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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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.
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Booze TM_BZ_Sake_AP_008

The first time I visited a sake brewery (or kura, as its called in Japanese) I worried I wouldn’t be able to drive home afterwards. The owner wouldn’t let my glass drain. Every time I thought I could get away with sneaking into the next part of the tour without a refill, he would appear, smiling, generously pouring more liquid into my sample cup.

Later, I discovered he wasn’t just trying to get me drunk, but was following the Japanese tradition called oshaku, where it’s impolite to fill your own glass, and equally as rude for your host to let your glass sit empty. Sake is a social drink, so oshaku is seen as a way of making new friends.

In America, this social custom hasn’t caught fire when it comes to sake consumption (and for future reference, the polite way to refuse additional servings during traditional Japanese social engagements is to leave a tiny bit of sake in your glass, to not encourage refills). In fact, sake has long been considered a cheap, boozy beverage only suitable for sake bombs and cheap sushi dinners — an image many sake enthusiasts and certified specialists are working to change.
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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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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_CURRY_FI_002

The curry of my childhood was chicken legs, onions, carrots, potatoes, and a few raisins in a highly spiced, tomato-based sauce. We ate it over steamed brown rice to sop up the juices and with plenty of garnishes like yogurt, diced apple, and fresh cilantro leaves.

It wasn’t until I was well into my second decade of life that I discovered that our curry wasn’t the only version. Throughout my teens and twenties, I took great pleasure in exploring the curries of the world and tried every one I could.

These days, though I appreciate and enjoy the many disparate versions of curries out there in the world, I find that this time of year, when there’s a chill in the air and it’s dark out by 6 PM, I want nothing more than a bowl of the curry my mom always made.
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The Larder TM_TL_PEAS_FI_001

I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about peas. For most of the year, they are an ever-present vegetable that lives in the freezer. I regularly add a handful to soups and salads (rinse them under warm water to quickly defrost them) and appreciate them for how little they demand of me. However, when spring arrives and peas are in season, I feel it necessary to celebrate the joy that is the green pea. MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_GSTEAM_FI_001

There are so many foods that do well when steamed. This gentle cooking technique produces crisp, tender broccoli, makes for impossibly delicate salmon, and has long helped British cooks with their dessert courses when no ovens were available.

Still, when it was first suggested that I consider steaming a whole chicken, I was a little unsure. I was afraid that I’d produce something rubbery and bland. It seemed like a process destined for disappointment.

As I looked into it, I quickly discovered that there’s a long tradition of steamed chicken and that, if done right, the process produces a moist and mild-flavored bird. And so, I set to collecting the necessary ingredients to properly steam a chicken. I picked up a bamboo steamer at an Asian market, got my hands on an organic chicken, and gathered ginger, green onions, garlic, and white wine.
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Bookshelf

Whole Grains for a New Generation

Kick off the new year with delicious, healthy home cooking

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The arrival of the New Year means that it’s time for clean slates and refreshed habits. I always look forward to January as a chance to reset and start being a little more intentional about how I spend my time and what I eat. For me, this means getting a little more sleep and reintroducing vegetables and whole grains into my kitchen. (I have a bad habit of losing all restraint during the holiday season.)

In past years, redoubling my whole grain efforts has mostly meant that I eat a lot of sautes with brown rice, pots of vegetable soup with barley, and slabs of salmon over quinoa. While moderately healthy, tasty, and filling, these meals aren’t particularly inspired or exciting.

This year is different, thanks to Liana Krissoff’s new book, Whole Grains for a New Generation. As follow-up to her book Canning for a New Generation, this volume contains whole grain recipes for every meal of the day. It’s one of those books that made me want to leap up and start cooking. So far, I’ve made four recipes from it and I have at least another 20 earmarked for the very near future. MORE

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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