Category Archives: Cool Cooking Techniques

Knives Out — For Fanciful Carrots

Carrots that make you sit up and take notice.
Carrots that make you sit up and take notice.

Get that sharp chef’s knife at the ready — for hasselback carrots.

Yes, the technique that’s all the rage for potatoes can be used just as easily on carrots.

“Hasselback Carrots with Pimenton and Roasted Lemon” is a recipe from the new “Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food” (Harper Wave), of which I received a review copy.

It’s the newest cookbook by the ever-popular Julia Turshen, the New York-based veteran cookbook author, and host of the podcast “Keep Calm and Cook On.”

The book includes 110 recipes that are accessible and far from fussy, such as “Fancy Weeknight Salmon Salad,” “Sheet Pan Lamb Meatballs with Sweet & Sour Eggplant,” “Breakfast Nachos,” and “Coconut Marble Loaf.”

Turshen also includes her trademark lists, such as “Five Things That Are Always in My Refrigerator” (such as kimchi), “Seven Kitchen Organizational Tips” (including the use of turntables in cupboards and refrigerators), and “Seven Ways to Use Left Over Egg Whites or Egg Yolks” (like using extra whites to make spiced nuts).

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Shaved Asparagus Salad with Asparagus Buttermilk Dressing and Pickled Asparagus Tips

Asparagus shines three ways in this composed salad.
Asparagus shines three ways in this composed salad.

With his trademark crisp white shirt, Christmas-red bow tie, and denim overalls that he’s never without (not even at the black-tie Jame Beard Awards), Farmer Lee Jones is a larger-than-life character.

But he is no caricature.

He is the real deal.

When his family nearly lost its soy bean and corn farm in Ohio during the 1980’s economic downturn, he managed to save it by taking a gamble to transform it.

Instead of growing feed crops like soybeans and corn, he downsized to nurture obscure specialty herbs, fruits and vegetables after a chance meeting with a chef looking for someone to grow squash blossoms.

Today, the small, sustainable Chef’s Garden is revered by chefs nationwide, including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jose Andres. It’s this farm that we have to thank for the whole microgreens movement. During the pandemic, the farm adapted to changing times once again, offering delivery of its produce to consumers so that Jones wouldn’t have to lay off any employees, despite its main customer base, restaurants, ordering far less because of curtailed operations.

Jones’ story is captured in “The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables–with Recipes” (Avery), of which I received a review copy. Written by Jones with Kristin Donnelly, former food editor at Food & Wine magazine, this lavishly photographed 240-page book is not only packed with recipes, but detailed information about selecting, storing, cleaning and using a wealth of produce. The book hones in on both the familiar and the esoteric, from ramps, hearts of palm, and bamboo shoots to amaranth, arrowhead root, and crystal lettuces.

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Milk Bar’s French Toast Muffins

All the wonderfulness of French toast -- in a convenient muffin form.
All the wonderfulness of French toast — in a convenient muffin form.

I love this delectable Christina Tosi recipe for “French Toast Muffins” for so many reasons:

  1. It lets you make a load of “French toast” in one fell swoop.
  2. It is a genius use of all those odds and ends of various bread loaves on the verge of freezer-burn at home.
  3. It’s easy enough for kiddos to do, making it an ideal way to spoil mom with breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. In fact, it’s featured in the “Milk Bar: Kids Only” cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2020), of which I received a review copy.

You probably know Pastry Chef Tosi as the founder and owner of the phenomenon known as Milk Bar bakery, as well as for her judging prowess on TV’s “MasterChef.”

Her creations at Milk Bar are beloved for their nostalgic effervescence and joyous kid-like appeal. So, a cookbook like this is a natural. It’s sure to entice kids into the kitchen with recipes such as “Coco Cabana Cereal Squares,” “Compost Pancakes,” “Donut Shakes,” and “Corn Dog Waffles.”

She even instructs how to judge if baked goods are done, by employing cocktail umbrella toothpicks to demonstrate, as well as trouble-shoots problems such as cupcakes or muffins sinking in the middle (You’re opening and closing the oven too much.).

For “French Toast Muffins,” you rip up bread slices into small pieces “as if you were feeding ducks in the park.” (One of the best recipe directions I’ve ever read, by the way.)

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Chef Sheldon Simeon’s Hack For Homemade Chow Fun Noodles With A Microwave

A soul-satisfying plate of chow fun — with fresh, chewy noodles made in the microwave.

Maui’s Chef Sheldon Simeon is many things:

The owner of the lovable, guava-sized Tin Roof Hawaiian eatery. A devoted husband and dad. A “Top Chef” finalist and two-time “Fan Favorite.” And what I like to call, the MacGyver of chefs.

There was the time when I dined at one of his previous restaurants, when he talked about how he and a line cook came up with a way to cook perfect pork belly — in Hot Pockets sleeves, of all things.

Then, there was the time when a table of chefs fell silent and began madly typing notes into their phone, when Simeon let slip that he makes his own chow fun noodles and generously began sharing the recipe just like that.

So when I spied that chow fun recipe in his debut cookbook, “Cook Real Hawai’i” (Clarkson Potter), I knew I had to make it. The book was written with Garret Snyder, a former Los Angeles Times food writer.

Through 100 recipes, Simeon gives you a taste of today’s Hawaii, mixing tradition with fun spins that amplify the unique cross-cultural blend of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Filipino and native Hawaiian flavors that makes this cuisine so mouthwatering. Along the way, you get to know him, too, from how his grandpa left the Philippines at age 18 to work on a sugar plantation in Hawaii to how Simeon slyly fed the tired and hungry camera crew of “Top Chef” with his Spam musubi.

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A New Favorite: Chicken with Caramelized Onions and Croutons

A "no-recipe'' recipe of crispy-skin chicken on a bed of caramelized onions and shallots, with arugula and home-made croutons.
A “no-recipe” recipe of crispy-skin chicken on a bed of caramelized onions and shallots, with arugula and home-made croutons.

If you were to spy a recipe that offered merely a list of ingredients — without any precise measurements for the most part — along with no specified number of servings, and only one paragraph of instructions, would you:

A. Be petrified.

B. Rejoice in its invitation to let loose and improvise.

C. Consider it a gimmick.

Now, imagine an entire cookbook like that, and you have “The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes” (Ten Speed Press). It’s by Sam Sifton, the founding editor of New York Times Cooking.

As a cookbook writer, myself, who’s always had it drilled into her to be as specific as possible when writing or editing recipes, this cookbook initially gave me pause. With its tack that less is actually more when it comes to recipe verbiage, I wondered: Would novice cooks would find this style off-putting and too intimidating? And would experienced cooks give the book a pass, assuming the recipes must be far too easy or mundane to accommodate such a truncated style?

It pays to approach this book with an open mind. Whether you’re just learning to cook or already a decent home-cook, you’re sure to find new, inspired ways — as streamlined as they might be — to get dinner on the table. What this book does is encourage you to trust your instincts more, to be less rigid in the way you cook, and to be more imaginative in scouring your pantry for substitute ingredients when need be. And in a pandemic year, which has seen grocery shelves decimated at times, that’s an invaluable skill to possess.

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