Home-style foods add fun to entertaining guests

December 29, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

Home-style cooking falls into line with the continuing cocooning trend. At its best, home-style food offers comfort, enjoyment in the cooking and relief from too much restaurant fare.

"When it comes to style, there's nothing like home-style," writes Florence Fabricant, author of "New Home Cooking" (Clarkson Potter, $30). "It puts guests, whether friends or relatives, at ease while it makes cooking and serving delightfully relaxed for the host or hostess."

Ms. Fabricant, a food columnist for the New York Times, entertains frequently and cooks for her family regularly. But what she cooks today is vastly different from what she made a few years ago.

"The idea of starting party preparations a week ahead has diminished for everyone -- for me, it's almost gone," she said during a recent visit to Chicago.

Now she is more likely to prepare a quick pasta dish or simmer a stew than serve a multicourse feast.

"I think the formal distinctions between family and company fare have blurred. At the same time, because of restaurants we want to experiment at home with foods we have eaten out."

Arborio rice, fresh arugula and radicchio are examples of restaurant foods that have entered the "new home cooking." Conversely, Ms. Fabricant sees a trend in restaurants offering "mom-and-pop food," mashed potatoes, meatloaf and puddings among them.

Italian dishes of all sorts figure greatly in the home cooking of this decade.

"Chef Paul Bocuse told me recently that he thinks French cooking has lost some ground because of the accessibility of home-style Italian.

"Italian food fits our concern about health. The degree to which we are using pasta and grains has really increased."

Indeed, in Ms. Fabricant's book 25 of the 170 recipes feature pasta, grains, rice and legumes.

For entertaining she keeps "the nuts and bolts of the dinner party pretty much the same: nuts or a simple nibble with wine, a green salad, cheese and good bread. The main course is easy, pasta or risotto (which is even easier because there is no sauce to make). Then fruit or a special dessert, depending on time."

Some of her favorite dishes included in the book are a classic coq au vin updated with dried shiitake mushrooms, a quick dish of clams and tomatoes with linguine, a smoky risotto, a plum and oat-bran Betty and a Basque-style fish.

Here are several recipes for cool-weather cooking adapted from the book.

Ms. Fabricant suggests serving this low-calorie creation as an hors d'oeuvre.

Hot and cold melon

Makes 6 servings.

1/2 honeydew melon, not too ripe

juice of 1 lime

1 1/4 -1 1/2 teaspoons pure chili powder

Remove the seeds and skin from the melon and cut it into 1-inch chunks. Place in a bowl. Add the lime juice and chili powder; toss to mix. Serve the melon immediately from a bowl with toothpicks on the side or skewer each piece with a bamboo pick and arrange on a platter.

Ms. Fabricant writes, "The shank of veal is a cut rich in natural gelatin, making it perfect for slow cooking with a resulting rich sauce. The bone is prized for its marrow, which is delicious (but not suitable for those on a low-fat diet; fortunately there's only a mouthful or two). When buying veal shanks be sure they are single-serving size -- about 3/4 pound each. This recipe combines the veal shanks with onions and beer, and it even works with other meats, like chicken drumsticks."

/# (Preparation time: 10 minutes.)

Veal shanks en carbonnade

Makes 6 servings.

2 tablespoons each: unsalted butter, extra-virgin olive oil

6 cups very thinly sliced onions

4 large garlic cloves

6 pieces veal shank, cut about 2 inches thick, 4 to 4 1/2 pounds

1/2 cup regular or amber beer

2 bay leaves

6 whole cloves

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

salt, freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Melt the butter in an ovenproof casserole large enough to hold the veal shanks snugly. Stir in the oil, then the onions. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the onions are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time until the onions are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove the onions and garlic from the casserole and reserve.

2. Dry the veal shanks. Place them in the casserole and brown them on both sides over medium heat. (You may not be able to do all of them at once.) When they are brown, remove them from the casserole and set aside.

3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir the beer into the casserole and heat to a simmer, scraping the bottom well. Add the bay leaves and cloves. Return the onions and garlic to the casserole, then add the veal shanks. Heat to a simmer, cover and place in the oven. Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning the meat once or twice during the cooking, until it is very tender.

4. Carefully remove the meat from the casserole, place in a dish and cover to keep warm. The sauce should have cooked down considerably. Stir in the vinegar and mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat to a simmer.

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