31 August 2012

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 3: Oven

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 3: Oven

We talked about the tools you'll need most for cooking prep and actually using your stove. Once you've gotten your hands on a decent knife, a cutting board, a big bowl, a couple nice pans, and a spoon or two, you're set to make the vast majority of different foods. But what if you want to go slightly more complex? What if you want to roast, or bake?

Top tools for your first kitchen

Rimmed cookie sheet

While a cookie sheet is obviously most important if you like eating lots of cookies, it can be useful in a variety of other ways. Making bread? Shape it into a rustic loaf and bake it on the cookie sheet. Want some pizza? Cookie sheet. Do you like biscuits? Cookie sheet. How about oven fries? Cookie sheet. Roasted cauliflower? Cookie sheet. Want to make a ridiculous cake roll filled with jelly? That's why rimmed cookie sheets are also called jelly roll pans.

Make sure the cookie sheet you get will fit in your oven. Ask me how I know to check this!

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 3: Oven

Ovenproof casserole dish

The casserole dish is next on my list. It's my favorite because you can use it to bake or roast practically anything. Sheet cake, scalloped potatoes, lasagna, roast chicken, or, of course, a tuna noodle casserole--you name it.

I prefer glass casserole dishes because they're difficult to break, easy to clean, and frequently findable at the thrift store. You can scrub them with metal scrubbies and serve from them with metal utensils. They're also both durable and affordable.

If you can’t find a good candidate at your thrift store, you can usually get a set of two different sized Pyrex or Anchor Hocking casserole dishes for a very good price. I’ve seen some reports of breakage with newer Pyrex, though, so I would go for the thrift store first every time.

If you only get one casserole dish, make it a 9x13 inch. That way you can roast nearly anything up to the size of a small turkey. You can always pick up a couple of different sized casserole dishes after you spend a couple of months cooking and figure out what else you need.

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 3: Oven


Once you've cooked something, you're going to need to get it either out of your casserole dish or off your cookie sheet (or actually out of either of your stovetop pans or your mixing bowl for that matter). Enter the spatula.

You want two different spatulas: a flat serving spatula and a silicone scraper spatula. The flat spatula will let you serve up a couple of enchiladas, a piece of baked tempeh, or a sticking scone with dignity and aplomb. The silicone scraper will help you wrest food from tiny corners, or from around the edges of round pans and bowls. Do you want to get every last bit of whipped cream out of the bowl? You need a silicone scraper.

I prefer a metal server for its stability and sturdy prying ability. The scraper should be silicone because it's safer to use with food than plastic or rubber. Both metal and silicone can handle high heat, so there's no danger of melting any plastic bits into your food. Both types of spatula should also be molded in one piece if possible, so their heads can never fall off the handle. Ask me how I know that one too!


Don't get burned. Buy some decent potholders and use them. They're available at practically any price point, in every color, and at all kinds of different stores. Square potholders can double as trivets; glove potholders can go over hot pan handles to keep you from knocking into them. Get good thick ones, and get at least three or four of them. Do it.

Honorable mention: parchment paper or silicone baking mats, bread knife (if you bake lots of bread), meat thermometer (if you roast lots of roasts).

Next, on to part four: the dreaded CLEANUP.

The whole top tools for your first kitchen series:
- Part 1: Prep
- Part 2: Stovetop
- Part 3: Oven
- Part 4: Cleanup

29 August 2012

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 2: Stovetop

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 2: Stovetop

Last time we took a look at the key tools for food prep. Great! Now all we have to do is actually cook.

Top tools for your first kitchen

Wide sauté pan

The next thing you need is a shallow pan 10 inches in diameter, preferably with a lid. Personally, I prefer a sauté pan to a frying pan. Sauté pans have straight sides at least 2 inches high instead of sloped sides, so they can hold more and are therefore more versatile. They also usually have an additional grip opposite the main handle, which is especially useful for moving a full, hot pan around.

Sauté pans are good for cooking damn near anything. You can make pasta sauces, refried beans, stir-fries, simple sautéed vegetables, or seared meats. You can fry up a frittata. You can boil an inch of water and blanch a bunch of cut vegetables. You can add some liquid to your veg or what have you and produce a soup. You can even heat an inch of oil and deep-fry some tempura or fritters. And if you get a pan with high heat resistance and a metal handle, you can finish dishes under the broiler, no problem.

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 2: Stovetop

Things to look for in a sauté pan include a thick heavy bottom that will resist warping over high heat, and a long handle that will lose heat conduction the further you get from the main body of the pan. The thick bottom will give you more even heat distribution and therefore more evenly cooked food; the long handle means you're less likely to burn your hands while cooking.

I recommend a stainless steel finish for your basic, everyday pans. Nonstick pans can be problematic--teflon requires specific equipment for both cooking and cleaning, and shouldn't be used over very high heat. The coating also flakes off over time, which means you'll have to buy a new pan sooner rather than later. Cast iron, on the other hand, is great if you like it--but you do need to take good care of it.

We have a really nice stainless steel sauté pan with a copper core, but it's not necessary to go for the super high end to get a good piece of equipment. Mid-range brands like Cuisinart or Calphalon are a good place to start.

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 2: Stovetop

3-quart saucepan

Next comes the 3-quart saucepan with lid. I use this pot mostly to cook liquids. Boil pasta; steam grains; make a big pot of soup; boil potatoes; make oatmeal; whisk bechamel; simmer a big vat of sauce. I usually have this pan on the back burner while I'm making a sauce or a sauté in my other pan. Sauce in one pan; pasta in the other. Vegetables and tofu in one pan; rice in the other. The wide sauté pan and the 3-quart saucepan make a perfect team for cooking almost any stovetop-based meal.

Since a pan like this will mostly end up filled with liquid, you could easily start out with a lower-end model like T-Fal or Farberware. However, if you have a few extra dollars to spare, it's worth investing in a mid-range piece that heats more evenly and is less likely to scorch.

Before you buy, go through the department store pots and pans section and actually touch and hold all the different candidates to see what you like best. After that, I'd go to the thrift store for an initial pass, just in case someone has decided they don't like using the very pans you want. You can always scrub and soak all the history off stainless steel or cast iron pans; they're metal. However, since good pans aren't exactly common thrift store treasure, you still may want to buy new. In that case, it's a good idea to take advantage of discounters like TJ Maxx or Marshalls.

If you end up buying both your sauté pan and your saucepan new, consider getting a set of pans--preferably a smaller set of mid-quality pans, such as Cuisinart Chef's Classic line of stainless steel. They're usually pretty reasonably priced, considering the amount of equipment you get.

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 2: Stovetop

Wooden spoons

Of course, if you're making things in pots and pans on the stove, you need to use something to move the food around in them. This is where the wooden spoon comes in.

I love wooden spoons above all other stirring, manipulating, or shifting equipage. They don't conduct heat, so they don't require any silicone or meltable plastic handles. You can use them with any pan at all, since nonstick coating and stainless steel alike are undisturbed by contact with wood. They're easy to find at any kitchen store in the land, not to mention ordinary groceries, drugstores, and bargain bins. You can find a wooden spoon to suit you, because they come in every conceivable shape and size. Best of all, they improve as they age. A wooden spoon used for fifteen or twenty years is a beautiful thing.

My three favorite wooden spoons came in a set from Pier 1. I got them as a gift from similarly fund-lacking friends at age sixteen, and I have used them ever since. So my spoons are eighteen years old, and yet they are still not only fulfilling their roles but doing so with grace and aplomb. One spoon has developed a crack across the bowl, it's true, but that's ok, especially after eighteen years of use. Even slightly higher quality spoons just won't have this problem.

Honorable mention: steamer insert (doubles as a pasta strainer!), 6-inch frying pan for your morning eggs, spoon rest, teapot, whisk, ladle.

Next up: taming the wild oven.

The whole top tools for your first kitchen series:
- Part 1: Prep
- Part 2: Stovetop
- Part 3: Oven
- Part 4: Cleanup

28 August 2012

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 1: Prep

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 1: Prep

It's the end of August, and you know what that means: school. Moving. New apartments. Fun yet busy and potentially stressful times.

If you've never lived in your own place before, you may find yourself standing in the middle of a crowded department store, staring at the hundreds of different odds and ends spread out under the "Kitchen" sign. What should you buy? What do you actually need?

Before you throw down an extra $50 on a selection of assorted whisks, soap dispensers, egg separators, paper towel racks, potato mashers, or coffee grinders, step back. Take a breath. Instead of buying indiscriminately, target the tools you'll use to make your food every single day. Here's what I recommend.

Top cooking tools for your first kitchen

8-inch chef's knife

My chef's knife is by far the most important tool in my kitchen. I use it every day to prepare practically everything I eat. Anything that needs to be actually cut (as opposed to peanut butter, for instance) falls under this blade.

It's worth spending some decent money to get a good knife you really like. Then you not only can but will use it all the time, and you can avoid buying an entire knife block set, from which you'll use maybe two knives ever. Thrift stores usually have knife blocks on hand anyway--why not get the cheap block and gradually fill it with two or three carefully chosen high-quality knives?

Before you buy, go to a department store and try out the knives. Higher end stores should have some equipment on hand for this exact purpose. At the very least, you can hold the knives and figure out which one feels best in your hand. You may find that you prefer a heavier knife, like my Henckels, or a lighter one, like John's Global; it's up to you.

Any chef's knife you buy should have a two-inch-wide blade. This means you'll be able to curl your fingers under the handle and chop without whacking your hand into the cutting board. That means your blade won't bounce around and you'll be less likely to cut yourself. You're welcome.

Be careful with your knife. Don't leave it in the dish drainer to get dull, and definitely don't put it in the dishwasher, no matter what the manufacturer says! Instead, wash it by hand, dry it by hand, and put it in a knife block or on a magnetic wall rack. If you must store it in a drawer, keep it in its own dedicated slot, so nothing can jostle against the blade and dull it. Keep a sharpening steel on hand so you can sharpen your knife at will. Steels are usually pretty easy to find at your local thrift store. I almost never take my knife to be professionally sharpened, but it's a good idea to do so if your knife gets really dull & won't hold an edge anymore. We have a knife sharpener at our farmer's market; you can also usually find knife sharpening services through higher-end grocery stores.

Top tools for your first kitchen, Part 1: Prep

Cutting board

In conjunction with the knife, get a good cutting board. I like wood and bamboo (technically a grass, not a wood--the more you know!). Plastic cutting boards are good for specific purposes, such as cutting up raw meat, but they dull your knife blade faster than wood or bamboo. Don't ever use a glass cutting board, as this will at least dull and possibly seriously damage your knife--and after you've been so careful and taken care of it so well!

The cutting board is my main prep surface, my organization board, and my means of transporting chopped ingredients to cooking pans. Of course, if you are awesome, you can always use the chef's knife for this. Chefs definitely do. I tend not to, however. Fortunately, my preferred cutting boards are small enough to pick up and move around easily.

You can find good cutting boards for decent prices pretty much anywhere. TJ Maxx and Marshalls usually have a good selection, for instance. A thicker wooden board is a better idea than a thin one--it's heavier & less likely to shift around on the counter as you chop, and will also be less likely to warp when drying. I like boards with a lot of crosscut segments for this same reason. The size of the board is up to you, but I find that about 12x15 inches gives me enough space to work.

Mixing bowl

Next: the classic mixing bowl. This is obviously a necessity if you want to mix up any dough, batter, or glaze, but it also can serve as a dish soaker, a salad bowl, or a serving dish. You can wash vegetables in it without taking up your entire sink. You can soak several cups of dried beans. You can let bread dough rise until doubled. You can whip a massive amount of cream. If nothing else, you can put it on your counter and fill it with the lemons and tomatoes you don't want to hide in the refrigerator.

The most important mixing bowl you buy should have one key quality: it should be large. If you're going to use it for all these different purposes, you need to have plenty of space. If you buy a set of bowls, you'll end up with a range of sizes, and that's fine. But if you just buy one, make sure it's big enough to hold a full batch of bread dough. Three or four quarts is a good size. I tend to prefer taller, narrower bowls to wider, shallower ones; this lets me avoid slopping ingredients over the sides.

The choice of material is up to you. My main mixing bowl is heavy pyrex, but lots of people go for thin, light stainless steel bowls. Metal is also a good choice if you tend to make pastries that need to be kept cold, as it conducts heat well. But it really depends more on your preferences than anything else.

Honorable mention: vegetable peeler, can opener, waiter-style corkscrew with bottle opener, measuring spoons & cups.

Next: on to the stovetop!

The whole top tools for your first kitchen series:
- Part 1: Prep
- Part 2: Stovetop
- Part 3: Oven
- Part 4: Cleanup

27 August 2012

I love you, freezer.

lentil soup with quinoa, yogurt, sambal oelek, and homegrown scallions and tomatoes

It has not been the easiest few days. Good thing I have a bunch of soup in the freezer.

This one was a basic lentil soup with potato, carrot, and onion. I defrosted it on the stovetop with a little water. In the meantime, I loaded the rice cooker with quinoa, pulled some sungold tomatoes and scallion greens out of the garden, and excavated the fridge in search of plain yogurt and sambal oelek.

Voila: lentil soup with hot quinoa, tangy yogurt, spicy sambal, and delicious fresh vegetables.

Everything seems much more doable after a lunch like this.

24 August 2012

Tempeh reuben!

tempeh reuben with russian dressing and homemade sauerkraut

I still have a good chunk of my crock of sauerkraut hanging out in the refrigerator, so today I thought I'd bust it out and make myself a tempeh reuben.

I don't think I've ever eaten a reuben sandwich I liked before! Clearly fresh sauerkraut makes all the difference. Homemade Russian dressing helps too. Also a delicious tempeh marinade. Also a pickle on the side.

I based my reuben on The V Word's tempeh reuben recipe, complete with homemade dressing. Yay!

Tempeh reuben

Tempeh reubens are pretty easy to make. Here's the general game plan:

1. Marinate tempeh.
2. Sear tempeh.
3. Make dressing.
4. Toast bread.
5. Assemble delightful sandwich.
6. Eat.

I marinated my tempeh in a mix of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, sriracha sauce, crushed garlic, liquid smoke, and vegetable broth, with a bay leaf thrown in for good measure. You can play with the proportions to see what you like. Be careful with both the soy sauce and liquid smoke--too much of either can be a disaster. Just start slowly and things should be fine.

Cut your tempeh into appropriate sandwichy slabs and marinate it for at least an hour before cooking.

searing marinated tempeh

When you're ready to cook, put a frying pan over medium-high heat and add in your tempeh. Sear on both sides, adjusting the heat as needed. I like to add a ladleful of my marinade most of the way through cooking, so the tempeh can absorb even more flavor.

While you're standing around, make your dressing. I followed the exact method from the link, although I did use the non-vegan versions of the ingredients. It turns out that mayo spiked with ketchup, worcestershire sauce, sriracha, and horseradish is pretty good! Who would have thought? (Probably a lot of people who like mayo more than I do.)

homemade russian dressing

When your tempeh is closing in on done, toast yourself some rye bread.

It's time to assemble! Spread your toasted bread with as much dressing as you desire. Add tempeh and sauerkraut. Sandwich everything together, making a marginal attempt to keep all the ingredients from falling all over the place.

Now eat it.

tempeh reuben with russian dressing and homemade sauerkraut

The sauerkraut and sauce are really the highlight of this sandwich. Every time I got a kick of spicy horseradish or tangy kraut, I wanted more. I could have put three times the amount of sauerkraut on this sandwich, and that would have made it three times as good. I'm very happy I followed my instinct to slosh on about twice as much sauce as I would on any other sandwich.

The reuben is substantially different from most sandwiches I eat on a regular basis. Most sandwiches I eat have no mayo anywhere near them, unless they happen to be egg salad sandwiches. Most sandwiches I eat are filled with fresh vegetables instead of fermented. Most sandwiches I eat don't make me want to have an additional bowl of sauerkraut with horseradish sauce for dessert.

So it took me a minute to really get into this sandwich, but once I did, I liked it quite a bit.

Hooray for palate expansion!

22 August 2012

Burger & fries, so nice

lamb burger with goat cheese and caramelized onions

Meat doesn't usually play that large a role at our house. John doesn't eat meat, so he's obviously out of any meat-based plan. I do eat meat, but I don't eat very much of it. An overabundance of meat--by which I mean "more than one meat-based meal within two to three days"--makes me feel pretty awful. So when I do eat meat, I want it to be GREAT.

Enter the lamb burger.

Lamb is my favorite meat by any measure. Beef does not do it for me except on extremely limited "MUST HAVE STEAK NOW" occasions, which happen no more than once a year. Bacon is okay and everything, but I certainly don't fetishize it to the extent that the rest of popular culture seems to. I tend to use pork as a flavoring instead of a main ingredient anyway. Chicken and turkey are okay, but they can be boring, and are certainly pretty disgusting to work with raw. That leaves lamb--rich, flavorful, and great to use in any number of complex savory applications. What's not to love?

So the other day we set out to make the most satisfying of burger feasts. Spiced lamb burger for me; veggie burger for John; oven fries and onion rings and delicious sourdough buns and caramelized onions for us both. Hooray!

homemade baked fries and onion rings

Oven fries are pretty standard at our house: cut potatoes into fries, toss in olive oil, salt, and any spices you like, and bake until delicious. We decided to try out using garam masala, which worked admirably. The onion rings were a much more iffy endeavor--we didn't have any parchment paper, so they really wanted to stick to the pan. I think I'm going to have to work on that one a little more.

The burger, however, was excellent.

Spiced lamb burger

ground lamb
olive oil
finely minced garlic
chopped scallion
chopped red pepper
salt, pepper

I made four burgers with half a pound of ground lamb and about 2/3 cup of breadcrumbs. The proportions of all the other additions are up to your personal taste. In fact, go ahead and mix and match your burger additions--practically any vegetable or spice that sounds like it'll be good with lamb should work out. Just make sure to chop all your vegetables very finely, so they can integrate well with the overall mixture. I used a couple cloves of garlic, a small handful of scallion greens, and about a quarter of a red pepper.

Mix all your burger ingredients together with your hands. When you have a relatively uniform texture, wash your hands, wet them, and form the mixture into burger patties. Keep in mind that they're going to shrink up a bit when cooked.

Fry your burger in a hot pan for about three minutes. Shake the pan to loosen the burger before you flip it. Cook another three minutes, or until the meat is done to your taste. Timing is definitely going to vary based on the strength of your stove.

When you're nearly done cooking your burger, toast the bun of your choice. I split my bun and stuck it straight into the pan with my rendered lamb fat, which worked out extremely well.

Serve your burger on your bun with all the various bits and pieces you like. For this application, I added dijon mustard, goat cheese, caramelized onions, and a big handful of spicy greens, to imitate the most excellent Lafayette burger at Cafe Lafayette in Brooklyn--probably my favorite burger of all time. John had his veggie burger with everything but the goat cheese. And we both had fries and onion rings and lots of ketchup.

Eat your finished burger whatever you like best--fries or onion rings or chips or pickles or a salad or anything else at all. Hooray!

I was only going to eat one burger, but my meat mixture produced four patties. No problem--we have a freezer for a reason.

lamb burgers for freezer storage

So I layered each raw patty on a piece of tinfoil (the curse of no parchment paper strikes again!) and stacked them up in a 2-cup deli container. Then I just stuck the entire thing in the freezer. Now I have a stash of nearly instant burgers, ready for future application.

What's your favorite burger? What combinations of condiments do you guys like best?

20 August 2012

Heirloom tomato & basil sandwich

tomato and basil sandwich

Maybe you don't want to cook all your tomatoes down and put them away until winter. In that case, may I make a suggestion? Why not have the world's greatest sandwich?

Heirloom tomato and basil sandwich

heirloom tomato, preferably a beefsteak variety
fresh basil leaves
olive oil
crusty bread
salt & pepper

Cut your tomato into thick slices. Strip your basil leaves off their stems.

Toast your bread lightly and rub it with a drizzle of olive oil. Arrange your tomato and basil on each piece of bread. Add salt and pepper.


Oh man, isn't it great?

This sandwich can take any number of additions, depending on what you have in the kitchen. How about some sliced avocado, or a handful of spinach, or some sliced hard-boiled egg, or a piece or two of crumbly bacon, or a slick of dijon mustard? It's all good.

Hooray for summer!

17 August 2012

Tomato sauce!

homemade tomato sauce

Hooray for summer tomatoes!
Hooray for my cabinet of canning jars!
Hooray for the water-bath canner I got for the holidays!
Hooray for a messy stovetop!
Hooray for the huge pile of stock-ready trimmings!
Hooray for the farmer's market $.65/lb sort-outs bin!
Hooray for a serrated tomato knife to split the skins!

skinning a summer heirloom tomato

Hooray for squishing by hand!
Hooray for seeds and juice spraying randomly onto the walls!
Hooray for open windows and a good fan!
Hooray for an arsenal of useful tools!
Hooray for kitchen towels!
Hooray for the end result!

homemade tomato sauce

Needless to say, I've canned a bunch of tomato sauce in the last few weeks. I wrote up the entire tomato sauce canning method in great detail last year. I'm going to make more this weekend, and probably more the weekend after that, and again the weekend after that.

Now let's see how long I can go without buying canned tomato puree, shall we?

15 August 2012

Potato green bean vinaigrette, deviled eggs, & fresh summer tomato

Potato green bean vinaigrette, deviled eggs, and fresh summer tomato

Swiftiest of Meals
w/ ref to A. E. Housman.

Swiftiest of meals, the salad now
holds all the veg I will allow;
potatoes, beans, and mayonnaise
softly sate my tongue's malaise.

Now in my kitchen's steamy den
lunchtime will soon come again.
Take from the fridge a loaf of bread,
an egg, a pear, and I am fed.

And since I love to eat my fill
I'll mix the dressing, fire the grill,
and set the table fork by knife
to serve my tastes for all my life.

This summer I seem to have forgotten about potatoes until just recently. Why? Potatoes are great, especially in summer salad form. So are hard-boiled eggs. So are fresh summer tomatoes, although no one has forgotten about those.

This combination would clearly make the most optimal picnic ever. Let's eat it!

Potato green bean salad with oregano vinaigrette

For the salad:
boiling potatoes
green beans

For the dressing:
red wine vinegar
dijon mustard
fresh oregano leaves
garlic or shallot
salt, pepper
olive oil

Start by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. While it's heating, scrub and chop your potatoes into more or less bite-sized chunks. When the water boils, add your potatoes, slap on the pan lid, and let cook for about a half hour, or until tender. (If you're making deviled eggs too, you can totally put the raw eggs on to boil with the potatoes and just fish them out when the time is up. I do this practically every time.)

While your potatoes are cooking, wash and trim your green beans. You want a roughly equal amount of potatoes and beans. Cut them into inch-long pieces and set them aside.

Next, make your dressing. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix a tablespoon of dijon mustard with a roughly equal amount of red wine vinegar. Add about eight or ten leaves of fresh oregano, finely chopped, and a clove of crushed and chopped garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Now whisk with a fork while slowly pouring in a stream of olive oil. You'll want maybe 1/4 cup of oil total per tablespoon of vinegar. This makes enough dressing for about two large potatoes' worth of salad.

If you don't have access to fresh oregano, it's fine to substitute chopped parsley, basil, or whatever other soft green herb you like. However, fresh oregano is AWESOME, so I strongly recommend that you try it.

When your potatoes are almost cooked, it's time to cook your green beans. You can either steam them over the potato pot, or just add them to the water and cook them with the potatoes. If you care about things like "shocking your green beans to keep them bright green," I'd recommend steaming. Otherwise, go ahead and throw them in the boiling water. Either way, the beans take about three to four minutes to cook through.

When both your beans and potatoes are cooked, drain them completely (you can always stick the potatoes back in the pan over heat for a second if they seem overly wet) and put them into a bowl of your choice. Immediately pour the dressing over, stirring to mix well.

Voila! A beautiful salad!

potato green bean vinaigrette and sliced tomato

Deviled eggs

dijon mustard
scallion greens
salt, pepper, paprika

These are totally standard deviled eggs. Sometimes you just want the classics, right?

Start by hard-boiling your eggs. Put your raw eggs in a pot, cover them with water, and put the whole shebang on the stove. Bring the pan to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let your eggs simmer for eight minutes. When the time is up, immediately take the eggs out of the hot pan, run them under cold water, and put them in a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. Let the eggs sit for at least ten minutes, adding more cold water if needed.

When cool, peel your eggs, cut them in half, and remove the yolks to a bowl. If you've timed your eggs perfectly, there should be just a little dimple of dampness at the center of the yolk, and certainly no grey-green oxidized business around its edge.

Mix your yolks with a large spoonful of mayonnaise, a small spoonful of mustard, and chopped scallion greens, salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. The proportions of these are entirely up to you. Want your eggs creamier? Add more mayo. Want them spicier? Add more mustard.

Scoop your yolk mixture gently into your egg halves. Garnish if you like. A sprinkle of paprika is pretty traditional here, but some chopped herbs or maybe a slice of green olive also work.

Hooray! Deviled eggs!


1 good summer tomato

Cut up tomato. Sprinkle with salt. Eat.

Perfect! It's tomato!

(Also, if you have leftover potato salad and deviled eggs, guess what you can do for lunch the next day? Cut up your eggs, mix them into your potato salad, and have a completely delicious mess. Yes! I know you guys can't possibly have any leftover tomato.)

13 August 2012

Nectarine cobbler

nectarine cobbler

I've been getting fresh nectarines at the farmer's market for the past few weeks. For the most part, we end up cutting them up right after dinner, slinging the slices into a bowl, and eating them raw for a quick pseudo-dessert. We could do this every day.


Last week I discovered that each and every nectarine I bought had begun to sprout a bit of mold next to their stem scars. I had to save the fruit, but I knew we couldn't eat all five of them in one day. What to do?

The situation called for cake, or pie, or maybe ice cream. So I looked through my recipe bookmarks and turned up Sprouted Kitchen's beautiful blueberry oat biscuit cobbler. Why not try it with chopped nectarine?

As it turns out, this was the best possible idea. I trimmed all my nectarines, chopped them up, tossed them with a bit of sugar and lemon juice, and spread them in a baking dish. I mixed up the simple cobbler crust and pressed it into the pan. I put the whole business in the oven for 45 minutes. Then we ate it, and it was wonderful.

Why don't I bake with nectarines more often?

nectarine cobbler

Nectarine cobbler
revised from Sprouted Kitchen.

4 large or 6 small nectarines (or sub any other stone fruit)
lemon juice

1/2 cup oats
1 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp cold butter
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used regular runny yogurt)

Preheat your oven to 375F/190C.

Cut up your fruit and toss it with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Since nectarines are pretty sweet, you may want to taste them before you decide how much sugar and lemon juice you want to use.

Spread the fruit into your pan of choice; I used an 8x8 inch square. A slightly larger pan should work as well.

nectarine cobbler

In a large mixing bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients for your crust. Add your butter, cut into small chunks, and rub together with the tips of your fingers. When you have a uniform pebbly butter-floury mixture, add in your yogurt. Stir gently until the mixture coheres. Knead a few times to get everything semi-uniform.

Press the crust mixture evenly over the top of your pan of fruit. Pop the pan in the oven and bake, rotating once, for about 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Let the cobbler rest for at least half an hour before you try to cut it. You want to give the fruit and crust some time to absorb the hot juice.

nectarine cobbler

Eat at your leisure, either plain, with some thick plain yogurt, or with the ice cream of your choice.

Have the leftovers cold for breakfast. Hooray!

10 August 2012

Tofu scramble and potatoes rösti

tofu scramble and potatoes rösti

This weekend our friend Chrissy came up from Santa Cruz to hang out. At our house, "hang out" includes not only staying up until all hours gossiping, but also getting up in the morning for a delightful farmer's market expedition and a massive brunch at home. Best brunching forever!

This time, we decided to make a vegetable-heavy tofu scramble and a panful of rösti.

Tofu scramble is obviously pretty widely known as the breakfast of vegetarians and vegans--but what is rösti? Well. It's a Swiss potato cake that bears a reasonable resemblance to hash browns. Essentially, it's grated potatoes cooked in butter or oil until they form a delightful cake. Who wouldn't want one of those at brunch?

Wikipedia tells me that rösti is only eaten in German-speaking parts of Switzerland, but this seems off. For one thing, I first heard of it in a book of essays by Laurie Colwin, a longtime denizen of NYC. For another, we've watched Jacques Pepin not only make a rösti but also tell us what it's traditionally called in France--pommes paillasson, which translates to "doormat potatoes"--so obviously rösti is also made in French-speaking areas at the very least. The finished cake does indeed look like a doormat! It's just a much tastier doormat than you can find just about anywhere else.

Let's go!

tofu scramble and potatoes rösti

Tofu scramble with fresh garden veg and basil

olive oil
scallion/other onion of your choice
bell pepper
hot pepper
chard or other greens
firm tofu
turmeric, oregano, marjoram, salt, pepper
fresh basil or parsley

Start by sauteing chopped scallion or onion in some olive oil in a frying pan of your choice. When it's soft, start adding any other vegetable you think would be tasty. I put in a bunch of various sweet peppers, a tomato or two, and a jalapeno. Keep any greens and fresh herbs to the side for last-minute addition.

tofu scramble

While your vegetables are cooking, prep your tofu. In a large bowl, break up a block of tofu roughly with a fork. Season with a little turmeric, some oregano and marjoram, and salt and pepper. If you want to go for a totally different spice mix, that should work too. Anything that works with your vegetables should turn out fine.

When your vegetables are cooked through, add your tofu to the pan and stir to mix. Add a couple big handfuls of chopped greens of your choice too. When the tofu is hot through and the greens are just wilted, taste for seasoning and take the pan off the heat. Stir in a couple handfuls of fresh chopped basil right before serving.

Hooray! Scrambled tofu for all!

Rösti aka Pommes Paillasson aka Doormat Potatoes

boiling potatoes
scallion greens
olive oil
salt, pepper

Start by prepping your potatoes. Peel them, grate them, and squeeze them in a dishcloth (or over a bowl) to remove as much liquid as possible. The secret is squeezing out all the water in the potatoes! Be thorough!

Chop up some scallion greens or other onion device of your choice. Add them to the dry potato shreds and season well with salt and pepper. Mix well.

grated potato for potatoes rösti

Now heat up a large frying pan of your choice on medium-high. Cast iron is probably the best choice here; we used a large nonstick pan. I'd choose the widest pan you can manage, keeping in mind that you're going to have to flip the potato cake eventually. The thinner you can make your potato cake, the better.

Pour a large slug of olive oil into the pan and swirl to coat. Then lay in your potato mixture, pressing it down firmly as you go. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until your potato cake is dark golden brown on the underside. This should take somewhere around eight to ten minutes, depending on your stove.

Now it's time to flip. Wear oven mitts while you're doing this. Essentially, you want to cover your pan with a similarly sized plate or platter, hold the two together, and turn the entire thing over to release the potatoes onto the plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan before sliding the potatoes back in, uncooked side down. Hooray! You did it!

potatoes rösti

Continue cooking until the underside of your potato cake matches the golden brown of the top. Slide the finished cake onto a cutting board, cut into triangles, and eat.

Rösti cries out for a variety of delicious garnishes. (Or is "garnish" already a mass noun? Hmm.) Anything you put on a traditional potato pancake will be great here. Applesauce? Yes. Sour cream or creme fraiche--maybe with some chopped dill or more scallion greens? Yes. Chopped hard-boiled egg and crunchy salt? Yes. Capers and finely chopped red onion? Yep. Smoked salmon or caviar? Sure, if you like that kind of thing. All of the above at once? Well, maybe not applesauce, but everything else--yes.

Hooray for brunch! What do you guys like to cook on lazy weekend mornings?

08 August 2012

Fig, mozzarella, and basil sandwich

fig mozzarella and basil sandwich

I bought a pint of figs at the farmer's market this weekend. For the next few days, as I ate the vast majority of them out of hand, here's what I heard.

"You're going to make The Sandwich."
"When are you going to have The Sandwich?"
"Did you make The Sandwich?"

Yes. With the last two figs left in the basket, I made The Sandwich.

The Sandwich consists of figs, mozzarella, and basil on bread toasted and brushed with olive oil. It's a variation on the fig and mozzarella sandwich I first read about on Chocolate and Zucchini in 2004. That means I've been making it for EIGHT YEARS.

It's definitely worth eating one of these every fig season for eight years running. That's all I'm saying.

fig mozzarella and basil sandwich

The Sandwich

bread, preferably sourdough, ciabatta, or sliced baguette
olive oil
ripe black mission figs
mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves
freshly ground pepper

Toast your bread lightly by the method of your choice. I use the toaster oven. Did you know we don't own a toaster? FACT.

Brush your bread with a light layer of olive oil. The original recipe has you use pesto, but I tend not to have any on hand. Olive oil works very well.

Layer each piece of bread with slices of mozzarella and fig, as well as leaves of basil. Be generous with the basil. If you want to add a couple leaves of arugula, that would work too.

Grind a layer of pepper over each piece of bread. Voila!

Eat open-faced or closed at your discretion.

Faint with happiness.

06 August 2012

Sausage, sourdough, & sauerkraut

Sausage, sourdough, & sauerkraut sandwich

So after you've fermented a batch of homemade sauerkraut, what do you do with it?

Well. You can always go for the straight up reuben sandwich--corned beef, sauerkraut, and gruyere on rye with Russian dressing--or go the vegetarian route and use tempeh instead of corned beef. You can mix it with chopped mushrooms and make a batch of pierogies. You can mix it with mashed potatoes and fry it into delicious pancakes. You can layer sauerkraut in a baking dish, slap a salted, peppered, and possibly mustarded pork chop or roast on top, and bake until awesome. Or you can go for arguably the most classic preparation of all: sausage and sauerkraut.

Sausage, sourdough, & sauerkraut sandwich

For excellent sausage and sauerkraut, you only need to put forth the most minor of effort. Slice up one sausage per person. Any kind of sausage you like should work; I used a precooked chicken sausage. Sear until browned on both sides. Mix with sauerkraut, either on the heat (if you want to warm your sauerkraut) or off. Voila!

I went one more step and slathered my finished sausage and sauerkraut all over a toasted sourdough roll with mustard. This was obviously an excellent choice. Crispy fragrant sourdough along with crunchy fermented cabbage and chewy, savory slices of sausage? Yes, please.

The sauerkraut was inclined to fall all over the place while I was eating. But hey, that's the mark of a really great sandwich, right? You should always have to use a fork to finish cleaning your plate.

Sausage, sourdough, & sauerkraut sandwich

It was delicious.

03 August 2012

Freezing summer corn for fun & profit

fresh corn on the cob

Corn! You can buy bags of it pre-frozen in the grocery store, of course, but where's the fun in that? And how much better does the farmer's market fresh corn taste? Why not take advantage of the abundant midsummer corn harvest to freeze your own?

So that's exactly what I did last weekend. I grabbed an armful of corn at the farmer's market, dragged it all back home, and proceeded to enhance my freezer stash.

First, I husked ten ears of white corn. Easy but annoying!

Then I cut all the corn kernels off the cobs. Usually I do this by laying the whole cob down on the cutting board, holding my knife at an angle, and using a sawing motion to slice from tip to end. This gets the kernels off the cob with minimal fuss, and without a huge corn mess spraying everywhere. If you want to hold your corn upright while you slice off the kernels, you can put the ear in a big bowl first, but why bother?

blanching fresh corn

I brought a pot of water to a boil, blanched my corn kernels for about a minute, and drained them all. I used a big pasta pot with an insert so I could just lift all the corn out at once. This worked admirably.

After some time to cool, I filled my bags with beautiful fresh corn. Normally I'd spread my corn kernels out on a cookie sheet, freeze them that way (to avoid kernels sticking together), and remove the frozen kernels to a few large containers. However, I've had a box of tiny little snack-size ziplocs hanging around since the holidays, and I wanted to get them out of the way, so I decided to fill them up instead.

fresh corn blanched and ready to freeze

Ten ears' worth of corn kernels filled up nine bags, which I left open on the counter to cool completely. Afterward, I pressed the air out of the bags, sealed them, and put them in the freezer. Bonus: now I know each bag has just over one ear of corn in it. When I want to use the corn, I'll just throw a bag in a bowl of warm water to defrost & separate. Easy!

After I was done blanching corn, I had a big pot of freshly boiled corn-scented water. I also had a stack of corncobs. So, guys, are you pondering what I'm pondering?

I put the water back on the heat, dropped in a bunch of the stripped corncobs, and simmered for about 20 more minutes. Voila: a massive pot of fresh corn broth!

corn broth with corncobs

The resulting broth filled eight 2-cup containers, which I left to cool on the countertop. It's important to fully cool broth before you lid and freeze it; otherwise it'll start to ferment. A few hours of waiting took care of that problem. Then they went into the freezer too.

So about one hour of effort gave me a full supply of delicious corn and broth. Hooray!

Then I proceeded to sauce & can 12 pounds of tomatoes, but that's another story.

What vegetables do you guys freeze in summer? Do any of you go the pressure canner route instead?

02 August 2012


What have I been doing?

softball-sized nectarines

Eating softball-sized nectarines.

iced rooibos tea

Drinking gallons of iced rooibos tea.

sungold cherry tomato

And picking the first ripe sungold tomatoes.