kottke.org posts about cooking

The Artists' and Writers' CookbookMay 06 2015

Artists and Writers Cookbook

Published in 1961 with an introduction by Alice B Toklas, The Artists' and Writers' Cookbook features recipes and wisdom from dozens of writers and artists, including Harper Lee, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Pearl Buck, Upton Sinclair, John Keats, and Burl Ives. Lee shared her recipe for crackling cornbread:

First, catch your pig. Then ship it to the abattoir nearest you. Bake what they send back. Remove the solid fat and throw the rest away. Fry fat, drain off liquid grease, and combine the residue (called "cracklings") with:

1 ½ cups water-ground white meal

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

1 cup milk

Bake in very hot oven until brown (about 15 minutes).

Result: one pan crackling bread serving 6. Total cost: about \$250, depending upon size of pig. Some historians say this recipe alone fell the Confederacy.

And Marcel Duchamp offers up a preparation of steak tartare:

Let me begin by saying, ma chere, that Steak Tartare, alias Bitteck Tartare, also known as Steck Tartare, is in no way related to tartar sauce. The steak to which I refer originated with the Cossacks in Siberia, and it can be prepared on horseback, at swift gallop, if conditions make this a necessity.

Indications: Chop one half pound (per person) of the very best beef obtainable, and shape carefully with artistry into a bird's nest. Place on porcelain plate of a solid color -- ivory is the best setting -- so that no pattern will disturb the distribution of ingredients. In hollow center of nest, permit two egg yolks to recline. Like a wreath surrounding the nest of chopped meat, arrange on border of plate in small, separate bouquets:

Chopped raw white onion

Bright green capers

Curled silvers of anchovy

Fresh parsley, chopped fine

Black olives minutely chopped in company with yellow celery leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

Each guest, with his plate before him, lifts his fork and blends the ingredients with the egg yolks and meat. In center of table: Russian pumpernickel bread, sweet butter, and bottles of vin rosé.

Not to be outdone, MoMA published their own artists' cookbook in 1977, featuring contributions from Louise Bourgeois, Christo, Salvador Dali, Willem De Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. Here's Warhol's recipe:

Andy Warhol doesn't eat anything out of a can anymore. For years, when he cooked for himself, it was Heinz or Campbell's tomato soup and a ham sandwich. He also lived on candy, chocolate, and "anything with red dye #2 in it." Now, though he still loves junk food, McDonald's hamburgers and French fries are something "you just dream for."

The emphasis is on health, staying thin and eating "simple American food, nothing complicated, no salt or butter." In fact, he says, "I like to go to bad restaurants, because then I don't have to eat. Airplane food is the best food -- it's simple, they throw it away so quickly and it's so bad you don't have to eat it."

Campbell's Milk of Tomato Soup

A 10 3/4-ounce can Campbell's condensed tomato soup

2 cans milk

In a saucepan bring soup and two cans milk to boil; stir. Serve.

Jamie Oliver: how to chop an onionApr 28 2015

Chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver shows three different techniques for chopping onions, including the dead simple "crystals" method.

The Loch Ness soup ladleApr 15 2015

Behold, the world's greatest kitchen utensil, the Nessie Ladle.

Nessie Ladle

Cognitive Cooking with Chef WatsonApr 14 2015

Chef WatsonWatson, IBM's evolving attempt at building a computer capable of AI, was originally constructed to excel at Jeopardy. Which it did, handily beating Jeopardy mega-champ Ken Jennings. Watson has since moved on to cooking and has just come out with a new cookbook, Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson.

You don't have to be a culinary genius to be a great cook. But when it comes to thinking outside the box, even the best chefs can be limited by their personal experiences, the tastes and flavor combinations they already know. That's why IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education teamed up to develop a groundbreaking cognitive cooking technology that helps cooks everywhere discover and create delicious recipes, utilizing unusual ingredient combinations that man alone might never imagine.

In Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson, IBM's unprecedented technology and ICE's culinary experts present more than 65 original recipes exploding with irresistible new flavors. Together, they have carefully crafted, evaluated and perfected each of these dishes for "pleasantness" (superb taste), "surprise" (innovativeness) and a "synergy" of mouthwatering ingredients that will delight any food lover.

The Katering ShowFeb 17 2015

About a minute into The Katering Show, I already knew it was going to be my favorite cooking show of all time. In this episode, the toothsome twosome with the Beatlesesque names of McCartney and McLennan make risotto hot wet rice using a Thermomix.

So "what is a Thermomix?" I hear anyone under the age of 33 ask. It's a blender, a microwave, an ice bucket, and a set of kitchen scales. It's a gangbang of kitchen appliances that's created a futuristic robot saucepan. It's the kind of appliance that your rich mother-in-law gives you as a wedding gift because she doesn't think you can cook. Or something that you buy yourself because you've always wanted to join a cult, but you don't have the energy for the group sex.

(via digg)

The fast-flip method of cooking steakJan 28 2015

Being an avid eater and cooker of steak,1 a passage at the end of Tom Junod's profile of Wylie Dufresne / obit of WD-50 caught my eye:

"That's why I'm really proud of what we did here," he said over his cup of sake. "I'm proud of the big things, but I'm also proud of the little things we routinely did well. Do you know what made me most proud in the meal I served you? The Wagyu beef. It was perfectly cooked."

"The advantage of sous vide," someone said.

"But it wasn't sous vide!" Dufresne said. "That's the thing. It was cooked in a pan. And it had no gray on it! Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how much work that takes? Turning the beef every seven or eight seconds ... And so that question you asked me before, about food and music -- that's my answer: a perfect piece of Wagyu beef cooked in a pan that comes out without any gray on it. It might not be 'When the Levee Breaks,' but it's definitely 'Achilles Last Stand.'"

I couldn't recall hearing about this fast flipping technique from the many pieces Kenji Lopez-Alt has published about how to and how not to cook steak, so I pinged him on Twitter. He responded with Flip Your Steaks Multiple Times For Better Results.

Let's start with the premise. Anybody who's ever grilled in their backyard with an overbearing uncle can tell you that if there's one rule about steaks that gets bandied about more than others, it's to not play with your meat once it's placed on the grill. That is, once steak hits heat, you should at most flip it just once, perhaps rotating it 90 degrees on each side in order to get yourself some nice cross-hatched grill marks.

The idea sort of makes sense at first glance: flipping it only once will give your steak plenty of chance to brown and char properly on each side. But the reality is that flipping a steak repeatedly during cooking -- as often as every 30 seconds or so -- will produce a crust that is just as good (provided you start with meat with a good, dry surface, as you always should), give you a more evenly cooked interior, and cook in about 30% less time to boot!

It works for burgers too. Thanks, Kenji!

  1. Although honestly, I eat and cook steak a lot less than I used to. Burgers too. A belly full of steak just doesn't feel that good anymore, gastronomically, gastrointestinally, or environmentally. I'm trying to eat more vegetables and especially seafood. Actually, I'm not really trying...it's just been working out that way. I still really like steak, but it's almost become a special occasion food for me, which is probably the way it should from a sustainability standpoint.

The truth about cast ironNov 13 2014

At Serious Eats, Kenji López-Alt sets the record straight about some misconceptions people have about cast iron pans.

The Theory: Seasoning is a thin layer of oil that coats the inside of your skillet. Soap is designed to remove oil, therefore soap will damage your seasoning.

The Reality: Seasoning is actually not a thin layer of oil, it's a thin layer of polymerized oil, a key distinction. In a properly seasoned cast iron pan, one that has been rubbed with oil and heated repeatedly, the oil has already broken down into a plastic-like substance that has bonded to the surface of the metal. This is what gives well-seasoned cast iron its non-stick properties, and as the material is no longer actually an oil, the surfactants in dish soap should not affect it. Go ahead and soap it up and scrub it out.

I have two cast iron pans, including this skillet I use almost exclusively for making the world's best pancakes. Although, after hearing from Kenji that vintage cast iron pans can be slight better than modern pans, I might seek a replacement on Etsy. See also how to season a cast iron pan.

Plenty MoreOct 03 2014

Plenty More

If you're at all interested in cooking at home, you've likely got one of Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbooks on your shelf: Jerusalem, Plenty, and Ottolenghi. I don't cook much myself, but from everything I've heard from friends, this guy is a wizard with vegetables. Now Ottolenghi is out with a new cookbook: Plenty More.

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of the world's most beloved culinary talents. In this follow-up to his bestselling Plenty, he continues to explore the diverse realm of vegetarian food with a wholly original approach. Organized by cooking method, more than 150 dazzling recipes emphasize spices, seasonality, and bold flavors. From inspired salads to hearty main dishes and luscious desserts, Plenty More is a must-have for vegetarians and omnivores alike. This visually stunning collection will change the way you cook and eat vegetables.


According to testing by the folks at America's Test Kitchen, you should not be thawing out your frozen steaks before you cook them. Mind. Blown. Into. Tiny. Pieces. Sweep. Me. Up. Pls.

Conventional wisdom holds that frozen steaks should be thawed before cooking, but we wondered if steaks could be cooked straight from the freezer. Cook's Illustrated Senior Editor Dan Souza explains our cooking experiments.

They also apparently more-or-less deep fry their steak? Is that a thing that we should be doing? (via digg)

Making a Japanese rolled omeletteMar 10 2014

A master chef from a Hokkaido sushi restaurant shows how to make dashimaki tamago, a Japanese rolled omelette.

Watching people who are good at what they do never gets old. (via swiss miss)

Spherical cake tutorialAug 06 2013

Spherical Cake

Each layer is different kind of cake which is baked and then pressed into the batter of the next larger cake, covered, and rebaked. The largest of which you bake in halves in two glass mixing bowls.

It's like a dessert turducken. Mmmm.

(via @rustyk5)

The truth about caramelized onionsMay 02 2012

Tom Scocca wonders why recipe writers don't tell the truth about how long caramelizing onions really takes.

Onions do not caramelize in five or 10 minutes. They never have, they never will-yet recipe writers have never stopped pretending that they will. I went on Twitter and said so, rudely, using CAPS LOCK. A chorus of frustrated cooks responded in kind ("That's on some bullshit. You want caramelized onions? Stir for 45 minutes").

As long as I've been cooking, I've been reading various versions of this lie, over and over. Here's Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh: "Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions turn a medium-brown colour." The Boston Globe, on preparing pearl onions for coq au vin: "Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden." The Washington Post, on potato-green bean soup: "Add the onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown."

Perfect poached eggs with a spoonFeb 25 2011

Michael Ruhlman uses a spoon of his own design for making perfect poached eggs.

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee notes that there is a liquidy part of the egg white and a viscous one. If you let the liquidy part drain, before poaching, you will have a beautiful poached egg. (People tell you to put vinegar or lemon juice in poaching water -- this does nothing in my experience.) The problem was, my perforated spoons were so shallow the egg always wanted to jump out. No longer. The deep bowl of The Badass Perf spoon easily contains even a jumbo egg, as well as heaps of beans, vegetables, and pasta.

Darth SpatulaNov 29 2010

It's real and it's spectacular.

Darth Spatula

Whether the mission is baking cookies or flipping pancakes, young Padawan cooks will love using our official Star Wars spatula featuring the fearsome Darth Vader.

And that's not all! Williams Sonoma sells all sorts of Star Wars-themed cooking gear:

Galactic Empire™ Cupcake Decorating Kit - "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Jedi Kitchen Council devised a powerful new way to spread fun through the galaxy. Jedi Master pastry chefs created this extraordinary collection of tools..."

Sandwich Cutters with Vintage-Style Tin - "Transform your Jedi's favorite sandwiches into high-energy fuel for lunches, snacks and parties with Millennium Falcon™ and Darth Vader's TIE fighter™ sandwich cutters. Created by the Jedi Kitchen Council to celebrate the Rebel Alliance's victory over the evil Empire, these cutters are fun and easy to use -- just press and cut." [The "Vintage-Style Tin" is actually, how you say, a metal lunchbox.]

Pancake Molds - "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a Jedi Kitchen Master used the Force to create three pancake molds in honor of his favorite galactic hero and villains: Yoda, Darth Vader and a stormtrooper. Use these molds to add whimsy and fun to your next pancake breakfast." [The Vader pancake looks a lot like Hannibal Lector in his mask.]

What, no Jar-Jar Binks Home Preserves Kit? (thx, meg)

Playing catch with doughNov 16 2010

I love this video of a guy rolling out dough and tossing it several feet to another man over and over and over again...and even over a passing waiter.

How to preheat a frying panJun 14 2010

This blog post and accompanying videos show you how to preheat your frying pan to the precise temperature at which your food won't stick. It involves waiting until a small splash of water in the pan forms a single mercury-like ball that floats (literally!) around the pan. Too hot and the water will disperse into smaller balls; too cold and it'll just boil off instantly.

The water "hovering" over the stainless steel pan like mercury happens due to the phenomenon known as the Leidenfrost effect. You can read more about it on wikipedia, but the basic idea is this: at a certain temperature known as the Leidenfrost point (roughly around 320F for water, but varying with surface and pressure), when the water droplet hits the hot pan, the bottom part of the water vaporizes immediately on contact. The resulting gas actually suspends the water above it and creates a pocket of water vapor that slows further heat transfer between the pan and the water. Thus it evaporates more slowly than it would at lower temperatures. At the proper temperature, a similar effect happens with the food you place in the pan, preventing the food from sticking.

This is possibly the best kitchen tip I've ever heard. (thx, jim)

Cooking tip of the year: beer cooler sous videApr 28 2010

The big difficulty with sous vide cooking at home is keeping the cooking temperature constant. Traditionally that has meant expensive emersion circulators with built-in heaters, although the price is down to $450 for the Sous-Vide Supreme. If only you could find something that insulated the water so that it stayed at a uniform temperature while cooking...

Enter the $20 beer cooler:

Fill up your beer cooler with water just a couple degrees higher than the temperature you'd like to cook your food at (to account for temperature loss when you add cold food to it), seal your food in a plastic Ziplock bag, drop it in, and close your beer cooler until your food is cooked.

Oh, and it'll work on camping trips as well (as long as you take your thermometer along).

Sous vide steak at homeMar 11 2010

A nice primer for the home cook on cooking steak with the sous vide technique.

With traditional cookery, when you are exposing your meat to temperatures much hotter than their final desired temperature (say, cooking a steak to 130°F in a 550°F skillet), timing is crucial. The center of your steak is getting hotter and hotter, and it's your job as cook to take it off the flame at precisely the moment that it reaches the desired final temperature. Miss that precise moment, and dinner is ruined.

The beauty of sous-vide cooking is that since you are cooking your steak in a 130°F water bath to begin with, there is absolutely no chance your meat will ever get above that temperature. Guests are an hour late? No problem -- leave the steaks in the water bath, and they'll be exactly the same an hour later.

Tiny gingerbread architectureDec 22 2009

These little gingerbread houses that can perch on the rim of your hot chocolate mug are pretty cool:

Tiny gingerbread houseMake some! (via matt)

Bakeoff! A Gladwell article from back inNov 30 2005

Bakeoff! A Gladwell article from back in September on a project that used different team methodologies to attempt to create the perfect cookie: an open source approach, an approach based on extreme programming, and a traditional hierarchical team. You may be surprised which team won.

A list of the best and worstNov 28 2005

A list of the best and worst cookbooks to give people for Xmas (or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or Festivus).

Cooking school at BaipaiNov 15 2005

Meg and I took a Thai cooking class today at Baipai Cooking School on the recommendation of my friend Darby (thx, Darb!). Since cooking is her thing, Meg's got the full write-up with photos. They pick you up at your hotel, you spend 4 hours cooking (part instruction, part hands-on) in a small outdoor kitchen (there were about 8-10 other people in the class) tasting as you go, you eat the meal you cook, and then they drop you back at your hotel. All for around US$35 per person. We made pad thai, tom kha gai (chicken & galangal in coconut milk soup), fish cakes, and tab tim grobb (water chestnut in coconut milk). Very fun and highly recommended.

The URL of SandwichOct 25 2005

Although the sandwich was named so after an 18th century British Earl, its invention dates back to a rabbi who lived in the first century B.C.. In my short history, I've eaten more than my fair share of sandwiches and while I can't consider myself a true connoisseur, the humble sandwich is one of my favorite things to eat and the ultimate in comfort foods.

The keys to a good sandwich are the three Bs: bread, balance, and...ok, there's only two Bs, but they're important. Aside from the main ingredient (turkey, tuna, chicken salad, etc.), the bread has the power to make or break a sandwich. The first thing you taste when you take a bite is the bread, so it had better be good and it had better be fresh.

Balance, or how the various parts come together to make a whole sandwich experience, is even more critical than the bread. Too much meat and the sandwich tastes only of meat. (The "famous" delis in NYC are big offenders here...the amount of meat in their sandwiches is way too much. These are sandwiches for showing off, not consumption.) Too much mustard and you overwhelm that beautiful pastrami. The mighty sandwich should not be a lowly conduit for your mustard addiction; why not just eat it straight from the jar? If you've got a dry bread, add a slice of tomato, a little extra mayo, or save it for tuna or egg salad. If you've got a lot of bread (a Kaiser or sub roll, for example), you'll probably need more of everything else to balance it out. Make sure the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the sandwich. You should get a bit of everything in each bite...it's a BLT, not just an L on toast. If the sandwich maker is doing his job right, you should be able to taste most of the ingredients separately and together at the same time.

Here are a few sandwiches I've enjoyed over the years. I haven't included any of the ones that I regularly make for myself because they're pretty boring, although IMO, they're right up there with any of these.

In college, when my friends and I got sick of eating on campus (and had the money to do so), we'd venture across the street to Zio Johno's, a little Italian place with good, cheap food. At first I just got the spaghetti or lasagna, but one time I tried the Italian sub they offered and I was hooked. The key was the super-sweet sub roll; my measely $3 was enough for both a savory dinner and sweet dessert at the same time. I've never found anywhere else that uses bread that sweet.

I've lived in NYC for three years now, but I haven't run across a steak sandwich that rivals the one I used to get on my lunch break at The Brothers' Deli in Minneapolis. Fried steak, fried onions, and cheddar cheese on a Kaiser roll with a side order of the best potato salad I've ever had[1].

Surdyk's (say "Sir Dicks") is an institution in Northeast Minneapolis (say "Nordeast"), the finest liquor store and cheese shop around. They also had good croissants (say "Qua Sawn" or "Cross Aunts") on which they put fresh ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Mmm.

There's nothing I like more than a good BLT, and Specialty's in San Francisco has one of the best I've had. Secret ingredient: pickles. Also, they didn't toast the bread, which I usually frown upon, but it worked well anyway.

As for New York, I don't live close to any good delis, but when I worked in Midtown, I used to zip over to the food court below Grand Central and hit Mendy's. Their chicken salad is top-notch; the chicken is good quality and it isn't overwhelmed by the mayonnaise. I'm usually not such a fan of rye bread, but their rye (it's a light rye) is fantastic and goes very well with the chicken salad. The salami is good too. I usually have half a sandwich with a cup of their chicken noodle.

Do you have a favorite sandwich? Know of any good NYC sandwich spots I should check out?

[1] Although Meg has been making this warm garlic potato salad lately that is a serious contender for the top spot.

More than 100 quick and easy healthy foodsJul 14 2005

More than 100 quick and easy healthy foods. "An excellent list of healthy foods which need less than 30 minutes of preparation and cooking times".

Some great tips on grillingMay 20 2005

Some great tips on grilling. "And if you think this takes a lot of time and concentration, you're right. There's time enough for socializing later. Do you want to grill an excellent steak or not? Okay, then. Concentrate."

Mark Bittman cooks homemade food in challenging America's top chefsApr 14 2005

Mark Bittman cooks homemade food in challenging America's top chefs. Daniel Boulud laughed at the complexity of Bittman's dish, but gave an 8/10 in taste...and it only took 10 minutes to prepare.

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