Archive for February, 2007

Halving Recipes

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Hey, Jesse.

I cook something fairly elaborate for myself pretty much every night, either trying something out of a cookbook or ad libbing with veggie combinations that sound good. But the key word there is myself, so I usually cut those cookbook recipes in half. A girl eventually gets tired of beet and lentil leftovers.

But I’m wondering if there are some ingredients that shouldn’t be halved (like olive oil? my sautéed onions end up a bit cajun sometimes), or cooking times that I should adjust when there are fewer ingredients. Any techniques for the solo cook?



When you’re sauteeing something like onions, the amount of oil you need is in large part dependent upon the size of the pan you’re using. You need enough fat to cover the bottom of the pan or else the vegetables are liable to stick and burn. You’ll also want to keep the vegetables moving in the pan so that the same surface isn’t in constant contact with the heat source (another condition that will lead to blackened ingredients).

A good (if somewhat vague) rule of thumb if you’re ad libbing vegetable combinations is to lay out as much as you think you’ll eat and cook it until it’s done. Soups, stews, and stir-frys should be simmered or sauteed for as long as the recipe calls for or until the ingredients are done: the ingredients don’t cook any faster just because there’s fewer of them. This crib sheet provides general guidelines on the order in which you should add vegetables to a dish of your own creation, based on relative cooking times.

If you’re baking a half recipe of something (like brownies, etc.), adjust the size of the container you’re putting the batter in to one that has approximately half the surface area of what’s called for in the recipe; keep the baking time the same. If you spread the batter out too thinly, cooking time will be fairly unpredictable.

If you make yeast breads in smaller portions than your recipes call for, you’ll have to figure out the timing by trial and error. Start by checking them at the recipe’s halfway point; if they’re not done, give them a few minutes longer. Make note of how long they took so that next time you shrink the recipe, you’ll have a guideline to go by.

Do you have a question about something related to the world of food? Email me and I’ll try to respond in a future post.

The Parable of the Old Man and the Deer

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

I was having a tough time coming up with an idea for a post today, so I started browsing through some of the stuff I wrote in college. What follows is a short story I wrote in 1999.

Parable of the Old Man and The Deer

An old man lived in a rustic hut, deep in the forest. He would often see deer run through the thick woods that surrounded his home, but they would never stop. One day, in the hopes of seeing one of the creatures up close, he left a plate of vegetables sitting near his home and watched through a window until, after several hours had passed, a doe stopped and ate.

The next day, the man left another pile of vegetables sitting in the same place, hoping that the deer would return. This time, though, he sat motionless outside his cabin to await her arrival. She returned at about the same time she had come the day before. He knew it was the same doe by the string of successively larger spots that trailed down her back from her left shoulder. Approaching the food, she sensed the man’s presence and stopped, her muscles becoming perfectly rigid. Suddenly, she bolted into the snowy forest.

But the man still did not move. He waited until the hungry doe finally returned and nibbled at the food. Still uncomfortable with the man’s proximity, she left having eaten only a very small portion of the man’s offering. He gathered up the remainder and took it inside with him until the next day, when he put it, replenished with more vegetables and a couple of sugar cubes, in the same place.

The doe approached the plate tensely and tentatively, but ate everything, sugar first. After finishing, she looked at the man for several seconds before she abruptly turned and ran.

In this manner, a relationship was formed. Each day, the man would leave the doe food; and each day, she would come eat it, not caring that the man was always a tiny bit closer than he had been the day before. But still she would not let him touch her. Whenever he would try, she would bolt.

So it went, until one spring morning when Daisy Doe (as he had named the fine-looking specimen) ate a carrot from his hand. Several weeks later, she let him stroke her forehead, with two fingers, very gently. Daisy found that she enjoyed his touch and allowed him to pat her each day when she returned, after she had eaten her meal.

The sun hung high in the blue June sky when Daisy laid her head upon the man’s lap. He worked her sore muscles gently with his fingers, easing out her pain with his skillful touch. Soon, she had drifted off to sleep.

The man ate venison for dinner. This is the way the Devil works.

Cake or Pie?

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

In general, which do you prefer: cake or pie? Imagine your eccentric Aunt Millie (who cooks both quite well) offers you one or the other, but refuses to tell you which kind either is. You can only have one or the other—not both. Which do you choose?

Tuna Salad Results Are In…

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Mayonnaise, Onion, and Pepper the typical sandwich.

Twenty-five people (including me) responded, listing twenty-seven versions of tuna salad, many of them similar, but none of them, I believe, exactly the same as any other. One of my favorite observations came from Joanna, who mentioned that she and her sister thought their way of making tuna was standard until recently. That’s exactly what I thought, too, when I first started occasionally polling people about their tuna preference eight long years ago. I’ve often gotten the response Mean Gene mentioned to my inclusion of green olives in tuna [ew!], though I’m proud to say, I’ve made a partial convert of my wife, who at first thought ill of savory tuna.

I’m glad I finally collected some hard data on the topic–the range of responses has been fascinating—so anyone who missed the original polling, please feel free to add your salad into the tuna databank; I’ll continue to update my data as results trickle in. Click each graph to see a full-sized version that’s easier to read.
graph of the prevelence of individual condiments people include with their tuna

I think it’s worth noting that mayonnaise enjoys a significant edge over Miracle Whip in these results. Personally, I think that “tangy zip” overpowers dishes it’s included in, but I’m a bit surprised that Miracle Whip measured on par with barbecue sauce in the results.

fig. 2

Onion is the surprise winner here; based on tunas I have eaten, I had expected celery to be the favorite. What’s more interesting, though, is the wide variety of things that appear more rarely with tuna. It’s an eye-opener to see what people do with it (and then to realize that you’ve been painting yourself in a small box based on habit and what you’ve grown up eating).

fig. c

Seasonings display a bit less variety; salt and pepper are the expected favorites—though this may be one rare instance where pepper is more popular than salt, probably based on the salinity of the garnishes and sauces people include. I’d never thought to make tuna with curry powder, but I bet it’s tasty!

When To Pull the Roast from the Oven

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

When you’re roasting a hunk of beef or lamb, it’s sometimes tough to know the best time to pull it from the oven. You don’t want to open the door every five minutes to check its progress—that drops the oven temperature and delays the roast’s finish. On the other hand, you don’t want to ignore it for too long—especially because it will continue to cook a bit once you pull it from the oven; you can usually expect the internal tempurature to rise another ten degrees once you pull it out. So, how then to plan the timing (and the rest of the meal) so that the roast reaches perfection when everything else is ready to go?

Many recipes and meat packages offer approximate cooking times. These are helpful hints, but shouldn’t be relied upon as gospel, especially because they can vary widely (e.g., 15-30 minutes per pound, as one recipe I just read recommends—that’s a big spread!). Other factors play a large role in how long your roast will take to cook.


Making Sourdough Bread

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

I’ve been keeping up with my commitment to make my bread instead of buying it. Since Christmas, that has involved making sourdough. I’d never really understood how sourdough works until my mom showed up for her Christmas visit with a plastic tub containing sourdough starter. Since then, I’ve come to embrace the joys of sourdough: its chewy texture, its unique flavor (which, according to everything I’ve read will develop over time based on the natural bacteria that live in your home), and—best of all—its elimination of purchased yeast. Not because I have anything against yeast per se, but if I can make delicious bread without spending those few extra pennies, why bother spending those few extra pennies?

Once a week, at minimum, I have to pull it out and feed it some water and some flour so that it has a continual source of food. When I do, I pull some of the starter out and make a sponge by adding even more flour and water to that portion; then, I let the sponge sit overnight and turn it into dough the next morning by adding flour and salt, but no more water. After that, it just needs to rise and bake, same as any other dough.

There is an added time component to making this bread, and a need to plan ahead, though if you want to speed the time frame up, you can make a bread using sourdough starter and a little bit of commercial yeast to get things moving more quickly. The extra time spent—and the fact that the process is easily performed entirely by hand—helps give you a better sense of the bread making process and how little changes affect the outcome.


On Beyond Waffles!

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

Savory French Toast and its Cousin, Savory Bread Pudding

I felt like having a grilled cheese sandwich yesterday for lunch, but when I cut into my sourdough baguette, it was stale. My disappointment didn’t last long, because I quickly realized that stale bread is great for French toast. I had already cut several slices of cheese, though, so I made the leap to the savory side of French Toast.

French toast with meunster, sirache, and cole slaw

Admittedly, this is not a very groundbreaking concept—people have eaten Monte Cristo sandwiches for years. I opted against the sandwich format, though, and instead topped it with Muenster cheese then served it with some Siracha Sauce and a side of cole slaw. It was a quick and easy meal, and I expect that I’ll experiment with the possibilities of savory French Toast in the future.

The batter was incredibly easy to make: instead of adding cinnamon, allspice, and vanilla to a mixture of eggs and milk like I might have to make a sweet French toast, I added about a half-teaspoon each of salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin. I added the cheese as soon as I flipped the toast and it melted while the second side cooked.

When I finished the usable portion of the baguette, I still had some eggwash left, plus the heels of the bread and the end of another loaf. I didn’t want to let it go to waste, so I decided to make Savory Bread Pudding (a dish that could quite easily be called French Toast Casserole).

savory bread pudding with pork stew

I cubed the bread and tossed it with enough eggwash to moisten everything thoroughly (I had to supplement what was left with a couple more eggs and another healthy splash of milk, plus some more seasonings), then added a diced onion and several thinly sliced cloves of garlic. I let the bread marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for several hours, then put it into a greased and floured loaf pan and baked it at 350 F in my toaster oven for an hour.

I sliced the bread pudding loaf down and served it with pork stew. The onion and the garlic that I included with the pudding definitely added a pleasurable flavor component to the meal—the Bread Pudding wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as it was without them.

What It’s Like to Be Married to / Live With a Chef

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Guest post by Aurora Sharrard

“So, what does your husband do?”

“He’s a chef.”

“Ohhhhhhh, that is so great! Where does he work?”


[One of two answers] “That place is so great!” OR “I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s wonderful.”

“So does he cook at home?”

“About 85% of the time.”

“You are so lucky. You must eat really well. What’s his favorite thing to cook?”

Now, I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times in more complex forms. It’s become fairly obvious to me that as soon as someone says, “So, what does your husband do?” that the conversation is no longer about me. I have no problem with this conversation shift, I’m just amazed that so many people are enthralled when they learn that my husband is a chef, which is why I’ve decided to explain a few things: