On cooking

Posted in books, food at 1:36 am by wingerz

A couple of recent things have inspired me to cook more:

Over the past few years, there have been a lot of food-related services that have popped up, many of which we tried last summer when Max was born. But for some reason for now I’ve continued to insist on weekly visits to the market and, much to Jen’s chagrin, a never-ending cycle of dirtying and cleaning all of our pots and dishes. With two kids I definitely found myself wondering whether I was being irrational, whether I should be focusing my efforts elsewhere on things that couldn’t be streamlined out of my life.

And then I read Cooked. The book is structured in four parts, one part for each fundamental element (fire, water, air, earth). In each part he dives deep into a particular method of cooking (barbecuing, braising, breadmaking, and fermenting) – I was completely hooked even before I got to the chapter that talked about Tartine bread. I share the same reasons for enjoying cooking:

  • It’s so different from what I do all day: sit in front of a computer.
  • There’s an immense amount of satisfaction that comes from constructing something from raw materials, even if you could have acquired the end product for less time and less money. If nothing else, it creates a deeper appreciation for those who have mastered their craft.
  • It’s a way to show your love for others. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than to cook a meal and share with loved ones.
  • One more that I’ll add to the list – I’m not sure why this is but I really enjoy using stuff up, whether it’s sticks of butter, bags of flour, meat in the freezer, vegetables that comes in our CSA box.

This weekend I baked my first loaf of bread in several years.


My experience with Blue Apron has been interesting. I got a free week from JR, and I didn’t realize I had to cancel six days in advance so we ended up with two weeks (six meals). Overall I think it’s a good service, though not for me.

You get a large insulated box full of ice packs and everything you need (except for salt and olive oil) to make six meals. The packaging gets the job done but is borderline comical, there’s just so much of it. The recipes were tasty and well-balanced (not many leafy vegetables – not sure if it’s always like that or if it’s because transporting them would be hard). The portions were a good size (probably wouldn’t have been big enough for me 10 years ago, but I’ve slowed down).

On a weeknight I have about 20-25 minutes to cook dinner so that we have enough time to eat and then get the kids into bath and bed. Of the six, I cooked two on weeknights (patty melt, spiced pork), the rest I saved for the weekend.

In any case, I’m already going grocery shopping multiple times a week. It is really nice to have the peace of mind of knowing that you have the exact right amount of all the ingredients you need. If we cooked less often and didn’t go to the market and grocery store so often I could see this being more compelling.


I definitely have my favorite recipes these days; the things I cook the most frequently are ones that I can whip up pretty quickly with minimal fuss. I’m probably getting into a bit of a rut with my salads and desserts and things (still tasty, but probably boring).

Getting a pressure cooker has helped with that – tonight I was able to make a pot roast in less than 2 hours (instead of 4). I affectionately refer to my pressure cooker as a ‘pot full of science’ – it really is a time saver. Beans in 10 minutes, stews in 25, roasts in 90 (times under pressure). Still trying to master it; I overcook things more often than not, but it’s been a lot of fun.


Anyways, it’s obvious that I’ve been blogging a lot less about recipes (and blogging here a lot less in general), but cooking continues to be a big part of our lives. It seems strange that something so fundamental has become something that I’ve started to question – modern day life has let us optimize away a lot of our daily routines. But I don’t think there’s a replacement for picking and handling raw ingredients, filling the house with wonderful aromas, and sitting down together to share a meal.


Smoking things

Posted in food, meat at 1:09 am by wingerz


One of my colleagues moved to Hamburg, Germany this past weekend. He gave me his smoker before leaving, and I used it for the first time this past weekend.

I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I started preparing Wednesday evening – got an 8 lb pork shoulder and applied a rub to it. On Saturday I started warming it up around 7am and had the meat going by 9am, where it cooked for 8 hours. Afterwards the meat rested for an hour, and then we made delicious pulled pork sandwiches out of it.

Smoking is awesome for the following reasons:

  • The anticipation is amazing. I daydreamed about this for several days, and was super-excited to check on it all day Saturday.
  • It smells so good. I sort of liked my clothes and hair smelling like smoke, it reminded me of what was going on in my backyard.
  • It was low-stress. Didn’t require constant attention. I checke dthe temperature and swapped chips every 1 to 1.5 hours. Was able to go out to the farmers’ market, grab lunch, get a haircut, go for a walk to get some ice cream all throughout the day. It felt like even if I missed checking on something for 30 minutes, nothing terrible was going to happen – as long as the smoker temperature stayed below 250F, something tender and delicious would emerge from the smoker. My biggest worry was that some of the wood chips would ignite and make it too warm.

Things didn’t work out perfectly. I think it could have cooked for another hour or two (got up to 175F internally). The meat wasn’t as smoky as I had hoped, I’m pretty sure that’s because I wrapped my foil packets of wood chips too tightly. So I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again soon, had to restrain myself from firing it up again today.


Fried Chicken

Posted in food, home cooking at 7:54 pm by wingerz


Last weekend I made fried chicken (3 whole chickens). I can’t find the recipe for the brine, but it was about 4 cups of buttermilk, 1/2 cup of Tobasco sauce, and 1/2 cup of Worcestershire sauce, soaked overnight. Then I followed the technique from this good ol’ Mom’s recipe, which is a really fun read (especially since I’ve had the Thomas Keller fried chicken several times, both home-cooked and at Ad Hoc.

I’d recommend cutting up the larger breast pieces in half so that they cook faster. Also, since we had all that oil lying around we made some shrimp tempera too.


Well-done Hamburgers

Posted in food, home cooking, meat at 1:08 am by wingerz


I’m a bit embarrassed to say that after all these years I haven’t really had a go-to hamburger recipe. I think I finally found one – this one is a bit more forgiving than others since the burger stays tender even when you cook it to a well-done temperature.

Well-done Hamburgers from More Best Recipes

1 large slice high-quality white sandwich bread , crust removed and discarded, bread chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons whole milk
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4teaspoon ground black pepper
1 medium clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons steak sauce, such as A-1
1 1/2pounds 80 percent lean ground chuck
Vegetable oil for cooking grate
6 ounces cheese, sliced (optional)
4 hamburger buns or rolls


1. Turn all burners to high, close lid, and heat until very hot, about 15 minutes. Use grill brush to scrape cooking grate clean. Lightly dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with tongs, wipe cooking grate. Leave primary burner on high, turn other burner(s) to low.

2. Meanwhile, mash bread and milk in large bowl with fork until homogeneous (you should have about 1/4 cup). Stir in salt, pepper, garlic, and steak sauce.

3. Break up beef into small pieces over bread mixture. Using fork or hands, lightly mix together until mixture forms cohesive mass. Divide meat into 4 equal portions. Gently toss one portion of meat back and forth between hands to form loose ball. Gently flatten into 3/4-inch-thick patty that measures about 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Press center of patty down with fingertips until it is about 1/2 inch thick, creating a slight depression in each patty. Repeat with remaining portions of meat.

4. Lightly dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with tongs, wipe cooking grate. Grill burgers on hot side of grill, covered, until well seared on first side, 2 to 4 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip burgers and continue grilling, about 3 minutes for medium-well or 4 minutes for well-done. Distribute equal portions of cheese (if using) on burgers about 2 minutes before they reach desired doneness, covering burgers with disposable aluminum pan to melt cheese. While burgers grill, toast buns on cooler side of grill, rotating buns as necessary to toast evenly. Serve burgers on toasted buns.


Garlicky Shrimp Pasta

Posted in food, home cooking, pasta at 1:27 am by wingerz


Served with fresh pasta, and super-garlicky. Pretty fast to make too.

Garlicky Shrimp Pasta from More Best Recipes

5 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 5 teaspoons), plus 4 medium cloves, smashed
1 pound large shrimp (21-25), peeled, deveined, each shrimp cut into 3 pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
Table salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound pasta in short, tubular shapes, such as fusilli, campanelle, or mezze rigatoni
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
3/4 cup clam juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice plus 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Ground black pepper

1. Toss 2 teaspoons minced garlic, shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature 20 minutes.

2. Heat 4 smashed garlic cloves and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is light golden brown, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and use slotted spoon to remove garlic from skillet; discard garlic. Set skillet aside.

3. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven.

4. While pasta cooks, return skillet with oil to medium heat; add shrimp with marinade to skillet in single layer. Cook shrimp, undisturbed, until oil starts to bubble gently, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir shrimp and continue to cook until almost cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Using slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to medium bowl. Add remaining 3 teaspoons minced garlic and pepper flakes to skillet and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute; stir in vermouth and cook for 1 minute. Add clam juice and parsley; cook until mixture starts to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter and lemon juice. Add shrimp and sauce to pasta, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Season with black pepper. Serve, passing lemon wedges separately.


Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew

Posted in food, home cooking at 1:49 am by wingerz


While I haven’t been posting much lately, we’ve definitely been cooking and eating well. I made this one a few times over the winter, once in a Dutch oven in the oven (as specified here) and once in the slow cooker. It freezes really well. Also, not surprisingly, it tastes better if you use twice the specified amount of pancetta.

Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew from Cook’s Illustrated.

Table salt
1 pound dried cannellini beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil , plus extra for drizzling
6 ounces pancetta , cut into 1/4-inch pieces (see note)
1 large onion , chopped medium (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium celery ribs , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
2 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
8 medium garlic cloves , peeled and crushed
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale or collard greens (about 1 pound), stems trimmed and leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 8 cups loosely packed)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes , drained and rinsed
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Ground black pepper

1. Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Heat oil and pancetta in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, 6 to 10 minutes. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 16 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in broth, water, bay leaves, and soaked beans. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are almost tender (very center of beans will still be firm), 45 minutes to 1 hour.

3. Remove pot from oven and stir in greens and tomatoes. Return pot to oven and continue to cook until beans and greens are fully tender, 30 to 40 minutes longer.

4. Remove pot from oven and submerge rosemary sprig in stew. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves and rosemary sprig and season stew with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, use back of spoon to press some beans against side of pot to thicken stew. Serve over toasted bread, if desired, and drizzle with olive oil.


Lemon squares

Posted in baking, dessert, food at 1:15 am by wingerz


The Meyer lemon tree in our backyard has been calling out to me for the past few weeks. Today I harvested 10 lemons and doubled-up this recipe (that’s right, i used 18 eggs). I love lemon curd; I really should make it more often because it is amazingly good. I made the curd in a double boiler since I’m paranoid.

Lemon squares
from The ATK Family Baking Book

1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all purpose-flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened

7 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 cup (7 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup grated fresh lemon zest (about 4 lemons)
pinc salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons heavy cream
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat to 350 degrees. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with a foil sling and grease the foil.
2. Crust: Process the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt together in a food processor to combine, about 3 pulses. Sprinkle the butter over the top and pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and has the texture of coarse sand, about 8 pulses. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer with the bottom of a measuring cup. Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes.
3. Filling: While the crust bakes, whisk the egg yolks and eggs together in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the granulated sugar until combined, then whisk in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Add the butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly and registers 170 degrees, about 5 minutes. Strain the mixture immediately into a bowl and stir in the cream.
4. Pour the filling over the warm crust. Bake the squares until the filling is shiny and opaque and the center jiggles slightly when shake, 10-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
5. Let the bars cool completely in the pan, set on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Remove the pars from the pan using the foil, cut into square, and dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.


Food resolutions for 2011

Posted in food, home cooking at 3:17 am by wingerz


This year I’d like to:
Eat more whole grains and vegetables. Going to have to wean myself off of white bread.
Try more new recipes. I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut where I make the same dozen things for ourselves and for dinner guests. The good news is that I’m good at making those things now.
Waste less. Need to control myself at the market. We let food hang out for too long in the fridge sometimes.

Last year:
Keep the kitchen clean/organized as I cook. This one is really tough when I’m cooking alone. I think I’m doing better though, especially when it’s a small group for dinner.
Be more creative. I think I do an ok job of putting together menus and doing variations of recipes that I really like.
Post more recipes. Whoops, kind of dropped the ball on this one. Another thing to blame on Camille!


Almond Vinaigrette

Posted in fish, food, home cooking at 3:10 am by wingerz


This is a really nice accompaniment to roasted salmon.

Almond Vinaigrette
from Cook’s Illustrated

1/3 cup almonds , toasted
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 medium shallot , minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cold water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper

Place almonds in zipper-lock bag and, using rolling pin, pound until no pieces larger than 1/2 inch remain. Combine pounded almonds, honey, mustard, vinegar, and shallot in medium bowl. Whisking constantly, drizzle in olive oil until emulsion forms. Add water and tarragon and whisk to combine, then season with salt and pepper. Serve.


Halibut en Cocotte

Posted in fish, food, home cooking at 1:18 am by wingerz


I’m always on the lookout for really good fish recipes, and this one is phenomenal. Quick and simple preparation, colorful, flavorful, and succulent.

Notes: I used one 1 lb halibut filet and grape tomatoes and stuck a thermometer into the fish before putting in the oven (took it out when it was a shade under 120 since it was really fresh fish).

Halibut en Cocotte with Roasted Garlic and Cherry Tomatoes
from More Best Recipes

1/4 cup evoo
2 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups (12 ounces) cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 1 1/4 lb halibut steaks, each about 1 1/4 inches thick and 10 to 12 inches long
ground black pepper

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 250 degrees. Cook 2 tablespoons of the oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt together in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat until the garlic is light golden, 2 to 4 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the tomatoes, capers, and thyme.
2. Pay the halibut dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Lay the halibut on top of the tomatoes. Place a large sheet of foil over the pot and press to seal, then cover tightly with the lid. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook until the halibut is opaque and flakes apart when gently prodded with a paring knife, 35 to 40 minutes.
3. Transfer the halibut to a serving platter and tent loosely with foil. Bring the tomato mixture in the pot to a simmer over medium-high heat until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the halibut and serve.

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