What Cooking Questions Do You Have?

Photo by Romulo Yanes

Every week, home cooks send me a steady steam of troubleshooting questions to my general inbox. Recent questions have included:

“Why is my mayonnaise runny?”
Answer: either you’re adding the oil too fast and it never emulsified, or it broke—both of which will inhibit proper thickening. Either way, start with a new egg, and use the not-emulsified earlier attempt in place of oil. It’ll wind up super-rich. See HTCE, pages 41-42.

“What’s the difference between bread dough and pizza dough?”
Answer: Not much. Pizza dough usually has a little olive oil in it, but you can consider them interchangeable. You cook them differently, of course.

“How do I clean after cooking?”
Answer: With patience, care, and a light heart.

My team and I would like to answer your cooking questions here on markbittman.com, because chances are if you have a question, others do, too. Send ‘em along, either by leaving them in the comments, or by writing us at mark@markbittman.com.

Posted in Behind The Scenes

Improvising Soup

Text and photo by Pam Hoenig

 

One of my resolutions for the new year was to make soup—lots and lots of soup.

In this penultimate week of January, I’m happy to say this is one resolution I’m actually keeping. Over the weekend, pea soup was on the docket. I’ve only made pea soup as a postscript to baked ham, cooking the split peas with the leftover bone, then shredding the meat clinging to it into the finished soup.

This time the peas lead the charge. To provide the requisite hammy-ness, I bought a one-pound ham steak and seared it well in the soup pot before starting, then took it out; that left a lot of browned bits stuck to the bottom. In went one chopped onion and two chopped carrots, which I sautéed in a couple tablespoons of oil just until softened, followed by a pound of split peas, stirred until they were coated with the oil and veggies. Continue reading

Posted in Behind The Scenes

Clean as You Go

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

Posted in Behind The Scenes

Smokin’ Good Spaghetti Squash

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

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Grilling, Produce

I MADE FRESH PASTA!

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

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Italian

Smoke Your Own: The Cheese Edition

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

Posted in Behind The Scenes

Doggie Bag Dinner

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

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Italian

A Weekend in Des Moines

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

Posted in American, Behind The Scenes, Travel

Cabbage Sprouts

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.

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Produce

Campfire Cooking: Eisenhower Steak

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:

  1. Use hardwood charcoal (or hardwood burned down to coals, if you have the patience): Your food will be sitting right on the fuel.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Posted in American, Behind The Scenes