Cooking better

At a recent presentation of her new book, Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101, she shared tips that even the experienced food bloggers in the audience found useful.

Bananas Foster crepes (photo credit: FROM SARA MOULTON’S ‘HOME COOKING 101")
Bananas Foster crepes
(photo credit: FROM SARA MOULTON’S ‘HOME COOKING 101")
Some say you need a special talent to be able to cook well. But author and TV cooking show host Sara Moulton makes the point that with the right guidance, anyone can become a good cook.
At a recent presentation of her new book, Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101, she shared tips that even the experienced food bloggers in the audience found useful.
To make dishes creamy textured without adding cream, said Moulton, starch can be helpful. Potatoes gave a velvety texture to her smoky broccoli-cheddar soup that was served at the event. Her spicy creamed corn was creamy thanks to the corn’s natural cornstarch.
If a dish doesn’t have enough flavor, said Moulton, maybe it needs umami, a Japanese word that’s usually translated as “meatiness” or “savoriness.” Mushrooms have umami, and Moulton uses dried mushrooms to boost the flavor of her root vegetables bourguignon and of her vegetarian shepherd’s pie. (See recipes.) Other ingredients with umami, wrote Moulton, are seaweed, onion, garlic, olives, tomatoes, tomato paste, aged cheeses, cured meats, sardines, anchovies and fermented sauces and pastes like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and miso.
When a dish turns out too bitter, add salt, advises Moulton. If it’s too spicy, add a little sugar or honey, and/or some dairy, like sour cream, yogurt or butter.
Moulton uses the freezer not only to store leftover cooked grains, vegetables and meats, which she later combines with fresh ingredients for another meal, but also to get ahead. Make crepes, for example, she advised, and freeze them, and a delicious dessert of Bananas Foster crepes can be quickly prepared. (See recipe.) Before Moulton shops, she roughly plans five days of dinner menus, to be sure she has five items in each of three categories: protein, starch and vegetables. Having these items at hand makes it simpler to get supper on the table.
Each of the recipes in her book, said Moulton, is there not only for the good taste of the dish, but also to demonstrate a tip or technique, to make whoever follows it a better and more confident cook.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Classic Cooking Techniques.
Root vegetables bourguignon
Sara Moulton recommends cooking a double batch of this dish and freezing half because “this wonderful stew tastes even better a few days after you make it.” Like the famous beef bourguignon, this vegetarian stew has red wine, garlic, onions and thyme. Mushrooms, tomato paste and the nonclassic addition of soy sauce give the dish umami.
Serves 4 to 6
■ ¹⁄3 cup dried mushrooms, such as porcini
■ 4 cups homemade vegetable stock (see note below) or store-bought vegetable broth
■ ¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
■ 12 pearl onions, blanched and peeled, or 1 cup of 2.5-cm. (1-in.) chunks of onion
■ 2 large carrots (about 450 gr. or 1 lb.), cut into 2.5-cm. pieces
■ Coarse salt
■ 225 gr. (½ lb.) small turnips, cut into 2.5-cm. pieces
■ 225 gr. parsnips or additional turnips, cut into 2.5-cm. pieces
■ 225 gr. mushrooms, cut into quarters, or eighths if the mushrooms are large
■ 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
■ 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
■ 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
■ ½ cup dry red wine
■ 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
■ 1 tsp. sweet smoked paprika
■ 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
■ 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
■ Freshly ground black pepper
Combine mushrooms and stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven. Add onions, carrots and a hefty pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil, turnips, parsnips, and a hefty pinch of salt, and cook until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer them to bowl of onions and carrots.
While vegetables are browning, drain soaked mushrooms through a strainer lined with a wet paper towel, reserving soaking liquid. Clean dried mushrooms to remove any dirt and chop them.
Add remaining tablespoon oil and fresh mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid that mushrooms give off evaporates. Add garlic, thyme and tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add mushroom soaking liquid and wine and bring to a boil, whisking. Combine flour and ¹⁄3 cup water in a small bowl and whisk well. Add flour mixture to pan in a stream, whisking; return to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
Return all vegetables and cleaned mushrooms to pan, add paprika and soy sauce and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are barely tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Boil over high heat until broth thickens to desired consistency.
Stir in lemon juice and add salt and pepper, to taste.
Note: Homemade vegetable stock: Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add 450 gr. (1 lb.) onions, sliced, and 450 gr. carrots, sliced; cook, covered, over medium-low heat , stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 30 minutes. Uncover and cook until they brown, 15 to 20 minutes more.
Add 8 smashed peeled garlic cloves, and 110 gr. (4 oz.) mushrooms, coarsely chopped, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until liquid that mushrooms give off evaporates. Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add 1 medium parsnip, coarsely chopped (optional), 1 large potato (about 140 gr. or 5 oz.), coarsely chopped, 4 coarsely chopped celery stalks, 6 parsley stems, 2 thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon peppercorns, ½ teaspoon coarse salt and water to cover vegetables by 5 cm. (2 in.).
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Strain stock, discard solids, and return liquid to pot. Boil until it is reduced to 6 cups.
Mushroom and leek shepherd’s pie
Moulton’s mom always made shepherd’s pie from leftover lamb stew but, wrote Moulton, “I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by this meatless rendition of the Irish pub classic.”
Dried and fresh mushrooms give it a rich flavor, and it’s a good way to re-purpose mashed potatoes.
Serves 6
■ 30 gr. (1 oz.) dried mushrooms, such as porcini
■ 2¼ cups homemade vegetable stock (see note in previous recipe) or store-bought vegetable broth
■ 7 Tbsp. (100 gr. or 3.5 oz.) unsalted butter, divided
■ 4 medium leeks, trimmed of green part, halved lengthwise, cut into 2.5-cm (1-in.) lengths crosswise, washed, and dried
■ 2 tsp. minced garlic
■ Kosher salt
■ 450 gr. (1 lb.) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-in. chunks Freshly ground black pepper
■ 450 gr. (1 lb.) assorted fresh mushrooms, trimmed and quartered or sliced
■ 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
■ 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
■ 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
■ ¹⁄3 cup dry red wine
■ 2 tsp. truffle oil or extra-virgin olive oil
■ An egg wash made by beating 1 egg with 1 Tbsp. water
■ 2 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F) with one of racks in upper third.
Combine dried mushrooms with stock in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and let stand, off heat, until mushrooms are soft, about 15 minutes. Strain through a strainer lined with a wet paper towel, reserving stock. Clean mushrooms to remove any dirt and chop them. Set them aside.
While dried mushrooms are soaking, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add leeks, garlic and a hefty pinch of salt, and cover them with a round of parchment paper and a lid. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, 12 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine potatoes and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan and cover with water by 2.5 cm. (1 in.). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well. Return to pan, stir in 3 tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper to taste, and mash coarsely.
Transfer leeks from skillet to a bowl. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter, fresh mushrooms, thyme, and a hefty pinch of salt to the skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid released by mushrooms evaporates, about 8 minutes.
Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add dried mushrooms, leeks, flour, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Whisk in reserved stock and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Add truffle oil and salt and pepper to taste and transfer to a 25-cm. (10-in.) pie plate or round casserole dish.
Spoon potatoes over entire surface of filling, spreading them evenly. Brush topping with egg wash and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until pie is bubbling, about 15 minutes. Increase oven temperature to broil, and cook on a shelf set 10 cm. (4 in.) from heat until potatoes are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Bananas Foster crepes
“With crepes in the fridge or the freezer and just a few other ingredients on hand, ... dessert is always just minutes away,” wrote Moulton. These crepes are filled with bananas sautéed with butter and brown sugar and spiked with rum.
Serves 4 For the crepes: (makes 8 to 10 crepes)
■ 5 Tbsp. (70 gr. or 2.5 oz) unsalted butter
■ 1 cup whole milk
■ 180 gr. (6.3 oz. or about ¾ cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
■ 2 large eggs
■ ¼ tsp. salt
For the filling:
■ 2 under-ripe (slightly green around the edges) bananas
■ 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
■ ¹⁄3 cup packed dark brown sugar
■ ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
■ 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
■ ¼ cup dark rum
■ Coffee or vanilla ice cream and chopped toasted walnuts as accompaniments
For crepes: Melt butter in a 25-cm. (10-in.) nonstick or stick-resistant skillet over low heat. Transfer 2 tablespoons butter to a ramekin and 3 tablespoons butter to blender. Set aside the skillet (do not wipe it). Add milk, flour, eggs, and salt to butter in blender. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides. Strain through a sieve into a bowl, cover, and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow gluten (protein) in flour to rest and ensure that your crepes are tender.
Heat skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Reduce heat to medium. Make crepes following the procedure in note below, brushing skillet as necessary with some of remaining melted butter. When crepes are cool, set aside 4 for this recipe; wrap and freeze rest for another use.
For filling: Peel bananas, cut in half lengthwise, and then in quarters crosswise.
Combine butter, sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice in a large skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until melted. Add bananas; cook, gently turning them over 1 or 2 times, until they are just golden at edges, about 5 minutes.
Off heat, add rum. Return pan to heat and bring to a simmer, stirring. Simmer until sauce has consistency of honey, turning bananas often to coat them with sauce.
Arrange 1 crepe with pretty side down on each of 4 plates, spoon ¼ of banana mixture down middle of each crepe and roll up to enclose filling. Turn crepe so seam is on bottom. Top each with a scoop of ice cream, a drizzle of sauce and a sprinkling of walnuts.
Note: Making crepes: Brush pan very lightly with butter and heat it until a tiny bead of water, when added, skips across its surface. Pour ¼ cup batter into pan. Immediately lift pan and tilt it all around, until you have covered bottom of pan with batter. After 30 to 45 seconds, peek to see if bottom of crepe is golden brown. Slide spatula underneath and quickly flip whole crepe over.
Transfer cooked crepes to a rack to cool off slightly. A crepe’s pretty side is the first one you cooked. When crepes have cooled, you can stack them. (They won’t stick to each other; that is a myth.)