Category Archives: Cool Cooking Techniques

Shio Koji-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

A hot oven and a rub of shio koji all over the leaves gives these Brussels sprouts extra flavor and crispiness.
A hot oven and a rub of shio koji all over the leaves gives these Brussels sprouts extra flavor and crispiness.

Have you discovered shio koji, the darling ingredient of so many chefs?

Maybe you’ve spotted it at a Japanese store, given it a quizzical look, then moved on.

Next time, pick some up and get cooking.

Shio Koji is rice inoculated with a specific mold commonly used to make soy sauce and miso, then mixed with water and salt, and left to ferment.

Available in the refrigerator section of Asian markets, it comes in whole rice grains, pureed or liquid.

It tastes salty, though less so than miso, with a light sweetness and a moderate pickled sharpness, as well as a slight funkiness.

If you’re wondering what to do with it, pick up a copy of the new “The Modern Larder: From Anchovies to Yuzu, a Guide to Artful and Attainable Home Cooking” (Roost Books), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by Michelle McKenzie, a food writer and professional cook who was formerly the program director and chef at 18 Reasons, a non-profit community cooking school in San Francisco founded by Bi-Rite Market.

This marvelous book will introduce you to 58 ingredients, some familiar and some less so, and show you ingenious ways to use them through more than 260 recipes.

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Almond Cake With Italian Meringue Buttercream — Aka My Wedding Cake

A simplified version of my incredible wedding cake.
A simplified version of my incredible wedding cake.

When I wed years ago, the dress, the setting, and the food were of utmost importance, of course.

But what was absolutely paramount was the cake.

After all, with my enormous sweet tooth known far and wide, my family and friends fully expected a wedding cake to remember.

I am happy to report they were not disappointed in the least.

Just how unforgettable was this moist almond cake adorned with the silkiest Italian meringue? With nary an ounce of shame, many of the guests will attest that they indulged in not one, not two, but even three slices that evening.

Leftover cake? I was lucky to claim just the top tier as my own. Every other piece was devoured.

And if you think I tucked that top away for a year to languish in my freezer, forget about it. I took it to my parents’ house the very next day, where my family, new husband, and I demolished it with gusto. Moreover, when Mother’s Day rolled around the next year, I had the baker who made it recreate it in a smaller size to give to my mom because that’s just how good it is.

One for the ages, if there ever was one, this cake was made by professional baker Nancy Kux, who used to own Nancy’s Fancies in San Carlos. I had sampled quite a few cakes from other bakers. But none had us scraping the box for every last crumb and lick of frosting like hers did.

My actual wedding cake was four tiers. This is a home-version that's two layers.
My actual wedding cake was four tiers. This is a home-version that’s two layers.

This is not a light, fluffy, airy cake, but one that has a little more heft to it. It is buttery, tender, and full of almond flavor. It stays moist for quite a while, too, whether you store it in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze for a couple of months. As one wedding guest swooned about its Italian meringue buttercream: “This is better than whipped cream!” Indeed, it is. When enjoyed at room temperature, it softens like butter on the tongue, leaving behind a caress of sweetness.

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You Need Char Siu Yams In Your Life

Grilled sweet potato wedges that taste just like Chinese barbecued pork. Who can resist?
Grilled sweet potato wedges that taste just like Chinese barbecued pork. Who can resist?

Imagine the smoky, sweet, star-anise warmth of everyone’s favorite Chinese barbecued pork.

Now, consider those same devilishly delightful flavors enveloping sweet potatoes instead.

That’s exactly what’s in store for your taste buds with “Char Siu Yams.”

This clever, addictive recipe is from “How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables over Live Fire” (Workman Publishing) by one of America’s great grill meisters, Steven Raichlen.

In his myriad of grilling cookbooks, Raichlen has always included vegetables. But this book, of which I received a review copy, represents the first time he’s put the entire focus on them.

Learn how to grill, wood-smoke, cedar-plank, hay-smoke, and fire-blister veggies to add flavor and depth. The recipes span the gamut from “Smoked Hummus with Sesame Grilled Pita Chips,” “Rotisserie Brussels Sprouts with Turmeric Oil and Curry Leaves,” and “Nashville Hot Cauliflower” to “Cedar-Planked Eggplant Parmigiana,” ” Smoked Deviled Eggs with Wasabi,” and “Hasselback Apples Grilled on Cedar Planks.”

To make “Char Siu Yams,” you’ll need a disposable aluminum foil pan, plus wood chunks or wood chips (pre-soaked) for even more smoky flavor.

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Get Your Fun On With Toad-In-A-Hole Sheet-Pan Kimchi Hash Browns

A novel version of toad-in-a-hole.
A novel version of toad-in-a-hole.

In the United States, it’s the childhood favorite of an egg cooked inside the cut-out-center of a bread slice. In the United Kingdom, it’s the homey dish of stubby sausages baked in airy Yorkshire pudding batter.

Now comes the creative minds of America’s Test Kitchen re-imagining toad-in-a-hole as a big ol’ pan of sunny side-up eggs nestled in a raft of hash browns and kimchi.

How marvelous does that sound!

Best yet, it’s from the new cookbook entitled, Five-Ingredient Dinners: 100+ Fast, Flavorful Meals” (America’s Test Kitchen), of which I received a review copy, meaning it takes few ingredients and little time to actually put together.

The cookbook includes more than 100 recipes for complete meals that are sure to spark the appetite, such as “Steak with Shichimi Togarashi Charred Cabbage Salad,” “Chipotle Shrimp Risotto,” “Grilled Garam Masala Chicken, Tomatoes, and Naan with Chutney” and “Chili-Crisp Steak with Rice Noodles.”

Like most five-ingredient cookbooks, this one does take some liberties, most notably not counting staple ingredients, which would then put the count over. That’s why with each recipe, you’ll see a box labeled “Staple Ingredients” that you’ll also need, including salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil or unsalted butter.

“Toad-in-a-Hole Sheet-Pan Kimchi Hash Browns” was simply too much fun to pass up making.

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Roasted Romanesco with Pistachios and Fried Caper Vinaigrette

Par-boiling before roasting results in deeply bronzed and crisp Romanesco halves.
Par-boiling before roasting results in deeply bronzed and crisp Romanesco halves.

It’s easy to be in awe of “Top Chef Canada” host Eden Grinshpan.

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in London, she didn’t parlay that into a stint at any fancy restaurant. Instead, she went to volunteer at an orphanage in India, where she reopened a cafe to raise money and awareness about the children there.

Upon returning to New York, she co-created a Cooking Channel show, “Eden Eats,” which explored the global culinary scene. She even partnered for a spell on a fast-casual Middle Eastern cafe, DEZ, in New York.

This year, she debuted her first cookbook, “Eating Out Loud: Bold Middle Eastern Flavors for All Day, Every Day” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy, that was written with Rachel Holtzman.

On top of all that, she also appears to have the most enviable collection of high-waist jeans around. Hey, just saying.

Of Israeli heritage, Grinshpan’s more than 100 recipes are colorful, playful, and accessible just like her personality. Middle Eastern cuisine as seen through her lens comes in such fun forms as “Sunchoke Hummus,” “Sesame Schnitzel Sandwich with Harissa Honey and Tartar Slaw,” “Sumac-Roasted Snapper with Lime Yogurt,” and “Salted Halvah Chocolate Chip Cookies.”

I can never resist crisp, charred veggies, so I zeroed in right away on “Roasted Romanesco with Pistachios and Fried Caper Sauce.”

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