Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York’s best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we’ll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.
Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less
By Ellie Krieger, 304 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29.99
Happy New Year’s Eve — it’s the biggest party night of the year, the crown-jewel to a season of liver-pickling, artery-clogging, family-feasting gluttony that’s probably got you feeling tired and craving (once the hangover subsides) a week on some desert island filled with healthful things like spa treatments and vegetables.
If you’ve made any resolutions for 2014, we wouldn’t blame you if they had something to do with eating better or saving money, or sitting down for dinner with your family more often — we all could stand to do more of that. And reducing your takeout consumption, while tough, is a great way to do both. An easy, health-minded cookbook can help.
So, on New Year’s Day, have yourself a merry little hangover feast and then go buy Ellie Krieger’s new book, “Weeknight Wonders,” which goes on sale tomorrow. It’s a healthful tome of easy, well-rounded meals that, with a little discipline, could make your new resolve to be healthier an actual possibility. What’s more, each recipe bears a nifty nutritional breakdown telling you the fat content, caloric value, and vitamins and minerals in every serving. So you can actually know what you’re cooking. And knowing, as they say, is half the battle.
The Food Network host tells us about her standby home recipes, what she keeps in her freezer, and the merits of pre-washed greens.
What is the oldest recipe in this book and where did you come from?
I guess one that I’ve been making the longest is the Parmesan-crusted chicken breast, which is literally just something I make all the time. It’s just been a go-to recipe for me for such a long time now, and what I love about it is it’s kind of an Americana classic in some ways, but usually it’s like smothered in mayonnaise and baked, but I just use literally three ingredients, and it elevates the chicken breast so that it’s not this boring thing, in such a way that’s just effortless. You just rub the breast with Dijon mustard and use freshly-grated Parmesan and pan-cook it. It’s just one of those things that everyone loves, and it’s juicy and delicious, and it’s just a no-brainer, but it’s so much better than plain chicken breast.
If you could give one piece of advice on easy, healthy home cooking, what would it be?
I like to think about home cooking in terms of ingredients, so I take a three-pronged approach: There’s a quick-cooking protein — that could be canned beans, or eggs, or shrimp, or chicken breast or even a lean steak or fish; they all just cook so quickly. Then I try to think of a vegetable that you don’t really have to do anything to, so no-prep or low-prep veggies. So I use a lot of pre-washed greens — now they have pre-washed kale, spinach, arugula — and those are really a staple for me. You can also use cherry tomatoes and little things that don’t really require much chopping. The third part would be whole grains that are really fast-cooking, like quinoa, whole grain pastas, and breads, or bulgur. I use lots of bulgur. So if you think of a meal in terms of quick, healthful ingredients, and you have those on hand, you can just do so much with them.
What cook(s), living or dead, do you most admire?
I think the one person who really comes to mind is Jaques Pepin. I met him personally and he was gracious enough to review the book, but thinking about him, way before I ever met him, I always felt like he has a high-minded approach to food, but he brings it back to normal everyday life. He’s so skilled, and there’s a measure of aspiration there — but his food is so approachable, and there’s no pretense to it — it’s real, good food. I’ve really enjoyed some of his healthier cooking books and found them very inspirational.
What are your go-to home pantry ingredients — things that you should always have on hand?
The thing is, so many books that provide “fast cooking” recipes use a lot of unhealthy shortcuts, like pre-made rice mixes that are loaded with salt and artificial ingredients, or there’s a lot of cooking with soups that happens, and it can be so easily done with fresh ingredients instead. But there are certain shortcuts that are really great. Like frozen peas — fresh peas are in season for like two weeks out of the year, and unless you can get them straight from the farmer right after they’re picked, I’ve actually found the frozen ones are more reliable. Same thing with frozen fruit. Not sauces or anything, but I make an amazing, two-minute ice cream with frozen mango and coconut milk. It’s so good. So keep frozen fruit, for sure. But in the cupboard, diced tomatoes, beans, and things like that — if you have these things around, you can make a meal, even if you’ve traveled for two weeks and come home to no fresh ingredients, you can make a really quick, easy, healthy meal.
What is your favorite winter seasonal ingredient and one recipe you use it in?
I love soups in winter, and there’s this pumpkin and tomato soup, which is so good. It’s also beautiful, it’s a great color, and the tomato acidity really breathes life into the pumpkin. I literally make it with canned pumpkin and canned tomatoes. So that’s the pantry there again. Another one is grapes, which are in peak season in California, pretty much through January. So grapes are one of these no-prep ingredients that add so much flavor and nutrition to food. I love, love, love the warm bulgur salad with grapes and feta. It has a beautiful texture, too.
Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breast
2 oz Parmesan cheese (about ⅔ c), grated
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (about 6 oz each)
1 T Dijon mustard
½ t freshly ground black pepper
Coursely grate the Parmesan cheese.
Put the chicken between sheets of plastic wrap and pound it out to an even thickness of about ½ inch. Rub the top side of the chicken pieces with half of the mustard, then sprinkle with half the cheese, pressing lightly so it adheres, and season with half the pepper. Flip the chicken pieces over and repeat on the other side.
Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the pan and cook, without moving it, until the cheese on the bottom forms a deep brown crust that releases fairly easily from the pan, 3-4 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side, cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about three minutes more.