Cooking Basics

the sunny side of life…

I’m known for cooking hot breakfasts for the girls every day, but I rarely partake in them during the week. Sundays are my day to linger at the table with coffee, a hot meal, and the newspaper, if I’m feeling extra decadent with my time. During the week, I usually set about the kitchen packing lunch and preparing for the day while the girls eat. I don’t feel particularly guilty for not sitting with them since the kitchen opens into the dining room. I’m a stone’s throw from them, just across the counter, caught up in chatter about the day ahead. Continue reading »

sauteed kale & white beans {how to prepare winter greens)

This article irked me recently. Perhaps it was my defense system kicking in. After all, my livelihood is creating recipes. It is also a source of immense pleasure. I go to sleep dreaming about ingredients and flavor combinations.

I totally agree with the merit of pattern recipes. Yes, "learn to cook a few basic meals and you'll be set" holds much truth. Until you get bored with those same three meals. Then you need inspiration, and while walking through the farmers' market is what works for me, I understand it doesn't come that easy for others. For many people, recipes are not the crutch or burden Ms. Buzzell makes them out to be. They actually make life easier.

For others, recipes are a means to learn how to cook. To learn technique. How to chop an onion, for instance. Without recipes and cookbooks, I wouldn't be the proficient cook I am today. My formal training consists of shelves of cookbooks, spattered with stains and notes written in the margin.

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vanilla bean caramel sauce

Before finding the easiest, perfect recipe, my advice for making caramel sauce was going to be pray first. I was also going to recommend having a lot of sugar and cream on hand, and if the kids are home, try not to let too many explicatives fly as you pour your failed experiment down the drain.

That all just makes you want to run into the kitchen and waste some time and ingredients, eh? After four batches, with only one success, I thought maybe it wasn’t me.

Maybe it was the recipe.

I’m a fairly accomplished cook, and while I’m not averse to making mistakes in the kitchen, something as simple as caramel should not have stumped me. This is one of those times I wish I had a professional culinary education. The self-taught road can be a costly education, but I figure I’m still ahead of the game financially.

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strawberry jam and biscuits

I should be sleeping right now, but I had some biscuits this morning and wanted to share them with you before they’re all gone. Actually, I’ve eaten them a lot since discovering the best recipe ever last year. I also got a great recipe from Elizabeth, but they call for a flour only available down south. Speaking of which, I hope my dear friend brings me some White Lilly when she visits NYC this August.

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smoky cannellini bean & red kale soup

I must confess, I’m going a bit bonkers. Today will be the fourth day in a row I have not cooked. It is not out of choice. I’m away for work at the 44th Pillsbury Bake Off. Today, as contestants literally march into the cooking area— apparently there is a parade that kicks the whole thing off later this morning, I will have to suppress the urge to push someone aside and commander their stove.

I’m having a great time catching up with some wonderful friends and meeting some lovely new ones. I even brought Carol muffins and bacon parmesan olive oil scones (the recipe is still in development). And when we were served a fun tasting during a session with Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg on flavor pairings, I tweeted I could’ve brought some homemade ricotta to go on the crostini they used to illustrate their point.

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quick and easy marinara sauce

Doesn’t that tomato sauce look good up there? It’s so easy a kid could make it with proper supervision from mom or dad. It has all of five ingredients—the last one is salt and pepper, which is usually a giveaway ingredient when it comes to cooking contests. Once you make and taste this marinara you’ll be a convert and see there is no reason to ever, ever…did I say ever, buy a jarred sauce. It just seemed like the perfect recipe for my new column,  Jennie’s Family Table, over at Relish Magazine.

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homemade corn tortillas

I’m the poster child for reading labels before buying anything. Truth be told, though, quite often it makes supermarket shopping a daunting task. I’ve become compulsive, and nothing enters my cart without a scan of the ingredients. I also know a lot about the various parent companies and have my own reasons, be them ethical, environmental, and so forth for not supporting certain products with my hard earned cash. This eliminates a lot of options.

Honestly, I get why so many people choose to live in ignorance. It’s not so much bliss, as it just appears to be plain easier. Thinking back to the first episode of Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution, that mom knew the groceries she was buying were unhealthy—she outright admitted it. The impact came when she saw it all piled on the kitchen table. When I shop, I look at the big picture in everything I purchase. How will it affect my family, the environment, and the people who produce it?

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homemade baking powder

I’m not a gambling woman. Not to say that I’m at all conservative. I just prefer to do my homework and go with a sure thing. Now that I’ve shared that side of my personality, you’ll be surprised to hear what I did this weekend.

It was the big party, remember. The Mr. turned 50, and I went on a cake baking marathon the week before to make his birthday cake wish come true. Three cakes in four days to be precise. Oh, the damage to my waistline, though it could’ve been worse had it not been for the willingness of my neighbors to take the surplus off my hands.

Well, I found myself in the kitchen the morning before, ready to bake the cakes—frosting would happen the next day, only to find I was out of baking powder. Yeah, I know, real genius, right? It was so cold out, and frankly the idea of leaving my cozy, warm apartment was not at all what I had in mind. I hadn’t even had my morning coffee.

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homemade vegetable bouillon

You’ve been patient, and for that I thank you. Now, hopefully you’ve all tried or bookmarked my recipe for manicotti. Jennifer over at Last Night’s Dinner gave them a thumbs up, so go check out what else is on her must-eat list after you’re done visiting me here. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a recipe for homemade bouillon over at 101 Cookbooks. It was brilliant, and Heidi says even she hadn’t thought of making it until reading about it in the River Cottage Cookbook.

This turned into an “a ha!” moment for me. If you love cooking from scratch as much as I do, or simply do it because you want to feed your family healthy, unprocessed food, there is no cure-all. Most of the basics on store shelves are just a ghost of what they pretend to be. And you know what, it makes sense. Those products must be processed to become shelf-stable. 

That’s where the brilliance of homemade bouillon comes into play. You don’t have to worry about freezer or fridge space to keep a ton of vegetable stock on hand. All you need is room to store the one quart of bouillon this recipe makes and you’ll have 48 quarts of homemade vegetable stock at your beck and call. Depending on which brand you normally buy, that’ll shave over $150 off your grocery bill in the long run. It’ll also leave you with a tastier base for soups, risottos, and even veggie burgers (I used it to cook lentils for “burgers”). It’s also comforting to sip for a light lunch along with a salad or sandwich.

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how to poach an egg

You know that feeling when you come across something so perfect you just want to tell everyone? Maybe even scream it from a mountain top? I had that moment during lunch yesterday. After a day of going into the city for a meeting, chasing sunshine before and after to snap shots of scones and a chicken and Meyer lemon tagine I'd made the night before (recipes to come soon, I promise), I realized what was causing my faint-like feeling. I was starving. Embarrassing as it is to admit, all I'd eaten was a nibble of some lemon yogurt cranberry scone and a cup of coffee—and it was 1:30pm.

Eggs are always my back up when I need nourishment stat since they're super quick to cook. Ah, but my Ten in 10 promise to start eating healthier creeped into my conscience. Did I really want to smear the cast iron with butter and fry one. Well, of course I did, but I was good. I decided to poach one and have it with multi-grain toast. Problem is I don't do it that often and always mean to teach myself the right technique. Simply Recipes has a good post on the topic and Epicurious has a great how-to-video. I mainly followed the Epicurious directions with the following adaptations: