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
I love perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs. They need nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and make for a quick, protein-filled breakfast or snack. I’m guessing right about now we’re all trying to decide how to use up those eggs leftover from Easter celebrations, too — let’s face it, you’ve probably got at least a dozen in the fridge!
When life gives you too many hard-boiled eggs, it’s time to crack open some recipes for using them all up. Today I’m sharing one from my new cookbook, Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie’s Kitchen. It’s my take on the perfect tuna salad, and it has an extra tasty twist — a few sprigs of fresh mint. The mint brightens all the flavors and offers a refreshing burst with every bite that reminds me of a Vietnamese banh mi, which is where the inspiration to tuck a few leaves into my sandwich came from in the first place.
Get the recipe and more
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
I used to have a backyard bursting with bunches of basil, parsley, lemon thyme and a plethora of other herbs. Whenever a recipe called for some, I’d just go and pluck a handful. Aside from the hot, balmy New York City summers when the plants required constant care, mother nature mostly did the work — sunshine during the day and the occasional rain once a week, which supplied enough water to make up for the days I forgot to give them a sprinkle with the hose.
The apartment I live in now doesn’t have a garden, so I rely on window boxes for growing fresh herbs. Indoor plants need more attention and due diligence, especially in the water department. When I went away for the Christmas holidays this past December, I forgot to set up my self-watering globes. It was no surprise that I came home to bone-dry plants.
As with all of life’s mistakes, though, there is a lesson to be learned. Ever since I accidentally killed all my plants, I’ve been relying on the farmers’ market for fresh herbs — luckily we have a hydroponic farmer at the Union Square market during the winter months. The problem with buying herbs versus growing them is that I don’t usually finish up the bunch before it wilts. Then one day, I glanced at the old containers of dried-up plants (I swear I’m going to empty them this week), and suddenly the light bulb went off. With a little planning, I could make my own dried herbs. I use the fresh-bought herbs as I would normally, but just before any leftovers hit the wilting stage, I pluck the leaves and set them on a baking sheet.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about Passover, which starts at sundown on April 6. I asked him how he navigated dinner since he doesn’t eat meat and brisket is the traditional main course. It turns out he’s not the only pescatarian and vegetarian in his family, but it still got me thinking about how other vegetarians handle family holiday dinners. The simple solution would be to bring a hearty side dish instead of dessert or wine, which is the usual go-to item.
Some of the classics are easy to give veggie makeovers. Matzo Ball Soup, a must-have at every Seder, is an easy fix — just use vegetable broth. Here are some more ideas for making sure everyone feels welcome at your Passover table this year.
Moroccan Carrot and Spinach Salad (I paired it with the quinoa recipe below for a filling meal)
Matzo Brei (This is a traditionally more of an appetizer, but it’s very filling and the eggs are a good protein boost, too.)
Quinoa Pilaf With Cremini Mushrooms
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I love a perfectly cooked bean — tender to the bite, yet toothsome. I’m also the first to admit that taste-wise, nothing compares to cooking up a pot of dried beans from scratch. My ideal strategy is to cook double the amount I need, and store leftovers in the fridge for the week ahead, or the freezer; I like to call this my secret stash.
This doesn’t mean I rule out recipes that call for beans when I find my fridge and freezer with nary a cooked one in sight. That’s when I dip into my other secret stash. Yes, that’s right, I keep canned beans in the pantry, too. First and foremost, beans are an inexpensive source of protein. They’re also high in iron, which is especially important for vegetarians since meat is the other main source of this necessary nutrient.
The trick is to test out different brands until you find one that isn’t mushy and overcooked. I usually keep a backup can or two of pintos, black beans and red kidney beans. They all help get a quick vegetarian meal ready in less than 30 minutes, add an extra boost of protein to breakfast or serve as a hearty side dish.
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I’m a hoarder and until recently I didn’t see this as being a problem. My habit is under the guise of eating locally and seasonally. You won’t see piles of junk around my apartment, but open the freezer and you’re likely to get pelted with frozen fruit spilling from the shelves. Freezing fruit to last beyond its normal season is a way to enjoy summer’s bounty all year long. Learning to use it all up is not my strong suit. I get nervous about dipping into it too soon, so I dole it out sparingly in smoothies to perk up gray winter days.
Suddenly, daylight-saving time snuck up on me and a look at the calendar reminded me the official start of spring is here, too. The days are getting longer, temperatures getting a little warmer, and that means in just about two months, the growing season will be here. Farmers’ markets will once again welcome old friends. And then the panic sets in: Come December I worry about using up my stock of frozen berries, cherries and peaches too fast. Right about now, I start wondering how I’ll manage to use it all up before the cycle of preserving starts all over again.
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