Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_PUFFP_FI_001

There are a lot of things no one warns you about before you graduate college. For example, you probably won’t find a job unless you double majored in physiomolecular engineering and Mandarin. And you will really miss being able to sneak all your clothes through the athletics department’s laundry.

One of the most staggering pangs of truth is that all of your friends will move away, leaving you on a sad, remote island where there used to be an archipelago of BFFs dotting your hallway.

Worse, once new post-grad digs are acquired, you will be invited to all your friends’ housewarming parties and conversely be obligated to host your own. Having people over is an art oft neglected during the dorm days. You get a keg, humans accumulate in its vicinity, and you feel just like Martha. But not anymore. When you’re a grownup, you must welcome folks into your home with warmth and well-crafted snacks. What?! MORE

Kitchen Hacks

Immerse Yourself

An appliance with a twist

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Packing up and moving a kitchen is a pain. But realizing, as you close the sole box that your own equipment fills, that all the good stuff actually belonged to your roommate — now that’s a tragedy.

As I recently mulled whether to move for a new job or stay put, the kitchen was not a factor. Unlike many people my age, I am not a natural born itinerant. I don’t get a thrill from accumulating new zip codes like beads on a key chain  I’m a foot-dragger, big time.

So as I started to empty the cardboard boxes and fill my new home, I expected to shed a poignant tear or two about a farewell to a city, or the end of an era, or something. Not about an appliance.

I looked at the stuff my two new roommates had furnished. A set of dishes! Good, I don’t have those. Silverware! Great, don’t have that either. Damn, I thought, as I placed my five reusable grocery sacks, three spatulas, and two animal-shaped dish scrubbers in the cabinet. I am useless.

The list of things I thought I had, but really don’t, began to grow. A loaf pan. A cast-iron skillet. A wire whisk, for goodness’ sake.

Those were replaced quickly. But the number one roommate-owned kitchen object that I miss dearly? Immersion blender. MORE

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

Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_BBTTR_FI_001

Butter, I’m happy to say, is back in style.

In the 90s, America panicked when we found out that butter’s high saturated fat and cholesterol content could be doing a number on our hearts. Many switched to margarine, a man-made, vegetable oil-based substitute. Sadly, margarine doesn’t work nearly as well for baking: cookies get burned, muffins go flat.

So imagine the collective joy when the nutrition world announces that margarine has its evils, too, namely lots of trans fats, which can mess with human cholesterol levels more than actual cholesterol.

Butter might never be called a “health food,” but it’s not such a public sin to use it anymore. In fact, compared to processed sugar or high-fructose anything, it’s downright en vogue.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_SLOWC_FI_001

I learned early that a good slow cooker is both a budget and sanity saver on busy days. I bought my very first one at a thrift store when I was 23 and living alone for the first time. It held four quarts, was avocado green, and cost $3. In those days, I would make cheap, filling things like split pea soup and pots of long-simmered beans flavored with just a little bacon.

I still make some of those same comforting dishes that I started with, but in more recent years, have discovered that one of the very best things that a slow cooker can do is make a tender roast chicken.
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Bookshelf

The Proof is in the Pudding

With Bakeless Sweets, you don't need an oven for a satisfying dessert

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When I was growing up, the one good thing about coming down with the flu was the guarantee that there would be pudding. My mom firmly believed that it was good for tender stomachs and since it was made with milk, it offered enough nutrition to get us back on the road to recovery. She’d alternate between a basic stovetop rice pudding and vanilla pudding from a packet.

For years, I thought puddings and custards were only good for those sick days when you needed something slightly sweet and easy to slurp. However, thanks to Faith Durand and her new book, Bakeless Sweets, my eyes have been opened to the many possibilities that exist in the world of puddings (as well as in panna cottas, jellies, and fluffs). MORE

Secret Ingredient

Open Sesame

Silky, sophisticated tahini is your pantry's new best friend

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Homemade hummus is pretty easy to pull together from your cabinets – a can of chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, salt, maybe some lemon juice – except for one key ingredient. Tahini may not have made it on your grocery list yet, but I’m here to tell you that one of the most intriguing (and surprisingly versatile) ingredients that will ever grace your pantry. If tahini were a Pokémon, it would be Ditto, taking on the powers and properties of other Pokémon – or in this case, ingredients. It can be anything, anywhere, and can be incorporated into a wide gamut of recipes without sticking out like a sore thumb. It can take on other flavors, or stand out on its own – however you choose to use it.
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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.
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Kitchen Hacks

Clean Up Your Act

Kitchen cleaning shortcuts for the sloppy cook

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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.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_AUVIN_FI_001

When I was in high school, I realized an essential fact about myself. I am not a perfectionist. I am entirely satisfied with a job done to the point of being good enough. I like to work hard and derive a great deal of pleasure at a task done well, I just don’t like making myself crazy over the minutia.

A good example of my tendency to accept “perfectly good” over “aggressively perfect” is in my attitude towards the classic French dish, Coq au Vin. Truly, it is a marvel of a dish, requiring you to brown and then remove onto a plate a parade of ingredients. The Julia Child recipe even instructs you to blanch your bacon slivers before introducing them to the party, lest it bring too much smokiness to the table.

My version is far less work and still manages to taste quite spectacular (and it’s just perfect for this Whole Chicken Project of mine). It might not be a perfectly divine as the classic dish, but it is one-tenth of the work and that satisfies me down to the bone.

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The Larder

Seeing Red

Three ways to cook a pantry all-star

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Red lentils are one of my staple legumes. They are wonderfully cheap, cook quickly, and look so darn pretty in a jar on the shelf. When I know I have a busy week ahead of me, I will often cook a few cups to keep in the fridge. I puree them into dips, use them to add bulk to lunchtime salads, or slip them to blended soups that I know could use some extra substance and thickening.

Pre-cooking lentils takes absolutely no time at all. I typically do it while I’m cleaning up from dinner, knowing that they’ll be done long before I do my final counter-wipe. Here’s how I do it.
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First Person TM_BK_WRITEIN_FI_001

I used to envy people whose mothers taught them to cook, who learned ancestral ravioli recipes brought over from Italy by their wise old great grandmothers. But this was not to be. First of all, we weren’t Italian. Second, my mother did not like to cook.

She executed her kitchen duties as efficiently and conscientiously as possible and used a handful of battered cookbooks to get the job done. Cookbooks were not tomes to be thumbed through and dreamed over, but manuals in which she wrote her businesslike comments about what worked and what didn’t, when she’d made a dish, how it froze, whether her children liked it, how it worked for a party. MORE

Kitchen Hacks

Just Desserts

Fruit, the whole fruit... and a few sweet extras.

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Poached pears
If a couple weeks ago you earnestly pledged yourself to some New Year’s resolution, I’m a little annoyed at you. This is for several reasons.

One, chances are, your resolution involves getting in shape. Not to discourage in-shape-itude here, but the thing is, when all of you, the Resolved, suddenly descend on the gym on January 2nd in your new white sneakers, you take up all the good treadmills before I get there. Then, I get stuck on the old one that squeaks, behind the guy whose butt is exposed, plumber-like, atop his ill-fitting basketball shorts. Yes, this only lasts about a month before you let your memberships languish, but still. Not cool, guys.

Two, resolutions as we know them set us up for disappointment. If your resolution is to abstain from dessert, then the instant you cave and eat an Oreo sometime in February, you feel like a loser and go back to your old ways, inhaling whole sleeves wood-chipper style. And so I’m annoyed at you for depriving yourself of the chance to genuinely improve your relationship with dessert.

So, instead of convincing ourselves we can swear off sweets for good, let’s spend 2013 enjoying a better kind of sweet. The kind the planet invented all by itself.
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Conflicted Kitchen TM_CK_BROCC_FI_001

Over here in the elitist foodie bubble, there’s now talk of the “stem to root” trend in vegetable cooking. The phrase refers to the impulse to minimize waste by using all parts of the plant. It’s a close cousin of the “snout to tail” movement that brought crispy pig’s tails and pickled lamb’s tongues to upscale restaurant menus. I appreciate conservation, but how visionary can it be if for the last two decades busy dieters and soccer moms have unknowingly been stem-to-root trailblazers, buying veggie scraps that were previously used as animal feed thanks to one of the oldest broccoli packers in America?

Sometimes we culinary trendsetters can pick up a trick from everybody else. MORE