Although we might be distancing from each other, we are not distancing ourselves from the kitchen.
Walking down the supermarket aisles for my weekly shopping, mask on, I noticed the scarcity of baking ingredients. Wow, I thought, this section is more empty these days than it is during the end-of-year holiday season.
Though possibly not their choice, people have been immersed in cooking in their own kitchen. And, from what I am hearing, they are enjoying it, kids included. A colleague and her husband mentioned that they have had virtual baking sessions with their out-of-state daughter and two young grandchildren. Virtually, they enjoyed the experience and compared the outcome on the screen. Last week, they sent a care package with pre-measured ingredients so they could prepare a couple of recipes for baked items, albeit from miles apart.
Friends have told me that they are enjoying sitting down as a family to eat, something they rarely did before. Cooking and recipe blogs, online videos of cooking techniques and posts of recipes and cooking questions are surging.
Is cooking at home going to be the new fad for those who previously stayed away from the kitchen?
I think it just might. I enjoyed the article titled “Every 20-Something is Now Obsessed with Making Bread.” A quote from it: “I have personally been afflicted by this epidemic. Until this cursed year of 2020, I had never baked a loaf of bread in my life.” Does this sound familiar?
Cookbooks are aplenty, and finding new recipes is a cinch, with the touch of a button. It is an understanding of cooking techniques that makes cooking easier, often the missing piece to the puzzle for many. To the rescue is “100 Techniques: Master a Lifetime of Cooking Skills, From Basic to Bucket List” (2020, America’s Test Kitchen, $40). It might become your “cooking school,” the only book you’ll need to make you a proficient cook, recipes included.
Sautéing, braising, roasting, poaching, toasting spices, tempering, caramelizing; don’t let these techniques scare you. You can master the 100 techniques with the easy-to-understand instructions, then apply the skill with the recipes that follow.
Part One is titled “Essentials Every Home Cook Should Know.” It begins with using salt properly, the most basic skill. You’ll understand why seasoning meat with salt before cooking is key and how to use salt once the dish is done. The simple technique of blooming spices is next, and it is quite simple and provides a huge payoff — great flavor and aroma of the finished dish. The heat wakes up the flavor of spices by cooking them in fat, such as oil or butter, prior to adding it to the recipe. Covering vegetables first to tenderize them during roasting and then uncovering them will put a golden finish to roasted carrots and parsnips with rosemary or roasted red potatoes with shallot, lemon and thyme. Learning how to make vinaigrettes, roux and rice that’s never mushy or scorched, as well as kneading, shaping and baking a simple loaf of artisan bread, are among the 40 techniques in this part.
Part Two, “Techniques You didn’t Know You Could Live Without,” explains how to use the blender to conquer notoriously finicky French sauces such as hollandaise, aioli, mayonnaise and bearnaise; boil hearty grains like pasta and barley for perfect tenderness; make pulled barbecue in your oven; use cast iron for burnished baked crusts; and bake bread without kneading dough. I especially found helpful the technique of making ice cream without an ice cream maker, a technique I enjoy during the warmer months.
Part Three, “The Bucket List,” is for those who really want to experiment with advanced techniques. You can learn how to make your own bitters for the ultimate cocktail, make fresh pasta without a machine or make filled pasta like an Italian Nonna, smoke ribs indoors using tea leaves, turn your oven into a commercial pizza oven and bake a New York deli-worthy cheesecake.
So, let’s get started with these recipes. For the recipe for Foolproof New York Cheesecake, visit https://bit.ly/2XnIZFt.
Persian-Style Rice with Golden Crust
The headnote says, “Why This Recipe Works: The combination of fluffy rice pilaf and a crispy, browned crust makes chelow a star attraction on any table. In Iran, chelow is often reserved for special occasions to impress guests. The crust, called the tahdig, is sometimes presented intact, to be broken up at the table; we find it easier to break up the crust while removing it from the pot and arrange it around the rice on the serving platter. After we rinsed, soaked, and parboiled the rice, we steamed it in a Dutch oven. Some recipes called for mixing beaten egg or plain yogurt into the rice before spreading it into the pot to both enrich the flavor and bind the grains, which will help the crust come out more easily. The egg’s flavor was a bit too distinct, but Greek yogurt added richness without identifying itself. The yogurt proteins also helped facilitate browning. After packing down some of the rice to create the crust, we arranged the remaining rice in a pyramid shape on top. This configuration allowed steam to escape from the bottom of the pot more easily, so the crust cooked up crispier. For the best results, use a Dutch oven with a bottom diameter between 81/2 and 10 inches. Be sure not to overcook the rice during the parboiling step, as it will continue to cook during steaming. Begin checking the rice at the lower end of the time range. Do not skip placing the pot on a damp towel. This helps to free the crust from the pot. We prefer basmati rice in this dish, but Texmati or another long-grain rice will work.”
Place rice in fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until water runs clear. Place rinsed rice and 1 tablespoon salt in medium bowl and cover with 4 cups hot tap water. Stir gently to dissolve salt; let stand for 15 minutes. Drain rice in fine-mesh strainer.
Meanwhile, bring 8 cups water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add rice and 2 tablespoons salt. Boil briskly, stirring frequently, until rice is mostly tender with slight bite in center and grains are floating toward top of pot, 3 to 5 minutes (begin timing from when rice is added to pot).
Drain rice in large fine-mesh strainer and rinse with cold water to stop cooking, about 30 seconds. Rinse and dry pot well to remove any residual starch. Brush bottom and 1 inch up sides of pot with 1 tablespoon oil.
Whisk remaining 1/4 cup oil, yogurt, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, and salt together in medium bowl. Add 2 cups par-cooked rice and stir until combined. Spread yogurt-rice mixture evenly over bottom of prepared pot, packing it down well.
Stir remaining 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds into remaining rice. Mound rice mixture in center of pot on top of yogurt-rice base (it should look like small hill). Poke 8 evenly spaced holes through rice mound but not into yogurt-rice base. Place 1 butter cube in each hole. Drizzle 1/3 cup water over rice mound.
Wrap pot lid with clean dish towel and cover tightly, making sure towel is secure on top of lid and away from heat. Cook over medium-high heat until rice on bottom is crackling and steam is coming from sides of pot, about 10 minutes, rotating pot halfway through cooking.
Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until rice is tender and fluffy and crust is golden brown around edges, 30 to 35 minutes longer. Remove covered pot from heat and place on dampened dish towel set in rimmed baking sheet; let stand for 5 minutes.
Stir 2 tablespoons parsley into rice, making sure not to disturb crust on bottom of pot, and season with salt to taste. Gently spoon rice onto serving platter.
Using thin, metal spatula, loosen edges of crust from pot, then break crust into large pieces. Transfer pieces to serving platter, arranging evenly around rice. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and serve. Serves 6.
The headnote says: “Why This Recipe Works: Our richly flavored, entrée-worthy soufflé au fromage is as easy to prepare as it is impressive. In our quest for perfection, some of the recipes we tried turned out cheese soufflés that were overly squat and dense; others were so light and ethereal that they were hardly substantial enough for a meal. Still others had negligible cheese flavor. We wanted a cheese soufflé boasting not only stature but also enough substance to serve as a main course, with a distinctive cheese flavor and contrasting textures in the form of a crispy, nicely browned crust and a moist, almost custardy center. Although the thickening power of a béchamel provides stability, it also adds weight, so we dialed back the amounts of butter and flour. We whipped the egg whites to stiff peaks and then whipped the cheese mixture into the stiff-peaked whites for the end result of “medium peaks.” Comté, sharp cheddar or Gouda cheese can be substituted for the Gruyere. To prevent the soufflé from overflowing the dish, leave at least 1 inch of space between the top of the batter and the rim of the dish; any excess batter should be discarded.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2-quart soufflé dish with vegetable oil spray, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan.
Whisk flour, paprika, salt, cayenne, white pepper and nutmeg together in bowl. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour mixture and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to simmer. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thickened and smooth, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and whisk in Gruyère and 5 tablespoons Parmesan until melted and smooth. Let cool for 10 minutes, then whisk in egg yolks and 11/2 teaspoons parsley.
Using stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until stiff peaks form, 3-4 minutes. Add cheese mixture and continue to whip until fully combined, about 15 seconds longer.
Transfer mixture to prepared dish and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Bake until risen above rim, top is deep golden brown, and interior is thick and creamy but not soupy, 30-35 minutes. (To check doneness, use 2 large spoons to gently pull open top and peek inside.) Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon parsley and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.
Cooking questions? Send them to Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to stephenfries.com.