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Cakespy: Homemade Thin Mints

I just wanted to note that the few times I've made these, they've turned out delicious -- but there is never enough chocolate coating to cover all the cookies. I'd recommend using 1 1/4 sticks of butter and 12 oz. of chocolate for the coating.

Stories of Astonishing Food Ignorance

1.) Once, when we were in our early twenties, I asked my then-boyfriend to boil some pasta for dinner while I made sauce. A minute later, he asked, “Do I put water in here? How much?” I looked over and saw that he had dumped the dry pasta in a pot with no water and turned the heat on under it. Although he had survived college on a steady diet of ramen, he apparently had never learned how to boil noodles.

2.) My old roommate often used to make chocolate-chip cookies from the recipe on the Nestle Tollhouse bag—only he'd omit a handful of the ingredients if he didn't happen to have them on hand or want to use them. I believe once he skipped the brown sugar, vanilla, salt and baking soda entirely and halved the butter. Predictably, the cookies were awful. I suppose he just didn't understand that baking is not so forgiving a process as cooking can be.

Dried Fruit Stuffed Pork Loin

@gourmetgal & Joshua: I would actually recommend not leaving it in the oven till 160. Once your instant-read thermometer registers 145, take it out; the pork will be done by the time it has finished resting. I've been assured by butchers that this is safe, and personally I think loin roasts get far too dry if you let them reach a full 160 in the oven.

A roast like this is also very good stuffed with garlic and herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme) rather than fruit, seared on the stove-top, smeared with more garlic and herbs as a crust and finally roasted, with some occasional basting. (When I do this, I use the handle of a wooden spoon to push the bore into the loin and then to push in the stuffing, too -- you don't really need a pastry bag.)

And if you can, get a bone-in roast; they tend to be a lot more flavorful.

Win a Free Organic D'Artagnan Turkey

Grafton squash casserole! It sounds like the squashy version of the recipe for an amazing potato gratin which is on its third generation in my family now. And which I just now ate for lunch.

Preggo control freak seeks TG menu advice...

If somebody else is bringing rolls I don't think you need two starches. However, I personally think stuffing is a Thanksgiving must, and it sounds like you really want to do potatoes.

It might be easiest on your end if you mostly made the stuffing ahead of time but just didn't put it in the oven to crisp up till the day itself.

As for potatoes, I personally find baked potatoes kind of boring and too filling (e.g., harder to portion) for a large meal. If you want to do mashed, though, they'd probably get kind of sticky if you made 'em in advance.

How about a potato gratin? That way you could assemble it in advance, like the stuffing, and bake both dishes at the same time (I assume it doesn't really matter what temperature you bake stuffing at) on Thanksgiving day. And it would fulfill your cheese requirement, too. I often make an incredible and simple gratin I inherited from my mom. It goes as follows, if you're interested:

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a casserole or pie dish and rub a cut clove of garlic all over it. Thinly slice 6 large potatoes and 3 white onions (or so). Put a layer of potatoes in the pan and then a layer of onions, and then sprinkle dried mustard powder, salt and pepper over it. Repeat till you've used everything or gotten to the top, but end with a layer of potatoes on top. Pour milk about halfway up the dish, and generously grate gruyere over the top. Bake covered for 45 minutes and then uncovered for another 30, and pour off most of the milk before serving.

Say Goodbye to Summer with Pineapple-Chile Paletas

Damn, this makes me miss living in Nashville (and not much else can do that). Glad the place is still getting press.

I recommend their hibiscus, cream-based berries, basil, chocolate mint, and rose petal pops. And grapefruit sounds fabulous. I oughta make a batch.

Best General Purpose Cookbook

For techniques, terminology, preparation basics and fundamental recipes (like biscuits), I always turn to Joy, whereas for ideas for tonight's dinner or a reminder of what all I could do with a bunch of collard greens I turn to How to Cook Everything.

Bittman's recipes have a lot more built-in flexibility and seem less reliant on meat and on other recipes; so often I'll turn to a recipe in Joy that requires me to pull up another one from elsewhere in the book. HTCE really seems to encourage creativity and fiddling and helpfully offers tons of variations on each recipe. (That said, although HTCE contains dozens of my go-to base recipes, it also has some total duds that have yielded an inedible dinner, as well as many recipes that require significant tweaking on amounts.)

Joy is a complete Bible when it comes to background, ingredients, and guides to dealing with meat cuts, seafood varieties, eggs and sauces, whereas Bittman's coverage of stuff like sauces leaves a bit to be desired. Joy is sort of a primer in cooking techniques and skills, the nuts and bolts of making something well, where HTCE seems more like it's out to show the reader how many dishes she can easily make. Also, for what it's worth, in my observation culinary idiots (especially male) are into the Bittman book.

On a more practical note, HTCE is structurally not all that sound. The binding on my copy began falling apart when it was only a year or two old (and its paper seems awfully grease-absorbent for a cookbook), whereas my copy of Joy is older than I am and still in great shape.

Poll: Do You Buy Store Brands More Often Than Name Brands?

Luckily Fairway here in New York stocks excellent and inexpensive olive oil, organic milk, bulk coffee, canned tomatoes, and organic eggs bearing its own name. At lower-end grocery stores, I'm fine with generic yogurt, frozen vegetables, butter and more. My friends have even poked fun at me for using Walgreens brand toothpaste. And when I was a kid and still ate that kind of stuff, I always found the Kroger brand low-fat toaster pastries far better than their stale, crumbly Pop-Tart inspirers.

Only things I won't go generic on are ice cream (only Haagen-Dazs for me), dried beans (Goya beans are usually fresher than, and almost as cheap as, the available store brands), bacon (I buy it only when high-end brands are on sale) and dish soap (cheap varieties are a lot thinner and don't last nearly as long).

Having It Your Way: Is Too Much Choice Ruining Coffee?

My only specification when I order coffee is, if I'm getting it iced, to ask if they cold-brew it or, in any case, if it's already room temperature or colder; if it is, I ask for only a little ice in my glass. Considering how iced coffee always seems twice the price of hot, and considering how quickly that ice will melt and dilute my coffee on a hot day, I don't want to $3 for a glass containing mostly ice that will turn my coffee weak.

Slice Poll: Best Frozen Pizza?

I forget the brand, but Costco sells some good frozen thin-crust margherita pizzas that came in a box of three. They're really basic with some wan chopped tomatoes and dried herbs, but because the crusts are so crispy, they can be easily doctored with extra toppings. They're not terribly pizza-like but are reasonably classy and fresh.

And, a 180 from classy and fresh, there's Totino's, which I too think of nostalgically. It's the closest thing I know to grade school cafeteria pizza, especially with those little pepperoni pellets. And its spicy but sweet sauce is kind of addictive.

Your All-time Favorite Beers and Why?

I love bitters, really toasty dry lagers and robust, straightforward ales. And good Kolsch. And oaty stout. And some sour ales. I dislike beers with banana aromas (e.g., a lot of Belgian beers) or buttery aftertastes (many American pale ales have this), I'm not into crazy effervescence, wheat beers often underwhelm me, and many pilsners disgust me.

But this is a matter of personal taste; I'm picky about the beer I drink, but I'm not exactly a snob. I'm not out to endorse a particular beer; I prefer to gush about how easy and satisfying brewing can be and how damn good many commercially available beers taste. I usually drink from the bottle, but if it's a really sediment-heavy homebrew, I strain it into a glass.

And the most consistently delicious beer I've ever had was all from or in Germany.

What's the Weirdest Sandwich You Make?

Frozen raspberry sandwiches -- on pumpernickel bagels, plain bagels or frozen boxed waffles -- made regular appearances in the breakfasts of my latter childhood. I've taken to eating them lately with the French toast bagels from the Bagel Store in Brooklyn. The contrast of the warm, soft bagel and crunchy, tart frozen berries is wonderful.

A friend has a Waffle House ritual of hash brown sandwiches: He orders hash browns and toast, mixes equal parts ketchup and mayonnaise, spreads it on the toast, and puts all the potatoes in between the toast.

Risotto- a blank canvas?

I agree with Saria that risotto is often better without butter or cheese and seldom suffers without it, unless your stock's mediocre. Sometimes I add cheese when I make it, which is at least twice a month, but most of the time my guests and I forget to because it doesn't need it -- and happily. Risotto can be pretty damn cheap to make if I'm not sinking a quarter-pound of reggiano into it. And it has a delicate enough flavor that it doesn't require any fancy ingredients (like expensive mushrooms), either; I stick with cheap fresh ones and the dried shiitakes from Asian markets.

Some of my favorite risotto variations:

Leeks, mushrooms (plain old white or cremini work), and lemon. I saute lots of leeks and mushrooms in oil or butter, season, set aside, and then proceed with a normal risotto (butter, onion and shallot, rice, white wine or vermouth, stock...). At the end, I stir in the vegetables, the zest and juice of a lemon, and some fresh thyme. This risotto's flavors are both brilliantly bright and surprisingly deep, especially if you use chicken or mushroom stock.

Gorgonzola, roasted poblanos, and apple. I made this in imitation of a dish served at Miranda in Brooklyn (a restaurant I highly recommend), and the funky flavors of the cheese and peppers are nicely offset by the chunks of tart fresh apple (Braeburn's good). I make a normal risotto, stir in the cheese and shredded broiled peppers at the end, and top with chunks of raw apple and chopped parsley.

Shrimp and greens can be really great, especially big handfuls of fresh spinach tossed into the risotto at the end. For this I prefer to cook the shrimp beforehand and make stock from their shells for the rice.

Family recipe you're glad to have

A coffee and chocolate ice cream torte. I have no idea where the recipe came from originally, but it came to my mom through a friend of hers. It was the cake I always wanted for my birthday as a teen, and recently I've made it for friends' and my boyfriend's birthdays -- and friends made it for me this year for mine. If anybody wants the recipe I'm happy to oblige. It elicits awe, seriously. And it's really easy, if a little expensive since it requires high-quality ice cream. It's still cheaper than a purchased cake, though.

Also: Chewy ginger molasses cookies from a neighbor, moussaka from an estranged friend, "chicken in the three C's" and broiled stuffed tomatoes from my dad's long-dead mom, an incredible salad and dressing from my dad's long-dead aunt, spinach cornbread from a family friend, and some addictive, deep-fried, spicy-mayo-spiked Asian-style shrimp from another family friend who I think originated it. My mom's ricotta gnocchi and incredible pumpkin muffins that top the local bakery's she designed them to mimic.

Feeding a hungry guy (almost like a hippo)

Man, good luck. I do the opposite; I'm forever trying to get my rail-thin boyfriend to eat better; he has a pretty small appetite, a serious sweet tooth, and an affection for McDonald's, pizza, really Americanized ethnic foods, and very rich homemade comfort foods. He is also automatically suspicious of dishes that involve too many vegetables and not enough meat, grains and/or cheese. I cook a lot and have learned that he will enjoy my bun noodle salads if he adds my peanut sauce, my anchovy-based pastas if he adds cheese, and just about anything with Mexican flavors, bacon, or a cream sauce.

Anyway, here are a few ways y'all can adapt dishes to get meals for you both out of one pot. The nice thing about adapting them this way is that he can decide exactly how much of X addition he wants, etc., because one of you has already prepared most of it.

- Make a vegetable and bean based soup or stew. Remove whatever you plan to eat, and then add chunks of cooked meat and/or thickeners -- some more pureed beans, raw egg, cream, roux, and/or cooked rice, potatoes (shredded or diced), pasta or other grains -- to the rest so he can eat as much as he likes.

- Cook some ground or sliced meat, and keep it around to add to his portions of stir-fries, sautes and pasta dishes. Often I'll sweat onions in oil, add ground pork, cook it through, and cook garlic and chili peppers into it; I then keep it in the fridge for whenever I need to add protein to an Asian veggie and noodle dish.

- Make a batch of veggie burgers (I start with Bittman's bean burger recipe and add other veggies), freeze the patties, and pan-fry them at will for you both. Yours can get topped with whatever low-cal toppings you like (I've recently become addicted to veggie burgers with harissa, hummus and olives); his can get cheese, avocado, bacon, etc.

- Make individually sized savory tarts or pies, sized according to YOUR preferred portion. (He can eat two.) Use a common crust, and put a lot more rich sauce and meat in the filling for his; yours can be based more around vegetables.

- Roast a whole chicken, and put potatoes and other veggies under the bird so they cook in its drippings. Meanwhile, roast some other veggies in olive oil in a separate pan, or steam them. Feed him all the chicken-y potatoes and veggies.

- Homemade burritos (I often make breakfasty ones for dinner, scrambling eggs with whatever veggies are around) lend themselves to a lot of personalization. He can fashion one of those football-sized monstrosities that burrito joints sell and slather it with sour cream.

Are There Foods You Can't Keep In The House?

Fresh raspberries! They're one of my favorite foods and have been, well, ever since I transitioned to solid food as a baby. Some of my earliest memories involve braving the briars of the raspberry plants in our garden to devour them. But since I'll eat an entire box at a time, I only buy them when they're $2.50 or under, or occasionally when there are really beautiful ones at a farmer's market and I feel like spoiling myself. When I do, I plan on eating that whole half-pint for a meal, savoring it. (For daily consumption, cereal and baked goods, I buy big bags of frozen ones.)

Same goes those Anna's ginger snaps. I bought them from Ikea once or twice; they're so light I can eat a whole stack in a day without realizing it.

But generally, I don't keep snack foods around, and I don't generally have self-control problems with eating them or anything else. An exception: those imitation thin mints for which Serious Eats ran a recipe. I made a batch, and although I gave them all to a friend when I visited him in his city, I couldn't stop sneaking 'em from his fridge during my stay.

Taste Test: Store-Bought Hummus


I've gotten my homemade stuff as creamy as Sabra a few times. It's only ever worked when I've cooked dried chickpeas until they're very soft (canned chickpeas just won't work). I then puree them along with liberal doses of tahini and olive oil (plus lemon juice, spices, you know), let the food processor run for a while and add chickpea cooking liquid as needed.

I find the Sonny & Joe's stuff too frothy and low on flavor; the garlic hummus tastes like plain garlic, not like hummus. It creeps me out in the same way that whipped butters and cream cheeses do. As for Sabra, I love it so much I can't buy it often, lest I eat the entire tub for dinner.

Cook the Book: Lobster Rolls

Gross. Agree with everybody who's horrified by the sight of all that delicious lobster meat coated in mustardy (?!) homemade mayo.

And split buns are readily available in Brooklyn; I've gotten them specifically for lobber before.

What Lost Family Recipe Would You Like to Find Again?

My late maternal grandmother wasn't much of a recipe cook. She was a bit of a free spirit, a Depression-weaned thrift, who sixty years ago ate the dandelion greens from her yard without a second thought.

But once when I was three and we were visiting her and my grandfather in Florida, she babysat while Mom and Dad went out for a date. She told me, "I'm going to spoil you tonight," and let me stay up late; together we made this incredible little two-layer cake that I have never forgotten and always wanted to replicate. We seeded tons of tiny calamondins from the decorative tree outside to make a rich, tart buttercream frosting and an intensely citrusy cake, and then Nanny drew a pointsettia on top in red and green frosting.

I mentioned that cake to her about a week before she died two years ago, actually, and she seemed pleased to recall the calamondin tree's bounty. She didn't give me the recipe, and I doubt there is one.

Nashville Taco Truck Roundup

"Lurking in the shadows?" Really? Gallatin and Nolensville are two of the city's busiest major thoroughfares; I hardly think the neighborhoods along them count as shadows. Calling them such sounds, to me, myopic (and maybe white and privileged).

Ravioli press.. kitchen worthy - yes, or no?

I don't own a ravioli tray, but my good friends with whom I often make ravioli do -- and let me tell you, it makes things a LOT easier once you get the hang of it. Theirs isn't anything fancy, just an old hand-me-down from parents.

That said, do you own a pasta machine? If you do, it will be a lot easier to get your sheet of dough to the proper thinness and size.

Our method: Crank or roll out two thin sheets of pasta dough sized to the ravioli tray (the sheets that come out of the pasta machine are usually this size anyway). Flour the tray, lay one dough sheet in it, and press it down into the hollows. Put a spoonful of filling (err on the side of too little) in each. Dip your finger in a dish of water and wet all the borders between hollows. Lay the other sheet on top, pressing out any significant air pockets, and then run a floured rolling pin over the surface to seal and separate the ravioli. Turn the tray over to let them all fall out and separate.

From dough sheet to boiling, a tray of about 25 or 30 ravioli takes about five or ten minutes to produce this way. And yeah, they look beautiful.

Food you thought you hated?

There aren't many foods I've come around on that I once hated, except maybe pickles. More often, there have been foods I was seldom served as a kid (sturdy greens, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, tinned fish, olives, beets) that I now love.

There are others (cooked carrots, cantaloupe, peanut butter on bread) that I still dislike. But by far my most detested food, from childhood to now? Bananas. A slight trace of banana in a juice blend will render the whole thing intensely banana-y to me, and the ripe, sweet smell of bananas is gagworthy to me -- comparable to garbage on a streetcorner in summer. Ugh.

As a kid, I also never had any desire to chew gum or drink soda (much to my parents' delight) and have never picked up either habit. In fact, I still find both a little creepy in different ways.

Where to Buy Thai Ingredients in New York City

@bauwau2u & sweetfixNYC: Try Pacific Supermarket on the corner of Roosevelt and 75th St., right by the Jackson Heights transit hub. I've gotten or seen most of these ingredients (and many others) there before, and its prices even for more widely available produce are often much lower than at traditional American supermarkets. Also, like Enmalkm, I've gotten fresh turmeric (both yellow and white varieties) at Patel Brothers a few blocks away on 74th.

Poll: Are You a Sweet or Salty Breakfast Eater?

Is salty really the alternative to sweet? I'm definitely in the savory breakfast camp (often I'll even eat dinner leftovers for breakfast), but since I use salt pretty sparingly, the idea of a salty breakfast sounds kind of gross. I can't be the only one who thinks this.

'Cake Bible' Author Rose Levy Beranbaum Charged $25 'Forkage' Fee at The Breslin

To my mind, restaurants MUST disclose these fees up front. Otherwise they have no right to add them to the bill. That said, Beranbaum comes off as a privileged ass in her blog post.

I was unaware of the prevalence of cake fees till my friends secretly brought an ice cream torte to my birthday dinner party of twelve back in January. That restaurant ended up charging a $25 fee, too, but none of us really minded since the kitchen staff had hidden from my sight -- and then helped thaw and hack apart -- the deep-frozen cake before serving it. I did wish it had revealed the fee earlier, especially since, unaware of it, we gave the staff the remaining third of the cake as a gesture of thanks for their help. I'd've totally taken it home had I known of the charge, especially since we'd just paid hundreds of dollars for our meal and wine.


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