Tag: off the beaten aisle

Turkey Tenderloin — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, April 17th, 2012

chopped smoked turkey burgers
If you think you’ve done nearly everything a cook can with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, it might be time to talk turkey.

Other than the big bird at Thanksgiving and ground turkey when they’re craving a healthier burger, most people overlook turkey.

Fair enough. Ground turkey can be dry and tasteless. And who has time to roast a bird (or even a massive breast) most nights of the week?

But the turkey tenderloin — a thick strip of meat cut from between the bird’s breasts — turns out to be a convenient, delicious and healthy alternative.

Because the tenderloin doesn’t get much of a workout when the bird is alive, the meat is particularly tender.

And like chicken breasts, it is incredibly versatile, taking well to the grill, skillet or oven and working well with any flavor or marinade.

Get the recipe for Chopped Smoky Turkey Burgers

Wild Boar — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, Recipes, April 10th, 2012

wild boar ragu
Wild boar: a tasty way to do a good deed.

It’s true — across at least 39 states there are an estimated four million feral pigs and wild boars (they are close relatives and prone to interbreeding) roaming about.

And they are laying ruin to vast acres of land. The problem with wild pigs is they are voracious eaters — shocking, I know — and destroy natural ecosystems.

There is no one solution, but eating them certainly helps. It’s what I like to call taking a bite out of swine.

Bad pig puns aside, people throughout Europe and Asia have been eating feral oinkers for years. Italians are particularly fond of them, turning them into all manner of salumi.

Now Americans are starting to catch on. Feral pig is showing up on more restaurant menus, especially in the South, the epicenter of the problem.

Get the recipe for Fettuccine With Wild Boar Ragu

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

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.

Read more

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 »

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

Instant Coffee — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, February 16th, 2012

bourbon java steak tips
Most of us have to be suffering from a pretty mind-blowing caffeine-withdrawal migraine before we’ll reach for instant coffee.

Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy some. Because while instant coffee makes a generally lousy cup of java, it can do astounding things for your cooking.

And that is why it is such an overlooked and underappreciated ingredient.

First, an instant-coffee primer.

Coffee hounds have been tinkering with versions of instant coffee since at least the late 1700s, but it wasn’t until just before World War II that it became widely available.

Those early varieties were made by spraying brewed coffee into heated towers and drying it into granules. By 1964, a freeze-drying method had been perfected, which boasted superior aroma and body.

Get the recipe for Bourbon Java Steak Tips »

Five-Spice Powder — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, February 9th, 2012

roast beef tenderloin
It’s all about harmony and yin-yang.

Which sounds tritely New Age-y, but really is the key to Chinese cuisine.

Because as with so much of Asian cooking, the blend of seasonings known as five-spice powder is intended to trigger a sense of balance in the mouth and nose.

How? A careful selection of spices that simultaneously hit notes of warm and cool, sweet and bitter, savory and searing.

Because that’s what you get with five-spice powder, a mix of fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns.

Like spice blends around the world, the proportions of those ingredients vary by region in China, but some variant of it is used throughout the country.

Read more

Chorizo — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, February 2nd, 2012

roasted chicken with chorizo
Chorizo is a bit like pornography. You’ll know it when you see it, but it’s a bit hard to define in the abstract.

That’s because there are several hundred varieties of this sausage made across at least three continents and many bear little resemblance to the others.

Making matters worse, chorizo makers in the U.S. are a pretty freewheeling bunch. No matter what the packages say, you never quite know what you’re getting.

The good news is that you don’t need to sift through all that to understand why this meat is well worth working into your dinner repertoire.

At its most basic level, chorizo is a sausage made from chopped or ground pork and a ton of seasonings, often including garlic.

The flavors are deeply smoky and savory, with varying degrees of heat. Most are assertive and peppery, but not truly spicy.

Roasted Chicken With Chorizo and Root Veggies »

123...