Posted in Cooking & Eating

My New Favorite Cookbook

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A year ago, I had no idea who Johnny Iuzzini was. Then I saw him as a judge on The Great American Baking Show (the US version of The Great British Baking Show, nee The Great British Bake Off). Okay, I still didn’t know who he was, but he seemed to be knowledgeable and he was pretty cute and worked well alongside my beloved Mary Berry. And then a few days ago I was at Barnes and Noble, browsing the cookbook aisle (as I so often do), looking for a baking book that was not just a compendium of recipes but something of a baker’s text. I thought I wouldn’t find one (how many books can people publish that are just a bunch of recipes for cookies?) but then the title caught my eye and lo! A cookbook by Johnny Iuzzini. And not only that, a teaching cookbook by Johnny Iuzzini. With tips and ideas and recipes I actually hadn’t heard before. Things that made me go, “OoooOoOooOh!” and run to the kitchen to try them. Things that make scientific sense despite their contrast to conventional wisdom. Plus quite a few recipes using tarragon. I LOVE tarragon.

I’ve only made one recipe out of the book so far–Spreadable Caramel–and several of his techniques within other recipes. And oh my god. If you’re a baker, you really need this book.

 

 

Posted in Cooking & Eating

Potato “Lasagna” and the Art of Using Your Groceries

greek-potato.standard-460x345Sometimes, I buy a bag of potatoes at the grocery store for no reason. I mean, obviously they’re for eating (or making potato batteries, potato stamps, or unscrewing a broken light bulb), but I buy them without any particular recipe in mind. Sometimes we blow through them. Baked potatoes make great lunches. Potato salad is one of the eight recipes my husband likes to make. But other times, they sit in the cupboard and wait. And wait and wait and wait. Eventually, I find myself scrambling to make something with five pounds of potatoes before they rot.

That was me yesterday. Plus I had a half-used tub of ricotta and a half-shredded ball of mozzarella. Marinara in the pantry. Half a wedge of Parmesan. About ten minutes later (maybe twenty, since the baby woke up from her nap halfway through and I had to do much of the layering with a cranky kid on my hip–a chunk of Parmesan rind makes a tasty and effective teething toy, by the way) I’d sliced about two pounds of potatoes with my Japanese mandolin and assembled something like a lasagna.

It was delicious. Even my kids thought so. Cheese, potatoes, tomato sauce–what’s not to like? And it was one of those dishes I felt kind of proud about, even though it took minimal effort, because I managed to cook something before it went bad. In this case, a couple somethings.

When I first learned to cook, I wasted a lot of food because after I’d used a cup or a tablespoon for a recipe, I didn’t know what to do with the rest. I often tried. Say I had half a pineapple left from making pork and pineapple kebabs. I’d go online and find a recipe to use it up (pineapple salsa!) and then end up with leftover cilantro, which I’d put into rogan josh, which would leave me with a chunk of fresh ginger, unless of course I had a chunk left from marinating those kebabs and was smart enough to peel it and put it in the freezer. But mostly, I’d stare at the pineapple for days thinking I should use that every time I grabbed a carrot from the crisper until it turned to a sweet-smelling mush. Or it would be the cilantro that got left behind, especially since I was and am useless at remembering those final fresh herb mix-ins or garnishes. I had a hard time keeping up. And while I definitely felt guilty about the waste (did you know that in America, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted?), I also lamented my inability to improvise. Continue reading “Potato “Lasagna” and the Art of Using Your Groceries”

Posted in Cooking & Eating

You Are What You Eat, and Other Reasons I’m Giving Up Deep Frying

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Trash can nachos. Need I say more?

They say that if you learn to cook for yourself, you’ll eat better. I guess I see the logic there: fewer preservatives, fewer chemicals, fresher ingredients. For people whose version of not cooking for themselves involves a lot of drive thrus, absolutely. And most people, when they learn to cook, do not go in for anything too fancy. Grill a piece of chicken, boil some pasta, steam a vegetable. Healthier than a Big Mac, a Hot Pocket, even a Lean Cuisine.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all stopped there? If we only learned to grill our chicken and not make a cream sauce for the top? If the pasta weren’t served alfredo, the vegetables coated in cheese? At least if it’s real cheese it’s better than processed cheese food. But then, for some of us, this culinary acquisition keeps going. We learn to bake. We learn to make candy. We learn to deep fry. Continue reading “You Are What You Eat, and Other Reasons I’m Giving Up Deep Frying”

Posted in Cooking & Eating

Heart-Shaped Everything

love-of-food-greenIn case you’ve forgotten, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day (or, if you prefer, Anna Howard Shaw Day). Which means, if you’ve got a Valentine (or children), you’ve got to do something romantic/lovey/heart-shaped. Unless you don’t celebrate, which is cool. But you could always make a valentine for yourself. And what expresses love for anyone, self included, better than food?

Heart-shaped pancakes are a classic, whether you pipe the batter onto the pan or just cut round cakes with a heart-shaped cutter. You an also take the cutter to toast, sandwiches, quesadillas, sliced fruit and vegetables–you can even use it to fry a heart-shaped egg. This year, I decided to use mine to do something different. You see, every week I make a batch of homemade English muffins for the boy, who consumes one every morning without fail, and I usually shape them by using a biscuit cutter. So this time I made some heart-shaped. I also decided to play with the idea of a heart-shaped donut, but instead of using regular dough, I thought I’d make a cruller, which is fried pâte à choux. I was able to pipe a heart onto a square of parchment paper, then throw the whole thing (parchment and all) into the oil, so it would retain its shape when fried. They turned out pretty well. See?

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Of course, when Valentine’s morning comes, I doubt I’ll be dragging my butt out of bed early enough to make anything so labor intensive (you really want them fresh), so I’ll probably go with the heart-shaped egg and toast thing. Though my husband is never hungry when he first gets up in the morning and usually eats his breakfast at work. Good thing I still have some heart-shaped English muffins. I’ll send one along in his lunch box, I guess. And then maybe for dinner I’ll make a heart-shaped pizza.

Posted in Cooking & Eating, Reading & Writing

He Calls it FOOD: A LOVE STORY. We Call it HOT DOG! DADDY!

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Every time I read a chapter, my kids demanded hot dogs for dinner.

By his own admission, Jim Gaffigan has an unhealthy relationship with food. I don’t just mean that his eating habits are unhealthy. Well–look at the cover of his book. Food is less a vital element of Jim’s survival. It’s more of a lover. This isn’t all that uncommon, especially among Americans–there are some statistics somewhere in the book about how many Americans consider their relationship with food unhealthy, though since it’s a book by a comedian I automatically assume they’re made up. Some people’s relationship with food is on-again, off-again. Some are ashamed of their partner and keep the relationship behind closed doors. Jim has a less typical problem with his paramour. He’s clearly completely in love, head over heels, even willing to forgive glaring character faults (e.g. vegetables) but he just can’t admit it. Not fully, anyway. Continue reading “He Calls it FOOD: A LOVE STORY. We Call it HOT DOG! DADDY!”

Posted in Cooking & Eating

National Croissant Day

Today is National Croissant Day. I know that because Starbucks has all these signs up trying to get you to buy their croissants on National Croissant Day–some kind of deal, I don’t know. I didn’t pay that much attention. All I thought when I saw the words “National Croissant Day” was, At last! I will try my hand at making croissants!

I looked through several of my cookbooks for a recipe and naturally, I ended up in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II. I have several books that contain recipes for complicated pastries and breads, but this was the only one that specifically addressed the croissant: a bread almost nobody ever makes at home. Because why would you? The bakeries have it down. Plus, they take approximately twelve hours to make. At least, that’s what Julia’s recipe tells you. Continue reading “National Croissant Day”

Posted in Cooking & Eating, Friends & Family

Undercover Vegetables

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I am not cool enough to have taken this picture myself. It’s from an awesome blog I discovered while Googling smoothies (which you should totally visit so I don’t feel like a rat borrowing this picture): http://www.thermomama.com.au

If you know me personally, especially if you are a mom, you’ve heard me talk about smoothies. Green smoothies, purple smoothies, orange smoothies–in our house, we love them. The boy especially loves them. And when the girl finally decides to take a sip of one (I usually pour her a few tablespoons and she carries the cup around the house, shaking it, toppling it, and generally threatening the upholstery), I’m sure she’ll love them, too. Continue reading “Undercover Vegetables”