By: Emily Stephenson
If you cook, you can’t avoid mess—or cleaning. Taking raw ingredients and transforming them with heat and fat is a chemical reaction, and the results are delicious food and greasy spatters. The downside of cooking is seldom discussed. So it’s no wonder Mark received an email from a new cook this week inquiring about his cleaning techniques. Here’s his philosophy from How to Cook Everything:
“As for me, I keep a spotlessly clean kitchen, [and] wash my hands about twenty times a day…It boils down to common sense: Don’t let your kitchen be a breeding ground [for bacteria]. Many experienced cooks and chefs are fanatical about cleanliness, and it works; that’s the best way to avoid food-related illness.”
He touches on the mantra in professional kitchens: “clean as you go.” Chefs are constantly cleaning because they are handling such a high volume of production in cramped conditions with a fixed set of tools. So you’re slightly better off at home.
But if you’re feeling bad that your kitchen doesn’t look like a spotless professional display kitchen, there’s more behind the scenes. Chefs have to be ready for the health inspector at any moment, and have a team of porters to wash dishes and cooks that scrub down every square inch of surface in the kitchen every night. Unless you run your family like a French restaurant brigade, you usually go it alone. Continue reading
Text and photos by Pam Hoenig
I admit I’m vegetable averse. Growing up, if my mother had let me, I would have limited my consumption of produce to peas (frozen, of course), baked potatoes, and corn on the cob, which for many years I made my mother cut off the cob for me—sorry about that, Mom! Continue reading
Text and photos by Kate Bittman
To say I was nervous about making homemade pasta would be a gross understatement. I put it off for as long as I possibly could, and judgment day loomed large. I had the KitchenAid attachment, 4 ingredients (flour, salt, eggs, and beets to color it), and I was (not) ready to go. Continue reading
Words and Photos by Pam Hoenig
I know you can buy good smoked cheese in most every supermarket. And I love the typical kinds—cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, mozzarella. But what about other cheeses—would smoke add or subtract?
I’ve experimented with grilling cheeses, putting them directly over the fire—in the protective embrace of a cast iron pan (like provolone for the classic South America asado appetizer, provoleta) and right on the grates, like halloumi, paneer, and queso de freir. For this exploration, I wanted to try wetter, softer cheeses, grilling them indirect, surrounded with wood smoke.
At the cheese counter, I settled on a French feta, a rich goat cheese, and bocconcini. Then I had another thought: Could I infuse smoke flavor into ricotta? Into my basket went a container. Continue reading
Text and photos by Kerri Conan
By the second bite of the first meatball I knew the mountain of perfectly sauced fresh spaghetti dominating the bowl was coming home with me for frittata. I’m actually lying: I knew before the menus arrived at the table. Continue reading
By Mark Bittman
Photos by Mark Bittman
I was in Des Moines this past weekend (wasn’t everyone?), in part for the Niman Ranch “farmer appreciation dinner” as, more or less, an observer. The weekend was interesting not only for that but for a number of other reasons. Continue reading
By Kerri Conan
Photos by Kerri Conan
Witness the benefit of getting to the farmers’ market when the first stalls open at 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning: one-of-a-kind cabbage sprouts.
This is Lawrence, Kansas, in mid-summer and you never know what’s going to pop out of the ground. But if it’s edible, Avery’s Produce will definitely put a box on their table, even if only a handful exists. A quick chat with Avery reveals that no, they’re not anemic Brussels sprouts but rather baby cabbages that he calls “second growths,” sprouted spontaneously in the abnormal rain and cool weather after the larger heads were cut.
Standing at this fork in the road—do I treat them like cabbage and make slaw or cook them like Brussels sprouts?—the decision was easy. Let’s split and grill ’em, then dress to mitigate potential bitterness with my go-to Brussels sprout honey-mustard-shallot-olive vinaigrette. I tossed them with olive oil and salt and put them in a grill basket over direct medium-high heat; they were ready in just a few minutes, shaking now and then to roll them around.
And surprise, surprise, they were quite sweet, even in the spots where they were charred. (So Brussels sprouts aren’t little cabbages after all.) I changed gears and went with more olive oil, white balsamic vinegar—to play on the sweetness—and handfuls of chopped dill and chives from the garden. The resulting warm salad was the most memorable farmers’ market dish of the summer. Until now. I’ve still got a couple months of Saturday early bird specials left to go.
By Pam Hoenig
Photos by Pam Hoenig
It seems like months ago but I spent last week on vacation on Point Judith in Rhode Island. This is our fourth year renting the same lovely house with our good friends Dolores and Steve, who are always up for my culinary explorations. Last year it was grilling cheeses, this year it was Eisenhower steak.
Setting perfectly good meat right on blazing hot coals was apparently Ike’s favorite way to grill steak.
I’ve always had serious qualms about this technique. How could it possibly not end up a burnt mess? Vacation seemed like the perfect time to try. I found three gorgeous strip loin steaks, each just over a pound and a little more than one inch thick. I blotted them dry, then seasoned with salt and pepper.
For us, cooking dinner on vacation ends up being a late night affair, after lingering at the beach and enjoying cocktails in the backyard while we chat about the day and watch the sun set over the water. By the time I went out to build the fire, it was pitch black. But soon I had a blazing fire going and into the flames went the steaks. Six minutes on each side, out they came. Five-minute rest and they were perfectly medium rare, with a delicious char crust, the flavor unlike anything I had ever gotten cooking above the fire.
If you want to try this, a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Use hardwood charcoal (or hardwood burned down to coals, if you have the patience): Your food will be sitting right on the fuel.
- You want your steaks to lay flat on the coals, so make sure your fire is big enough to accommodate the number of steaks you are cooking.
- You want a hot fire. Even though you blot the steaks dry, they still contain moisture, which can tamp down the fire. If you let the fire get a little past prime or haven’t made it big enough, your steaks might take a bit longer to cook.
So why don’t the steaks just don’t catch fire? My theory is that because they’re right up against the coals, there is less airflow, which keeps the melting fat from lighting up like a firecracker.
One final warning: When you turn the steaks, pieces of charcoal tend to stick to them. Just pull them off with tongs and be sure you don’t take one into the house with you by mistake or drop one into dry grass.
And if you don’t have a chance to sit by a campfire this summer, you can always enjoy this Virtual Campfire GIF of my strip steaks sizzling away.
Photo by Emily Stephenson
I was very fortunate to escape New York City for the summer, and I’ve been cooking in a minimally furnished house in the woods. It’s wonderful. But there is a downside: finding good-quality food.
The town I’m in has a deli, with little fresh produce, and the nearest grocery store is an international goliath with spotty quality (it’s also 13 miles away). So I’ve gotten into the habit of planning my week around farmers’ markets (generally at least 45 minutes away) and making do with the dry goods I hauled up with me.
It’s forced me to be creative, though there have been some weird meals I’m glad I didn’t have to serve to anyone other than myself. Things had gotten a little desperate before my farmers’ market run today. Thankfully, I was saved from any further experiments by a friend who had me over for dinner, though she also hadn’t gone shopping and was making do with what she had on hand.
She had some frozen pizza dough she let proof while the oven heated up. She had a lemon and two onions, and thinly sliced both to put on the pizza. She has a garden, which yielded up a couple ripe tomatoes and plenty of fresh basil, so we sliced those up too. We didn’t have any cheese, so she whisked some chopped chives from the garden into crème fraiche and generously spread that on the crust as the sauce.
It was delicious, and so adaptable to any bare fridge scenarios: you could use cream, sour cream, or mascarpone for the sauce, and any bits of herbs you have lying around. The lemons and onions were delicious, and something you are likely to have at home. The sliced tomatoes were lovely but it would have still been tasty without them. It got me excited for a few more weeks of very improvised meals.
– Emily Stephenson
Photo by Emily Stephenson
Inspired by recipe testing we’ve been doing, summer, and not wanting to turn on the oven, I made my first cake on the grill, with great success.
I used the Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe in How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, subbing 2 cups pitted cherries for the pineapple. The batter came together in less than two minutes; I poured it over the brown sugar and cherries scattered over the bottom of a cast iron skillet, and I carried it up to the rooftop, where our barbecue was taking place.
We were using a standard Weber kettle grill, the one pretty much everyone has owned at some point. I tried to wait until the coals had ashed over, but I got impatient and put the skillet directly over the fire before it had hit its peak hotness. (Next time I’ll wait until the coals are fully “ready.”) I closed the lid and cooked it for 15 minutes, then checked on it; it was nowhere near ready, so I closed the lid and set my timer for 10 minutes. When I checked again, I’d say the cake was just slightly overdone, but I had been enjoying myself for those extra 10 minutes and I figured no one would notice.
They did not. The fruit mixture was bubbling around the edges and the crust was crisp and smoky. I flipped it out of the skillet onto a cake plate and let it rest while we cooked and ate the rest of our dinner (also cooked on the grill). In the end, it was the cake everyone was most impressed with. I’m now inspired to grill all my summer desserts: It’s easy, practical (you can do it while the grill is heating up), and delivers impressive results.
– Emily Stephenson