Cook: Simple foods, relaxed meals keep cook mellow

I love holiday cooking and enjoy having lots of friends and family around my dining room table. Having said that, I am somewhat relieved that the next feeding fest holiday, Thanksgiving, is weeks away. During this recess, simple food and laid-back dinners are my mantra.

A student of mine once remarked that the greatest gift I gave her were several new recipes that are “one-dish dazzlers” — in other words, an entire meal that can be built around an exceptionally prepared dish. The very thought of planning a dinner party, or even a midweek family dinner, can be overwhelming if it includes a multicourse meal.

The recipes that follow give you time to linger at the table without jumping up to serve the next course. They can be assembled in advance, placed in your finest oven-to-table cas-seroles and served along with a complementary salad and good bread. The make-ahead aspect of these dishes has an added benefit of allowing all the wonderful flavors to meld and fully develop.


Beef and Barley Soup

Serves 10

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 lbs. beef short ribs, excess fat removed

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, sliced

1⁄2 cup (1 oz.) dried mushrooms, soaked in 11⁄2 cups hot water 30 minutes

1⁄2 lb. mushrooms, sliced

1⁄4 cup tomato paste

3 cups beef or chicken stock

3 cups water

1 cup pearl barley

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh dill weed

salt and pepper

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Brown short ribs on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook until lightly browned and soft, about 10 minutes. Strain dried mushrooms, reserving soaking liquid. Rinse to wash off sand, if any, and add to pot with fresh mushrooms. Cook about 8 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, stock, water and reserved soaking liquid. Bring to a boil and add the barley and reserved short ribs. Simmer, partly covered, 1 hour. Remove ribs from soup and cut meat from bones. Discard bones and return meat to soup. Taste for salt and pepper, add dill and cook another 10 minutes.


Lamb and Black Bean Chili

Serves 8

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 Anaheim pepper, seeded and chopped

1 to 2 habanero or jalapeño pepper, seeded, deveined and chopped

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 to 2 Tbs. chili powder, or to taste

1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano

1⁄2 tsp. ground mustard seed

2 lbs. coarsely ground lamb

28 oz. can tomatoes, chopped

2 cups beef or lamb stock or water

3 cups cooked black beans

salt and pepper

1⁄2 cup cilantro leaves

2 cups crushed tortilla chips

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, peppers, cumin, chili powder, oregano and mustard seed and cook until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add lamb and cook, stirring to break up lumps, until raw color disappears. Add tomatoes and stock or water, stir well to combine and simmer, partly covered, 45 minutes. Add beans and cook another 10 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and stir in cilantro. Serve topped with crushed tortilla chips.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to

Louise Fiszer