Learning a trick or two

I was taught to re-purpose things, and I hopefully have passed that message on to A. and N. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn a trick or two in NYC, serving as reminders that just about anything can be salvaged and made fresh again. Although I saw two impressive installations of reprocessed everyday items (Ingo Maurer’s elegant chandelier made from broken white plates and ceramic kettles and Xu Bing’s rising phoenix assembled from remnants of  industrialized waste), it was the creative takes on food that inspired me to experiment in the kitchen when I returned home.

I normally discard broccoli stems as I dislike their woody, fibrous taste. Yet, I happily ate a plateful of Chinese broccoli stems at Red Farm. When I decided to give broccoli stems another chance at home, I began by peeling the tough outermost layer to reveal a soft, slightly sweet inner core. I cut the stem on the diagonal, and after eating some raw, I steamed the rest for a couple of minutes (my advice on using a colander as a steamer can be found here). The cooked stems can be dressed up with your favorite vinaigrette or light soy sauce to make a quick veggie side. The dish was both visually attractive as well as light on the palate.


I love eggs, especially when they retain both shape and texture of the white and yolk! I was delighted to see that a house specialty at Red Rooster Harlem was devilled (also known as deviled or stuffed) eggs, a dish that seems to ride in and out of fashion. Deviled eggs are shelled, hard-boiled eggs that are sliced in half; the yolk is removed and combined with mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper, mixed to a creamy-smooth consistency and reassembled back. The eggs are often dusted with paprika or decorated with a piece of anchovy or finely chopped red pepper. At Red Rooster, the yolk is mixed with a spicy chicken skin mayonnaise and served with crispy leaves on the side. Devilled eggs could also be spiced up with fried green chilies, ginger, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro leaves, or served with crunchy, baked kale leaves to balance the velvety smoothness of the creamy yolk and the bite of kale for a more filling brunch.

In keeping with color-themed restaurants, Blue Hill served the most amazing beet burger as an amuse-bouche. The “burger” consisted of whipped beet puree placed between two minuscule halves of almond bread. When I experimented with beets at home, I began by roasting beets (recipe here). Grate the roasted or boiled beet in a food processor or with a grater. Season the grated beets with salt and pepper. Shape a small amount of grated beet such that it sits compactly in a toasted brioche or slider roll, or on open-face toasted rounds. Top the beets with goat cheese and a red onion ring for a crunch.


Kitchen Gadgets

It is always shocking when someone close to you dies at a young age, especially when they are in their twenties. I spent this weekend sad and found myself pottering around in the kitchen: cooking my favorite comfort food, planting chili seeds in a pot by the windowsill, and grinding fresh pepper and steaming vegetables with my improvised kitchen gadgets.

Kitchen shelves are often stacked with tools for every cooking need. However, you can save space and money by using each gadget for multiple purposes. Remember that A. and N., when you are tempted by an aebelskiver maker or electric knife at that well-known kitchen store!

Coffee grinder as mortar and pestle

A coffee grinder can work for both grinding coffee beans and for making fresh pepper or spices. To prevent cardamom-flavored coffee (although this may not be a bad combination!), wipe down the grinder very thoroughly between the different processes. However, if you plan to grind coffee beans daily, it is better to invest in a second grinder just for spices.

Colander as steamer

You don’t have to buy a steamer; you can adapt a colander to work as a steamer. Place the colander over a pot with a lid. (It is typically cheaper to buy a colander that fits over a pot than buying a new pot). Fill the pot with water. Make sure the water comes up to but doesn’t touch the colander. Let the water start to boil, and then arrange the vegetables, clams, or mussels in a single layer on the colander. Cover the colander with the lid. Steam until the vegetables are done to your liking, and the clams or mussels open. If the food isn’t done, do remember to add more water as needed.

Grater as mini food processor

Food processors are expensive and it is worth investing in a good one. However, if you don’t plan to cook a lot, a good metal grater is nice stopgap tool. You can finely grate or slice cheese and vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. Grated garlic and ginger are as good as minced.

Rice Cooker

I still don’t own one. I use the two-finger rule for cooking rice. (Note: I do not mean the rude hand sign!) After you have cleaned and washed the rice, fill the pot with water (a two-finger measure) above the rice. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover with a lid and cook until done. White basmati rice takes about 12-14 minutes to cook and brown basmati rice about 20 minutes. Let the rice sit in the covered pot for 5-10 minutes. While the rice is cooking, you have enough time to prepare accompanying vegetables.

Muffin Pan as taco maker/bacon bowl

I saw this trick on the Food Network. Turn over your muffin pan. Place a soft taco in between the mounds, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. You have a shaped taco to pile on your favorite fillings. By wrapping overlapping slices of bacon around the mound and cooking it for longer, you get a bacon bowl. Clean up was messy, but it was a fun way to eat eggs for Sunday brunch!

Frying Pan or Skillet

The term for flat-bottomed pans are now essentially interchangeable. The difference is that a skillet is shallower and the sides flare outwards to a rounded lip, whereas a frying pan is deeper with sides that come straight up. Both frying pans and skillets are made of cast iron, aluminum, anodized aluminum, or stainless steel. You don’t need both. Buy either, depending on your budget. Just remember to use wooden or plastic tools to avoid scratching non-stick surfaces. Both work well for sautéing, frying, poaching, and warming up leftovers.