How To Cook Everything

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This $5 iPhone app contains all the content of Mark Bittman’s original book. Since the information is stored offline, unlike many other recipe apps, you can access it whenever. In addition, there are useful features including a recipe timer, fast searchable index (by main ingredient, cook time, vegetarian, etc.), an emailable grocery list from recipes, and reader-recommended recipes. I have used it almost every day since it was released. It’s what a cook book for the iPhone should be.

How To Cook Everything: On The Go
Mark Bittman
$5

Available from iTunes Store
Manufactured by Culinate, Inc

Sample Excerpts:

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Veganomicon * Simply Vegan

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Veganomicon is the best vegan (no meat or dairy) cookbook out there. It’s reputation is based on the quantity and variety of its recipes, and the complexity and deliciousness of the resulting dishes. There are more than 250 recipes, presented with wit and lighthearted punk-rock irreverence, as well unpretentious and helpful instructions. These vegan dishes don’t only try to mimic meat-based meals; they are just good food. Our household doesn’t adhere to a vegan diet, yet we’ve found some of these recipes great eye-openers as to how tasty and accessible homemade vegan food can be.

– Elon Schoenholz

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When I went vegan, I was 14 years-old (14 years later, I still am). At the time, my parents made me sell them on the idea of maintaining my health sans animal products. At first the task seemed incredibly daunting. Once I found Simply Vegan, I had all the answers.

This book is perfect for beginning vegans because it has specific sections on how to be a healthy vegan, as opposed to a “Fritos and Sprite” vegan. The text goes into various sources of proteins and minerals, and includes ready-to-go weekly shopping lists and daily meal lists. If you’re getting into veganism, you can do it safely and intelligently with a minimal amount of work; just buy the stuff on the shopping list and cook it.

I won’t say the recipes in this book are the best ever. They certainly can’t hold a candle to much of Veganomicon. But if you know your way around a spice rack, they’re pretty good. Either way, there’s no better book I’ve found which covers the nutritive bases and really can set a new vegan on the right path to whole health. 14 years later, I’m still vegan and my folks are mostly vegan as well.

– Ian Hall

 

[Veganomicon was also suggested by the following readers: Charlotte, Scott Carlson, Chris, Jared, Terri Alice, Ryan Freebern and Ian Hall. -- SL]

Veganomicon
Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Terry Hope Romero
2007, 336 pages
$17
Available from Amazon

Simply Vegan: Quick Vegetarian Meals
Debra Wasserman, Reed Mangels
2006 (4th edition), 224 pages
$11
Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

from Veganomicon:

Chickpea Cutlets
We try not to play favorites, but this is one of our babies and a recipe that we are sure will take over food blogs worldwide. A combination of chickpeas and vital wheat gluten formed into savory cutlets, it’s perfect for when you want something “meaty” buy don’t want to go to the trouble of making seitan. We serve these cutlets in myriad ways, packed into sandwiches or smothered in mustard sauce, with a side of mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. It’s vegan food that you can eat with a steak knife and, best of all, it is fast and easy. You’ll probably want to double the recipe if you’re serving it to guests.

1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup vital wheat gluten
½ cup plain bread crumbs
¼ cup vegetable broth or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated with a microplane grater
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon Hungarian paprika
¼ teaspoon dried rubbed sage
Olive oil for pan frying

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Beanball Sub
This is a conglomeration of a few recipes from the cookbook that also would make great use of leftover Beanballs (page 189). We throw in a handful of spinach just for posterity; you need not be so healthy if you don’t feel like it. Also, if you don’t want to make the Pine Nut Cream (page 164) and just want to use some soy cheese, we won’t judge you. These would be perfect for a Super Bowl party, or since you are a vegan and hate football, a Nobel Prize party. Ooh, we can’t wait to see who wins for physics this year!

1 recipe Beanballs (page 189)
1 recipe (4 cups) Marinara Sauce, or any of the variations (page 205)
1 recipe Pine Nut cream (page 164)
4 hoagie rolls, split open
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, well washed

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Tip
To toast sesame seeds: Preheat a small pan over medium-low heat. Pour in the sesame seeds and toast them, stirring often, for about 3 minutes. Once they are browned, immediately remove them from the pan to prevent burning.

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Tip
This is our favorite way to prep collards: To get rid of the tough stem without having to sit there cutting it, you can actually easily tear the leaves from the stem with your hands. Fill the sink with water, pull off the leaves, rip them into large pieces (collards are tough, they can take it) and put the leaves into the water to rinse them. No need to drain, just give them a shake before adding to the pan.

from Simply Vegan:

Summary: It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein, as long as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein combining is not necessary; it is more important to eat a varied diet throughout the day…. This concern about protein is misplaced. Although protein is certainly an essential nutrient which plays many key roles in the way our bodies function, we do not need huge quantities of it. In reality, we need small amounts of protein. Only one calorie out of every ten we take in needs to come from protein (1).

(1) Food and Nutrition Board, institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.

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Generally, vegan diets can be low in fat if they emphasize grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Some foods vegans eat such as oils, margarine, nuts, nut butters, tofu, tahini, avocado, and coconut are high in fat. These foods should not be the center of one’s diet but should be used sparingly. For example, tofu is high in fat. If you ate a pound of tofu, you would eat about 22 grams of fat. Eating a smaller amount of tofu (4 ounces) and serving it over rice with vegetables could provide the same number of calories and less fat.

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Calcium, needed for strong bones, is found in dark green leafy vegetables, tofu made with calcium sulfate, calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice, and many other foods commonly eaten by vegans. Although lower animal protein intake may reduce calcium losses, there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that vegans have lower calcium needs. Vegans should eat foods that are high in calcium and/or use a calcium supplement.




Joyoung Soy Milk Maker

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I used to buy soy milk from the store in cartons. Aside from the fact it’s heavy (I transport groceries without a car), it comes in a tetra-pack, which is difficult to recycle. More importantly, commercial soy milk tends to include a number of ingredients I can do without, like chalk (calcium carbonate) and guar gum.

Unless you really like mucking with cheesecloth and lots of pots covered in soy scum, you owe it to yourself to buy a soy milk maker. After some research, I settled on the Joyoung CTS1048. This “filterless” model is a major improvement compared to earlier soy milk makers. Other devices require filter cups, which tend to get clogged with gummy okara (soy pulp) and are a terrible headache to clean. Instead, the CTS1048′s immersion blender head is contained inside a small steel cage. From there, the milk strains through a second, basket-style strainer. Clean-up is no harder than what’s required by a food processor.

Since the Joyoung makes 1.6 Liters per run, there’s plenty to serve up hot and/or store in the fridge. It doesn’t take long either, so you can always run it twice. Plus, it only costs around 15 cents a batch. I drink four times as much soy milk now, so the machine paid for itself in two months.

If you’ve never had fresh, hot soy milk, the way the Chinese like it, you’re missing out; it’s rich, foamy and all-around delicious. I always enjoy a warm glass as soon as a batch is done. Bonus: Aside from soy beans, you can add other ingredients. The Joyoung makes excellent coconut milk, for example, which eliminates an often preservative-laden canned good from the kitchen.

During my research, I discovered that most of the more-expensive soy milk makers are just rebranded Joyoung appliances, making the Joyoung the smart and economical pick. This is that rare product I can recommend with no reservations.

-- Sam Putman  

[Tip: Before starting, soak the beans until they're plump. Although the Joyoung features a dry-bean mode, our reviewers says the end product is inferior and your patience will be well-rewarded. -- SL]

Joyoung CTS1048 Automatic Hot Soy Milk Maker
$99

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Joyoung



Kiwi Knives

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As I got more serious about cooking, I splurged and bought myself a very nice Kai Shun santoku­ like the previously reviewed Tosagata Hocho. I used its preternaturally sharp edge with joyous dispatch for about 6 months, until I woefully cut some citrus with it and left it dirty overnight, eroding that wonderful edge. I’ve never been able to get that magic edge back, even with pro sharpening.

On a visit to a local Asian market, I found a series of Thai-made Kiwi brand knives. In the store, they were nearly free: The large tapered chef’s knife (model #21) that soon stole my heart cost around $4; the paring knife was $1.50.

These knives are very sharp and schuss through veggies and meats like it’s nothing. Don’t go hacking at bones with the thinner models, but Kiwi also makes quite usable cleavers for around $8. The miraculous part is, the knives hold an incredible edge for months with proper use of your steel, and they take a new edge with aplomb after a few strokes on a stone.

I have owned knives by Wusthof, Kyocera, Calphalon, and Ikea (::shudder::) and the Kiwis are the most consistently sharp, most durable, and have the most effective shapes. I’ve bought or suggested them for all of my foodie friends, and people can’t get over how wonderful they are. They don’t look like much, but they’re well-balanced, very sharp. It doesn’t hurt that I could have picked up a full set for less than my crappy block-o-food-manglers cost 10 years ago.

As far as longevity goes, I’ve had my main chef’s knife for about four years, have steeled it every time I used it and given it a few good hones on my Spyderco Sharpmaker. It’s still wicked sharp, and while I haven’t babied it, it looks none the worse for wear. I used my paring knife to whack the lid off a persnickety glued-shut can of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, and in my zeal, the tip bent over almost double. I thought, Oh no! But then I bent it back in place with a pair of pliers, and it’s basically good as new.

They’re definitely the Jeep Wranglers of the kitchen. I suggest buying them locally if you live in an area with Asian markets; if not, they can be picked up online at generally higher prices.

-- George Cochrane  

Kiwi Knives
$3-$15

Available from The Wok Shop



Norpro Stainless Steel Pail

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What’s truly superb about this countertop pail — aside from its fun design, reminiscent of a classic galvanized trash can — is that it’s made of stainless steel and is dishwasher safe. We fill ours daily with kitchen waste — messy coffee grounds, used tea leaves, aging cornmeal mush, soggy cucumbers — but a quick cycle in the dishwasher and it looks almost as good as new. Years ago I used a plastic bucket designed to perform the same task, but it was difficult to keep clean and less rugged for trips to our backyard compost bin (the lid kept breaking). Since it gets banged around inside the house and out, I prefer this stainless steel, one gallon-capacity model to its ceramic lookalike.

Yes, there are many clever ways to repurpose some other household container into a waystation for outbound kitchen waste, but I haven’t seen one work as well as this sturdy, ventilated design. The charcoal filters keep rotting smells in check, while allowing for airflow. Frequent trips to empty a simple Tupperware container would be fine, but our bin’s about 30 feet from the back door. With this one-gallon pail, we only end up heading out there every other day.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

Norpro 94 Stainless-Steel Composter Keeper (1 Gallon/4QT/3.8L)
$40

Available from Amazon

Replacement Filters (2 piece) $4 Manufactured by Norpro



All-Clad Roaster

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In 2008, Williams-Sonoma released a line of exclusive All-Clad flared roasters. They are expensive, but well worth it if you use your oven a lot. The unique design makes for very even cooking, especially if you don’t have a convection oven. The lower sides give good heat exposure, so you get excellent browning on the underside of roasts. The aluminum core provides outstanding heat distribution.

Last year, I cooked a 27-pound Thanksgiving turkey in the extra large roaster, and I’ve since used this pan for all kinds of dishes. Since it’s basically a very large saute pan, it works great on the stove as well. I’ve used it to cook a huge portion of mac & cheese (mixing the roux/bechamel right into the pan on the stove). I also use it regularly for large batches of braised lamb shanks and short ribs. The roaster’s low and wide design encourages a lot of reduction of the braising liquid, which yields a more flavorful sauce.

Warning: The extra large size is unwieldy. Before buying, make sure it can fit in your oven and sink. Although the curved design makes it very easy to clean with a brush, this size barely squeezes into my sink. Though it’s a bit of a beast to handle, it’s nevertheless indispensable if you need the capacity.

If the large version also seems a bit much, there’s now an even smaller and cheaper version for roasting chickens. This has quickly become my standard everyday pan for most things. It also comes with a suspension arm for cooking a chicken elevated.

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I’ve experimented a bit with the suspension arm. In my oven, which is not a convection oven, breast-side-up is a disaster. Not enough heat reaches the bottom, and the white meat gets overcooked while the thighs stay very undercooked. However, breast-side-down gives outstanding results. Time after time, I’ve gotten evenly-cooked, very tender and juicy meat with crispy skin. And here’s the best part… without adding oil or basting; just salt and pepper or a dry rub. Out of the box, the suspension arm was a little testy: If it’s jostled too much, the whole chicken will fall into the pan and it’s a bit of work to get it put back up. I was able to fix this by bending the prongs with a pair of pliers. Once adjusted, it yields good results.

Regardless of which size is right for you, these are great roasting pans. The images are pretty deceptive with respect to the size differences and just how big they actually are. It’s worth a trip to the store to see which size is best for you.

-- Adam Fields  

All-Clad Stainless Steel Flared Roaster
$250 (extra large: 18 3/4″ x 14 3/4″ x 3″ high)
Available from Williams Sonoma

All-Clad Ultimate Chicken Roaster
$180 (14 1/2″ x 11 3/4″ x 2 1/2″ high)
Available from Williams Sonoma



Recipe Aggregators

As much as I like cooking from any of the several cookbooks in my library, I often look for new recipes online. It’s not an easy task. I’m amazed at the number of ad-riddled pages I find by Googling the name of a dish. I do have an online subscription to Cook’s Illustrated (previously reviewed), and there are a handful of other individual free sites I turn to for recipes and technique info. However, as a research librarian, I’m always keen to execute a search in a manner that maximizes the number of relevant results by querying a specific set of targeted resources. For scientific queries, I use freely accessible databases such as Public Library of Science or PubMed, or I use one of my library accounts to access subscription-based databases such as Wiley InterScience or Elsevier’s Science Direct. When I put my home-cook hat on, I approach recipe-finding with a similar set of expectations. Though there’s no shortage of recipe information online, there’s not really an equivalent set of databases for cookery. Here’s a round-up of the best recipe aggregation resources I’ve found.

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Epicurious is my go-to recipe site; I’ve used it for four years. One of the aspects I like most about it is the user comments. Because the site is older, most recipes have at least a handful of comments, and I’ve found that most users leave really helpful feedback (usually suggestions for how to scale or tweak recipes). However, it’s also very easy to ignore user comments if you just want to stick to the original recipe. I usually cook from printed versions of the recipes (rather than bringing my laptop in the kitchen), and Epicurious offers several options for the size of the printed page, whether or not images are included, and even the option to print a separate shopping list.

Most recipes come from Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines (the site is owned by Conde Nast). Some come from cookbooks published by Random House, with whom Epicurious has some kind of republication agreement, it seems. Some have also been reprinted from other cookbooks, with permission. In addition to the 25,000 recipes from these professional resources, they also boast 50,000 member-submitted recipes. Epicurious is the online food site to beat.

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Cookstr publishes recipes by professional chefs, including Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Jacques Pepin, Michael Recchiuti, Mark Bittman, and on and on. In addition to recipes, the site also provides informative profiles for each chef. Features are fairly minimal, with a video section still under development, but I do like the simplicity of the site. Site registration allows you to save and comment on recipes. Although Cookstr only has a few recipes from each chef, it’s the closest thing to a massively cross-cook[book] database I’ve found. I hope it grows.

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I learned about Food52 when the New York Times ran a round-up of new, crowd-sourced food sites. The hook of this site, founded by two food writers, is that every week there’s a theme-based competition; after a year of these contests, the winning recipes will be collected in a book. Any registered user can compete in the competitions, the founders select finalists and post slideshows of them testing the recipes, and then users vote for a winner. The focus of the site is the contests, and all recipes submitted for the contests are accessible, but registered users can upload any type of recipe. Although there is a pretty sizable diversity of recipes on the site, I most often use it when I’m looking for inspiration to try something new, not when I have a few keystone ingredients I’m trying to hang together.

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Serious Eats is another curated food community with some social features, including a set of forums, and original video content in addition to a large collection of recipes. Recipes come largely from featured cookbook writers and chefs, but also the wider community base (in the forums). It’s more inclusive than Food52, because of its forums, and it’s more polyphonous because its cast of contributors is quite long and revolving. However, it’s less inclusive in the sense that the Recipes section of the site is limited to those curated by contributors (mostly recipes from featured books and chefs).

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Foodbuzz is a network of foodbloggers (more than 10,000). They offer a set of services for “featured publishers,” including ad management and other perks, as well as several social networking-type features for individual users. Foodbuzz is one of the few sites I’ve found that actually aggregates recipes from across the web. You can submit links to recipes to be indexed, and you can also submit recipes for direct publication at the site. It displays some characteristics of a curated site in as much as it highlights recipes from members of its featured publishers network, but overall it’s quite open since anyone can submit a recipe or recipe link.

Epicurious, Cookstr, Food52, SeriousEats, and Foodbuzz are my favorite recipe aggregators. To reduce my search load even further, I’ve created a custom Google search engine that queries these sites in addition to a few of my favorite individual sources.

-- Camille Cloutier  



Forschner Victorinox Chef’s Knife

A really great chef’s knife is insanely sharp, yet retains its edge easily and feels well-balanced and welcoming in your hand. These days, a decent high-grade chef’s knife can cost $100-$200. Several cooking publications, including Cook’s Illustrated, recently tested a bargain $30 chef’s knife that rated just about as good as the $100-plus knives. It’s the Victorinox Chef’s Knife; the one we use.

The Victorinox is a hybrid of a thin Japanese blade with a 15-degree edge (western knives have a 20-degree edge), but with the longer, broader blade of European knives. It is lightweight, nicely-balanced, and lethally-sharp. It has a comfortable, grippy handle that won’t slip even when wet. There are five cooks in our household. This is the knife they all grab first. It may not be quite as super great as some of the other previously-reviewed chef’s knives, but considering the price, it can’t be beat.

-- KK  

Forschner Victorinox Chef’s Knife, 8 inch
$28

Available from Amazon



Polder Thermometer/Timer

The Polder timer/thermometer features a 43-inch cord running from the thermometer to the probe, which allows you to take active readings without opening the oven. I really like being able to adjust the cook time or reset the finish temperature on the fly. Plus, there’s a magnet on the back, so you can attach the thermometer to the side of the oven.

The Polder also allows you to preset a desired high/low temperature simultaneously. When either temperature is reached, the unit’s beeping alarm sounds. It’s helpful for remembering to check on liquids and meats. My 8-year-old son has even used ours to check the temperature outside: You can insert the metal probe underneath your window, and it’s quite accurate.

The timer, which counts up or down, is very handy for a range of other household uses, such as, “You have three minutes to pick up your room before I come in with a trash bag that’s headed for Goodwill!” Best of all, the thermometer is amazingly durable. We’ve had ours for at least four years and have dropped it many times.

Lastly, it can be set to display in Celsius or Fahrenheit, which proved to be a huge help when we spent some time living in Ireland. I had my American recipe books and was able to use the Polder thermometer to convert temperatures for a Celsius-based oven.

-- Ginger Cooper  

Polder Original Cooking All in One Timer/Thermometer
$22

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Polder



Breville Burr Grinder

While googling my way around the web in search of a suitable $50-$60 machine to replace a broken blade grinder, I ended up at CoffeeGeek and learned about burr grinders. These little machines are a revelation.

Most lower-priced grinders are not grinders at all; they’re bladed choppers and their output is usually not an even grind of beans, but rather a mix of burnt bean dust and bean bits. A real grinder — a burr grinder — produces a true, even coffee grind. The taste difference is startling.

The little grinder that I settled upon, the Breville BCG450XL Conical Burr Grinder, is moderately priced and apparently a good representative of the breed. The machine is slightly larger (11 ¼ x 7 x 5 ¼ in.) than the basic chopper that preceded it, quite stylish, quiet enough (for a grinder), and about twice as expensive.

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Ah, but its grind is in another league altogether. I now dial in an exact brew and expect a repeatable, clean, smooth-tasting cup of coffee. Since I’m a dedicated drip lover, I don’t really test the finer grind output of this machine, but my guess is that it would be less satisfactory for espresso than what the pricier models produce. The more expensive burr grinders do better at what this machine does well. They produce extremely even grinds over a wider range of grind output with greater tuning of both the quantity and the fine-ness of the output.

-- Lance Johnson  

Breville BCG450XL Conical Burr Grinder
$87

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Breville