Everyone loves pizza and brick oven pizza is about as good as it gets. The whole point of the brick oven is to bake pizzas between 800 and 1000 degrees giving you that crispy layer of thin char over an airy breaded crust. Much better than the paltry results you can get with a conventional oven that only runs about half that heat.
Inspired by Bryson and David's post this week on their favorite breakfasts that make morning bearable, I thought I'd share the simple, nutritious plate that I eat most mornings. I can put it together in just around ten minutes, and it keeps me full, satisfied, and energetic well into (my typically late) lunch time.
The argument goes like this:
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hey, ManMade. My name is Stephen Cusato (you can call me Steve), and I'm the host of Not Another Cooking Show. I'm excited to collaborate with the ManMadeDIY.com team to show you how to step your game up in the kitchen. And we're going to start with this specialty of mine right here: the easiest, most practical, most delicious way to make fresh tomato sauce in less than 30 minutes any night of the week. This is my Weekday Sauce.
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.
Among the true believers, there's a fair consensus that when it comes to grilling: charcoal simply tastes better than propane. No disrespect to the gas grill; it can turn out great results. But when the true taste of summer is the priority, nothing can beat the smoky, open-flame flavor of food grilled over hardwood coals.
Well, except for food cooked over an actual hardwood fire, with coals freshly made from whole logs that you just ember-ed down yourself. This is easy enough to do in a backyard firepit, or even in the same kettle grill you likely use with your charcoal.
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...
We would never want to actually judge this competition, but if you were to pit all the mass market hot sauces against each other in a taste test, the classic green nozzled sriracha sauce with the rooster on the label might very well come out on top. It's extremely versatile stuff, and offers heaps of complexity and flavors other than heat and vinegar tang.
So I have a friend named Dan. I met him through work. Dan is in his early 70's. For the past––I'm not EXACTLY sure on the time here––30+ years, Dan has grown tomato plants from seed beginning in the very early Spring. And when he hears that you have even a passing interest in the garden, he comes by with three plants––one of each of the varietals he grows––along with a laminated sheet of paper with information about each of the plants. Dan is the definition of good people. And I love my three little tomato plants.
The best kind of writing, fiction or otherwise, is the kind that produces a strong mental image of what you're reading about. It's vivid and concrete; it's why metaphors and parables exist. To quote Strunk & White: "The greatest writers—Homer, Dante, Shakespeare—are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures."
One of my favorite ways that writers bring their stories closer to reality is when they plop descriptions onto my mental dinner table. Maybe it's because I just love eating, so I don't need a lot of arm-twisting to think about food; maybe it's that I like it when the lines between fiction and reality blur, like Mac Barnett waxes about in his TED talk "Why a good book is like a secret door." Regardless, I'm fascinated with collecting moments of characters interacting with their victuals.
Here are some of my favorite food mentions in books, linked up with recipes.
If someone were to ask you what your crucial, go-to, stranded-on-a-desert-island cooking gear includes, how would you reply?
Would you mention a chef's knife and cutting board? How about a large sauté pan and a flat-edged wood spoon, or a large, nonreactive heatproof bowl? (Incidentally, these are Michael Ruhlman's top five in his fantastic comprehensive guide The Elements of Cooking.)
What if I were to add that the addition of two inexpensive pieces of equipment can dramatically level up your cooking game, and that you could actually get these at an office supply store?
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.
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.