If a complete beginner picks up your cookbook, reads through all the introductory guides, and then wants to start with a recipe, where would you tell them to start? What’s going to be the most accessible section of the book, or are there any individual recipes that you recommend?
The book is divided by dish or protein. You have pork, beef, pasta, seafood, poultry, eggs, and bread. Pasta is probably the best place to start. Shrimp scampi is one of my favorite dishes. It’s elevated by using a great mix of fresh herbs — tarragon, parsley, and marjoram — but it’s something that comes together pretty quickly, pretty easily, and really blows any other shrimp scampi out of the water.
[Another] great place to start is the stir-fry. It’s an excellent exercise in mise en place, which is, as I described in the book, the fancy-sounding phrase to describe the simple-sounding idea of getting everything in its place before you start. It’s the same concept that I was talking about in treating the ingredients list as a to-do list. It’s something you really need to do for stir-fry. The whole dish takes maybe three minutes to cook, because you’re using very high heat, and you’re adding different ingredients after less than a minute of cooking. You have to have everything chopped up, measured, and ready to go before you get started. Granted, that’s a little intimidating; there’s high heat involved, which for newcomers, can be a lot.
If you’re really starting out for the first time in the kitchen, the braised chicken thighs with fennel pasta is a very easy, one-pan weeknight dinner that comes together in a little less than an hour. It’s these really tender, braised chicken thighs with super crispy skin and this pasta that’s cooked directly in the cooking liquid, so it gets all the great chicken juices and fennel, and all those great flavors soaked up into it, with lots of fresh herbs and butter. It tastes great. It’s not horrendously unhealthy. It uses whole wheat pasta, after all. It’s something that I made for dinner for myself years ago. I first started making an iteration of this dish 10 years ago. It demonstrates a lot of cooking concepts and it’s something that is relatively foolproof. Even if things screw up, if the chicken sticks to the pan a little bit or if the pasta overcooks, it’s not going to ruin it. It’s another learning experience.