I set several cooking goals for myself this year. One was to cook more (of course), another was to eat less meat, and another was to have people over for dinner more often. Mark Bittman's latest book, "Dinner for Everyone" (Clarkson Potter, $40), was just what I needed. Bittman develops some classic recipes and creates three versions for each - easy, vegan and perfect for company. (I also have lots of baking goals, but there are plenty of other books for that.)
The book is exhaustive but easy to use, and it's fun for novice and experienced cooks alike to see the creative process behind transforming dishes to suit various needs, and seeing ways we can both simplify or spread our wings. The cassoulet variations are a great example: Sausage Cassoulet for easy, Lentil Cassoulet with Lots of Vegetables for vegan, and Pork Cassoulet with Seared Duck Breast for company. I also may have to add "cook more duck" to my goals now.
They are all full, hearty dinner meals: Think chowder, pasta, stir fry, curry, tandoori, casserole, tagine, pot roast. And the flavors are far from boring, even for the easy dishes. I'm drawn to Couscous and Chicken with Tunisian Spices; Potato and Sauerkraut Pierogi; Baked Vegetable Falafel with Orange Tahini Sauce; Whole Fish Tagine with Quick Preserved Lemons; the list goes on. There are 100 dishes with three variations each, so 300 recipes total. I have no excuse now not to meet my goals.
CORN AND CHEDDAR CHOWDER
12 ounces russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
6 cups milk, or more as needed
Salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups frozen corn kernels (or shuck 4 ears of fresh corn)
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 tablespoons flour
6 ounces grated white or yellow cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, for garnish
Put the potatoes and garlic in a large pot with the milk over medium heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. When the liquid begins to boil, adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles gently and add the bay leaves. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scalding, until the potatoes are tender but not yet breaking apart, 10 to 15 minutes.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the corn and celery and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery softens and the corn is heated through, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture darkens slightly and smells toasted, another 3 to 5 minutes.
Add the corn mixture to the potatoes along with the cheese. Cook, stirring frequently, until the soup is steaming and has thickened a bit, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove the bay leaves, then garnish with more black pepper, cheese and the chives, and serve.