Cooking School TM_CS_STEW_FI_001

For many people, stewing is inextricably tied to winter: bubbling cauldrons of root vegetables and thick gravies over polenta or mashed potatoes. But, of course, in much of the world, stewing is an everyday technique, even in the tropics. Consider Indian, Thai, and Caribbean curry, Mexican chili, and even Creole gumbo – all are stews. Stewed dishes are nutritious (all of the nutrients that seep into the liquid become part of the dish, and any grease can be skimmed off the top), forgiving (particularly when it comes to over-cooking), and not particularly labor-intensive (once they get going). With a broader understanding of the technique, you’ll see that seasonal stewing possibilities abound all year long.

On the surface, stewed dishes may not seem all that different from simmered dishes – ingredients are cooked low and slow in a flavorful liquid at low temperatures for long periods of time. The reasons for stewing are much the same for simmering: dealing with tougher cuts of meat that need lots of time and gentle temperatures to soften and dissolve connective tissue. One of the main features that sets stews apart from simmered dishes, though, is the size of the cut of meat being cooked. While cuts in simmered dishes range from thin slices to whole roasts or birds, stews are primarily made with smaller cuts. Stews also build upon simmered dishes in both technique and flavor. The first additional technique is sautéing the main ingredient to brown it on all sides. Browning main ingredients – like searing the goat in the first steps of a long-simmering curry, or browning the chicken pieces in a coq au vin – imparts additional flavor through a complex set of reactions known as Maillard reactions.

Cooking School TM_CS_SIMMER_FI_001

If you ask James Feustel and Jonathan Deutsch, the way we learn to cook is all wrong. Faculty and students at the Drexel University Center for Hospitality and Sport Management have embarked on a project to create a new type of culinary text. Rather than teaching classic French recipes, the book teaches proper cooking by method, and then applies the learned method to a variety of dishes from around the world. Each installment will bring a new technique to master, and new recipes to enjoy and perfect. Welcome to Cooking School.

We all have that relative or friend who, after presenting yet another flawless dish, claims to have no idea how to cook. “I just followed the recipe,” they’ll say, as we devour their jams, macarons, or pickles. When you learn cooking by recipe, you risk becoming a step-following technician. First do this, then do that and voila! We think there’s a better way. By starting with culinary techniques – digging into what’s really happening when you braise or sear – you can develop a deep understanding of how to cook. Once you understand that, you can get to what to cook (with or without a recipe) later.

We begin with what is arguably the simplest of methods. Simmering requires only a pot, heat, some liquid, and some food, but is too often done poorly by cooks watching the clock rather than the food.

First Person, Thanksgiving TM_TK_HOTLINE_FI_001

I was just about to roll out my homemade pie crust when I encountered my first problem. As I reached for a rolling pin from my cabinet, I realized I didn’t own one.

Normally, I’d just grab my shiny laptop and search for how to solve my cooking conundrum online. But the countertops in my kitchen were buried beneath a bed of flour and my fingers were heavily caked with sticky dough. It was not a very laptop-friendly environment. So instead of darting off to Google or shouting out to the social media universe for an answer, I went old-school and reached for my phone. With my cleanest knuckle, I swiped the screen to unlock it, then tapped to re-dial my most recent call: 1-877-367-7538, the Crisco Pie Hotline.

Yes, in a digital world full of Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, and email inquiries, I chose to call a hotline and speak to an actual human for baking advice. And instead of listening to a recorded message with answers to frequently asked questions, I was connected with a cooking expert that gave me the personal attention I needed to deal with my crisis.

Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_SLOWCK_FI_001

When you think of a slow cooker, what do you think of? Do you even know what a slow cooker is? Yeah, your mom might have had one — a white crock most likely adorned with a stenciled blue flower design around the outside like my mom’s — used only when she made beef stew. Otherwise it probably sat in the deep corners of a lower kitchen cabinet next to the juicer or meat grinder. You probably thought beef stew was the only thing you could make in a slow cooker. Or that it’s an appliance you would never need in your kitchen. Do they still even make those things?

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_SPATCH_FI_001

For this month’s Whole Chicken Project, we’re going to talk about spatchcocking. Go ahead, giggle. It does sound like an impossibly dirty thing to do to a poor bird. The first time I heard the word, I conjured
up mental images of a raw chicken being trussed up and given a
firm rub-down.

In reality, you spatchcock a bird by taking a pair of sturdy kitchen shears and using them to cut out the chicken’s backbone. It can take a little persistence to convince your scissors through the bones, but once you remove that one-inch strip, a world of quick-cooking options opens up.

Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_FRYNG_FI_001

One of the rules I’ve come to adopt as a life tenet is that sometimes, you just gotta say f— it.

Since my boyfriend and I began dating about five years ago, we’ve been compiling a list of wise saws to live by. (My secret hope is that one day, if/when we live together, I will crochet this list into an heirloom wall hanging.)

So far, we have a whopping total of three. 1. The above. 2. Listen to some good music every day. And 3. Don’t be an asshole.

For a former overachiever, the first has been the hardest to accept. But I know, deep, down, that truer words have rarely been spoken (or yet crocheted).

It goes for food, too. Sometimes, a nice salad or a lovingly braised chicken is just not going to happen. So sometimes my friends, you just gotta say, fry it.

First Person

Adventures in Cheesemaking

One engineer's mishaps and misadventures on the road to mozzarella


It was Friday, one o’clock in the morning, four hours into my supposedly two-hour homemade mozzarella recipe, and I found myself standing before a pile of cheese more akin to a ball of warm cauliflower than an artisanal dairy product. The “cheese” crumbled between my fingers like wet sand, and when I cautiously sampled a pinch of my work all that came to mind was damp, salty cardboard.

My desire to make cheese arose from my desire to eat cheese. I have an old habit of researching foods I tend to eat, and that research often results in an attempt to recreate my favorite dishes at home. As a student of the sciences, I set out on my cheesemaking ordeal under the impression that if I could solve differential equations, analyze blood flow models, and pass a course titled “Chronobioengineering,” I would have no problem separating curds from whey to make a little cheese.

Kitchen Hacks

Clean Up Your Act

Kitchen cleaning shortcuts for the sloppy cook


I’m kind of a slob, in spite (because?) of the very organized, on-time, WASPy nature of most of my life. But I’ve made peace. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t see my bedroom carpet because I have a second carpet made out of sweaters I put on then decided they didn’t match my outfit and discarded, and of towels that might be clean, or might not be, whatever. There are always coins and pens and miscellaneous pocket-items in my bed, because I flop onto it with my clothes still on and toss my purse on my pillow and stuff just falls out. I don’t care.

But my significant other does, especially in the kitchen. He’s a hoverer, but not because he knows squat about what I’m doing or has a helpful suggestion. He’s the self-appointed dropcloth. He buzzes around behind me while I’m stirring, swooping in to mop up a drip here or collect a pinch of wayward crumbs there, with a huff. I get very irritated. “Just wait till I’m done and I’ll clean everything once!” I say, of course very calmly and without waving the knife anywhere near his genitals. He shakes his head. “After you make food, everything’s sticky,” he once observed.


Contrary to popular belief, green teas are not bitter (unless they’re burned with boiling water—but we’ll cross that bridge in a moment). The nuances that linger within green tea can leave your palate with endless taste memories: from rich chestnut aromas, luscious floral flavors, buttery and brothy sips, clean and crisp grassiness that brightens the taste buds, to toasted notes that warm you to the core better than a favorite sweater.

Most green tea that is sipped in the U.S. is often thought of as bitter and lackluster. The majority of green tea found on supermarket shelves is packaged in tiny, bleached paper bags that are filled with low-grade fannings, otherwise known as the tea dust at the bottom of the barrel. And let’s not forget that the green tea is often over-steeped in boiling water. It’s time to flip that cup conundrum on its head and start from scratch with green tea sips that will leave you longing for more. MORE

Kitchen Hacks

The Rice Is Right

One cheap appliance that can practically make dinner by itself.


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.