9 Cardinal Rules For Someone Learning To Cook

9 Cardinal Rules For Someone Learning To Cook

By Judy Hevrdejs, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

No one is really “born” a cook or a baker or a candymaker. Not even the world’s culinary stars.

The road to becoming comfortable in the kitchen, a cook will tell you, is rarely straight or smooth. It is riddled with scorched pans, oversalted soups, scars, underseasoned stews, burns and flops.

Trust me. I have scars and scorched pans to prove it.

Along the way, though, family, friends and colleagues have shared kitchen wisdom with me. So have many chefs, cookbook authors, farmers and home cooks. Some of that wisdom I’ve passed on to readers in thousands of stories I’ve written for this newspaper. It’s made me a better cook and baker.

So promise yourself, perhaps as a New Year’s resolution, to get into the kitchen and cook or bake or make candy or pickles or … you get the idea. Maybe it will be a solo creative pursuit, and the steady chop of a knife against a cutting board will become a focused meditation. Or maybe it will be a weekend shared-cooking feast with friends. Or a family affair with children helping prepare a meal.

No matter what, let the power of cooking work its magic. Flops and all.

And when flops happen, quote Ray Bradbury: “Life is trying things to see if they work.” With a little help from some friends, of course:

Fix the flops: “Anyone who does a lot of cooking has flops, and each one teaches you something. … If you’ve had a great flop, take a ‘what-the-hell’ attitude, and pull the dish through with flair,” the late Julia Child told us 30-plus years ago. Recalling a deflated chocolate souffle she decorated with whipped cream, dubbed “chocolate torte” and served to guests, she added, “Keep in mind that your audience doesn’t know what you’re aiming for, so don’t let on.”

Know where you went wrong: Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, tells students, “It’s very possible that a recipe will not work out right away. Sometimes very simple things, like you don’t let your ingredients come to room temperature, might make the recipe fail. … It’s more important to know how a screwed-up recipe looks, and it’s even more crucial to know how to fix it, than to make the perfect pastry.”

Don’t overdepend on gadgets: “My favorite kitchen tool is my hands,” said Connecticut cookbook author Pam Anderson. “When you go in the kitchen, wash your hands and touch, smell, taste, look — freely. … There’s nothing like pulling pizza dough or bread dough out of the food processor, pouring it onto the countertop and giving it that final 30 seconds to a minute kneading to pull it into that baby’s-butt smooth texture.”

Learn how foods feel: “You can’t just follow a recipe and have it turn out,” said Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama Pie Co. in Chicago. “The recipe for a pie crust is going to be variable depending on the weather and humidity, so you kind of have to have a feel for it. … You only have flour, butter and cold water. So I think it takes on this sort of magical thing.”

Plan but be flexible: When chef Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat, Little Goat) plans a multicourse meal, “You want to have a little acidity; you want a little sweetness, a little spice or a little salty,” she told us. “With each dish, I’m always trying to make the whole mouth happy.” How do you start? “Pick the proteins first, (then) be flexible because you definitely want to base it on what’s looking good at the market.”

Don’t overdo it: “People try to do too much,” said legendary chef and cookbook author Jacques Pepin. “They take a cooking class, learn seven desserts and try to do all of them. It’s better to do one well.”

Simplify: “Almost everybody who is cooking dinner on a weeknight is doing a (‘Top Chef’) Quickfire Challenge,” said chef and cookbook author Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco, etc. “You don’t have very much time. You just have to get dinner on the table, but you want it to be delicious.” Understand how a recipe works, then “go into the kitchen and make something that’s just exactly right for you.” Improvise, he said, balancing flavors and textures.

Memorize these secret ingredients: Lauren Braun Costello, in Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft, explained that sweetness (a touch of sugar, agave syrup or balsamic vinegar) can boost a dull tomato sauce. Vinegars and lemon can “add brightness” to nearly everything. And a pinch of salt? “It makes everything brighter and stronger, (but) that doesn’t mean that things should taste salty,” she said. Foods such as Parmesan, capers and anchovies can add saltiness to dishes.

Rethink recipes: When chef Art Smith had to lose weight for health reasons, he worked on his favorite recipes. “Roasting is probably the healthiest way to cook,” he said. “I don’t think anything blanched or boiled has any flavor. Roasting intensifies the color and the flavor of food.”

This is Judy Hevrdejs’ final story as a Tribune reporter.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: The best advice when learning how to cook? Practice. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)


Chocolate Chip Cookies Made Better With… Pork? Recipes From Mexico City

Chocolate Chip Cookies Made Better With… Pork? Recipes From Mexico City

By Judy Hevrdejs, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Ask cookbook author Lesley Tellez, a Southern Californian now living in New York, about her taste memories from the four years she lived in Mexico City, and they come tumbling out like sweets from a broken pinata.

That first steak taco purchased from a street vendor: “You could smell it cooking, that really meaty, greasy smell that’s so delicious,” she said. “That first moment of having that taco in your hand and the array of salsas in front of you, being able to choose and decide which one I am going to put on it and which one tastes the best, was a revelation.”

And the city’s bakeries, where customers use metal trays and tongs to select items: “The bread smell would hit you as you were walking down the block. It was such a tactile and palpable experience, from the smell to grabbing the tongs and choosing your bread.”

Followers of Tellez’s blog, The Mija Chronicles (www.themijachronicles.com) _ “mija” is short for “my daughter” _ know the author’s keen attention to detail and her embrace of Mexico City’s culinary joys. You’ll find the same assets in her recent cookbook, “Eat Mexico: Recipes From Mexico City’s Streets, Markets & Fondas” (Kyle Books, $24.95).

The book’s introduction begins: “Siempre ‘con todo.'” Translation: Con todo? _ With everything? _ is what food vendors would ask when proffering a food item. Siempre means always. And as Tellez gobbled up the city, that was her answer: always with everything.

She ate her way through neighborhoods, learning and blogging as she went. She took a 14-month program on Mexican gastronomy at the Escuela de Gastronomia Mexicana. She channeled her enthusiasm into this cookbook, filling it with recipes (salsas, moles, quesadillas, tlacoyos) and more challenging items: masa (fresh nixtamal) and chicharron (pork cracklings), as well as recipes inspired by Mexican flavors.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Rancho Cucamonga (her great-grandparents came from Mexico, but “the language and most of the cultural customs hadn’t made it to my generation,” she writes), Tellez attended college in Boston, then worked as a journalist at the Dallas Morning News before moving to Mexico City in 2009 with her husband for his job.

The culture shock? Everywhere she’d lived, “there were barriers between you and the food,” she said. “You don’t get to sit on a stool less than a foot away from the food you just ordered and watch a woman pick up a hunk of masa from the bucket and make the tortilla for the quesadilla you just ordered.”

Four years after they landed there, her husband’s job transfer brought them back to the States. Her connection to Mexico remains, going beyond the blog and cookbook. She and a friend founded “Eat Mexico” (www.eatmexico.com), which employs guides who give culinary walking tours in Mexico City neighborhoods and markets, plus a couple of tours in Puebla, with eating along the way. Tacos? Yes, but she adds, “The tide is moving more toward people wanting to try chapulines (grasshoppers).”

Prep: 20 minutes
Bake: 10 to 12 minutes
Makes: About 32 cookies
Adapted from “Eat Mexico,” by Lesley Tellez. You can find chicharron at most Mexican markets. Tellez suggests choosing thinner versions with the least amount of meat. She has also used packaged Baken-ets. To crumble chicharron, she suggests placing pieces in a plastic bag and whacking them with a meat pounder or frying pan until crumbled into small pieces. You can also use a food processor, but stop short of a fine powder.
2 \ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon each: baking soda, salt
2 large eggs
} cup each: granulated sugar, packed light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, cooled to room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 ounces dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao), chopped into \-inch chunks
1 cup crumbled chicharron (pork cracklings)
1. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In bowl of a stand mixer, beat together eggs and sugars until light, fluffy and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Lower speed; mix in butter and vanilla until combined.
2. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir dry mixture into wet just until combined. Gently stir in chocolate and chicharron, being careful not to overmix. Cover dough with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight. (Resting time allows dough to develop flavor.)
3. When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Drop dough by mounded tablespoonfuls, about 2 inches apart, onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges start to brown and middles are still soft. Cool on baking sheet 1 minute; remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Nutrition information per cookie: 171 calories, 9 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 29 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 148 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Prep: 35 minutes Cook: 8 minutes Makes: 6 servings
Adapted from Lesley Tellez’s “Eat Mexico.” Chayote (“vegetable pear” in English) has a thin skin, so it’s not worth peeling.
8 ounces green beans, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 chayotes, diced into {-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
{ teaspoon Dijon mustard
\ teaspoon honey
\ cup olive oil
1 ripe tomato, chopped
2/3 cup each chopped fresh cilantro and crumbled queso fresco or feta
1. Heat water to a boil in medium saucepan. Fill a large bowl with water and ice cubes; place nearby. When water boils vigorously, add beans and good pinch of salt. Cook until crisp-tender and bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer beans with a slotted spoon to ice water. Chill 5 minutes, then drain dry.
2. Blanch chayote in the green bean water until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to ice bath, cool, then drain dry.
3. Whisk together vinegar, mustard and honey in a large bowl. Keep whisking as you add oil in a slow stream, until fully integrated. Add cooled beans and chayote, tossing to coat well. Add tomato, cilantro and cheese. Mix until combined. Add salt if needed. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving: 154 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 117 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Chicharrones, known in the U.S. as pork cracklings or pork rinds, add a surprisingly welcome savory touch to chocolate chip cookies. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

4 Cool Coleslaws That Don’t Use Cabbage

4 Cool Coleslaws That Don’t Use Cabbage

By Judy Hevrdejs, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Bored with the usual slaws? The mayo-doused number at the deli or your aunt’s vinegared version?

Don’t fret. We’ve dug up recipes that get to the root of your problem–which is that cabbage is so 245 years ago. The koolsla recipes the Dutch brought to this country circa 1770 used cabbage. And that’s been pretty much the base for coleslaws ever since.

But chefs and culinary pros like to tinker with classic recipes, so they’re using beets, kohlrabi, carrots, fennel, celery root. All are sturdy, colorful, flavorful. All have slaw potential.

The fennel slaw served with a roasted fish sandwich at Found Kitchen and Social House in Evanston, Ill., began with a rethinking of classic coleslaw, explained Nicole Pederson, the restaurant’s executive chef and partner.
“We call it a slaw because it’s raw vegetables all sliced very thinly,” she said. Shaved fennel is mixed with ribbons shaved from different colors of baby carrots. A bit of napa cabbage is added along with pickled onions, and it’s finished with lemon juice and olive oil.

What sets these new slaws apart from their salad siblings is the shredded or thinly sliced ingredients, said cookbook author Rick Rodgers, whose recent “The Big Book of Sides” (Ballantine Books), features several slaw recipes, including one that teams kohlrabi with almonds and apples.

He suggests cutting raw vegetables 1/4-inch or sometimes an 1/6-inch thick. “Slices have to be small enough to be tender without cooking.”

That thin slicing and crunch from raw vegetables make these updated slaws a perfect accompaniment to so many dishes, summer’s grilled meats and fish among them. It’s a good way to add a fun texture to a meal, said Pederson: “When they’re shredded, they seem so much lighter.”

What about dressings? Well, there are no rules. “Except for the fact you have to kind of bow to regional or family preferences,” said Rodgers, citing a diner coleslaw popular in New Jersey that marinates all the vegetables in a sweet and sour vinaigrette. “By sweet, I mean they’re almost pickled.”


Skip the knife: You can use a mandoline or plastic V slicer or a food processor (shredding blade for solid vegetables; slicer for irregular vegetables like cabbage) instead, said Rick Rodgers. But stay away from graters: “The typical box grater will make the shreds too fine, and you end up with vegetable puree.”

Balance flavors: “I use radish a lot because it’s got that heat and brightness to it,” said Nicole Pederson. “Put carrot in, and that sweetens it up, rounds it all out. Beets raw are really sweet and delicious, but they have a backbone of earthiness.” She may use a mix of beet varieties, such as candy stripes and goldens.

Consider colors: Use the same sensibilities you would to make a side dish look nice, Rodgers said.

Add herbs: “We like to add a lot of fresh herbs right at the end,” said Pederson, who’s favoring dill and summer savory at the moment.

Shred an apple: “Apple blends in because its texture is softer,” said Rodgers. “It is a flavor element that’s nondetectable.”


Prep: 25 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Diane Morgan, author of “Roots,” (Chronicle Books) suggests serving this at a barbecue, at brunch with cured salmon or alongside country pate. Use a mandoline or a sharp chef’s knife to cut beets into matchsticks. Use disposable surgical gloves, or you’ll end up with red hands.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon each: fresh lemon juice, freshly grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon each: honey, fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 medium red beet, 3 to 5 ounces, peeled, cut into matchsticks

1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed, halved lengthwise, cored, cut into matchsticks

1/2 medium crisp tart apple such as Granny Smith, cored, cut into matchsticks

1/2 cup firmly packed chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, orange zest, honey, salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, toss together beet, fennel, apple and parsley. Add dressing. Mix gently to coat ingredients evenly. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Slaw can be made up to 8 hours in advance. Presentation note: If you don’t serve immediately and want to prevent the beets from tinting the fennel, keep beets separate (dressed with half the dressing) and mix in right before serving.

Nutrition information per serving: 128 calories, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 386 mg sodium, 2 g fiber


Prep: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Rick Rodgers, author of “The Big Book of Sides,” (Ballantine Books) serves this with Asian-style grilled meats, poultry or seafood. He’s a fan of miso and writes that it’s “one of the most flavor-packed ingredients in my kitchen because a little goes a long way.” Miso brings deep umami notes to this.

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon white miso

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

1 garlic clove

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 pound carrots, trimmed

1 scallion, white and green parts, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Sesame seeds, for garnish

For vinaigrette, process vinegar, miso, soy sauce and garlic in a blender. With machine running, gradually add oil through hole in the lid. Or crush garlic through a garlic press into a medium bowl. Add vinegar, miso and soy sauce; whisk until combined. Gradually whisk in oil.

In a food processor fitted with the coarse shredding blade, shred carrots. Do not shred carrots too fine. If your food processor only has a fine shredding disk, use a V-slicer to julienne carrots into strips less than [-inch wide. In a medium bowl, toss together carrots, scallion and vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper. Slaw can be covered and refrigerated up to 8 hours. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Top each serving with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Nutrition information per serving: 300 calories, 29 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 11 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 512 mg sodium, 3 g fiber


Prep: 25 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

Adapted from “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press), who notes you may not use all the fresh herb dressing. Extra can be used as a dip for vegetables.
4 or 5 small kohlrabies, about 1 pound

1/2 avocado

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup sour cream or yogurt

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped tarragon

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chervil

1 tablespoon slivered chives, plus more for garnish

Freshly ground pepper

If kohlrabies are young and tender, you don’t need to peel them. If older and less than tender, slice off skins. Cut kohlrabies into fine julienne. An effective way to do this is to slice them thinly on a mandoline, then stack slices and cut into matchsticks.

For the dressing, peel and slice avocado. Combine with oil, vinegar, sour cream and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor; puree until smooth. Stir in tarragon, parsley and chives; taste for salt and season with pepper. Toss kohlrabi matchsticks with just enough dressing to coat well. Garnish with chives.

Nutrition information per serving: 87 calories, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 127 mg sodium, 2 g fiber


Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 18 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

A sweet-sour orange gastrique balances and softens the fennel, writes Roberto Martin in “Roberto’s New Vegan Cooking” (DaCapo Lifelong Books).

1/4 cup each: brown sugar, maple syrup

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Zest and juice of 2 large oranges

2 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 garlic cloves, crushed

4 medium fennel bulbs, cleaned and trimmed to bulbs only, fronds chopped and reserved

1 large Granny Smith apple

1/3 cup chives, cut in 1/4-inch pieces

Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 cups baby arugula

1/2 cup salted, toasted sunflower seeds

For gastrique, whisk together brown sugar, maple syrup, vinegar, orange zest and juice, cloves, cinnamon and garlic. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Simmer uncovered until liquid is reduced by about half, about 1/2 cup; about 15 minutes. Strain; set aside for immediate use. Or cover and refrigerate.

Cut fennel bulbs in half lengthwise; shave very thin with a mandoline, starting with tops down to the base. If you don’t have a mandoline, do your best with a sharp knife. Peel, halve and core apple; slice thin crosswise. In a medium bowl, toss fennel, apple and chives with gastrique. Season with salt and pepper. Cover; let marinate 30 minutes to one day.

To serve, place about 1/4 cup fennel salad on a plate. Top with a fat pinch of arugula. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds; top arugula with more fennel salad and seeds. Serve immediately. Store any unused arugula separate from fennel salad. Fennel salad is good for 5 days in the refrigerator.

Nutrition information per serving: 272 calories, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 39 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 199 mg sodium, 12 g fiber

Photo by Alex Bayley via Flickr