Category Archives: How To

How NOT To Make “Hot Oil”

Pretty doesn’t always equal tasty.

Our favorite local pizza spot is a pub that specializes in the Hot Oil Bar Pie – a paper-thin, crisp crust smeared with aromatic marinara, a blend of cheeses, and an olive-oil-soaked jalapeño pepper placed in the center of the pie (so the spicy oil disperses throughout as it bakes). The heat is all up-front, so people who can’t handle a lingering spiciness can still enjoy a slice. This is an amazing pizza.

Since the predominant kitchen motto in our house is “I bet we can make that”, and since we’ve received a half-dozen jalapeño peppers from our CSA share in the last few weeks, I followed the instructions received from our waitress on our last visit; topped the peppers, removed the seeds and ribs, packed them in olive oil, and left them to cure.

The result: moldy peppers and cloudy oil!

I’m assuming that the folks at Colony take a few more steps, and that their peppers are packed tightly (like cucumbers for pickles); slicing mine made them less sturdy and more slippery, which probably means they were less likely to stay submerged in the oil.

I’ve done a bit of reading on making other spiced oils, and have a new idea: rather than retain the peppers for use, I’ll chop them, infuse them into heated oil, then strain the solids and retain the oil for use in dressings and marinades and finishes. Sadly, the new plan may have to wait until next Sunday; I packed yesterday’s jalapeños into a new jar albeit without slicing them, before checking on the originals. (A classic food-preservation blunder!)

How To Make A Three-Egg Omelette

Breakfast in the garden of the Little Red House by the Sea

Now that we’re back into the rhythm of commute-work-commute-work-commute-work at home, I’m missing the restful vibe of our vacation week. I’m always much happier inside my own home than in any borrowed house, but long afternoon walks, lazy hours curled up with a good book, and uncounted moments listening to the wind chimes and watching the waves were respite for a weariness I didn’t quite know I carried. I’m trying to capture a bit of that quietness over this holiday weekend that marks the end of summer breathing in greater New York City – even for those of us who don’t have to consult a school calendar.

As part of my master plan, Clay has just agreed to a 5am wake-up alarm tomorrow so we can brew coffee and tea in to-go mugs and head to our local beach for a sunrise walk. I’m bribing him through his dismay with the promise of omelettes for breakfast when we get home – just like my Mom made them for us at the Little Red House by the Sea.

How to Make a Three-Egg Omelette

  1. First, gather your tools.
    Pour hot tap water into a small bowl to warm it. Preheat your oven on the broiler setting. Set a small, oven-proof skillet containing a drizzle of olive oil on the range over medium heat. Set up a cutting board and chef’s knife.
  2. Second, prepare your filling.
    My go-to combination is a bit of whatever meats are leftover in the fridge with three spears of asparagus (cut into 1/2 inch pieces), a mushroom or two (thinly sliced), a half dozen cherry tomatoes (quartered), and a tablespoon of sharp cheese (shredded) – but choose whatever you like. You’ll want approximately 1/3 cup of filling per omelette.
    • Toss any raw vegetables into your skillet and saute them until they’ve lost their crispness. Add any pre-cooked ingredients like meat of other vegetables to the pan and stir to warm them through. Pour the water out of your now-warm bowl, dry it out, and move your vegetables into it. Wipe out your pan and place it back on the range over medium-high heat, with a teaspoon of butter tossed into it to melt.
  3. Third, taste your filling – especially if it’s made up of leftover ingredients, or any brined vegetables. Season to taste, with the plan that all flavor and seasoning will come from the filling. (I usually add black pepper liberally, but find that using pre-cooked meat means there’s no need for added salt.)
  4. Fourth, cook your eggs.
    In a small bowl (I use a glass measuring cup), beat together three eggs. We get ours directly from the farm as part of our CSA share, and they’re a combination of giant chicken and small pullet eggs; let’s assume an average size of “large”.
    • When the butter in your skillet is melted, bubbling, and fragrant, lower the heat to medium and pour your beaten eggs into the pan. Turn the pan to evenly distribute the eggs through it; as they set on the bottom, use a rubber spatula to lift the set portion and allow raw egg to run underneath.
    • When the eggs are nearly set to you your liking, remove the pan from the heat.
  5. Fifth, Assemble the omelette.
    Working quickly, scatter your filling over one-half of your cooked egg, adding any cheese as the top-most layer. Place the skillet into your oven under the broiler; leave the oven door slightly ajar to monitor the cooking/melting/browning for forty-five seconds. When the eggs are fully set and slightly browned and any cheese in the filling has melted, remove the skillet from the oven, and immediately fold it in half so that the “filled” half is covered by the “unfilled” half. Press lightly down on the top of the omelette so that the melted cheese can glue the two halves together.
  6. Sixth, serve.
    Slide your omelette onto a warmed plate, alongside a piece of hearty toast spread with tomato jam and some sliced fruit (peaches are divine just now). Hand the plate to your bleary-eyed spouse, along with a fork, a kiss, and a second-cup of coffee.

What’s your favorite “vacation” breakfast?

How To Make The Most Delicious Summer Pasta

I don’t have a photo of the finished plate, because I do not have that much willpower.

I love watching food game shows; when people who have staked their reputation on cooking well are challenged to up their game in a public setting, they layer ingredients and flavors and techniques in ways I can’t even imagine. One of the specific things I’ve noticed lately is the tendency to layer sauces: one to dress the bottom of the plate, a second atop the entrée, and a third on the accompaniment. And that new way of thinking inspired the most amazing pasta dish I’ve eaten this year.

First, grill some vegetables.

Sift your CSA share or home garden harvest and pull out three summer onions, a head of new garlic, and six gorgeous peppers. Wrap the garlic in a foil packet, and toss all of the veggies onto the grill. Turn as needed, and when the peppers are cooked through and the onions have some char marks, remove them all to a bowl and head inside to your range. (Unless you have a fabulous outdoor cooktop, in which case you can just move along your gorgeous outdoor kitchen and keep working. But don’t tell me; I’m working to curb my envy.)

Second, make the pasta and a lemon butter sauce.

Throw the fettuccine in a pot of salted boiling water, and toss four tablespoons of butter into a skillet over medium heat. When the butter melts, add a peeled, whole clove of garlic, three gluts of chicken stock or white wine, and the zest and juice of a large, ripe lemon. Simmer, whisking regularly, for 7 to 10 minutes until the sauce thickens, beautifully emulsified and fragrant. Discard the garlic, then toss your drained pasta into the sauce, turning it to coat. Your pasta will be glossy and beautiful, and you will want to dive into it with your bare hands. Resist temptation!

Turn those grilled vegetables into a sauce of their very own.

Cut away the blackened edges of garlic, and squeeze four of the paste-consistency garlic cloves into another skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Peel and seed two fist-sized peppers, and dice them and one of the onions, and add them to the skillet. Roughly chop three beautifully ripe tomatoes into the skillet; season liberally with salt, pepper, and herbs like basil, oregano, and marjoram. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, just until the vegetable juices come together and bubble.

Prepare your plates.

Pull warm plates from your oven, and divide the lemony fettuccine between them. Spoon the vegetable sauce over the top liberally – you simply can’t be too heavy handed. If you can’t live without cheese on your pasta add a little freshly grated Parmesan – but keep it light so you don’t miss out on the silky texture of the buttered pasta.

Enjoy.

Sit at the table with your napkin readily at hand, and twirl the lemon-butter-soaked pasta through the glorious vegetables. Every bite tastes like a languid summer afternoon, bursting with the richness of fresh-from-the garden veggies and the velvety, sunshine-brightness of lemon.

Reserve the remaining grilled vegetables so you can make this again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after. Sun-warmed tomatoes were made for this!

How to Make Salted Sesame Quick Pickles

One of my favorite cookbooks is Amy Pennington’s Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen

I moved to NYC in 2009 and really struggled to bring what I knew about cooking (big, farm-style kitchens full of enough good things to feed an army) into a single girl’s apartment. This book was a godsend for how to do a lot with a little – like how to make something for the pantry from a quart of damson plums picked up at the greenmarket, rather than renting a car to drive to a farm for a half-bushel of seconds for jam.

I left the city house for our country house nearly four years ago but held onto this slim little book with its many small batch recipes – Amy’s brandied cherries are some of my favorite preserves to share as gifts. But the real value for me is in the few pages about quick pickles – techniques for making brines and cures and soaks with different types of flavorings for different types of vegetables.

Without fail, I make these sesame-flavored cucumber pickles every summer – we eat them from the jar, serve them alongside Thai take-out, puree them as a dipping sauce for lettuce wraps, or make them the main ingredient in a salad accompanying stir-fry. And any time we have a bit of leftover cucumber, we’ll slice it and slide it into the bottom of the brining jar, so as to maintain the supply.

Make The Brine

Since cucumbers are a soft vegetable, I follow Amy’s instructions and don’t use any heat treatment on the brine. Mix together:

  • 2 cups or so of white* vinegar
  • 2 heaping TBSP of kosher salt
  • 1 TBSP sesame oil

Pack The Carton

Slice approximately a pound of cucumbers and place them in a container with a water-tight lid. Sprinkle 1 TBSP of sesame seeds over the cucumbers. Pour the brine over the top, making sure there is enough to cover the vegetables. Place the lid on the container and put it in the fridge.

Enjoy

These pickles taste good within 30 minutes, fabulous within 6 hours, and are still great after being stored for a couple of weeks.

How To Make A Mess Of Squash… and Fix It

I had intended to write about how to make Squash Latkes/Fritters/Pancakes today.

I spent Sunday grating and pressing and drying squash. I collected fresh thyme and chives from the garden and mixed batter on Monday.

Clay painstakingly formed the patties, stuffed with excellent goat cheese. We set up the electric griddle in order to cook the batch uniformly (and quickly).

And wow, were they terrible.

  • I grated the squash too coarsely, so couldn’t get a crisp cook all the way through.
  • The batter – with its specific ratios of flour, egg, leavening, and seasoning to squash – was too thin to form a nice crust around the vegetables.
  • They were blander than bland, and I like squash!
  • I have made these before, and they were amazing – we couldn’t stop eating them. But this effort was a total fail.
  • Sadly, I’m out of summer squash, so can’t try again just yet. When the opportunity arises, though, my plan is to whip up a traditional pancake batter and mix in some squash purée – since that works with butternut and pumpkin in the fall!
  • Other (successful) news: I made a double-veggie zucchini bread that my colleagues devoured in 45 minutes yesterday, and our gazpacho flavors seem to be melding nicely in the fridge – I didn’t get to taste the former, but the latter is tonight’s supper. Stay tuned…
  • What’s your most disappointing kitchen fail?
  • How to Make Mango Salsa

    We decided to observe Independence Day last week with a Mexican-American take on the traditional burger-and-salad fare: we opted for nachos with grilled, spiced beef, roasted corn-tomato-jalapeño salsa, torn CSA greens, and a lime-and-yogurt crema spread over blue corn tortillas.

    It was a fabulous plate, and sourcing ingredients from our local Latino-owned market to make a dish that could not exist without the blending of culture that has always accompanied American immigration felt like an act of great patriotism.

    Our favorite spice market, Penzeys, had a similar idea; on Friday they gave away gift boxes containing Latin American spices: Mexican Vanilla and their own spice blend for Salsa & Pico.

    In gratitude, Clay brought home a large bag of other treats to play with, but our first objective was showcasing the gifts.

    I am dreaming of Mexican Wedding Cookies; they will have to wait for the temperature to drop; we tucked the vanilla away to await that occasion. But the Salsa & Pico blend just cried out for freshness – and we obliged.

    We snowed the spices liberally over a bowl containing a diced ripe mango, charred scallions, chopped tomatoes, crushed garlic scapes, torn cilantro, minced roasted hot pepper, and the juice and pulp of one ripe lime. A quick stir followed by fifteen minutes for the ingredients to get friendly yielded a bright, happy dish just bursting with the flavor of sunshine on a beach.

    We served the salsa inside pulled pork burritos, but if left to my own devices I would have picked up the bowl and a spoon and called it dinner.

    How to Enjoy a Glut of Squash

    Summer Squashes are abundant in July!

    Our CSA share has provided an abundance of squashes for the last two weeks: zucchini, summer squash, crookneck, patty pan, and a beautiful, large green one with striped skin, pumpkin-like seeds, and pale flesh. (I’ll remind Clay to ask Max what that variety is called at today’s collection!)

    We enjoy squash, but it’s easy for any single ingredient to feel overwhelming in our diet if we don’t make the effort to transform it in different ways. This weekend, we focused on transforming squash, and these are the options we’ve come up with:

    Grilled Vegetable Salad with Gnocchi

    Our supermarket puts out a complimentary magazine for loyalty card holders every month. Like all magazines, it’s generally an advertisement-vehicle for specific brands, but I thumb through it for different ideas anyway. This month’s pages were full of salads and tips on grilling vegetables, so we decided to grill up a bunch and toss them with gnocchi and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing for a lighter take on pasta salad.

    1. On Wednesday, when we had the grill fired up, we quartered the unknown squash lengthwise and sliced the patty pans into discs. We grilled them with large slices of vidalia onion, a quartered green bell pepper, and some mushrooms.
    2. We cooked the gnocchi (a cheater package from the frozen section of the market) according to package directions, and drained it very well.
    3. Clay made a vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, and our instant pot yogurt, seasoned with an herb blend from Penzeys containing green onion, basil, celery flakes, minced garlic, dill salt, chives, and pepper.
    4. When the veg were cooled we chopped them and two gorgeous heirloom tomatoes into bite-sized pieces, added the room-temperature gnocchi, and tossed the whole mess with the dressing. (Clay dove into the bowl and mixed with his hands, so as not to pulverize the vegetables.)
    5. The salad went into the fridge overnight so that the flavors could meld and get happy, and then became fabulous take-along-and-eat-at-room-temperature lunches.

    Crookneck Squash Frittata

    Broiled squash slices, ready for their egg-and-cheese bath.

    We’ve never been led astray by a recipe from Uncle Alton, and this one is particularly good. I chopped both rosemary and thyme from our herb garden to mix with the squash  slices prior to broiling, and substituted a lovely mild chevre from Lost Ruby Farm for the ricotta cheese – and it was wonderful. I almost can’t wait for fall to try a variation of this with roasted pumpkin and butternut squash.

    The finished frittata. I should have pulled it out from under the broiler 30 seconds earlier, but it’s so tasty!

    Zucchini Bread

    I’ve been making the Zucchini Bread recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook since I was 11 years old, and despite trying dozens of alternates championed by Food Network and Food52 members, I’ve yet to find anything as tasty or reliable as this one.

    It’s particularly forgiving if the two leftover zucchini in your fridge that really need to be used up measure out to a cup-and-a-quarter or cup-and-a-half of grated flesh rather than a precise one-cup measure; in that case I sub in a tablespoon or two of whole wheat flour for an equivalent measure of all-purpose, and allow the batter to rest and thicken for ten minutes before putting the pan in the oven. The texture is perfect every time.

    Squash Chips

    How can you go wrong with freshly grated parmesan?

    Samantha stated that her Baked Parmesan Squash Rounds isn’t really a recipe, more a two-ingredient short-cut to snacking. I didn’t believe her when I first read that, but she’s right. And as long as we have squash coming in our CSA shares, I have no interest in buying snacking chips at the market. (That’s saying a lot for me – chips are my favorite snack!)

    I sliced our last crookneck squash into quarter-inch-thick slices, patted them dry, laid them on a baking sheet sized for our toaster oven, sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper, and then grated a chunk of fresh parmesan over the whole thing. Baked at 425 for 15 minutes, they cooked up into divine, chewy little parmesan crackers. Next time I’ll put them in without the cheese for 7 minutes, then add the grated cheese and continue with the 15-minute plan – so they can get crispier without burning the cheese.

    What’s your favorite recipe for summer squashes? I’d love to give it a try – and to hear what you think of these!