Category Archives: Cool Cooking Techniques

Way More Than A Grain of Salt

Salt in the form of fish sauce adds umami to these easy kebabs.
Salt in the form of fish sauce adds umami to these easy kebabs.

Anyone who knows me knows that I gravitate to the sweet.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy and appreciate the salty.

After all, salt is one of the most essential ingredients in cooking. It boosts flavor and balances tastes. It can add moisture; and leech out excess liquid to firm up textures. It can also preserve and ferment.

For a real appreciation of all the forms that salt take and what they can do just pick up a copy of “The Miracle of Salt” (Artisan, 2022).

This comprehensive book is by Naomi Duguid, a writer, photographer and world traveler who has made a career out of immersing herself completely in the traditions and cultures of various foodstuffs in her award-winning cookbooks.

This fascinating book looks at how salt is harvested around the world, from Japan to Ethiopia to Gujarat in India. You’ll learn how to use salt in new ways, such as to make your own “Red Miso” from scratch and “Quick Salted Egg Yolks” that can be grated over pasta like bottarga.

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Time to Warm Up With Adaptable Winter Squash and White Bean Soup

An easy soup with surprising depth of flavor.
An easy soup with surprising depth of flavor.

If this isn’t soup weather, I don’t know what is.

Between the hail, frost, snow-dusted city streets, and astonishing videos of people cross-country skiing through white-covered Wine Country vineyards, I feel like I need to pile on every wool sweater and down coat that I own just to walk out my front door.

The time is right to quash that chill — with squash.

With “Winter Squash and White Bean Soup” to be exact.

This hearty, velvety and nourishing soup recipe is from “The Complete Modern Pantry” (2022), of which I received a review copy, by America’s Test Kitchen.

This handy-dandy book features more than 350 recipes and tips to teach how to better cook from your pantry, as well as recommendations for ingredients to always keep on hand.

What I especially love about this book is that each recipe features a specific “pantry improv,” so if you don’t have a certain ingredient on hand, there’s a suggested alternative. For “Bucatini with Peas, Kale, and Pancetta,” for instance, you can sub in spinach in place of the kale, and frozen fava beans or edamame for the peas. For “Skillet-Roasted Carrots with Spicy Maple Bread Crumbs,” use honey or agave syrup for the called-for maple syrup or let parsnips stand in for the carrots. For “Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken,” feel free to mix it up and use pork tenderloin instead. And for “Tahini-Banana Snack Cake,” peanut butter or sesame paste can replace the tahini.

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A Different Kind of Alfredo

An Alfredo that's not exactly what you think it is.
An Alfredo that’s not exactly what you think it is.

Imagine your favorite creamy, cheesy Alfredo — but without any wheat, gluten or even fuss.

And with very few carbs.

In fact, this Alfredo comes together so fast, it’s practically done once you boil a pot of water.

That’s because this is “Enoki Alfredo.”

Yes, this clever one-pot recipe substitutes the usual long strands of pasta for the skinny-stemmed, tiny-capped white mushrooms instead.

It’s from “Cooking with Mushrooms” (Artisan, 2022), of which I received a review copy, the first cookbook by Andrea Gentl, an award-winning food and travel photographer.

The informative book includes a primer on mushroom varieties, including how best to use them, as well as their nutritional properties, along with advice for shopping, storing, cleaning, and prepping them. There’s even a section on how to grow your own mushrooms.

Nearly 100 recipes, for both fresh and dried mushrooms, are included. They are certain to broaden your horizons when it comes to enjoying them, too. Wrap your head around “Mushroom Jerky,” Mushroom Rose Cardamom Rye Granola,” “Crispy Rack of Oyster Mushroom,” “Mezcal Mushroom Margarita,” and “Coconut Dark Chocolate Porcini Pots de Creme.”

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Going Bonkers For Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Dipping Sauce

Your new favorite way to enjoy tofu.
Your new favorite way to enjoy tofu.

“This is like fried chicken!”

That was the startling remark my husband exclaimed upon digging into “Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Dipping Sauce.”

And if you know his nickname is Meat Boy, then you know that is truly saying something about this entirely plant-based dish.

Crispy as can be, these pan-fried, sesame seed-coated planks of tofu get dunked into a spicy, garlicky sauce for a dish so addictive that even those wishy-washy about tofu will clamor for seconds and thirds.

This fabulous recipe is from “The Woks of Life” (Clarkson Potter, 2022), of which I received a review copy.

It’s the first cookbook by Bill, Judy, Sarah, and Kaitlin Leung, the New Jersey family who shot to fame with their eponymous The Woks of Life blog. It started out in 2013 as simply a personal way for them to document their family history through food. It has since turned into a sensation, growing into the most popular online English-language resource for Chinese cooking.

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Oat Rolls — With A Touch of Honey

Oatmeal porridge, honey, and a preferment give these tender rolls sweetness and lovely developed flavor.
Oatmeal porridge, honey, and a preferment give these tender rolls sweetness and lovely developed flavor.

Admittedly, I have a problem with commitment.

Only when it comes to bread making, that is.

During the pandemic, when everyone who was anyone was fussing over their sourdough starter like a new puppy, I was not.

I just couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger to tend to a starter that needed caring, feeding, and coddling, day in and day out. After all, I already had a husband who needed all of that. (Kidding, sort of.)

So, when it comes to my sporadic bread baking, I rely on packaged dry yeast instead, which is convenient enough to buy at any supermarket and to keep handy in my fridge when the urge strikes.

But along comes 2019 James Beard Award-winning “Outstanding Baker” and head baker at Chicago’s Publican Quality Bread bakery, Greg Wade, who shows how to combine both dry yeast and a preferment for even better results, as evidenced in his recipe for sensational “Oat Rolls.”

It’s all in his new cookbook, “Bread Head” (W.W. Norton), of which I received a review copy. It was written with St. Louis book collaborator Rachel Holtzman.

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