Saturday, September 26, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Mac and cheese

I’m still having fun reading about, watching videos, talking with people and experimenting with sauces. I’ve also noticed that many food writers acknowledge that one of the famous mother sauces is of more use to home cooks than the others, at least on a day-to-day basis. The others are handy for more ambitious cooks or the occasional dinner party, but the majority of people—who are trying to get food on the table most evenings while also juggling kids, pets, jobs, caregiving, cleaning, schoolwork and other responsibilities—have to leave that sort of thing to chefs and cooking shows.

But b├ęchamel sauce is special. It doesn’t take long to make, you don’t have to have any special ingredients, and it is the basis for quite a few dishes—including one of the most awesome comfort foods ever: mac and cheese. And that’s exactly where I went this past week, as summer officially turned into autumn and I found myself in the mood for something simple, decadent and gooey.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Roux

A roux-based chicken and okra gumbo. (Photo: Alice O'Dea)

If you spend any time working with sauces, you’re going to have to become familiar with roux. You might already be acquainted with it, whether or not you know what roux is. If you’ve ever made gravy, gumbo or mac and cheese from scratch, you’ve probably also made a roux. It is, simply, a thickener made of fat and flour.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Sauce

Please be patient with me this week, as I’m going out of my comfort zone and tackling a topic that I maybe won't ever feel qualified to discuss: sauce. I’m not going to be able to do it all in one column, but I hope this will serve to define the matter a bit.

You wouldn’t think that it would be so hard to write about such a simple thing as sauce, but I’ve tried a number of times in the year I’ve been writing this column, and over and over again, I’ve become overwhelmed by the subject. And I don’t think I’m the only one. It’s easy enough to follow a recipe to make a specific sauce (I’ve written about vinaigrette, mayonnaise,pesto, pad thai, curry and peanut sauce), but it’s a bit harder to deal with the idea of sauces as a group.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Githeri

There’s an amusing video from that has been making the rounds this past week. It shows American children sampling the lunches that are typically given to kids in India, France, Cuba, Sweden, Kenya, Japan and Afghanistan. Of course, American kids are not known for their adventurous eating habits. In fact, quite a few books have been written about how to get our kids to eat something besides french fries and chicken nuggets.

Most of the kids in the video are pretty picky. One boy found something "terrible" on just about every plate, but others were slightly more adventurous. Surprisingly, while the lunches from India, France, Cuba, Sweden and Japan all got fairly mixed reviews, the meals from Kenya and Afghanistan both got a thumbs-up from all the kids.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Puttanesca

Penne puttanesca with shrimp, kale and eggplant. (Photo: Alice O'Dea)

I just can’t get enough of tomato-y goodness lately, so when I saw the latest post on my friend Aubrey’s blog, I knew I was going to have to make some puttanesca sauce (say it like this). The name comes from the Italian word "puttana," which means prostitute, and the suffix "-esca," meaning "in the manner of." So, taken literally, this is the sauce of a whore. Or, perhaps, a sauce with everything thrown into it. How could puttanesca not pack a lot of flavor, thanks to the pungency of ingredients such as capers, olives and anchovies?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Summer on a plate

There is definitely a hint of autumn in the Chattanooga air. School is back in session; the temperatures have just started to chill a bit; and when I was at Finley Stadium this week to watch the U.S. women’s soccer team practice, they were handing out cards with the Mocs fall football schedule.

I’m pretty excited about the change of seasons. It’s time to trade in my shorts and sandals for jeans and cozy sweaters. I’m ready for smoky-smelling hair on mornings after sipping whiskey by the fire pit, porch sitting without being hounded by mosquitoes, fall festivals and chilly Sunday food truck lunches at the Chattanooga Market. Autumn is the best season in Chattanooga (the Best Town Ever!), when our landscapes take on breathtaking colors and the weather cools enough so that a good run or hike in the woods can feel breezy and refreshing.

That said, however, I’m not ready to let go of summer’s food. It is fresh and light, and the bold flavors often need little more than to be sliced or quickly grilled before they’re ready for the dinner table. Fortunately, my garden is not ready to give up on the season yet. I came home from my travels to a messy yard that, despite some neglect, is producing plenty of tomatoes and basil, which might just be the best flavor pairing of all time.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Mujaddara

I’m finally done traveling for the summer, and I brought an awesome souvenir back with me. It came from a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, where I had a great dinner with family while I was passing through town. The Olive Tree has been a popular eatery since it was opened in 2009 in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard by Israeli native and self-taught chef David Mor. The menu features dishes from many Mediterranean countries, including Israel, Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Libya and Spain.

Everything I’ve ever tried there has been wonderful, and this visit was no exception. I ordered the mujaddara, which is a lentil and rice dish from the Middle East that, according to Gil Marks in "The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food," is also sometimes known as mujadara, majadarah, mejadara, mengedarrah, mujeddra (in different parts of the eastern Mediterranean), megadarra (in Egypt), mejedra (in Greece), khichri (in India) and enjadar (in Yemen). He says it originated in Persia or India but has since become "the most widespread and beloved rice and legume dish in the Muslim world."