How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Rice Pudding in the Oven

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By Alaina Sullivan

Patience is a virtue with oven-cooked rice pudding. It takes some time for the rice and milk to warm up to each other, but when they finally do, the wait is rewarded. The foundation of rice pudding is incredibly simple — rice, milk and sugar. From there, the possibilities are basically limitless. I tested three versions using three different grains and three different milks: 1) Brown basmati rice and almond milk, with lemon zest, honey and crushed almonds (I particularly like the brightness of the zest here); 2) Arborio rice and rice milk, with coconut flakes and vanilla (exotic, rich, and very sweet); 3) Brown jasmine and regular cow’s milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pistachios (warmly spiced with a more subtle sweetness).

The arborio version achieved the creamiest consistency, while the brown rice delivered a coarser-textured pudding with a nuttier fragrance. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, but if you want to speed up the process and make the pudding creamier, pulse the brown grains in a food processor a few times before cooking. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Baking, Recipes

Wendell Berry, American Hero

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The sensibility of Wendell Berry, who is sometimes described as a modern day Thoreau but who I’d call the soul of the real food movement, leads people like me on a path to the door of the hillside house he shares with his wife, Tanya, outside of Port Royal, Ky. Everything is as the pilgrim would have it: Wendell (he’s a one-name icon, like Madonna, but probably in that respect only) is kind and welcoming, all smiles.

He quotes Pope (“Consult the genius of the place in all”), Spenser, Milton and Stegner, and answers every question patiently and articulately. He doesn’t patronize. We sit alone, uninterrupted through the morning, for two or three hours. Tanya is at church; when it’s time, he turns on the oven, as she requested before leaving. He seems positively yogic, or maybe it’s just this: How often do I sit in long, quiet conversation? Wendell has this effect.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Slow Food

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Roasted Chicken Cutlets

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By Alaina Sullivan

Baked chicken wrapped in breadcrumbs immediately conjures up memories of the dry, bland versions I used to endure as a kid. (The kind where a vat of dipping mustard was essential and you needed a glass of milk to wash down each chalky bite.) This recipe is anything but dry or bland. Part of it is because the breadcrumbs are limited to a topping – they maintain a strong textural presence without sealing the chicken in a dusty coat. Using thinner cutlets instead of full breasts ensures that the ratio of crust to meat is just right. The other part of the equation is using fresh breadcrumbs – homemade crumbs from a decent loaf of bread will take your dredge to a whole new level. Add some fresh parsley and grated Parmesan to the mix and you’ve got yourself an easy and flavorful crust that makes the store-bought version all-but useless. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics. Continue reading

Posted in Recipes

Cooking With Thomas Keller

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Fernand Point was not one of your gym-going, globe-trotting, Ph.D.-equipped chefs. He was a roast-chicken-for-breakfast-eating, two-bottles-of-Champagne-at-lunch-drinking, big fat (no way around it) guy, the stereotype of the mid-20th-century French chef and almost without question the most influential of his time.

His time was on either side of World War II, and his place was La Pyramide, about a half-hour south of Lyons, often considered the mecca of French cuisine. During the war itself, he fed refugees from the north and then closed for six months rather than feed the occupying forces. His lifestyle was legendary, as was his cooking. (His wine cellars, too — though they were overseen by Mme. Mado Point. They had their share of great Burgundies and Bordeaux but also brought respectability to Rhone wines, even the still-overlooked whites. Mme. Point also ran the restaurant after her husband’s death in 1955, by most reports brilliantly.) Everyone ate at La Pyramide, or wanted to. Half the great French chefs of the next generation — men like Bocuse, Chapel, Outhier and Vergé — trained under him.

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Posted in Behind The Scenes

How to Cook Pizza Better Than a Restaurant

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I’M here — back in the Dining section with a new column — to insist once again that not only can you cook it at home, but you can likely cook it better.

“It,” in this case, is pizza, and the impetus for today’s installment was a visit to a highly acclaimed pizza joint in Manhattan, where I was served (for $15, or about four times the cost of the ingredients in a supermarket) a perfectly ordinary, overly poofy, drearily sauced pizza. Granted, the mozzarella was first rate. Big deal.

Read the rest of this column, watch the video, and get the recipes here.

Posted in Italian, Recipes

“The Greatest Living Food Writer”

Colin Spencer, whom Germaine Greer once called “the greatest living food writer,” turns 80 next year, and shows no signs of slowing down. His latest book, “From Microliths to Microwaves,” a history of food in Britain from pre-historic times to the present, is the work of a scholar. (In it he argues, in a way that’s reminiscent of Jared Diamond, that agriculture — or at least agriculture as it’s practiced now — is one of the great tragedies of the human race.)

Yet Spencer’s scholarship is only one of his many achievements. Indeed, he’s as close to a Renaissance man as you can get, an accomplished artist, novelist, analyst, activist, playwright and journalist.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Slow Food

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Brownies

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By Alaina Sullivan

Despite its simple seven-ingredient roster, this recipe is rich, complex and sinfully delicious. I bolstered the classic version with some nutty additions: ground almonds were substituted for part of the flour, chopped almonds were folded into the batter, and I even sprinkled more on top before it went into the oven, just for good measure.

When it comes to baking, brownies live outside the “toothpick test” rule that signals the doneness of other baked goods (like cakes and quickbreads). Once a brownie releases a clean toothpick, it’s gone too far. The trick is to time the baking so that the top firms up just enough to seal the molten middle. A good brownie is fudgy and moist; a bad brownie is cakey and dry. When my batch emerged, still slightly gooey and studded with nuts, it was hard not to indulge straight from the pan. But if you have the patience to plate, you can’t go wrong with a slice a la mode. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Baking, Recipes

Steamed Fish with Leeks

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By Alaina Sullivan

Steaming fish with vegetables is a foolproof way to serve up a main and a side dish in a single pan. The recipe for steamed fish in The Basics features a classic summertime cast of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, but I opted to go with a more seasonal variation featuring leeks. Simply sautéed in garlic and sauced with a little white wine, the leeks become a fresh-yet-buttery steaming machine.

A thick, mild-flavored white fish pairs particularly well in this case – hake was my pick, but cod or halibut would be great too. Set atop the bed of leeks, the fish cooks in the steam as the vegetables bubble beneath. Lid on, it takes just about ten minutes for the flesh to become perfectly opaque and flakey. The leeks finish cooking with the fish, and, brightened with Italian parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, are transformed into a delicious side. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Recipes, Seafood

The PInk Menace

Rick Perry — remember him? — was more inspired as a defender of the beef processing industry than he was as a debater. Last week, Perry — along with Iowa’s governor-for-life Terry Branstad and Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas — implored the media to end its “smear campaign” against pink slime, the ammonia-treated burger extender he’d rather have us call by the name used by its producers: Lean Finely Textured Beef.

Whether “pink slime” is a fair handle or not, public outrage has thrown it off a cliff. Some of the country’s largest grocery chains have announced that they will no longer sell products containing it, as did McDonald’s, while Wendy’s emphatically insisted that it never has. The United States Department of Agriculture, a major buyer of pink slime for its National School Lunch Program, has offered participating schools the option to order their beef with or without it, though it will likely remain in many schools.

As a result, the largest producer of the stuff, Beef Products Inc., has suspended operations at three of its four plants for 60 days, by which time it hopes to do some public relations hocus-pocus to restore consumer confidence before resorting to permanent closures. We’ll see.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Curried Chickpea Salad

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By Alaina Sullivan

Chickpeas – aka garbanzo beans –  have a distinct flavor and a meaty bite that make them exceptionally versatile for mashing, roasting, frying and serving in a variety of ways. Here they are used as the foundation for a substantial salad—one that is dressed in classic Indian flavors (curry, coconut milk and cilantro), and bulked up with red bell pepper and peas. There’s a ton of room for flexibility with this recipe—you could serve the salad with grains or greens, or change up the supporting vegetables as you like. But regardless of any creative tweaks, I highly recommend cooking your own chickpeas rather than using canned ones—it takes a bit more time, but the difference in flavor and texture is worth it. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics. 

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Posted in Indian, Recipes