Baking TM_BK_SOURCH_FI_001

The first time I picked sour cherries, my husband and I encountered an older gentleman just past the bucket stand. Sitting back on his perch, he kept an eye on pickers as they entered the orchard, calling out “Sweet cherries! Sweets that way!” and pointing to the right. Instead, we turned left, making a beeline for the sour cherries. Leave the sweet cherries for those who plan to eat them out on the back porch while fireflies flit around — I had pies and jams and cakes to make.

The man watched as we turned left down the row toward the sour cherries and called after us, “No! No! Wrong way! The sweets are this way.” We smiled and told him, no, we wanted sour cherries, thanks.

“No sweets?” he seemed perplexed. Why in the world would we want something sour?

And that, in fact, is how many people react to sour cherries — they get tripped up on the word “sour”. Even during the 2014 picking season, I had a man come up to me as I was elbow-deep into the branches of a heavily fruit-laden tree and ask me what kind of cherries I was picking. When I answered, “Sour!” he made a strange little sound in the back of his throat and high-tailed it in the opposite direction. Oh well, more for me.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_BEERC_FI_001

For the last 11 years, I’ve lived in the same apartment in Center City Philadelphia. It has many admirable qualities, including good neighbors, giant closets, and a dreamy location. The one thing it does not have is any outdoor space. This means that when summer rolls around, I have two options when it comes to making classic grilled dishes. I can borrow access to a Weber or I can find a way to fake it in my kitchen. MORE

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It’s not exactly groundbreaking to use mushrooms as a meat substitute. By now, most restaurants offer vegetarian options that include mushrooms in place of prized proteins — like Shake Shack’s ‘Shroom Burger, made of a deep-fried portobello cap fully stuffed with cheese. But it’s rare to see them being used creatively. And I think it’s about time for a mushroom transformation.

You most often see portobellos being used as a meat replacer, and for good reason: these oversized mushrooms are thick and meaty. But simply swapping out a piece of meat for a portobello cap can hardly be called creative. And filling them with cheese and deep-frying them is just repulsive. The portobello deserves more than to be grilled, buried in a dish, topped on some other cut of meat, or stuck between two buns. We should be giving them as much attention as we do meat, not just as a lackluster swap-out. So why not slowly braise a mushroom? Or roast a mushroom? You can even marinate them like you would a steak. MORE

Questionable Tastes TM_QT_CARBON_AP_010_1

“It’s not about a recipe,” said chef Riccardo De Pra. “It’s about a concept.” He was talking about spaghetti alla carbonara, the humble bachelor’s dish of pasta, eggs, and bacon that he serves “deconstructed” at his Michelin-starred restaurant, Dolada, in the foothills of the Alps, overlooking the serene Lago di Santa Croce. On the last evening of a very strange trip, I ate De Pra’s deconstructed spaghetti alla carbonara, paired with a profound Piemontese white wine made from an ancient grape called timorasso that had been rescued from near-extinction, and I wondered seriously if I would ever find my way home.

I’d been stranded in Italy for several days. This was in the spring of 2010, when an Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name of Eyjafjallajokull erupted, spewing tons of ash and causing havoc for air travel. Many, at the time, called Eyjafjallajokull the worst disruption in the history of transportation. My trip was supposed to be a four-day jaunt to visit wineries in the Veneto, focusing on Prosecco, Soave, and Valpolicella. The plan: jet in; visit a dozen wineries in four days; jet out; return home; write article. Like millions of others during that shutdown of European airspace, I hadn’t factored a volcano into my plans. So the airline canceled my Sunday morning flight from Venice, with the earliest possibility of return on Thursday. MORE

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“Un pincho de tortilla y un café con leche, por favor.”

It was an almost-daily order. The café near my little casa in Madrid had the best tortilla española around. And with a cup of espresso with milk, I was a happy girl. My options at such cafés were usually limited because I was a vegetarian. I had underestimated how difficult studying abroad in meat-loving Spain would be. I usually had two possibilities: tortilla española and gazpacho. As winter was approaching in my time in Madrid, the chilled gazpacho was not usually served, so tortilla was my go-to dish. MORE

Baking TM_BK_HUNCHOC_AP_002

Humans are the only creatures who tell stories, and for many of us, we tell stories with the food we make and share. Rigó Jancsi, otherwise known as Hungarian chocolate cake, is a dessert that tells a beautiful story of late 19th century romance, passion, and adventure. But it also tells another story for me, personally — of my Grandma Betty, her baking, and the love of an artform she passed on to me.

In 1896, violinist and Hungarian gypsy Rigó Jancsi performed in a Parisian restaurant, where Prince Joseph de Caraman Chimay and his wife Clara Ward, the Princess de Caraman Chimay were dining. Story has it that Clara was seduced by the talented violinist, fell in love, and left the Belgian prince to be with him. Some sources claim the dessert is named after Rigó Jancsi because he worked with a pastry chef to create it to surprise Clara, while others state that the pastry chef named the cake after the violinist following his purchase of it for Clara.

Less than 40 years later, Betty Ward, née Elizabet Hamvas, traveled with her family from Hungary to the U.S. in 1930 at the age of six. And while I don’t remember growing up with many traditions from her home country, or even learning the story of the debonair Hungarian violinist until I was in my late twenties, I will never forget her Hungarian chocolate cake. MORE

Tea TM_DY_CHAI_AP_001

Of all the Madrid cafes that I could have been standing in, I somehow ended up at Starbucks.

Study abroad kept me away from home for a few months, and I was craving familiarity in the form of a warm, comforting drink. I wanted chai, the Indian take on tea. Masala chai is a daily Indian ritual – one cup in the morning and one following the afternoon nap. This variation on black tea is enhanced by spices and sometimes ginger. At first sip, the masala provides a kick that is accompanied by a rich black tea flavor. It has become comfortably settled in Indian culture, an inherent routine that simply exists without question. And so, because my parents drank chai twice daily, it had been incorporated into my routine back home in the States.
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Kitchen Hacks

The Rice Is Right

One cheap appliance that can practically make dinner by itself.

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Right after I graduated college in 2010, I joined a yearlong nonprofit fellowship program. Along with my public service job I got a spot in one of the organization’s group houses, each planted in a “vibrant” (euphemism much?) Philly neighborhood. There were vermin, there were muggings. But at least there was a kitchen. After four years of cafeteria food and oven-less dorms, I would finally have the chance to cook.

My five new housemates and I decided that we’d sit down for group dinners twice a week to bond and talk shop. We would pair up and take turns cooking. I pictured myself rambling through West Philly’s farmers’ markets like a young, urban Julia Child, searching for ingredients and then whipping them up into a feast for my new best friends, armed with my one cookbook: How To Boil Water. But that is not what went down.

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Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_MUFFIN_FI_001

I hope the giddiness I get from not following the rules anymore never fades as I go further into adulthood.

For example, I slept perpendicular-ly on the bed last night. Why? (Well, partially because I’m pretty short). BECAUSE I CAN. Deal with it.

This may be most exciting with food choices. Want to have Nutella for (not with) lunch? You’re allowed. And even if your idiosyncratic cravings don’t flout nutritional wisdom, it’s liberating just to know that nobody’s watching what you do anymore. (Things I have eaten as meals in the past month include: a chicken finger wrapped in a slice of plastic American cheese; a tub of hummus; a batch of miniature donuts; a carrot; wine; a jar of sun-dried tomatoes I got free from work; and a bag of popcorn drizzled with hot sauce.) Again, deal with it. MORE

Baking TM_BK_PEARS_FI_001

It’s easy to get swarmed by the flavors of fall. From baked goods and main dishes to coffee and even beer, it seems like everywhere you turn is apple-cinnamon this or pumpkin-spice that. Fall is my favorite season, so I’ll admit that I’m guilty of embracing all of it (as I sit here in my room with my cinnamon pumpkin wall plug-in). And the amount of apple pies, tarts, butters, and strudels I make can get a little obsessive.

It’s important to remember that the season brings so much more than just apples and pumpkins. Take pears, for example. They’re in season beginning in late August, meaning that right now they are hitting their peak. I myself, being an equal opportunist, am putting a hold on my apple-fest and shifting my dessert focus to pears.

Why have pears become fall’s forgotten fruit? In many ways, a pear can be used in the same ways apples are. Like an apple, pears have a thin, but tough outer skin with a crisp and juicy center. These tender, yet firm fruits lend themselves to a variety of uses. You can enjoy them whole, diced into a salad, juiced, pureed, and even baked. That’s one of pears’ little secrets: They are just as wonderful for baked goods such as pies, tarts, and cakes as the fall favorite, apples. MORE

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Right around the time I start digging out my sweaters, I begin to crave Spanish cheese. That’s because I associate Spain’s notoriously dense wheels with autumn smells – dry leaves, cool earth, a hint of wood smoke – and, especially, fall colors. A golden wheel of aged Mahon can be brighter than any maple, and a russet wheel of Ibores (rhymes with Delores) pops like neon pollen on new sidewalk.

Spanish cheeses take their color from spices like paprika, the source of Ibores’ rouge coat, and sometimes olive oil, which lends the surface of Mahon its characteristic dark gloss. Cheesemakers rub these ingredients into the rinds as the wheels age, a process that adds flavor – not just to the surface, but also to the paste as the spices slowly penetrate to the core. MORE

The Brew TM_BR_RAUSCH_FI_001

The aroma of wood smoke is something that is particularly tied to the fall season for me. Sure, cool air, changing leaves, and pumpkins get me in the fall spirit too but it isn’t until that first whiff of campfire that I’m really there. Here where I live, in the mid-Atlantic, as September heads into October the weather takes a perfect turn for the backyard campfire. In the town where I grew up, you could almost always pick up the scent of burning hardwoods in the air during autumn months, especially if it was coming from the elaborate fire pit my parents constructed in our backyard.

Now, fall already has its fair share of seasonal flavors that like to imbue themselves upon every imaginable edible product. You’ll find caramel apple flavor in all your hot beverages, butternut squash in everything on every restaurant menu, and, of course, pumpkin spice flavors in all food and drink products sold between the months of September and December. But my treasured smoke, on the other hand, gets less attention. Honestly, that’s probably for the best; I don’t think smoked Oreos would go over that well. There is one place, however, where smoky flavors work quite well: within the flavor profile of beer. MORE

Baking TM_BK_HAZEL_FI_001_1

What does the word “hazelnut” bring to mind? Do you automatically recall the famed stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth chocolate and hazelnut spread?

You’re not alone. Most people think of Nutella — the popular chocolate and hazelnut spread — when hazelnuts are mentioned. That, or in my case, the Ferrero Rocher chocolate candies my mother always received in her Christmas stocking from my grandmother, despite not caring for the confection. This treat consists of a whole roasted hazelnut with a hazelnut cream, dipped in milk chocolate and chopped hazelnuts and wrapped individually in gold paper. Decadent much? MORE