All Posts In How-to

Ricotta Cheese — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, April 3rd, 2012

ricotta crab bites
When it comes to food, “recooked” isn’t generally a term met with much affection. The dairy world, however, gives us a fine exception in ricotta cheese.

Ricotta — Italian for recooked — isn’t exactly a stranger to most Americans, who tend to love it in their lasagna and stuffed pasta shells.

But as cheeses go, its versatility is vastly underappreciated, mostly because few people realize how it’s made, or why that matters for how they use it.

So let’s start there. Ricotta got its name because it is made literally by recooking the liquid left over from making other cheese, often mozzarella. This is possible because when the mozzarella or other cheese is made, most but not all of the protein is removed from the liquid, usually cow’s milk.

That leftover protein can be recooked and coagulated using a different, acid-based process (a rennet-based method is used to make the first batch of cheese). The result is a soft, granular cheese with a texture somewhere between yogurt and cottage cheese. The taste is mild, milky, salty and slightly acidic.

Get the recipe for Ricotta-Crab Bites

How to Shop: Buying Honey

by in How-to, March 27th, 2012

types of honeyI am always seduced by the honey stand at my local green market. The beeswax candles, the pollen and the different flavors of honey — how can so much good stuff come from such small creatures?

Here are some of my guidelines for buying honey:

— When I get the chance, I buy the single variety, usually yielded from only one type of flower, from a local producer that I trust. I find color speaks louder than words. Darker honeys, like chestnut and fir varieties, are rarer and have a stronger flavor. I use those on top of pancakes or add to braised carrots or roasted squash. Lighter-colored varieties, like acacia and clover, are mellower and great in tea. They add their honey “note,” but don’t obscure the tea.

Read more of Alex’s tips

Dandelion Greens — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, Recipes, March 26th, 2012

dandelion green cornbread
Let’s get the hard part out of the way. This week, I’m suggesting you eat something most people spend the better part of their adult lives trying to eradicate from their lawns: dandelion greens. Not the flowers or stems or the puffy white seeds kids love to blow (thereby complicating your eradication efforts).

Just the long, green leaves that grow toward the base of the plant.

While we know it better as a weed, since prehistory the leaves of this plant have been gathered and consumed around the world.

Americans have been cooking with them for many years. In fact, Fannie Farmer included them in the first edition (1896) of her classic cookbook.

The taste is a bit of a cross between arugula and kale — slightly bitter and robustly peppery. They are about a foot long with a saw-tooth edge.

Get the recipe for Cumin-Dandelion Green Cornbread

Buttermilk — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, March 19th, 2012

buttermilk pork cutlet sandwiches
The problem with buttermilk is there isn’t a lot of real buttermilk around.

The good news is that the newfangled buttermilk available at most grocers isn’t all that bad. Better yet, it’s easy to make the real stuff yourself.

But first, a buttermilk primer.

As its name suggests, buttermilk is the tangy milk-like liquid left behind when cultured cream is churned to make butter. At least that’s how they made it in the old days. Today, it’s usually commercially produce by adding cultures (think yogurt) to low-fat or fat-free milk. Either way, you end up with an acidic, thick milky liquid. But why is this off the beaten aisle? After all, we’ve all had buttermilk pancakes and waffles.

Because what most people don’t realize is just how versatile an ingredient buttermilk is. And it belongs on the dinner table as much as at breakfast.

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Under the Sea — Worst Cooks in America

by in How-to, Shows, March 19th, 2012

seafood tower worst cooks in america
From lobster to mussels to shrimp and whole arctic char, the sixth episode of Worst Cooks in America had the remaining recruits peeling, shucking and filleting several deep-sea treasures. For their first task, each team had to create a seafood tower, one of the most expensive dishes on a restaurant menu, consisting of mussels, lobster, shrimp, oysters and crab. After that, each member grabbed their knives and filleted a whole arctic char to create a dish for their mentor.

Everyone seemed to have issues at one point or another with cooking and/or prepping their seafood dishes. You can overcook shellfish in mere seconds, and choosing fresh fish can be intimidating. Below are Food Network’s simple step-by-step tips to create the ultimate seafood feast.

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Chia Seeds — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, March 9th, 2012

chia seed almond pudding
The trouble with this week’s underappreciated ingredient is that for the next few days you’re going to have its only-available-on-TV jingle stuck in your head.

Ch-ch-ch-chia!

That’s right, we’ve wandered into the Chia Pet aisle. Because the same seeds used to grow fluffy green pets also happen to be delicious and nutritious.

First, the basics.

Chia seeds — which are a relative of sage — resemble poppy seeds, but have a nuttier, less assertive flavor. They have gobs of fiber and a fair amount of protein.

Chia-Almond Pudding

Bison — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, March 2nd, 2012

seared bison with sage and gnocchi
Nothing says “yum!” like a bit of nomenclatural confusion — especially with a side of near extinction.

But that’s what you get once you venture down the culinary path with bison, an alternative red meat that is showing up at more and more grocers nationwide.

And these massive shaggy creatures are such a delicious — and good for us — meat, it’s worth sorting it all out.

So let’s start with the name. The critter you know as the American buffalo (yes, of rolling plains and Native American fame) really isn’t a buffalo at all.

Turns out there are only a few types of buffalo in the world (including the Asian water buffalo and African Cape buffalo). The American buffalo (technically bison) is more closely related to your run-of-the-mill cow. Yet people tend to use the terms interchangeably and we’re not going to get too bent out of shape over it.

Seared Bison With Sage and Gnocchi »

Multipurpose Kitchen Supplies: An A to Z Guide

by in How-to, March 1st, 2012

kitchen tools
Give common kitchen tools a second chance with these tips for new uses for everyday kitchen supplies:

Aluminum foil: Roll into the shape of a cone for a makeshift funnel.
Box grater: Shave away too-burnt bits on toast.
Chip clip: Keep a cookbook propped open to the correct page.
Coffee grinder: Grind fresh spices.
Cocktail shaker: Fill with a head of garlic and shake vigorously to remove the peel.
Egg slicer: Use to thinly slice other items like mushrooms, strawberries and bocconcini.

Muffin tins, pizza cutters, plastic sandwich bags and more »

How to Make the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

by in Food Network Magazine, How-to, February 29th, 2012

crispy chocolate chip cookies

Make chocolate chip cookies exactly how you like them with these tips from Food Network Magazine:

  • Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies (pictured above) bake longer than the average cookie so they end up brown all over, not just around the edges.
  • Superfine sugar makes for a fine crumb and crisp texture.
  • Vegetable oil helps the batter spread so the cookies come out extra thin.

Make the perfect chewy and cakey chocolate chip cookie »

Nutritional Yeast Flakes — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, February 23rd, 2012

pumpkin and white bean soup
It’s awfully hard to get excited about a food called “nutritional yeast flakes.”

It sounds like something you either need a prescription to get — or a prescription to get rid of. Even worse, it resembles yellow flaked fish food. But trust me, this is an ingredient worth looking at beyond its name and appearance.

Nutritional yeast flakes have been around for years, but they are all but unheard of outside the vegan world, which uses them to simulate the flavor of cheese.

There’s a reason they use them that way. These flakes are jammed with glutamates, the compounds that give us the savory wonderfulness in Parmesan and steak.

But let’s go back to the basics. Nutritional yeast flakes are produced by growing, harvesting and drying a variety of yeast that is different from that used in baking.

Pumpkin and White Bean Soup With Sourdough Croutons