New book answers eternal question -- 'What's cooking?'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The jaded cook who has been drawing blanks trying to come up with something different at mealtimes will find that "What's for Dinner?" (William Morrow, $22) gets the creative juices flowing.

This is the work of Michael Roberts, chef and food writer. It offers a variety of ethnic cooking styles, as well as updates of traditional American dishes.

For 12 years Mr. Roberts was the executive chef and co-proprietor of Trumps, an award-winning restaurant in Los Angeles.

Along with more than 200 recipes, there are tips on how to go about conceiving a particular dinner and how to mix and match ingredients. The book is divided into types of dinners, from Mexican and Asian to last-minute dinners and deep-dish-kettle meals. Here are some of the recipes.

Mushroom barley soup with short ribs Serves four.

1 tablespoon flavorless vegetable oil

3 pounds beef short ribs

2 medium onions, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

6 cups chicken stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3/4 cup pearl barley

6 celery stalks, finely sliced

2 pounds small white mushrooms

1 teaspoon dried dill

Heat the oil in a 3-quart pot over medium heat, add the ribs and brown them on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the broth, salt and pepper. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes. Add the barley and celery. Cover and cook for one hour or until the barley is soft.

Add the mushrooms and dill and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the ribs from the soup and arrange them on a platter. Ladle out soup at the table.

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The juices of several kinds of sausage ooze into this potato salad. Use sausages that are freshly made if you can find them. Polish kielbasa, Mexican or Spanish chorizo, hot or sweet Italian sausage, German bratwurst, even frankfurters -- all are possibilities.

'Sausage and potato salad Serves six.

2 pounds small waxy potatoes

2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon flavorless vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced (about 3/4 cup)

4 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped sweet pickles (optional)

3 to 4 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste

1 1/2 to 2 pounds assorted fresh sausages, such as spicy Italian, bratwurst and kielbasa

several kinds of mustard

Place the potatoes in a pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the potatoes are soft, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, and when cool enough to handle, peel and cut into chunks. Place in a bowl, pour on the vinegar, cover and let cool.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about five minutes. Add the onion to the potatoes along with the eggs, celery and pickles, and toss well. Stir in enough of the mayonnaise to bind the ingredients, then add the pepper and salt and mix well. Refrigerate for at least two hours or up to one day.

When it's time for dinner, prick the sausages gently with a fork. Place them in a skillet and cook over medium heat until browned on all sides and cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the type of sausage and whether or not they are fresh or smoked. Drain on paper towels, then place on a plate to catch the juices and slice.

Mound the potato salad on plates and place the sausages on top. Serve a variety of mustards on the side.

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In this recipe, the chewy texture of the macaroni joins the light, puffy baked eggs to make a perfect combination. Dollop a salty tapenade on top. Vegetable soup and a salad go well with this dish.

!Mushroom, macaroni and spinach frittata

Serves 4.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 1/2 cups sliced white mushrooms

1/2 cup cooked small macaroni shells

2 cups chopped spinach

12 eggs

salt and black pepper to taste

tapenade (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for one minute. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until all the moisture has evaporated, about five minutes. Stir in the macaroni, increase the heat to high, and add the spinach. Cook, stirring, until the spinach wilts. Transfer to a bowl.

Lightly beat the eggs with the salt and pepper, and stir into the spinach mixture. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in an oven-proof 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the frittata mixture and cook for one minute. Immediately transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the frittata is barely set, about 15 minutes.

To serve, slide the frittata onto a serving plate. Pass the tapenade.

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Tapenade

Makes 1/2 cup.

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

0$ 1/2 cup pitted Nicoise or Kalamata

olives

8 anchovies

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process to a paste.

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Woks have a larger surface area than frying pans and are able to cook more ingredients at one time. Ingredients must be cut so that the heat penetrates them and cooks them quickly and evenly.

(Garlic shrimp and noodles

Serves 4.

1 small zucchini

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/3 cup dry sherry

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 pound pasta, such as spaghetti

3 tablespoons peanut oil

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and sliced into 3/8 -inch-wide strips

L 1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into quarters

1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

1/2 pound white mushrooms, cut into 1/4 -inch slices

Trim off the ends of the zucchini and cut it into 1-inch lengthsthen cut each piece lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-thick sticks. Set aside.

Place cornstarch in a small bowl. Slowly add the sherry, soy sauce and lemon juice; stir until the cornstarch is dissolved. Set aside.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. When the wok is very hot, add the red peppers, shrimp and garlic and cook, stirring for two minutes, or until the garlic is golden. Add the mushrooms and zucchini and cook for one minute more. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 30 seconds. Remove. Arrange the pasta on a serving platter. Spoon the shrimp, vegetables and sauce over the top and serve immediately.

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