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Sixty-minute woman


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<table width="100%" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspace="0"><tr><td colspan="2"><img hspace="5" vspace="5" align="left" src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1136363934/gallery_29805_1195_16739.jpg">by Chris Amirault

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In college, I became a sixty-minute man. Forget Billy Ward and the Dominoes; I mean a sixty-minute man in the Pierre Franey sense of the phrase. Like many people who learned to cook in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I got my start with Franey’s indispensable, genre-defining New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet. More importantly, I learned how to learn how to cook with it.

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The first edition of the book was a compendium of Franey’s Times columns, in the format that he had perfected there. First came the deft, informal introductions to the dishes, often with references to unnamed “acquaintances” (Claiborne? Soltner? We never learned), to tempting, unavailable European foodstuffs with odd names like rascasse about which you could only dream, and to the rolling hills and bucolic seacoasts of France from which most dishes hailed. These introductions cut through the formality of many of the recipes that followed, with Franey’s gentle voice encouraging novices and talented amateurs both.

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Then came the recipes -- Franey often included a side or two to go with the main -- which were paragons of clarity and simplicity. They generally required seven or eight pieces of basic equipment: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, a cutting board, a colander, a skillet or saute pan, a covered sauce pan, a stock pot, and a roasting pan. Ingredients were chosen based both on their availability at Food Emporium and by the likelihood that a contemporary shopper might actually pull that item off a shelf and place it in her cart. The directions were precise and no-nonsense, in the style of his colleague Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook: there was only one way to do things, so no need to fuss with extra verbiage. </td>

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<td width="50%" valign="top">Those sixty minutes imposed many constraints on methods and dishes, meaning a lot of sauteing and almost no braising, one quick fish “broth” but no stocks, plenty of cream and butter but few of the classic sauces; as a result, there’s no daube, coq au vin, or cassoulet, precious little offal, and only a few roasted entrees. But Franey used those constraints to turn a short hour into a lesson on French a la minute preparations and their related foundational concepts. The lesson could be on steak au poivre, tossed into a superhot skillet and poked repeatedly to teach you how to tell when it was done; or it could be a lesson on the simple magic of browned butter, lemon and caper sauce for that flounder -- or if you were being risque that strange, delicate skate wing. It could be a lesson on fond and flavor, during which a perfectly sauteed pork chop waited patiently for its companion apple quarters to absorb every bit of porcine goodness from the deglazed pan.

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Every page implied the same unspoken message: “Learn these dishes and you’ll know the right way.” The recipes that fill the original version of 60-Minute Gourmet meet that simple demand, within a particularly French, or perhaps more broadly “continental,” culinary context. In every dish one could find a few crucial insights into food, cooking, and eating and Franey was gently but insistently suggesting that paying good attention for that short hour could make you, too, into a better cook. That is the lasting genius of 60-Minute Gourmet: instead of trying to teach you everything, Franey sought to teach you a few things from which, if you wanted to do so, you could learn almost everything.

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It comes as no surprise, then, that Sara Moulton declares in her new and excellent cookbook, Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals, that her “own model is Pierre Franey, whose 60-Minute Gourmet -- the product of a more leisurely era -- still inspires me.” She’s chosen the right model, revamped it for the current zeitgeist and infused it with her own voice and mission. In doing so, she has created a book that will become the stained go-to cookery book for many of her fans -- and a book that can be, for the right readers, what Franey’s book was for so many twenty-five years ago.

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The book announces its differences immediately. Following succinct but useful “How To Use This Book” and “Stocking Your Pantry” sections, subsequent chapters are broken down conceptually, including some that are frank encouragements to expand your horizons by, for example, allowing “Side Dishes [to] Take Center Stage.” The bulk of the chapters provide thoughtful, trimmed-down preparations of dishes both expected and surprising. The “Oven-baked Chowder” is ingeniously simple, using a 375 F oven to add depth of flavor in a relatively short time with little fuss. In addition, I suspect that the “Breakfast for Dinner” chapter legitimates the furtive evening meals of the truly busy with nods not only to French egg preparations but also to the Egg McMuffin itself.

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The recipes range through several cuisines, and Moulton takes special effort to encourage combinations that reflect the expansion of the American palate without pretending that she’s offering authentic interpretations on favorites. To wit, she suggests that her honestly named “Cheatin’ Jambalaya” is a great way to use that leftover Chinese takeout rice in your fridge. If that sort of cooking jars your sensibilities (insert Sandra Lee joke here), you’ll certainly find the chapter in which it resides, “Shop and Serve,” to be thoroughly annoying. In it, Moulton proposes to embrace rather than decry the home meal replacement phenomenon that is claiming square footage at your local supermarket, using salad bars as the source for gazpacho and grabbing some roasted vegetables from the deli for ratatouille pizza. It is a bit mysterious, too, that the chapter, “Just Open the Pantry,” contains both a detailed explanation of what a caper is and a dorm-worthy recipe for souped-up ramen noodles.

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One can imagine a few simple explanations for such gestures. Her tastes are democratic; like her work at Gourmet and on the Food Network, she’s balancing high and low. But something more complex is going on. After all, this book was written by a woman with a degree in the History of Ideas and in emulation of Pierre Franey, who, like Moulton, always seemed to have a bit more going on than his smile would indicate. Take her representation of her audience. Moulton draws an expansive community in, and into, her book. She regularly mentions her colleagues in the test kitchens at Gourmet and behind the scenes at FTV; her family members pop up now and then, primarily to indicate that even finicky eaters like a particular dish. Most notably, the community of viewers and callers who participated in her call-in Food Network shows is well represented, chiming in with tips, adaptations, and correct pronunciations. (“VIE-DAY-LI-A,” her Southern viewers insisted, correcting her Northern gaffe.) As she so masterfully does on television, in Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals Moulton knows how to be that rarest of foodies: both informed and inclusive, humbly committed to quality cooking and eating for all.

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“Meanwhile,” as she writes, “the clock is always ticking.” Like Franey, Moulton strives to keep the recipes under 60 minutes, and most have listed “hands-on time” of 15 minutes, the stated desire of the many people she met while promoting her first book, Sara Moulton Cooks at Home. I wondered throughout whether those times were accurate; though Moulton claims to have “dispensed with what the French call mise en place,” many seemed to cram an awful lot of prep into a brief quarter hour. To prepare her "Mexican Chicken Salad," for example, this cook (with decent knife skills but limited counter space) was hard pressed to clean and stem 1/2 cup of cilantro, squeeze 1/4 cup of lime juice, chop up half of a chipotle en adobo, clean and shred a head of romaine, cube two cups of cooked chicken and an avocado, rinse and drain a can of black beans, chop three plum tomatoes, and grate four ounces of cheese in such a short time.

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This inaccuracy may be a bit problematic if the fam is insistent on getting fed precisely between Seinfeld and The Simpsons. However, I suspect that these inaccuracies might better be understood as part of Moulton’s master plan, a wonderfully sneaky strategy for luring the 15-minute crowd toward the hour and beyond. There are other, more explicit nudges to be found. For example, take the substantial “Cooking Ahead” section, a collection of stews, braises, and the like that are “time-saving” because you can make on weekends and pull out for weekday dinners. They are also clear indications that time and cooking are swell companions, and that depth, complexity, and melding of flavor, not to mention tenderness and texture, are enhanced when one takes one’s time.

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Putting a five-hour, ten-minute (“plus marinating time,” natch) "Cuban-Style Roast Pork" recipe in a book devoted to 15-minute meals makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Poke around a bit and you’ll see more evidence of the master plan. In her introduction, Moulton confesses that she “could never discount the joys of slow food,” and gives a nod to Julia Child’s “anti-rush-rush-rush” philosophy. Julia wasn’t just talking about roasts and braises, of course. As US consumer culture was driving us ever faster, she wanted you to stop and consider that leek or sweetbread or monkfish because she believed that absorbing the pleasures of food during its preparation was a unique, important benefit for every cook. It would be foolhardy to say that Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals is devoted to that pleasure, but it would be naïve not to notice that pleasure lurking here and there throughout.

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So, then, is it foolhardy to imagine the following scenario? While preparing that "Mexican Chicken Salad," one of Moulton’s 15-minute fans is fascinated to find that taking an extra moment to consider the romaine reveals the curious structure and textures of this Caesar pleaser. Perhaps another is proud to cut that cooked chicken into perfect 3/4 inch cubes, or is challenged to get each of the hundreds of tiny juice cells that fill every lime to burst. (Roll it? Ream it?) In each of those brief, otherwise banal moments, might there be a lesson about food and cooking, making those moments not so banal after all?

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Moulton is betting it’s not foolhardy, at least. Sure, she gives you the basics if you want to slam out a chicken breast, but there is a hidden door in every recipe urging the cook toward different approaches to food and cooking, giving the 15-minute crowd opportunities to linger, try, and ponder. Like Franey, perhaps, while she helps the harried home cook plate meals, she can at the same time, teach her readers how to learn how to cook. Call me a convert: after Franey got me started, I turned into a two or three-hour man pretty quickly, seeking out long-simmering daubes, 14-item mise en place preps for bibimbap, and insanely intricate methods for fried chicken simply for the pleasure of cooking. Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals will help you when you have to rush, rush, rush for fifteen minutes, but if Saint Julia appears on your shoulder now and then to slow you down and nudge you toward the hour and beyond: well, that might just be another of Sara’s secrets.

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Chris Amirault (aka, well, chrisamirault) is a host of the eGullet Society General Food Topics, the self-styled Czar of the eGullet Recipe Cook-Offs, and the proud owner of an apron displaying Yoko Ono's ass. He also runs a preschool and teaches in Providence, RI. </td><td width="50%" valign="top">

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</div><blockquote><hr noshade><font size="3" face="Georgia, Times New Roman, Times, serif"><b><br><br>A Preview of Forthcoming Cookbooks Guaranteed to Save You Time</b></font>

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<font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, Times, serif">The 1979 publication of Pierre Franey's <i>60-Minute Gourmet</i> (now <i>The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet, by Pierre Franey with an introduction by Craig Claiborne</i>) gave rise to a contest of culinary time-saving one-upmanship that continues to this day.

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Between then and now, according to Amazon.com, there have been in the neighborhood of 552 cookbooks along these lines, including the category-dominating <i>30-Minute Meals</i>, by Rachael Ray, and the <i>30-Minute Vegetarian Indian Cookbook</i>, by Mridula Baljekar (this last title, it should be noted, is part of the 30-Minute Vegetarian Cookbook Series).

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Not to be outdone, both Weight Watcher's and Cooking Light have published 5-Minute Cookbooks (perhaps it is possible to cook more efficiently when preparing fewer calories). The American Heart Association, always conservative in its claims, offers <i>Meals in Minutes</i> (this would seem to describe any length of preparation). Some have even upped the ante by introducing additional numeric restrictions, for example <i>4 Ingredient Recipes for 30 Minute Meals</i>, by Barbara C. Jones, and The <i>5 in 10 Dessert Cookbook: 5 Ingredients in 10 Minutes or Less</i>, by Natalie Hartanov Haughton.

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Last month, however, celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito came on strong with the boldest efficiency claim to date: <i>Rocco's Five Minute Flavor</i>. The book promises a time-saving trifecta: "every dish is ready in 5 minutes or less, using 5 ingredients, and all for under $5 per serving." He writes, in the introduction, "I want 5 minutes to be the new 30 minutes."

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One could be forgiven for assuming it can't go any farther. Yet a look at forthcoming titles for 2006 indicates that the game is hardly over. In February, the Institute for Prevention of Obesity is releasing <i>The Zero-Minute Epicure: 250 No-Cook, No-Eat, No-Calorie Recipes that Taste Great!</i> (Emphasis in original). Then, in June, we can expect the long-awaited translation of Russian physicist Vladimir Fradkin's <i>The Negative Ten Minute Cookbook: What Einstein's Chef Told Him About Today's Meals, Done Yesterday</i>. Rather than presenting traditional recipes, the book is in the form of a novel about the unrequited love of a Russian circus bear for a visiting marsupial, set in the era of Stalin.

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Thankfully, the Slow Food movement has not jumped on the bandwagon. Slow Food will be issuing, in August, <i>The Slow Food 60-Hour Gourmet: 3 Recipes for the 3-Day Weekend Warrior</i>. Although the book begins, unoriginally, with a recipe for how to cook a wolf, the other two recipes are excellent.

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-<i>Steven A. Shaw</i></font><br>

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Moulton is betting it’s not foolhardy, at least. Sure, she gives you the basics if you want to slam out a chicken breast, but there is a hidden door in every recipe urging the cook toward different approaches to food and cooking, giving the 15-minute crowd opportunities to linger, try, and ponder.

See, that's the thing. I love that hidden door. Because when your average home cook gets a chance to learn about something, the chemistry and alchemy that comes from devotion to a task, anatomy lesson; botany 268; one step further - I love that! I love the possibility that anyone can learn every detail of the gosh darn basics, and realise, at the same time, that home cooks throught the centuries, they have put it together in 15 minutes prep time and and kept those home fires burning as long as it takes to make it good, but especially if a person doesn't consider it a chore, but a discovery process, they'll realize the impact they can have on their loved ones this way, and it reinforces everything. I am all for the one hour meal. :smile:

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Moulton is betting it’s not foolhardy, at least. Sure, she gives you the basics if you want to slam out a chicken breast, but there is a hidden door in every recipe urging the cook toward different approaches to food and cooking, giving the 15-minute crowd opportunities to linger, try, and ponder.

See, that's the thing. I love that hidden door. Because when your average home cook gets a chance to learn about something, the chemistry and alchemy that comes from devotion to a task, anatomy lesson; botany 268; one step further - I love that!

I get the sense that Moulton loves it, too: she seems to get a twinkle in her eye when opening those doors on TV, and I have the same sense in reading this book.

Of course, since she'll be here for a Spotlight Conversation shortly, we can ask her about those hidden doors! :wink:

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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  • 2 weeks later...

Beautifully written Chris.

I fully believe in showing people how to prepare really "quick" meals and then trust that the feeling they get from doing that will make them want to explore longer preparations. This in itself, I believe, makes a cook.

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Quote from Steven Shaw: "One could be forgiven for assuming it can't go any farther. Yet a look at forthcoming titles for 2006 indicates that the game is hardly over. In February, the Institute for Prevention of Obesity is releasing The Zero-Minute Epicure: 250 No-Cook, No-Eat, No-Calorie Recipes that Taste Great! (Emphasis in original). "

You can't be serious here, right? This must be sarcasm? I can see how something you don't eat has no calories for you. But how can it possibly taste great?

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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Uh, you obviously didn't read further:

Thankfully, the Slow Food movement has not jumped on the bandwagon. Slow Food will be issuing, in August, The Slow Food 60-Hour Gourmet: 3 Recipes for the 3-Day Weekend Warrior. Although the book begins, unoriginally, with a recipe for how to cook a wolf, the other two recipes are excellent.

PS: I am a guy.

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Chris,

This is the most exhaustive review I have ever seen. Wow!!! Thanks!

You have busted me on one issue - the times. When my sous chef did a last testing of 50 recipes that I was not %100 happy with, her comment was often that my times were off, meaning that it took longer than I said. It was hard for me to do a quick and easy book, I will admit it. Which is why there is a slow cooking chapter (foods to make ahead on weekends). As for the supermarket chapter, at least I don't have mushroom soup in a can as sauce....

Sara Moulton

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Thanks, Sara, for the kind words -- and the refreshing honesty about times. Of course, Pierre wasn't always clocking in at 58 minutes. :wink:

As for the supermarket chapter, at least I don't have mushroom soup in a can as sauce....

Not that there's anything wrong with recipes using canned mushroom soup....

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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  • 2 weeks later...
her “own model is Pierre Franey, whose 60-Minute Gourmet -- the product of a more leisurely era -- still inspires me.” She’s chosen the right model, revamped it for the current zeitgeist and infused it with her own voice and mission. In doing so, she has created a book that will become the stained go-to cookery book for many of her fans -- and a book that can be, for the right readers, what Franey’s book was for so many twenty-five years ago.

I still have my original 1979 copy of Franey's book, which was a gift from a friend, and is quite well-stained and full of taped-in, now-browned newspaper clippings of many of his other 60-minute recipes. But perhaps I'm not part of the current zeitgeist, because as I was browsing through Ms. Moulton's book at a local bookstore (i.e., 'cheapening the merchandise'), I came upon her opinion that veal was only a vehicle for a good sauce. Yet Franey says that "...veal that is cooked to the exact point of doneness...is one of the choicest morsels that any cook could bring to the table." Obviously, I am a veal afficionado.

I do hope, though, that with all of her successes, Ms. Moulton is also able to bring more people along into the world of cooking...hours and hours worth.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for the excellent book review. We are huge Sara fans. One New Year's Day we tried her Roast Pork Loin with Mortadella and Truffle Butter (FoodTV recipe search). It was terrific and I use the peppercorn butter (used to coat the roast) for beef as well.

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