Page through "Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101" (Oxmoor House, $35) and you'll see the difference. How many moms of the past made ghee, or paneer cheese? Only those who lived in India, probably. But today, home cooks are into Indian food, Thai curries, Moroccan, Mexican, Middle Eastern dishes and much more, including vegan and vegetarian cooking.
Moulton's book addresses this change, but it's worth buying even if you never use a single recipe. That's because it's filled with basic techniques, step-by-steps, pointers that can apply to any style of cooking.
Moulton hasn't repeated the same old tips that appear in book after book but shares what she has learned in the trenches, working in restaurants, developing and testing recipes for Gourmet magazine, hosting cooking shows on the Food Network and right now hosting "Sara's Weeknight Meals" on public television.
"I took chef's knowledge and applied it to home cooks," she said, during a book signing and cooking demo at Melissa's Produce.
Here are some examples:
The spicy creamed corn she presented at Melissa's (above) included no cream, which "gets in the way of other flavors," Moulton said, and so should be used sparingly. The natural starch in corn provides enough creaminess.
To make her beef stroganoff burgers (above), you should grind your own beef, and the book tells how, with a grinder or food processor. Moulton said she wouldn't touch pre-ground hamburger meat with the proverbial 10-foot pole.
Her book is subtitled "How to Make Everything Taste Better." "No ingredient is more crucial to making food taste good than salt," she wrote in the book. To get full "steaky" flavor, you need to salt a steak before cooking or, better yet, a few hours in advance. Sprinkle on salt after cooking and what you get is merely "steak with salt on top."
She also showed how to roll out pizza dough so that it stays extended rather than bouncing back (you brush the work surface lightly with olive oil).
Remember all those recipes that say to seed tomatoes? Don't do this, Moulton said. "That jelly around the seeds is where the flavor is."
She's learned a new way to cook hardboiled eggs--steaming."The whites come out more tender, and they are easier to peel," she said. That's how the egg were cooked for her fancy stuffed eggs (above) with truffle zest and chives.
And don't be afraid to put your (impeccably clean) hands in the food. "This obsession with hand sanitation is bad news," according to Moulton. She has found that salads taste much better if the greens are tossed with the hands.
For dessert, she presented bananas Foster crepes (above). "If you have crepes in the freezer, you have dinner on the table," she said, meaning you can fill them with anything from leftovers to fruit. The book shows each step in making the crepes.
Moulton has been on a 40-stop book tour. For those demos, she chose a recipe that would suit tastes anywhere, including Minot, North Dakota. That dish is fusilli with Italian sausage and peas (above, as photographed for the book). Here is the recipe:
FUSILLI WITH ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND PEAS
From "Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101"
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3/4 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2/3 cup heavy cream
12 ounces fusilli
2 cups thawed frozen peas
3 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shredded fresh basil for garnish
Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.
While the water is coming to a boil, heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a spoon and stirring, until the sausage is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt, bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add the cream to the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta to the pot of boiling water and stir well. Boil the pasta, following the timing instructions on the package, until almost al dente.
Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, and then drain the pasta and add it to the skillet along with the peas and half of the cheese. Simmer until the pasta is al dente, adding some of the reserved pasta cooking water if necessary to thin the sauce.
Add salt and pepper to taste and divide the mixture among 4 bowls.Top each portion with some of the remaining cheese and the basil.
Makes 4 servings.