Just like how many Americans think they don't have accents, I used to believe I was totally free of regional snobbery... until I moved away from Maryland after high school.
See, I grew up just between DC and Baltimore, I've got roots in the Chesapeake Bay stretching back at least 4 generations, so I know—Maryland doesn't really have a ton of nationally-recognizable cultural touchstones, except for one thing: the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. Marylanders are also persnickety about preparation methods, of which there are only three acceptable options: deep-fried softshell on a sandwich; fried up as a crab cake with extremely sparse filler; and steamed with Old Bay, hand-picked and dipped in melted butter.
So when I left my hometown and found other crustaceans being touted as "crab," my gut reaction was Man, that's not crab.
You know what, though? I love all kinds of seafood, so I was eventually willing to concede that here are a lot of other types of crab out there, and they were probably delicious. So I took it upon myself to try out Alaska's most famous seafood exports: the Alaskan king crab.
It's impossible not to love the grill, especially in summertime. And at ManMade, there's enough of that love for grills of all kinds: gas grills, kamado cookers, offset cookers, vertical smokers, hibachis, and whatever else helps bring your food that flame kissed flavor.
But for all-around versatility, our vote goes to the charcoal kettle grill. This design has remained basically unchanged for nearly seventy years, and it has stood the test of time as an affordable, adaptable, and portable way to make dinnertime that much more enjoyable. Kettle grills such as the ubiquitous Weber are, as much as a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers or the Eames Lounge, a classic.
When I'm just cooking for myself (i.e. if my special someone is out of town), I can certainly fend for myself nutritionally, but, I'm probably not going to get too culinarily ambitious. I find I either want to cook for lots and lots of folks (hence my two dinner parties over the weekend), or not really mess with it. I mean, who I am gonna impress and treat? Myself? Nah. Plus, I gotta do all the cleanup myself.
So, while I don't like to get take out every night, I'm prolly not gonna make a big mess in the kitchen with fancy fixings. And, probably at least once, when spending an evening huddled away in the basement working on a project, I'll resort to that single-guy staple: the frozen pizza.
Not that I like frozen pizza, of course. But, it does do in a pinch, requires little effort and clean-up, and sorta feels like a treat. But that bland blagh from a box doesn't have to be all bad. Especially if you take it up a notch with some fresh ingredients and clever techniques.
In the summer, it's easy to get those deep, blackened and charred flavors in your weeknight meals. During grill season, you simply head outside, and cook your meal over an open flame.
And then comes January, where the produce is poor, and everything lacks that certain zing that the warm sun and fire-seared foods provide.
Cooking turkey upside down is the recipe for a juicy, delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Here's how:
Every season, somebody will inevitably mutter that ugly, and untrue, cliche. "No one actually likes turkey. It just tradition" or "Thanksgiving's only about the side dishes." Honestly, I feel bad for them. For it is only poor souls who have never had a properly cooked turkey who reject it's importance at the centerpiece of the holiday. Because with a properly cooked turkey not only comes slices to fork during the big meal, but better tasting stuffing, the all-important gravy, and options for leftovers that will keep your mouth and stomach happy all four-day weekend long.
You just need a little technique. Here's how to roast a turkey upside down to shut up the naysayers.
This is the best turkey stuffing recipe ever. There. I said it.
Premise #1: stuffing is the greatest thing on the Thanksgiving table.
Premise #2: My mom's German stuffing is a tradition, and amazing.
Premise #3: It's also incredibly easy to make and super versatile.
Conclusion: You should make Mom's German stuffing recipe
It's the holiday season here on the show and today we make German Thanksgiving stuffing, a family holiday recipe with Mom. She makes it the best and she's gonna make sure we do it right. This is one of my favorite traditions, and is one of the simplest holiday recipes. You'll be blown away by how tasty it is. Mom and I are happy to share it with you.
Cooking delicious food is the definition of craft: start with curiosity, add in a little practice, mix in the right materials and ingredients, and eventually, you'll nail some basic techniques to make your weeknight meals something worth doing all those dishes.
But, there are also such things as shortcuts. Maybe not towards making a meal taste acceptable in the first place, but rather, little tips and tricks that take your food from good to holy-cow-that's-great; small works of wonder that make a meal more than just nutrition, and leaves you feeling excited and satisfied.
This is one of those things.
Here's the thing people who don't like spicy food don't really understand: adding heat to your food, whether in the form of fresh chile peppers, their dried counterparts, or any number or cooked, mixed, and fermented chile-based condiments, is not just about upping the Scoville units. What the true piquancy people know is that chiles aren't just spicy, they're full of amazing, floral fruit flavors that you can't get anywhere else.
Often, the best way to add that can't-stop-eating-it peppery bite is in the form of prepared hot sauces. There are tens of thousands out there, too many of which are characterized only by heat levels and how much devil imagery they can fit on their labels. But hot sauce shouldn't be a dare. It's an invitation to a new world of flavor that can accentuate whatever its added to.
Apple pie. For my money, it's the best dessert to grace our tables and slide down our gullets in the past bazillion years. Sweet, tart, warm, gooey, and crumbly... it's no wonder it's an American icon. But why limit this goodness to your oven? Let's take a journey with the recipe, step out of the kitchen, and head into the great outdoors (or your backyard) to create a rustic cast iron apple pie cooked over an open flame.
If you ask me, the single best place to get breakfast in NYC is Bubby's. They have incredibly delicious and addictive pancakes. And yet, Bubby's is not a secret, and as it is with the "best" places in any city, getting in often requires a long wait. It's popular with tourists who want a chance to get their forks into this magical creations, and I can't blame them. They're that good.
I, on the other hand, hate waiting, and I so I figured out how to modify the recipe a bit and, instead, I'm making brunch in my own kitchen this weekend.
Here's how to make better pancakes at home.
For my whole life, the idea of foraging has had a romance that I can't quite put my finger on. Way before it became a punchline about hyper-local hipster foodies, to be a forager was a signal of a deep wisdom about the land. To know what could be eaten was to have access to riches that were all around us. In a world beset by industrial foodways, foraging is a reminder that the world can sustain us (or at least some of us) without our machines, if we would simply let it.
The trouble with foraging, though, is that unless you grew up in the style of Katniss Everdeen or the Girl of the Limberlost, most of the earthly wisdom and insight needed to forage well is beyond you. And this is definitely a wisdom that you need to gain through practice. Ideally, some Italian-born wood elf––someone like Angelo Pellegrini or Angelo Garro (who at least is still alive)––would appear to teach a willing learner how to gather and find and hunt out the best things available on the earth. But that's pretty unrealistic. So, the only thing to do is to just do it––after all, if we start small, build up some confidence and awareness, and then keep going, before long we might rediscover some of that lost knowledge so that we can pass it along ourselves.
So, from the experience of one free food fan who hopes to be more, here's how to get started as a forager.
I remember when the cheese lovers started telling me what was "real" cheese and what was "fake." I remember taking them seriously because they were talking about cheese cultures (ha. pun!) I knew to be important: Italian, French, Swiss, Spanish, etc. "Cheese is alive!" these experts insisted. And anything that was not the product of natural fermentation and cave-aging was unacceptable. Eating the rind was important. The worship of bacteria in the process was expected. The presence of insect larvae was not necessarily a negative. Out of a world that had room for Cheeze Whiz, handi-snacks, and this bit by Mitch Hedberg, the celebration of authentic, non-adulterated cheeses was completely legitimate.
I've got favorite foods, in every category imaginable. In my head, I write little Pablo Neruda-style odes to each one of my cravings.
And in the snack world, popcorn reigns supreme. As long as it's still crunchy, I'll eat just about every form of burst corn kernel—air popped, microwaved, butter/cheese/caramel split into a holiday tin, warmed under a heat lamp at the movie theater concession stand and drenched in butter "topping." (OK, so I actually skip the butter.)
But the Great Emperor of the Popcorn Realm is now, and will always be, freshly oil-popped stovetop popcorn. As early 90's kid, I grew up on the microwaveable stuff, but I got the entrance to the backstage party from my cooking wizard mother-in-law, and I've never looked back. Nothing can cook the starch in popcorn kernels quite like hot oil, and it's so convenient to be able to salt it perfectly when the thin sheen of oil is still glisten atop each little puff.
Read on for the time-honored technique of making the best stovetop popcorn you've ever had!
Salt of the earth. Worth his salt. Take it with a grain of salt...
It doesn't take much digging into English idioms to recognize a pattern here: salt is valuable. As an essential mineral? Sure. As a time-honored method of food preservation? Yep. But most importantly? It makes your food tasty. I quote Michael Ruhlman in The Elements of Cooking, distilling a conversation with award-winning chef Thomas Keller: "It is true not just for cooks in professional kitchens, but for all cooks in all kitchens, everywhere: learning to salt food properly is the most important skill you can possess." It doesn't get any more definitive than that.
The pursuit of properly seasoned food calls for action beyond just salting at the table. See, in my home, salt shakers are mostly for 1) decoration and 2) the occasional ear of corn in July. The reason is that my wife and I salt our food while cooking it. We caution guests to taste their food before they reach for the shaker because if they try to season it at the table, it'll taste oversalted.
In fact, when we're cooking, we actually dispense with a shaker entirely... and by the way, forget about the 1/4 teaspoon measure. We use an even simpler set of fundamental tools:
For most dedicated eaters, the summer means grilling. If you are not firing up some flames to roast some summer sweet corn or a blacken a hanger steak or (at least) a hot dog, you are missing out on one of the greatest joys of the season. There is so much potential and tradition in a simple kettle grill, a chimney full of carbonized wood, and the possibility of what to put on top. But in between the pork chops and burgers and corn cobs and zucchini, there's something else you should absolutely be putting on your grill: a wok.
Grilling season is in full swing. You're slinging burgers and dogs off the fire into the waiting hands of hungry family and friends. ManMade has been, and will continue, to keep your grilling skills sharp, so let's focus on what's going on your food. I'd take a bet you have some store-bought relish sitting next to that plate of hotdogs, right? It's time to ditch that generic stuff, get your hands dirty, and let your guests relish in the best relish they will ever have! (forgive me).
For real though, those of you who are looking for a fantastic gift, a chance to create something from scratch, and, in my honest opinion, the best relish to grace your taste buds, take this summer to make this sweet zucchini relish...
In my post Head Tea: The Greatest Cold Remedy Known to Man, I mentioned a funky little coffee shop on the main street of the historic town where I went to college. As far as shops go, it's definitely part of the pre-hipster wave of hippie shops: you're likely to find ratty couches, a castoff mannequin dressed according to the season, a take-a-book-leave-a-book shelf, and cryptic messages like "Evolution is not bound by recipes" scrawled on the walls.
Speaking of recipes, most of the drinks you can order are on the "underground" menu because rather than having a comprehensive list on display, there are only some house drinks scribbled on small chalkboards suspended above the front counter. By far the best of these official house drinks is the Vanilla Wet Dog, which certainly does not smell like man's best friend after it jumped in the lake.
Here's how to make the summer coffee drink you never knew you needed.
This October marks my wife's and my 10th wedding anniversary, which means I've managed to keep our cast iron skillets in good working condition for an entire decade (I'm a recovering flake, so our trio of pans definitely had some rough times due to the slow-drip brutality of negligence). Through much trial and error, I've developed a solid method of caring for cast iron that will keep these babies cooking for generations to come.
I love eggs and will eat them just about any way you can possibly imagine: fried in a pan (runny yolks, please), scrambled with cheese, gently poached in water or tomato sauce, structured into an omelet or frittata, emulsified into a perfect egg salad. I quote Michael Ruhlman in The Elements of Cooking:
My reverence for the egg borders on religious devotion. It is the perfect food—an inexpensive package, dense with nutrients and exquisitely flavored, that's both easily and simply prepared but that is also capable of unmatched versatility in the kitchen.
And then there's that wonderful pub concoction, the Scotch egg, which totally sounds like the kind of food a couple of dudes came up with at about 3 in the morning. "Let's wrap an egg in meat and DEEP FRY IT!"
Since it's summer and I'll take any excuse to whip on the charcoal, I took it upon myself to create a simple grilled version.
Chances are that somewhere in your town––either far away from the big box stores or in some area that is under-visited or out of the way––there is an amazing Asian market nearby. They exist in towns and cities of all sizes, so don't assume there isn't one near you until you actually look into it. Asian grocery stores are an immigrant's lifeboat, and they are one of the few, authentic cross-cultural locations you can find in most of America that isn't a temple or cultural center. They tend to have an array of products that confuse nearly all shoppers due to the sheer diversity of products that fall under the category of "Asian."
While the meat offerings and seafood tends to be absolutely exceptional and exceptionally inexpensive, the thing that routinely blows me away at my local Asian market is the produce. My god, the produce! Where your standard grocery store will have a small range of Asian ingredients, an Asian market will stagger you just in its section of radishes. Its refreshingly overwhelming, especially when you see something familiar––a bunch of cilantro or garlic or something––and recognize their exceptional quality. This is a place you should certainly familiarize yourself with, and return often.
And while you're there, you should use some of the wonderful vegetables that are, unfortunately, out of our Western culinary vocabulary. In an effort to help you navigate, here are some of the tastiest ones to look out for. This list is anywhere near exhaustive (we love you, too, ong choy), but a great way to start to learn to use some of the classic produce you just can't find at you local megamart.