Ingredient TM_CK_BLUBRRY_FI_002

I like to think that most grandmothers spend their free time playing bingo or Mah Jong with their friends, but not mine. My grandmother’s idea of a good time was meeting her girlfriends at the local blueberry farm to sit and pick berries while chatting under the summer sun. After a few good hours of blueberry-picking, my grandmother would swing by our house to drop off some extra pounds of blueberries she managed to pick while getting lost in conversation. Her donations, combined with our own family trips to the blueberry farm and my father’s all-day hiking trips through our wooded backyard to pick wild berries eventually led to a blueberry overload summer after summer.

Come mid-summer, both fridge and freezer would be bursting at the seams with blueberries, though no one ever complained. July was always an uncomfortably hot month, but its saving grace was that it ushered in blueberry season. I would get excited after Independence Day rolled by, knowing that, soon, the house would be littered with the small indigo berries. In no time, our blueberry stockpile would grow, and then the rest of the summer was marked by us trying to find ways to eat them all. We would dump them into our morning cereal, make smoothies, pies, muffins, turnovers, or just eat them plain — fresh or frozen (which to me, tastes almost as good as ice cream). Our kitchen has gone through its fair share of blue-stained wooden spoons, and the freezer always had a ready-to-bake pie tucked in the back for a special occasion later in the year.
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DIY TM_DY_BRAN_FI_002

Seventh-day Adventists are historically known for their interesting — if not always tasty — food experiments. Thus it was Seventh-day Adventists who brought us the Choplet Burger, a canned fake meat product; it was Seventh-day Adventists who created Postum, a grain-based beverage intended to replace coffee (and the related evils of caffeine); and it was two Seventh-day Adventist brothers who, in 1894, rolled stale wheat and discovered that instead of breaking apart, it created flakes. One of those brothers, W.K. Kellogg, continued experimenting and learned how to flake corn as well. In 1906, he went into production, and Kellogg’s became the first company to market that all-American convenience food: cold cereal.

Kellogg’s is also known for another food first: in 1984, it became the first company to include a health claim on its packaging. At the time, the practice was forbidden by the FDA. But instead of telling Kellogg’s to remove the claim — which suggested that eating All-Bran could possibly reduce the occurrence of some cancers — the Regan Administration’s FDA reconsidered their stance. In 1986, Marian Burros wrote about the change in The New York Times: MORE

Superfoods TM_SF_WCRESS_FI_002_1

I’ve willfully never jumped on the kale bandwagon. I haven’t added the leafy green to my morning smoothies. I’ve yet to bake my own kale chips and I don’t find it an attractive green for salads. Yes, I know, it’s one of the most fashionable vegetables of the last 50 years and touts even trendier health benefits. But the closest kale has ever gotten to my heart was after I sautéed it in enough bacon fat to strip it of all its superfood qualities.

So I was happy when a study revealed last month that kale was actually nowhere near being the most nutrient-dense food. Not even close. In fact, it ranked number 15, far behind its nemesis, spinach, and less-popular greens like beet, collard, chard, and chicory. To everyone’s surprise, another vegetable came out on top: watercress.

A close relative to mustard greens and arugula, watercress is a delicate but feisty green. As its name implies, it grows partially submerged in water. According to researchers, watercress is the ultimate superfood — full of essential vitamins and minerals, with a higher percentage of nutrients than any other vegetable. It’s long been known for its copious amounts of calcium and iron, and it’s just as good for you in its raw state as it is cooked. MORE

Cooking TM_CK_BBQSIDE_FI_002

Growing up in a household that grilled most summer nights, there’s nothing that says “it’s summer” to me like perfectly charred food coming off the grill. But you won’t find me manning the barbecue. I have an accident-filled past with grills, so I happily stick to making the side dishes. However, the sides I’ve been making — like mayonnaise-y macaroni salads or brown-sugary baked beans — haven’t changed much in the years that I have kept my distance from the grill.

That’s not to say that these classic side dishes aren’t delicious. In fact, they might be a little too delicious — and addictive – for me. I tend to find myself gorging on sides as I’m waiting for the main course to be brought off the grill.

My problem with the usual assortment of macaroni salads, potato salads, cornbreads, potato chips, coleslaws, or baked beans is that they are all just too heavy. Coated in mayo, laced with sugar, or just plain greasy, these side dishes tend to fill me up before I can make a decent dent in my steak or chicken. Loading up on these rich and filling sides along with whatever was actually made on the grill always leads to the post-barbecue bloat. And dealing with a stomach full of grease and sugar while baking in the summer sun is really unpleasant, to say the least.
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Kitchen Rookie TM_KR_CWURST_FI_001

Hot dogs. Although questionable in wholesomeness, they are sold everywhere, whether on the kid’s menu of a “fancy” restaurant, or simply from a street vendor. You can’t go three blocks in a city without finding a place to buy a hot dog! But these dogs were not always so artificial, and have roots all the way back in Germany, 1313 B.C.E.

The year 1313 B.C.E was one of the first times people found evidence of wurst, better known as sausages, being eaten. Since then, the wurst has become a common street food throughout Germany, but it can be found in other countries as well. In fact, the sausage’s origins lie in Austria, and the word “wiener” actually means “of Vienna.” In both countries, it can be found slathered in spicy curry sauce, have cheese right at the center, and many other ways. These wursts are mainly not eaten as meals, but as a quick snack.

One of the many variations of how the wurst is served is the currywurst. This is a sausage that is cut up into pieces, and then is slathered with a curry sauce made from tomatoes, onions and curry powder. For a final touch, curry powder is then sprinkled on top. The curry powder gives it a little extra spice, and also makes it look better. MORE

Bookshelf TM_4J_GRLDS_FI_001

“So you’re making dessert? On the grill?” my dad asked, with a somewhat concerned look on his face.

“Yeah, I thought I’d give it a go,” I say.

“You remember all those desserts you used to make up when you were a kid, right? Those were awful,” he says. He’s right – I didn’t have the best track record of culinary experimentation. In elementary school, I’d concoct truly awful desserts, which often consisted of canned pears, crushed stale graham crackers, chocolate syrup, and marshmallows, all heated up in the microwave and served in my favorite Winnie the Pooh bowls.

“It’s not like that!” I retort. “These recipes are from a cookbook!”

“Okay, well as long as they’re from people who know what they’re doing…”
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Letter From California TM_LC_DONUTS_AP_001

Let me preface this by saying: I love remembering Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Super Mario Brothers Super Show, and Lady Lovely Locks.

See? I can be nostalgic.

But too much nostalgia is a dangerous thing. How many comedians have you seen, listicles have you read, or TV shows have you watched that don’t make jokes or have a point, but just reference things from your childhood? People use nostalgia as a shortcut to good feelings, a little lever we experimental-rat humans can push to get fed pellets of pleasant memories.

That’s why, when I heard that the Northeast-concentrated chain Dunkin‘ Donuts was coming to Southern California,* my response was a simple “meh.”

See, I grew up in northern New Hampshire, in a small town where Dunkin‘ defined donuts for me – in a good way. I fondly remember the tactical challenge of eating a jelly donut, trying to keep the messy explosion of powdered sugar and jelly from going anywhere other than my mouth. And Munchkins! Those wonderful little boxes of donut holes that, because they were small, allowed you to eat several different flavors of donuts without feeling like you were going to ralph.

But my current home, Los Angeles, is arguably the best place in America to eat donuts, which is why it makes me cringe every time my northeast brethren say they’re so excited Dunkin‘ is comin‘ to town. Because guys, I gotta tell you, I’ve eaten donuts as an adult, and Dunkin’s donuts taste weird. My boyfriend encouraged me to say that Dunkin’s offerings have a “signature flavor.” Well, their signature flavor would best described as “kinda off,” and they also have a signature mouthfeel – a weird coating feeling similar to what you get when you eat McDonald’s fries.
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Ingredient TM_CK_YOLKS_FI_002

When it comes to eggs, it seems that white is becoming the new black. Possibly in response to the obesity-epidemic or as a result of required calorie-counts on menus, many fast-food chains are now serving “lighter option” egg white products. McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, Jack-in-the-box, Starbucks, and Sonic have all started supplying their stores with egg white menu items. Even the frozen food section is now showcasing frozen egg white breakfast sandwiches from major producers like Hillshire Farm and Kelloggs.

With all these big name food companies using egg whites it should be no surprise that we have hit an egg white crisis. Since 2013, egg white prices have soared to record-breaking highs of over $8 per lb. Dried egg white stocks have also been reported to be at startling lows, which leaves farmers and egg suppliers to “force molt” chickens in order to keep up with the demand.

But as a health conscious cook, I’m at a stand-still. It’s nice to see these healthier options available, but even I’m starting to grow tired of the high protein/low carb trend. Like a second coming of the Atkins diet, protein is becoming the macronutrient of choice for most dieters once again. Although it is true that egg whites are high in protein and contain zero fat and cholesterol, I’m a yolk kind of girl. Cholesterol-raising irrationalities aside, egg yolks are extremely nutritious – in my opinion, more so than egg whites. Egg yolks do contain fat, but it is vitamin-packed fat. Protein in no way, shape, or form is lacking from the American diet, but many fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids, and other vital micronutrients are. Not to mention egg yolks taste way better.
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Baking TM_BK_SHORTCK_FI_001

As a child, the turning of the calendar page to June meant that a visit to see my grandmother and aunt in LaFayette, NY would be around the corner. My mother and I would pack a suitcase, wave to my father and German Shepherd Sasha as we pulled out of our driveway in southeastern Virginia, and began what seemed like the longest car ride ever up north, peppered with Phil Collins cassette tapes and quick fast food meals eaten in the car.

The reward at the end of the 9-hour drive, thankfully, would be my grandmother’s strawberry shortcake. She would pick the berries in the morning while we were driving up and bake the subtly sweet biscuits in the afternoon. We would arrive shortly before dinnertime, and after having a light meal, she would step away to make fresh whipped cream. Then the shortcakes would be served.
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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_PICNIC_AP_005

If my life is indeed a picnic, like the cliche says, I’d argue that it’s specifically a late-1800s picnic – stressful, frequently overpacked, and requiring me to wake up a lot earlier than I’d like.

At least, that’s how these “relaxing” Victorian outings often were for the women stuck with food preparation. 1883’s Practical Housekeeping demands that, when picnicking, women “be up ‘at five o’clock in the morning’ to have the chicken, biscuits, etc., freshly baked.” Mrs. Owens’ Complete Cookbook and New Household Manual, meanwhile, lists several types of foods that should be brought, from baked beans to canned deviled ham – and she also notes that “Bouillon tablets are just the thing, provided there is hot water.” Because one thing that is totally not a pain in the butt to eat at a picnic is soup broth. And oh, we haven’t even gotten to the other picnic accoutrements women needed to pack yet. 1882’s The Successful Housekeeper says, “Forget not the napkins, forks, spoons, and luncheon-cloth. Also carry tumblers, plates, salt, pepper, sugar, and a bottle of cream or a can of condensed milk. Cups with handles, but no saucers, are desirable for tea and coffee.” And here I was about to say that that was a ridiculous amount of stuff to pack, but thank goodness – picnickers can leave their saucers at home.*
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Study Abroad TM_CK_CODDLE_FI_001

“And here’s the kitchen!” said my British flatmate. “It has everything you would have in the US: sink, oven, microwave, refrigerator, pots and pans, coddler – the basics.” She pointed to every item as she said its name. “Well,” she said, “that’s the kitchen. Pretty standard. I’ll let you look around.”

“What in the world is a coddler??” I asked myself. Not wanting to seem like a rube in front of my new flatmate, I just smiled and nodded. But really, what is a coddler? It’s bad enough that in my four months in London I had to look up the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit every time I used the oven (or stepped outside, for that matter).
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Questionable Tastes TM_QT_SCHNTZL_FI_008

Not long ago, following an exhausting and not-prosperous work trip, my flight home from Bilbao was delayed seven hours by a terrible wind storm that shut down several European airports. I spent five of those seven hours stuck in a line of hundreds, while two overwhelmed workers at the Lufthansa desk ever-so-slowly attempted to reroute 300-plus passengers. As the line trudged forward, I watched the board helplessly as flights departed, one by one, to Paris, to London, to Madrid, to Lisbon, all connections that would have gotten me home. I had an important meeting in the morning, and then my son’s first soccer game, which I’d committed to coach. As the hours passed, I knew I would miss both. By the time I reached the front of the line, there was no way across the Atlantic until the next day, and I was assigned an evening flight to Frankfurt. I was given a handwritten voucher for a hotel, and another voucher for a free dinner.

When I arrived, it was dark and rainy, and a taxi took me to a hotel in the middle of an industrial park in a suburb called Mörfelden. After checking in and explaining to my son that I would not be home in time, and hearing my boss’ dismay at my absence, I slumped down to the hotel’s overlit restaurant and grabbed a menu. I was a wreck. My career had suffered some recent blows and this trip was supposed to help turn things around; but it hadn’t. In any case, I badly needed some comfort food, and the first item that called out to me was wiener schnitzel. “Yes, please, may I have some wiener schnitzel,” I said, and presented my voucher. The stern waiter sneered and pointed over to a pathetic buffet: some stale rolls, a congealed soup, and a platter of rubbery chicken that had been sitting out for hours. This, apparently, was the Lufthansa Stranded Passenger Special that my voucher covered.
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Snack Break TM_SB_BUNDT_FI_001

The summer of 1982, when I was 12, I did not do “quite as many things as I did the last” according to the annual report my parents made me write before school started again. But “I did a lot of fun small things.” One of those fun small things, I noted, was bake a cake with my grandmother. I recall it as the first real cake I ever made — no box of mix or mom measuring the flour while I stirred.

My grandmother lived in Pennsylvania, far across the country from us in California. We rarely saw her, or any extended family for that matter, and I always liked it when she visited. On this occasion, she was babysitting while my parents traveled to Northern Italy, Budapest, and Vienna (according to my handy summer report, which I found recently in a filing cabinet in my parents’ house).

The idea to bake the cake was certainly hers. She’d probably planned to make it herself, as something nice to serve my parents after their long flight home. But, perhaps tiring of me reading romance novels and floating in the swimming pool every day, she gave me the task. Grandma was hard-working and restless, and she couldn’t appreciate reading novels and sunbathing.
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Cooking TM_CK_SMMRSLO_AP_001

I’ve never been much of a summer girl. I like going to the beach, wearing flip flops, and the smell of sunscreen, but the heat always gets me (plus, growing up in New England, I’m a sucker for fall). As a home cook, I’m torn when it comes to summer cooking. The season is bursting with fresh, readily available ingredients, but trying to cook a feast indoors in the midst of the summer heat is dreadful — not to mention wanting to spend time outside in the beautiful weather instead of stuck in my kitchen. And ever since a traumatic barbecue incident which ended with my father having to hose down the grill (shrimp and asparagus included), my outlets for summer cooking are limited. That’s why I turn to one of my most trusted kitchen tools when the summer heat blazes: my slow cooker.

Yes, the appliance you might think is only good for pot roasts or hearty cold-weather stews is a lifesaver during the summer. Tucked away in the corner of my kitchen counter, it cooks for hours on its own without me having to hover over a burning flame or open a hot oven. It also keeps me safely away from the grill and allows me the freedom to enjoy the sunshine without having to be tied to my kitchen.
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Dispatches TM_FP_FORAG_FI_001

Towards the end of our foraging journey, there was a flurry of excitement. Someone had spotted a lone morel mushroom growing on the side of our trail. This sought-after fungus, for which connoisseurs will pay up to $35 per pound, was the most valuable find of our entire trek, but no one ventured to pick the specimen — perhaps because of its neighbors. The cone-shaped mushroom grew right next to a leaky-looking battery and just steps away from a rusty razor blade.

We weren’t foraging in a beautiful park or someone’s woodsy backyard. No, on this Sunday morning, we were looking for edible and useful plant life in “The Cut” — an abandoned, four-track-wide section of Philadelphia’s abandoned Reading Viaduct railroad, sunk some 40 feet below street level. We entered, somewhat ironically, through a chain link fence separating the encroaching wilderness from the employee parking lot of a Whole Foods market. A few members of the tour took the opportunity to forage for some coffee inside before signing the requisite waiver form and venturing down the parking ramp and into the unknown. After circumnavigating a moderately sized pile of general trash, it quickly became clear that this little section of abandoned city space was home to more than just weeds and rats (and a few vagrants). Tall grasses, sprawling bushes, and full sized trees had spent the previous few decades reclaiming The Cut and creating an impromptu slice of nature.
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