Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner is our Top Pick in Cookbooks for April, and it brings together 150 easy, affordable recipes from restaurants' "family meals"—what the staff eats before they serve you. Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt promises this cookbook brings "pizzazz and new pleasures."
Food carts all over New York City feature chicken or lamb seasoned with a Middle Eastern spice mix, seared on a griddle, and then stuffed into warm pitas or served over rice. Because the carts often stay open for business well past midnight, it was probably inevitable that a cook, inspired by his late-night snack, would create a similar version for family meal. The key is to use a heavy cast-iron skillet over high heat—and to give the pieces of chicken some breathing room, because if they’re crowded, they’ll steam instead of browning.
Just like its street-corner predecessor, this chicken is short on looks but long on flavor. Some of the pieces of chicken will char, some will brown. Then mix them with lime juice, salt, and sugar and let them sit briefly, and the spices will combine with the juices to form a delicious seasoning. Serve like the original, in warm pitas or over rice.
For the spice paste
Add the chicken pieces to the spice paste and stir well to coat. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator.
Mix the lime juice with the salt and sugar in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.
TO COOK THE CHICKEN: In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the chicken, loosening and turning the pieces as they brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to the lime juice mixture and toss to coat. Once all the chicken is cooked, let sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the lime juice mingles with the spice coating to make a sauce.
Remove the chicken from the lime juice mixture and serve.
Our March 2013 Top Pick in Cookbooks is The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and it's the ultimate cookbook to help bring the divine flavors of the Lowcountry to any kitchen.
This recipe is a Charleston institution—the Cheese Spread from the hallowed Henry’s.
Time: 10 minutes
When Henry Hasselmeyer and his son-in-law, Walter Shaffer (pronounced SHAFF-er), opened Henry’s, a beer parlor at 54 North Market Street, in 1932, they served only beer and deviled crabs (see page 153), baked up by Hasselmeyer’s wife in their home on Ashley Avenue and delivered to the establishment on cookie sheets in a long black Packard. By the 1940s, Henry’s had evolved into Charleston’s most ambitious restaurant, with waiters in white jackets, steaks trucked in from the Kansas City butcher Pfaelzer Brothers, and the house’s own fanciful turns on local fish and shellfish: seafood à la Wando (named for a river north of Charleston), flounder à la Gherardi (named, it is variously said, for a rear admiral of the U.S. Navy who served in the Civil War, or for his son, a prominent engineer, who might have been a patron). Of all the elegant touches at Henry’s, which survived until 1985, when the family sold it, our favorite was the iced crudité dish set down on every table at the start of the meal. The plate, a simple steel oval, cradled celery, radishes, green cocktail olives, and an astonishingly good cheese spread. Some have likened this dip to pimento cheese, but it may have been more awesome, with the creamy-fiery thing of p.c., but torqued up by horseradish to a picklish, sinus-clearing intensity. It arrived on the table with little fanfare— it appeared nowhere on the menu (see Henry’s Menu, page 123)—but left a deep impression on people who loved Henry’s. This latter category included Albert Goldman, the late Elvis biographer, rock-and-roll critic, and frequent contributor to High Times—“the voice of the marijuana community”—who praised the cheese spread in his hilariously florid story about Charleston in a 1973 issue of Travel & Leisure. Walter Shaffer’s son, Henry, who graduated from the Citadel in 1950 and supervised the kitchen at Henry’s for several years in the fifties, loaned us the restaurant’s original recipe, typed on an old typewriter, calibrated for a commercial quantity. We’ve adapted it here for household use, although once you taste it, you may think we’re high for ratcheting down the quantity. It’s a fabulous spread for asparagus spears, radishes, carrot sticks, and crackers, to name a few. Or stir it into grits or fold it into an omelet!
Why do we love food trucks so much? Perhaps it's their innovation, the accessibility of clever recipes or the joy of eating food curbside. Or perhaps it has something to do with our hunter-gatherer ancestors and some kind of feral satisfaction of tracking down our favorite trucks (albeit via Twitter).
Whatever the reason, Eat St. taps into our collective love of food trucks by assembling 125 recipes from all different trucks. Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt calls it a "revolution"; we call it tonight's dinner.
El Gastrónomo Vagabundo is inhabited by Australian chef Adam Hynam-Smith and his Canadian partner, Tamara Jensen.
What a culinary and gastronomic journey! Proof? This salad, a blend of papaya, smoked tuna, and a delicious chili tamarind sauce. I guess that’s the “vagabundo” part.
Tamarind water can be found in many Asian supermarkets. If you can’t find it, soak 3 tbsp (45 mL) tamarind paste in ¾ cup (175 mL) hot water until soft; squeeze pulp with your fingers to dissolve it. Pour through a fine mesh sieve, forcing liquid through with the back of a spoon and scraping pulp from the outside of the sieve.
Chili Tamarind Sauce
Pour mixture into blender and add cilantro roots. Blend until smooth.
Pour sauce into a bowl; add fish sauce to taste. Flavor should be a balance of sweet, sour, and salty. Transfer to a squeeze bottle, if desired. Set aside.
For the seasoning sauce, in a small saucepan, combine palm sugar and water. Stir over medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Add fish sauce to taste. Flavor should be a balance of sweet and salty. Let cool completely.
For the fried shallots, in a small skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté shallots, stirring frequently and being careful not to burn them, until deep golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. (Shallots will crisp as they cool.)
To serve, arrange tuna slices in middle of 4 plates. Top with green papaya salad, creating a pyramid. Squeeze 3 nickel-size dots of chili tamarind sauce around tuna (or drizzle with a spoon). Garnish with fried shallots, peanuts, lime leaf, and a lime wedge. Serve immediately.
The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen by Matt Lee and Ted Lee is our Top Pick in Cookbooks! If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting Charleston, South Carolina, you know how good the food is. Writes Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt, "Good food, even great food, isn’t 'trendy' here, it’s an integral and celebrated part of Lowcountry life."
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
The old Lowcountry cookbooks have dozens of recipes for different ways you can make rice a base for various sauces and stews. There are rice waffles and rice breads, rice cakes and rice croquettes. When we ran across the croquettes in Mrs. Samuel G. Stoney’s Carolina Rice Cookbook (1901), we immediately thought of arancini—addictive fried rice balls often served with tomato sauce as an appetizer or a snack in Italy. We don’t know for sure whether rice croquettes ever came into contact with the tomato sauce from an earlier Lowcountry cookbook, Sarah Rutledge’s 1847 The Carolina Housewife.
What? You’re thinking, Italian tomato sauce in the South? In the nineteenth century?
Sì, sì. In fact, the archives at Middleton Place has the very copy of The Carolina Housewife owned by Paolina Bentivoglio Middleton, the Italian woman who married Sarah Rutledge’s cousin, Arthur Middleton (grandson of the Arthur who signed the Declaration of Independence), in Rome in 1841. The book contains annotations throughout, written in Paolina Middleton’s own hand, and in the margin of the recipe on page 90 for “Tomato Sauce” are the words, Mio recetto. We—and more important, Barbara Doyle, the archivist at Middleton Place—are fairly certain that this means the recipe was contributed to Sarah Rutledge’s cookbook by her cousin.
In any event, the rice croquettes found in the old books tend to be rather monastic affairs of egg and milk and not much else, so we find they take well to the cross-cultural dressing up. Here, we’ve torqued the seasoning of the rice balls themselves with country ham and scallions; and the garlicky, spicy sauce (which cooks in the time it takes to form and fry the rice croquettes) is the perfect dunk for the croquettes. Or, if you prefer, you can pour the sauce over them the way you would meatballs. Leave out the country ham, and you have a knockout vegetarian dish.
Buon appetito, y’all!
2. Make the croquettes: Preheat the oven to 225ºF.
3. In a large bowl, mix the rice, ham, scallions, and cream cheese until thoroughly combined. Season the mixture to taste with salt and black pepper. Beat one of the eggs well, add it to the bowl, and stir gently with a spatula until evenly coated.
4. Using wet hands, form the rice mixture into Ping-Pongsize balls. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl with the milk. Put the bread crumbs in a shallow bowl. Dip the balls in the egg and then roll in the crumbs until evenly coated.
5. Pour the oil into a 4-quart (or larger) Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of about 1½ inches. Turn the heat to medium high, and when the oil reaches 350ºF on a frying thermometer, fry the rice balls in batches, about six at a time, turning them in the oil as they brown, for about 3 minutes total. Transfer as finished to the oven, placed on a heat-proof plate lined with a paper towel. When all the rice balls have been fried, serve with the warm tomato sauce.
We're serious about food trucks in Nashville, and we're not the only ones who love eating tacos, grilled cheese and waffles (not necessarily together) on the side of the road. Honestly, aren't food trucks the real reason Twitter exists?
Eat St.: Recipes from the Tastiest, Messiest, and Most Irresistible Food Trucks brings your favorite street food home with the help of James Cunningham. Writes Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt, "If you’re already an aficionado of this new movable feast . . . join the street food revolution by sampling some of the more than 125 recipes included here in the privacy of your own kitchen."
The Juice Truck | Vancouver, British Columbia
Strawberry Coconut Smoothie
Ryan Slater and Zach Berman consider their truck the perfect blend of an experimental laboratory and an artists’ studio. They fell in love with exotic juices and blends on their world travels and thought the perfect place to experiment with—and sell—their juices was the streets of Vancouver.
They pack more vitamins into a single serving of juice than most North Americans get in a full meal. This smoothie is one of the simplest recipes in the entire book, but wow, does it pack a refreshing punch!
Adam Roberts’ Secrets of the Best Chefs is a collection of trade secrets and insider tips from 50 of the best chefs in America. It's sort of like hiding in the corner of an expert chef's kitchen, only not as creepy and a lot more fun. Our Cooking columnist calls this cookbook "fabulous."
Chorizo is a magical ingredient, the kind of thing that makes your food taste way more accomplished without asking anything of you beyond just buying it. D’Artagnan sells a good-quality chorizo that is readily available; just make sure you’re buying Spanish chorizo, which is already cooked, and not Mexican chorizo, which is raw. You can expand or contract this dish based on your needs: Feeding a bigger crowd? Double the amounts. Feeding just yourself? Cook as much chorizo and shrimp as you’d like to eat. It’s really that simple.
Meanwhile, add the chorizo to a medium skillet (not nonstick) with the olive oil. Slowly bring up the heat to low and render the fat. You don’t want too much color or for the chorizo to get crisp.
When the oil has turned orange and most of the fat has been rendered, push all the chorizo to the side and turn up the heat to medium high. Add all the shrimp: they should sizzle. You want the shrimp to get some color, so make sure the pan is hot enough.
Once the shrimp have some color, add the wine to deglaze the pan. Use a spoon to work up any brown bits and then add the tomatoes and the red peppers. Turn up the heat to reduce the sauce.
Stir the butter and Parmesan into the polenta and spoon the polenta onto serving dishes. Top with the shrimp and chorizo mixture and serve right away.
Our February issue's Top Pick in Cookbooks imparts tips, tricks and guidance to help you "become an accomplished creator of Chinese home cooking." Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice helps make a daunting cuisine "definitely doable."
The only tricky bit, if you’re not used to it, is shucking the oysters, for which it’s best to use a special oyster knife. To shuck, hold each oyster in a wet kitchen towel, with the hinge end poking out of the cloth. Ease the knife gently into the hinge to find the sweet spot of least resistance, then force it in. Twist the knife to force the two shells apart, then run it around the inside of the top part of the shell to allow you to remove the lid. It’s best to ask someone to show you how to do this if you haven’t tried it before.
If you make this dish with good oysters and free-range eggs, it’ll be better than any oyster omelette you’ll taste in a restaurant. Make it for a special brunch for someone you love, or serve it with rice as part of a Chinese meal.
Beat the eggs, then beat in the flour mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the oil to a seasoned wok over a high flame and swirl it around. Pour in the eggs and swirl the mixture around the base of the wok. Scatter the oysters evenly over the egg mixture and reduce the heat to medium. Tip the wok and use a wok scoop or ladle to allow some of the liquid egg that pools in the center to escape towards the hot metal surface.
When the omelette is golden underneath, scatter with the spring onion greens, then flip to cook the other side. When this side, too, is golden, transfer to a plate and serve.
Writes Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt, "Winter root veggies seem drab when compared to the bright greens, reds, yellows and stripes of their summer cousins, and they’re often gnarly and inelegant looking. But this vast subterranean kingdom can be a treasure trove of culinary delights that not only taste good but are a good source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber."
The key to getting better acquainted with these "underground wonders" is Diane Morgan's Roots. Packed with 225 recipes, there's no better way to be veggie-friendly in the winter.
This minty citrus salad is a refreshing accompaniment to a wintertime dinner or buffet. Every component of the salad can be prepared and ready to serve well in advance. You can also make the dressing several hours or even a day ahead. Buy washed and ready-to-use arugula or mâche in 5-ounce/140-gram bags. It takes time to cut the jicama and to peel and slice the blood oranges, so get those tasks done ahead. Arrange the oranges on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature until ready to assemble the salad.
Meanwhile, toss the jicama with the salt and place in a colander in the sink to drain for 30 minutes. Blot dry with paper towels.
Working with one orange at a time, cut a slice from the top and bottom to reveal the flesh. Stand the orange upright and slice away the peel from the sides in wide strips, cutting downward, following the contour of the fruit, and removing all of the white pith. Cut the orange crosswise into slices ¼ in/6 mm thick. Repeat with the remaining oranges.
Divide the orange slices evenly among individual salad plates, arranging them in a ring and leaving the center open. In a bowl, toss together the arugula and jicama to mix well. Drizzle the dressing over the top and toss to coat evenly. Divide the salad evenly among the plates, mounding a cluster of it in the center of each plate so that it overlaps the oranges slightly. Arrange 3 olives on each plate. Grind a little pepper over each salad. Serve immediately.
Never thought of cooking Chinese food at home? You're not alone, but Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop may change that tune. Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt writes, "Chinese cooking can be elegant, complex and daunting. . . . Over the centuries, Chinese home cooks have learned to cook and eat in a frugal, healthy way, making vegetables and grains sing with flavor while using meat, poultry and fish sparingly."
It's our Top Pick in Cookbooks for February, and it's an excellent excuse to try your hand at a brand new cuisine—or to perfect a favorite!
The dish is traditionally made with ground beef, although many cooks now use pork. This vegetarian version is equally sumptuous. Vegetarians find it addictive: one friend of mine has been cooking it every week since I first taught her the recipe some 10 years ago. In Sichuan, they use garlic leaves (suan miao) rather than baby leeks, but as they are hard to find, tender young leeks make a good substitute, as do spring onion greens. You can also use the green sprouts that emerge from onions or garlic bulbs if you forget about them for a while (as I often do). This dish is best made with the tenderest tofu that will hold its shape when cut into cubes.
Heat a wok over a high flame. Pour in the cooking oil and swirl it around. Reduce the heat to medium, add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is a rich red color and smells delicious. Next add the black beans and ground chillies (if using) and stir-fry for a few seconds more until you can smell them too. Then do the same with the ginger and garlic. Take care not to overheat the seasonings; you want a thick, fragrant sauce and the secret of this is to let them sizzle gently, allowing the oil to coax out their flavors and aromas.
Remove the tofu from the hot water with a perforated spoon, shaking off excess water, and lay it gently in the wok. Push the tofu tenderly with the back of your ladle or wok scoop to mix it into the sauce without breaking up the cubes. Add the stock or water, the white pepper and salt to taste and mix gently, again using the back of your scoop so you don’t damage the tofu.
Bring to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the flavors of the seasonings. Add the leek slices (if using) and nudge them into the sauce. When they are just tender, add a little of the flour-and-water mixture and stir gently as the liquid thickens. Repeat once or twice more, until the sauce clings to the seasonings and tofu (don’t add more than you need). If you are using spring onions rather than leeks, add them now and nudge them gently into the sauce.
Pour the tofu into a deep bowl. Sprinkle with the ground roasted Sichuan pepper and serve.
This month's cooking column has us dreaming about warmer weather. Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks by Rick Bayless serves up "a super selection of south-of-the-border delights" to help turn any blustery day into a mini vacation.
Ideas for serving: Because this is such a substantial guacamole (a fact I emphasize by having you dice part of the avocado), I like to serve it less as a dip for chips and more as an accompaniment to smoky grilled shrimp, chicken, fish or pork. (You’ve already got the grill hot, so you might as well use it as much as possible.)
Chop the onion into 1?4-inch pieces. Cut the kernels from the corn (you need about 3?4 cup). Rub the blackened skin off the poblano, pull out and discard the stem and seed pod, tear the chile open and briefly rinse to remove stray seeds and bits of blackened skin. Cut into 1?4-inch pieces.
Cut the avocados in half, running a knife around the pit from top to bottom and back up again. Twist the halves in opposite directions to release the pit from one side of each avocado. Remove the pit, then scoop the flesh from 1 avocado into a large bowl. Scoop the flesh from the other 2 avocados onto a cut- ting board and cut into 1?2-inch pieces. With an old-fashioned potato masher, a large fork or the back of a large spoon, thoroughly mash the avocado that’s in the bowl.
Scoop the diced avocado into the bowl, along with the grilled onion, corn, poblano and 2 tablespoons of the fresh cheese. Sprinkle with the lime juice and epazote, then gently stir the mixture to distribute everything evenly. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate.
When you’re ready to serve, scoop the guacamole into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.