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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First Person TM_FP_HOTPEP_FI_001_1

“Peppers are not spicy,” my dad declared at dinner one night. I had mentioned that the vegetables we were eating were spicier than usual. However, they had been cooked with bright red Cayenne peppers, and this had caused my father to issue the clarification.

At the time, I thought he was implying that he was invincible.
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Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_SRIRA_FI_001

Sriracha sauce, a spicy Thai-style condiment made with chilis, is currently perched precariously on a cultural pinhead, teetering between cool and totally passé.

You see, in the life cycle of a food trend, first, people love it. Then they hate it. Then they love to hate it. And when they finally start hating to hate it, the circle of life is complete and we drop it like a used napkin.

The demographic most responsible for this vicious cycle? Hipsters. And, I propose, the most hipstery condiment out there is sriracha. MORE

Conflicted Kitchen

Homemade Take Out

It's well worth the effort to make Thai curry paste from scratch

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As a cheerleader for home cooking, I try to avoid take out and delivery meals. But recently, when I was overcome with a craving for Thai food, I placed an order for pickup at my local curry spot. I tasked my husband with picking up dinner on his way home from work. The experience reminded me of all the things I hate about take out—the food wasn’t ready on time, it was cold and not as vibrantly flavored as I wanted. The spring rolls were greasy and excessively high in calories. The spice level was meek. And the price tag was high.

I decided the time had come for me to conquer Thai curries from scratch. MORE

Kitchen Hacks

Jar Head

Peanut butter goes beyond jelly

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They say that smell is the sense most linked to memory, and if that’s true, taste must follow close behind.

Whenever I taste peanut sauce, it’s like I’m teleported back to about 1999, Christmastime, around the dinner table. It was my small family, my nearly-senile, smelly-sweater-wearing grandpa, my uncle, and one of his long string of younger girlfriends with perms and degrees in fashion merchandising.

She–let’s call her Brandi because that sounds about right–wanted to help my mom make dinner that year. As my sister and I played with the cats to avoid interacting with actual relatives, she swooped out of the kitchen, lipsticked lips grinning. “It’s ready!”

“It” was peanut carrot soup. Or goop. Or something. It tasted like she’d put reduced-fat chunky Jif and rancid V-8 in a blender. Nasty. And we had to sit there fake-sipping it and saying “yum” without giggling (or gagging). MORE

Food Culture

Spread Good Taste

But don't spread it too thin

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Grey Poupon’s new marketing campaign seems to be designed to keep out as many potential consumers as it invites in. Though one may browse the brand’s Facebook timeline and Pinterest page, you are not permitted to join the brand-approved Society of Good Taste until your own profile is subjected to an examination and found suitable.

In truth, the Society’s standards are a little random: your profile is scanned for grammar, art and music “likes,” and restaurant check-ins, but like any algorithm it lacks human subtlety—you can re-apply and receive a drastically different score.  The contents, once you’re in, are more consistent: recipes, little notes and observations about good taste, gently worded polls about which hors d’oeuvre to serve at your seasonal party. Generally, these posts or pins have tongue planted firmly in cheek: MORE