Simple to Spectacular by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman 
[412] pages; Color photography
Broadway Books, 2000
Reviewed by Merrill Waring for Good Cooking

November, 2000
Here's an organized, yet refreshing concept: You choose one of a series of five recipes for a basic dish. Your choice will reflect how "simple" or  "spectacular" you wish your dish to be on that given day. 

Let's say you have some chicken chunks hanging around, which need to be used up. Turn to the "Sautéed Chicken Chunks" chapter (P.258), and, depending on how ambitious you feel, you can choose from one of the following: Sautéed Chicken Chunks with Onions (simple); Sautéed Chicken Chunks with Eggplant (less simple); Curried Sautéed Chicken Chunks with Coconut Milk (more complicated); Sautéed Chicken Chunks with Harissa and Couscous (even more complicated); or Chicken Pot Pie (downright fussy). 

I tried the Sautéed Chicken Chunks with Onions and the Curried Sautéed Chicken Chunks with Coconut Milk from the above chapter. The chicken with onions was wonderful -- the sum of it somehow grander than its parts (only five ingredients, including salt and pepper)! And better yet, the preparation time was less than 20 minutes. The curry was also delicious, and not terribly complicated, provided you either have some nam pla (Thai fish sauce) and lemongrass on hand, or are willing to hunt them down. 

Other chapters include five variations on such classics as cannelloni,  slow-cooked salmon, braised short ribs and venison medallions. 

Written by James Beard Award winner Jean-Georges Vongerichten and NY Times columnist Mark Bittman, the commentaries included for each chapter and the tips for each recipe are useful and entertaining. And although my chicken curry did not at all resemble its picture in the book, the food photography is stunning. But most importantly, this is a great book for "split personality" cooks like me. The weekday, tired out and hungry cook in you gets some easy options, and the Sunday-All-Day-Chef in you gets some more laborious, yet rewarding ones.

Enjoy the following recipe from the book. It is easy to prepare.  Good Cooking likes the colors, flavor and crunch of the nuts!

Curried Sautéed Chicken Chunks

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 to 1-inch dice
1 teaspoon Curry Powder (page 344) or commercial curry powder (See note page xii)
1 teaspoon minced fresh chile or red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
3tablespoons butter or neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1 cup canned unsweetened or fresh coconut milk
2 tablespoons nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
1cup salted peanuts or cashews
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro

1. Toss the chicken with the curry powder. salt to taste, chile, and lemongrass.
2. Place the butter in a medium skillet, preferably nonstick, and turn the heat to medium-high. Then it melts, add the chicken. Cook the chicken, stirring occasionally, until it loses its raw color. Add the coconut milk and turn the heat to medium.
3. Cook for another 2 to minutes until cooked through, then stir in the nam pla and nuts and cook for another 30 seconds. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.

Makes 4 Servings
Time: 30 Minutes