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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine


Virtual Life of a Sim Chef


My Sim self making mac and cheese.

© Courtesy of The Sims 3, EA Games
My Sim self making mac and cheese.

I've always wondered what it's like to be an ambitious, charismatic and kleptomaniac chef. Last night I lived out my fantasy by playing The Sims 3, the newly released version of the popular life-simulation computer game The Sims, now with special features for the virtual foodie.

Using the Create-A-Sim tool, I came up with an avatar that has the above-mentioned personality traits. My Sim self reads cookbooks (such as Cooking Vol. 2: Why You Need Baking Soda), takes cooking classes at the local grocery store and practices making everything from mac and cheese to sushi, all in an effort to move up from Kitchen Scullion to Celebrated Five-Star Chef at Little Corsican Bistro.

So far, things are going pretty well in my virtual life: I’ve eaten pancakes and waffles for breakfast every day, gotten promoted twice and "acquired" new furniture for my home (OK, so I stole lamps and chairs from the bistro, but kleptomania is an acceptable mental disorder in The Sims 3). I just hope my stealing habit won't derail my culinary aspirations.


Brilliant Recipe-Free Cookbook


© Notes on Cooking
Notes on Cooking

My favorite new book on cooking has no recipes. "Notes on Cooking" by Russell Reich and Lauren Braun Costello, is like the food version of the essential writing manual “The Elements of Style.”  The concise, witty compendium includes 217 bits of wisdom, outlined into sections like “meat,” “bread & pastry” and more abstract topics like “the cook’s role.” Some highlights:

#38: Be wary of single-use gadgets.
#84: Command the heat.
#114: Stock is its own ingredient.
#150: Chicken is the test of a cook’s versatility.
#217: Always be cooking.


The Brief, Wondrous Strawberry Season


In my home state of New Jersey, the strawberry season is short—from the last week in May through early June. With this in mind, I decided that the only berries worthy of Mark Bittman’s almond crème anglaise in the New York Times last week were those that I could pick myself. My sister and I drove to Terhune Orchards, a 200-acre pick-your-own farm in Princeton that I’d found on LocalHarvest, a website with nationwide directories for small farms and farmer's markets. A week of rain had left the plants a bit droopy, but there was fruit galore and scrambling children competing to see who found the biggest strawberry. I chose only the darkest, most petite berries, which tended to be the ripest, while my sister preferred anything big and bright as a fire truck. I know my berries will be fabulous in a Melon-and-Strawberry Salad with Spicy Lemongrass Syrup or in a Warm Strawberry Crumb Cake from one of my favorite chefs, Gerard Craft of Niche in St. Louis. Or I might go the super-simple route and just top the berries with barely-whipped cream.


Microwave Recipes That Work


A day after my lunch at Manhattan’s fantastic wd-50, I’m still thinking about the spicy pulled pork served on cornbread toasts, the smoky corn chowder and the rich Grand Marnier chocolate fondue. Not just because they were all delicious but also because, remarkably, they were all prepared in a Panasonic microwave. Panasonic recently partnered with the Culinary Institute of America to develop these and more than a dozen other recipes. The purpose of the lunch was to introduce the recipes to editors and to talk up Panasonic's patented Inverter technology. While other microwaves turn energy on and off when working at lower settings (creating that distinctive whirring noise), Panasonic units maintain a constant energy flow for better cooking. If you try one of the new recipes (all available online), shoot me an email to let me know what you think.


My New Favorite 10-Minute Meal


© Frances Janisch

When I told my colleague Ray Isle that I rely on tofu for one of my favorite “I don’t feel like cooking but am too tired/cheap/busy to go out” meals, he declared, “Anything with tofu just sounds depressing.” Not so! In our June issue, Top Chef’s Lee Anne Wong convinced me that tofu was way sexier than I ever thought.  My secret to making admittedly tasteless tofu delicious in minutes: kimchi, the garlicky, chile-flecked Korean pickle. When I have only 10 minutes to cook, I stir-fry minced garlic and ginger for 1 minute; add tofu, patted dry and cubed, and stir-fry for 2 minutes; add frozen shelled edamame with a spoonful or two of water, cover and cook just until tender, about 2 minutes; add kimchi and stir-fry just until heated through; then season the dish with a few drops of soy sauce and sometimes a little salt. The result: a satisfying, healthy and even pretty dinner that tastes just as good cold on the second day.

For more great tofu recipes, try these.

And for ways to use up your jar of kimchi, try one of these dishes:
Kimchi Noodle Soup
Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Kimchi (pictured)
Kimchi Fried Rice


Memo to Michelle Obama


Pork with Arugula and Tomatoes

© Tina Rupp
Pork with Arugula and Tomatoes

“Well, of course the Obamas went to Blue Hill,” writes Frank Bruni on the New York Times's Diner's Journal blog. As Amanda Hesser points out in her excellent Times op-ed, Michelle Obama has been extremely on-message in promoting locally grown foods, a cause Blue Hill ardently supports. Hesser believes Michelle should go further, however, and more fully embrace cooking, rather than implying that it’s a chore. (She was recently quoted as saying, “I don’t miss cooking. I’m just fine with other people cooking.”) “Terrific local ingredients aren’t much use if people are cooking less and less,” Hesser writes, citing several disheartening trends, including this one: “Americans ate take-out meals an average of 125 times a year in 2008.” In an effort to change that sad statistic, we offer our Top 10 Best Fast Recipes Ever.


New Cookbook: Well-Preserved


© Photo Courtesy of Clarkson Potter

I’ve never put anything up—that is, preserved it to eat later. Then I picked up Eugenia Bone’s newest book, Well-Preserved, and thought I’d give it a try. Well-Preserved, which got a glowing write-up in today’s New York Times, is a conversational cookbook that explains in detail (and without too much science-speak) all means of preserving, from pickling to smoking to water-bath canning. Bone’s instructions looked easy and her recipes, like fried ricotta balls with apricot-amaretto jam, too good to pass up.

I picked cherries in wine, which infuses Bing cherries—just now in my supermarket—in red wine reduced with cloves and orange zest. After finding an inexpensive cherry pitter, preparing four pounds of cherries and scouring for stray pits, the process went smoothly and swiftly. I had only to boil the jars and wash the red juice from my fingers. The preserved cherries are proudly resting, like little rubies, in my kitchen. They’ll be perfect alongside grilled beef tenderloin or duck (Bone’s suggestions), spooned over vanilla ice cream or served straight with whipped cream. 

Eugenia’s a busy woman. Not only does she scour the greenmarkets and put up enough to feed her family year-round, she’ll be publishing a holiday food diary in our December issue. I can’t wait!



Oysters Without the Shucking


Over Memorial Day weekend I was visiting some friends who live in Blue Point, Long Island, home of my favorite East Coast oyster. Excited for some oysters on the half shell, we brought two dozen home after a trip to the fish market. I offered to shuck, figuring I could do it the quickest (though I'm not fast by any means), but when I realized all my friends had was a clam-shucking knife, I had to figure out another way to break into their shells without hurting myself.

The grill was already on, so I decided to throw the oysters on for a few minutes. I let them cook just until the shells started to pop open slightly. This trick worked perfectly. Though the oysters were not completely raw, they were not fully cooked either: Warmed through but still plump and full of briny juices. We stood around the grill and ate our oysters with just a squeeze of lemon and a drop of hot sauce.

For people without a ton of shucking experience or a proper oyster-shucking knife, this is an easy technique that takes the pain out of what can be a time-consuming task.


America's Best Pizza


Hot on the heels of F&W’s roundup of America’s best new pizza artisans, GQ magazine’s Alan Richman just released his list of the 25 best pizzas in America. After eating almost 400 pies at over 100 pizzerias in 10 cities, Richman concludes that “great pizzas aren’t made by great ovens; they’re made by great cooks.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. I’ve eaten my share of restaurant pizza but I have to say that my favorite pizza comes, without fail, from one of the greatest cooks I know—my grandmother. The dough is fragrant and yeasty; baked in a battered old pan, it turns crisp yet pleasantly chewy. 

Recently, my grandmother upgraded from supermarket flour to slightly more expensive King Arthur Flour. The rest is intuition. I don’t have that intuition—at least, not yet—but I do have access to some amazing recipes from F&W

Mushroom-and-Goat Cheese Béchamel Pizza

Pizza with Charred Cherry Tomatoes and Pesto

Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Scallions and Fontina

Shrimp-and-Chorizo Pizza with Escarole and Manchego 


New Pork Thrills


To give cooks more lean, quick, affordable options, the National Pork Board is introducing four new cuts that they hope will be available soon in supermarkets nationwide. Perhaps inspired by the beef industry’s success with steaks like the flatiron, which is cut from the inexpensive beef chuck, food scientists have isolated new cuts from the pig’s shoulder and leg—two parts of the animal that command a much lower price than the loin cuts.

There’s the cap steak, a thin piece from the hind leg, that reminds me of skirt steak, with its long, visible grain. (Like skirt steak, it’s great on tacos.) The petite tender is like a mini-tenderloin but with more flavor, much like beef’s teres major steak—a cut they sell at Fleisher’s butcher shop in upstate New York as “faux filet.” I recently took home the pocket roast, a two-pound chunk from the upper portion of the leg. Unfortunately, the meat was prebrined—no lovingly-raised, heirloom-breed stuff here. Besides that chemically salty taste that masked any flavor the meat might have had, I really liked the cut: It’s easy to roast in a 10-inch skillet (I browned it on the stovetop first, then transferred it to a 400° oven) and would easily serve a family of four, most likely with leftovers for sandwiches. The Pork Board hopes to turn the pocket roast (great name, by the way) into the next rotisserie chicken, since it’s easy for stores to roast on a small spit. As long as I can find versions made with better quality pork, I raise a Cubano sandwich to that.

The Dish
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