Cooking 101



If you want to learn how to cook, cookbooks and classes may help. I have never taken a cooking class, but I have a large cookbook library. Although I enjoy reading and studying recipes, I learned by doing. I have made mistakes along the way. Still, I always remember what Julia Child said: "No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize."

I learned early on less is more. Many years ago I used too much olive oil in a pan and wondered why my scallops did not sear properly. I have been served oversauced pasta and overdressed salads so many times I vowed never to serve my family and friends foods overwhelmed by a heavy hand.

My favorite cooking show is "Top Chef" on Bravo. Season 4 premiered two weeks ago. One of the chefs, who proclaimed he has been working in restaurants since he was 11, did not know how to prepare the classic Italian-American dish chicken piccata. He breaded the chicken and oversauced it. You do not use bread crumbs in chicken piccata. The dish was not pretty.

On the same show, one woman prepared a dish with almost no seasoning and then cooked shrimp scampi with way too much salt. Salting food is important. Always start with a little, taste and add a bit more if needed.

Start cooking simple dishes and keep tasting along the way. I am surprised some restaurant chefs don’t always taste their food.

Here are my versions of classic dishes that are easy for the beginner:

Seared Sea Scallops


1 pound of diver scallops, wiped dry with paper towels

3 tablespoons of olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons of butter, cut into tiny pieces

1 cup of dry white wine


Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high. Add the oil and scallops and sear for three minutes. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper. Top each scallop with a little butter. Turn using tongs and sear another three minutes.

Remove to a warm platter. Add the wine and stir to make the sauce. Top the scallops with the sauce.

Serves four.

Chicken Piccata


1-1/2 pounds of boneless chicken breasts, pounded very thin

Flour, for dredging

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter

Juice of 1 large lemon

Small handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves


Mix the flour with the salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess.

Heat the oil and butter over medium-high in a large skillet. Sear the chicken for two to three minutes per side. Place on a large warm platter and cover with foil.

Add the lemon juice to the skillet. Raise the heat to high and use a wooden spoon to whisk and scrape all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. If desired, add one cup of dry white wine and another tablespoon of butter for a slightly thicker sauce. Add the parsley and heat through. Pour over the chicken.

Serves four.

Shrimp Scampi


4 tablespoons of butter

6 tablespoons of olive oil

8 fat cloves of garlic, sliced

2 pounds of large shrimp, peeled and tails removed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup of dry white wine

1 small handful of fresh Italian parsley leaves (about 1 cup), chopped

Hot pepper flakes, to taste


Melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saut� for one minute, careful not to burn.

Add the shrimp, salt and pepper and saut� just until the shrimp turn pink, about five minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine. Taste and correct for seasoning, if needed.

Serves four to six.

Note from Phyllis: Some cooks add toasted fine bread crumbs to the shrimp at the last minute.