Category Archives: Cool Cooking Techniques

Ingenious English Muffin Bread — Made In a Microwave

Yes, I made this bread in a microwave. How cool is that?

Sometimes the best things in life happen by complete accident.

Take my discovery of this amazing recipe for “English Muffin Bread” that’s “baked” in your microwave in mere minutes. I kid you not.

A month ago, Rebecca from New Hampshire, emailed me out of the blue, frantically searching for this recipe by cookbook author Lora Brody. She’d made it before, loved it, but couldn’t for the life of her lay her hands on it again at the moment. So, she did what we all do: She Google’d it. The search engine returned a link to where she could find it: FoodGal.com. Trouble is I not only didn’t have that recipe on my blog, but I’d never even heard of it. Go figure.

After she and I exchanged perplexed emails, Rebecca eventually found the recipe again in Brody’s cookbook, “The New England Table” (Chronicle Books), and sent me a copy. It’s adapted from a James Beard recipe.

And it’s a marvel.

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Make Room For Smoked Meat Loaf

Getting ready to smoke the meatloaf with plenty of hickory.

Sure, you’ve baked many a meat loaf. But have you ever smoked one — over hickory chips no less?

It may spoil you for any other version.

A beguiling smoky, woodsy flavor permeates this very moist “Slow-Smoked Barbecued Meat Loaf” from “Cooking My Way Back Home” (Ten Speed Press) cookbook, of which I received a review copy late last year. The cookbook is by Mitchell Rosenthal, co-owner and executive chef of three San Francisco restaurants: Town Hall, Salt House, and Anchor and Hope. The book features more than 100 hearty, Southern-inspired dishes from those restaurants.

This is one flavorful meatloaf, as the mixture of ground beef, pork and veal is suffused with your favorite barbecue sauce, Dijon mustard, grated Parmesan and a spice mixture that includes cayenne, paprika, cumin, coriander, oregano, celery salt and dry mustard.

Meat loaf that's as good as it gets.

The meat loaf can be cooked either inside a loaf pan or on top of a sheet pan. The latter will expose it to more of that lovely smoke, so that’s the method I chose.

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A Crust That’s Flaky In More Ways than One

A perfect holiday dessert with the perfect -- and crazy -- crust.

We’ve all learned that to make the perfect, flaky crust, you need cold butter, cool hands and a resulting dough that must be chilled before it’s baked.

Now, take those techniques that you’ve labored to master all these years — and throw them out the window.

Because here’s a supremely flaky crust that breaks all those rules.

It’s made with boiling hot butter that’s mixed with flour to form a dough that you press — while still warm — into your pan before baking.

How crazy is that?

It’s almost embarrassingly easy and pretty fool-proof. And it produces a crust that would rival any at a fancy patisserie.

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Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Inventive Take on Butternut Squash

A drizzle of balsamic vinegar makes magic in this butternut squash dish.

Cutting up a hard winter squash like butternut can be a rather cumbersome chore.

But leave it to esteemed New York Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to devise a dish that does away with that unwieldy step.

Vongerichten’s “Butternut Squash with Balsamic and Chile Panko Crumbs” is made by cooking a whole butternut squash in a big pot of boiling water until tender, about 45 minutes.

In this recipe from his newest cookbook, “Home Cooking with Jean-Georges” (Clarkson Potter), of which I recently received a review copy, he jokes that he came up with this surefire method one night when he was cooking at home, but wanted to watch a movie with his kids uninterrupted.

After all, Vongerichten’s flagship Jean Georges restaurant may be only one of six in the country to garner three Michelin stars, but this is also a chef who likes to cook and entertain at home. The book includes 100 recipes of family favorites that he likes to make at his country home in Waccabuc, New York. Think everything from “Portobello Parmesan Sandwiches with Rosemary Mayonnaise” to “Pork Chops with Cherry Mustard” to “Apricot Frangipane Tart.”

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Stewing About Weather

OK, it’s nearly summer and I’m still making stew.

What gives?

Hey, I wasn’t the one that ordered up last week’s crazy, uncharacteristic rainstorm in the Bay Area. Is it global warming? A freak occurrence that doesn’t mean anything? Or?

I like to think of it as Mother Nature’s way of telling me there’s still a little time left to enjoy one of my favorite methods of cooking — braising hearty vegetables with a tough, economical cut of meat in  one big ol’ pot on the stove or in the oven until they all turn tender and irresistible.

When I get the hankering for great stew, I often turn to “Braises and Stews” (Chronicle Books) by San Francisco food writer Tori Ritchie. It’s loaded with comforting dishes that are simple to prepare. Best yet, Ritchie’s renditions often take a little less time than other, standard versions found elsewhere.

Her “Harvest Pork Stew with Pumpkin” is a fall dish, to be sure. I changed it up to “Pork Stew with Kabocha” because I love the sweet, nutty, starchy Japanese squash enough to eat it practically year-round. You probably do, too, as it’s a standard in restaurant tempura.

By the way, a great tip to make cutting up a hard kabocha a little easier? Microwave the whole squash for a minute or so until the nearly impenetrable exterior softens enough so that you can get a cleaver or tip of a sharp, heavy-duty chef’s knife into it without much trouble.

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