Questionable Tastes TM_QT_SCHNTZL_FI_008

Not long ago, following an exhausting and not-prosperous work trip, my flight home from Bilbao was delayed seven hours by a terrible wind storm that shut down several European airports. I spent five of those seven hours stuck in a line of hundreds, while two overwhelmed workers at the Lufthansa desk ever-so-slowly attempted to reroute 300-plus passengers. As the line trudged forward, I watched the board helplessly as flights departed, one by one, to Paris, to London, to Madrid, to Lisbon, all connections that would have gotten me home. I had an important meeting in the morning, and then my son’s first soccer game, which I’d committed to coach. As the hours passed, I knew I would miss both. By the time I reached the front of the line, there was no way across the Atlantic until the next day, and I was assigned an evening flight to Frankfurt. I was given a handwritten voucher for a hotel, and another voucher for a free dinner.

When I arrived, it was dark and rainy, and a taxi took me to a hotel in the middle of an industrial park in a suburb called Mörfelden. After checking in and explaining to my son that I would not be home in time, and hearing my boss’ dismay at my absence, I slumped down to the hotel’s overlit restaurant and grabbed a menu. I was a wreck. My career had suffered some recent blows and this trip was supposed to help turn things around; but it hadn’t. In any case, I badly needed some comfort food, and the first item that called out to me was wiener schnitzel. “Yes, please, may I have some wiener schnitzel,” I said, and presented my voucher. The stern waiter sneered and pointed over to a pathetic buffet: some stale rolls, a congealed soup, and a platter of rubbery chicken that had been sitting out for hours. This, apparently, was the Lufthansa Stranded Passenger Special that my voucher covered.
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DIY TM_DY_TEMPURA_FI_002

As I glugged cup after cup of canola oil into the pan, my confidence seemed to dissipate. “This is nothing like baking,” I thought. “How much oil is enough? Is this pan even going to work?” I realized I might have crossed into a whole new, unfamiliar world as I stared at my candy thermometer hoping the oil would reach the right temperature for deep-frying tempura. The oil finally reached 360°F, but then it started to go over. Removing the pan from the burner, I waited for it to cool, but then it dipped below 360°F. So I placed it back on the burner, where it didn’t heat up quickly enough, so I had to crank the heat, and of course, it went over that magic number again. At this point, I was really getting sick of deep-frying and thought I better stick to what I know. And this was before I splashed boiling hot oil into my eye.

You see, when it comes to me and cooking Asian food at home, I don’t have the best track record. I can pipe roses out of frosting, bake three pies in one day, or craft the perfect tart crust with one hand tied behind my back. But I still can’t even get the simplest stir fry right. At this point, I know to just call for take-out or make reservations when I get a craving for Chinese, or Japanese, or Thai – and for a person who loves cooking, that’s just sad. But lately, I’ve been getting a little antsy thinking how much salt and MSG is in my takeout order. So when my latest craving hit, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at making my own tempura at home.
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Bookshelf, Thanksgiving

Choosing Sides

Make your side dishes the best part of your Thanksgiving meal

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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.
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Thanksgiving TM_TK_ALLVEG_FI_001

When my sister was 14 years old, she stopped eating meat. We were always a household that was big on vegetables, so it wasn’t too much of a hardship, but when meat-centric holidays like Thanksgiving rolled around, it was a little bit more of a challenge.

One year, my mom sprang for a tofu roast that was pressed into the shape of a turkey. Other years, we did fanciful things with sautéed mushrooms, roasted acorn squash, and toasted nuts.

Eventually, my sister returned to the poultry-eating fold, but over those years I learned a lot about making main dishes that were both suitably celebratory and free from meat.
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Viva La Vegan

Rabbit Food Redux

Salad can be a substantial, healthy meal

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As a vegan, I try not to get preachy about my diet. But a certain common exchange makes it hard to hold my tongue.

“A vegan?” someone will ask, scrunching up his nose. “So what do you eat, then? Salad,” the S word uttered with distain.

The truth is that salad gets a pretty bum wrap. And sadly in many instances, its poor reputation is somewhat deserved. Look at any mid-range chain restaurant menu, and you’ll see that most of the dishes in the “Salad” category are just strips of chicken, beef, or fish sitting on an underwhelming pile of lettuce, shaved carrots, and flavorless cherry tomatoes.

In salad’s role as a health food, it receives even less respect. The typical mound of iceberg lettuce topped fat-free Italian dressing may be low in calories, but it fails to satisfy most people, including myself.

If only more people knew how to make a great salad, it wouldn’t have this bad reputation. These are my basic rules for pulling together a hearty, healthy, delicious salad: MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_BASIL_FI_001

My grandma Bunny was of the opinion that if you had to turn your oven on in the summertime, it was best to do it for short periods of time at very high heat. Her thinking was that fairly quick blasts of heat (no more than 45 minutes were permitted) could be fanned out of the house without too much effort, while longer roasts and braises would stay with you all darned day. I have long taken her word as gospel on this topic because her A/C-free Southern California home was always perfectly temperate, even on the hottest days.
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Ingredient TM_IN_RADISH_FI_002

If you grow your own vegetables, have a CSA, or shop at a farmer’s market, you’ve already experienced the seasonal abundance of radishes. You’ve done all you can imagine to use them up. You’ve eaten them raw — sliced into salads, layered onto sandwiches, garnishing the top of tacos. You’ve pickled jar after jar to save for later in the year. And now, you’re frankly just tired of dealing with them. You want nothing more than for the fresh corn, tomatoes, and peaches of summer to arrive.

I understand, I do. But don’t be too quick to bid radishes adieu. You’re likely not really bored of the actual radishes; you’re only bored of how you’re eating them. It’s time to mix up your radish routine — these vibrant and spicy bulbous root vegetables can, and should, be enjoyed in more than just salads. MORE

The Larder TM_TL_GRGARLIC_FI_001

Green garlic is one of the true joys of spring. It’s immature hardneck garlic, plucked from the rows to give the rest the space they need to grow into heads of garlic that will last through the winter. It’s typically picked before the cloves or their papery layers have formed, and so is entirely edible from top to bottom.

Typically, green garlic is sold in long, grassy stalks with the roots still attached. I like to trim away the leggy roots and use the rest of the vegetable in stir fries, baked goods, salads and pestos.

The flavor of green garlic is bright and mild (compared to storage garlic, at least). It mellows nicely when cooked or roasted. The green tops can be wilted into soups, though do take care to trim away any browning or tough parts.
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Ingredient TM_CK_SUNCH_FI_001

Celebrities go through identity crises and need to reinvent themselves all the time. Rarely do vegetables face the same problem. But for the Jerusalem artichoke, the rebranding process has been crucial to its revival. The first step? A new, friendlier name: Everyone, meet the sunchoke.

Will sunchokes steal the spotlight away from kale, become the new cauliflower, or out-trend Brussels sprouts? It’s too soon to tell. Regardless, sunchokes are the next dowdy vegetable that wants to be a star.
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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

Bookshelf

Every Grain of Rice

Simple, healthy Chinese cooking that's better than (and almost as easy as) takeout

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My grandma Bunny had a rule about dining out. She believed that if you were going to eat at a restaurant, you had to choose one that served food that you weren’t able to make at home. In Bunny’s case, that meant that she passed on the Italian and American joints in her neighborhood and opted instead for Mexican, Vietnamese, and Chinese.

This always seemed to be me to be sound advice and so, throughout my adulthood, I’ve always made a point to seek out restaurants serving food that was outside my own skills as a cook.

I’ve always found Chinese food to be a particularly mysterious cuisine to cook at home, with all the different sauces, spices, and fermented condiments. So in the past, when I’ve had a craving for flavorful beef with tender crisp broccoli, or cold, spicy noodles, I reached for the takeout menu. MORE