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2018-01-21T10:07:01.935Z
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As Food52 gets older (and wiser), and our archive of recipes grows, we're making the effort to revisit some gold recipes and pick the brains that invented them. Today, it's longtime F52-er MrsWheelbarrow, on how a disappointing event turned into a career in food writing; she posted this lamb merguez recipe on our site in 2010.

Cathy Barrow, aka MrsWheelbarrow, has pretty much been cooking for her entire life. “When I was a young girl my parents got divorced,” she says. “My mom worked at night and I didn’t like TV dinners, so I just had to figure it out—I was about 11 years old. My grandmothers cooked, my mother was a great cook, and I learned from all of them.” And now the Food52 community learns from her. Whether her contest-winning recipes or her dozens of Community Picks, MrsWheelbarrow’s contribution to Food52 is significant—and goes both ways.

When her “lovely little landscaping business” shuttered after the economic downturn in 2008, she was stunned, and at a loss for what to do with herself. The members of her women’s group encouraged her to start teaching cooking classes. “I said aloud, ‘Well how the heck is anybody going to find out I’m teaching cooking classes?’ and someone said, ‘Have you heard...

We love few things more than a beautiful, well-cooked meal (obviously), but there's more to eating than the food itself. Presentation is half the battle when it comes to impressing your guests, so it helps to think of your tabletop as a canvas—what big and little touches can you place on it to really bring your dining experience to life? Check out a few of our favorite easy tabletop transformations (they give a big bang for the buck, to boot).

First things first: Set the table in style. Any run-of-the-mill element of your tabletop can be revamped, from glasses (stackable glasses in three sizes!) to cutlery (playfully curved stainless steel!) to dishware (colorful bamboo bowls!). Placemats, tablecloths, and other seemingly basic decor elements can also be a great tool for jazzing up your table when you take advantage of elements of geometry and color. Get creative.

By now, you’ve probably been told once or twice to make your own vanilla extract. (One of those times may or may not have been by us.) Recipes tell you how easy-breezy it is to DIY—buy vanilla beans, split down the center, stuff in a jar, drown in booze (most people use vodka; bourbon is fair game, too). But what if I told you that I have an even easier method for homemade extract: You just, well, skip the vanilla beans.

Hear me out. American baking has its chosen ingredients: There’s cinnamon, which shows up everywhere (even when it’s not invited). And vanilla, which is so overworked and ubiquitous that many equate it with “plain”—the absence, versus the addition, of a flavor (so unfair to vanilla). Often, it shines on its own accord (these recipes will convince you!). Other times, it's there by default—a wee teaspoon, just because. That's when bourbon sneaks in. Maybe you don't even notice. Maybe you like it even more!

What’s more: Most vanilla extract is pricey. (Eater did a great deep dive on the beans’ price spike last year following a cyclone in Madagascar, the world’s leading producer of the ingredient.) You know how buying...

Ask a Florentine and they will tell you that onion soup is Tuscan, not French. The Tuscan version, known as carabaccia (pronounced kar-a-ba-cha), is documented in Renaissance recipe books—usually a soup of sliced onions stewed in vegetable broth, thickened with ground almonds, spiced with cinnamon—and it is assumed that the Florentine noblewoman Catherine de' Medici brought the recipe to Paris with her Florentine entourage when she married King Henry II (like many things the Florentines claim theirs, from crêpes to sorbet). It's even said that this soup was a favorite of the Tuscan artist and inventor (and non-meat eater), Leonardo da Vinci.

Carabaccia doesn't look like the French onion soup that you're used to. The bread—usually toasted and, if you like, rubbed with garlic—goes in the bottom of the bowl, like in most Tuscan soups, not the top. The cheese is Parmesan, not Gruyere, and the stock is a lighter vegetable...

Every so often, we scour the site for cool recipes from our community that we then test, photograph, and feature. These pillowy, cloud-like steamed buns from user Cindy are bringing the dim sum classic to everyone, vegans included. (Bonus: they're easier to make than you think!)


For food indecisives and meal sharers, dim sum is the ideal meal. The Cantonese feast, which has come to become a weekend morning staple, is centered around sharing; which means you can select whatever catches your eye as the carts stacked high with steamer baskets and leaf-wrapped packages and soup vats roll by, trying a little bit of everything. You can sample a bite of pork siu mai, taste a jewel-like translucent shrimp har gau, split an order of soup dumplings (xiao long bao), wash it all down with a hot cup of jasmine tea, and still have room for more. The more dishes, the merrier.

Every Thursday afternoon, Vicky Bennison gifts the internet when she uploads a video to her Youtube account Pasta Grannies. Each installment documents an Italian nonna, or grandma, rolling and kneading, pressing dough into familiar, and sometimes unfamiliar, shapes. They stretch out serpents of semolina for cutting into cavatelli or pleat squares into tortelloni, an edible origami plump with filling. Bennison has dubbed these women the Pasta Grannies.

Her videos are, in essence, an archival project. They capture a practice on its way out, declining due to an increasing, almost total, reliance on industrial means of production. These are skills that, for centuries, have been the stuff of generational inheritance. Until now, that is: In many cases, the women she records are the last living possessors of a certain pasta finesse.

Bennison was researching a book on Italian food when the idea struck her. “I felt there was space in the food firmament to celebrate old ladies who cook out of love for their family. Everyone says their grandmother’s cooking is the best, but we never see them,” she said over email. She splits her time between Le Marche (on the Adriatic side of Italy’s boot) and London.

She finds most of the pasta grannies by word of mouth, a glutinous whisper network that, for her, is all about who you...

At the conclusion of a frosty commute, when my toes and fingers and ears are numb, I throw off my bulky jacket and immediately pop a large mug of water in the microwave (I'm too impatient to wait for a kettle to boil). I'm already halfway to my favorite way to warm up: a gigantic cup of fragrant, ruby rooibos. A warm drink (be it a cocktail or booze-free) first thaws my hands, but then builds a steady heat with each sip—sort of like a space heater for my insides. I'm partial to an aromatic mug of tea, but experiment with one of these 13 drinks to battle the cold.

Zero-Proof for Zero Temps

Each year, my next door neighbor and babysitter would buckle me into her backseat, pass me a styrofoam cup of Dr Pepper I needed two hands to hold, and whisk me to the State Fair of Texas. She’d rile my spirits with twangy music as we sped down a Dallas highway toward the 277-acre park that hosts the attraction. “Are you gonna get another corn dog this year?” she’d ask, clinging to tradition.

Like a forest fire or an older relative, you can smell the State Fair before you can see it. The grounds are a teeming mass of livestock, temporary rollercoasters, shiny leather boots, and oil. Funnel cakes and Oreos, pickles dredged in egg and flour shimmy in barrel-size vats of bubbling brown oil. Here, everything has a craggy, crunchy exterior. Here, everything’s just a little greasy. Welcome to the Fried Food Capital of the World.

It’s been years—probably a decade—since I’ve been back to the Texas State Fair, but afternoons spent wandering a labyrinth of grease-bound food stick with me. I no longer have the desire to follow a corn dog with fried cheesecake and a doughnut, but the nostalgia of rows upon rows of fried food experiments remains. In memory of the Texas State Fair, I peeked around our site, looking for all of the the dredged and fried recipes.

There’s something almost transcendental about oil, that slick substance. Anything, submerged in its boiling depths, is transformed, rendered crispy, airy, and all sorts of yummy. Frying is...

On a busy day, it can be hard to find the energy to cook. That's why we've partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and its new cookbook, Whole30 Fast & Easy by Melissa Hartwig. It's full of wholesome recipes that come together quickly and easily, making weekday cooking a cinch.

Instead of trying to hold myself to unrealistic New Year’s resolutions, this year I’ve decided to make practical, no-pressure adjustments to my everyday life instead. Things like trying to get more sleep by putting my phone away earlier so I don’t scroll Twitter right before bed, or more glaringly: chipping away at my weeknight takeout habit by making more of my own meals.

Historically, my biggest obstacle to cooking after long days at work has been finding...

Psst: Hate dishes? Love a lil’ something extra on your rice or potatoes? Then it’s time to start making pan sauces (if you aren’t already!).

Pan sauces, as the name suggests, are made in the exact same pan you’ve used to sauté shrimp, sear a steak, or brown some onions. After cooking your meat, fish, or vegetables, those little leftover particles stuck to your pan’s bottom—called the fond—transform into a silk smooth sauce in a process called deglazing. Deglazing isn't nearly as intimidating as it sounds—it simply means using liquid to release those little bits of concentrated flavor from the pan.

Sometimes you might feel a little bit uncomfortable at home, but you can’t seem to put your finger on why. Your layout and decor have a big impact on the overall energy of your home, which is why so many people swear by ancient Chinese feng shui principles. After all, if you could be more attuned to your space and feel more relaxed, wouldn’t you want to give it a try?

While having a feng shui master over to sort out your home's optimal energy with a traditional bagua map would be helpful, you can also start right now by applying some guiding elements to bring better balance and harmony into your living space and, by extension, your mind. Here are four easy ways you can improve the flow of your home, and bring peace and clarity for a more calming environment. (Just in time for the weekend...)

1. Reposition Your Bed to Face the Door

Done right, soufflés are lofty and airy—as visually impressive as they are delicious. But due to their finicky reputation, many don't dare to do them at all. That's changing this month in our Cookbook Club. We're cooking through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, and members are successfully rising to the challenge.

You might imagine that chocolate-dipped tangerine segments in mid-January are just a seasonally correct but poor substitute for chocolate-dipped strawberries.

But you’d be underestimating the tangerine! You’d be missing the tiny explosion of sweet tart juice bursting from plump fruit when you bite through crisp chocolate. You’d be missing the surprise and delight of your guests when you serve these. (And, of course, you’d be missing a chocolate-covered dose of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and flavonoids). Give the cold shoulder to oversized, out-of-season berries this winter—and tango with a tangerine instead.

You can skip to the very simple recipe right now. Or stay for a brief explanation of why the recipe is so simple and why you get a pass (this time!) on tempering.

Most chocolatiers and pastry chefs would temper the chocolate before dipping the fruit—because those are the rules of chocolate. Since I made a career out of breaking some of those rules, I decided to review the pros and cons of tempering versus not tempering the chocolate for dipped tangerines, just in case. As it turns out, the easiest method (no tempering) also produces the best results.

Tempered chocolate sets up with a crisp texture and a nice sheen and can sit out at room temperature and...

Whether you're looking for a snack for kick-off, a new starter for your next tailgate, or a binge-worthy chip n' dip fit for a Friday Night Lights marathon (real talk: that's about the only football I actually watch), there's one recipe that everyone (including Coach Taylor) will love: Butternut Squash Queso. It's a crowd-pleasing game-changer that's guaranteed not to make it past the first quarter...or episode one. It's what I'd call a fantasy football food.

Wait. Flag on the play. Time out. Let's huddle. Here's the deal: I know that classic queso is already extraordinary. It may seem silly (or even blasphemous) to incorporate a vegetable into an indulgent Tex-Mex cheese sauce, but I find that when you blend the traditional smokey-spicy queso with some roasted butternut squash, it becomes an extra silky-smooth, sweet-salty sauce that's incredibly addictive and, luckily, super simple to make. Ready? Break!

Our next play? The chips....

I’m no stranger to the myriad of benefits that stem from drinking tea regularly. A steaming cup jolts me to life in the morning, or soothes me before bed; I use it to quell a harsh and hacking cough or warm me up after a particularly brusque winter day. But it seems there’s a new reason to drink tea—and it could be a game changer. A new study coming out of China contends that tea can actually boost creativity, and that a cup could be the long-awaited remedy for the dreaded brain sludge or writer’s block.

Chinese five-spice powder doesn't include five spices. Or, at least, it doesn't have to. And what those spices are—well, that's up to you. Curious? Let’s scan the cookbook shelf to learn more:

Joyce Chen Cook Book, Joyce Chen: "This is a group of spices which are ground together into a powder. There are anise seed, cinnamon, licorice, clove, ginger, nutmeg, etc. The mixture is used in dishes requiring strong spice." The key word here: etc!

Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop: “Whole spices may...be roasted and ground to make ‘five-spice’ combinations.” Very vague, Fuchsia. Even mysterious. She gives a shoutout to cassia bark (cinnamon’s first cousin), star anise, and Sichuan pepper as her Chinese pantry staples.

101 Easy Asian Recipes, Peter Meehan and the editors at Lucky Peach: “Cinnamon and star anise are the flavors that ride out front of most five-spice blends, cloves and fennel seed trailing behind, and peppercorns (sometimes Sichuan) in the rear, never really detectable.” Okay, okay. Now we’re getting somewhere.

The Joy of Cooking (75th anniversary edition), Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker: “The mix sometimes contains cardamom or ginger.” Hm! And...

When there are bunches of browning bananas sitting in my fruit bowl, my first instinct is banana bread. Not a bad choice any day of the week, but sometimes I don’t have time to make a banana bread during the week. It’s easy enough to freeze old bananas and save them for the weekend when I have more time to bake, but sometimes I'd rather just mash them up and turn them into a quick after-dinner snack.

I got the recipe for these banana fritters from my grandma. My grandpa had a good appetite, and after dinner, he often felt like he needed something extra. Gran would reach for browning bananas and whip up a batch of banana fritters, making quick work of mashing bananas, mixing in some flour, milk, and eggs, and frying up a warm, satisfying, banana-y treat.

Though it was hard to get the recipe (like most grandmas, this was made...

Scrambled eggs are like the learners permit of the kitchen. They require—at the least—just one ingredient and no more than a warm pan. But for all their apparent simplicity, preparing the perfect plate of scrambled eggs is actually an art in and of itself. Everyone swears by their own preferred method(s).

We’ve even got a Genius Recipe on the site devoted just to the topic. Brought to us by Mandy @ Lady and pups, this recipe calls for one surprising addition: cornstach! The thickening agent, she claims, binds the proteins in the eggs and prevents them from releasing their moisture too quickly. Her recipe also calls for a hefty serving of butter—a tablespoon for each egg. One commenter recommends adding in a fourth tablespoon just as the egg curds are firming up for a glossy finish and softer mouthfeel.

Back in 2013, we tested out three sworn by scrambled egg methods, all in pursuit of the perfect plate. We tried them low and slow, scrambled in the pan, and whisked and whizzed over medium heat. There was no conclusive answer as to which was best, per se. It seems scrambled eggs, and their multitude of...

I’m not a particularly patient person, which definitely presents some challenges in the kitchen. More often than not, skimming through a recipe results in some last minute substitution or frantic multitasking.

But as crazy as I might feel simultaneously shredding cabbage while caramelizing onions and toasting almonds, it’s nothing compared to the heat of a professional kitchen. Which is why I perked up when I came across Top Chef judge and accomplished chef Gail Simmons' reflections on her years of watching frazzled and fearless chef contestants in her latest book, Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating. In Gail’s words, here’s the first thing you need to know for a successful dinner.


Mise-en-Place Is Everything

If there’s one mantra that all professional cooks life by, it’s the term mise-en-place. French for “put in place,” it refers to having your ingredients prepped and your tools and equipment ready before you begin cooking, so that when the literal and proverbial heat is on you can move fluidly through a recipe without missing an ingredient or a beat. In other words, be organized. At home, practice mise-en-place like this:

  • Carefully read through a recipe in its entirety before...

Greece can be a tricky place to visit as a vegetarian. It is, after all, famous for juicy lamb gyros and meaty moussaka and grilled, lemony fish. So when I visited the Greek island of Crete last year I subsisted chiefly on the wealth of dips: tzatziki, tirokafteri (spicy feta cheese spread), and, my personal favorite, fava. Actually made from yellow split peas (and not fava beans, as the name would suggest), this dip is incredibly simple—and yet somehow I could not stop eating it. I ordered it at every taverna I came across, and it was always exactly what I wanted: smooth, creamy, and satisfying—especially when topped with diced red onion and lemon wedges and served with homemade flatbread.