04. April 2016 · Comments Off on On Garlicking ALL THE THINGS! · Categories: Food, Ingredients, Quick Tips · Tags:

garlic-bulbs-325I blame Emeril. Between his pork fat and bammage, “20 or 30 cloves of garlic” became the battle cry of thousands of American cooks.

The latest food meme states “One clove of garlic is not enough for any recipe unless it’s a recipe for ‘how to cook one clove of garlic,’ and even in this case use two.”

Please stop. Just. Fecking. Stop.

Just because some is good, more is not always better. This is the same mentality that’s transformed IPA beer into undrinkable disconnected mugs of malt sweetness doused with liberal applications of distilled raw hop oil. Yes, sometimes you need just one goddamn clove of garlic.

There is this thing in food and drink called “subtlety” and it might be worth going back to look up the definition again, because so many people seem to have forgot it exists. In a delicate sauce, a little garlic can add complexity and depth. More than that, and congrats – it tastes of nothing but garlic.

Garlic, like its allium cousins onion, leek, and shallot is a versatile thing. Stinging and brash raw, sugar sweet when roasted or caramelized, aromatic when sauted, toasty and smoky when browned. It is also a loud talker – the guest who will take over the party if you let it.

So think – is this dish supposed to taste exclusively or primarily of garlic? If the answer is no, then maybe put the third through 20th cloves down. And seriously question the need for a second.

16. June 2014 · Comments Off on A Brief Tale of Verdant Leaves · Categories: Cooking, Food, Ingredients · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I just realized that I have never written a single word here about greens. Not a whit about those staples that provoke an almost religious debate once you get not too far south of the Mason-Dixon line. With kale being the new nutritional darling, you would be forgiven for thinking that some attention would be paid to the broader topic.

This, people, is a problem. ‘Cause I love me some greens.

Now when I say “greens”, I mean the cooked leaves of certain hearty plants and root vegetables. Not salads, though they’re a worthy subject of discussion for later. I mean turnip greens, mustard, kale, chard, collards, and the like. You know – the things your mother or grandmother probably cooked the living hell out of, that stank up the house and turned up little noses. The plain truth of the matter is that you should be eating more of these, and they can be tasty.

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04. April 2014 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: What We Do When We Can’t Find Superfine Salt · Categories: Cooking, Food, Ingredients, Quick Tips

Superfine salt is also known as pickling or popcorn salt, depending on whether or not it contains anti-caking agents that keep it from clumping in high humidity. Unless you pop a lot of corn, or do a lot of pickling – the fine grained salt dissolves more quickly in cold brines – you’re unlikely to have the stuff sitting about. The solution? Throw a few tablespoons of kosher salt into a clean coffee/spice grinder and give it a hearty whiz. Superfine salt in no time, and no extra trip to the store.

06. June 2013 · Comments Off on On the Joys and Frustrations of Cold Summer Drinks · Categories: Food, Ingredients

Photo by Flickr user KJGarbuttOh, the blessing of a cold, cold drink in a sweaty glass on a baking, steamy Mid-Atlantic summer’s day. Iced teas glisten in the sunlight. Cold coffee offers up a chilly mid-day kick. You load in enough sugar to get the flavor you want. Then you get to the bottom of your drink, and disaster strikes. Look out – here comes a sickening sweet mouthful of gritty, half-dissolved sugar. It is the penance that you pay for the pleasure that came before.

We used to have this problem around here. Between my wife and I, we rarely agree on the degree of sweetening for beverages. Things I like with less sugar, she likes with more, and vice-versa. So, especially for drinks like iced tea, I have generally taken to making them unsweetened and letting the drinker modify to his or her own tastes. Hence the bottom of the glass swimming in sugar crystals.

Of course, for some drinks, they start hot and are iced later. Coffee, for instance. However, cold-extraction can produce a better beverage and you’re right back to the problem of granulated sugar not dissolving in cold liquids. Bartenders used to get around this by using castor sugar – an extremely finely powdered sugar without the added starch of confectioner’s sugar. The only problem – it clumps without that starch keeping the granules separate. In a humid environment, you’ll end up with a sugar brick in no time.

The alternative is liquid sweeteners. Let’s take a look at a few and see where they would work well.

Honey

Honey is probably the first thing you think of when you want something pourable and sweet. It conjures thoughts of hot tea and lemon. And since honey brings along its own flavors, it’s with tea that it seems to work best. Iced green tea, especially those that are fruit- or floral-scented, goes with a clover or orange blossom honey wonderfully. For tart herbal fruit teas, try darker honeys such as wildflower or tupelo.

In making cocktails, whiskey pairs very nicely with honey. The famed Scottish liqueur Drambuie is made with Scotch whisky, herbs, and honey, and many other cordials use it as their sweetener as well. A simple example would entail 2 oz. of rye whiskey, a 1/4 oz. of light honey, and a dash or two of orange bitters stirred over ice. Topped up with branch water or club soda, and served with an orange zest twist.

Keep in mind that honey is an extremely concentrated syrup, so it may still take some vigorous mixing in ice-cold drinks, but it still won’t leave the sandy sludge in the glass.

Molasses

In drinks, molasses is not that prominent a sweetener. However, if only once I would suggest making yourself an iced Cafe Creole. Stir 8 oz of strong black coffee with 1/2 oz (1 tbsp) of light, unsulfured molasses over ice.

Agave Nectar

The trendiest of the liquid sugars, this syrup comes from the same type of large succulent plant that gives us tequila. In this case, instead of fermenting the juice of the roasted and pulverized agave piƱa and distilling it, it’s boiled into an amber syrup and bottled. Originally a health-food-store alternative to honey for vegan eaters, it’s achieved a cult status as an erstwhile “healthy” sweetener. Even though fructose is fructose, the one thing that agave nectar does have going for it is a slightly caramelized flavor. As such, it mixes well with coffee and black teas.

Simple Syrup

Here we come to the most readily accessible liquid sweetener, that you won’t have to leave the house to go buy at the store. It’s the secret of every bartender out there. It’s neutral in flavor, almost as sweet as granulated sugar, and mixes instantly and transparently into any cold liquid.

Simple syrup is essentially a lot of sugar dissolved into a small amount of water. Basically, just enough water to keep it from re-crystallizing.

To make simple syrup, combine two parts sugar to one part water in a saucepan over low-medium heat. Stir frequently until all of the sugar is dissolved. Do not let the syrup come to a boil. When sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and let cool until at a safe enough temperature to pour into a clear plastic kitchen squeeze bottle. You will end up with slightly more syrup by volume than the volume of sugar used to make it.

Use simple syrup anywhere you would have used plain table sugar previously, and enjoy just the right amount of sweetness in crystal-clear non-gritty form.

28. June 2012 · Comments Off on Quick Tip: Awesomesauce. · Categories: Food, Ingredients, Quick Tips

If you’ve hung around a nerd long enough, you’ve heard this word. Used enthusiastically (usually written), it means insanely great, really fantasic, and/or way cool. “Made tons of changes to that source code, and it compiled without errors the first time. Awesomesauce!”

Used ironically (often spoken), it means the exact opposite. “Realized I sat in pigeon crap at lunch today and then walked around the office all afternoon… awesomesauce.”

But, did you know that this mythical substance actually exists?

Yes, Virginia, there is an awesomesauce. It’s called Sriracha.

This:

Sriracha hot sauce Image courtesy of Flickr user barron via Creative Commons. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/barron)

Is Sriracha. It is a culinary elixir of primarily ground ripe Jalepeno chilies, garlic, and vinegar. One usually first encounters it in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, especially if you’re sitting down to some pad thai or pho. Those in the know with regards to the magical bottle of nuclear red goodness with the green top refer to it as “Rooster Sauce.” Its heat level lies somewhere between Texas Pete or Crystal hot sauce and Tabasco. It’s thicker than those, but not as chunky as the coarser-ground sambal paste, which also omits the garlic. You should have some in your cupboard, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

What is it good for? What isn’t it good for? OK, maybe not as a cake frosting or donut filling. But, pretty much anything else is fair game.

Mix it liberally with ketchup, finely diced onion, and sweet pickle relish to apply to burgers and hot dogs for an extra bite. Mix with mustard for a spicy pretzel dip. Add to soups for sizzle. Add to sweet pickled cucumbers and onions with some red pepper flake for a fiery side condiment.

Dollop on pizza. Spice up your spaghetti sauce. Mix with stir-fried noodles. Dab onto potsticker dumplings, or make a dip from Sriracha and light soy sauce. Brush onto shrimp and grill. I could go on, but you’d tune out after a few more sentences, anyway.

Quite simply, Sriracha is the sauce that makes just about anything awesome. Thus, it is the true awesomesauce.