As a renowned food critic and editor-in-chief at Food and Wine magazine, Dana Cowin can definitely tell you what tastes good. But she had a dirty secret: She had no culinary skills of her own. Thankfully, a few of her chef friends stepped in to help, and her new cookbook, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen, is an ultra-accessible guide to becoming a more than passable home cook.
The three most important men in my life have one very unexpected connection: crepes. My father, whom I adored, passed away more than twenty years ago. He was a businessman, an art collector, an architecture buff—one thing he was not was a cook. But on Sunday mornings, he’d sometimes make crepes for us, an act of love. (My mother tells me he fell for crepes on their honeymoon in Nassau, where they ate them almost every day.) It was a very special family ritual.
Fast-forward to today: My husband rarely cooks, but on Sunday mornings, he’ll sometimes make crepes, because our son is a picky eater and it’s one of the only things he likes for breakfast. Three generations of love united by batter swirled in a pan.
When Barclay isn’t around or in the mood to make crepes, I’ll step in. Unfortunately, mine don’t live up to the legacy of my father’s. They are often pocked with flour and a little too thick. So I asked Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery in Boston, to show me how to avoid these mistakes, and she revealed the secret to making the most miraculously smooth batter ever: Mix the warm milk, melted butter and the rest of the ingredients in the blender.
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes 18 crepes
1. Stir together the chocolate, cinnamon and brown sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Put the butter, milk, eggs and sugar in a blender and blend until just smooth. Add the flour and salt and blend until the batter is completely smooth.
3. Heat an 8-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat and brush it lightly with melted butter. Pour in ¼ cup batter and, holding the pan by the handle, swirl the pan so that the batter coats the bottom evenly. Cook the crepe until the bottom is just lightly browned, about a minute. Loosen the edges with a spatula, carefully flip the crepe and cook until lightly browned on the other side, about 1 more minute. Transfer the crepe to a platter and roll it up like a loose cigar. Continue cooking and rolling crepes until you’ve used up all of the batter, brushing the pan with more butter as necessary.
4. Scatter the chocolate mixture over the crepes and serve warm.
The batter can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Stir well before cooking the crepes.
Chef Tips from Joanne Chang
ON SUGAR AND EGGS
Once you’ve poured sugar onto eggs, whisk them together immediately. If you leave sugar on top of eggs without whisking them, the sugar will basically cook the egg yolks and cause them to create lumps.
ON PREVENTING CREPES FROM STICKING
A nonstick pan is good here! Even so, add butter to the pan every third or fourth crepe.
ON MAKING THIN CREPES
Add the batter while holding your pan up on an angle, ladling in just a bit of batter and immediately swirling your pan.
ON CREATING EVEN CREPES
Your pan shouldn’t be too hot, or the batter will start cooking instantly when it hits the pan and not spread evenly.
From Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen by Dana Cowin. Copyright 2014 Dana Cowin. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Read our review of this book.
Yotam Ottolenghi's sublime second collection of vegetarian recipes, Plenty More, is our Top Pick in Cookbooks for October! The Middle Eastern magic abounds in his 120 recipes, which are organized by cooking method over 12 chapters.
Apricot, Walnut and Lavender Cake
The combination of walnuts, apricots and lavender is as French as a good baguette with butter and ripe Brie, and it is every bit as invincible. I seriously urge you to try this cake, and not just as a French classic. It has a moist and soft crumb and a delicate fruity topping, and it will keep well, covered, for a few days
Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC.
Place the butter, oil, superfine sugar and almonds in a stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs in small additions and continue to beat until well incorporated. Fold in the walnuts, flour, vanilla, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of the lavender and ⅛ teaspoon salt.
Line the base and sides of a 9-inch/23-cm cake pan with parchment paper. Pour in cake batter and level the top. Arrange the apricot halves, skin side down and slightly overlapping, over the top, right to the edge. Bake in the oven for 70 to 80 minutes, covering with aluminum foil if the top starts to brown too much.
While the cake is baking, make the icing. Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice to get a light, pourable icing, adjusting the amount of sugar or juice if needed. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush the icing on top. Sprinkle the remaining ½ teaspoon lavender over the top and leave the cake to cool before serving.
Mark Bittman—restaurateur and longtime food writer for the New York Times—ramps up the efficiency of some of his favorite recipes in How to Cook Everything Fast. Feeling the crunch to get a decent dinner on the table from week to week? Bittman merges prep and cooking with 2,000 speedy, tasty recipes that will leave you full and happy—regardless of how busy your schedule is.
Butternut Squash Soup with Apples and Bacon
Time: Faster (30 minutes or less)
Makes: 4 servings
This soup has it all: It’s sweet, colorful and creamy and even features the smoky crunch of bacon on top. The most time-consuming thing about preparing squash is peeling and seeding it.
1. Put a large pot over medium heat.
2. Add the bacon to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. When the bacon is crisp, transfer it to the paper towels with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat to low.
4. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add 1 teaspoon allspice, ¼ teaspoon cayenne and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the spices are fragrant, about a minute.
5. Add 5 cups stock or water and 1 cup cream. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so that it bubbles gently but steadily, and cook until the squash is fully tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat under the soup and run an immersion blender through the pot or, working in batches, transfer it to an upright blender and carefully purée.
7. Reheat the soup for 1 or 2 minutes if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Divide the soup among 4 bowls, garnish with the bacon, and serve.
Sweet Potato Soup with Pears and Bacon: Substitute sweet potatoes for the squash and pears for the apples.
Pumpkin Soup with Apples and Pumpkin Seeds: A lovely Thanksgiving starter: Substitute pumpkin for the squash. In Step 2, instead of the bacon, cook ½ cup hulled pumpkin seeds in 3 tablespoons olive oil until golden and popping, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove them from the pot and remove the pot from the heat until you grate the vegetables and fruit, then proceed with Step 4.
Does you really need to be convinced to try Banana Split No-Bake Yogurt Cheesecake? Jessica Merchant's Seriously Delish has this and so many more ridiculously fun and tasty recipes that you can't go wrong. You won't find these on her blog any time soon, so go ahead and grab a copy!
Banana Split No-Bake Greek Yogurt Cheesecake
SERVES 4 • TIME: 20 minutes + overnight to set
If I ever had to answer one of the big questions—you know, the really big questions—like what would your ultimate last meal be or what is your all-time favorite dessert, my response would not be cookies or chocolate or brownies or ice cream.
It would be cheesecake.
I have always, always, always been a cheesecake fanatic, since my very first bite. It’s no surprise, because it takes a lot to satisfy these sweet teeth. And the truth is that thick and creamy, often too-rich cheesecake fills the bill every single time.
And it’s not like I even discriminate in flavor. I’ll never forget eating at the Cheesecake Factory for the first time with my grandma and her horror at the array of choices—she claimed that nothing was better than a slice of New York–style cheesecake with strawberries. Nothing? Really? Nothing?
I dunno. I can come up with a few things. I love every and all kind of cheesecake. And my life improved tenfold when I discovered no-bake cheesecakes. Because let’s be real: Baking cheesecake is a royal pain in the ass. It’s super high maintenance, often requires a water bath (whatever that is), then after you’ve poured all your tears into one springform pan, the darn thing cracks down the center and looks like the biggest geographic fault on Earth. It’s stressful.
Greek yogurt cheesecake is my solution to eating cheesecake weekly. The banana split topping is simply that: a topping. The cheesecake is a plain, traditional base that can be served however you’d like. And while we’re on that topic, my favorite way to serve no-bakes are in little mason jars or cute shot glasses so everyone gets their own portion. It’s perfect for this, too, since the Greek yogurt yields a softer, not-quite-as-forgiving cake.
Also: sprinkles for life.
1. In a bowl, mix together the coconut oil and graham crumbs until moistened. Press them into the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan and set it in the fridge.
2. Add the Greek yogurt and cream cheese to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the sweetened condensed milk. Mix until combined. Add the vanilla extract and salt, beating for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the fridge and pour the batter on top of the crust, spreading the top evenly with a spatula. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight.
3. When you’re ready to serve the cheesecake, set up a toppings bar with the bananas, strawberries, cherries, almonds and sprinkles in small bowls and a jar of chocolate syrup. Remove the cheesecake from the fridge and use a sharp knife to immediately cut it into servings. Top the cheesecake with whatever toppings you wish.
Neela Paniz, a Mumbai native and California restaurateur, brings the splendor of "regional curries, creamy dals topped with vibrant chutneys, vegetable sides and fragrant rice pulaos, biryanis and khichdi" to the American table in The New Indian Slow Cooker. Try this richly spiced recipe for Cornish Hens with Rum and Saffron and, after a little bit of prep, let your slow cooker do the hard work while you do something else.
CORNISH HENS WITH RUM AND SAFFRON
On my many visits to India, I have sat with various members of the family gathering ideas for creating different curries. My mother’s aunt told me that it was most important to add rum and saffron to a Sindhi-style meat curry, sel gosht, in which meat is cooked for long hours with aromatics and whole and ground spices until the pieces melt in the mouth. I have taken liberties with this recipe to create a flavorful but lighter stew using Cornish hens and the slow cooker.
This recipe is best in a 6-quart slow cooker. It can also be doubled for a larger number of guests or cut in half for just two or three people. If your cooker is oval in shape, it is best to place the Cornish hen pieces in a single layer after mixing with the spice mix. Otherwise, try to spread the pieces throughout the cooker bowl with enough spice mix between the pieces.
SERVES 6 TO 8
Before prepping the ingredients, turn the slow cooker on to the high setting for 15 minutes, until the insert is warmed through.
In a skillet, heat the oil over high heat, with a lid handy. Tilt the pan to pool the oil and carefully add the cumin seeds; cover immediately to avoid splattering. When the sputtering subsides, add the sliced onions and brown for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, cassia, cardamom, cloves and bay leaf to the browned onions and sauté for 1 minute before transferring to the slow cooker.
Set the skillet aside. In the bowl of the cooker, combine the sautéed onions with the ground coriander and cumin, turmeric, red chile, fresh and canned tomatoes, tomato juice, yogurt, salt, serrano chiles, rum and saffron. Mix well.
Use the saved skillet to sear the hen pieces in batches; place them in the slow cooker and turn them in the spice mix. Arrange them as uniformly as possible. Turn the cooker to low, cover and cook for 3 ½ hours. Turn the cooker to warm, and remove the cassia pieces, cardamom, cloves and bay leaf. Stir in the cilantro when ready to serve.
Spice Preparation 101
Some recipes will call for roasting whole spices and then grinding them. The simplest and most efficient way to do this is to use a dry skillet. Place the whole spices in the skillet and roast them over medium-high heat, shaking continuously to get an even browning. As the spices roast, they will send forth an intense aroma and, depending on the spices you are roasting, they will deepen in color—especially cumin and coriander seeds. Whole red chiles will tend to burn if you’re not careful; constant shaking of the skillet helps them roast evenly. As soon as they’re roasted, transfer the spices from the hot skillet to a flat plate, spread them out to cool, and set aside.
To grind spices, use either a mortar and pestle (for a small amount) or a spice grinder—usually a coffee grinder that is dedicated to grinding spices (never coffee). Always store unused ground spices in an airtight jar or container (see page 9) and use them as soon as you can.
Many recipes in Indian cooking call for adding whole spices, such as cassia sticks, whole cloves, and bay leaves to the dish while it’s cooking. These are for flavor but not consumption: remove them before serving the dish.
Cutting Up a Whole Chicken
Indians prefer chicken skinned but left on the bone for many dishes: Curries stew for a while, and the bones help keep the poultry moist. As most chickens in India are smaller than American ones, I often use Cornish hens for my curries; the instructions below work for these smaller birds, too.
To cut a whole chicken into six or eight pieces (two each of thighs and legs, and two breasts with or without wings attached), start by pressing the thigh backward away from the body to display the joint that connects the thigh to the body. Cut through the joint with a sharp knife; repeat on the other side. Then sever the legs from the thighs by cutting through the cartilage at the joints. Set these pieces aside.
Insert the tip of the knife through the cavity of the breast and backbone to find the space between the bones; slice through and pry the backbone away from the breast. Place the whole breast on the cutting board with the exposed bones away from you. Press down on the meat with your left hand, and slice the breast in half, exerting a little pressure on the wishbone. Now you should have two breast halves with the wings attached. If the breast halves are large, you can further cut them into two pieces each, providing for a more uniform size of all the chicken pieces. Cut off the end tip of each wing. You can either leave the wings on or sever them from the breast. (Many do not enjoy the wings; I, however, love them! I skin them and add them to all my chicken dishes.) Save the backbone, wing tips and wings (if not using), to make chicken stock; it is best to freeze them if not using within a day.
To remove the skin from the chicken, grip each piece using paper towels for traction and peel and cut the skin away from the meat. Dispose of the used paper towels and the skin.
Katheleen Weber's Della Fattoria Bread is our September Top Pick in Cookbooks! With her unique knowledge and artisinal take on breadmaking, Weber takes you through the whole process of baking—from yeasted and naturally leavened breads to enriched doughs. Looking for the perfect entry-level recipe? Try this one-bowl recipe for Arborio Rice Bread.
Arborio Rice Bread
Makes 2 standard loaves
Inspired by a recipe by the brilliant British cookbook writer Elizabeth David, this is one of the easiest breads I’ve ever made. It comes together fast, is mixed entirely by hand in a single bowl, and is baked in two standard loaf pans. Almost no kneading is required.
It’s also one of the most unusual yeasted breads I’ve seen, as the dough calls for rice. I use Arborio rice instead of regular white rice. Arborio is, of course, the rice that gives risotto its creaminess, and, sure enough, those fat, starchy grains give the bread a similarly creamy texture. If you’re calculating exact ratios, the weight of the cooked rice will be 520 grams (18.3 ounces/2½ cups plus 2 tablespoons), which is 70 percent of the flour weight.
When toasted, this bread has a remarkably delicate crunch.
Arborio rice 158 g 5.5 oz ¾ cup
Water 525 g 18.5 oz 2¼ cups
All-purpose flour 735 g 26 oz 5¼ cups
total flour 735 g 26 oz 5¼ cups
Instant yeast 13 g 0.5 oz 1 Tbsp plus ¾ tsp
Fine gray salt 19 g 0.6 oz 1 Tbsp
Water, at room temperature
(65° to 70°F/18° to 21°C) 468 g 16.5 oz 2 cups
Total weight 1,755 g/1.75 kg 61.9 oz/3.8 lbs
14 to 32 grams (0.5 to 1.1 ounces/1 to 2 tablespoons) olive oil or milk, or a combination
1. To cook the rice, combine the rice and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat down to low and cook until the water is absorbed and there are little holes across the surface of the rice, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the lid and let the rice cool slightly. The rice should still be very warm when incorporated with the other ingredients.
2. Lightly oil or spray a deep 4½- to 5-quart ceramic or glass bread bowl. (The amount of dough for this bread will work well in a 3-quart bread bowl if you have one.)
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast, and salt.
4. When the rice is still very warm but cool enough to touch, mix it into the flour until the mixture has the texture of a gummy meal. Pour in the water and continue to mix with your hands, gently gathering the mixture together, turning it and pressing it with the heels of your hands, until it all comes together. It will be very sticky, similar in texture to a milky biscuit dough; do not be surprised if you have quite a bit sticking to your hands.
5. Using a plastic bowl scraper, get what dough you can off your hands, pressing it back onto the dough, and turn the dough into the bread bowl. Cover the bowl with a lightly oiled or sprayed piece of plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free spot until the dough has at least doubled in volume and there are delicate bubbles across the surface, 1½ to 2 hours.
6. Fairly generously oil or spray two 8 ½-by-4½-by-2¾-inch loaf pans.
Flour the work surface. Turn out the dough, using the bowl scraper, and use a bench scraper to divide it in half. With your fingertips, very gently shape each portion into a bâtard, about 3 by 7 inches. Set in the prepared pans and very gently brush the tops with the wash. (This dough is not brushed again before baking because the loaves will be too fragile once proofed.) Cover the tops with a lightly oiled or sprayed piece of plastic wrap. Set the pans in your warm spot to proof until the dough reaches the tops of the pans, 1½ to 2 hours; remove the plastic wrap.
7. Meanwhile, position a rack in the lower third of the oven, set a baking stone on it, and preheat the oven to 450°F.
8. Place the pans on the stone and immediately lower the oven temperature to 400°F. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tops are a rich golden brown. The loaves will be delicate, but they can carefully be taken out of the pans to brown directly on the stone: place the loaves on the stone and let brown for about 3 minutes, to brown the sides and bottom more evenly.
9. Transfer the breads to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
Jessica Merchant's popular blog is "for people who, like, totally love food." If you happen to be one of those people (and who isn't?), then her first cookbook, Seriously Delish, is your new go-to. Merchant somehow makes the kitchen seem like a fun place to spend time, especially with a creation like this Pumpkin Banilla Bread. Yes, you read that right.
Pumpkin Banilla Bread
Makes one 5x9-inch loaf
Time: 1½ hours
Yes, banilla. Banana and vanilla.
This bread is like if my two favorite breads had a baby. Birthed a loaf, if you will. Too much? It’s simple, really. I love banana bread. I love pumpkin bread. Both banana and pumpkin are incredible at creating soft and tender baked goods. Both have loads of flavor. I really like vanilla too. In everything. All flavors are inside this bread. It is good. The end.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 5x9-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the pumpkin puree and bananas and mix until combined. Stir in the coconut milk, butter, molasses and vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste. Mix until the ingredients come together.
3. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake until the top of the bread is golden brown and set, 85 to 90 minutes.
4. Remove the bread from the oven and let cool for 1 hour. Gently remove it from the loaf pan and allow it to cool on a cutting board before slicing.
American cuisine is a hard thing to pin down, owing to our status as a cultural and culinary melting pot. But Elena Rosemond-Hoerr and Caroline Bretherton have collected an impressive set of recipes they feel represent it best in The American Cookbook: A Fresh Take on Classic Recipes.
Tales abound about who invented this sandwich, with Arnold Reuben of Reuben's Delicatessen in New York City and Reuben Kulakofsky, a grocer from Omaha, Nebraska, both strong contenders. The first reuben was probably made in the early 20th-century, and by 1956, it had won "best sandwich" in a contest sponsored by the National Restaurant Association.
This sandwich is piled high with classic deli fillings, contrasting sweet, sour and salty flavors.
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
For the Russian dressing
1. In a bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, horseradish, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Season well.
2. Spread the dressing over each slice of bread. Layer 4 slives of bread with 2 slices of cheese, 3-5 slives of beef, sauerkraut and 2 more slices of cheese. Top with the remaining slices of bread.
3. Melt a pat of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry each sandwich for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Serve your Reuben hot with refrigerator pickles (see p. 248) and kettle-cooked potato chips.
The American Cookbook by Elena Rosemond-Hoerr and Caroline Bretherton © 2014 DK Publishing. Photographs © Stuart West. Read our review of this book.
A mere mention of preserving and canning can cause the most confident of home cooks to run in the opposite direction, but Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi break down the surprisingly simple steps behind pickling, brining, smoking, salting, canning, fermenting and more in The Gentle Art of Preserving.
This recipe for Summer Fruits in Brandy doesn't even require a stovetop! Who knew preserving at home was so easy? Get ready to knock out a chunk of your Christmas gifts in one fell swoop.
Summer Fruits in Brandy
This method is suitable for preserving all sorts of summer fruits, including berries, plums and apricots. The boozy fruit should be ready to eat within 2 weeks, but you can leave it to mature for longer if you wish—we make this using late summer fruits to give as Christmas presents. Our favorite way of serving the boozy fruits is with ice cream, yogurt or cake. The fruity brandy is delicious served hot in shot glasses, or mixed with red wine for a variation on mulled wine. Alternatively, purée the fruits with their liquor and use as a sauce for desserts or with game dishes.
Makes approx. four 12-oz jars
Wash the fruit and pat dry on paper towels. Pit and halve the fruits. Divide the fruit and sugar among the sterilized jars and top up with brandy. Seal and set aside in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks, turning the jars upside down every day until the sugar dissolves. Store for 3 months before sampling, although it can be matured for up to a year in a cool, dark place.
I know what you're thinking: a recipe for brussels sprouts?! But don't worry, Gabrielle Langholtz has only collected tasty, top-tier recipes in The New Greenmarket Cookbook. Try this fresh, lemony salad and end your hatred and/or fear of brussels sprouts for good.
Brussels Sprouts Salad
by Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto
The words “raw Brussels sprouts” may not set you to salivating, but after one bite of this surprising dish, you’ll want to make it again and again. While Brussels sprouts are often paired with hot bacon (such as in Sara Jenkins’s habit-forming pasta on page 167), here Chef Waxman serves cabbage’s little cousin in a light, lemony slaw that’s further brightened by a pretty, pickled red onion. The fresh flavors and gorgeous color make this simple dish a great one to entertain with. At market, ask the farmer whether their fields have had frost yet—nights below freezing wipe out tender crops but make Brussels sprouts even sweeter.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Open up and drizzle the cut sides with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake until golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and rub immediately with 1 cut clove of garlic. Once cool, tear it into bite-sized pieces and add to a large mixing bowl.
Peel and halve the onion, then slice it into ¼-inch thick slices. Peel and smash the remaining 2 garlic cloves.
Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then the onions and garlic. Season with ½ teaspoon of salt and a few cranks of black pepper and cook slowly over low heat until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the garlic cloves, and add the lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Let rest in the sauté pan.
Trim the cut end of the sprouts. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice the sprouts lengthwise as thin as possible. Add to the large mixing bowl. Pour the onion mixture over top and toss well to combine.
Finish with the parsley leaves and Parmesan. Adjust the salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste and serve.
SERVES 3 TO 4