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Happy New Year!

All Posts, Discussion | December 31, 2015 | By

Happy New Year! 2015 hasn’t been the best year by many measures, but it certainly has been a very good one here at Discovery Cooking. Our first full year has been marked by progress on almost every front. By the time the clock strikes midnight and 2016 arrives, more than 30,000 people will have visited the blog, many of them more than once. I had few expectations when I started this trip, but that kind of an audience certainly wasn’t one of them, and certainly not in our first full year. I’m humbled and grateful.

happy new year

Happy New Year!

I have learned more than I thought I could — about food, cooking, presentation and photography. And along the way, I’ve met many warm, welcoming, lovely people. I’ve met some of you in person, and others I know only here, on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit, among other places. You are amazing. All of you. Your kind words and support mean more to me than you can imagine.

Of all the things I’ve learned, there is one thing that stands out: Food and culture are intertwined in ways that defy understanding. Had you asked me about that two years ago, I’d have said that as an American, I have no food culture. I’d have been wrong. The US isn’t Italy, Greece, Morocco, or Lebanon or France or even Germany. Not by a long shot. Not yet. But in the south of Virginia there is Brunswick Stew, and not so far from me, Smithfield ham. There is Cajun and creole in the South, not to mention “soul food,” and much more that I’m discovering. There is chowdah in the Northeast, poutine in the upper Midwest, barbecue in Texas, and so very much more. It’s not always elegant, but it is delicious, and a part of the fabric of these places. And it is personal. If you’re not convinced, start a discussion about chili sometime. Hell, we can’t even agree on how to spell it.

And honestly, I think Americans, on the whole, are far more open to the food (and the cultural connections of it) than people in most of the countries to which I’ve traveled. Despite what you might believe if all you know is our political discourse, most of us love to immerse ourselves in the food and culture of another place, even when that’s not quite authentic. I sometimes wonder if those who want to build a wall across our southern border or bar entry to Muslims also spend evenings enjoying Mexican and Moroccan or Afghan food. I suspect they do.

And in the end, despite what is all around me, it is that which makes me hopeful. You cannot hate someone with whom you share a love of tagine or enchiladas or adobo or harissa. It’s not possible, at least in the long run.

So my wish for all of you is this: Have a great 2016. Get to know a new food culture, if you can. You’ll be happy you did.

 

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Czech Goulash, Ohio Valley Style

czech goulash

If you have been following the posts here at Discovery Cooking, you know that I grew up in Eastern Ohio, along the Ohio River. “The Valley” was a surprisingly diverse place, populated by mostly Eastern European immigrants (with a smattering of Italians, Greeks and Scotch-Irish), who came there to work in the coal mines and steel mills. The mines and mills are largely closed now, but in its hey day, it seemed like there was an ethnic festival of one kind or another just about every weekend. It was at one of these that I discovered Czech goulash.

I was reminded of this while browsing through Reddit, which has a large (and opinionated) food and cooking community. Someone there asked for or mentioned a Czech goulash recipe, which evolved into a great conversation. That prompted me to contact a friend of Czech descent who still lives in the area, who found a recipe for goulash through his local church. Given that it was a church recipe (designed for large weddings and such), it took some effort to scale it down to a size suitable for making at home, but the resulting recipe below is very close to what I remember.

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Biscotti Day

biscotti
shaping biscotti

Shaping The “Logs”

It’s become an annual affair. One day each year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the entire Discovery Cooking household takes on the task of making biscotti. And we make a ton of them, led by my tireless wife, Carol. Both the timing of this special day and the main reason for it are linked to the holiday season. Packed into colorful boxes or tins and festive glass jars, freshly made biscotti are fantastic (and impressive) little gifts for family, friends and neighbors, or for a nice host gift when you’re unexpectedly invited to one more holiday open house.

We generally make several batches of biscotti — some longstanding favorites and some new experimental varieties. Some of the latter have turned out to be disasters, but over several years now, we’ve amassed quite a few favorites, some of which you’ll find below. While we often spend a full day — sun up to sun down — making biscotti, a single batch normally takes just an hour or perhaps a little more to make. 

biscotti

Batches Awaiting Packing

Biscotti, if you’re not familiar with them (or haven’t seen them in a coffee shop), are twice-baked. They bake first in the form of a stiff cookie-like dough shaped into a flattened log, then cut diagonally into characteristically shaped biscuits and baked again for a short while on each side. They’re very dry and are perfect with coffee or a nice Vin Santo. They’re also delicious with a latte or chai or especially espresso. Whatever the beverage, they’re meant for dunking, by the way. I’ve know only a few people capable of, or crazy enough, to eat them dry. Sealed in a large jar with a tight lid or plastic storage container, they also have a pretty long shelf life — a month or more, in fact.

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Tequila Lime Chicken Wings

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings

Good old Buffalo Wings are one of my favorite things, but now and then I also like wings that are nice and sweet, with just a hint of heat and these tequila lime chicken wings fit that bill perfectly. They’re also easy to make and much of the recipe can be made ahead of time, which is great if you’re serving them for say, a game-day snack or even a tailgaiting session (assuming you have a grill or other source of heat).

The idea behind these wings is simple. Bake the wings until they’re crispy then toss them over heat with a sticky sauce that coats them with flavor. Both the cooked wings and the sauce can be refrigerated for a day or two. When you’re ready, let both come to room temp and then toss the wings and sauce over heat and serve. Shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes once the pan is hot.

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Nan’s Chocolate Sour Cream Cookies

Chocolate Sour Cream Cookies

I don’t recall when my mother — who all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called “Nan” or “Nannie” — began baking these wonderful soft, moist chocolate sour cream cookies, but I have trouble remembering a Christmas without them. I’d bet this recipe was published somewhere and she tried and liked it. That would have been at least 50 years ago, probably more, so the original source is now a mystery. What’s fun is that her granddaughters continued the tradition of making these cookies every Christmas. 

The recipe makes from 6-8 dozen cookies. The good news is that when they’re kept in air-tight containers, they have a really long shelf life. Several weeks, in fact. I made one change to the original recipe, by substituting a half cup of unsalted butter for the original’s half cup of vegetable shortening. Nobody needs a half cup of transfat in their diet, I think.

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Simple Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Desserts, Dinner, Recipes | December 14, 2015 | By

If you love fine dining or you’ve ever watched a TV show or documentary about great chefs, you’ve no doubt marveled at the intense care they apply to plating their dishes, especially dessert. Even the simplest dessert gets turned into a work of art, every component placed precisely on the plate. When I’m having guests for dinner — and even when I’m not — I love to try my hand at fancy plating and a simple panna cotta is perfect for that.

Panna cotta is easy to make — almost foolproof — and because you can use various molds to shape it, gives you a head start on the plating. The recipe below is for a basic version of the dessert, flavored only  with a little vanilla bean. It’s delicious and light, and not too sweet. Something like that will give you great leeway in terms of the garnishes and sauces you can use to create your own work of plate art.

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Glazed Pan Seared Cod with Carrot Ginger Broth

Glazed Pan Seared Cod with Carrot Ginger Broth

This recipe for pan seared cod is the latest in a series of recipes in which I’ve been trying to develop and make use of wine-based broths made from single vegetables in conjunction with seafood. The experiments started with the grilled halibut in tomato broth recipe I posted a while back, and I’m not sure what’s next, but I’m discovering that these single vegetable broths are very versatile and make for some very pretty presentations.

The broths take some time to create, but they can be made a day or two ahead of time, so the prep time for the meal can be very short if necessary. The flavors in the broth are bright and concentrated and offer a perfect complement to the sweet umami rich flavors from the glaze on the fish.

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