The one where we talk about air fryers

 

I fall into the Alton Brown school of thought that asserts more appliances aren’t necessarily better. (I mean, do you really need a banana “nice cream” maker, or is it that just a new way to market a food processor with a dull blade?). However, today’s topic is anything BUT a unitasker. Put this badboy at the top of your Christmas list today.

An air fryer is a space orb of a counter appliance that uses a wind chamber of really hot air to cook your food, coaxing out the Maillard reaction, caramelizing and making your food extra crispy and delicious. It’s like a super-charged oven, heating and browning your food until it’s crunchy, but does so quick enough that food retains its moisture. Air Fryers are different than a microwave because it uses dry heat rather than energizing water particles—like I said, its a super-charged oven. They’re expensive ($150-250) but basically a miracle on your counter.

Here’s some things I’ve learned air fryers are great for:

  1. Roasting fresh vegetables and potatoes. Anything that you would drizzle in olive oil and roast in the oven can be done in less than half the time by using an air fryer. I’ve tried cauliflower, broccoli, baby potatoes, okra, green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and parsnips so far, and they’ve all turned out delicious, yielding tender vegetables flanked with crispy browned edges. The best part is, you can cook soft vegetable in 10 minutes and starchier veggies in under 25. I’ll share some ideas at the end of the post.
  2. Frozen potato sides. Alexia has an awesome line of French fries, sweet potato fries, roasted potato wedges, sour cream tots, sweet potato tots, truffle fries, and more, and they make perfect easy side dishes on weeknights. The problem is, it takes 15 minutes to preheat the oven, then another 25 minutes to roast them, which lets be real is a lot of time for a weeknight. With an air fryer, preheating isn’t necessary, and frozen foods cook in half the time. What used to take me 40 minutes or more now takes me 15 total.
  3. Frozen snacks. Mozzarella sticks, broccoli and cauliflower tots, shrimp toast, pot stickers, spanikopita, fish sticks, and pretty much every delicious snackie from Trader Joe’s can be made in the air fryer. Instead of soggy like it’d be if you made it in the microwave, they’ll come out crunchy and evenly cooked in minutes. When it comes to cooking foods in the air fryer, the rule of thumb is to reduce the baking time by half and reduce the temperature by 75 degrees F. This is important, don’t forget it!
  4. Toasting bread. Croutons and crostini in a fraction of the time!
  5. Reheating leftover meat. Because it imparts so much even heat, the air fryer is great if you want to reheat rotisserie chicken, pork loin, grilled meats, or whatever you have leftover without it losing all of its juice and texture. It’s also great for reheating breaded items like fried chicken or chicken Parmesan, they’ll re-crisp in the air fryer way better than they would using any other method. You can also cook chicken, steak, fish, pork chops, burgers, sausage, and “faux fry” chicken and fish in the air fryer, but I haven’t experimented much with that yet…

…BUT, I just purchased an air fryer accessories pack, which contains a cake pan for baking, a pizza pan for a super crunch crust in minutes, a double wire rack that helps you “fry” breaded meats and veggies and leave grill marks on meat, a non-stick silicone mat, and a lifted rack to create more surface area in your air fryer, allowing you to cook twice as much food as one. Amazeballs! Can’t wait to try it all out.

Clearly I have a lot more to explore, but I wanted to get you started with some ideas on what to make after your much coveted air fryer arrives. Also (and this probably makes me the dorkiest human being on earth) there are Facebook groups for air fryer enthusiasts that I creep on to get ideas. (Pssst, there’s social media communities for Instant Pot users too…righteous).

*Convert these recipes by roasting in an oven at 425 degrees F and doubling the lowest suggested amount of time*

Duck Fat Fries– Cut a bunch of baby potatoes in quarters and toss with plenty of salt and 2 tablespoons of duck fat (you can pick this up at any specialty grocery store). Cook at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, opening up the drawer and tossing every 7-8 minutes or so. Chicken or bacon fat would taste amazing too, or just use olive oil  and herbs for a more simple taste.

Unfried Okra– I don’t know about you, but my favorite part of fried okra is the okra itself anyway. Toss fresh whole okra with olive oil and kosher salt, and fry at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes (Less if you like them tender-crisp, more if you like them charred).

Harissa Carrots– Peel and slice fresh carrots up into 1 inch oblongs and toss with kosher salt, olive oil, and a heaping tablespoon of harissa paste. Air fry at 330 degrees F for about 18-20 minutes, tossing every 6-7 minutes or so. Harissa is a spicy Tunisian seasoning made from red peppers, with an acidic bite and slowly builds heat as you eat more of it. I found my jar at Trader Joe’s and LOVE cooking with it. Feel free to get super creative with carrots–this same recipe would taste awesome with cajun seasoning, barbecue rub, ras al hanout, gochujang, lemon pepper, or whatever your favorite spice blend is. Just be sure to see if the flavor has salt in it before you season.  You could use this same method for cooking parsnips or rutabagas too!

Curry Cauliflower– Toss fresh cauliflower florets with a couple teaspoons of curry, olive oil, and kosher salt. Fry at 330 degrees for 15-18 minutes, or until they have crispy brown charring on their edges. Finish by tossing it with some golden raisins, a splash of red vinegar, and some chopped mint leaves.

Lemon and Red Pepper Broccoli– Toss fresh broccoli florets with olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder then fry at 330 degrees for 15-18 minutes, or until they have crispy brown charring on its edges. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Faux Gratin– Toss broccoli or cauliflower florets with salt, olive oil, bread crumbs, and cheese (white cheddar, gruyere, or parmesan) then air fry at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Be sure to grease the fryer basket with PAM for easy clean up.

 Brussels Sprouts with mustard vinaigrette– Cut sprouts in half and toss with olive oil and salt, then fry at 330 for 18-20 minutes, so the edges are frizzled and brown. While its cooking, whisk together some olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, and a big spoonful of course ground mustard. Toss and serve.

Shishito peppers– This might surprise you, but we’re going to start by tossing these badboys in olive oil and a pinch of salt. Fry at 330 for 7-9 minutes. From here, serve with aioli, toss with soy sauce and furikake, or get really crazy and toss with white miso, parmesan, and breadcrumbs, a la Stephanie Izard.

Croutons and Crostini– Toss in butter, animal fat, or olive oil, add a dash of salt, garlic powder, and Italian herbs, then air fry at 330 degrees, checking every minute or so (depending on your volume) until it’s to your liking. Damn that was easy!


Potatoes and okra both done in the air fryer. I did the potatoes first, since they take more time and retain heat. The okra fried in a flash! This kept my oven space free for the filet mignon. 


Hell yeah duck fat fries, fresh out of the drawer.

Mushroom “Cappucino” Soup


Alex and I recently traveled to Playa and stayed at an awesome all inclusive resort called Unico. Guys. This place was clutch! Excursions and spa treatments were included, gorgeous grounds, amazing service, and some of the best resort food I’ve ever had. A stand-out favorite of the week was a delicious mushroom “cappucino,” served in a beautiful glass latte mug at the resort’s upscale Italian restaurant. I’m a sucker for good soup, and this presentation was something I had never seen before.

I’ve cooked my mushroom soup recipe for years now–it’s earthy, creamy, and has this amazing fluffy and velvety texture from it being thickened naturally, making it much lighter than a roux-based soup. The foamed milk adds a fun whimsical element, but if that’s not your scene, just skip it. It’s totally bourgie and over the top, but ya know, so am I.

You’ll Need

  • 5 styrofoam containers of baby bella mushrooms (white button mushrooms are fine too. Whatever is cheaper at your grocery store!)
  • 1/2 a cup of dried porcini mushrooms (This ingredient is actually super important, it’s where all the flavor comes from. At my grocery store, they’re in either the produce or bulk section in a little baggie, ask someone for help. If you can’t find them at the store, they are worth ordering on Amazon, as they impart a ton of flavor and have several other applications. The dried mushrooms in the Asian section of the grocery store would work too, or even a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen porcinis in a pinch)
  • A medium onion
  • 3 cups of chicken broth
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 a cup of half and half
  • Truffle oil (optional. Truffle oil is tricky and can really easily ruin a good dish with its strong perfume-y quality. Only use the good stuff from William Sonoma or somewhere fancy like that–if all you have is the kind from Target, leave it out)
  • About 1/2 a cup of milk, for foaming (optional but necessary for a dramatic presentation)

Method

  1. Pour a cup of hot water in a bowl and add the dried porcinis. Let the mushrooms steep and soften in the water while you work on the next two steps.
  2. Peel and roughly chop the onion. Put the mushrooms in a colander (you’ll probably have to do this in batches) and spray them down with water, swishing them around until the dirt is cleaned off from the mushrooms. This is important, mushrooms alway have soil and grit on them and that is very unpleasant to eat. Rough chop all the mushrooms.
  3. In a large pot, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat and sweat the onions for 5-6 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook for 10-15 more minutes over medium heat. The mushrooms will expel a lot of liquid while they cook down.
  4. Add the dried porcinis and the liquid they steeped in, a couple dashes of salt, and half of the chicken broth to your soup pot. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then turn down to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes
  5. Cut the heat, stir in the tarragon, and let the soup cool down for about 10 minutes. Tarragon has a licorice-like flavor that I absolutely LOVE with tomatoes and mushrooms, but if you don’t like the smell, trade it or for mild parsley instead. Transfer half of the soup to a blender, and blend (use a towel to hold the lid down tight) for about a minute, until the soup is smooth. Pour soup into a clean pot, then repeat with the other half of the soup.
  6. Once all the soup is blended, stir in the half and half, and add your reserved chicken broth, a little at a time until the soup is the consistency that you like. Some days I don’t need any reserved broth, some days I need all of it. Mushrooms man, they have a mind of their own. You can always add broth but it’s much more difficult to fix a too-thin soup, so I always try to err on the side of starting with a conservative amount of liquid. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if you need it.
  7. Use a latte machine to foam your milk. If you don’t have one, warm up the milk for 30 seconds or so in the microwave, then put it in a clean blender and whip for about 30 seconds.
  8. To serve, pour soup in bowls and drizzle with a little bit of truffle oil, a couple tarragon leaves, and the foam spooned on top. Another dramatic presentation is to serve the soup in pretty mugs with a generous helping of foam on top, like they did at Unico. Just ya know, warn people of what they’re about to consume first 🙂

Remix The Dish: I always have dried porcinis on hand because they make a clutch steak rub–blend them in a spice grinder with peppercorns, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, kosher salt, and a dash of sugar. Instead of foamed milk, fresh whipped cream (no sugar, duh) would be fun too. Or you could just garnish with some creme fraiche….you basic bitch.

Southern Hoppin’ John and Greens Soup


As much as fried chicken tries to steal the show, Southern food is really all about the side dishes. Think about your last trip to a country dive–sure the catfish was good, but how ’bout those green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and pickled beets?

A pot of hoppin’ John (blackeyed peas and rice), and melted greens with pepper sauce and cornbread are two of my favorite meals on earth. This soup combines them into a meal perfect for New Year’s Day (or ya know, a rainy Fall Sunday like today). Plus it’s ridiculously easy, comes together in less than an hour, and totally made up of freezer staples. Get on this like, now.

You’ll Need:

  • 1 package of frozen blackeyed peas
  • 1 package of frozen turnip greens (collards are fine too. My frozen turnip greens had cubed turnips in them, which is totally cool. If you want to use fresh greens, finely julienne Swiss chard, kale, or mustard greens. Spinach will be too mushy)
  • One smoked turkey wing (a ham hock, a diced link of andouille sausage, or 5 diced strips of bacon would work too! Or you could make this a veggie dish and skip the meat–just add some cumin to mimic the deep smokey flavor)
  • A small onion, diced
  • 2 small or one large carrot, diced
  • A stalk of celery, diced
  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning
  • Cooking oil
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • A small splash of vinegar–red, apple cider, or white is fine
  • A dash of Louisiana hot sauce (optional)
  • Garnishes: cooked white rice, cornbread, hot pepper vinegar, raw sliced sweet onions

Method

  1. Toss the diced onions, carrots, and celery into a large soup pot with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Let the veggies sweat and soften for 7-8 minutes. Add in the meat element and let brown for 3-5 minutes more. Toss in the chicken broth, Cajun seasoning, and black eyed peas and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
  2. After 20 minutes has passed, add in the greens and continue to cook for 20 more minutes. Stir in the splash of vinegar and a few shakes of hot sauce. Taste and add salt if needed. If you used a turkey or ham bone, remove the bone and pick the meat from it, then add the meat back to the soup.
  3. Serve the beans, greens, and “pot likker” broth over white rice with plenty of hot pepper vinegar. Or be like me and break up cornbread right on top, and alternate spoonfuls with bites of a fresh slice of onion. Pure southern comfort.

Remix The Dish: there’s obviously a ton of flexibility in this soup, with the variety of greens and meat you can use. The beans and greens would also taste awesome drained over a bed of polenta, or drained and stir fried into a hash with a sunny egg on top.

Aglio e Olio–Lightened Up!


If you haven’t seen the movie Chef, drop what you’re doing and catch it on Netflix STAT. It is definitely in my top 10 all time favorites films, Jon Favreau’s passion project which he wrote, directed, and starred in. Chef is a redemption tale of a man trying to reclaim his voice in the kitchen, and finds his way back to his family in the process.

It’s a road movie filled with plenty of funny and charming moments, but (as I’m sure you can guess) the food is just to die for. Jon Favreau manages to capture the heart behind food, whether it’s whipping up gourmet grilled cheese for a child you love, the creative process that happens in the kitchen, the sensuality of feeding your partner on a sexy date night, or going back to an old recipe from the happiest time in your life. One of the food-porniest moments of the film happens when Jon Favreau makes a skillet full of Aglio e Olio (pasta with olive oil and garlic) for Scarlett Johansson, and holy hell so they make it look delicious. (Trust me, this movie clip is everything).

Celeb chef (and you know, The Godfather of modern day food trucks) Roy Choi wrote all the recipes for this movie, and let’s just say the one for his Aglio e Olio is…indulgent. Like, an entire cup of olive oil kind of generous. Considering it’s a Tuesday night, that kind of richness just isn’t going to fly. My trick is to stretch the olive oil by incorporating the starchy water that the pasta boiled in–it thickens up into a light sauce that evenly coats every noodle. Have it ready on your kitchen table in 20 minutes flat.

You’ll Need

  • About 1/2 a package of pasta (any kind will do but there’s something extra satisfying about slurping angel hair or linguini. Today, I used orrichiette!)
  • 2 tablespoons of good olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as you can. Like razor-blade-Goodfellas thin.
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon (be sure to zest it first, duh!!
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 fists full of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 cups of greens, rough chopped (optional, but a great way to  sneak some good nutrition and fiber into this indulgent dish. I used pea tendrils because that’s what I picked up at the farmer’s market, but spinach, arugula, or Swiss chard is good)
  • 1/2 cup of Parmesan or pecorino
  • A handful of breadcrumbs (optional, but adds a nice textural element. Don’t use the gross bread crumbs that come from the aisle in a grocery store either–toast up a couple slices of French bread or some rolls, or bust out some crostinis and crunch them up with your fingers)

Method

  1. Cook your pasta in salted water according to the instructions on the package, by subtract a minute from the shortest suggested cooking time. You want this pasta al dente…mushy noodles are gross. Plus, it’s going to cook again in a skillet later, and you don’t want them to overcook.
  2. While waiting on your pasta to cook, slice up your garlic, chop your parsley and greens, and zest your lemon.
  3. Before draining your pasta, pour 1/2-3/4s of a cup of the starchy pasta water into a heat-proof measuring cup or a bowl. Dump the pasta into a colander.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium heat, and add the garlic slices and red pepper flakes. Let cook until aromatic but not scorched, about 3 minutes. Keep an eye on it!! As soon as you see the edges of the garlic start to brown, add the pasta water. Let the sauce boil and thicken for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the pasta, greens, parsley, and a dash of salt in the skillet, and toss until the greens have softened. Add the lemon juice and cheese, and toss again, tasting to see if it needs more salt or red pepper.
  6. Serve garnished with bread crumbs. Delish!!

Remix The Dish: this pasta is pretty much a blank canvas, so toss it with anything you have in your fridge. Leftover chicken, steak,  or shrimp, roasted veggies, or leftover diced crudité would all taste great.

Spicy Thai Steak Salad with Crispy Pot Rice


I know I know, it’s been a few. Between work trips, planning my high school reunion, some big life changes, then a super clutch vacation, it’s been a little hectic in the Triniwood house. 

I’m a total kitchen dork though, so most of my time laying by the pool was spent reading Grant Achetz and Eric Ripert’s memoirs, and some cookbooks. I couldn’t wait to get home and do what I love again. 

This recipe was adapted from Food52’s A New Way To Dinner. This cookbook is one of my favorites I’ve read in awhile–all about how to repurpose a big batch of food you make on Sunday throughout the week, which (hello) is the whole thesis of this blog. The PERFECT dish for a hot summer day like today was. A key feature of Thai cuisine is that it incorporates all taste sensations–salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and savory. And this dish more than delivers on all fronts. Alex told me that he would “totally order it from a restaurant,” which was probably the weirdest compliment I’ve ever gotten.

You’ll Need:

Thai Beef Salad

  • Flank steak (also called London Broil, Top Sirloin’s good too)
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1-2 red Thai chiles, seeded and stemmed (a habanero or a Serrano would work too)
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (I used sugar in the raw)
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1/3 cup of fish sauce (Don’t be scared. It’s delicious! Find it in the Asian section of the grocery store. Soy sauce would work too)
  • 1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced into half moons
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • A big handful of cilantro and/or basil, rough chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • Arugula, romaine, or spring mix

Crispy Pot Rice

  • 2 1/2 cups of basmati rice, rinsed and drained (the skinny delicious kind you see at India and Mediterranean restaurants. Look in your grocery’s Asian or bulk sections)
  • 1/3 a cup of plain yogurt (ehhh who even has plain yogurt, just use Greek yogurt thinned out with a splash of water)
  • 5 tablespoons of cooking oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Method

  1. Pat the steak dry with paper towels and lay it out on the plate on a counter so it comes to room temperature while you cook. This is weird, but we aren’t going to season this steak before cooking (!!!). Flank steaks are relatively thin and usually cook through by the time you get a good crust. Instead of rubbing a bunch of moist flavoring on the steak before we cook (which inhibits browning and carmelization) we’re gonna cook it naked and season after. It’s crazy. You’re gonna have to trust me.
  2. Use a mortar and pestle, a mini food processor, or a spice grinder to turn the garlic, chiles, and sugar into a paste. Place it in a large bowl with the lime juice, fish sauce, and salt. Taste and add more salt if needed or a splash of vinegar if you need more acidity. Toss in the cilantro/basil, scallions, and onions.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil then add the basmati rice. Reduce the temp to where it’s still actively simmering, give it a good stir, and let it cook for about 5-7 minutes. Drain in a fine colander, then pour in a bowl and mix with the yogurt, 3 tablespoons of oil, and a couple dashes of salt. Taste and add more salt if needed. The rice should be pretty close to tasting “done,” soft and not too toothesome.
  4. While the rice is getting started, turn your oven on a high broil and move your rack to the highest position. If you have a meat thermometer, insert in the thickest part of the steak. Put the steak on a pan and place directly under the broiler, cooking for 3 minutes per side or until the thermometer reads 130 degrees. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes, then slice against the grain. This part’s important—the steak will be too chewy if you cut along the muscle. Toss the steak with the salad and let it set on the counter while the rice finishes, so the flavors can meld.
  5. Back to the rice. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven on medium high. Gently swirl the oil around them add the rice–you’ll hear it sizzle, so be careful to be gentle and not splatter oil on yourself! Use a spoon to spread the rice evenly and lightly pack down. Wrap the lid of the Dutch oven on a kitchen towel (this will absorb steam, keeping the rice from getting mushy) and cover the rice, careful to be sure no part of the the towel is touching the burner. Cook on medium high for 5 minutes, then reduce to low. Let cook for about 25 minutes, take off the heat, and let sit for another 5. Use a metal serving spoon or spatula to scrape every bit of the the crunchy brown rice off the bottom of the pot and toss around with the white rice. This is THE BEST part!! A nod to Hugh Acheson’s crispy rice I can’t stop talking about. I can never get enough crunchy rice.
  6. To assemble, plop a big scoop of rice on a plate along with some salad greens and some of the beef salad right on top. The spicy and acidic beef is going to taste so good with the savory rice, and the crunchy rice mixed throughout are just magic.

Remix The Dish: I plan on eating the salad all week as leftovers, on a baguette as a riff on a bahn mi sandwich. The rice goes with anything–it would taste amazing with stews, or maybe some sautéed greens and a fried egg for an easy dinner (or a weird breakfast I’d probably love).

Travelogue: Empire State South in Atlanta

When I first started this whole dumb little food blogging idea, I had a dreamy idea that I’d talk about some of the clutch restaurants I visit while traveling. Well ya know those instagram vs reality memes? Yup, basically my writing life. I had a sexy vision of coming back to my standard issue hotel room and actually using the desk and Ethernet cord to talk about the meal I just ate. Instead I crashed at 9:00 pm sharp while watching Catfish.

Anywho…one of my all time favorite places to eat in Atlanta is Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South. I first learned of Hugh on Top Chef…he’s the guest judge with a unibrow and a funny little voice. After catching his season of Top Chef Masters I bought both of Hugh’s cookbooks: A New Turn In The South focuses on reimagined southern cuisine, but the one that really lit my fire was The Broad Fork, all about cooking with the seasons. Hugh Acheson is a master of vegetables, and it’s inspiring.

Empire State South’s entrance is quite literally a coffee shop, and the low lighting, rustic wood motif, and cozy feel is featured throughout. An outdoor bocce ball court nods to the restaurant’s southern theme. The menu’s divided into small plates and mains, all meant to be consumed family style. The menu is driven heavily by seasonal vegetables, including obscure fixins’ like sunchokes, seabeans, ferns, and morels. They offer a huge variety of proteins, from fish to octopus to lamb to offal. Since it’s been like 3 weeks I don’t remember exactly what was in everything I ordered, but there are two things you absolutely MUST order if you ever go there:

  • A Front Porch cocktail. The lead liquer in it is something called Amaro (by the brand Lucano). It’s a bitter and sweet aperitif in the same family as aperol and campari. I love the drink enough that our waitress talked the bartender into writing down the recipe for me:


Last weekend, me and my gal pal Tori tried to recreate it (luckily my dude Greg brought me a bottle of grapefruit pamplemousse liquer a few months ago) but with Amaretto instead of Amaro (the liquor store didn’t carry Amaro but my friend at the store believed the flavor profile would be somewhat similar). It was sweeter and more almond-y than ESS’s cocktail, but still DELICIOUS!

  • The Farm Egg. Worth the cost of a round trip. Seriously! The egg actually is more of a supporting role–the absolute STAR of this dish is the bed of the most crunchy rice I’ve ever tasted. You know the delicious crispy bottom on paella, or the perfect bite of fried rice from a hibachi? This is like that, but on crack. After much badgering, the waitress told me that to make it they rinse the rice to remove excess starch, cook it to al-dente, spread it on a roasting pan to dry for a few hours, then throw the rice in a deep fryer. Every single grain of rice is crispy and perfect. Sweet baby Jesus this stuff is what dreams are made of.


We ordered a delicious and fresh octopus ceviche along with the farm egg for our starters. For our mains, I got a crispy skinned sea bass with green beans and flash fried okra, my sister got a sausage and shishito number, and my dad got ribeye with peaches. All extremely shareable, just how I like my fancy meals. If you ever find yourself in ATL, Empire State South is well worth a visit.

Cauliflower Soup with Roasted Shishito Salsa and Chili Oil, and how to make pureed veggie soups without a recipe


I’m one of those weirdos who really, really likes purees. Basically baby food with salt, cream, and butter to make things delicious. I’ll eat them as a side, as a sauce, as a garnish, as a soup. Mmmm, soup. And guess what? They’re super easy to make, so you should love them too.

Veggie based creamy soups include the same elements. Keep these in mind:

  • Aromatics. Usually mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery) and garlic. Leeks, shallots, ginger, or occasionally bell peppers are used in this application too. Don’t leave this out. ALL good things start with mirepoix (or at least garlic and onions).
  • The Main Veg. Cauliflower today, broccoli if I was hankering for a Panera knock-off. Whole canned San Marzano tomatoes are popular in the Triniwood house. Sweet potato, russets, or beans are great hearty choices. Spinach or kale if you’re a certain kind of psycho. Other good choices are carrots, split peas, corn, asparagus, mushrooms, or parsnips.
  • A Thickening Agent. Usually people would used a roux (butter and flour, like you’re making gravy) but lately I’ve been leaving this out in favor of using less broth and letting the natural veggie texture do its thang. Definitely saves me some calories. Another low calorie option that will give your soup some body is to cook in a diced potato with the rest of the veg. Some people use cornstarch or tapioca starch or some ish, but I’m not a fan of the gummy texture they impart. ALWAYS use less broth than you think you’ll need–you can always add more, but its difficult to take liquid away.
  • Extra Flavors. This part is important in creating a well balanced soup. A splash of orange juice adds a sweet acidity to tomato soup, bacon fat adds a good smokiness to potato or bean based soups, curry tastes delicious in carrot or sweet potato, and the cheese is what makes broccoli worth stinking up your kitchen (hah!). This is the hardest part of making soup, because you have to have a bit of savvy to know when to introduce these flavors to the party. We’ll get to that later.
  • The Creamy Part. AKA the BEST part. Favorite agents for this are half and half, sour cream, Greek yogurt, butter, and coconut milk. Or, again, you could be a health nut and leave this part out, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • Purée. An immersion blender is easy, but I prefer my Vitamix for the silkiest soups. Leave the soup a little chunky if that’s how you like it! Run it through a strainer before serving if you’re real crazy.
  • Garnish. Croutons are ye ol’ standby, but cream, infused oil, some sort of little salad or salsa, or the star veggie in a different preparation are all excellent. Garnishes add textural contrast and a pleasant top note flavor.

The roasted shishito salsa was a bit of a happy coincidence. I specifically made it to serve alongside meat for a BBQ I hosted last weekend, then realized how damn delicious it tasted. Plus, it’s a clever way to re-purpose leftover shishito appetizers I’m often stuck with. Gonna bust that one out frequently.

You’ll Need

  • An onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced (I saved the leaves on top to garnish my soup with, #roottoleaf)
  • A head of cauliflower, cut into large chunks (cauliflower is softer to cut than you think, just get in there)
  • Leftover bacon fat (olive oil is fine too)
  • 4 cups of chicken broth (or water and buillion cubes)
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • A big splash of half and half
  • Shishito peppers (as much or as little as you have on hand)
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Chili oil (optional)

Method

  1. Put about a tablespoon of bacon fat (or a few good glugs of olive oil) in a large pot over medium heat and add the onions, carrots, and celery. Sweat the veggies for 8-10 minutes, until veggies have softened a bit and onions are translucent. Add the cauliflower, chicken broth, and a dash of kosher salt, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let bubble away for about 25 minutes. Alternatively, you could do this in an Instant Pot and pressure cook for 15 minutes.
  2. While the soup is simmering, toss the shishitos in olive oil and kosher salt, and place in a hot pan (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat. Stir every minute or so until they’ve softened with black spots all over, breaking up into batches if you need to to ensure you aren’t crowding the pan.
  3. Remove shishitos and place on a cutting board, letting them sit until cool enough to handle. Use a knife to chop off the stems, then rough chop the shishitos into slightly uneven, bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl and toss with a few good glugs of olive oil and a healthy splash of red wine vinegar. Taste and add more salt or vinegar if it needs it. Set aside until ready to use. PS: this can be done in advance and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. PPS: this “salsa” would taste awesome over steak, chicken, pork, or fish, spooned over cream or goat cheese and served with crackers, tossed into a salad or with roasted veggies, or served with eggs.
  4. Remove the soup from the heat and let it cool for 10-15 minutes or so. Puree with a stick blender, or in a regular blender in batches (be sure to hold down the lid with a towel, a hot soup explosion would be a disaster). Pour back into the pot and stir in the half and half, some fresh cracked black pepper, and kosher salt to taste.
  5. Serve soup with shishito peppers, chopped celery leaves, and chili oil as garnish.

Remix The Dish: For broccoli cheese soup, mix a few handfuls of cheese in with the half and half and add white pepper. For mushroom soup, omit the carrots and celery and add dried porcini mushrooms in with the onions instead, and use 4 pints of fresh mushrooms and use 3 cups of broth. 2 bundles of asparagus should do for asparagus soup, and use greek yogurt or sour cream as the creamy element. Bacon and crouton garnish would taste awesome with split pea, bean, or white potato soup. I love making carrot or sweet potato soup with red curry paste and ginger added in while the aromatics saute, lemongrass and honey while it simmers, then add coconut milk right before you puree. A fall favorite of mine is pumpkin beer cheese soup, which sounds nuts but tastes awesome. Use a large can of pumpkin puree instead of the cauliflower, reduce the broth to 2 cups and stir in a whole bottle of ale mid-simmer, then add some cheddar after you puree. Garnish with croutons and fried sage leaves.

Braised 5-Spice Lamb Shanks


Don’t freak out. You can do it!! Something I love about braising big meat is that it’s basically the same technique every time. Follow this method with chuck roast, short ribs, pork shoulder, or lamb shanks, and you’ll get that delicious fall-apart meat you can’t help but crave on cold Sunday nights. Yes I realize its currently 100 degrees outside, but lamb shanks were on sale at Sprouts and I’m not going to let an opportunity like that pass me by.

Here’s the basic steps home cooks need to remember for a clutch braise:

  1. Start with a hard sear. Get your frying pan or dutch oven ripping hot with about a tablespoon of oil, aggressively season your meat, then brown the meat on all sides. When you’re done, set it aside on a plate. See that brown stuff leftover in the pan? That right there is money! Loads of flavor packed into those little bits so DO NOT wash your pan.
  2. Add flavor elements. This is when you want to add your aromatics, veggies, tomato paste, spices, etc. Let them sweat, toast, and bloom, and allow for some more delicious browned goodness to stick to the bottom of the pan.
  3. Deglaze. This is most commonly done with wine, but beer, vinegar, or another flavored liquid may be used. Pour it right into your cooking vessel and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. The browned bits (aka fond if we’re being fancy and cheffy) will dissolve into the cooking liquid and make everything flavorful.
  4. Low and slow cooking. Put the meat (and any accumulated juices) back in the cooking vessel and add enough broth so that the meat is about 80% of the way covered with liquid. Crack the heat up to high until its just boiling. From here, you have a few options. If it’s in a dutch oven, throw a lid on it and move to an oven set at 300-325 degrees F for around 2-4 hours (depending on what kind and how big your meat is). If you planned on using a slow cooker, transfer it over (carefully, that ish is hot!) and let it braise on low for around 8 hours. If you planned on using an Instant Pot/pressure cooker, well you should have done all the previous steps in the vessel itself, and now its time to pressure cook on high for 40 minutes or so.

Remember these steps. These are the basic fundamental techniques you can riff on. Today I spiced my lamb shanks with 5-Spice powder and ginger because I’ve been craving those flavors, but it easily converts to French, Italian, British, or Persian flavors. I’ll get to that part later.

You’ll Need

  • 3-5 lamb shanks, one per person plus enough for leftovers if that’s how you roll
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of Chinese 5-Spice
  • A small onion, diced 
  • A carrot, diced
  • A stalk of celery, diced
  • A clove of garlic, minced
  • A tablespoon of minced ginger or ginger paste
  • 1/2 a cup of whatever wine you have leftover in your fridge
  • 2 cups of chicken broth (or water and bullion cubes, whatever
  • 4-5 springs of fresh herbs, rosemary and thyme are good
  • Rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, couscous…whatever you want to soak up the yummy sauce

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Throw the lamb shanks in a bowl and toss with the 5 Spice and several large pinches of salt. Put your dutch oven on medium high and drizzle in some oil. When the oil’s screaming hot, GENTLY place the meat in the pan with tongs. Sear on all sides (that means 4 sides, not 2) for 3 minutes or so per side, so there’s a nice brown caramelization (brown = flavor). Put the shanks on a plate and set aside.
  2. In the vessel that you seared the lamb in, lower the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots, and celery (hey, that’s called a mirepoix!). Let the veggies soften and sweat for 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and leftover 5 Spice powder you tossed with the lamb, and let it all toast for 3-4 more minutes, stirring constantly. There should be lots of crusty brown bits at the bottom of your pan. Your house smells awesome right now.
  3. Add wine to your pan, and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of your pan. The liquid will make this super easy! (PS remember this little method next time you have a mess of a stubborn pan to clean–heat with a splash of water and go to work!). 
  4. Add the broth, herbs, lamb, and any accumulated juices back to the cooking vessel, and crank the heat until the liquid boils. Cut the heat, cover, and transfer to the oven. Check the meat after an hour and a half–you want it tender and falling off the bone. Remove the lid and let braise for 15-30 minutes longer. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving over your chosen starch, with the sauce and veggies drizzled on top.

Remix The Dish: there’s a million flavor profiles you can tack on to the shanks. Here’s a few ideas (for all of these, leave out the 5 Spice and ginger):

  • French – deglaze with red wine, up the amount of fresh herbs
  • Italian – saute tomato paste with the veg, deglaze with red or white wine, stir in plenty of dried or fresh oregano
  • British – deglaze with Guinness and stir in a couple tablespoons of Dijon mustard before simmering
  • Persian – dust the shanks with cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and cardamom, deglaze with warm water steeped with saffron threads. Garnish with mint.




I made Persian shanks a few years ago and threw it up on instagram. The yellow hue comes from the turmeric and saffron. So money.

Grilled Pork Chops with Mustard Brussels Sprouts and Blueberry Gastrique

I kinda stumbled into this dish. I’ve been traveling and didn’t want a bag of blueberries I got in my farm bag to go to waste, so I started out making them into a syrup I could freeze and use for cocktails, desserts, or pancakes down the road. After I had it jarred and ready to go, I realized how awesome it would taste with the dinner I had whipped up. Boom roasted, an okay dinner into a clutch one with a simple good idea.

A gastrique is basically just a sweet and sour fruit sauce. This version is pretty basic (just a weeknight dinner) but you can fancy up the sauce with garlic, shallots, and herbs if you’re feeling it. The tangy sauce tasted great with the smokey pork chops, and the sweetness complimented the spicy mustard and vegetal Brussels sprouts. For a meal on the fly, it turned out super balanced!

You’ll Need:

  • Pork chops, thick cut
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 4 tablespoons of course grain dijon mustard
  • 6 tablespoons of olive oil, plus some
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar (red wine vinegar is my default, but apple cider or even white would do in a pinch)
  • A pint or so of blueberries
  • 3/4 cup or so of sugar
  • Lemon juice (the vinegar you used earlier would be fine if you don’t have a lemon)
  • Brussels sprouts (eyeball it…I used like 8 big ones for 2 portion sizes and still had some leftover)
  • Smoked turkey leg (crumbled bacon would be ideal, I just didn’t have any at the time. Or leave this out, totally not a necessary component. You can find these at most grocery stores near the bacon and sausage. They’re super cheap too!)

Method

  1. In a jar, shake together the mustard, olive oil, honey, and a pinch of salt. Salt and pepper both sides of your pork chops, and pour some of the dressing on top of the pork chops to marinade. You don’t need a ton, but enough so that all surfaces of the pork chops receive some lovin’. Leave on a plate to soak in the flavors while you work on the rest of the meal. Add the vinegar to the unused dressing and shake to combine. Set aside.
  2. Throw the berries and half a cup of water, and the sugar into a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then use a potato masher to break up the berries and release their juices. Add a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt, then taste, taste, taste. Does it need more tang? Add more lemon. Is it too cloyingly sweet? Add another pinch of salt. Too thick? Splash in some water. If you’re feeling adventurous, add some fresh thyme or rosemary! Let bubble and thicken on low for 10-15 minutes, checking often to make sure you like the taste and consistency. If you want your fruit sauce chunky, use it as is. If you want it more homogeneous, toss into a blender. If you’re just nuts like I am, blend then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer. This will keep well in the fridge for a week or pretty much forever in the freezer.
  3. Trim the stalky bottom of the Brussels sprouts off and cut into quarters. Use a small knife and your hands to strip the meat the smoked turkey leg, and roughly chop the meat. You’ll have a ton extra, which I like to throw in a jar and freeze to use on other occasions such as this. I also freeze the leftover bone to make stock from, but I also realize that I’m kinda insane. Hashtag nose to tail.
  4. Turn your grill on medium high heat. While the grill is heating up, drizzle the bottom of a frying pan with some olive oil over medium heat and saute the Brussels, making sure they get some nice caramelization on them before stirring around so their opposite sides get some color. After a few minutes, toss in a handful of the smoked turkey.
  5.  Grill the pork chops 2-3 minutes on each side for some clutch grill marks, then move to indirect heat until they’re finished. Be sure to cut into one and check before serving…the only thing worse than overcooked pork is undercooked pork. If you’re using a termometer (you should) I like my pig around 155 degrees, but apparently new studied say 145 is safe to eat.
  6. Once the Brussels sprouts are cooked to your liking (I dig them tender-crisp), take the pan off the heat and stir in several spoonfuls of the mustard vinaigrette, tasting often and adjusting for salt if it needs it. Plop a pile on a plate, lean a pork chop up against them, and drizzle the gastrique around it.

Remix the dish: Use this same technique to turn strawberries, cherries, peaches, blackberries, or raspberries into a syrup. Mix them into cocktails, drizzle over ice cream, or eat with pancakes, french toast, or biscuits.

If you wanted to go real fancy with the sauce, treat it like a pan sauce  and simmer it in a frying pan with shallots, garlic, herbs, and some butter. I just wasn’t into putting that much effort into it that night.

If you’re strapped for time and just want something sweet, fruity, and tangy for a dish, throw a few big scoops of good jam into a frying pan, thin with water, and heat with a dash of salt and some dried herbs/garlic powder. Poor man’s sauce!

Chrissy Teigan’s Coconut Rice


Warning: this stuff is clutch. Can’t-stop-eating kind of delish. Salty and sweet coconut is crack to me. One of my all-time favorite desserts in the world is the delicious sticky rice with slices of mango on top from Thai restaurants. While this won’t yield the same desserty richness or al dente bite of official sticky rice (future post for sure) this is an excellent approximation that captures those same flavors in a savory application. Plus, this recipe is super easy, only takes about 20 minutes, and doesn’t require the soaking and steaming and special equipment that real Thai coconut rice calls for. Niiice.

I modified this recipe from one in Chrissy Teigan’s cookbook. She suggests serving it alongside a pineapple short rib offering. I think it’d taste clutch with any grilled teriyaki chicken, fish, shrimp, or steak, fried pork chops, stir fried veggies, or jerk chicken. I had some various garden goodies I didn’t know what to do with, so I threw them all in a roasting pan at 425 degrees until they were tender-crisp and served with ponzu sauce over the rice. The next day, I ate the rice with some Trader Joe’s shrimp dumplings that I steamed and drizzled with chili oil. It’s a blank palate…but not *too* blank.

You’ll Need

  • 1 1/2 cups of Jasmine rice
  • 1 can of coconut milk. The regular full fat stuff, not the lite version or the milk substitute. The thick creamy delicious stuff.
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt

Method

  1. Put the rice in a strainer and give it a good rinse in the sink. Put the rice in a medium saucepan with the coconut milk, sugar, salt, and fill the empty coconut milk can full of water and pour that in too. The coconut milk will have probably separated in the can into a thick white semi-solid layer and a clear liquidy layer–that’s totally cool! It’ll all become homogenous once the rice heats up.
  2. Bring the rice mixture to a boil over high heat and give it a good stir. Reduce to low, cover the pot, and let barely simmer for 20 minutes. (If you lost the proper lid to your saucepan, you can Macgyver one out of foil). Uncover and stir the liquid layer back into the rice with a fork, fluffing as you go. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 more minutes.

Remix The Dish: to reheat the rice to eat with leftovers, microwave it for a minute or two with the rice covered with a damp paper towel. My momma taught me that trick!! It rehydrates the rice so it won’t taste all hard and mealy.

You could also make a poor man’s version of the delicious Thai coconut rice dessert by adding an extra 1/4 cup of sugar to the rice, and simmering another can of coconut milk with 1/2 a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of corn starch, and several big pinches of salt. Serve the rice with fresh fruit, a generous drizzle of the coconut sauce, and sesame seeds sprinkled on top.