A Sweet Potato Bed for Eggs, from Chuck, a member of the Cooking Circle for “No Recipe? No Problem!” cookbook, by Phyllis Good. JOSEPH KELLER
Lancaster cookbook author Phyllis Good released her latest cookbook “No Recipe? No Problem!” earlier this year.
The book celebrates “freestyle cooking,” or learning to cook without recipes — without precise measurements and a set list of ingredients.
Here’s a sampling of preparation ideas and techniques from Good’s “No Recipe? No Problem!” cookbook, excerpted with permission from Storey Publishing.
CHICKEN THIGHS WITH A GLOBAL SAUCE
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
2. Spread a sheet pan with a sauce — curry, creamy, enchilada, pesto, fruity — using about half the sauce you have.
3. Lay on the chicken thighs.
4. Place broccoli or cauliflower florets (or both) and chopped stems around the chicken, making sure the sauce is fully covered so it doesn’t burn.
5. Season everything.
6. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top.
7. Place the pan on a rack in the top half of the oven. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the chicken registers 150 F (the USDA recommends 165 F on an instant-read meat thermometer).
TASTE OF INDIA: RED LENTIL SOUP
Some folks insist on adding chopped green serrano chiles to this soup.
The chiles do make it delicious, yet they add a spicy heat that may not be for everyone. But if you like heat, don’t omit this ingredient!
1. Toast black mustard and cumin seeds, ground turmeric, and bay leaf in oil in a skillet over medium heat just until you hear the pop of a mustard seed.
2. Stir in minced or sliced garlic and fresh ginger. Cook over medium-low heat just until the garlic softens and you can smell the ginger.
3. Add dried red lentils and boiling water. The typical ratio is 1 cup lentils to 2 cups water, but play with this if the finished soup is too thick or thin for you.
4. Add chopped zucchini, carrots and chopped chiles, if you want.
5. Cook the soup until the lentils bloom into fluffy little rounds and the vegetables are softened.
6. Taste. Add salt and a pinch of hing (asafoetida) if you’re feeling adventuresome.
7. Stir in chopped fresh cilantro and some squeezes of lemon juice just before serving.
FREESTYLE MAIN MEAL
Layer 1 (bottom): Cooked grain or seeds — rice, quinoa, wheat berries, farro — or cooked cubed, shredded or mashed white and/or sweet potatoes (consider preparing a mixture of seeds and grains that cook the same length of time together: jasmine rice and bulgur, for example)
Layer 2 (next layer up): Cooked greens — asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, collards or sugar snap peas
Layer 3: Protein — beans of any kind, cooked or refried; chicken, turkey, pork, beef, salmon, tuna, shrimp, cooked and shredded, pulled, diced, or chunked; cubed tofu; or grated or cubed cheese of any variety
Layer 4: Seasonal vegetables and/or fruit, raw or cooked — corn kernels, peas, tomatoes, green beans, spinach, berries, watermelon, pitted cherries or sliced pome or stone fruits
Layer 5: Crunchy things — seeds, nuts or roasted chickpeas
Layer 6: Chewy things — dried apple slices, whole cranberries or cherries or cubed pineapple or mangoes
Layer 7 (top): Sauce (tomato, cheese, oil and vinegar, peanut, buttermilk), yogurt and crushed fruit, creamy broth, pesto or a poached egg
MARKING THE SEASONS PIZZA (WINTER SAUSAGE AND PEAR)
1. Brush the fully baked crust (of your choice) with olive oil. Drop on pinches of dried oregano, rosemary and/or basil, along with some minced garlic.
2. Cover the crust with sliced or crumbled hot or sweet sausage. If the meat isn’t cooked, bake it on the crust until the meat browns.
3. Top the meat with fresh or stewed (and drained) pear and apple slices (no need to peel).
4. Add a light layer of crumbled Roquefort or a covering of thinly sliced Swiss or Halloumi cheese.
5. Broil for a minute or so, watching closely so the cheese browns or melts but doesn’t burn.
ESSENTIAL TECHNIQUE: GRILLING
Advantages: It offers a quick cooking time and matchless flavor. And it’s easy to add vegetables to the grill when you’re grilling meat.
Best vegetables for grilling: Asparagus (whole or sliced), broccoli (keep florets attached to the stems), carrots (sliced), cauliflower (cut head into 1/2-inch-thick steaks), corn (grill in the husk until the kernels caramelize), eggplant (sliced), mushrooms (whole or sliced), onions (sliced), peppers (bell and hot; whole or sliced), potatoes (white and sweet), zucchini (sliced).
Steps to take:
1. Preheat the grill to 350 F to 450 F, or preheat a grill pan until it sizzles when splashed with drops of water.
2. Slice the vegetables about 1/2 inch thick. (Note: To speed up the
cooking time of denser vegetables like carrots, you can precook them for a few minutes.)
3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle the vegetables with olive oil.
4. Place the vegetables on the grill without overlapping the pieces.
Lay slices and steaks across the grate so they don’t fall through.
5. Cover the grill. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes.
6. Flip everything.
7. Grill for another minute, or up to several minutes, depending on the vegetables.
8. Transfer the vegetables to a serving platter when they are as tender as you like and the grill marks are showing. Season and serve.
For Grilled Sweet Potato Planks (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, peeled or not, and brushed on both sides with oil), flip to lightly caramelize each side. When softened, top with a thick sweep of apple butter and crunchy pecan pieces.
STEAK GOES TO ASIA
1. Use rice noodles — cooked, well rinsed and drained — as a base.
2. Add thin slices of grilled beef or pork.
3. Top with shredded lettuce, thinly sliced cucumbers, your favorite sprouts or cilantro leaves.
4. Sprinkle chopped peanuts and sliced scallions over the top.
5. Pour fish sauce — your own or store-bought from a good Asian food market — over everything.
STORIES FROM THE COOKING CIRCLE: CHUCK
Chuck, of Kansas, is an urban farmer and museum exhibit designer.
A SWEET POTATO BED FOR EGGS
“A cousin was traveling through and we invited him to stay the night, which meant he’d have breakfast at our house the next morning. I had a sweet potato waiting to be eaten, so I diced it into 1/2-inch cubes (to cook quickly) and put the cubes in a medium-hot cast-iron skillet with plenty of butter. (Coconut oil would work, too.) I added a touch of water and covered the skillet. The goal here was to start to cook the potatoes before they browned in the oil.
“I cut up some scallions and added them to the skillet. Then I cleaned some arugula and stout greens (kale, chard, etc.), trimmed off their woody stems, and chopped the leaves so they weren’t too large. With the skillet off the heat, I tossed the greens in with the potatoes and scallions until they wilted.
“Next, I made little depressions in the skillet mixture, broke an egg into each, and sprinkled everything with salt and pepper.
“I crumbled a bit of cheese over the top (a really sharp aged cheddar is good). That’s optional, of course. Then I covered the skillet, put it over low heat, and added a bit of water to make sure things wouldn’t dry out or scorch on the bottom while the eggs cooked.
“As the food did its final cooking, I made tea and cleaned up. This is the time to make a salad or stir a few fresh herbs into a soup you might have going. Just don’t forget to check the eggs. When they’re cooked to your preferred level of doneness, serve them with hot sauce on the side. I like the flavor habañero adds.”