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.
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.
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
Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi break down an often intimidating branch of home cooking in their wonderfully accessible cookbook, The Gentle Art of Preserving. Stock up on fresh summer fruits and veggies while you still can—their recipes will let you enjoy them all winter long.
Try this recipe for a childhood favorite: Fruit Leathers! Choose your favorite fruits and get started.
Makes 1 fruit leather, approx. 14 inches square
Raspberry and Banana Leather
Cut the fruit with or without the peel into chunks and puree in a food processor or blender. Pour the purée onto silicone mats or plastic wrap-lined sheets. Make sure the pool of purée doesn’t go over the edge of the sheets; smooth out by shaking and tilting the sheet to make it spread out. The purée should be no thicker than ¼in. Dry in the dehydrator at 135°F for 4–6 hours, or in the oven at 140°F for 6–8 hours. Fruit leathers are ready when they are not sticky to the touch, but can be peeled easily from the mat or plastic wrap. Lift the edge, which will adhere lightly to the surface, and peel it back. If it peels back easily, it is ready.
STORING YOUR FRUIT LEATHER
Either eat immediately or cover the dried leather in a layer of parchment paper and roll up, or cut into 2-inch-wide strips and roll up. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for up to 6 weeks, but do check regularly for any signs of mold. Alternatively, pack into vacuum bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Looking for something to do with the summer's bounty of strawberries? Gabrielle Langholtz, author of The New Greenmarket Cookbook (our August Top Pick in Cookbooks!) has you covered. Featuring 93 recipes from 93 of New York’s top gastronomes and chefs, this book has a recipe for just about any craving or occasion. Langholtz collected this three-part recipe from pastry Chef Pichet Ong, and his panna cotta is the perfect base for bright, fruity compotes.
Lemon Thyme Panna Cotta With Rhubarb Compote and Lemon Thyme Shortbread
You can make just one or two of this recipe’s three components—they’re wonderful alone or in any combination—but each part is so simple, it’s easy to make them all. Pastry Chef Pichet Ong’s yogurt panna cotta is sublime, requiring so little work, you’ll want to make it all year long as a creamy canvas for whatever berries you bring home.
Lemon thyme, whose leaves have little yellow edges and a fragrant citrus flavor, is transformative on lemon-loving mains like scallops or roast chicken, but it’s also bright and beautiful in sweets.
Variation inspiration: You can swap out the thyme for lavender, which is available May through July, for a flavor that’s both fresh and floral.
Lemon Thyme Shortbread
Recipe by Pichet Ong, Pastry Chef, blog.pichetong.com
Make the panna cotta: In a medium saucepan, combine the lemon thyme, milk, cream, sugar and salt over medium heat and bring just to a simmer.
Remove from heat, cover and let steep at room temperature for about 1 hour. Remove and discard the thyme.
In a small bowl, combine the gelatin with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Stir to combine and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, return the milk mixture to a low simmer (do not boil) then add the gelatin mixture and stir well. As soon as the gelatin dissolves, remove from the heat. Whisk in the yogurt and divide into 8 glasses or 4-ounce ramekins. Refrigerate until set, at least 5 hours.
Meanwhile, make the compote: Combine all ingredients except the strawberries in a small saucepan and let sit for 20 minutes to macerate. Cook over low heat until the rhubarb is soft, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, add the sliced strawberries.
Make the lemon thyme shortbread: Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and sprinkle lightly with sugar.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, blend together the lemon thyme leaves, lemon zest, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt just until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and mix until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a rectangle, about 1-inch thick, and cover with plastic wrap.
Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a large rectangle, about ½-inch thick.
Using a knife, cut rectangular cookies about 3½ inches long by 1 inch wide.
Transfer cookies onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Bake the chilled cookies until the edges turn golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Garnish each panna cotta with 2 tablespoons of compote and serve alongside the shortbread.
Although there's a diverse array of recipes inside Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts, Jeni Britton Bauer's ice creams are the foundation. Try this rich and creamy Salty Vanilla Frozen Custard for a more sophisticated take on an old favorite.
Oh, and remember that recipe for Blueberry Cobbler we shared at the beginning of the month? This ice cream makes the perfect pairing if you prefer your desserts à la mode.
Salty Vanilla Frozen Custard
Makes about 1 quart
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk, the egg yolks and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.
Whisk the cream cheese, salt and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.
Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually add about 2 cups of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolk mixture, one ladleful at a time, stirring well after each addition. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, just until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve if necessary.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese mixture until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
Remove the frozen canister from the freezer, assemble your ice cream machine and turn it on. Pour the custard base into the canister and spin until thick and creamy.
Pack the custard into a storage container. Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.
Salty Goat’s-Milk Chocolate Frozen Custard
In the Cook step, reduce whole milk to 2 cups and add ¾ cup evaporated goat’s milk to the saucepan with the cream, sugar and corn syrup. After you cook the egg yolks, add 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% or more cacao) and stir until completely melted.
This week's recipe comes from Marinades by Lucy Vaserfirer—a cookbook entirely dedicated to what our cooking columnist Sybil Pratt describes as "that little something that gives anything and everything you cook on the grill a special zing." Try this Indian-influenced Curry Marinade with lamb chops.
This bright yellow mixture isn’t exactly an authentic Indian recipe, but it’s sure to satisfy fans of curry.
Tool: 1-gallon zip-top bag
Yield: About ½ cup (enough for 2 to 4 servings)
Measure the oil, lime juice, ginger, garlic, jalapeño, cilantro and curry powder into a 1-gallon zip-top bag and shake or squeeze until blended. Season to taste with salt.
SUGGESTED USES: boneless, skinless chicken thighs, pork chops, or lamb chops (marinated 2 hours to overnight) or shrimp (marinated 20 to 45 minutes), grilled.
Grilled Lamb Rib Chops
For 2 servings, add 6 frenched lamb rib chops (about 1 inch thick) to the Curry Marinade in the zip-top bag and turn to coat. Seal the bag, letting out all the air. Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Set the bag aside at room temperature for about half an hour. Remove the chops from the marinade, pat dry with paper towels, then grill over direct high heat until medium-rare, 10 to 12 minutes (or until the desired doneness), turning once. Moisture will just begin to accumulate on the surface of the chops when they are medium-rare. Tent the chops with foil and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Serve these lamb chops with dal and basmati rice, or any other Indian-style side dishes you like.