COOKBOOK REVIEW: Shortcuts to cooking like a pro

“Quick and Simple: Simply Wonderful Meals with Surprisingly Little Effort” by Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)

“Quick and Simple: Simply Wonderful Meals with Surprisingly Little Effort” by Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)

The other night as I was pulling together a last-minute dinner of reheated leftovers, I rooted around in the fridge for some side dish fixings. All I could come up with was a slightly wilted head of iceberg lettuce. Then I remembered a curious recipe I’d run across in Jacques Pepin’s latest cookbook for sauteeing chopped iceberg in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes. I gave it a go, and it was genius.

Quick and Simple” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35), is full of revelations like that: some 250 low-labor recipes using fresh foods from the farm stand when you can, good-quality convenience items from the supermarket when you can’t, and whatever staples you can rustle up from your freezer and pantry.

That’s how Pepin, who soon turns 85, cooks for himself and his family today. For all his accomplishments, he never wavers from his goal of showing that anyone, regardless of ability or resources, can cook well, and enjoy the process.

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A one-skillet entree of skillet-braised chicken thighs bathed in a piquant sauce made with the pan juices, chopped tomatoes, and red wine vinegar deliciously makes that point. I made his Basic Boiled Potatoes to go with it, for which he offers multiple creative spin-offs for leftovers.

An elegant lime mousse that involves whipped cream and a can of sweetened condensed milk is ridiculously easy. So are Cinnamon Sugar Sticks made with store-bought puff pastry — a favorite freezer staple of his.

Amid the recipes, straightforward close-ups of prepared dishes, and time-saving tips are Pepin’s own lively paintings of landscapes and food illustrative of a well-lived life. And on the last page is a description of the foundation that bears his name, which supports community kitchens teaching free kitchen skills to those in need.

Its mission mirrors Pepin’s daily motto revealed in these pages: “We are all equal in the eyes of the stove.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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