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Hassle free cooking

Culinary instructor Rick Rodgers, author of “Carefree Cook,” shares more than 150 hassle free recipes for cooking everyday.
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If you enjoy fine dining at home but don’t have the time or the skills to create a fabulous feast, help is here.Culinary instructor Rick Rodgers, author of “Carefree Cook,” shares more than 150 hassle free recipes for cooking everyday. Check some of them out here:


Makes 6 servings

I first enjoyed a soup similar to this during a trip to Cape Cod, where many Portuguese-Americans live and cook. The original was cooked until the cod was chunky and falling apart, but I prefer this more attractive version, where a whole cod fillet is served in each bowl topped with a ladle of aromatic broth with vegetables and sausage. If you can’t find linguiça, use chorizo, or even pepperoni.


1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 ounces linguiça or other hard, spicy smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 medium red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 large onion, chopped

1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeds and ribs removed, and cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups bottled clam juice or canned reduced-sodium chicken broth

One 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

Six 6-ounce cod fillets

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes

Salt to taste


Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the linguiça and cook, stirring until browned, about 6 minutes. Add the potatoes, onion, green pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

Add the clam juice, the tomatoes, with their juices, and 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the potatoes are almost tender, about 15 minutes.

Lay the cod fillets in the skillet, cover, and cook until the fish is opaque when flaked in the center with the tip of a knife, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, process the remaining 1/3 cup oil and the cilantro in a blender. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer a fillet to each soup bowl. Season the broth with the red pepper and salt. Ladle the broth, with the vegetables and sausage, over the fillets. Drizzle with the cilantro oil and serve immediately.


Under 30 minutes

Makes 1 sandwich

Here is a member of the grilled cheese family, with a meaty portobello mushroom as its raison d’être. It is hard to find a more satisfying hot vegetarian sandwich that can be ready in less time. Use a portobello mushroom cap that will fit on the bread without too much overhang.


1 portobello mushroom, stem removed

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

2 slices firm white sandwich bread

1 tablespoon Pesto (page 268), or use store-bought

1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese


Using a dessert spoon, scrape out the black gills from the underside of the mushroom cap. (Removing the gills reduces the amount of black juice the mushroom will exude.)

Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the mushroom, flat side down, and cook until the underside is browned, about 4 minutes. Turn the mushroom and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and season with salt and pepper.

Wipe out the skillet with moist paper towels. Add the butter and melt over medium heat. Place the mushroom cap on one slice of bread, spread with the pesto, and sprinkle with the cheese. Top with the remaining bread and place the sandwich in the skillet. Cook, turning once, until both sides of the sandwich are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Serve hot.


Makes 4 servings

Certain dishes fill the kitchen with incredibly appetizing aromas that make the diners half-crazed with anticipation-and then these dishes live up to their promise. These effortless spareribs are such a recipe. I am a huge fan of barbecued ribs, but I have never served these without someone at the table saying that they like these oven-roasted ribs just as much as grilled ribs, if not better. That is quite a recommendation! You will need a very large roasting pan, about 18 by 14 inches, to hold both racks of ribs. If you don’t have one, bake the ribs on two rimmed baking sheets, on two oven racks. To make the sauce, deglaze one baking sheet with all of the wine, then use the resulting liquid to deglaze the second sheet. Serve the ribs with soft polenta and sautéed green beans.


3 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary

1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

51/2 pounds spareribs

3/4 cup dry white wine


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. On a cutting board, crush the garlic under the side of a knife, then coarsely chop. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and continue chopping and smearing the garlic on the board until it forms a paste. Scrape into a small bowl. Add the basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, pepper, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in the oil to make a paste.

Rub the herb paste all over the spareribs. Place the ribs in a very large roasting pan, about 18 x 14 inches. The ribs can overlap slightly. Roast, basting occasionally with the juices in the pan, for 1 hour. Turn the ribs and continue baking and basting until they are browned and tender, about 1 more hour. Transfer to a cutting board and let stand while you make the sauce.

Tilt the roasting pan and spoon off the fat, leaving the dark juices in the pan. Place on two burners over high heat and heat until the pan is sizzling. Add the wine and use a flat wooden spatula or spoon to scrape up the browned bits in the pan. Cook until the wine is slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Pour the sauce into a small bowl.

Cut the ribs between the bones and place on a serving platter. Serve immediately, topping each serving with a spoonful of the sauce.

Pan Juices

Never, ever throw out the juices left in the bottom of a roasting pan or skillet. These browned bits are a treasure trove of flavor and should be used, not washed down the drain! Most recipes call for deglazing the pan to collect the juices, a technique that is akin to rinsing out the pan with a flavorful liquid.

Heat the pan on top of the stove, over two burners if necessary, being sure that the pan is sizzling hot before adding the liquid, which is often wine. When the wine hits the pan, the heat makes a blast of steam that forces out the raw alcohol taste to make a more mellow sauce. Even if the liquid isn’t alcoholic, the high heat will make the sauce come to a boil quickly. Scrape up the flavor-packed browned bits on the bottom of the pan-a flat wooden spatula does the best job, but a wooden spoon works if care is taken to reach all over the pan. Boil the liquid until it reaches a slightly thickened consistency. To make any pan sauce richer and a bit thicker, remove the pan from the stove and whisk in a tablespoon or two (or three) of chilled unsalted butter, a tablespoon at a time.


Makes 4 servings

With just a few ingredients, this Vietnamese-inspired marinated chicken has become one of my favorites. Served with jasmine rice and the Tomato and Cucumber Salad on page 67, it is one of my most-requested meals. I’ve marinated and grilled quite a few chickens in my time, and I’ve also seen too many cooks overmarinate their birds, making for grilled poultry with a tough, cottony texture. A reaction between the acids in the marinade and the meat’s proteins causes this phenomenon. But with a bold marinade (and most are), you don’t really get additional flavor with a long soak, as the marinade won’t reach any deeper than an eighth-inch or so. Because grilling adds a smoky note, I prefer this chicken cooked outdoors, but it can certainly be broiled in the oven.


1/4 cup Japanese soy sauce

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup shredded fresh ginger (use the large holes on a box grater)

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 tablespoon dark Asian sesame oil

2 teaspoons Five-Spice Powder (recipe follows), or use store-bought

4 garlic cloves, minced

One 4-pound chicken, cut into quarters

Lime wedges for serving


Combine the soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, brown sugar, oil, five-spice powder, and garlic in a large zip-tight plastic bag. Seal the bag and shake to dissolve the sugar. Add the chicken, seal the bag, and refrigerate to marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours.

Build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill and let burn until the coals are covered with white ash; leave the coals heaped in the center of the grill. (Or preheat a gas grill on High, then turn one burner off.)

Lightly oil the grill grate. Remove the chicken from the marinade; reserve the marinade. Place the chicken on the cooler areas on the perimeter of the grill, around, not over, the coals. (On a gas grill, arrange the chicken over the turned-off burner.) Cover the grill. Grill, turning the chicken once or twice and basting when you do so with the marinade, until the chicken shows no sign of pink when pierced at the bone, about 45 minutes. Do not baste the chicken during the last 10 minutes of grilling. Serve hot, with the lime wedges.


Makes about 4 teaspoons

A staple of Chinese cooking, this wonderfully aromatic blend is said to represent the five elements of fire, water, earth, metal, and wood. It is readily available in plastic bags at Asian markets, where it’s much less pricey than in the spice rack of the supermarket. However, unless you are a dedicated fan of Chinese cooking, you may not be able to use up the entire bag before it starts to lose its flavor. So if you have the ingredients on hand, it’s a good idea to grind your own blend in a coffee grinder. Try it in your next apple pie-unconventional but delicious.


2 star anise, broken into points

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


In a coffee grinder, finely grind the star anise, peppercorns, and fennel. Add the cinnamon and cloves and pulse to blend. Store in an airtight container in a dark place for up to 3 months.

Spice Grinders

Serious cooks have a coffee grinder that is used only for grinding spices. If you don’t want to take the plunge, you can use your everyday grinder. It must be the type that uses a blade, not a burr, for grinding. To remove unwanted flavors before and after grinding spices (you probably don’t want five-spice-flavored coffee, or coffee-flavored five-spice powder), grind about 1/4 cup raw rice or granulated sugar to a powder-it will pick up the residual flavors.


Under 30 minutes

Makes 4 servings

This has become my preferred way to cook salmon, as the sweet-saltiness of the hoisin sauce balances the buttery salmon flesh. Ginger juice (available bottled at specialty markets, but very easy to extract by hand) gives the glaze a nice kick. Grill a double batch of fillets so you’ll have leftovers to make Asian Salmon Cakes with Ginger Tartar Sauce. Serve jasmine rice and sautéed snow peas as side dishes.


1/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons dry sherry

1 scallion, chopped, white and green parts kept separate

1/2 garlic clove, crushed through a press

2 tablespoons shredded fresh ginger (use the large holes in a box grater)

Four 6-ounce salmon fillets, with skin


Position an oiled broiler rack 6 inches from the source of heat and preheat the broiler. In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, sherry, the white part of the scallion, and the garlic. Working over the bowl, squeeze the ginger hard in your hand to extract the juice, and stir it in. Set the glaze aside.

Arrange the fillets, skin side down, on the broiler rack and broil for 3 minutes. Slather with the glaze and continue broiling until the glaze is bubbling, about 2 minutes for medium-rare salmon. Using a spatula, transfer the salmon to dinner plates (the skin may remain stuck to the broiler rack). Sprinkle the fillets with the chopped scallion greens. Serve immediately.


Under 30 minutes

Makes 4 servings

OK, I admit that when I was a kid, I loved fish sticks. As a grownup, when I have a craving for a crunchy fish dish, I make these salmon cakes with their crisp coating and moist interior. The ginger tartar sauce may sound like gilding the lily, but it really adds to the dish-and besides, it uses some of the same ingredients as the cakes, so it is easy to whip up. For the cakes, use leftovers from Salmon Fillets with Hoisin Glaze or Oven-Poached Salmon with Watercress Mayonnaise, or poach salmon from scratch. Serve with Chinese Cabbage and Sesame Slaw.


Ginger Tartar Sauce

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 scallion, white and green parts, minced

1 tablespoon shredded fresh ginger (use the large holes on a box grater)

1 teaspoon hot Chinese or Dijon mustard

Salmon Cakes

2 scallions, white and green parts, minced

2 tablespoons shredded fresh ginger (use the large holes on a box grater)

1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs; see page 146)

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce (omit if using leftover Grilled Salmon with Hoisin Glaze)

1 tablespoon Japanese soy sauce

1 tablespoon hot Chinese or Dijon mustard

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets, cooked, skinned, and flaked (about 3 1/2 cups; see Note)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Lime wedges for serving


To make the tartar sauce, mix the mayonnaise, scallion, ginger, and mustard in a small bowl. Let stand at room temperature while you make the cakes.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Mix the scallions, ginger, 1/3 cup of the panko, the mayonnaise, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, mustard, egg, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the salmon and mix. Let stand for 5 minutes, then shape into four 4-inch-wide patties and place on the baking sheet.

Place the remaining panko in a shallow dish. Coat the patties in the panko and return to the baking sheet.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until very hot. Add the patties and cook until the undersides are golden, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until the other sides are golden, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain briefly.

Serve the cakes immediately, with the tartar sauce and lime wedges.

Note: To poach salmon fillets, place them in a skillet and add just enough lightly salted cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the salmon is opaque with a hint of rosy color in the center when flaked with the tip of a knife, about 8 minutes. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spatula. Depending on your time frame, the salmon can be used immediately or allowed to cool.


Under 30 minutes

Makes 4 servings

Until I worked with Jeffrey Nathan (host of PBS’s New Jewish Cuisine) on his book Adventures in Jewish Cooking, I rarely cooked with miso. But Jeff used to cook in a Japanese restaurant and he gave me some great ideas for using this tasty soybean paste, including adding a bit to a finished pot of chicken soup. Beyond soup, it also makes a terrific salad dressing. Try it on baby spinach, or use in this slaw.


Miso Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon light (white or yellow) miso

1/2 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce

1 small garlic clove

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Carrot Slaw

1 pound carrots, trimmed

1 scallion, white and green parts, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sesame seeds, toasted, if desired, for garnish


To make the vinaigrette, pulse the vinegar, miso, soy sauce, and garlic in a blender to combine. With the machine running, pour in the oil through the top vent.

In a food processor fitted with the coarse shredding blade, shred the carrots. (It is important not to shred the carrots too fine; if your food processor only has a fine shredding disk, use a V-slicer to julienne the carrots into strips less than 1/8 inch wide.)

Toss the carrots, scallion, and vinaigrette in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, topping each serving with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.


Makes 4 to 6 servings

I used to make my macaroni and cheese with only Cheddar, and maybe some Velveeta, if no one was looking. Then, on the personal advice from that great cook and singer Patti LaBelle, I started adding more cheeses to the recipe. Now I use a quartet of sharp Cheddar, nutty Gruyère, and tangy blue cheese with a Parmesan crust. If you have onion-soup bowls or individual casseroles, this is fun to bake in single portions.


1 pound elbow macaroni

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups milk, heated until hot in the microwave or in a saucepan

1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese

1/3 cup (about 11/2 ounces) crumbled Danish blue or Roquefort cheese

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt to taste

Hot red pepper sauce to taste

1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons dried bread crumbs


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter a deep 2-quart baking dish.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the macaroni and cook until almost but not quite done, about 8 minutes. Drain well.

Add 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of the butter to the pasta pot and melt over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and reduce the heat to low. Let the roux bubble without browning for 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk. Stir in the Cheddar, Gruyère, blue cheese, and mustard. Return the macaroni to the pot and mix well. Season with salt and hot pepper sauce. Transfer to the baking dish.

Mix the Parmesan and bread crumbs and sprinkle over the macaroni. Dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Bake until the macaroni is bubbling throughout, about 25 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then serve hot.


Makes 9 bars

Lemon bars are sneaking up on chocolate chip as America’s favorite cookie. Many recipes for lemon bars require making a nerve-racking lemon curd (cook for one second too long, and you have scrambled lemon curd), and I prefer recipes with a simple baked-in filling. These orange-flavored bars are a welcome change from the lemon version. Lining the pan with aluminum foil helps you remove the cookies without crumbling, but even when well-buttered, the foil can be stubborn when it comes time to remove it. I strongly recommend nonstick aluminum foil, a new product that has many uses but seems to have been invented specifically to take care of culinary dilemmas like this one.



1 cup all-purpose flour

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Orange Filling

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup thawed frozen orange juice concentrate

Grated zest of 1 large orange or 1/2 teaspoon orange oil (see Note)

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners’ sugar for garnish


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter an 8-inch-square baking pan. Pleat a 14-inch-long piece of nonstick aluminum foil (or use regular aluminum foil) lengthwise to make an 8-inch-wide strip. Fit into the pan, letting the excess hang over the ends to act as “handles.” If using regular foil, butter it well. Dust the buttered sides of the pan with flour and tap out the excess flour.

To make the crust, combine the flour, butter, and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl, and beat with a handheld electric mixer on low speed until the dough is well combined and starts to clump together. Pour into the pan. Press the dough firmly and evenly into the bottom and about 1/4 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake until the dough is set and lightly browned around the edges, about 18 minutes.

To make the filling, whisk the eggs, sugar, orange juice concentrate, orange zest, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl until well combined. Pour into the hot crust, return to the oven, and bake until the filling is evenly risen and deep golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire cake rack.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over the top of the pastry. Run a sharp knife along the two sides of the pastry touching the sides of the pan to release it. Lift up the foil handles to remove the pastry in one piece. Using a sharp knife dipped into hot water, cut the pastry into 9 bars. (The bars can be stored in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.)

Note: Orange oil, made especially for cooking, has a much more aromatic flavor than orange extract. It is available at specialty markets.

Chocolate Orange Bars

Substitute 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for 1/4 cup of the flour.

Recipes excerpted from “The Carefree Cook” by Rick Rodgers. Copyright © 2003 by Rick Rodgers. Published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.