A veteran food editor picks five indispensable cooking tips from Robbins' latest.
It's really not often that a chef can actually relate to what it's like to be a home cook. They think they know, but they don't. As a food editor for many years, I've spent countless hours trying to explain to chefs that an ingredient list with more than 10 things is very daunting to most people, and that using four bowls to make a simple dish is actually a huge pain in the ass. Which is why I am mad about Missy Robbins' new book, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner...Life.
Missy, a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2010, spent over 20 years working in restaurant kitchens, never cooking at home—"I rarely cooked in my apartment. I never had much interest in preparing a meal at home for myself—I basically needed a refrigerator to keep milk for cereal and bubbly wine for the occasional celebratory tipple," she says. But after leaving her executive chef role at Manhattan's A Voce, Missy found herself with the harsh reality of a tiny apartment kitchen. She no longer had a professional kitchen larder of ingredients to inspire an impromptu meal, or a giant walk-in full of vegetables, meat and dairy, not to mention a staff of prep cooks and dishwashers.
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As I was reading this book, I laughed out loud. I wanted to call Missy and say, "You see? It's not so easy at home." But Missy figured it out, using her deep understanding of kitchen efficiency to make the most of a 14-inch countertop, one outlet and a tiny fridge. Missy discovered the beauty of a small but well-stocked pantry and the four essential ingredients she must have on hand at all times: lemons, olive oil, crushed red pepper and garlic.
The other part of Missy's revelation included her own poor her eating habits—another thing I have had to nag chefs about (I once worked on a story where almost every dish included at least a pound of butter!). At the beginning of her sabbatical from A Voce, Missy found herself at 5'6" and 198 pounds, with constant ankle pain. Her decision to join Weight Watchers seemed very un-chef-like, but turned out to be the best thing she could have done.
"Most people think my career is my biggest accomplishment," she says. "But I know that getting healthy and losing the extra weight during my year off is my greatest achievement yet."
So that brings me to why I am mad about this book. It's a brilliant blend of Missy's extraordinary knowledge of food and cooking, combined with a legit understanding of the home cook. Her story is honest and insightful, while her recipes are crazy appealing and practical. Best yet, Missy has inspired me to make better choices in my own cooking.
Here are some of my favorite healthy take-aways from her book.
1. Oatmeal 101. Skip the cream and sugar. Make rolled oats with water, then throw in some frozen raspberries at the end of cooking for jammy sweetness without additional sugar. Better yet: top the oatmeal with a tangy drizzle of Saba (an Italian condiment made from cooked grapes).
2. One-bowl wonder. I love an easy one-pot stew that includes proteins and vegetables...and doesn't take all day to cook. Saute kale in a touch of olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper, then add San Marzano tomatoes and cannellini beans. Finish with a hit of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
3. Caesar remix. Missy opts out of classic caesar dressing, which is loaded with olive oil, eggs and cheese. She swaps yogurt for the oil and eggs, and makes sure to use an ample amount of garlic, anchovies and mustard to pump up the flavors.
4. Snack well. I don't like being told I can snack, but only just a little. Sometimes a bottomless bowl is necessary. Missy has a solution. She tops popcorn with sweet and hot paprika, plus garlic powder, ground chili flakes and salt. Salty, spicy, smoky, so good.
5. Pasta PLEASE. Bolognese need not disappear from my diet. Ground turkey makes a fine sub for pork, veal and beef. And MIssy's right: if you let the sauce sit for a day, it just gets better.
Missy Robbins' Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner...Life is available in bookstores now.