I’m obsessed with the fresh, constant supply of seltzer water pumped out by my small SodaStream. So much so that I wrote a cookbook, The Artisan Soda Workshop, revolving around syrups that can be mixed into the seltzer for DIY soda. And then it was a thrill to write a blog post for SodaStream featuring a recipe from the cookbook. I chose to highlight my Egg Cream recipe, which is misleading as far as names. As I convey in the post, my Northern-raised mom would tell this Southern kid about how she missed Egg Creams. Of course, I thought the drinks actually contained eggs–a raw yolk floating in the mix of a drink. As an adult, I learned that an egg cream is actually nothing like that. It’s a splash of rich, chocolate syrup mixed with dairy and topped with seltzer. I use cream versus the more traditional milk because it makes the drink oh-so-much-more fizzy. Also, add a splash of booze like Kahlua turns this into cocktail magic.
One of my first *wow* moments from culinary training was learning how to correctly peel gingerroot. Using a peeler never worked quite right due to the knobbiness of ginger. Cutting off the peel with a knife made me feel like half the ginger was ending up in the trash. The trick is to use a spoon to scrape the peel away, which works like kitchen magic.
I’m a self-admitted ginger-aholic. I can’t get enough of it and I’m always on a quest to use it in everything (even drinks…see here.), so this was a time-saver. One of my favorite ginger concoctions this past year has been whizzing gingerroot, scallions, canola oil and salt in the food processor. I make a pot of rice, saute chicken thighs and then serve it with ginger sauce to dip it. It transforms ho-hum chicken and rice to fabulous. I’ll saute shrimp and pour the sauce over it, or even drizzle a bit into butternut squash soup. It’s massively versatile, and I plan my dinners around the sauce when a vat of it is in the fridge. But then I stumbled on Francis Lam’s version, which uses hot oil instead of cold. Results are below.
Garlic-Scallion Sauce, Two Ways
The version using cold oil and just a food processor: about 4 ounces gingerroot (peeled and chopped in 1-inch pieces), 2 to 3 roughly chopped scallions, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or more) in a food processor. Puree it all, while pouring 1/2 cup canola oil down the feed tube. Puree until emulsified. Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning if needed.
The version using hot oil, a food processor and many pots: about 2 ounces gingerroot (peeled and chopped in 1-inch pieces), 2 bunches of scallions and salt whirled in the food processor and then put in a large heat-proof pot. 1 cup of canola oil is heated until smoking and then poured over the scallion-ginger combo. The complete recipe is on Gilt Taste.
The Verdict: There’s no denying that the hot oil gently cooks the scallions and ginger, mellowing out both. In a hurry, go for the version using cold oil. It’s quicker with easier clean-up. If time’s on your side, the hot oil version rocks. Just make sure to double or triple the amount. You’ll eat it all.
While chocolate fondue isn’t quite difficult to make, it involves tempering chocolate and all that jazz–which, let’s face it, can kind of be a pain. But, while working on my cookbook, The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook, I discovered a quick, practically fool-proof way to get chocolate fondue the easy way. And that’s by melting chocolate chips and chocolate syrup together. The chocolate syrup from Trader Joe’s is already a pretty good quality–that’s what helps the most. Also, make sure to use a good-quality brand of chocolate chips. This is a quick way to impress a loved one with your (ahem) chocolate culinary talents. Just make sure to hide the chocolate syrup bottle, ok?
Yield: 2 servings
Accompaniments like sliced strawberries, banana chunks, pound cake pieces, marshmallows, etc
1/2 cup Chocolate syrup, like Trader Joe’s Organic Midnight Moo Chocolate Flavored Syrup
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1. Cut the fruit and other accompaniments into bite-size pieces. Arrange them on a plate.
2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir together the chocolate syrup and 1/4 cup chocolate chips. Microwave on high until melted, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave).
3. Remove from the microwave and stir in the remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips.
4. Place into a fondue pot to keep warm. Serve, dipping the fruit and cake pieces into the fondue with toothpicks or fondue forks.
When a friend of mine—also an avid cook—had her first baby recently, she was trying to figure out how to cook with a baby bouncing on her hip. “If only someone would write a cookbook on one-handed cooking,” she said. Soon after that conversation, I met Debbie Koenig, who was working on a cookbook with that very premise (and more) in mind. The giant tome (400 pages!) will be published in February, and I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak. This was good timing, since I had promised another friend with a baby-on-the-way that I would stock her freezer with food this weekend, hopefully before her little boy made his appearance. She and her husband had requested Italian, so I browsed Debbie’s cookbook, titled Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals & Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents.
I settled on making Lasagna Ravioli, using a combo of cheese and meat ravioli. In the cookbook, Debbie lists variations on the theme with a mushroom-spinach version and a Southwestern beef. While the Southwestern one (full of enchilada sauce, corn and Cheddar) called to me, I decided to go with the straight-up Italian version, knowing that appealed more to my friends’ taste buds. Along with the Lasagna Ravioli, I also made Debbie’s Baked Macaroni with Ricotta, Spinach and Mint, which has all the usual suspects of a baked pasta: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and pasta, of course. But there’s a mint and ricotta layer hidden into the middle of the dish. The mint adds a uniqueness to the pasta without making it too terribly weird for kids. Both recipes were so simple to make (Can you mix things in a bowl and boil pasta? Then you’re good to go.).
Now to gloat about the cookbook a bit. It made me want to have a baby, just to have an excuse to utilize it on a daily basis. First of all, the cookbook is packed with a gazillion recipes that I wanted to try. But what makes it so special is how Debbie’s voice comes through, like a (non-creepy) whisper in my kitchen cooking alongside me. There are tips from other moms who have made the recipes, along with how their family reacted, and instructions on turning each meal into baby food. The book is exactly what it aims to be: a cookbook to guide parents on feeding themselves easily and well through the sleep deprived state of new parenthood.
If a new parent is on your Christmas list, your shopping just got much easier. Debbie has a special deal where pre-orders will be eligible for a free, signed bookplate.
And because this is the life of a cookbook author, I’m extremely fortunate to know other authors with excellent cookbooks to stuff in Christmas stockings. From beer geeks to sandwich lovers, the food fanatic in your life is covered with the cookbooks below.
Baked Macaroni with Ricotta, Spinach, and Mint
Recipe adapted from Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals & Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents by Debbie Koenig (William Morrow Paperbacks; February 21, 2012).
Cooking time: 60 minutes
1 (14.5- to 16-ounce box) whole wheat or whole-grain ziti or penne
1 (5- to 9-ounce) bag baby spinach
1 cup ricotta
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (24-ounce to 26-ounce) jar good-quality pasta sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Grease two 8-inch square baking dishes or one 9- by 13-inch dish.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than directed on the package.
3. While the pasta is cooking, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, mint and pepper in a small bowl, and set aside.
4. When the timer rings, add the entire bag of spinach to the pot–it will wilt quickly—and cook for 1 minute more. (The pasta should be slightly undercooked). Drain well, then return pasta and spinach to the pot.
5. Add the entire jar of sauce to the spinach and pasta, and stir to combine.
6. If using the two 8-inch baking dishes, spread about one quarter of the pasta mixture on the bottom of each prepare dish (use one half of the pasta mixture if using one 9- by 13-inch dish). Spoon all of the ricotta mixture on top of the pasta layer (it will be too sticky to spread.) It will remain a separate layer, even after cooking. Top with remaining pasta mixture.
7. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top, and bake until the mozzarella is melted and golden-brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
More Cookbook Love:
100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love by Jill Silverman Hough
Chock-full of delicious, creative, and easy-to-make recipes for everyday cooks, 100 Perfect Pairings makes food and wine pairing easy and approachable. With recipes organized into twelve chapters by wine variety, simply turn to the chapter for the wine you want to serve, make any of the entrees you find there, and enjoy it with your wine. It’s that easy. Be it Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir, a big dinner party or a simple meal with friends, “100 Perfect Pairings” promises wonderful recipes that make every pairing, well, perfect!
Jill Silverman Hough is a cookbook author, food and wine writer, recipe developer, and culinary instructor whose forte is making food and cooking simple yet special. On Jill’s blog: Tortilla Soup from Almost Meatless
Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet by Joy Manning & Tara Mataraza Desmond
Ideal for today’s conscientious carnivores, Almost Meatless is a timely new book featuring 60+ tasty recipes that go light on the meat. Without compromising flavor or protein, these dishes maximize health benefits while minimizing the grocery bill and impact on the planet.
Co-author Tara Mataraza Desmond is a writer, cookbook author and recipe developer focused on food for health and wellness, pregnancy and parenthood. On Tara’s blog: Yogurt Chicken with Yogurt Chutney Sauce from 100 Perfect Pairings.
The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens by Patricia Tanumihardja
Asian grandmothers—whether of Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, or Indian descent— are keepers of the cultural, and culinary, flame. Their mastery of delicious home-cooked dishes and comfort food makes them the ideal source for this cookbook. The 130 tantalizing dishes assembled in this tome comprise hearty food, brightly flavored, and equally good to look at and eat. Plus, all the recipes are translated to work in modern home kitchens.
Pat Tanumihardja is a food and travel writer currently based in the Washington, D.C. metro area and blogs at http://theasiangrandmotherscookbook.wordpress.com/. On Pat’s blog: Chickpea Curry with Tomatoes and Mango from Roz Cummin’s blog.
Brewed Awakening by Joshua M. Bernstein
Brewed Awakening is Joshua M. Bernstein’s definitive take on the craft beer revolution. The book is the deeply reported story of the wild innovations and passions driving craft beer, focusing on the tales of the risk-taking brewers, bar owners and the dedicated beer drinkers across the globe. There’s a story in every pint glass, and Brewed Awakening gives voice to each one.
Josh Bernstein is a Brooklyn-based beer, spirits, food, travel and bicycling (phew!) journalist, as well as an occasional tour guide. On Josh’s blog: The Jucy Lucy Burger from The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.
The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches by Susan Russo
How do you keep a Dagwood from toppling over? How did the Hero get its name? And who invented the French Dip? Discover these answers and more in The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches—a chunky little cookbook dedicated to everything between sliced bread. You’ll find recipes for every sandwich imaginable along with fascinating regional and historical trivia. From the humble Sloppy Joe to the chic Nutella sandwich, from the iconic Po ‘Boy to the fresh-faced donut sandwich, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches will satiate sandwich connoisseurs everywhere.
Susan Russo is a San Diego-based cookbook author, blogger (Food Blogga), and freelance writer specializing in food and lifestyle. On Susan’s blog: Highlights from Brewed Awakening.
Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals & Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents by Debbie Koenig
Give a new parent the gift of sanity! Parents Need to Eat Too makes it easy for new moms and dads to take care of themselves as well as they’re caring for baby. Every recipe has been tested by a group of more than 100 moms, and every recipe also includes instructions for turning that dish into baby food. The book goes on sale in February, but author Debbie Koenig has created a special holiday offer, available now: She’ll send a free signed, custom-made bookplate and holiday card to anyone who pre-orders the book as a gift.
Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea by Roz Cummins
Roz Cummins is a Boston-based food writer who specializes in sustainability. She also loves tea and baking. She has worked as an editor, a teacher, and an arts administrator. She is currently working on an e-book called Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea. Visit her website: http://rozcummins.blogspot.com. On Roz’s blog: Steamed Meatballs with Tangerine Peel from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.
You know what guides me through thoughts of living in NYC with just a tiny window AC to cool me down in summer heat? (You see, in the South, we at least have central air to cool us down.) All of the produce that summer reaps. Garlic scapes — be still my heart. Fresh, heirloom tomatoes of different varieties. And padron peppers. I only discovered these babies a few years ago and have been addicted every since.
I can spot these green, crinkly chiles at the farmer’s market or Whole Foods. There’s a cinch to cook too. Just pile them into a hot pan with olive oil, sauté until the skins are somewhat blistered and season with salt. Find more detailed cooking instructions in a previous post I wrote for Serious Eats. The sneakiness about these chile peppers is that while most of the batch are mild, a few register much higher on the Scoville scale. That’s the fun of devouring them — you don’t know if you’re getting a mild chile or a spicy one until you’ve popped it into your mouth. What could be better for a spice addict?