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

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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Ingredient TM_IN_RUTAB_FI_001

The Rutabaga. It sounds like the name of a retro car, like a cross between a Studebaker and a Winnebago. It might just be me, but this inconspicuous root vegetable is puzzling, and frankly, doesn’t look any more appealing than a Studebaker-Winnebago hybrid would. A waxy turnip-like nub that’s slightly purple-brown in color, the only thing that caught my eye about the humble vegetable was its price – on sale for 99 cents per pound. I loaded up my grocery basket with rutabagas.

Soon, I found myself in a conundrum, as I often do. As a thrifty shopper, my budget decides what I pick up in the grocery store, which usually includes in-season produce that, sometimes, is unrecognizable to me. Which is why I was staring at three pounds of rutabagas in my kitchen without the slightest clue what to do with them. I had never even eaten a rutabaga before, let alone cooked one. Are you supposed to peel it? Which side is the top? Clearly, I needed help. So I began researching recipes online, trying to find something to do with this week’s sale item.
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Ingredient TM_IN_CHILE_FI_001

Halfway into my first real Midwestern winter, it’s taking some creativity to figure out how to do warm, comforting meals night after night without everything tasting too rich, hefty and well, boring. There are only so many soups I can blend without craving something chunky and textured, and don’t ask me to make yet another delicious but depressingly dull roast.

Enter the dried chile pepper. Most commonly known for their starring roles in salsas and sauces, dried chiles are a great way to bring heat, complexity and warmth to any dish, without the weight of roasted veggies and thick stews.

Living and cooking in Texas for the past eight years, I generally took the nuances of many varieties of chile pepper for granted. Since moving up north, I’ve noticed that many menus in the Midwest tend to lump all kinds of dried peppers into one generic “chile pepper” category. Yet each kind of pepper has a unique personality, and once you become adept at incorporating them into your meals at home, it’s easy to appreciate the subtle nuances between the guajillo, pasilla, chipotle or ancho.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_SOUP_FI_001

Chicken soup is more than just another meal. It’s the thing that parents feed their children when they’re sick. It is one of the best things ever to take to families with brand new babies. And on a cold day, there is nothing more warming than a bowl of steaming chicken soup.

It’s a cultural touchstone and I firmly believe that every home cook should know how to make a batch from scratch. And so, for this final installment of the Whole Chicken Project, that’s what we’re going to explore. All you need is a chicken, a few veggies, and a handful of herbs and seasonings.
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Bookshelf

A French Twist

Beautiful, seasonal cooking from The French Market Cookbook

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TM_BK_FRENCH_AP_001Over the last six or seven years, I’ve become someone who tries to hue fairly closely to the season when determining what’s on the menu. I eat asparagus for a brief period in April and May, go crazy for tomatoes in July and August, and fill my kitchen with acorn and butternut squash once the weather turns cooler.

This way of eating is easier on the budget, always tastes better, and makes the asparagus, tomatoes, and squash feel like a treat. The one problem with eating in this fashion is that cookbooks don’t match up perfectly (particularly if they’re written by authors based in California. They seem to have everything available, all the time).

Happily, finding good, reliable, accessible seasonal cookbooks has gotten increasingly easy over the last few years. One recent addition to my shelf is Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook.
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Bookshelf

Vedge Out

Veggie inspiration from the acclaimed vegetable restaurant's new cookbook

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Since it opened in the fall of 2011, Vedge has been one of the most celebrated restaurants in Philadelphia. Chef-owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby pride themselves on producing inspired cocktails, dishes, and desserts using only local, seasonal produce. And when I say only produce, I do mean only. No animal products of any kind are used or served at Vedge.

Vedge calls itself a vegetable restaurant, and it has transformed the way this city thinks about carrots, cucumbers, and cauliflower (to name a few). So far, the only drawback to Vedge has been that in order to taste their transformational food, you had to finagle a reservation or lay in wait for one of the few coveted seats at the bar. Happily, now there’s another option.

With the recent publication of Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking, you can now make many of the restaurant’s most beloved dishes at home.
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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_ASPAR_FI_001

Each spring, when the first local asparagus arrives in the farmers markets, I go a little bit overboard. Those fat, green-verging-on-purple stalks mean that the season of abundance has finally arrived. I binge on asparagus, buying several pounds at a time without any kind of a plan, a little bit fearful that it will disappear before I have my fill. MORE

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

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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The Larder TM_TL_CROUT_FI_001

Wasted food is one of the unfortunate facts of our modern lives (a recent study says that we toss between 30% and 50% of all food produced). We overbuy, we eat out on nights when we had planned to cook, and we let leftovers wither away into slimy puddles in the back of the fridge. For our planet to survive and thrive, we need to curb this waste.

While there are grand, systemic changes that need to occur to truly rectify this issue, there’s also a lot that we can do at home to reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfills. To my mind, the most important thing to do is to start seeing our aging and leftover food from a transformational perspective.

Leftovers from dinner can be scrambled into eggs for breakfast. The last bits of cheese can be blended into a pleasing spread the French call fromage fort. And then there’s stale bread. From use as a soup thickener, to bread puddings and panades to breadcrumbs, it can do almost anything. MORE

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

Bookshelf

Learning to Love Winter

A cookbook to banish the winter blues

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Each year, as the days shorten and the nights get increasingly frigid, the hours I clock in the kitchen take a drastic tick upward. I crave braises, soups, and hearty baked goods to combat the chilly darkness.

This season, the cookbook I’m turning to again and again for these cozy, warming dishes is Yvette Van Boven’s Home Made Winter. A follow-up to her first book, which was simply called, Home Made, this second volume is bursting with beautifully imperfect photography, charming line drawings, and enticingly seasonal recipes.

One of the things that makes this book so darn special is its visual appeal. Van Boven is a Dutch food stylist, freelance writer, and designer. Instead of handing her recipes and content over to a team of folks (which is how it typically works in publishing), she created each and every page in the book (using photography by her husband Oof Verschuren). The end result is a volume that feels personal and intimate, more like a family scrapbook than a traditional cookbook. MORE