Anyone can cook.
The temperatures have been a little colder, G’s hours have been a little longer and extra-curricular activities have been keeping the girls busier than usual. All of these factors together have made us committed to our Friday family movie night more than ever.
A short while ago, we watched Ratatouille. Around the same time, Thomas Allen & Sons (@ThomasAllenLTD) provided me a copy of Mark Bittman’s book How to Cook Everything Fast. As I casually flipped through it, a few things struck me. Even without any food photographs, this cooking tome is incredibly easy to follow. The recipes are written in a way that truly describes how to work in your kitchen rather than just focusing on preparing food. By identifying and highlighting tasks you can complete while things heat up, brown, simmer and cook, the instructions help novice cooks make efficient use of their time, allowing them to multi-task the way confident cooks do in their kitchens. It also helps cooks make dishes their own rather than striving for what the photographer designed the final image to be.
After a more in-depth analysis, I was certain. Mark Bittman is a real-life Auguste Gusteau. With this new book, he’s telling us that anyone can cook good food, well, and relatively quickly. Filled with 2000+ recipes and countless techniques and tips, How to Cook Everything Fast is a reference worthy for someone new to their kitchen as it is for the seasoned cook.
I found a dozen recipes I was ready to make on my first flip through the book, but I kept coming back to something simple – pure comfort for these cold, dreary days – the Bone-In Chicken Noodle Soup. For years, my own father made a scratch chicken soup for our family. It was his Sunday ritual that started in the wee hours and continued through the morning. He fussed with it just the right amount to keep him in the kitchen as we all started to stir and eventually arrive for breakfast. He’d first skim anything deemed unworthy from the top of the broth as the chicken cooked, then painstakingly prepared the fresh herbs and vegetables, all to be added at just the right intervals so they wouldn’t be overcooked. By lunchtime, he would deliver the fruits of his efforts: a soup filled with comfort, love and healing power.
Until now, if we wanted chicken soup quickly, I either used prepared stock or packaged soups. No more! Exerting only a fraction of my dad’s painstaking effort, the soup turned out wonderfully. It took me closer to 45 minutes rather than the 30 minutes the recipe estimates but it is worth the effort, even on a weeknight. The recipe provides 4 easy variations on the recipe to fit a variety of tastes.
My own adaptations were few – I halved the recipe (when I made it originally, it took us over 3 days to finish it), in place of the chopped onions I used 2 large shallots, which I left whole since the girls didn’t like small pieces of onion floating in their soup, I skipped the celery, added parsley and peas and cooked the noodles separately assuming we’d end up with leftovers. Since trying this soup the first time, we’ve had it weekly. With a salad or with some hearty fresh bread, it makes a wonderful quick dinner. The leftover chicken pieces are delicious in pasta or sandwiches for fast lunches during the week.
My dad would be so pleased.
Update: February 11, 2015: the contest is now closed. [My lucky Canadian readers have an opportunity to win a copy of How to Cook Everything Fast.]
Disclosure: I received a copy of How to Cook Everything Fast from Thomas Allen & Sons, Ltd for review purposes. This in no way affected my opinion; all opinions expressed are my own. I received no monetary compensation for writing this post.