Twice baked colcannon potatoes with sauteed spinach and garlic

A few weeks ago many of us were tilting back the Guinness and feasting on brisket and cabbage during St. Patrick’s Day, but Chef John over at foodwishes.com was cooking up his own favorite recipe. I had never seen colcannon prepared before, but I enjoyed this recipe video he posted back then in March, and you might want to check it out too. If you aren’t familiar with colcannon, it’s simply mashed potatoes combined with a combination of green stuff which may include cabbage, kale, onions, and/or leeks. Chef John finishes it with with a big dollop of butter and a sprinkling of green onions, kinda making it mashed potato’s cool Irish brother.

Fast forward to this week, and I’ve been making a lot of spinach and garlic. I enjoy cooking it in big batches and taking my time so it’s not a rushed thing. There’s a nice zen calm as I go through the steps – washing and chopping the leaves, using my mandolin to thinly slice the garlic, the low sizzle of the slow saute, then watching the gentle way spinach wilts down into almost nothing.

By making a big batch I can freeze half of the spinach and garlic, then find inspiration to use up the rest in lots of different ways. It goes so well in just about everything, but I love it as a simple side dish next to some roasted chicken. Throwing a handful into an omelet with some roasted red peppers can make morning breakfast a lot more colorful. It plays well as the finishing ingredient in soups, or it can give grilled chicken sausage a savory boost piled up as a topping.

These twice baked colcannon potatoes are really just a good, simple way to use up all that tasty sauteed spinach and garlic, but after you bite into one of these beauties you may think mashed potato’s cool Irish brother should hang around more often.

Basic Spinach & Garlic

  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, finely minced
  • 3 large bunches fresh spinach, stems & leaves chopped into 3/4 inch pieces

Using a mandolin or v-slicer, thinly slice the garlic directly into a cold non-stick pan. Add 2 teaspoons of oil and a pinch of kosher salt, then adjust the heat to medium high. When the garlic sizzles, bring the heat down to low. The sizzling should be very soft, like a little whisper you have to strain to hear. Cook this for 3 minutes. Stir in the minced onion, along with another 2 teaspoons of oil and another pinch of salt. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You’re looking for translucent and soft enough that you could easily use flat wooden spoon to smash it. Remove from heat and reserve.

To a large wide pot over medium high heat add the spinach with another tablespoon of oil and a heavy pinch of salt. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring constantly (I like to use silicone coated tongs for this). The spinach will wilt and squeezes out liquid. Add the garlic and onions, then continue cooking another 3 minutes, or until the spinach stems are soft. Remove from heat then cool well before refrigerating or freezing.

Twice Baked Colcannon Potatoes

  • 1 large russet potato, well scrubbed
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • seasoned salt
  • 3/4 cup prepared spinach and garlic
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup cheese (you could use swiss, cheddar, or whatever you like, but I used pepper jack)
  • 1 Tbs sour cream
  • 1 green onion, chopped fine

Place a small tray in the center of your bottom oven rack, then preheat to 400 degrees. Poke the potato 12 times with the tines of a fork, then rub the skin with the olive oil sprinkle with seasoned salt. Place it directly on your oven rack, above the small tray to catch any drips. Bake for one hour, or until a knife easily pierces the center. Cool for about ten minutes, or until you can handle the potato easily.

Cut the potato lengthwise, and scoop the insides into a large bowl. Add the butter with the spinach and garlic mixture, then mash well with a fork. Scoop this back into the potato skins, then sprinkle on another dash of seasoned salt. Return the potatoes to the small tray used earlier. Bake again at 400 degrees for about 10-20 minutes, or until heated through.

Add the cheese in an even layer, then broil until golden and bubbling, about two minutes.

Top with the sour cream and green onions.

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Healthy weeknight mashed cauliflower and easy roasted chicken

In my opinion, mashed potatoes go best with a fat celebratory birthday steak or a tall pile of Thanksgiving turkey, but they aren’t everyday food. A few years ago my eating habits were a bit different, and I wouldn’t have thought twice about plowing through a mountain of buttery spuds on a Wednesday night. Instead, I now try to keep it light on the weekdays. I would rather stick to healthier everyday meals, then save the richer stuff for the weekend. I like that keeping it simple also generally means easier to prepare, leaving more time to eat and clean up.

So instead of mashed potatoes I make mashed cauliflower. It’s a simple recipe with easy prep, and the results go so well with an equally uncomplicated roasted chicken. On this occasion, I added some leftover roasted almond crumbs to give it a nice nutty texture.

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • 1/2 sweet onion (minced)
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup milk (1% fat content or higher)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • (optional) pinch fresh grated nutmeg
  • (optional) 1 Tbs butter

(To make the almond crumbs, simply throw a few handfuls of almonds on a baking pan and roast at 350 degrees. Stir them after 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 275 and continue roasting for another 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the almonds sit in the oven another 15 minutes. Take them out, let them fully cool, then either chop them in a food processor, or throw them in a plastic bag and crush with a meat mallet. Add a pinch of some large-flake kosher salt.)

Halve the cauliflower, then cut each of these pieces into quarters. Angle your knife at 45 degrees and cut out the tough stem. Pull apart each of the quarters into several 1 inch pieces.

Heat the canola oil in a large wide pot over medium heat until it shimmers, then add the onion and saute until it becomes translucent, or about 3 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, half and half, milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about twelve minutes (stirring once), or until a fork easily mashes the cauliflower.

Remove from heat and tilt the pot at an angle. Fully submerge a stick blender into the deepest part of the cauliflower and liquids, then puree the contents. Stir in the optional nutmeg and butter, then sprinkle on the almond crumbs just before serving.

Perfect Roasted Chicken

From Ruhlman’s Twenty by Michael Ruhlman

  • One 3 to 4 pound chicken
  • 1 lemon and/or 1 medium onion, quartered
  • Kosher salt

About 1 hour before cooking the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator, and rinse it. Stuff the bird with the lemon or onion, or both. Salt it and set it on a plate lined with paper towels/absorbent paper.

Preheat the oven to 425°F or 450°F if your oven is clean and won’t smoke from the high temperature. Set the oven on convection if that’s an option. Put the chicken in an oven-proof frying pan and slide it into the oven.

After 45 minutes, check the color of the juices. If they run red, return the chicken to the oven and check it again in 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Serve as an uncomplicated dinner for two to three people with the mashed cauliflower.

Quick and easy cream biscuits are the definition of simplicity

I spotted these biscuits on the kitchen a little while ago and promptly saved the recipe based on this photo. Don’t those look delicious… all tall and cloudy? Previously, I had only used butter as the fat in biscuits, so I was curious to see how replacing it with cream would change the texture. I’m always hungry for excuses to try recipes like this, so I grabbed fresh organic cream the next time I went to the store and got to work.

A very short list of ingredients make this recipe super simple to put together:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (divided)

Set up a layer of parchment paper across the bottom and up 2 sides of an 8″x8″ pan. Preheat oven to 425°F degrees. (the recipe called for a metal 8″x8″ pan, but I only had pyrex and it worked fine.)

Grab a big mixing bowl and measure out all your dry ingredients into it. Measure out the cream into a separate cup. Use a whisk to stir and incorporate the dry ingredients. Grab a spoon and stir the dry ingredients while pouring in the cream. Stop pouring when there’s still roughly a 1/4 cup of cream left, but keep stirring to combine the ingredients.

Stir until the ingredients hold together as a shaggy dough. It should not be wet. If it is, add more flour until the mixture pulls away from the mixing bowl.

Dump the dough on to a well floured surface. Pour the rest of the cream into the bowl and use it to gather up any loose flour and dough, then pour this into the rest of the pile.

Gently knead the dough, bringing together frayed edges while folding the mass in thirds. Form the dough into a rough square.

Using a sharp knife, cut the dough square into thirds, then into ninths.

Arrange the nine pieces in your parchment-lined baking vessel. I decided to brush the tops with additional cream because I thought the protein in it would help create browning. Adding another pinch of good kosher salt was my addition as well.

Bake for 13-18 minutes, or just keep checking for a perfectly browned top every four minutes after the first fifteen like I do. I can’t help it.

Voila! The finished product was crumbly and fluffy in the center, with a crispy browned top which added some nice texture.

I enjoyed these biscuits with a nice cup of tea, which makes for an exceptional start to a Sunday morning. Hopefully you enjoy them as much as I did.

Elastic breakfast quesadillas

Do you remember the first cooking show you ever watched on TV? I’ve got a hazy memory as a young boy first watching The Frugal Gourmet with my dad. I tracked cartoons like a heat-seeking missile back then so I barely paid attention to the show, but my dad eagerly watched as Jeff Smith used fun ways to cook with eggs in his studio kitchen. The Food Network didn’t exist back then, so PBS was the source for a nation of foodies in the ’80s. They had (and still have) plenty of shows with a diverse collection of cuisines and hosts. Back then you could watch Martin Yan demonstrating expert level cleaver skills on Yan Can Cook at four-thirty, then see Julia Child cook whole chickens using a French method at five.

Now we’ve got a whole cable network dedicated to food with bona-fide celebrity hosts, as well as a rapidly growing list of youtube shows with hosts who run the gamut from hilarious and amateur to serious and professional. They keep popping up to entertain, teach, and inspire. There are even cookware manufacturers who team up with cooking celebrities to produce little recipe clips that make use of their products. To be honest, these type of channels barely show up as a blip on my radar considering the sheer volume of neat cooking things I eagerly consume on the internet.

Yet, the inspiration for my crispy egg-filled quesadillas you see above came to me after watching this Youtube video where George Duran cooks up a cool version of huevos rancheros using a non-stick pan by Umusa. Thanks George! I copy parts of his method in my elastic recipe so the eggs cook through in the same way. The additional convection heat from using a lid is the key. This recipe should produce a crisp tortilla surrounding two eggs, gooey melted cheese and a mix of your favorite chosen ingredients. It’s delicious, easy to make, costs as little or as much as you want, and requires only a small degree of technique before you get to eat quesadillas for breakfast.

If he were still around I think Jeff Smith of The Frugal Gourmet would dig it.

(note: Try to use tortillas that are roughly the same size as the pan you’ll be using. The recipe should work fine as long as there is less than an inch or two difference between tortilla size and pan size. My 11″ pan worked perfectly with some standard 9″ whole wheat tortillas.)

Elastic Breakfast Quesadillas

  • 1/2 Tbs salted butter
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tortilla (flour, corn, or whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (monterey jack, cheddar, swiss, parmesan)
  • optional: 1-2 Tbs cooked breakfast meats (bacon, sausage crumbles, ham)
  • optional: 1-2 Tbs sauteed or fresh vegetables (onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, green onions, mushrooms)
  • optional: 1 tsp fresh or dried herbs (dill, basil, oregano, parsley, chives)
  • salt and pepper to taste


In this version I decided to include some leftover poached salmon, Monterey jack cheese, dried dill, and Old Bay for seasoning. Use whatever you’ve got on hand. It’s a great way to use up leftovers.


Add the herbs and seasonings to your eggs then beat to combine.


On medium heat, swirl the butter around your pan as it melts to completely cover the surface. Add the tortilla to the pan, then swirl it around so the underside evenly coats with the melted butter. Cook for one minute. Pour the egg mixture over the tortilla while shaking the pan so it evenly distributes to all the edges.


Cover and cook for another minute, then add your fillings in an even layer. Cover again, and cook until the eggs have visibly firmed up and the cheese has melted (two to three minutes).


Turn off the heat and use a spatula to fold the quesadilla in half, pressing down to flatten. Some of the cheese may squeeze out. Some of it may hit the pan, sizzle, then crisp up into golden edges of joy. You will thank me for those edges. Let this finish cooking for another two minutes.

Slice into wedges or just wrap the whole thing in a paper towel and you’ve got a delicious mobile breakfast.

Here are some more excellent filling combinations you might want to try:

  • sauteed onions, bacon, green onions and Monterey jack
  • diced ham and green peppers with American cheese
  • mushrooms sauteed in butter and a splash of brandy with Swiss cheese

Post-Christmas sale items that can be helpful for future gift giving

I enjoy giving two types of gifts and often I can find at least some of the items necessary to give these types of gifts on discount during post-Christmas sales. The first is the personal gift, which is often representational of the shared history between the recipient and myself. These are the gifts I’ll eventually give to my closest friends and relatives, so I hunt for these items all year long, irrespective of the sale season.

The second type of gift, which I give far more often, are homemade food goodies. These treats are individually wrapped up in bags or boxes then decorated with little touches of festive color to create visual interest. Over the years I’ve made cookies, fudge, chocolate covered pretzels, peppermint bark, and spiced nuts in both salty and sweet varieties. Some of these are shipped to family members in other states, which is why most of my creations are slow-to-perish.

Sending these types of gifts is also cost effective and versatile. I primarily buy my containers cheaply after Christmas and in large quantities — I’ll browse places like The Container Store for any specialty jars I might need in the coming year. Finding recipients for these gifts never seems to be a problem for me. Who would turn down tasty treats in pretty wrapping? This makes them incredibly handy for spreading extra cheer when I unexpectedly want to give a gift.

When the times comes to use the jars or bags or whatever supplies I found on discount after Christmas, I’ll use them throughout they year on one of these treats:

  • I’m a fan of the highly addictive Spiced Nuts. Recipes like these are great for adaptation as well, so feel free to make your own substitutions. (And, obviously, don’t give them to anyone who is allergic to nuts.)
  • You can also use Martha Stewart’s Spiced Nuts recipe as a base for other flavors. You can mix up the spices to suit your taste, producing nearly infinite variations. You could also grab the biggest mixing bowl you own and whip up a double batch of just the nuts, salt, sugar, and egg whites to create a base-mixture for further seasoning after individually dividing it into additional bowls. This year I have been using almonds with smoked paprika, cumin, and allspice.
  • Gingerbread Cookies, Brigadeiros, Golden Rugalach — I like to keep my cookies as small as possible since larger cookies are harder to package. Bigger cookies also break easier than small ones when shipped.
  • Vanilla Sugar — This sugar recipe is so simple you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it yet. In my opinion vanilla sugar is best used as a wonderfully easy way to add sweetness and depth to a morning cup of black tea.
  • Holiday Pretzel Treats — For the younger gift recipients, these little pretzel treats get devoured thanks to lots of gorgeous color from the M&M candy centers.

I prefer to keep everything handmade when it comes to my non-edible gifts as well. This great list from getrichslowly.org is bursting with inspirational gift ideas to help come up with the perfect personalized present. The craft section on marthastewart.com has a wealth of great ideas too.

What kind of gift giver are you? Is your kitchen a bustling factory of edible treats? I’d love to hear what gift package experiences you’ve had and where you find deals to stock up on gift-giving supplies.

Pre-Thanksgiving link round up

We’re a little overwhelmed by all the Thanksgiving cooking talk. Instead of rehashing our version of how to create the Thanksgiving meal, we’ve decided to share with you some of our favorite links for the big day — and a number of non-Thanksgiving links, to help you keep your sanity. Happy turkey day!

  • Cook’s Illustrated has put together a Survival Guide to get you through making a gigantic Thanksgiving meal.
  • This Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Biscuit recipe from Smitten Kitchen made our mouth water just looking at the images.
  • Using a slow cooker for some of your side dishes can be a great and simple way to save time (and energy) in the kitchen. Check out The New York Times’ guide to “Which sides can be adapted for a slow cooker.” This is nice even for non-Thanksgiving meals.
  • I haven’t tried it, but Michael Ruhlman’s Roasted Braised Turkey recipe looks amazing.
  • Now on with some non-Thanksgiving links: The internet sure knows how to eat! Some tasty recipes end up as trendy sensations when they gain popularity through word of mouth (and stomach). Saveur magazine takes a look at eight great recipes that rocked the internet, including the swoon-worthy butter and onion tomato sauce.
  • As the weather cools down my taste buds remember crisp Octoberfest evenings where I’ve happily munched fatty bratwursts and drippy saurkraut, then washed it all down with some delicious Spaten beer. Why not relive Octoberfest 2011 with this simply wonderful mustard-glazed red cabbage with apple from Serious Eats?
  • Does your kitchen have a corner cabinet that never seems to work well for storage? Why not try this useful organizing idea for your pots and pans to transform that poorly used space into something wonderful?

Oven roasted green beans with dark sesame oil

Green beans. You can steam them, boil them, saute them, but these cooking methods score 3 out of 10 on the flavor scale if you ask me.

You have to oven roast them if you really want to see all of the green beans disappear off a plate.

This ultra simple recipe is deceptively flavorful. Yes, there are only a few ingredients, but the high oven temperature works perfectly to blister and wrinkle the oil coated beans to a deliciously nutty brown. The dark sesame oil has such an intense flavor, which always reminds me of the hot and sour soup I ate so many times at our local Chinese restaurant growing up. If you have a similar connection to a flavor memory, this snack will bring you right back to that happy place.

  • 1 lb fresh green beans (not frozen), stem end trimmed off
  • 1 Tbs dark sesame oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Preheat your oven to 450ºF while you trim off the stem ends of the green beans. Wash and thoroughly dry the beans.

Spread the beans on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, then toss with the oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange the beans to fit on the baking sheet in a single layer. Cook for 10 minutes, then stir the beans and cook for another 5 to 10 more minutes, or until the skin is wrinkled and beginning to brown in places.

Let cool for a minute, add a dash more dark sesame oil, then commence super-sonic snacking.

Five wonderful reasons to own this set of mixing bowls

These lidded mixing bowls by Pyrex really take the cake (literally) when it comes to kitchen multitaskers. I love them so much because:

  • These nifty bowls are microwave safe. I find this especially useful when a recipe calls for melted butter. Measure out your butter into the bowl, nuke that sucker, than add in the rest of your ingredients per the rest of the directions. So easy.
  • Unlike traditional mixing bowls, this set comes with lids. I find it incredibly handy whenever I whip up cookie dough which needs refrigeration before being scooped. There’s no need to fuss around with using plastic wrap to cover a traditional mixing bowl.
  • The biggest bowl in the set can be flipped upside down and used as cake storage. Just lay out the lid, place your cake on top, then cover with the bowl.
  • You can use these lidded bowls to peel an entire head of garlic in ten seconds. I tried it. It works! As a bonus, the clear Pyrex glass lets you watch as the magic happens.
  • The largest bowl is also perfect when used for no-knead bread. Just mix up your ingredients, cover, then wait roughly sixteen hours for the perfect dough to form. Bake up that sucker into some wonderfully chewy bread with the crispiest crust to ever come out of your kitchen.

Chopping an onion with ease

One of my favorite Youtube channels of all time is the smile-inducing Cooking with Dog. While there are hundreds of cooking shows out there, this is probably the only one hosted by a fluffy gray poodle named Francis. He narrates while his friend cooks traditional Japanese food. It’s a silly idea, but I just love to watch as they expertly create some truly awe inspiring dishes.

Sometimes they throw in clever little techniques, too. They use a neat trick to chop an onion (at what is close to a coarse brunoise cut, which is 1/8″ x 1/8″ x 1/8″) in the latest episode about a Japanese variation of Stuffed Peppers & Mushrooms.

Chopping those unwieldy veggies has always been a frustrating pursuit for me. The vertical cuts are a piece of cake, but horizontally slicing into the onion never goes well. My slices come out uneven and the knife always seems to pull out chunks which make it tougher to keep everything uniform in size.

Here’s how they do it on Cooking with Dog:

Step 1.

Quarter the onion, making sure to keep the root end intact.

Step 2.


Make evenly spaced vertical cuts in the quartered onion.

Step 3.


Flip the the quartered onion forty-five degrees so the other cut side if flat against the cutting board and make more evenly spaced cuts.

Step 4.


Finish by cutting across the initial cuts, producing a nice uniform mince.

TA-DA! I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to try this technique. It is so much easier than trying to do it with only cutting the onion in half. Thanks, Francis!

Link roundup for October 11, 2011


red heaven

Vegetable peelers

In some homes they live together, organized into the same drawer as friends, laughing about all the vegetables they’ve peeled. There’s Jerry, the oldest peeler, who doesn’t see much action anymore, but he gets along well with the newer model version of himself—Mike. Mike’s new, sharp, and gets lots of use. He’s joined by Jim, a sleek ceramic model peeler whenever there are loads of veggies to process from the farmers market. They live as buddies of varying ages, and they get along because they’ve all done time at the same job.

Other homes may keep them separate. The oldest peelers live in some hard to reach cobwebbed kitchen cabinet, counting down the days until eventual donation while only the newest and still razor-sharp peeler lives in the glorious top drawer for every day use.

I’ve got just one in my home, but I think it may be time to upgrade. Erin told me she uses only one as well—this trusty OXO model (pictured above).

How did you come into owning your vegetable peeler? Was it a hand-me-down, or did you research the internet for the best device based on reviews and cost?

Deciding on the right peeler

If that’s your game, then start your search with the greatest gadget and gizmo grandmaster of them all: Alton Brown. In this Good Eats video, he highlights some great options, explaining their pluses and minuses in wonderfully geeky detail. You might also check out this totally sweet peeler list I found, lovingly written up on goodeatsfanpage.com.

With enough use, the edge of any peeler will eventually dull and become a real pain in the butt to use. The blade will slip around, making it hard for the edge to get a good grip, wasting your time and patience. However, there are two ways around this predicament: you can learn to sharpen your metal peeler, or look into purchasing one with a ceramic blade. Ceramic stays sharper a lot longer than metal, and if it does get dull you can always send it back to the manufacturer to be factory-sharpened.

Additionally, you might consider purchasing a julienne peeler. These neat gadgets contain a row of sharp teeth which are turned perpendicular to the blade, splitting the food as you peel to save time in the kitchen. I used to own this OXO model, but the flimsy teeth bent after a few uses, just as others have mentioned on amazon.com. By the positive reviews, this Swiss model seems to have sturdier construction and is worth further investigation.

A case for owning multiples

How many do you have in your home? An uncluttered kitchen should contain as few unused gadgets as possible. If you own more than one peeler and never use the rest then they are just taking up valuable room in a drawer and should be headed for the donation bin.

Or is there life still in those old peelers? Using the sharpening trick mentioned above, you could hone your aged tools into a more youthful shape, returning them to the top drawer for use. With newly sharpened peelers at your disposal, you really should put them to work.

Find a recipe which uses something like potatoes, eggplant, or zucchini, then buy loads of these vegetables now that they are in-season. Seasonal veggies are abundant & best of all cheap! Gather some friends and family to lend a hand peeling your purchase. When everything is peeled, cook the recipe and share the finished product with everyone as a way of saying thank you for the help. You get bonding and a good meal from a little team effort. How great is that?

Here are some recipes that will give your peeler some mileage while simultaneously using up the season’s bounty.

And if your peeler isn’t smoking from all the use after that, you can always use it to shave off some cold butter.

Happy peeling.

Kitchen round-up: Erin’s pots & pans

Matt’s questions last Friday about the pots and pans in our kitchen got me thinking about the cookware I own and how I use it. When I surveyed my collection, I was surprised by its size. I use all of the pieces regularly, and I feel that the size of my collection represents the diversity I have in my cooking repertoire. In a given week, I’ll roast, fry, saute, steam, bake, broil, and poach. Our family might enjoy French country cooking on a Monday and Chinese-style steamed pork buns on a Tuesday. My collection:

1-3

8″, 10″ & 14″ Stainless Steel Fry Pans – All-Clad

Used for browning, frying, sauteing and searing, these fry pans are the backbone of my cookware. I actually have two of the 10″ fry pans because it’s common that I’ll need both working on the stove at the same time during a single meal preparation. The 8″ gets the least amount of action, but it’s perfect for breakfast omelets or egg scrambles, which I make a few mornings a week.

4, 5

3 Quart & 6 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpots & Lids – All-Clad

The smaller stockpot is perfect for beans and lentils because it doesn’t have a long handle to get in the way of other cooking, and also keeps a consistent heat evenly over a long period of time. The larger stockpot is my go-to pot for soups.

6

3 Quart Stainless Double-Boiler Insert – All-Clad

I use the double-boiler when making rice, melting chocolate and sugar, and doing anything that I fear may burn if placed directly on a burner. The double-boiler fits in both the 3-quart stockpot and the 3-quart saucepan.

7, 8

2 Quart and 3 Quart Stainless Steel Saucepans & Lids – All-Clad

These pots are perfect for sauces, poaching, and simmering. My stainless pots and pans are all a decade old and still heat quickly and evenly. They are also dishwasher safe and have held up beautifully under brutal treatment.

9

14″ Carbon Steel Flat Bottom Wok – wokshop.com

The wok takes center stage when I want to steam and quickly fry foods. In combination with three bamboo steamers, this workhorse produces incredible dumplings. It’s the newest member in my collection.

10

12″ Square Cast-Iron Griddle – Lodge

This griddle makes French toast, pancakes, tortillas and hamburgers like a champ. It holds heat for a long time and puts a gorgeous brown crust on most everything it touches. Could also be used as a weapon if necessary and requires a little bit of elbow grease to wield it on the stove.

11

3.75 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Deep Skillet & Lid – Le Creuset

The deep side walls of this enameled cast iron piece make it perfect for going between the stove top and the oven. Any recipe the requires browning before baking gets put into this pan.

12

6.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Casserole & Lid – Tramontina

I roast small cuts of meat and small-to-medium-size birds (chickens, turkeys, ducks, pheasants) in this amazing piece of cookware. I’ve had it for three years now and it performs as wonderfully as my Le Creuset, and for a quarter the price. It came from Target and was highly recommended by Cook’s Illustrated.

13

9.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron French Oven & Lid – Le Creuset

Large turkeys, ample cuts of beef and pork (including a full rack of ribs), and casseroles heading to picnics get made up in this behemoth of a pan. It’s heavy, takes up a lot of space, and gets used the least amount of all my cookware, but I can’t imagine parting with it or using anything else on a Thanksgiving turkey. I got it on sale at 70% off the sticker price at the Le Creuset outlet in Leesburg, Virginia, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have purchased it (the thing usually retails for more than $300!).

Kitchen round-up: Matt’s pots & pans

How would you describe the pots and pans you use in your kitchen? Do you own a rough and tumble crew of misfits? Maybe your collection is more akin to a massive extended family with brothers, sisters, and cousins all working together?

The cookware we own cycles as we age. The skeleton crew I owned during college was just a 10-inch fry pan and a 2-quart sauce pot, but their numbers grew when I was gifted an inexpensive starter set after graduation. By now, everything from my immediate-post-college era has been replaced with a miss-matched crew of pieces forged for specific tasks (and pictured above).

1

11″ Kavalkad Sauté Pan – Ikea

A light non-stick pan that doesn’t need tall sides, can hold a tortilla, and is cheap enough that I can replace it easily if it scratches. I use it for quesadillas and pan-fried fritters.

2

2 Quart Anodized Saucepan & Lid – Calphalon

A somewhat non-stick pot which quickly heats a small amount of water or cooks a small volume of liquids. I use it to cook pasta sauces and reheat soups.

3

8″ Sauté Pan – Pampered Chef

This tiny pan holds heat well and has an efficient non-stick surface. I use it for eggs in the morning or to quickly saute some garlic.

4

3.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Casserole – Le Creuset

Great for searing and even-heated braising in the oven. I use it for baked sausage with rice and slow roasted vegetables.

5

11 Quart Stock Pot & Lid- Ikea

The thick base on this pot boils water at blazing speeds, and it’s huge capacity make it great for large volumes of liquid. I use it to make chicken stock and boil water for pasta.

6

3.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Crock Pot- Le Creuset

Another great one for searing and even-heated braising, but this version is better at large round roasts. I use mine for swiss steak and braised chicken.

7

4 Quart Sauté and Simmer Pan- All-Clad

This pan does such a wonderful job of evenly searing, and it can finish thick cuts of meat in the oven. I use it to cook steak, chops, sausage, and fluffy white rice.

8

3.5 Quart Cast-Iron Crock Pot – Lodge

Great for fire-side cooking at a camp-out. I use mine as a dedicated no-knead bread baker.

So what does your collection look like and how would you describe how they work together?

Fresh pasta walkthrough

If you’re anything like me, your youth involved eating pasta that started its life packaged in a box, living on a grocery store shelf until it was purchased by your family. My mom created wonderful things out of that dry pasta, like her Tuna Frittata or famous spaghetti and meat balls. I get a warm cozy feeling when imagining a pantry lined with boxes and boxes of pasta-based meal potential.

You are also like me if you tried fresh pasta for the first time in your twenties. My post-college years became a time for food exploration when I lived in Chicago. I gladly handed over roughly half my monthly earnings to the many restaurants that city has to offer. Chicago is a young foodie’s dream come true with all the diversity of flavors represented in such a tiny place. It would have been a crime to live there and not explore. Seems like it was only a matter of time before my wandering pallet experienced a bowl of freshly made pasta.

I recall eating it for the first time and thinking the texture was a lot like German spaetzle, yet it was much thinner and had a subtly different mouth feel thanks to the tomato sauce. It was delicate and chewy at the same time. It was different, and I was in love.

Despite this intense attraction, until recently fresh pasta has been something which only shows up in my home via the chilled plastic packages sold in grocery stores. The texture of that stuff is different than the fresh pasta from a restaurant. Less chewy. Yet making it from scratch seemed like a process which took too long. Was my desire for that unique texture enough reason to pass up the convenience of opening a box and having a meal in ten minutes?

Yes and no. Making fresh pasta takes time, but if you can find some joy in each step of the process it seems less like work and more like a project. Projects that end with a bowl of deliciousness are what I call fun.

I do not own a pasta rolling machine, so the steps listed below use only the bare essentials of what you need.

Step 1

Begin by scrubbing down your counter top until it’s nice and clean. Dry thoroughly.

Using your hands, create a mound using two cups of unbleached all-purpose flour. Poke down the center to form a well for the eggs. Add a half teaspoon of salt.

Step 2

Crack three eggs into the center of the well.

Step 3

Using a fork, gently scramble the eggs. Begin incorporating flour from the sides of the well, making sure not to allow the eggs to escape through any cracks in the wall.

Step 4

Continue moving the eggs around with the fork and incorporating flour until it starts looking dry. Scoop more flour into the eggs with your fingers. You should be able to start moving the dough around with your hands.

It should look something like this.

Step 5

Form into a ball and scrape down the counter to get rid of excess flour and dough crumbs. Knead the dough for about five minutes, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking.

I like to put all the scrapings into a colander which I can shake over the dough to add flour.

Step 6

Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for thirty minutes.

Step 7

Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest for ten minutes.

Step 8

Flour your counter top and begin rolling out the dough. It helps to start from the center and roll towards the edges. Be generous with the flour as you go to prevent the dough from sticking. Aim to roll out the dough to a sixteenth of an inch in thickness.

It should probably be even bigger than my example, since my batch ended up a bit thick.

Step 9

Visually divide your dough in half, then roll up each side of the dough towards the center line.

It should look something like this.

Step 10

Cut the dough using a long sharp chef’s knife, applying just enough pressure to go through without scratching your counter top. Make your cuts as wide as you like. I aimed for the width of pappardelle noodles.

Step 11

Insert your knife under the cut pasta and lift up…

VOILA! The pasta un-rolls itself.

Step 12

Dust with additional flour to prevent sticking. You can use the pasta right away, cooking it in plenty of salted boiling water for five minutes, or it can be frozen for up to three months. The noodles are best used immediately, but can be stored in your fridge for a few days before the texture starts to degrade.

Fresh pasta works best with sauces of light to medium body, so I thought to pair it with some of the simply magical butter and onion pasta sauce I’ve cooked in the past. The rich chewy egg based pasta combined with the buttery tomato sauce creates something truly wonderful.

When did you first try fresh pasta? Do you have fresh pasta making success stories? I’d love to hear some.

Fancy up a frozen pizza

If you aren’t familiar with her show, Sandra Lee hosts Semi-Homemade on the Food Network, which is where she creatively combines pre-packaged foods with other ingredients to create unique and time-saving meals. She’s received criticism for lacking real cooking skills, but in my mind her ideas are no less inventive than using exclusively fresh ingredients. For example, she loves using store bought rotisserie chicken as a base for pot pie. This kind of shortcut-minded thinking has a place in any kitchen, regardless of the ingredients you use.

The way I shop now has almost entirely scrapped any of the pre-packaged stuff I used to consume in college. I primarily purchase from a farmers market, then supplement my pantry with whole ingredients from the grocery store. I consider it a smart lifestyle choice to cook and eat this way because knowing exactly what I’m putting into my body is healthier than blindly diving into a plate full of chemicals, preservatives, and colorings. Additionally, it’s super convenient to cook large meals, which I split up and freeze for easy reheating. The last TV dinner I ate was locally made and was purchased at a farmers market.

Not too long ago, I was still doing the majority of my shopping in the center aisles at my local mega mart, and every visit included a trip through the frozen foods section to hunt for pizza sales. This was also right around the time I first caught Sandra Lee working her magic on Semi-Homemade. It was under these circumstances that I created my version of gussied up frozen pizza. While I’ve prepared it many times since then (especially as a quick party appetizer), I hadn’t thought to make this garlicy treat for a while since banishing convenience foods from my home. On a whim, I found the wheels of my shopping cart turning down the chilly frozen foods aisle, stirring up memories and a hunger for my yummy pizza concoction.

While this method would work perfectly well on some freshly homemade pizza, I have a spot in my heart for that crispy fresh-from-the-freezer crust, as well as the ridiculously convenient preparation.

Begin with any frozen pizza. I like to use one with minimal toppings so my additions properly shine through. Margherita pizzas are my favorite. On this occasion I grabbed one from Newman’s Own.

Begin by preheating your oven to the temperature listed on the box, then thinly slice up some peeled garlic. I go for about four nice big cloves. The thickness of the slices will determine the garlicy bite intensity, which is why I try to get them as thin as possible using a slicer with a nice sharp ceramic blade. In a small bowl, mix the sliced garlic with about a half teaspoon of olive oil and a big pinch of kosher salt.

The salt helps flavor the garlic, and the oil will help it cook, taking off the raw edges and producing a bit of sweetness. Spread this evenly on top of the pizza, then drizzle just a little more olive oil over the whole thing.

Add any additional herbs and spices per your preference. I like a few dashes of dried oregano, some dried thyme, and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss it in the oven and cook per the directions on the box.

When it comes out, the surface should have some nice browned spots thanks to the extra olive oil, and the garlic will have cooked ever so slightly in the heat of the oven.

Finally, drizzle on some red wine vinegar to cut through the richness of the cheese and give the whole thing a nice tart bite. Slice up your pizza and serve with some of the classiest two-dollar wine you can find. Enjoy!

The evolution of my tea storage

Am I weird or does anyone else love the first few months after a move when it’s time to really grab a hold of the new space and make it your own? Like many of you, my kitchen is where I really dig in to achieve ownership.

I moved into a new place recently, and those first few meals in the unfamiliar environment came together with a side of confusion. Meal creation was accentuated with haphazard bumbling around boxes, making my way to the hastily put away silverware so I didn’t have to eat with my fingers. Which of these boxes had the bowls? Eventually things felt a bit normalized once the spices and major utensils were put away. This time I noticed something: organization seems to be weak on the first arrangement. In my new place there’s plenty of shelf space to store all my stuff, but once everything is put away the spaces felt cramped. I knew my organization needed revision.

I dig finding little storage and organization revisions, like the recent changes I made to my tea collection. I used to store my tea in a squarish wire basket while living in my RV, but I often poorly squished the tea boxes and pouches into it like an irritating game of Tetris. The basket kept everything together, but it was mostly a pain to use. With all the teas in one place I could at least grab the basket and rummage around to find the right flavor. Too bad it took up shelf space.

One day I went to make my morning tea and noticed there were just two bags left of Irish Breakfast tea. I decided to clip the front of the box and discard the rest of the packaging, combining it with the remaining tea into a little zip-top baggie. It’s funny how little space it took up without the clumsy container. I thought I’d try keeping the rest of my collection in plastic bags as well. This ended up saving even more space and cut out the hassle of trying to fit all the boxes back into the basket every time. Some of the tea bags have labels on one side, so I kept them facing outward and easily recognizable. It all fit MUCH nicer. Hooray for organization revision!

Lately I’ve been looking for more excuses to hang my kitchen utensils so additional shelf space will be freed up. So far I’ve hung all of my commonly used spatulas, spoons, and tongs under a cabinet, and used some hooks to hang my measuring cups and spoons. With a few boxes full of screw hooks and removable 3M hooks it’s easy to find lots of new places for storing your kitchen wares.

After some brainstorming I came up with this back of the pantry door tea tree. I remembered buying these nice shiny magnetic clips for another project that never happened and I had a great magnetic strip that I wasn’t using which would work perfectly as the base to hang all the clips and baggies of tea.

After installation I noticed the whole thing clanged around a bit when opening or closing the pantry door. To fix this, I squished some removable putty behind the magnetic strip to give it some sticky cushioning. Now it holds tightly as the door moves and doesn’t make a sound.

Now the teas are visually accessible, allowing for easier selection, and they’re off the shelf so heavier things that are tougher to hang can have a place to sit.

Got any fun little kitchen organization hacks to share? I’d sure love to hear more great ideas.

Crispy, spicy chickpeas

I really like peanuts, but since my son is allergic, I haven’t eaten them in years. I like the crunch, the smoothness, the salty finish. They’re also incredible when they’re coated with a hot spice mixture that makes you want to grab an ice cold beer.

I’ve been looking for a replacement, and have turned to dried wasabi peas on occasion, but haven’t found a perfect alternative until just recently (although, dried wasabi peas are yummy). My friend Don turned me on to crispy, spicy chickpeas, and I think this will be my substitution. Best of all, it’s a really nutritious snack.

Making them is simple and allows for a lot of wiggle room, which is great when looking for a simple, healthful snack.

Crispy, spicy roasted chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

  • 1 can (or more or less) chickpeas (your can may say garbanzo beans on it)
  • 1 tsp (or more or less) olive oil or canola oil
  • Optional spices: salt, pepper, chili powder, and/or cayenne pepper.

Heat your oven to 350ºF.

Drain the water off the chickpeas. In a bowl, mix the chickpeas, oil, and spices. Use as little or as much of the spices as you prefer. If you go too light, you can always add more later. Stir until the chickpeas are well coated with oil and spices.

On a cookie sheet, spread out the chickpeas in a single layer. Put the cookie sheet of chickpeas in the oven and bake the chickpeas until they are dried and look like walnuts (about 45 minutes).

Wait for the chickpeas to cool (it won’t take long), put them in a bowl, and serve with your favorite beverage. If you made the chickpeas as spicy as I like them, you’ll really want that drink.

Unfortunately, these do not store well. If there are leftovers, you’ll want to crisp them up in the oven for 10 minutes before serving them. They tend to get soggy in storage.

A well-seasoned wok

It ended up taking me seven rounds of seasoning, a total of 21 hours, to get my new wok the way I wanted it. I’ll admit, it is gorgeous and will likely never have to be re-seasoned. However, I still think 21 hours is a ridiculous amount of time to spend on the project. (See “The NOT simple way to season cast iron” for more details about this adventure.)

Before I show you the after photograph, let me start by showing you my inspiration. The following is an image from the phenomenal book The Breath of a Wok by award-winning cookbook author Grace Young. The image was taken by photographer Alan Richardson and is of Chef Danny Chan’s wok that he uses at home. Author Young admits that his wok is the “most extraordinary wok I have ever seen” and that its color is “a delicate teak tone reminiscent of the color often found in Chinese silk scroll paintings.”

My wok isn’t exactly teak colored, but it isn’t black. It’s somewhere between a rich golden wheat and the color of a glass of Bordeaux. It’s beautiful, and will hopefully serve me well over the next few decades.

Now, for comparison, this is where I began on Monday:

And, this is my wok now:

This photograph doesn’t do it justice. You can’t see the nuance of golden colors in it (the gold dots are a reflection of my kitchen lighting), you can’t feel its smooth texture, and you certainly can’t see the time I put into it. I am incredibly excited to cook with it this evening, but most importantly I’m thrilled the inane seasoning process is behind me.

The first five meals that I make in it will be stir-fry dishes with high oil contents. I may even fry up some bacon in it. I know from my experience with cast iron skillets that the iron continues to be very thirsty when you first use it, so I want to make sure I’m making foods in it that quench this thirst. I’ll wait to make rice in it for a month or two.

To clean a wok (or any iron cookware), I put water in it to soak while my family is eating dinner. After dinner, I’ll immediately wash it with a mild detergent and a soft sponge. Similar to what I do with my cast iron skillets, I’ll dry it with a towel and then pop it into a warm oven (roughly 200ºF) for 10 minutes. If I didn’t use my oven while making dinner, I’ll quickly heat up the wok over a stove burner on low for the same amount of time. I’ll take it out of the oven or off the burner, wait until it’s cool enough to touch (usually about the same amount of time it takes me to load up the dishwasher) and then I’ll wipe a very thin layer of olive oil or avocado oil into the inside of the wok with a paper towel. You don’t want it to be greasy, you just want a bit of protection for the iron while it’s in the cupboard.

The NOT simple way to season cast iron

Over the weekend, I decided that this week’s SimpliFried posts would be all about stir-fry. I love making stir-fry — it’s so incredibly simple and quick — and I knew it would be a great series. That is, it was going to be a great series, until Monday morning rolled around …

On Monday, I went to the cabinet where I keep our wok and pulled out this:

What you’re seeing here is a brand new, flat bottom, iron wok from The Wok Shop in San Francisco. You can see that it is silver in color, and a little shiny. Woks shouldn’t be silver and shiny. Woks should be black and matte.

Right before we moved into our new house in March, I tossed our old, nasty, inexpensive Teflon-coated wok and ordered this beautiful piece of craftsmanship. The only problem is that I forgot I had ordered the non-pre-seasoned version. To get it to its beautiful black and matte state, I would need to season it myself. (I have vague recollections of this decision, but can’t remember why I wanted the non-pre-seasoned version.)

Seasoning is not a difficult or long process, especially if you’re okay with using animal lard. In just a few hours you can have a nicely seasoned wok ready for your stir-fry. However, there is a slight chance my son might be allergic to animal proteins (because being allergic to peanuts isn’t enough of a burden), so I didn’t want to pick up some lard from my butcher for this project. I know enough about science to realize seasoning a pan in animal lard wouldn’t be much of an allergic risk to my son, but I still felt weird about it. If I could avoid using animal lard, I would.

In the February 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, there was a sidebar to an article about cast iron cookware that discussed using food-grade flaxseed oil on cast iron pans. Cook’s Illustrated raved about the method and provided a link to an online article for how to reproduce the results of this method at home.

I dropped $20 on some filtered, organic, food-grade flaxseed oil at my local Whole Foods grocery store (you can find it with the vitamins in the small refrigerated section), and headed home to pull up the directions and start seasoning my pan. The article “A Science Based Technique for Seasoning Cast Iron” is thorough, and I most certainly did not read it well enough to realize that the process takes more than 18 hours to complete. EIGHTEEN HOURS.

It’s not difficult: You slather the pan in oil, wipe it down with a cloth diaper or paper towels, bake it for an hour in a 500ºF oven, turn off the oven and let it cool down inside the oven for two hours, and then repeat the process. The reason it takes so long is because the whole process has to be repeated at least six times. It’s noon on Wednesday and I have only made it through the process four times so far (12 of the 18 hours).

This was the wok going into the oven for the first time:

I found that putting a garbage bag under the pan during the oiling process helps to keep the mess at bay. I’ve also learned that cotton diapers, although much more environmentally friendly to use, leave little flecks of cotton on the surface of the wok, which creates little spots on the cure (they’ll all be gone by the sixth seasoning — they’re almost gone after the fourth — but it’s still weird to have a speckled pan). I have discovered, too, that although this process is extremely simple, it’s mind-numbingly tedious.

If you buy a new cast iron wok, get one that is pre-seasoned.

I don’t know how someone who doesn’t work from home could even season a pan in this manner. It would take more than a week to do it — one seasoning a night — assuming you had no where to go after work. Sure, I may end up with the world’s most glorious seasoning, which I expect I will, but this most certainly feels like overkill.

I’d show you an “after” picture, but I still have at least six more hours of seasoning to go …

Questions for cooks: Making sense of specialty butters

Reader Craig submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

Since you have been writing about butter lately, I wanted to ask about cultured butter. When I was an exchange student in Belgium, all the butter my host family served was “cultured butter.” I’ve never seen it for sale in the US, but I would like to buy some. Is it “compound butter”? I see that on restaurant menus sometimes. Thanks.

Compound butter and cultured butter are not the same thing. (I’ll explain the differences below.) And, you can buy cultured butter in the U.S., at least you can where I live. Organic Valley dairy makes it, and it is available at my local Whole Foods. As someone who has had the joy of eating cultured butter while in Europe, I understand why you want more of it. Mmmmmmm …

Compound butter: Just a way of saying butter with stuff added to it, like in our herb butter recipe. Compound butter can be sweet or savory.

Cultured butter: This butter involves a live culture being added to the cream before it is churned. I think of it as yogurt butter, because often people just add yogurt to the milk as the way to introduce the live culture. It has more fat than regular butter, is noticeably sweeter, and is easy to make at home.

There are other types of butter you might also see mentioned in recipes, and they are …

Clarified butter: This butter is just the butter fat. You heat and melt butter until the milk solids separate from the fat, strain off the milk solids, and what remains is the butter fat. It’s great for high-temperature cooking because butter fat has a very high burn point. Again, this is easy to make at home.

Ghee: Similar to clarified butter, except the butter fat cooks for much longer than with clarified butter. This process makes ghee able to be stored on the counter instead of in the refrigerator. Once again, you can easily make ghee at home.

Thank you, Craig, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Now go out there and buy (or make) yourself some delicious cultured butter.

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