Monday, April 7, 2014

cooking tips with larry & rachel

I found this blog post that I wrote last summer in my Drafts folder and thought now would be a good time to publish it. Larry and I are currently making some major changes to our diet, so it will be interesting to look back on this and see how our cooking style has evolved as we integrate healthier ingredients and techniques into our kitchen.
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Recent experiments from the Smoellke Test Kitchen.

Larry and I have been cooking together for nine ten years. The first year we were dating, I'm pretty sure we survived solely on bar food, but after that we ventured into the kitchen. We started with uninspired and easy things like baked chicken breasts and pasta. But we quickly found this diet to be boring, so we stopped shying away from unique ingredients and started cooking more challenging recipes and exploring new flavors. And what a delicious adventure it has been!

Nowadays, we try between 100 and 150 new recipes a year. Our pantry contains 11 types of vinegar, 13 flavors of oil, and ingredients such as pomegranate molasses, gochujang, and sumac. Our spice collection is up to over 60 different spices. I have thousands of recipes cataloged in three-ring binders. We spend our free time flipping through cookbooks, Food & Wine magazine, and watching Top Chef for inspiration. This is not to say we are food snobs (I love a greasy piece of pizza or a taco from a food truck!), or that we are experts (we definitely have recipes that flop), just that we have learned a few things along the way:

ENGLISH MUFFINS MAKE THE BEST HAMBURGER BUNS.
So, I'm really not a fan of the tasteless, mushy, wet-kleenex style hamburger buns from the grocery store. But what irks me more than their lack of taste, is that they always end up molding or getting stale before we can use them all. Years back, we switched to using English muffins as hamburger buns and have never gone back. They're thinner so there's a better meat-to-bread ratio, they don't turn to mush when slathered with ketchup, and bonus, you can eat any leftover muffins for breakfast!

THE BEST PIZZA IS COOKED ON THE GRILL. (AND FRESH MOZZARELLA IS A MUST!)
I still struggle with making a decent pizza in the oven - the crust never cooks evenly and there are usually tears and/or curse words involved when trying to transfer the pizza to/from the pizza stone. But who cares about oven pizza when there is grilled pizza? Roll/pat out the dough into a pizza shape and toss it directly onto the grill (that's right, you don't need oil or cooking spray to keep it from sticking and you don't need a pizza stone, baking pan or anything - put the dough directly on the grill). Don't fret that the dough stretches out when you're putting it on the grill - grilled pizza will never have a perfectly round shape. (One of mine came out in the shape of Florida - not the prettiest, but still delish.) Once the dough cooks enough on the bottom side so that it is no longer sticky/is flippable/has grill marks, flip the crust and add sauce, FRESH mozzarella and toppings. (This pizza is best kept simple, so don't overdo it with a load of toppings.) Close the grill and wait just long enough for the bottom side of the crust to cook and the cheese to melt. Take it off the grill and enjoy. The pizza is made even more flavorful if you brush the dough with garlic oil before cooking. (See below.)

Update: I like to dust the dough with cornmeal - keeps it from sticking to your hands and adds a little texture to the crust. Also, I typically use a pre-made ball of dough from the grocery store and divide it into two portions, which each make a large personal sized pizza - this is the right size for ease of flipping on the grill.

GARLIC OIL MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER.
Pour a little olive oil in a ramekin. Stir in some crushed/minced fresh garlic. Let it sit for a bit while you're preparing diner. Now before you throw that pizza dough on the grill, brush on some of that garlic oil. Same goes for those English muffins you were going to toast on the grill for hamburger buns. So easy and takes the flavor of your pizza and burgers to the next level. (Also, the Garject garlic press is the best I've found - it's self-cleaning and has a PEEL EJECTION BUTTON!) Now does anyone have a tip for getting the smell of garlic off your fingers? My hands constantly smell like garlic no matter how many times I wash them!

GROW YOUR OWN HERBS. (Especially oregano and thyme!)
I have a little container garden of kitchen herbs on my patio. Throughout the years it has contained many different herbs. It has also been neglected at times. But the two herbs that I use the most in my cooking are the two herbs that come back year after year and don't seem to mind my neglect: oregano and thyme. These two herbs, along with the huge rosemary bush (now dead - wahhhh!) in our backyard make up the three primary herbs we cook with. They are so universal (pizza, pasta, meat/chicken, potatoes, fish!) and taste so delicious when picked from your backyard that you'll never go back to using the dried stuff. I've also grown marjoram and sage (don't use them very often), parsley (kind of boring), chives (easy to grow and delicious on eggs!), basil (bugs always eat mine, but I still manage to get a batch of pesto every summer), and cilantro (cannot grow this at all - always dies). The New York Times recipe for Oregano Marinade is our favorite marinade for all meat. P.S. Save time and dishes - don't make it in your blender, use an immersion blender instead...

AN IMMERSION BLENDER IS YOUR BEST FRIEND.
My favorite kitchen gadget by far is my immersion blender. In fact, I haven't used my regular blender in over six years. I hated cleaning/assembling that thing anyway, so it might be time to donate it. The immersion blender on the other hand - easy to use, easy to clean, and you don't have to transfer foods to a blender, dirty up another dish, or risk spilling your vat of soup everywhere since the immersion blender can just blend in the same vessel you cooked in. I use my immersion blender for smoothies, milkshakes, and frozen cocktails (it crushes ice, no problem), pureed soups, sauces, marinades, and dressings.

SHRED YOUR OWN CHEESE.
This might have to be filed under Things That Make Rachel Weird (according to Larry!), but I am personally offended by pre-shredded cheese. Here's why: Those bags of shredded cheese at the grocery store contain ANTI-CLUMPING AGENTS. Yuck. And yes, I realize that anti-clumping agents are found in a lot of processed foods, but it particularly bothers me in shredded cheese, because it make the cheese dried up and crusty and gross. Shredding a block of cheese yourself only takes a few seconds and the texture of the cheese and your dish will be much improved...and not contain chemicals.

HOW TO CUT A BELL PEPPER:
Do you cut bell peppers in half and then fuss with cutting out the core and getting rid of the seeds and then struggle with dicing the weird curved pepper halves? I did that for years, until I discovered this technique a few years ago - it leaves you with four flat rectangular sections of pepper and no stray seeds.

CHIPOTLES AND SMOKED PAPRIKA MAKE EVERYTHING TASTE BETTER.
Every year it seems that we discover an ingredient, become obsessed with it, and then start mixing it into everything. Four-ish years ago, we were putting chipotles into everything and I still love anything chipotle-flavored. The next year, we discovered Smoked Spanish Paprika (also called Pimenton de la Vera). Both of these ingredients pack a potent spicy punch. A few favorite recipes: Chipotle Ketchup, Chipotle Mac and Cheese, and Catalan Fish Stew with Pimenton Mayonnaise.

Bon appetit!

1 comment:

Naomi Skena said...

Love this! :) I have been pondering the grilled pizza approach for a while...thanks for the easy instructions, I will try that soon!