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Slow Cooker Cassoulet

Posted by on Thursday Oct 23rd, 2014

In researching and testing recipes for a piece about slow cookers, I discovered that I ADORE cassoulet and that that the French peasant stew (okay, a sort of modified version) is no big deal to whip up if you use your slow cooker. Grab beans, onions, sausages, bacon, and duck confit (or chicken, if duck’s a stretch) and start simmering. Read the full piece about slow cooking, and get the recipe for cassoulet, over at First We Feast.

You’d think that a move between two apartments two blocks apart would be easy. But the distance from apartment #1 to #2 turns out to matter a whole lot less than the number of years you’ve hoarded kitchen equipment in the old place (four) and the sum of stair flights to be climbed between the pair of Brooklyn walk-ups (six and a half). Two blocks can be long indeed. We were going to need some help.

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just crispy rice cereal, marshmallows, and chocolate. Don’t miss her recent recipe for this bowl of autumnal goodness

These are almost too delicious to be called “treats,” so my boyfriend has dubbed them “luxuries.” And luxurious they are, with a homemade caramel whisked in, a top surface robed in chocolate, and a decoration of the finest of flaked sea salts. But they are also, at the core, still comfort food to be passed around at a gathering of family and friends, who will unsuspectingly find their beloved childhood treat has suddenly grown up. The flaked sea salt, usually sold under the label Maldon, provides just enough saltiness to offset the caramel tones.

Keep in mind that regular Rice Krispies in the blue box contain barley extract, which may contain gluten. Kellogg’s now makes a yellow box of Rice Krispies labeled “gluten-free” that does not contain this additive. If you can’t find those, check in the health food section for a brand like Barbara’s, but make sure it is a “crispy rice cereal” and not plain puffed rice. Working quickly is the key with the sticky marshmallow topping, and getting the mixture in the pan before it cools too quickly. Salt in the caramel and on top makes the flavor really stand out. These won’t last long!

Did you catch this Bittman article? It’s about how, when cooking at home, you can make a trade off between energy and time. Slow-cooked dishes often don’t demand much work–the garlic cloves soften on their own, no need for chopping–but you have to start early and stay around to check on them. Fast-to-make dinners require less overall time, but the pace of cooking is furious and the action nonstop: You can’t step away from the stove for a minute. My reaction to all this was: yes, what an observation! And how true that we consider all cooking time the same, when we definitely shouldn’t.

The fast and furious stuff would seem to mean stir-frying and pan-frying, poaching and blanching, quick-cooking techniques that nonetheless produce good flavor, though requiring your full attention. It does. But in fact, the single most time-consuming act of quick cooking is the chopping, I think. You know this if you’ve ever made fried rice or beef and broccoli. That chicken and string bean dish cooked up ridiculously fast, sure–but after 40 minutes of mincing.

Though food safety fears have driven us to put food in the fridge ASAP if we’re not planning to eat in the next ten seconds, my own observations of chefs and serious home cooks reveal that not everybody follows USDA guidelines to the letter–which, by the way, allows commercial chefs to leave cooked food out for four hours (home cooks, for whatever reasons, only get two).

When entertaining, dishes that can be left, worry-free, at room temperature are obviously a boon to the host’s organization. Less known is the fact that the best brown bag lunches are equal candidates for short-term room temperature storage. Here’s why.

Eating food cold kills a lot of flavor. Reheating lunches in the office microwave is depressing, plus the microwave leaves all those vexing cold spots in a dish. Since I adore bringing my own lunch–the mid-day journey to find a bad, expensive sandwich just about does me in–I’m always looking for ways to make even a humble packed meal more delicious. And a safe two-to-four hour (aka all morning) marination at room temperature does just that, giving flavors in grain bowls or chicken salads time to mesh in the best way. The bread on your sandwich stays crusty, and last night’s leftovers morph from congealed to inviting. Even soup, which you’ll still want to microwave, will warm up faster if it starts from room temperature. Plus, the texture of room temperature food is better.

Still, when you have a debate in which food scientist Harold McGee chides cooking expert Michael Ruhlman about his food storage habits, you do want to be careful. Refrigerate lunches that spoil easily, like fish and fresh cheese. The USDA’s tips for college students are surprisingly readable, if you want to know more.

P.S. 11 Low-Carb Lunches (so you’ll stay awake this afternoon).

Lentil & Barley Soup with Mushrooms

Posted by on Thursday Oct 9th, 2014

Phew. I found the soup. I didn’t want to lose this one. I think it shows so well how you can make a good dish out of very little, which became my hobby, more or less, in the hours before dinner during the last weeks at our old apartment.

These days, I store all my beans and grains in glass jars, the leftovers from five years of canning fruits and vegetables with mom and from a few wedding favors. The glass jar storage system looks a little hippie dippy, or maybe just trendy, but it works really well, especially for open shelving. Lentils, especially, are pretty, which might explain why I permit myself to own six kinds.

There was supposed to be soup for you yesterday, a really nice, hearty fall soup with barley and mushrooms and lentils. The dish was one of the last notable recipes I tested back in the old apartment. But then I packed the recipe notes in a box that’s as yet unopened in our new place. I can’t complain though, both because I love our new place so much and because I have this great sandwich in the repository, and my organizational disabilities give me a chance to share it.

Back when Carly and I were figuring out the scope of five-ingredient sandwich series, we split up the recipes. She suggested a few of her favorites, and I developed a couple simple sandwiches whose tasty sums were greater than their relatively humble, pantry-staple parts. This fresh, open-faced sandwich is Carly’s, and I’m so happy to be sharing it with you on this fall day when the weather seems particularly hospitable to nutty pecorino and bright mushrooms.

Here’s what Carly says:

I always keep a wedge of pecorino in my fridge to go with the many pasta dishes I love to make. Inevitably I can’t resist nibbling on the cheese at other times as well. This sandwich became a lunchtime favorite as an open-face sandwich. Allowing the butter to melt into the warm bread keeps it soft and moist, and brings out the sharp flavor of the cheese and the mellow taste of the creminis.

Have a sandwich you love? Tell me in the comments and I’ll try it as soon as I can.