As far as holiday gifts go, it's hard to beat something to sip. And this year, you can do a little better than swinging by the grocery store and grabbing a bottle of wine.
This wood-infused project only take a tiny bit more work than buying something from the liquor store, but boosts all kinds of flavor benefits and handmade points, turning the spirits into a proper gift.
Make some in bulk for everyone you know, and your holiday shopping is done.
It happens every year. I'll spend a couple days reading old November issues of my favorite cooking magazines and pouring over the food blogs to come up with our Thanksgiving menu. I'll make a plan, shop way ahead of time, and spread my prep work out over the three days prior. Come Thursday, there will be an established timeline, and it will be executed to a T. And when the sides are ready, the turkey will be out of the oven and well rested to keep the juices in. I'll go to carve it, and inevitably, I'll say to myself:
Crap. I forgot that I do not have a work surface on which to properly take this thing apart.
I have cutting boards. Nice, thick, end-grain hard maple butcher blocks that I made myself. But they were designed for chopping vegetables, which are relatively dry, and not carving a turkey, which (if you cook it right) is very, very moist. Those juices will flow, and saturate any number of kitchen towels, and make a huge mess, covering my hands in poultry drippings to the point that I can no longer safely grip the knife and everything goes slippery, sliding (but flavorful) chaos.
It happens every year. I say to myself, "I really ought to make a proper carving board." And this year, I decided it was finally time.
So, here's how to make a diy cutting board yourself. Once you have the materials, it's only 90 minutes of work, and will last for many, many holiday seasons to come.
I’ve technically lived in five cities so far if we include my college town (Minneapolis, New Haven, London, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles). And I’ve come to realize that as a creature of habit I eventually start frequenting a couple different venues that all have similar things in common. I think every man should have a couple of these. Let me explain…
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.
Its the season of nippy evenings and crisp mornings and the smell of leaves gathering over mossy ground. For most of the nation at this point in the calendar, the temperature has finally started tipping toward a chill. It is also the season when the entire world of marketed goods becomes pumpkin spiced, cinnamon sprinkled and otherwise given a taste that makes it seem like you're sucking on a mouth full of allspice berries. And you know what? I love it. I really do. We don't have a lot of big, broad ways in which we all, as a people experience the passage of time. So we might as well let our common appetite for sugar and spice become something that binds us together.
One way to let this explosion of cliché fall flavors come into your world, responsibly, is in your coffee cup. Because why not? Coffee is a daily part of many of our lives. And unless you are the Scroogiest grouch when it comes to the amusements of the months of October through December, why not let the occasional cup get gussied up with the joy of the season and its holidays? So, if you are the kind of person who likes to drink a little whimsy now and then, here's how to bring all of the warmth and cheer of the fall into your morning cup.
You want your meat board to be a statement of your ambition. Not as a cook, but as an eater. If you can avoid it, don't just let this be a venue for a dinner plate. You want a board that seems deliberate and larger than life. Wood is good. But so is slate or stone or anything smooth and safe for food. In this moment, when you are putting together a board, you are not a chef, nor even a cook. You are an artist in front of a fresh canvas, but your paints are going to be the foods that you most love.
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 did not grow up in a "crock pot" family. We had one, an old avocado green job my parents got from their wedding registry. And, though I'm sure it got used, it wasn't something that characterized the food in our house. My wife's parents, on the other hand, were both doctors working day shifts, and according to her, nearly every thing her mom cooked came from the slow cooker. And, says my wife, protein + a mix of canned foods = dinners, all which tasted basically the same... like "crock pot food."
You can barely imagine what the world was like in the proto-suburbs of the Pacific Northwest for a child who had traveled there––entirely on his own, with his mother at home and his father awaiting him––from a small Tuscan village. This was before "a small Tuscan village" was even a thing on the radar of America at large. And it was before America had its culturally and politically dominating century. It was before anyone knew what the Pacific Northwest would become, foodwise.
And yet, that is where Angelo Pellegrini settled. His childhood of 12 or so years in Tuscany gave him an uncanny experience to bring to pre-depression America, including an adult life that coincided with the Cold War in which his heritage could not have been less relevant. He was born at just the right time to enjoy America in a way that few others had. But he was also born just a bit too early to have been the celebrity he would have been if he had emerged in the age of Alice Waters and the Food Network.
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!
Now, tomatoes are no stranger to canning; homemade pasta sauce is one of the handmade life's greatest joys, and pickled green tomatoes are delicious in that check-out-the-awesome-secret-restaurant-in-the-hidden-alley kind of way. But I've barely seen pickled cherry tomatoes register on the pickle scene, and it's a rotten shame.
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:
My entire kitchen-consciousness shifts in the summertime. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
The mindset moves from something that is predominantly focused on the oven and range to one that is all about live fires, crackling wood, and smoke. This usually leads me to the meat and hard veggies side of my pantry and fridge. After all, it can be difficult to cook rice, quinoa, or other grains on the grill without special equipment, and I've yet to find a way to manage cheese over charcoal. But an underrated grill item may be one that coincides with the best that summer has to offer: the explosion