CLEVELAND, Ohio — For those who can remember TV shows from way back in the twenty-teens, you may recall that little lark of a series, “Schitt’s Creek,” particularly Episode 2 of Season 2, in which David and Moira take over Jocelyn’s kitchen for a bonding experience to cook Moira’s mother’s famous enchiladas. A lot of squabbling and culinary chaos inevitably ensues, and the scene culminates in a smoldering tête-à-tête over the actual meaning of “fold in” the cheese, during which the enchilada sauce burns, and David finally stomps out in disgust.
If only Molly Baz had been there. A senior food editor and recipe developer at Bon Appetit magazine, she’s also the author of the current best-seller, “Cook This Book: Techniques That Teach & Recipes to Repeat.” With these bona fides, Molly is no doubt a whiz at folding in just about anything into anything else, but just as importantly, she and her book are dedicated to the proposition that food and cooking should be a joyous experience. If anyone could have turned David and Moira’s stress-cooking frowns upside down, it’s Molly. As she says, “I’m in the business of having lots of fun and eating only the most delicious foods, and I would never encourage you to commit to a lifetime of cooking if it didn’t deliver on those two promises.”
“Cook This Book” does deliver—big time. For fun, her text is peppered with salty asides and cute little references to her beloved “weenie dog”, Tuna. And there’s lots of delicious food with exuberant titles that almost beg to be made: Golden Brown & Delicious Chicken Breasts with Crispy Bread Salad: Big Shells with Escarole, ‘Chovies, & Mozz; Supremely Creamy Tomato & Cheddar Soup, and Sweetie P’s with Peanut-Chile Sauce. Though I’m not sure what’s up with that habit of arbitrarily whacking syllables off of words, as seen above. It’s a trait you may find disarmingly amusing…. or simply confusing.
But Baz is crystal clear where it really counts. After years of testing, developing, and writing recipes, she has devised a unique rubric that provides lucid and logical directions for assembling ingredients, then prepping and cooking them into something that tastes great. And, along with the usual headnotes that everyone uses to provide context and some fun along with the fundamentals, Molly, being Molly, adds footnotes as well, with even more useful information.
There’s also a wealth of additional material that makes “Cook This Book” invaluable. It includes, at no extra charge, a revelatory salting tutorial; four fabulous ways to cure a meh meal; Molly’s Golden Rules — a ten-point crash course in mastering any recipe (really!) — and lots of bonus recipes for condiments, sauces, and flavorings that, as she says, will make simple dishes taste “a million gazillion times more delicious”.
And I haven’t even mentioned the QR codes scattered throughout the book. Accessed through the camera app of your phone, they lead to short video snippets of skills and techniques that are best explained visually. It’s a sweet mini-Molly Baz cooking show scattered through the nearly 100 beguiling recipes.
We’ve selected several of them for you to try at home. They include the afore-mentioned and perfectly-named Golden Brown and Delicious Chicken Breasts; a quick-cooked Blistered Broccolini with Charred Dates, Lemon & Sesame, that results in a carnival of caramelized flavors; and Baz’s supremely garlicky, cheesy, creamy, and crunchy Cae Sal, which she claims is the platonic ideal of Caesar salads. Believe it.
In the interest of full disclosure, among the many educational — and entertaining — QR tutorials in the book, there isn’t one on how to “fold in”. I guess Moira and David are going to have to wait for a “Cook This Book: Too” to learn that technique. Though, if memory serves, their enchiladas turned out just fine.
GOLDEN BROWN & DELICIOUS CHICKEN BREASTS WITH CRISPY BREAD SALAD
Truth be told, it’s a lot easier to overcook chicken breasts than it is legs or thighs, which contributes to their reputation for being dry and tough. To combat that, it’s important to roast chicken breasts with both their skin and bone intact. The skin provides a protective barrier for the meat, keeping it moist, while the bone lends a lot of flavor to the breast as it cooks. If you’ve never repeatedly basted a piece of meat with frothy, foaming garlic butter, you are about to experience one of the greatest pleasures of cooking.
1 medium head radicchio (about 8 ounces)
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 ounces Piave, Parmesan, or pecorino cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup Castelvetrano olives
¼ baguette (about 3 ounces)
3 oil-packed anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Honey, for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Season the chicken: Pat the chicken dry and season it evenly all over with 2½ teaspoons of salt and lots of black pepper.
Cook the chicken:
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Place the chicken breasts skin-side down in the skillet and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, undisturbed, until the skin is golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Move the breasts around the pan if the chicken seems to be browning more quickly in some parts than others.
Transfer to the oven (skin-side down). Roast until an instant-read thermometer registers 145°F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast, 25 to 30 minutes.
Prep the salad:
Meanwhile, tear 1 medium radicchio head into large pieces and transfer to a large bowl.
Using a vegetable peeler, shave 2 ounces Piave cheese right into the radicchio.
Smash 1 cup Castelvetrano olives with the bottom of a mug or glass measuring cup. Discard the pits and add the olives to the salad.
Tear ¼ of a baguette into irregular 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
Baste the chicken:
Smash 3 garlic cloves but don’t peel them. *
When the chicken is done, remove the skillet from the oven and transfer it to the stovetop. Keep the oven on.
Flip the chicken breasts skin-side up. Add 3 tablespoons butter, the garlic, and 3 anchovy fillets to the skillet and set over medium heat. Tilt the pan slightly toward you, let the melted butter collect at the side of the pan, and, using a large spoon, continuously baste the chicken breasts with the butter for 2 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to rest, leaving the anchovy-garlic butter behind.
Add the torn bread to the butter and stir the pieces around to coat. Return the skillet to the oven and bake until the croutons are crisp and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
Dress the salad:
Add the croutons and garlic to the bowl of salad.
Drizzle 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar and 3 tablespoons olive oil over the radicchio; toss well. Season with salt and black pepper. Lightly drizzle the salad with honey, tossing once to create pockets of sweetness.
Serve: Carve the chicken breasts off the bone, slice them crosswise, and serve with the salad.
The skins protect the garlic from burning.
BLISTERED BROCCOLINI WITH CHARRED DATES, LEMONS & SESAME
Broccolini is one of those vegetables that can really take an aggressive bit of high heat and benefits from deep, borderline-burnt charring. The thing that makes broccolini so great is that it cooks incredibly fast, so at any given moment you are only about ten minutes away from sitting down to enjoy this dish. Charring the dates caramelizes their natural sugars and brings out an almost toasted-marshmallow-like flavor that contrasts beautifully with the deeply savory side of a charred vegetable such as broccolini.
1 pound of broccolini
1 garlic clove
½ cup pitted Medjool dates (about 3 ounces)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Do some prep:
Trim about 1 inch from the stems of 1 pound of broccolini. Halve any very thick stems lengthwise so that they are all about the same thickness.
Thinly slice half of the lemon into rounds (discard the thick pithy end). Cut each of those rounds into quarters. We’re going to caramelize the lemon pieces. Reserve the remaining lemon half for squeezing later.
Tear ½ cup pitted Medjool dates into smaller bite-size pieces.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the broccolini and season with salt. Toss it once or twice to evenly coat with oil, then cook, undisturbed, until charred in spots, 3 to 4 minutes. Toss again and continue to cook until bright green, well charred, and tender, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Turn off the heat. Finely grate 1 large garlic clove right into the skillet and toss to coat. * Taste a piece of broccolini for seasoning and adjust as needed. Transfer the garlicky broccolini and any little bits left in the pan to a serving plate.
Place the skillet over medium heat, add the sliced lemon pieces, torn dates, and the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook, undisturbed, until the lemons are caramelized in some spots and the dates have darkened in color, 2 minutes longer.
Serve: Scatter the caramelized lemons and dates over the broccolini and drizzle with 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Finish with a good squeeze of lemon juice.
*The heat still present in the skillet will cook the garlic even though it’s no longer over a flame.
THE CAE SAL
If you only knew the things I’d do for a Cae Sal. Or perhaps you already do. To call it my brand would be to grossly underrepresent what this salad means to me. It is the Greatest Salad of All Time (GSOAT). I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, talking about, eating, considering, and developing what I believe is the platonic ideal of a Caesar salad — crisp, cold romaine hearts, a thick peppery, garlicky dressing, lots and lots of Parmesan cheese, homemade croutons, and enough lemon to make it all pop. And while technically you are going to have to make a mayonnaise from scratch in preparing this dressing, it’s actually super-duper easy and not as prone to failure as you might think. Trust.
1 garlic clove
4 romaine hearts
2 large eggs
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
½ crusty baguette (about 6 ounces)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarsely ground black pepper
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Tear ½ of a baguette into irregular 1-inch pieces; you should end up with about 3 cups of torn bread. Toss on a rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and a few good cranks of black pepper until well coated. Bake until deeply golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool.
Make the dressing: *
Separate the yolks and whites of 2 large eggs. Place the yolks in a large bowl (where you’ll build your dressing) and reserve the whites for another use. Here’s a quick and easy way to do it!
Finely grate 1 garlic clove and the zest of about half of a lemon into the large bowl. Squeeze in the juice of half of the lemon.
Finely chop 4 anchovies, then mash them to a paste, using the side of a chef’s knife until homogeneous; add to the large bowl.
Add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and whisk everything to combine. Place a damp kitchen towel underneath the bowl to stabilize it so it doesn’t slip ‘n’ slide all over the place as you whisk in the oil.
Starting with a very thin stream at first, whisking constantly as you go, incorporate ½ cup of canola oil into the yolk mixture until it is thick, creamy, and pale yellow.
Whisk in ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, ¾ teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (¼ cup). Taste the dressing on a leaf of romaine—it should be salty, cheesy, and lemony. Make any adjustments necessary until it tastes so good that you’d be happy eating a bowl of it alone with a side of crouts.
Prep the lettuce: Tear the leaves of 4 romaine hearts into 2-inch pieces and transfer them to the bowl of dressing. Squeeze the juice of half of the lemon over the romaine, season with salt, and toss the leaves to coat, avoiding incorporating any of the dressing beneath just yet.**
Serve: Add the croutons and gently toss the lettuce with your hands until well coated. Add 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (¼ cup) and toss again. Divide among plates and top with more grated Parmesan and black pepper.
*You are about to make mayonnaise by hand, BUT it’s not as hard as it sounds. The mustard, garlic, and anchovies that get mixed into the egg yolk will help support the emulsion.
**It’s always a good idea to preseason your greens with some acid and salt so they are zippy and zingy and hold up to the dressing. The lettuce contains water, which is going to dilute the flavor of the dressing, so you’ll always need a little extra acid to combat that.
‘Cook This Book: Techniques That Teach and Recipes To Repeat’ by Molly Baz (Clarkson Potter 304 pp. $32.50)
All recipes reprinted from “Cook This Book” (Copyright © 2021 by Molly Baz). Photographs copyright © 2021 by PEDEN+MUNK. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.”