Summer is the season of eating outdoors, but that doesn’t mean that city dwellers can’t make great barbecue inside, in our little, backyard-less apartments. In fact, the oven is a seriously great tool for turning whole pork butts into the best possible pulled pork sandwiches.  I’ve got a guide up today on First We Feast that shows you just how to do this. Check it out here.

A Dream Small Kitchen

Posted by on Monday May 18th, 2015

One of the oddities about doing the big girl/small kitchen life in New York City is how long you live as a renter. Though it feels like being socked in the gut when you think too deeply about real estate value vis-à-vis ever growing up and owning an apartment, there’s a lot to be said for renting once you get into the rhythm and find a good landlord. You have less responsibility, less stress, less fear of commitment in your daily life. This can be a good thing.

Of course, then again we renters have to face a lack of flexibility in decoration. We’re not going to tear down our walls or redo our kitchens. And so we make do with what we have (which is really not so bad!), and we dream.

Except, honestly, I never dreamed all that much about my perfect small kitchen. I’ve worked in studio kitchens and suburban kitchens, my mom’s kitchen and strangers’ kitchens. At the end of the day, I like my space best, even though it’s small and hardly customized to me. So, when it came to envisioning the perfect small kitchen, I needed some help with the dreaming part, not to mention the design.

In a world where we’re always seeking out the new, making and remaking an old favorite has the advantage of propelling us towards perfection.

That’s what happened when Alex and I made pasta with tomato sauce a weekly dinner staple, its assembly a cherished routine. He makes the sauce, and I assemble the dish. As he’s grown to know exactly how the garlic should look and smell when you’re ready to add the tomatoes, I’ve determined the right scale of acidity to richness (olive oil, parmesan), and how to melt mozzarella in the bottom of the bowl so each forkful of pasta includes a cheese pull. These days, our pasta with tomato sauce has gotten really good, because of a few particular ingredients and techniques.

I know this might sound simple, even trivial, the idea of going through a dish that a lot of you could make in your sleep in such detail. But with a couple extra flourishes and some mastery of timing, I think you can transform a ho hum dinner into the kind of food that reminds you why you cook, why you eat, and why you rarely need to order take-out.

For a two-person dinner and leftovers, you’ll need 3/4 pound of pasta (any shape), one 28-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes, an onion, as much garlic as you can stand peeling, a hunk of parm to grate, and some good olive oil (if you care). I sometimes put mozzarella into my pasta, but the dish is also good without.

Here’s the step by step.

How to Make Your Own Chicken Biscuits

Posted by on Thursday Apr 9th, 2015

Most of the time, when I go to write a “complete guide” for this series, I have at least a solid relationship with the food I’m about to research and recreate. That’s because I’ve made a point to conquer only the most beloved classics like pizza, pancakes, and burgers.

But chicken biscuits are a beloved classic to many who adore Bojangles’, Popeyes, and Pies ‘n Thighs–they just weren’t on my personal menu. So, with the help of my friend Anika, who introduced me to the chicken biscuit at Cheeky’s, I pestered experts and tested recipes until I’d achieved some minor expertise. The result? Enough know-how to turn out flaky biscuits filled with crispy chicken tenders and condiments from cold gravy to jezebel sauce–all in my own kitchen. The full guide on how to master the chicken biscuit, over on First We Feast.  

Making Ramen at Home

Posted by on Saturday Mar 28th, 2015

There’s been a lot of fuss about ramen this winter. As the bowls of Japanese noodle soup have made their way into the mainstream, via a lot of new restaurants, the never-before-seen availability of fresh ramen noodles at Whole Foods in NYC, and the appearance of crazy fusion creations on menus, there’s been a lot of interest in the dish. Also some backlash and serious reflection.

But at bottom, everything ramen chefs and noodle makers have told me about ramen leads me to believe that trendiness doesn’t really matter. If you want a comforting meal that you could eat every day, look to ramen and be fulfilled, belly and soul. If you’re like me, you’re never going to go out for ramen every day. And that’s why I put together this beginner’s guide to making the soup at home.

We ate ramen every day for at least a week as I was testing broths and toppings. I loved that. We’ll do a ramen week again soon. This works not just because it’s a comfort food, but also because the more you cook ramen, the better you understand what you want your bowl to be. If you want to get into it, read my full guide over at First We Feast.

11 Formats for Dinner Tonight

Posted by on Monday Feb 23rd, 2015

Whether you’re a good meal planner or a last-minute shopper like me, cooking (almost) every night is easier when you rely on a handful of tested and beloved recipe formats. On a given week, I tend to sketch out meal formats, rather than meals – which I’ve mentioned here before. Today, I’ve got more to say  about my process, and I’m aiming to pass on some ideas about formulating your own go-to list of dinner types rather than dinners, whether you plan ahead of time or stop at the market nightly.

For me, the scoping goes like this: I pick a couple of formats for the week ahead, shop for ingredients that will work with them, and then let spur-of-the-moment plans, unexpected cravings, and random bursts of creativity take over. I don’t come home to an empty pantry, but I also don’t tie myself to saucy stir-fried pork on a night when it turns out I need pork fried rice.

Here are the 11 formats I turn to again and again.

1. Pasta with tomato sauce. The one, the only. Here’s how to make it the best ever. Make sauce by sauteing onions and garlic in oil, then adding broken-up whole canned tomatoes, salt, and oregano. Cook the pasta in salted water and scoop it right into the sauce. Finish with a lot of olive oil and a lot of parm. Also, put cubes of fresh mozzarella in the bottom of your bowl before filling it with pasta for a gooier delight.

2. Pasta with vegetables or other sauces. This gets a separate entry, because pasta is the best weeknight dinner in the world. Saute a few garlic cloves in some olive oil, then add a lot of a vegetable (zucchini, kale, broccoli, carrots, winter squash, or a mix!) and a little water and then cook, covered, until the veggie is really tender. Add the pasta straight from its pot of boiling water, plus some of the cooking water to make a sauce.  Add a lot of parm and serve.  And maybe some breadcrumbs, as in this brown butter-broccoli number. Alternatively: make pesto and toss pasta with that. Peanut noodles also count.

3. Soup & sandwich. The soup part can be really simple: broth with veggies or tomato soup. The sandwich could be a grilled cheese, a quesadilla, or even avocado toast. Honestly, the s&s pairing is so solid that two don’t even really have to match, flavor-wise, so whip up whatever you’re in the mood for. Here are some sandwiches and here are some soups. Come summer, consider replacing one of those s’s with a salad.

How To Make Chopped Salad at Home

Posted by on Friday Jan 9th, 2015

Some office lunch staples just aren’t so good. But some are. Pretty much whenever I don’t pack a lunch, I seek out my day’s servings of vegetables at one of the chopped salad joints that have colonized NYC. Not even the lines can put me off. When you discover a way to make vegetables truly palatable, people line up, especially in January.

In my tastings, I’ve gotten to be pretty good at choosing the right mix of salad ingredients. But I wanted to know more about prep, assembly, and chopping, and so I turned to Nick Kenner, founder and managing partner of Just Salad, which has more than 20 international locations.

From Nick, I learned enough about salad to whip up this Mexican Chicken Chopped Salad (with manchego, red kuri squash, and creamy chipotle dressing) easily and well. Want to get chopping too? You should read all about salad over at First We Feast.