Big Girls Test Kitchen

Homemade Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Posted by on Monday Aug 13th, 2012

People have accused me of having a love affair with salt. My retort (which I usually keep inside my head) is that I just like things with flavor.

A preference for food with, you know, lots of flavor, has led me to seek out dishes that have the absolute most taste per square millimeter, and that search has led to making sun-dried tomatoes — concentrated little morsels of tomatoes’ sweet-and-savory-ness — at home. Summer’s abundant tomato harvest begs to be preserved, and once you’ve exhausted tomato saucesalsa, and ketchup, sun-dried tomatoes are a brilliant solution.


I took a longing look through White on Rice’s post about actually sun-drying tomatoes with sun over the course of a couple of days. Then I took a long look at my apartment, with its shady fire escape and dusty windowsill, and I decided that my oven was going to be the vehicle for turning my fresh plum tomato slices into their chewy “sun”-dried alter egos.

It was a fine choice, though you might argue that gas heat lacks the romance of sunshine.

I hate opening posts with rants and hatred and stuff. But I hate creamy soups. I really do. And that feeling won out over the desire to be lovey dovey, which we’ll get to later with a fantastic new recipe for milk-free corn chowder.

Milk, cream, and cheese count among my favorite foods, but they belong in ice cream and grilled cheese, lasagna and, well, whipped cream.

Creamy soups taste gluey to me rather than gooey, gloppy rather than luscious. They seem to beg for texture and body, or at least some crunch or variation to balance out all the richness. Maybe I’ll take a bite of cauliflower-cheese soup (in case that is your bag, recipe here). But eat the whole bowl? No way.

In college, when friends suggested bread bowls of soup at the chowder place in The Garage in Cambridge, I ran the other direction–to the neighboring Ben & Jerry’s. At any New England clam shack, you’ll find me ordering heaps of fried clams but steering clear of the monstrosity known as New England Clam Chowder.

On the other hand, when I hear about a restaurant serving Manhattan Clam Chowder, I rejoice and remember that New York beats New England any day (sorry, Red Sox-loving readers!). Once, my mom and sister reported tasting a bowl of clam chowder made with broth, not cream or tomato, and ever since I’ve searched fruitlessly for this species, which may go under the alias of Rhode Island Clam Chowder.

I’ve steered clear of creamy soups, but, by extension, often scrunched up my nose at their cream-less counterparts. What would corn chowder be like if I nixed the cream?

You’re looking at two Coconut Budinos, the sweetest little individualized desserts ever to be beloved by everybody. They’re gluten-free, dairy-free, and require no skill to make. They’re universal, unless you’re a coconut hater. Democratic, if you will.

A democratic dessert fits perfectly in with what’s going on today, because I want to share some plans with you and ask for your opinions: What are you looking for when you come to BGSK? What are your favorite parts of the site?

I talked on Friday with Rachel, our WordPress designer, about getting into gear to make design changes I’ve been envisioning for a long, long time. They revolve mainly around reorganizing the homepage so it feels less like a magazine and more like, well, a blog. To me, that’s a more honest and fun way to present my posts to you: I can show you what I’m actually cooking right now, rather than fashioning a slideshow out of old posts that I guessed you might like to see.

I’ll still find a way to highlight old recipes from the archives, because, well, there’s some great stuff there I wouldn’t want you to miss.

I’m also planning to add a Print feature and a Pin It button to take you right to Pinterest, and to make the header smaller and the photos and text more prominent so you can jump right into content. I’ll be leaving the recipe index as is, and keeping the sections for menus and guides–unless you tell me not to.

The Secrets of Irish Butter

Posted by on Wednesday Mar 14th, 2012

Supposedly my great-grandmother, who lived to be 104, started each day with a piece of toast spread with both cream cheese and butter, and I think I may have inherited her love for fattening dairy products. Hopefully, that will not compromise any longevity she may have passed down to me.

She wasn’t Irish, and neither am I. But some of the best butter with which to slather your toast is.

In Europe, the cows must eat some gourmet grass, because the milk they produce is creamy. Much of it really does contain a higher percentage of butterfat than you …

Creamy polenta has always seemed like a rather daunting dish to serve a crowd of guests. It takes longer to cook than one would imagine, and in my experience, it can transform from a soft, pillowy cushion into a rubbery, coarse brick in seconds. Because of this, I’ve always intentionally gone for the brick version for dinner parties.

Recently, I came across this Bittman article and discovered a different way of preparing polenta. Instead of pouring the cornmeal into boiling water in a steady stream and whisking furiously to prevent any lumps from forming, you start by creating a slurry …

Beets are kind of a polarizing vegetable. When I was little, something about them didn’t agree with me. Perhaps it was because the color, in my eyes, made them resemble the fruits of my nightmares, rather than the veg of my dreams. But in the last few years I’ve really come around. And in fall and winter, when sometimes they seem like the only thing besides potatoes and squash at the farmers’ market, they are all the more comforting as part of a warm, healthful salad.

A month or so back, I had a mind-blowing beet salad at Mile End

Since starting BGSK in November 2008, I’ve purchased a surprisingly small number of cookbooks. Yet, I was forced to buy a second, identical, bookshelf to house all of the books I seemed to accumulate. And when it finally came time in May to move out of my apartment, I found that new bookshelf had to be packed up in five large storage boxes full of big, beautiful, clunky cookbooks.

How did this happen? Well, when you become a food writer, there seems to be two go-to presents: cookbooks and aprons. I now have a more diverse and colorful wardrobe of …