First Person TM_FP_PORKCHOP_FI_001

I have to admit, I’m not that big on the pig. Sure, I love bacon — who doesn’t? But when it comes to any other pork products like loins, roasts, or chops, I’m not a fan. What turns me off most is the texture. Too many times have I experienced a dry, chewy, stark white block of pork. And too many times have I tried to cut into a piece of pork only to find my knife pulling at the tough, stringy sinews of the meat. After numerous letdowns, I pretty much stick to beef, poultry, or fish. Rarely does the other white meat find its way onto my grocery list.

However, there is only one instance when I eat pork — when I’m home. My mother’s pork chops are the only pork product that I’ll let touch my plate. Her pork chops are tender, juicy, flavorful and a far cry from the usual over-cooked blocks of saw wood that I’ve sworn against eating. Like listening to my Dad’s favorite Elvis album, the taste of my mom’s pork chops is a strong reminder of home. They were a common dinner staple when I was growing up and I didn’t realize how much I had taken them for granted until I moved away from home. So when a recent bout of homesickness set in, I decided to make an exception to my pork rule. I felt compelled to try to recreate Mom’s famous pork chops myself. When I got to the butcher shop, I saw they had pork chops on sale. I ended up walking away with over three pounds of pig.

Her pork chops are a traditional Polish fried version. She dips them in an egg wash, then coats each chop in a mixture of bread crumbs, parsley flakes, and nutmeg. The nutmeg is a perfect touch that adds a depth of flavor to an otherwise simple breading. But her secrets don’t stop there. The key to keeping her pork chops tender and juicy is by steaming them. Yes, that’s right, steamed pork chops. By only quickly frying the pork chops to partially cook them, she finishes the process by steaming them using a double boiler, ensuring that they don’t dry out or become too tough. The result might not be the crispiest pork chop, but it’s certainly the most tender.
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DIY TM_DY_TEMPURA_FI_002

As I glugged cup after cup of canola oil into the pan, my confidence seemed to dissipate. “This is nothing like baking,” I thought. “How much oil is enough? Is this pan even going to work?” I realized I might have crossed into a whole new, unfamiliar world as I stared at my candy thermometer hoping the oil would reach the right temperature for deep-frying tempura. The oil finally reached 360°F, but then it started to go over. Removing the pan from the burner, I waited for it to cool, but then it dipped below 360°F. So I placed it back on the burner, where it didn’t heat up quickly enough, so I had to crank the heat, and of course, it went over that magic number again. At this point, I was really getting sick of deep-frying and thought I better stick to what I know. And this was before I splashed boiling hot oil into my eye.

You see, when it comes to me and cooking Asian food at home, I don’t have the best track record. I can pipe roses out of frosting, bake three pies in one day, or craft the perfect tart crust with one hand tied behind my back. But I still can’t even get the simplest stir fry right. At this point, I know to just call for take-out or make reservations when I get a craving for Chinese, or Japanese, or Thai – and for a person who loves cooking, that’s just sad. But lately, I’ve been getting a little antsy thinking how much salt and MSG is in my takeout order. So when my latest craving hit, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at making my own tempura at home.
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First Person TM_FP_MANGO_FI_003_

There was a plate of sliced mangoes on our table. Yet again. For probably the twentieth day in a row. This was the tradition for as long as I can remember; mangoes were daily essentials during the spring and summer months in my Indian household.

“Eat mango every day so your body can stock up on fiber for the year!” my mom said to me. She said it like fiber was a tough thing to come across. Plate after plate, mango after mango. By the end of the season I was absolutely sick of them. My taste buds have been repelling mangoes, when taken in excess, for years. By day three of the three-month-long stretch, I’m usually scolded if I don’t finish the golden fruit.

“Finish your mango! They’re expensive and ripe only this time of year!”
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Bookshelf TM_BK_SOUTHERN_FI_002

Brys Stephens’  The New Southern Table explores classic Southern ingredients such as okra, lima beans, peaches, and pecans through recipes inspired by cuisines from around the world. In this excerpt, he tackles collard greens with recipes that go well beyond the “mess o’ greens”. The book is available now on QBookshopAmazon and at your local bookstore.

As a child, I mostly knew collards as that wet mess of overcooked greens in a small bowl alongside chicken or pork chops in a countrystyle meat-and-three (a casual, country-style restaurant common in the South, usually serving a choice of one meat dish and a choice of three vegetable dishes). At home, we always seemed to prefer spinach and cabbage. Traveling in France, Italy, and the Middle East years later and seeing how folks cooked with chard and kale, I realized collards could be incorporated into all kinds of dishes in the same quick-cook way as those greens.

Since moving to the Lowcountry, where collards grow year-round in the moderate climate and sandy soils of the sea islands (including in my garden on Sullivan’s Island), I’ve made collards one of my staple greens. They do well in both the heat and the cold, unlike other greens with more delicate leaves. They tend to be sweeter in the colder months after they’ve gone through a frost, and they are usually less bitter than mustard greens, turnip greens, and broccoli rabe, though more so than chard and kale. They usually take a little longer to cook than those greens because their leaves are sturdier, and younger collards with smaller leaves cook pretty quickly.
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Bookshelf

Spring by the Pint

Preserving the taste of spring, one small batch at a time

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TM_BK_PRESPINT_AP_001Table Matters readers will recognize Marisa McClellan from her columns here – The Larder and The Whole Chicken Project – and from her much-loved blog about canning and more, Food in Jars. Her latest book, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces focuses on canning, not bushels of vegetables, but pounds and pints – amounts we can all get at the farmers’ market. Preserving by the Pint is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

There is a year-round farmers’ market just a couple of blocks from my apartment. I go to it nearly every Saturday morning to pick up eggs, honey, and whatever local, seasonal produce is available. In the summer and fall, the bounty is downright flamboyant, with tables piled high to overflowing with lettuces, zucchini, and peaches. Winter means pears, Brussels sprouts, and sturdy orange squash. The most meager time of year is very early spring. The storage apples are sad and good only for baking, and there are still weeks to go before the first stalks of asparagus arrive. It can be a challenge to keep up the weekly market visit when so little is new and truly fresh.
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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_DEATHFOOD_FI_001

Oh, how many of us yearn for a simpler time and place? A time before cell phones, when people couldn’t always reach us. A time before the Internet, when we didn’t accidentally read Game of Thrones spoilers on our Twitter feeds (I’m still bitter about the Red Wedding). A time before Nicki Minaj, when all of the beez were free.

You know that wholesome time I’m talking about – that time when little children would sit around, eagerly waiting for someone to die so they could eat funeral cookies.

Lest you think I’m romanticizing the past, allow me to offer this selection from an article entitled “Scotch Funerals,” published in 1883’s The Living Age:

My grandfather…always had one or two of his grandchildren awaiting his return from any burial he attended, who were often not disappointed in seeing the coveted morsel produced from his pocket and having it shared among them.

If only today’s children knew what treats they were missing out on, they might do like children of yesteryear and eagerly await the death of others!
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Breakfast TM_DY_BAGELS_FI_001

When the Atkins Diet crashed upon America’s shores with its wave of red meat and energy bars, I thought I was too smart to believe anything it claimed. After all, I don’t even believe in dieting per se — just that you should try to eat healthy foods and consume fat, sugary, and processed foods in moderation. But even now, when the Atkins wave has long receded, and Paleo is hopefully on the wane, I was surprised to find that a bit of its flash-in-the-pan advice had stuck in my head: I should avoid carbohydrates. Wait, I’m sorry: carbs.

Now, logically I know this isn’t true. After all, six ounces of steak is never going to be healthier than six ounces of brown rice. But still, every time I want to eat a bread product, something tugs at me: Isn’t this bad for me? That’s why, when I do eat bread products, I always try to do two things — eat something that’s made with whole wheat flour, and make it myself.

That’s the primary reason why I make my own bagels: I feel like if I put the effort into making them, they’re better for me. But homemade bagels are also pretty damn delicious. How delicious, exactly? Well, not too long ago, my roommate’s boyfriend came into my room clutching the last bits of a bagel I had just made. “This made me fall in love with you,” he said.
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Breakfast TM_BR_BRTACO_AP_002

Few food subjects rouse the emotions of Texans like the Tex-Mex morning staple — the breakfast taco.

In Austin specifically, breakfast tacos are ubiquitous; they are an accepted (and often taken for granted) part of everyday life, thanks to the blending of Mexican and American cuisines and cultures throughout the state. Fancy a bacon, egg and cheese on your way to work? Chances are there’s a taco truck on your commute, and in many cases the local coffee shop either makes their own or brings some in every morning to sell to tired, hungry Austinites.

Texans are so obsessed with the seemingly simple breakfast dish that much literature has been published on the topic. The New York Times tackled the subject back in 2010, and Austinite Hilah Johnson published an entire book on the subject the same year (the second edition came out in 2013). This past year, two Austin-based taco bloggers put their knowledge into a book as well, called Austin Breakfast Tacos, where they gathered recipes and stories from notable chefs and food industry types from across the city. Excerpts from Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece’s treatise were subsequently featured in Texas Monthly’s oral history of the breakfast taco.
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Breakfast TM_BR_ENGBRK_FI_002

Ask ten Londoners what a traditional English breakfast should include and they’ll give you ten different answers.

“I swear by blood pudding.”

“No way! I only eat white pudding. I don’t want blood in the morning.”

“As long as you fry the bread, puddings don’t even matter!”

Fry the bread? Just buy a toaster already!”

The squabbling could go on forever – though it’s in a British accent, so who’s complaining? Most can agree that a traditional English breakfast includes fried eggs, bread – either toasted or fried, sautéed mushrooms, fried tomatoes, sausage of some kind, bacon, and Heinz beans. And yes, it must be Heinz, the same company we all know in the States for its ketchup. Even restaurants will boast Heinz brand beans on their menus. Sometimes black or white pudding is included (black is fat, oatmeal, and blood in a sausage casing, while white is everything but the blood).
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Breakfast TM_BF_PORRID_FI_001

There is little glamour in porridge. It may be historically significant, nutritious, and cost efficient, but it isn’t an inherently trendy food. This is no surprise really, considering the fact that it is difficult to make a bowl of lumpy, beige, amorphous goo look appealing to the uninitiated eater. Most people see porridge as an emergency food – something to cook when there’s nothing left in the pantry besides a few odd scoopfuls of wheat and a bit of salt. So it might seem funny that porridge is rising in the culinary ranks.

There is nothing new about porridge. Humans have been turning various cereals into porridge for nearly 6,000 years, well before society decided that grains needed to be hulled, ground, leavened, risen, baked, and sliced in order to be palatable. Cooking whole grains in liquid requires only minimal effort and results in a greater total yield than milling and processing grain into flour and bread. Grain could be harvested, dried, and stored to provide food year-round, and more valuable foods such as fruits, nuts, and spices could be added when available to create infinite variations on the base dish.

The rising popularity of bread – a more expensive, labor-intensive, and delicious grain-based dish – spelled disaster for porridge’s place in food culture. Where bread has seen countless waves of innovation, such as slicing and electric toasting, porridge has mostly been frozen in time, its recipes unchanged for thousands of years. Now, however, new generations of chefs seem to be taking those age-old recipes and revitalizing them with modern techniques and elements.
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Breakfast TM_BF_EGGSBN_FI_001

Every Sunday morning growing up was marked by the same sight: my father hovering over a griddle making pancakes, my sister requesting that he put strawberries in the batter, me reminding him to make mine without the berries, and my brother standing in front of the fridge drinking milk straight from the gallon. We all live in different states now, but our first question when we all come back home is if Dad will make pancakes in the morning.

Away from my family, I’m more likely to be sitting at a table with friends on a Sunday while a waitress takes our order. Being on my own in the city has opened my eyes to new kinds of breakfast treats aside from my Dad’s tried-and-true pancakes. My new breakfast delight? Eggs Benedict.
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Bookshelf

In the Mezze

A Middle Eastern bounty of shared small plates, mezze is more mood than menu

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TM_BK_OLIVLEM_AP_001In Olives, Lemons & Za’atar, Rawia Bishara takes you on a culinary journey from Nazareth to New York, with dishes that honor and expand on her mother’s unique approach to Middle Eastern home cooking. In this excerpt, Rawia discusses mezze, the assortment of nibbles and drinks that lead off a large Middle Eastern meal. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore from Kyle Books.

The Italians have antipasto, the Spanish tapas, the Americans appetizers, the Chinese dim sum. In the Middle East, there is mezze, small plates of food served all at once, before the main course, to provide a bounty of tastes and textures. That said, one or two plates can comprise a snack, while a few more can add up to a whole meal. Mezze is invariably served with arak, an anise-flavored spirit, to sip in between swipes of creamy dip on Arabic bread, forkfuls of fried or raw kibbeh and bites of spicy meat pies.

The simplest mezzes are made up of whatever is on hand in the garden and the pantry. When I was growing up, this meant makdous, labneh, olives, hummus, Arabic bread, cucumbers and tomatoes.

At its core, though, mezze is a mood. In Arabic, the verb for mezze is, mezmiz, which loosely translated means “eat, talk and drink” — all at once. Imagine friends and family sitting around a table, passing heaping plates of hummus, baba ganouj, falafel and za’atar bread, and laughing, talking — and of course debating heatedly — amid the clang of glasses and plates. Mezze is a ritual about sharing — not just bites of delicious food, but stories, experiences, laughter and opinions.
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Ingredient TM_IN_TAHINI_FI_001

I sometimes feel bad for tahini. It’s one of those pantry orphans, an ingredient you bought with the best intentions of using only to let it sit untouched on the shelf. Perhaps you once scooped out a spoonful to make your own hummus or drizzled a bit over roasted broccoli for dinner. But then you ran out of ideas, forgot about it, and neglected that poor jar of tahini in the back of your refrigerator. Or worse, you left it in your pantry to spoil.

While it may be essential to many signature Middle Eastern dishes, tahini still remains foreign to many home cooks. Aside from hummus, tahini isn’t commonly utilized in the American kitchen – partly because people aren’t entirely sure what tahini even is.

Though it’s never called sesame butter, that’s essentially what tahini is – much like peanut or almond butters. A paste made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is creamy and nutty, with the same mouth-coating consistency as peanut butter and its own pleasantly bitter taste. MORE

Letter From California TM_CA_FISHTACO_FI_001

As James Cameron can tell you, puttering around the Mariana Trench in his tiny submarine, the sea is full of bizarre and mysterious creatures. There are Pompeii worms, which live near volcanic heat vents and can withstand temperatures of 175°F. There are deep-sea anglerfish, those nightmare-jawed beasts with small fins and little glowing bulbs hanging from their heads.

And then – then there is that ocean oddity known as the fish taco.

If you haven’t had a Baja-style fish taco, it might look a bit like the taco equivalent of an anglerfish – you can recognize it as a taco, but it also doesn’t look quite like any taco you’ve ever seen before. The fish is battered (usually beer-battered) and deep-fried into golden chunks. (Don’t let anyone convince you that the fish should be grilled. If it is, you’re not eating a Baja-style taco.) Finely shredded cabbage is a topping requirement, as is the creamy white sauce. Beyond that, you can get fancy with salsas and radishes, but they’re not required.
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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.
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