Archive for the 'Cooking Tips' Category

Fastest Carrot Peeler in the Land

Monday, April 1st, 2013

6 carrots… 51 seconds… Find out how:

Cast Iron Makes a Huge Difference

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

I got some church lady pierogies this week and brought them home to cook.  I always cook lots of vegetables to go with them.  This week, it was onions, garlic, mushrooms, hot pepper, and bell peppers.  My copper-bottomed stainless steel was out and handy, so I used it.

I got about halfway through adding the vegetables into the pan and realized that it was getting a bit crowded, so I grabbed my ceramic-lined cast iron off of the pot rack (the only cast iron that hangs—the rest sit in the cupboard being so heavy that they’ve bowed the cupboard floor.  Whenever we get around to redoing the kitchen, we’re going to have to install a specially reinforced cupboard with custom-built organizational slots to accommodate my collection).  I fired up the heat under that pan and transferred about half of what was in the stainless pan to the new one once it got hot.

Even though my stainless pan was over the so-called ‘power burner’ on my stove, and even though I actually had more gas burning under it than I did my cast iron pan, the vegetables in the stainless pan were cooking but not taking on any color while the ones in the cast iron pan were taking on a beautiful caramel hue.  I wound up doing multiple transfers/ retransfers between the two pans to get all of the veg to caramleize properly.

My Standard Pierogie Vegetable Mix Recipe

Slice onions, garlic, mushrooms and peppers.  Add about a half stick of butter to a hot pan.  Once it has mostly melted, put the onions into the pan along with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste.  Cook over mediumish heat, stirring about once a minute.  Once the onions have softened and are starting to brown, add the garlic.  Cook for 1-3 minutes until it starts to brown.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have shrunk and taken on some color.  (if your pan is getting too full, divide between two pans).  Add the peppers and cook until they have softened.

One-pan instructions

Remove the cooked vegetables to a plate to hold.  Add the other half stick of butter to the pan.  Brown the pierogies in the butter, flipping just once.  When the pierogies have browned, return the vegetables tot he pan.  optional: Add chicken or vegetable stock and reduce over high heat to a sauce.

Two-pan instructions:

Put all of the vegetables in one of the pans.  Add chicken stock and reduce over medium-high heat to a sauce.  Meanwhile, add the other half stick of butter to the now-empty pan.  Brown the pierogies in here, flipping only once.  When they are browned, transfer them to the vegetable-filled pan, arranging them in an attractive radiating star pattern across the top of the pan for family-style service.

General Recipe Hint

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

If you’re like me, you don’t even follow your own recipes faithfully every time you cook them: a pinch of this here, a dash of that here; a substitution of something else because you happen to have a whole lot of it at the moment….  So what’s a cook who likes to improvise to do to keep track of the changes?

I annotate my cookbooks.

Any recipe I make, I jot down the date; the alterations made; and some notes about the results (what might I do differently next time?  or, don’t change a thing!).  Then, next time I go to cook, i don’t have to search my memory for what I might have done, because I have a note from my past self to remind me.

Building a Better Waffle through Science

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

I made some of the best peach waffles I’ve ever had the other evening.

Ok, so that boast isn’t that tough to back up (peach waffles rarely show up on menus), but these waffles were good, and in large part I credit that to putting science to work for me.  I followed my basic waffle recipe for the most part, but with these alterations:

  1. I added the zest of 1 lime to the egg whites when they were frothy.  Acid helps egg whites to hold their peaks (that’s why many meringue recipes call for cream of tartar).  The lime flavor was also a nice touch.
  2. Instead of adding the spices into the flour mixture, I melted them with the butter.  The fat-soluble flavanoids infused the butter, resulting in better flavor.
  3. I drizzled the butter into the egg yolks while whisking constantly.  The yolks emulsified the fat, so that it did not rise to the top when the milk was added.
  4. I diced a peach and added it into the batter.  I recommend getting lots of peaches as they enter peak season, slicing them, freezing them, and using them all year round so that your family can experience the taste sensation that is these waffles even in the dead of winter.

Make my waffles.  They’re f-bombingly delicious.

Burgers Worth Grilling

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

For a very long time, I have resisted the idea of grilling hamburgers.  It seemed like ground meat was a waste of my charcoal.  A visit from my parents gave me the nudge I needed to make grilling burgers a worthwhile experience.

My father told me about how he and my mother have been grilling onions to go along with their meat patties.  I figured, why not give it a shot? and added onions into my normal grilling repertoire.  That, plus making some homemade buns (recipe follows the photos) was all the nudge I needed to grill some very worthwhile beef patties.

Then, I stacked it all up on a homemade hamburger bun.

And, believe me, the final product was definitely worth my charcoal!

Here’s the recipe for the buns:


Grilling Photos

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

As it turns out, it is much easier to have someone else take photos of you cooking… doing and documenting is too much for one person to handle on his own.

Here’s most of the spread before any of it went on the grill: garlic, asparagus, crimini mushrooms, mango, bananas, coffee-spice rubbed strip steak, and summer squash.

I use hardwood lump charcoal.  It burns much hotter than briquets and it doesn’t have any of the chemicals in it that hold briquets together.  I start the charcoal in a chimney; lighter fluid doesn’t exist in my world.

The potatoes (parboiled, quartered, and coated in butter and spices) go on first, over the coals.  I need to be careful not to bring too much butter along with them else it drip and flare.  By the time I’ve finished putting the potatoes on the grill, it’s time to go back to the first potatoes put on and turn them.  They need intense attention until they’ve been flipped three times, at which point they have a beautifully caramelized exterior.  I remove them from the grill and return them to the butter and spices that remain in the pan.  They soak it up, drawing the flavor all the way in: leading to potatoes that have flavor all the way through and are ready to eat without adding any more butter or spices to them.

The strip steaks: grass fed, rubbed with kosher salt; ground chile pepper; and freshly ground coffee.  Seared over direct heat and then transferred to the indirect side of the grill to coast through to a medium rare outcome.

The garlic: whole cloves, roasted over a combination of direct and indirect heat until soft to the touch.  Let to cool, then peeled.  The whole roasted cloves have a sweetly mellow flavor that compliments everything else on the plate.

The mushrooms: crimini mushrooms, seasoned with kosher salt, ginger, new mexico chile, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper.  Cooked slowly over indirect heat.  Flipped so that both sides cook.  This method works well for mushrooms of all types.  I started grilling mushrooms like this about 11 years ago, when I mostly used button mushrooms.  I rarely use button anymore (crimini are now my go-to); but I also have done this with wild mushrooms such as sheep head or pom-pom.

The asparagus: seasoned with kosher salt, ginger, and new mexico chile powder.  They were on and off the grill before they could be photographed cooking.  They go over the coals, are flipped once, and removed when they have a nice char to them.  I take them to the grill in the same pan I remove them to.  I use tongs to put them perpendicular to the grill slats, and typically am able to grill them without losing any to the flames.

The squash: seasoned with olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, and paprika.  Grilled over direct heat after the coals have already seen their hottest flames behind them.  Depending on the heat, perhaps 3-5 minutes on each side; turning them 90 degrees after 1.5-2.5 minutes to give them a nice hatch pattern on each side.

The mangoes and the bananas did most of their cooking while we were eating.  I put the mangoes over the coals and the bananas on the other side of the grill; put the lid on and ignored them for a while.  Admittedly, that’s not the best way to handle them (the mangoes never quite cooked all the way through and the bananas got mushy), but by the time they went on the grill, it was about 7:30 and we were all hungry.

Thanks to Jim Sharrard for the photography services.  See more of Jim’s pictures at

A Great Start to Grilling Season—Chicken Rhubarb

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I know grilling season really could have started weeks ago, but in my house, the kickoff was last night—and it was fantastic!   Most of the time, I’m one to sit at the dinner table and analyze tweaks that could have made the meal better.  I try not to, because what I see as valuable analysis to help future meals comes across to Aurora as complaining, and she says it interferes with her ability to enjoy the meal at hand.

But that’s another topic altogether…. This meal had almost nothing to quibble about—except for the fact that I was so wrapped up in making and eating it, I neglected to take any pictures.

Much of the meal was standard fare on my grill—grass-fed steak, potatoes, red peppers, garlic, mushrooms, mangoes, bananas… par for the course.  But since Angstrom hasn’t been much of a carnivore and one of the few animal proteins he’ll eat some of is chicken, I got some chicken tenderloins and threw them on the grill; and because I had it in the fridge and I needed to cook it while it was still reasonably fresh, I cut some rhubarb into 3-inch lengths and grilled it, too.

The tartness of the rhubarb (seasoned with butter and ginger) went perfectly with the chicken (seasoned with salt and cinnamon).  It was such a nice combination, I brought some for my lunch today—instead of leftover steak!  Now, that’s saying something.

If you want to grill rhubarb, too– a couple of notes from the session: I started it off over indirect heat, but it seemed to respond better to direct heat.  This was fairly late in the grilling process, so the coals were already past their peak heat and on the descending side of the slope.  One flip and pull them from the flame as they soften—you don’t want it to overcook.  It would also match well with pork.

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

A lot of us are trying to eat more whole grains.  And why shouldn’t we?  They’re good for you—generally containing better nutritional content than the enriched white grain alternatives (since not all of the nutrition lost by removing the bran and the germ is added back in during the enrichment process).  And there’s a wide variety of store-bought options to choose from: pastas, baked goods, more grains than you can shake a stick at, even the sweetest of breakfast cereals proclaims itself to be a whole grain product.

Problem is, if you try to bake with whole wheat flour, very often you wind up with a product that is much denser than you really want.  I definitely recommend giving whole wheat pastry flour a shot.  It’s ground much more finely than regular whole wheat flour, and the result is that in most baked goods, it’s very tough to tell a difference in texture between something baked with whole wheat pastry flour vs. one baked with all purpose flour.

And, once the taste and texture deficiencies of a whole wheat product have been eliminated, the nutritional differences are that much easier to appreciate.  Here’s a great table that spells out the differences between nutrients.  With very few exceptions, you’ll note that whole wheat flour is the clear nutritional winner across the board.

Whole wheat pastry flour is easy to find, too—it is produced by many flour manufacturers and is in most grocery stores.  Give it a try next time you make muffins, pancakes, waffles, coffee cake, pie crust, or whatever else you would use all-purpose flour in.  You’ll be glad you did.

Sauteeing Mushrooms–Ease Up On The Gas

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

In culinary school, we were taught to cook mushrooms over high heat with constant motion to achieve the best possible results.  Pedal to the metal, full speed ahead, keep ‘em moving so they don’t burn.

Based on my frequent cooking of various wild and cultivated mushrooms, I have determined that I disagree with this advice.  Instead, I think working in a cast iron pan over moderate heat and stirring the mushrooms occasionally/ intermittently gets better results.  The mushrooms, staying in direct contact with the heated surface for a longer period, develop a beautiful golden brown hue and a flavor that can’t be matched.  Coast along at a moderate pace: it’s both safer and more enjoyable, and permits you to pay attention to more of what’s going on around you because you don’t have to be obsessed with making sure dinner’s not about to crash.

You can’t tell by looking, but in the picture below, Angstrom is helping me to saute a mix of crimini, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms.

The first time I made sauteed mushrooms after Angstrom was eating a wide variety of solid food, I cringed as Aurora heaped them onto his plate, imagining how much value went into what I was sure would wind up on the floor.  But, as he crammed them into his mouth with gusto, I gladly gave him seconds.  If he’s willing and ready to appreciate good ingredients from his earliest dining experiences, I am going to encourage that at every step of the way.

Alternate Taco Greens A Good Choice

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

From this quarter’s edition of The Journal of Taco Building Science:

There’s no need to limit your greens choice to lettuce when prepping the toppings for your tacos.  Going for a more flavorful green can add an extra kick of flavor to your taco mix.  For instance, I have mustard greens growing all over my yard, so when I needed greens for my most recent taco-making experience, I went out back and picked a handful of them.  Great choice!  The mustardy flavor of the greens provided substance in a venue where I have been accustomed to getting relatively flavorless roughage with a little bit of crunch to it.