The Heart of the Jack-o’-Lantern

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You’re carving your jack-o’-lanterns now; soon you’ll buy canned pumpkin for pie. Join the club. Almost no one in this country cooks fresh pumpkin.

Yet the pumpkin — or those squashes whose non-English names translate as “pumpkin” — is a staple the world over, turned into substantial dishes celebrated for their sweetness and density. So-called sugar pumpkins, which are smaller and more flavorful than anything you might carve, are the best for cooking and available even in supermarkets. But you can tackle the big boys too.

All four of the recipes are global classics, and all use cubes of pumpkin flesh; admittedly, getting at the good stuff is the tricky part. And of course you can use any orange-fleshed squash in any pumpkin recipe. But given the season, let’s assume you’re working with a pumpkin. Start just as if you were carving a jack-o’-lantern: cut a circle around the stem, then pull up on the stem and discard it. Using the cavity as a handle, peel the pumpkin with a sturdy vegetable peeler. Yes, it will take a while. To read the entire article click here.

Posted in American, Produce

Bacon 25 Ways

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To cook bacon, you usually toss some strips in a pan, fry them and eat. If you start with good pork, there are (for omnivores, at least) few things better. But the uses of strip bacon beyond ‘‘plain’’ are legion. Strips are ideal for swaddling fish, chicken, fruit (anything, really). And there is always the B.L.T.

 

Once you get into slab bacon, though, things become interesting. Slab bacon offers not only more flexibility but also better quality. And it’s far easier to cook to the optimum level of doneness for any given recipe.

 

All bacon — slabs, strips, chunks or bits — can be made any way you like: low to medium heat on the stove; roasted or broiled in the oven; grilled; even microwaved. Keep the heat low, and you have more control; use olive oil in the pan, and you’re less likely to burn the outside.

 

In these recipes, don’t forget salt (less if the bacon is salty) and pepper. And remember that when it comes to bacon, people tend to eat a lot.

See all 25 recips here.

Posted in American

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Fruit Crisp

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                                                                                                                                                  Photograph by Kristin Gladney

By Meghan Gourley

Anyone who has opted to make crisp instead of pie is aware of its virtues: no mixing and perfecting dough, latticing strips of it, or fumbling around with pie weights. Instead, a loose mixture of butter, brown sugar, oats and flour—clumps of it—becomes the stuff that turns ordinary apples into autumn on a plate. Any and all types of apples will do; I used Cortland and McIntosh picked in upstate New York. (Is there a better way to get rid of a mound of apples?)

For added texture, leave the skin on about half the apples and cut them into same-size slices to avoid uneven cooking and burning. If using a tart variety (like McIntosh or Granny Smith) add an extra spoonful or two of brown sugar. Dust real vanilla beans or a pinch of cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg over the apples before adding the topping for rich flavor. The crumble is done when it begins to brown on top—and when the sweet smell becomes too much to resist. If you like, add a dollop of whipped cream or a splash of real cream. Watch it disappear.

Apple (or Other Fruit) Crisp

Time: About 1 hour

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

5 tablespoons cold butter, plus more for greasing the pan

6 cups pitted, sliced apples (2 to 3 pounds)

Juice of ½ lemon

2/3 cups packed brown sugar

½ cup rolled oats (not instant oats)

½ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup chopped nuts, optional

1 cup vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 400 dgF. Cut the 5 tablespoons butter into ¼-inch bits and put in the fridge or freezer. Lightly butter a square baking pan. Toss the peaches with the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar in a large bowl, and spread them out in the prepared pan.

2. Combine the chilled pieces of butter with the remaining brown sugar, the oats, the flour, the salt and the nuts if you’re using them in a food processor and pulse a few times, then process a few seconds more, until everything is combined but not too finely ground. (To mix this by hand, mas the mixture together between your fingers.)

3. Crumble the topping over the peaches and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the peaches are tender and bubbling. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with ice cream if you like.

Posted in American, Baking

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Corn Chowder with Cheddar

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By Meghan Gourley

Ubiquitous as it is, it’s easy to forget the subtle side of corn. Chowder—here with cheddar and scallions—reminds us that summer’s favorite crop is versatile. The key to this chowder is finding the freshest summer corn you can, and shaving it off the cob like a pro: spare nothing. Get as close to the cob with the blade of your knife as you can. Work slowly and carefully, and don’t waste anything—the meatiness of the kernels is what makes this soup so hearty. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in American, Recipes

Beer Batter Shrimp Po’ Boy

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By Alaina Sullivan

There’s no better way to celebrate Mardi Gras than with a Po’ Boy (a beer-battered one at that.) Not only does beer give the shrimp great flavor, but it is scientifically proven to make superior batter. As soon as the beer-battered shrimp hit the pan, CO2 bubbles begin to dance and foam up around the shrimp. A panko dredging assists the process, and, as a result, the shrimp are left trapped in a flavorful and lacy-light crust. Pile them high on bread with mayo, lettuce, and tomato, and you’ll have a happy Fat Tuesday indeed. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Beer Batter Shrimp Po’ Boy

Heat oil for frying. In a bowl, mix together one can of beer; one and one-half cups cornmeal (or panko) and pinches of salt, pepper; and paprika. Dip shrimp into batter and fry in batches until golden, about three minutes (flip once). Serve on split crusty Italian or French loaves with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise; lemon juice and hot sauce are also great here.

Posted in American, Seafood

The Rise and Fall of Twinkies

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By Daniel Meyer

The third-to-last of the nearly 40 ingredients that make up a Twinkie is listed on the package as “sorbic acid (to retain freshness).” It’s the only ingredient that comes with an explanation of its purpose, as if it’s essential for us to understand that this Twinkie is as good as it was when it was made.

While Twinkies themselves may not degrade much over time, their cultural weight certainly has. They’re no longer a lunchbox staple or an American icon, and as of last week (as Mark writes here) the Hostess company (maker of Twinkies) has filed for bankruptcy protection yet again.

 

James Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company, invented Twinkies in 1930. He noticed that the machines and pans used to make the company’s cream-filled strawberry shortcake were only employed during strawberry season, so he conceived of a shortcake filled with banana cream that could be made and marketed year-round. So Twinkies were born out of the hard-and-fast limitations of seasonality.

Continental switched from banana cream — originally made with real bananas and real cream — to vanilla cream during World War II, when bananas were rationed. While the “original” version is occasionally reintroduced, vanilla “cream” Twinkies are the ones that charmed their way into the heart of American culture and diet.

In the ‘50s we watched Buffalo Bob Smith “make” Twinkies on “Howdy Doody,” clumsily combining the pasty white ingredients in a pan, and “alakazam presto” emerging with a pristine plastic package of “golden sponge cake with creamy filling.” In the ‘70s we let “Twinkie the Kid” lasso our children all the way to Twinkie Town, and in the ‘80s we learned that Twinkies were not only wholesome, but slightly sexy.

Read the rest of this piece here.

Posted in American, Food Politics

Twinkies, The Undead Snack

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The news that Hostess filed for bankruptcy last week was met with nostalgic dismay by millions of baby boomers who lamented what they thought was the imminent demise of the Twinkie. Hostess, which emerged from bankruptcy just three years ago, has maybe 100,000 creditors, mostly labor unions and pension funds (one of which is reportedly owed $944 million) that represent the company’s employees. Its debt approaches a billion dollars, a lot by most standards.

Predictably, Hostess says that its competition has fewer labor restrictions, and that to be competitive they must “restructure” their labor agreements. Not good news for the company’s 19,000 employees, of course, though supposedly no layoffs are planned.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in American, Food Politics

Pork and Apples

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It is a classic — really killer — combination, but one most people don’t play around with much. Once I started to think about it, though, the possibilities for pork and apples seemed myriad: obviously, you can cook chops and chunks in a cast-iron skillet, maybe with a little bacon and onions . . . an easy vision. Bacon-wrapped apples, skewered and roasted or broiled (or grilled, for you warm-climate people) is another. A B.C.A. — bacon, cheese (soft, mild, brie-ish cheese, especially) and apple — is a fine sandwich, especially when cooked as you would a grilled cheese.

On the slightly more complex side, I turned to the stuffed pork loin. This recipe has been a symbol of winter to me ever since I saw its photo (the stuffing was apricots) in one of the Time-Life “Foods of the World” cookbooks. (These were important works of the ’60s and ’70s, at least to those of us who were cooking.)

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.

Posted in American, Recipes

Lima Bean Stew with Arugula

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By Alaina Sullivan

Lima beans are notoriously unloved, but they’re starchy, buttery, and delicious. In this stew, half of the beans are pureed into a luxuriously creamy base, while the other half (left whole) are suspended in the thick broth. For some freshness, arugula is stirred in at the end, wilting as it folds into the broth. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Lima Bean Stew with Arugula

Cook a package of frozen lima beans in a cup of water with some salt, butter, and minced garlic. When the beans are tender, puree half of them with most of the cooking liquid in a food processor until smooth; add some cream, half-and-half, or broth to thin. Return the pureed bean mixture to the pan with the whole beans and season with salt and pepper.* Add a bunch of tender greens and continue cooking until the greens are wilted. Add more liquid if necessary and serve, with a drizzle of good-quality olive oil and crusty bread.

 *Alternatively, I presoaked 1 lb of dried lima beans and added half of them to a pot of chopped yellow onion and minced garlic (sautéing in olive oil). For the liquid I added 1 cup of water and 2 cups vegetable stock, seasoning the soup with 2 Tbsp fresh thyme and 2 sprigs rosemary. When the beans were tender I pureed the entire mixture with a hand blender and then folded in the reserved whole beans; adding splashes of stock as needed.

Posted in American, Recipes

Holiday Spreads: Easy As A B C

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Posted in American