N.Y. chefs tell how to hold down costs of dishes

My husband and I recently had a fabulous New York City dinner. We started with appetizers from the chef at Tribeca Grill, moved up to an entree by the director of Windows on the World and enjoyed dessert from the owner of the Comfort Diner - all without leaving our Baltimore home.

Chef on a Shoestring by Andrew Friedman (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004, $12), a great cookbook now out in paperback, made it possible. Filled with more than 120 recipes from noteworthy chefs, it lets home cooks attempt dishes they might find in fancy restaurants, at a fraction of the cost.


The book is a spinoff of a segment by the same name that appears on CBS' Saturday Early Show. On the program, well-known and up-and-coming chefs design three-course meals for four that cost $30 or less to prepare. The book, on the other hand, is organized by type of recipe - first courses, meats, desserts, etc. - instead of in menus.

We started with Don Pintabona's Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs With Smoked Mozzarella. This appetizer was so addictive - with fresh mint marrying the sweetness of figs with salty, just-grilled prosciutto - that it almost left us without room for dinner.


Windows on the World fell along with the World Trade Center towers, so I chose a recipe by its executive chef partly in tribute. Michael Lomonaco's Pan-Roasted Halibut With Spring Vegetables was a perfect example of what's right with this book. The recipe was delicious and easy to prepare, and its preamble suggested substitutions to vary the fish, vegetables and seasonal feel of the dish.

That was a good thing, because my attempts to find fresh fava beans were unsuccessful. (I substituted frozen edemame thawed to room temperature - not one of Lomonaco's suggestions, but it worked well.)

We finished with Ira Freehof's Strawberry Shortcake, which passed my husband's tough test. Shortcake is his favorite dessert, and he requires homemade biscuits; no packaged spongecake will do. Freehof has the same attitude, but he's come up with a hassle-free recipe. A food processor produced the dough in minutes, and it was so easy to work with that even our 3-year-old could pat it down and cut out the biscuits herself without making a mess.

Chef on a Shoestring is not the place to look for low-fat cooking; there's substantial use of butter and cream to create that restaurant taste. And while "chef" quality is much in evidence, the book doesn't quite live up to the "shoestring" budget of its title.

Because Friedman chose not to reproduce the menus chefs designed for the show - which couldn't cost more than $30 - our meal, and many others one could put together, cost much more. (In our case the bill came to $63.06, including the bottle of wine we needed to open to cook the halibut).

Still, it was a lot cheaper than a trip to Manhattan - with all the comforts of home cooking. And royalties from the book are donated to Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization that fights hunger.

Michael Lomonaco's Pan-Roasted Halibut With Spring Vegetables

Serves 4


1 1/2 pounds halibut fillet, 3/4 inch thick, cut into 4 pieces

coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup blanched pencil-thin asparagus tips

1/2 cup shelled blanched fresh fava beans

1/3 cup dry white wine


2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves

Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. In a casserole or skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the fish, flesh side down, and saute for 4 minutes. Turn the fish and saute, skin side down, for 4 minutes.

Add the asparagus and fava beans to the skillet with the fish and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine, partially cover, and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the fish to a serving platter. Stir the butter and tarragon into the pan with the vegetables and spoon the sauce over the fish. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 469 calories; 28 grams protein; 38 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 3 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 99 milligrams cholesterol; 156 milligrams sodium