oven, and place on heat-resistant surface. Carefully transfer dough to the stone (it will start to cook). Pierce dough all over liberally with a fork.
7. Bake at 500° for 7 to 8 minutes, watching closely. If it's baking too much on one side, rotate the dough. Bake until very brown but not burned, and remove from oven. Slide pizza to a wood or stone surface. Spread evenly with sauce; top with basil. Serve immediately.
CALORIES 145; FAT 4.3g (sat 0.3g, mono 3.1g, poly 0.5g); PROTEIN 4g; CARB 22g; FIBER 3g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 1mg; SODIUM 246mg; CALC 14mg
BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH CHICKEN SKIN GREMOLATA
Hands-on: 35 min. Total: 1 hr. 15 min.
At Cooking Light we sometimes remove the skin from rich chicken thighs to reduce the saturated fat, but I realized last February that I could roast that very same skin till it's crisp, rendering out much of the fat and capturing lots of chickeny goodness for a wintry braised main dish.
The gremolata idea came from my love of flat-leaf parsley: I never use the regular stuff anymore. Start checking the skins after 30 minutes in 5-minute intervals; they can quickly go from perfectly crisp to burned.
1. Pour 1 cup boiling water over dried cherries in a bowl; let stand 30 minutes. Drain.
2. Preheat oven to 375°.
3. Remove skin from chicken. Place the skin flat on a parchment-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 375° for 40 minutes, making sure skin gets brown and thoroughly crisp but not burned. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with dash of salt and dash of pepper. Finely chop; set aside.
4. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl. Sprinkle chicken with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add chicken to pan, meaty side down; cook 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from pan. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion and sliced garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Add wine; cook 1 minute or until reduced by half. Return chicken to pan; add cherries, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, stock, thyme, and vinegar. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high; cook sauce 2 minutes or until slightly thickened (about 1 cup).
5. Combine skin, rind, parsley, and minced garlic in a small bowl. Serve chicken with sauce; top with gremolata.
SERVES 4 (serving size: 1 thigh, about ¼ cup sauce, and about 3 tablespoons gremolata)
CALORIES 343; FAT 15.7g (sat 3.9g, mono 7.5g, poly 2.8g); PROTEIN 30g; CARB 15g; FIBER 4g; CHOL 151mg; IRON 2mg; SODIUM 422mg; CALC 46mg
RISOTTO-STYLE PASTA WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS
Hands-on: 25 min. Total: 25 min.
When I discovered tiny, rice-sized acini di pepe pasta, I immediately plotted a risotto strategy: gradually adding liquid until the pasta plumps. This year I learned from Keith Schroeder, our Cooking Class columnist, to toast the pasta for extra flavor (it almost tastes malted). The salt of the blue cheese balances the sweetness of the caramelized onions.
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1½ cups minced white onion 1¼ cups uncooked acini di pepe pasta (about 8.4 ounces) 3 cups unsalted chicken stock, divided ½ cup unoaked white wine ½ teaspoon kosher salt ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 ounces Gorgonzola piccante or other hard, salty blue cheese, crumbled (about ½ cup) 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2. Heat a heavy skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat. Add dry pasta; cook 5 minutes or until the pasta is a nice toasty color, stirring constantly. Add onion and 1 cup stock, stirring frequently until stock is absorbed. As the pasta absorbs the stock and liquid bubbles away, add wine and then more stock, ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently until each portion of stock is absorbed before adding the next. You want the pasta to be al dente and "together" but not mushy. When it's done, stir in salt and pepper. Remove from heat, and add cheese; stir gently to mostly melt the cheese, but you still want chunks. Transfer to serving plates, and garnish with thyme. Serve immediately.
SERVES 4 (serving size: about 1¼ cups)
CALORIES 394; FAT 11.7g (sat 3.9g, mono 6g, poly 0.8g); PROTEIN 16g; CARB 52g; FIBER 3g; CHOL 11mg; IRON 2mg; SODIUM 541mg; CALC 117mg
FARRO WITH HONEY-GARLIC ROASTED TOMATOES
Hands-on: 15 min. Total: 60 min.
This hearty side was inspired by the simple recipe for roasted tomatoes in the River Cottage Veg cookbook, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The sweet, garlicky tomatoes go great with earthy farro, which has risen to Favorite Grain status for me. Unfortunately, you'll often find farro overcooked, but it's best chewy, with the grains intact and not "blown out" into starchy, wet puffs. This is a dish that's delicious year-round; cherry and grape tomatoes are sweet in the winter. You can serve as soon as the tomatoes and farro are cooled and combined, but I find that the dish benefits from a couple of hours in the fridge.
1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Combine oil, honey, and garlic in a large bowl. Add tomatoes; gently, with your hands, toss until thoroughly coated. Pour tomatoes onto a jelly-roll pan; turn tomatoes until they're all cut side down. Draw tomatoes together until they're cozy and touching. If there's any honey mixture left, drizzle over tomatoes. Bake at 375° for 20 to 25 minutes or until wrinkled and soft but not mushy; do not brown. (Note: Grape tomatoes may take less time than cherry tomatoes.) Remove tomatoes from oven; cool to room temperature.
3. While tomatoes cook, place farro in a medium saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above farro. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until nicely chewy and not puffed open and starchy. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain.
4. Combine farro, tomato mixture, vinegar, and salt in a large bowl; toss gently to combine. Top with walnuts and feta; garnish with thyme. Serve immediately, or let the flavors marry in the fridge for an hour or 2.
SERVES 6 (serving size: about ½ cup)
CALORIES 191; FAT 8.4g (sat 2.1g, mono 3.3g, poly 2.2g); PROTEIN 6g; CARB 25g; FIBER 4g; CHOL 8mg; IRON 2mg; SODIUM 310mg; CALC 73mg
Photography by Cary Norton
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Cooking Light magazine.