I sometimes question my own sanity when I crank the oven to bake pies, cakes and cookies during the summer. When the temperatures reach record-breaking highs, though, as we happen to be experiencing here in New York City, even I come to my senses. That doesn’t mean I give up on cooking from scratch, or on sweets — life is too short to skip dessert.
Sliced fruit or berries macerated — chef-speak for marinated — along with sugar, are perfect paired with fresh whipped cream. Ice pops are an easy go-to summer dessert, too. I recently made watermelon ones reminiscent of Jolly Rancher candies. Cherry Slushies are another favorite of mine and require no chilling time. You simply puree cherry conserves with ice cubes in a blender. What are your favorite ways to stay cool and still indulge?
Try these no-bake recipes
Memorial Day signaled the unofficial start to summer, so it’s only natural that the next part in The Good Cook series should be about grilling and barbecuing. Here’s a quick primer to get you started.
Direct Heat vs. Indirect Heat: The first thing to think about when grilling is how long your food will take to cook and that all depends on what you’re making. Quick-cooking items like sausage links, steak and shrimp cook best when placed directly over the heat source (i.e., flame or hot coals). This is called direct-heat cooking.
Brisket and ribs, on the other hand, need a long cooking time to become tender, so you want to use an indirect cooking method. This simply means the coals are piled, also called “banked,” on one side of the grill, or just the outer gas burners are turned on. The food is placed on the rack, away the flame or hot coals, and cooks from the radiant heat. It’s akin to turning your grill or barbecue into an oven. With this cooking method, you’ll also need to keep the grill closed to maintain a consistent cooking temperature.
Gas vs. Charcoal Gas Grills
Today we’re talking steak as part of The Good Cook series. Generally, cooking steak involves a direct-heat cooking method, such as a very hot skillet, an oven broiler or taking it outdoors to the grill. Deciding which cooking method is best all depends on what kind of steak you bought, also known as the cut of steak.
New York strip, sirloin and rib eye, familiar steak house favorites, cook up quickly in a very hot skillet on the stovetop (I love using my cast iron), or on the grill. A rare to medium-rare steak needs only three to four minutes on each side. If you prefer your meat cooked medium or medium-well, finish it off in an oven preheated 350 degrees F to keep it tender and juicy.
Flank, skirt and London broil are best prepared using your stove’s broiler or on the grill. These cuts are also best served medium-rare; cook them about five minutes per side, otherwise they become too tough. The way you slice these cuts of steak is another important detail. Hold your knife at a slight angle, about 45 degrees, and slice it across the grain.
I hesitated for a long time before including a recipe for roasted chicken in my cookbook. It seemed so basic and simple, but as I talked to more and more home cooks it became apparent that roasting a whole chicken is an intimidating kitchen project for many people. And when I use the word project, I mean it very loosely, because really there’s no fuss in doing it.
The real key is the right cooking temperature; that’s what ensures a super crispy skin, but also keeps the white meat juicy and moist. And forget about trussing — this isn’t your mother’s roast chicken. In fact, I’ve found that the chicken cooks more evenly if you leave the legs wide open. It allows the heat to circulate throughout the chicken, so the dark and white meats cook evenly.
Learn how to make a roast chicken
You learn so much about people when you step out from behind the computer screen. I’ve been on tour for my debut cookbook, Homemade with Love, and it’s given me a chance to connect with readers in a way I never imagined. One person at my Chicago book signing inspired me to start a miniseries of sorts here, called The Good Cook.
Too often I hear people say they’re not good cooks. A little digging, though, and it turns out the way we see ourselves isn’t always in line with the way the people we love view us. Being a good cook shouldn’t be defined by how many recipes we know. The real determining factor in being a good cook is a rather simple litmus test: 1) do you like what you cook? and 2) do the people you prepare meals for enjoy what you cook? When I asked these questions at a few separate events, it turns out most people answer yes to both.
The real root for many people judging themselves so unfairly in the kitchen is they feel like they’re always cooking the same few favorite recipes. It’s really about expanding your comfort zone and, in some cases, learning a few new techniques. That’s where I come in. Over the next few posts, I’m going to explore techniques and tips to help get you out of your cooking rut. Please leave a note in the comments, letting me know which recipes or ingredients are on your “must-learn” wish list. Today, I’m going to start with an easy upgrade, a simple way in which you can add some oomph to your everyday meals.
Learn how to make a compound butter
If I say apple, what kind of recipe comes to mind? I’m betting most of you thought about pie, and for a good reason. Who can resist tender apples tucked into a flaky, buttery crust? Once you get past the many variations of this classic American dessert, though, there’s a whole world of savory dishes to explore.
Apples work especially well with assertively flavored ingredients. The natural sweetness shines through when it’s sauteed or roasted, helping to temper earthy root vegetables and spicy foods. Last year one of my favorite combinations was roasting it with parsnips and onions. I’d give the whole thing a whirl in the blender with some vegetable broth for a thick, creamy, dairy-free soup (and vegan, too).
Keep reading for apple-centric savory recipes
Eating on a budget can be challenging, especially when trying to feed your family the best-quality food possible. Planning your grocery list wisely isn’t just about searching for sales or clipping coupons. Think about the hidden dollars and food that gets wasted — sometimes without us even realizing it. I’m talking about leftovers from recipes that once enjoyed front and center stage, only to be cast in the back of the fridge to be forgotten.
Those leftovers needn’t go to waste, even smaller portions. A few leftover meatballs may not make a complete meal for a family of four, but they’re a necessary ingredient for my Shortcut Bolognese Sauce. The sauce comes together quickly — in about the same time it takes for the water to boil and pasta to cook. Mash the meatballs and saute them with some chopped onions and olive oil in a deep skillet. Once the onions are golden, stir in some marinara sauce and let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, so the meat can soak up the flavors in the sauce. With minimal effort, you’ve transformed a humble meal into a hearty one by using a few meatballs to bulk up a simple tomato sauce.
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Every week I find myself flooded with overripe bananas since everyone in the house prefers to eat firm, barely ripe ones. The first sign of a brown spot, and they’re left to languish on the counter, eventually becoming so ripe the only purpose they serve is as incentive to bake some banana bread. I know, this doesn’t seem like a problem. Banana bread has a lot going for it. It’s easy to make because it’s a quick bread — it uses baking powder to rise, not yeast. It’s also the ultimate “waste not, want not” use of ingredients past their prime. But best of all, it can be a breakfast on the go, a tasty snack for school lunch and even play a pinch hitter come dessert time.
The real problem with having too many overripe bananas is I feel guilty making my favorite banana bread recipe twice a week. The recipe is great, but with one stick of butter in it, I decided my weekly banana bread infatuation needed some lightening up. The Brown Butter Bourbon Pecan Banana Bread has been relegated to a once a month treat. What I needed was an “everyday” banana bread recipe, one I could feel better about making, and eating on a regular basis.
Get the recipe
The early days of becoming a new parent felt like a blur. Life was on fast-forward, and faced with sleep deprivation, well, it’s no wonder my memories are far from vivid regarding that “breaking in” period. What I do clearly remember, though, is that by the end of the first month, I craved a home-cooked meal. No kidding — my husband and I ate takeout for the first four weeks as Mom and Dad.
Even ordering the healthiest to-go meals took its toll on me mentally. I missed the scent of onions browning in a skillet and marinara sauce bubbling away on the stovetop. By the time our second daughter was born five years later, I had a better idea of what to expect and easily jumped back into my normal cooking routines.
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Come cold weather, praises abound for slow cookers. I never got on that bandwagon. While I love low-and-slow cooking, when it comes to barbecue, I prefer my meals to come together more quickly on a daily basis. Why wait that long for a tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef stew when a pressure cooker can do the same job in less than an hour?
Back when I was a personal chef, I only had four to five hours to spend at each client’s house, to get five meals for four prepared from start to finish. Using a pressure cooker allowed me to not only multitask, but to prepare short ribs, pot roast and even soups in record time. It was just the primer I needed for feeding my own family years later.
Forget all your fears and the stories you’ve heard about pressure cookers in the past. In the 15 years I’ve been using mine, there’s never been an explosion. I started with a stovetop pressure cooker in the beginning, and in the last few years my electric one has become my new best friend. Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll realize from the first bite that is one “fast food” busy parents can feel good about serving their kids.
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