A Conversation with Harper Collins

While on a recent trip to New York, I sat down with the publisher of Harper Audio Ana Maria Allessi to talk about writing, food, Paris, cooking tips and of course my upcoming cookbook My Master Recipes. You can listen to it here or follow the link http://www.harperaudiopresents.com/episodes/conversation-with-food-writer-patricia-wells/.
 

 
 

The book will be on sale from March 7 from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million and Indiebound

Taste of the Week: Unsung star of the kitchen

I am not one for cluttering my kitchen with unnecessary kitchen gadgets. I prize my counter top and storage space, so every piece of equipment has to earn it's place. For me, the electric spice mill is an unsung star of the kitchen and has to rate among my top five favorite kitchen tools. It's of course essential for making my own spice mixes, but is also a dependable little machine for grinding, mixing and blending quantities too small for a blender or food processor, such as kaffir lime powder, dressings, sauces and pastes. It saves on the cleaning up too! A clever trick for cleaning after grinding spices is to grind a small quantity of rice, empty, and then wipe clean with paper towel.

What's your favorite kitchen gadget?

 

Taste of the week: Labeling your way to a more organized kitchen

La rentrée – the time of year in early September when France goes back to real life after a long, lazy summer break – is as much a formalized part of the year as Christmas or Easter. Kids are heading back to school, the papeteries (stationery shops) and supermarkets are piled high with stacks of notebooks, pens, diaries, ready to supply the nation with everything needed to start the new year. And while the only school I'll be attending is my cooking school, I always rejoice in a bit of annual reorganization. I round up unused utensils cluttering my kitchen and give them to friends, reorganize my cupboards after a month or two of hosting guests over the summer, and make sure my kitchen is in perfect order – not just so that my students can easily find their way around, but so that I can turn my hand to any task with a clear work space at my fingertips.

Strangely enough, one of my most frequently used items in my kitchen is not used for cooking. It's my label maker, the key to an orderly kitchen. Here are five ways in which labeling can transform your kitchen storage:

  1. Label and date anything that goes into your freezer, and also note it on a master list nearby. You think you'll remember what's in each container, but two months later, when the bag is frozen and your memory has faded, you'll be happy you have a well-marked inventory of your freezer contents.
  2. When storing leftovers in the fridge in glass or plastic containers, label the outside for clear identification. Then you're much less likely to leave perfectly good leftovers to languish at the back.
  3. Label spices and salts by jar in the same way. And if you like to renew your spices every six months, label the date of opening on the bottom of the jar.
  4. I always decant flours and grains into glass jars for storage. Labeling the jars makes for a much neater pantry, and helps avoid that moment when you're not sure if you're looking at self-raising flour, bread flour or plain flour. For grains, it's always useful to note the suggested cooking time and amount of water to cook in.
  5. If you have a lot of people coming through your kitchen like I do, labeling drawers and shelves for specific ingredients and cooking utensils is one of the best ways to make sure everything ends up back in its proper place at the end of the day.

Of course, you don't have to go out and buy a label maker, a roll of labeling tape and a sharpie can do the trick just as well. Happy organizing!

Taste of the week: Vanilla sugar

I always have vanilla-scented sugar on hand when making desserts, to give an injection of that warm, comforting aroma so perfectly suited to so many sweet dishes.

To make vanilla-scented sugar: Flatten one or several moist vanilla beans. Cut them lengthwise in half. With a small spoon, scrape out the seeds and place them in a small jar; reserve the seeds for another use. Fully dry the vanilla bean halves at room temperature. Place the dry halves in a large jar with a lid, and cover them with sugar. Tighten the lid and store for several weeks to scent and flavor the sugar. Use in place of regular sugar when preparing desserts.

A tip from my latest cookbook The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence.

Taste of the week: Homemade molds

© Jeff Kauck

I love repurposing items, particularly packaging, into something useful in my kitchen. And why buy expensive stainless steel kitchen molds when you can just make them out of an empty tomato paste can? Simple remove the top and bottom of the can and you have an instant mold to make dishes like this gorgeous tomato tartare (you can find the recipe in The French Kitchen Cookbook).


Taste of the week: Red Boat Fish Sauce

I consider Red Boat Fish Sauce a favorite ingredient and one of my kitchen pantry essentials. Nuoc mam nhi (meaning salted fish water) is a staple of south-east Asian cooking, but I find endless ways of using this umami-rich sauce to deepen the flavors of many of my recipes, both Asian and non-Asian.

This brand in particular is my favorite because, unlike many other store-bought varieties that use additives and sugar, Red Boat fish sauce uses just two ingredients: wild caught black achovies and sea salt. The anchovies are the freshest possible, fished from the clear waters off Phu Quoc island in Vietnam. Using artisanal techniques, the fish is slowly fermented with sea salt for a year in tropical wooden barrels. They bottle only the first pressing, so what you get is a deeply rich, amber liquid, with no additives or preservatives.

Of course fish sauce is a requisite ingredient in Vietnamese dipping sauce, that perfectly balanced accompaniment to so many classic Vietnamese dishes. While the composite components are almost always the same, it is the balance of quantities and quality of ingredients that makes for the perfect dipping sauce recipe. Make sure you use fresh, moist garlic, with the green germ removed, to avoid any bitterness, and a good quality dipping sauce like Red Boat.

I've tested many different variations, and this recipe I think has the best balance of flavors:

 

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Equipment: A mini food processor or a standard food processor fitted with a small bowl; a small jar with a lid.

2 plump, moist garlic cloves, peeled, halved, green germ removed
1 fresh or dried red bird’s eye chile
3 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce, preferably Red Boat brand
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) water

In the food processor mince the garlic and chile. Add the fish sauce, citrus juice, sugar, and the water. Pulse to blend. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to the jar and tighten the lid. (Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.)

Makes 3/4 cup (185 ml)

Buy Red Boat Fish Sauce here from My Amazon Store.

 

This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Taste of the week: A recipe for learning to cook

Who can resist a new year's resolution? If yours is learning to cook, or be a better cook, then it is a worthy resolution indeed!

One of the questions I have been asked most over the years by novice cooks is a simple, but very important one: "How do I learn to cook?". Busy schedules and tight budgets mean that cooking classes aren't always on the cards. So here is my advice to those who want to really take a leap forward with their cooking at home in their own kitchen. And remember, this can be applied to more advanced cooks, just pick recipes or techniques that are relevant to your level of expertise. You know, we never stop learning!

1.  Sit down and make a list of the 10 things you most like to eat (for a well-rounded cook I would suggest not all desserts, unless your aim is to become a master pastry chef!) Take inspiration from your favorite cookbooks or blogs but don't be too ambitious, just choose the things that you really want to perfect.

2. Then, like a pianist learning to play a new piece of music, you simply practise. Just cook, cook, cook! Practise the first recipe on your list until you feel you have mastered it, making notes along the way about what worked and what didn't - a kitchen diary can be one of the most useful tools in a cook's kitchen.

3. Move on to the next recipe on your list. By the time you have completed the list, you will have a repetoire of 10 things you can be proud of. Then of course, you'll make another list of 10 new recipes. The wonderful thing about cooking is that no matter how much you know, there is always more to learn.

I think if I was to learn to cook this way today, top of my list would be roast chicken, a simple pizza, a wholesome salad with a zesty lemon dressing and a chocolate tart. What would be on your list?

 

Taste of the week: Decant or not decant?

© Jeff Kauck

With the festive season pretty much upon us, it seems an especially good time to talk about the benefits of decanting red wine, as I am sure many a bottle will be shared in the coming weeks.

In class during our wine-tasting sessions, we often do a blind taste test to understand the benefits of decanting - and the results are always surprising to my students. We test the same wine, one which has been decanted several hours before, and one that has been just opened. The decanted wine wins every time for flavor and satisfaction, no matter what the price or wine (with the exception of very old wines that might be fragile). This is because the aeration and oxygenation actually ages the wine and opens it up, So don't just get out your decanter for your special occasion reds, have it on hand to get the most out of any bottle that you are drinking.

A handy tip for getting rid of stubborn wine stains on your carafe: after washing the carafe fill it with water for a few days or even until the next time you use it. And residual stains should just disappear.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Taste of the week: Lemon zest salt

 © Jeff Kauck

Before using a lemon, I always zest it. If I am not using the zest in the recipe I am making, I like to turn it into lemon zest salt, that I can use on virtually any dish to add color, texture, and well, a little zest! The recipe couldn't be easier:

Lemon Zest Salt

Makes 2 tablespoons

Equipment: A spice grinder; a small jar with a lid

1 tablespoons grated lemon zest, preferably organic (as non-organic lemon skins are heavily sprayed with pesticides)

1 tablespoon fine sea salt


Combine the zest and the salt in the spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Transfer to a small jar and close with the lid. Keep refrigerated for up to a week (after that the lemon flavor begins to fade)

If you don't have a spice grinder, you can use a well-cleaned coffee grinder, or zest the lemon finely with a very sharp fine zester such as a microplane zester, and stir to combine.


This recipe was first published in Salad as a Meal. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

 

 

 

A new way to love a tomato

Bristol Tomatoes 8 12

Tomatoes must be very happy. Everyone loves them. Craves them. I have always understood that the Japanese believe that the way in which you cut anything changes the flavor. I agree. Slice something too thinly and it looses its soul. Too thick and you miss the message. But at a celebratory lunch the other day on the new terrace of the the Bristol in Paris, with chef Eric Fréchon at the stove, my friend Susan Herrmann Loomis and I shared a landmark meal. There were many highlights, but as a cook and a  teacher, what I took away  was the "tomato corks" pictured here. I grow more than 20 varieties of tomatoes in Provence, and never tire of them, breakfast, lunch, dinner. I slices them thick and thick, make sauces, etc etc. But I have never seen them cut like this. After lunch, Susan and I emailed about how to do this at home. She was the smartest one who suggested an apple corer might be the right gadget. So I found a fabulous Zyliss apple corer that does a "twist and release" meant for the apple but even better for the tomato. There is no recipe here, but I will tell you what I have done: made tomato corks and drizzled them with olive oil and vinegar and salt, made them part of an antipasti platter paired with thin slices of ham, giant olives, slices of prosciutto, slices of mozzarella, pure heaven. I use any leftover tomatoes to make a tomato sauce. The best advice is to cut the top and bottom from the tomato and stick the corer into the tomato. Release each cork onto a thick layer of paper towels. Salt lightly. Then season and serve as you like!   Tonight I will serve a ravioli with that homemade tomato sauce and toss all of this with more tomato corks. To be continued! I have added the Zyliss apple corer to my Amazon Store if you want one!