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.

First Person TM_DIY_SOUTHERN_FI_001

“Do y’all have good food up there?” That is the question I most often get asked when I go back to my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. They don’t know how I survive in the North without barbeque, fried veggies, or a million different kinds of cornbread. And because it’s often the case that Southerners stay right where they are — in the South — surviving without these and many other foods just seems impossible.

Bookshelf, Thanksgiving

Choosing Sides

Make your side dishes the best part of your Thanksgiving meal


TM_BK_CHSIDES_AP_001 We all know that Thanksgiving is a turkey-centric holiday, but I don’t think I’m speaking an untruth when I say that for most of us, it’s a meal that’s really more about the side dishes than the main event. Truly, it’s stuffing, potatoes, green beans, and casseroles that make this annual meal feel both special and festive.

Cookbook author Tara Matazara Desmond knows that it’s really the side dish that makes the meal, and has recently published a book celebrating the things we serve along with our mains. Called Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal, this book features side dishes for every occasion.

Whether you’re searching for something special to join a brunch menu or you’re simply on the hunt for some new flavors to enhance a weeknight regular, this book is here to serve as useful guide for home cooks who are stuck in a rut and need a few new ideas.

The Larder TM_TL_KRAUT_FI_001

During my early life, my exposure to sauerkraut was limited to the rare occasions when my dad took me to a baseball game. We’d get Dodger dogs with yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions and a dab of sauerkraut.

The next time I had sauerkraut with any regularity was in college. Every couple of weeks, the cafeteria would do a German theme night, complete with sausage, pierogi, dark brown bread, and lots of sauerkraut. I’d load my plate up with a pile of that krauty goodness.

However, it wasn’t until my twenties that I found a groove with sauerkraut. MORE

The Larder TM_TL_BLUFSH_FI_001

When I was very young, my great-aunt had a house in one of the little towns that dots the Jersey shore. Despite living in Southern California, many summers, we’d make the cross-country trek to spend some time with the extended family at Aunt Doris’ shore house.

There would be long days at the beach and in the late afternoon, everyone would regroup at the house for showers and dinner. While my grandmother wasn’t much of a cook, at least once during these gatherings, she’d cook up a bluefish feast, which was one of her few specialties.

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.

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 Larder TM_TL_CABGE_FI_001

With March 17th just around the corner, it’s time to start planning the St. Patrick’s Day menu. Tradition states that one eats corned beef, boiled potatoes and steamed cabbage on this greenest of holidays and most years, my household has followed suit. It’s a meal towards which I look forward each year, as I’ve found that there’s really no way to go wrong with tender beef and soft, floury potatoes (particularly when they’re served with a dab of grainy mustard).

It’s not until you get to the cabbage that I find myself balking in the face of tradition. I don’t think it does it justice to the cabbage to boil or steam it into submission. The end result develops a palid, near-grey complexion and ends up tasting horribly bland and watery. There are better, more delicious ways to tackle cabbage and make it fit into the framework of your St. Paddy’s celebration.

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_FIRST_FI_001

I roasted my first whole chicken when I was 21. A senior in college, I lived in a little house off-campus with two friends. We took turns cooking and ate together most nights. That first chicken was a sad, scrawny little thing that I managed to first under-cook and then, in an attempt to correct it, overcooked it mightily. My kind housemates suffered through that meal with me, but we all knew it was not my best work.

In the 10-plus years that have followed, things have improved. I cook whole chickens on a regular basis and have a reliable method for making a tender, juicy bird. (Low, slow cooking is the key.) It’s my go-to for dinner parties and busy weeks, but lately, I’ve found myself longing for something more. MORE

Thanksgiving, The Larder

Side Projects

A trio of takes on the Thanksgiving sweet potato


When it comes to Thanksgiving menu items, my family is the type that prefers tradition to experimentation. Throughout my childhood years, we ate nearly the same meal. A turkey, prepared and stuffed with seasoned bread cubes from Pepperidge Farms. Mashed russet potatoes with butter. Hubbard squash, steamed, drained of extra liquid and creamed with butter, salt, and freshly grated ginger. Briefly blanched green beans, dressed with more butter and toasted almond shards. Canned cranberry sauce. And two pies (apple and pumpkin) with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

It’s a fairly traditional spread, with just one glaring omission. There are no sweet potatoes to be found. My mom, unimpressed with the classic casserole constructed of canned potatoes, brown sugar and marshmallows she had been forced to eat as a child, banned orange tubers from her holiday table. MORE


Party Like a Vegetarian

A new book puts produce at the center of the celebration


Like so many folks these days, my husband and I have been trying to reduce the amount of meat we eat. We were both raised in families for whom animal protein was nearly always at the center of the plate and so this shift has required some retraining. We’ve had to change our understanding of mains and sides, and learn how to transform basic vegetable preparations into dishes that are both satiating and satisfying.

Happily, there’ve have been a number of cookbooks published in recent years that focuses on helping meat-eaters learn these skills and tricks. One author of such cookbooks is Kim O’Donnel. In 2010, she published The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour and, last month, followed it up with The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations: Year-Round Vegetarian Feasts (You Can Really Sink Your Teeth Into). MORE