Fried Rice: Breakfast of Champions

I’ve found over the years that Americans have an incredibly limited palate for breakfast foods. They tend to be sweet, heavy, and carb-forward. While there is nothing wrong with those things (I’m not here to yuck your yum!), I spent a lot of the earlier parts of my life skipping The Most Important Meal of the Day™ because none of those things interested me.

In the past decade, I’ve started researching more about what folks eat for breakfast around the world, and the idea of what could be considered a “breakfast food item” exploded for me. Soup for breakfast? Oh yeah! Congee? A staple! Kimchi? You better believe it!

In regards to what makes something a breakfast food, my basic belief is that if a meal has an egg in it, it can be served for breakfast. (I’ve discussed my love of pesto and rice with a fried egg before.) So about a year ago, fried rice started becoming a breakfast staple in my home. Not only is it delicious, it’s a great way to use up the leftovers and tiny bits of items you have hanging around in your fridge.

The Ingredients

The main things that you will need are:

  • Rice
  • Egg
  • Green onions
  • Oil

For the rice, it MUST BE AT LEAST A DAY OLD. This I cannot overstate this. In order for the rice grains to properly separate for fried rice, the rice must have begun to dry out a little in the refrigerator. Two-day old rice is ideal.

The egg will help to bind the rice as well as give the dish a more savory, unctuous flavor.

Green onions can be replaced with chives, green garlic, or garlic scapes. Don’t try to use white or red onions for this part of the process.

For the oil, I prefer vegetable oil, however, many folks will sub in sesame oil at this point in the process. Because this is a high-temperature dish, I tend to be wary of this because sesame oil has a lower smoke point.

You can also add any other items to this as well. (The above picture includes baby bok choy, Thai chiles, cilantro, green garlic stem, king oyster mushroom, and leftover fried tofu.)

The Process

The process for this comes from this video, which utterly changed how I made fried rice. Gao’s process for when and what to season are fundamental for the most flavorful dish.

You’ll start by prepping your ingredients because this dish moves very quickly once it’s started. You’ll want to:

  • Whisk your egg(s)
  • Chop any vegetables
  • Get out your chilled rice
  • Have a plate ready to move cooked egg on to
  • Heat your wok (or pan) to High-Medium

Once you’re done with your mise en place, add oil to your wok. Heat until it is just about to start smoking then add your egg and a pinch of salt. Heat until it’s about 2/3 of the cooked. You can move it around a little, but the egg should be partially runny uncooked. This uncooked part will help the rice stick together.

Remove the egg onto the plate. Add more oil to the wok.

Here you will add your scallions and whatever other items you’re planning on including. To this, you’ll want to add your salt. Since your rice is likely unsalted, this is the moment where you’re going to make the flavor in your dish pop. Add just a little more than you think you need depending on how many servings you are making.

I also add a sprinkle of MSG at this point too, because MSG is my secret ingredient in everything.

Saute all of the items until warmed through. Then add the rice, and break apart so that all of the rice is back into individual grains. (Note the picture above is when I’ve just first added the rice.

Now add the egg back to your dish so that it finishes cooking through. Keep working it with a spatula to keep the rice grains from sticking together too much.

When warmed through, remove the fried rice from the heat.

The Toppings

There are so many things that you can top your fried rice with, it’s hard to know where to begin. You’ll want to think about flavor and texture and, obviously, what you have in the house. But here are a few suggestions:

Herbal

  • Green onion tops
  • Cilantro
  • Thai basil

Saucy

  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil (or similarly perilla oil or hot sesame oil)
  • Fish sauce
  • Chile crisp
  • Vinegar (esp. white cane vinegar)

Crunchy

  • Fried shallots
  • Fried garlic
  • Roasted seaweed
  • Fried SPAM

Add as much or as little as you like for your palate. Try out new combos. Use it as an excuse to break out of your breakfast comfort zone and embrace the umami.

Now that you know more about the process, cozy up tonight to Season 1, Episode 7 of David Chang’s Ugly Delicious on Netflix. This is one of the best episodes of food television out there, debunking a lot racist myths that go along with Chinese food in America. (Bonus: They go to one of my favorite Knoxville restaurants, Asia Kitchen!)

Also check out some excellent fried rice recipes from Maangchi, Peachy Adarne, and Ming Tsai!

Building Your Kitchen Part 2

Earlier in the week, Erin told you about her essential kitchen tools. As someone who works primarily in pastry, mine are a little different. Pastry is precise and finnicky, and it requires a set of tools that make that precision easier.

First, any good pastry cook will tell you how essential a Kitchenaide mixer is. They also cost several hundred dollars, so I don’t own one of those! I use a hand mixer, which is not the wonder that a Kitchenaide is, but it does work!

Also, like any good chef, a pastry cook needs a set of knives and a sharpening block. I would happily show you a picture of what I use, but all my knives are in my bag at my currently closed kitchen! That said, I’ve found the most useful kit for me includes a 6″ cook’s kinfe, a paring knife with a snap-on case that I can carry in my chef’s coat, a bigger butcher-type knife that I rarely use, and a bread knife with a serrated edge. I get my knives from Wusthof. The one I use the most is the 6″ pictured below, because, let’s face it, you don’t need a butcher’s knife to cut apples. It runs about $120 and is worth every penny. I use this knife more than I can tell you for pastry.

My second most-used tool in the kitchen is a high-heat silicone rubber spatula. If you have not bought one (or a dozen!) of these for your kitchen, you don’t know what you’re missing. It is great for pastry because it’s perfect for folding batters and meringues and mousse, but if you cook ANYTHING that’s saucy, you just don’t know how much you’re leaving behind in the pan until you use one of these to scrape it. Below is me looking slightly maniacal with my spautla, in my favorite Cleveland pride shirt from Snakes + Acey’s Print Shop.

Next up, you’ve got a tool that every pastry cook needs. For savory cooking, measuring is often done by site and taste — a dash of this, a splash of that. Not so in pastry cooking! That’s why having an electronic scale that measures in different units (grams, ounces, pounds, etc) is essential!

Just as essential as the scale for pastry cooking is a good, high-heat thermometer. Why? Because for pastry, there are temps that you have to get things to precisely. Sure, with enough experience you can make a creme anglaise right from sight, or know exactly when your sugar has reduced and heated enough to make a perfect Italian meringue just by the look of the bubbles, or even know when your sugar gets to a soft-ball stage for caramel and candy making. But it takes practice to get there, and you’re going to have to measure your temps again and again for precision. And being off by as much as a few degrees for pastry work can ruin your whole dessert.

A good pastry cutter has been another essential for me. It makes making anything that requires cold butter so much easier than messing around with forks or using your hands. That includes pie crusts, biscuits, scones, and more!

Ring molds are another tool I’ve used again and again. They’re great for cutting biscuits, cutting fancy desserts (think a sheet of mousse cut into circles and served with ice cream!), or molding savory things like tartate or even quinoa into a more pleasing presentation.

I never knew how much I needed a silicone baking mat until my best friend bought me one for Christmas a few years ago. If you don’t have a ton of counter space, like me, or if your work space is hard-to-clean, a baking mat makes life so much simpler. It’s easy to clean, easy to roll out dough on on, AND it’s got measurements right there on it for pie crusts and anything you might need to cut into specific measurments. A life-saver!

Lastly, I’ll recommend something I’m just beginning to get into using myself. A few years ago, when I moved to Ohio, I made the delightful mistake of telling my then-8-year-old niece I’d make her any cupcake design she wanted for her school birthday party. We’ve had so much fun designing off-the-wall cupcakes for her over the last few years, and because of it, I’m getting into cake decorating. Pastry tips with reusable bags have been essential to this! Below are one of the cupcake sets we made with them, zombies and bloody brains!

That’s it. And I’m going to leave you with a picture of me working in the kitchen, looking like Al Pacino in Frankie and Johnny. I used to wear chef coats and hats back when I was in Michelin starred restaurants in New York, but heck, I’m in Cleveland now!

Building Your Kitchen

I get asked a lot what kitchen tools I can’t live without. This is hard, because I love a kitchen gadget. To the point where there isn’t much I don’t have. Sous vide? Check! Himalayan salt block? Check! Yakatori grill? I think I have two?

But when you’re starting out, there are definitely things that I think every home cook should buy and buy well.

One Good Knife – $$$

Don’t skimp on this. Save the money. You’re going to spend at least $60. Maybe twice as much. But you only need one. No need for knife blocks or sets or whatever. Just get one good santoku or chef’s knife, and you’re good to go.

Because I have small hands, I tend towards the Shun knives. Their handles run a little smaller than the German brands, and I like the weight and balance.

My partner prefers Wüsthoff, which have a little bit of a thicker blade and heavier weight. Honestly, this is all preference, and if you can, try some out before you buy. Many stores will let you hold the knives or ask a friend to use theirs whenever we see friends again.

Food Processor – $$$

It’s a rare week for me to not use my food processor 2-3 times. Whether I’m making hummus or pesto or blending ingredients for a soup, a good food processor is a must.

This is a place where I think a lot of people try to skimp and get a small chopper or an off-brand lower-powered variation. You really need something that can handle raw beets or almonds, etc.

An 8-cup processor is fine. (If you have to do something in two batches, so be it.) Look to spend about $100 on this. I recommend the Cuisinart, which was a workhorse in my kitchen for 14 years before we upgraded this summer.

One Good Skillet – $$$

When I travel and stay at Air BnBs, I always travel with a knife and a skillet. (Because I’m a food nerd. I know.) For me, there is nothing that beats enamel cast iron. Yes the pan weighs a ton, but every study has shown that in terms of ease of use, consistency of cook, and quality of sear, a Staub or Le Creuset pan is going to be your best bet. (Lodge does a decent one as well, but they are more likely to have their enamel chip over time.)

This is not a cheap purchase, so watch for sales and try to be open to different colors. You can occasionally find one right at or around $100 if you’re keeping your eyes peeled. Remember, this is a one-time purchase. There is nothing that will damage this bad boy. (Mine has been to Poland and back!)

Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls – $$

Whether you’re making a salad or a cake, you are going to want some nice stainless steel mixing bowls. Like the skillet, these are a thing that you will have to buy once and then never again. Get a few in each size, making sure they are the same brand so they stack nicely. I’m fond of the Vollrath heavy duty bowls, which my partner surprised me with earlier this spring. They’re attractive and affordable.

So many bowls. So much mixing.

Garlic Press – $$

This is always a controversial pick. Sure you can chop your own garlic, but if you’re like me and quadrupling the amount of garlic you put in every recipe, that can get tedious. Plus I prefer pressed garlic in salad dressings, which I make almost every day.

Like I’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t hurt to buy a slightly more expensive version because it’ll work better and last way longer. For example, I’ve had a Zyliss garlic press for the past 15 years, and it’s the only one I’ve needed.

Cutting Board – $

The one exception I make to buying the fancier version is cutting boards. The most expensive they are, the stupider they become with design features that make no sense real sense in the kitchen. However, don’t buy any that are less than .3″ thick. You need some mass, weight, and grip to keep it from moving on the counter.

My standard is the thick, hard plastic cutting board you can pick up at Walmart. (In fact, this is my work horse.) The reason that I lean towards plastic over wood is two-fold: 1.) it can go in the dishwasher and 2.) you can cut meat on it. (Because of the porous nature of wooden cutting boards, juices from raw meats can stay in the wood grain, which can spread disease.)

Wooden Spoons – $

Plastic cooking implements are tools of the devil. Whenever possible, use wooden spoons, which won’t damage your cookware like metal will and won’t melt when accidentally left on a stove (like I have more times than I can count). There are places where you can spend $$$ on wooden spoons, but truly any will do. Buy a 3-pack, and call it a day.

Resist the urge to buy the super cheap versions from Walmart or elsewhere. You’ll end up replacing it three times, and it will ultimately cost most.

Juicer – $

Whether you’re making cocktails or juicing limes for a pozole, you’re going to want a simple, hand-held juicer. These you can pick up in the grocery store, often right by the citrus. Don’t get a reamer. Don’t spend $200 on a Vitamix unless you’re eating all your meals from a cup. Just a simple citrus squeezer.

You know I love all things Oxo, so I would recommend making the investment for this one, though I’ve bought plenty of $5 versions that have lasted for years.

What are the kitchen tools you can’t live without?

Do The Mashed Part Two: Pinch Some Pierogi

Sweet Potato/Ricotta Pierogi with Sweetened Beurre Blanc

Hope your apocalypse is going as well as possible, still, and that these recipes are helping comfort you in some small way! This week, we’re building off of Erin’s recipe for the ultimate comfort food, mashed potatoes, to give you an Eastern European classic that’s just as delightful and comforting. Pierogi!

When I was a young, half-Polish, half-Italian kid growing up in Northern Appalachia, the gold standard for pierogi was the cheddar/potato variety that little old ladies made in the Catholic church basements and froze all year until the annual church bazaar, when they absolutely drowned them in butter to everyone’s great delight. This take is a little different than that, with a heightened flavor profile, but not less butter, I promise. This recipe is a sweet potato/homemade ricotta stuffed periogi with a sweetened beurre blanc to top it off. This is a 4 part recipe, or 3 part if you decide you’d rather one of Erin’s many beautiful incarnations of mashed potatoes in it! But below is the way I made it, and I ate every last bite and wished there was more.

MAKING THE PIEROGI DOUGH

This step is simple, just a few ingredients. I recommend you do it first so you can let the dough rest a little while in your refrigerator, covered, while you do the other steps. You’ll need:

2 eggs

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cups of water

2 Tbsp of full fat sour cream

2.5 cups of AP flour

Whisk the first four ingredients together, then gradually work in the cups of flour. Because of the sour cream and eggs, you’ll have a smooth, high-fat, elastic dough. This will make it soft and give it a great mouth-feel when you’ve got the finished product.

MAKING THE RICOTTA

You’ll find our homemade ricotta recipe here! Before you get intimidated by making your own cheese, I want to remind you that it’s SO SO SO SIMPLE, just a few steps for a fresh homemade ricotta, and once you see how easy and tasty it is, you’ll never go back to store-bought! If there is one thing I hope to impress on folks learning to cooks it’s that homemade, down to the smallest ingredient, is always better!

THE FILLING

You can very easily use one of Erin’s mashed recipes here! But for my recipe, I took the following and mashed them together:

1/2 cup of homemade ricotta

1 large sweet potato, roasted until the skin peels easily and the meat is soft

2 Tbsp parmesan cheese

a dash of salt and pepper

ASSEMBLING THE PIEROGI

First, you will take you relaxed dough from the refrigerator, and roll it out out as thin as you can without compromising its ability to hold in the filling. Then, you’ll take either a set of ring molds if you’re fancy, or a decent sized coffee cup or water glass and a knife, and cut circles 3 to 4 inches in diameter out of your dough.

Next, you’ll take a tablespoon, and put enough filling in the middle that you can pinch the ends shut, likeso:

Lastly, you’re going to drop them into boiling water until they float and are heated through.

THE SAUCE

There are a lot of great ways to go about making sauce for peirogi (one, as I mentioned, is just drowning the suckers in butter! and onions!). But for this recipe, I decided to try beurre blanc. Beurre blanc is a french sauce that’s butter and white wine and delightfulness, and it’s traditionally used on fish, so it can lean towards the acidic, while deliciously creamy. I swear to god, I am going to admit something shameful – I am a New American style pastry cook for the most part, and I’d never heard of this sauce until I watched Julie and Julia and was won over by Julia Child’s love of it. So I decided I was not going to try to reinvent the wheel with it, but use this recipe from the wonderful site Epicurious. However, I added two tablespoons of honey to it to give it a slightly sweeter flavor profile, and combined with the ricotta and sweet potatoes, that came out an utter delight. I want to encourage you to use your common sense with cooking — too sweet? Add some acid like lemon or vinegar. Too acidic? Try honey or sugar. Too bland? Salt or soy sauce. Because your taste buds are experts at what you like. Always feel free to improvise!

That’s it! Enjoy! My Polish grandma may be horrified by this Polish/French fusion, but I think you’ll love it!

Do the Mashed Potato

Mashed potatoes are not only the perfect comfort food but an excellent building block for numerous dishes–shepherd’s pie, pierogies, colcannon, etc. They are deeply mutable to deal with the items you have in your house, and you can fry any leftovers up for mashed potatoes fritters the next day. Versatile. Cheap. Possibility for experimentation? It’s my brand!

The Potato

Obviously all things start with the potato. You do not have to get fancy here. A cheap bag of Russets from Aldi will be fine. But truly this recipe can be done the same way with Yukon Golds, new potatoes, farmer’s market Kennebecs, even sweet potatoes. And why stop with the potato? There are plenty of other root vegetables that can be given the same treatment–turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, celeriac, so on and so on.

You can also mix and match. I personally like to toss in a potato or two when I’m mashing other root vegetables just to mellow the flavor a bit, but this is an opportunity for you to experiment.

To Peel or Not to Peel

Sometimes with peeling choice, you are given no option. If you’re working with sweet potatoes or root vegetables that aren’t potatoes, you’ll want to peel since the skin can be tough and chewy. Or, if you’re like me this week, your potatoes are starting to get a wee bit wrinkly. Off goes the skin! (A quick reminder to not put your peelings into the garbage disposal! It can gum it up with added starch.)

However, if you’re using a thinner-skinned potatoes, the skin adds a nice textural difference that people really like. At this point, the choice to peel is entirely up to you.

After you’ve made your decision, chop your products into similarly-sized pieces, so they will cook evenly.

Chef Tip: If you’re using a potato and a harder root vegetable, chop the latter a bit smaller so they’ll cook at the same rate.

Russet potatoes, Hakurei turnips from the farmers’ market, half and half, unfiltered Italian olive oil, and tools of the mashing trade.

The Boil

When you’re boiling your potatoes, make sure to add salt (and maybe some bay leaf?) to your water. A generous sprinkle will do; it’s doesn’t need to “taste of the sea” the same way that pasta water should.

If want to be extra fancy, make your boiling liquid half water and half milk.

When the biggest piece is fork tender (i.e. it flakes apart when pierced with a fork), drain the potatoes.

The Mash

Riced potatoes before adding liquid.

There are a lot of methods here that can potentially be used for a mashed potato. The most common is a traditional kitchen masher. (I recommend the Oxo Good Grips potato masher.) This is the best all-purpose tool and will work with any type of mash you want to make.

However, I fell in love with my multi-purpose ricer that my partner got for me a few years back. It presses the potatoes through different-sized grates to make a smoother mash overall. (It also makes spaetzle!) The downside of this, though, is that you cannot use the ricer on harder root vegetables unless you boil them to near death. Also, you MUST peel your potatoes if you’re going to use this method, so no rustic, skin-on mashed taters here.

The Mix

If you’re mashing your potatoes, you can start this process during the mash, but with a ricer, you’ll want to rice all of the potatoes first before adding anything.

At this point, there are many ways to go to flavor a mashed potato. Your potatoes (unless you boiled them with milk) are vegan, so you’ve got a blank canvas to work with depending on your tastes, your family’s food restrictions, of what’s in your refrigerator at the moment.

Riced potatoes and Hakurei turnips with butter and half and half.

You’ll need:

  • Liquid
    • Milk is the most common, though certainly you can use cream or half and half. I tend towards the latter.
    • Non-dairy milk can also be used. I recommend whatever you have that is the least sweet. Soy milk is a good option here.
    • Stock can be used alongside either type of milk to add a little meaty (or mushroomy) richness
    • Alternatively, if you are lacking all of the above, you can boil your potatoes longer and use a bit more of your fat of choice.
  • Fat
    • Butter is obviously the most beloved iteration. There’s nothing better than a pile of mashed potatoes with a melting pat on the top.
    • OR IS THERE? I personally prefer olive oil to butter in my mashed potatoes. Using a GOOD (this is the key) extra virgin olive oil brings out a complexity to the potatoes and the peppery notes of the oil.
    • Or mix and match! Often I’ll use butter with the potatoes and top with olive oil at the end.
  • Spice
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Roasted garlic is delicious in a mashed potato. Chopped garlic is also fine, but note that raw garlic is going to be a lot spicier than the former.
    • Herbs of your choosing, ideally fresh and chopped. Everyone loves a potato and chive.
    • You can also mix in greens here to add beautiful color to your mashed potatoes as well as textual and flavor differences. If you’re using a heartier green, make sure to blanch it first.

Add your fat and spice and then slowly add your liquid. Keep mashing as you go. Differences in the types of potato/root vegetable mixture, cook time, mash type, and peeling will change how much liquid you need. No need to follow a recipe. Keep adding slowly. Then mash or stir again, and taste. When the flavor and the consistency is as desired, it’s time to eat!

Top with additional fat of choice and any chopped fresh herbs you like. Eat when it’s piping hot and the fat of choice is wafting up towards your now-very-hungry face.

To gravy or not to gravy is another question for another day.

Comfort Baking: Easy Cinnamon Rolls

This week, I’m going to tell you how to make your own cinnamon rolls. They’re easy, tasty, and only require a few ingredients that you likely have on hand. And they come out looking like this:

First, you’ll need these ingredients as well as a whisk, a rolling pin, and a baking pan (circular or squared are both fine and will produce lovely results!)

1/4 ounce of dried yeast (one packet)

3/4 cup of lukewarm water

3/4 of a cup of warm milk or soy milk if you’d like it vegan

1/4 of a cup of white sugar

1/4 cup of butter, shortening, or Earth Balance if you want to go vegan

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

1 1/2 eggs (can use applesauce or a tablespoon of ground flax seed and a tablespoon of water for vegan recipe)

5 1/4 cups of flour

1/2 cup of melted butter/Earth Balance

1 cup of brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons of cinnamon mixed in

a splash of extra cream or soymilk

To get started, bloom your yeast in the lukewarm water. Let it sit until it is bubbly and activated.

Meanwhile, put your warm milk, sugar, butter/shortening, salt, and egg in a bowl and whisk it until it’s smooth. You can also use a handmixer or a Kitchenaide if you’re fancy.

Add the yeast to the milk mixture, and work in the flour a cup at a time. This will make your dough. Let it rise for about 15 minutes. Then take a rolling pin and roll your dough into a rectangle. You don’t have to make it perfect, but get it as close as you can.

Then, you’re going to pour your melted butter over the whole thing. Make it reach as far to the edges as you can without making a mess, like so:

Next, take your brown sugar and cinnamon, and work it evenly into the melted butter.

Starting at the bottom left corner, start rolling the whole thing into a nice log of deliciousness. When you’re done, it should look like this:

Using a very sharp knife, you’ll want to cut 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces off of it. Then you’ll fit those pieces into your pan likeso:

Now here’s a pro-tip for making the cinnamon rolls gooey — pour just a splash of cream over them before you pop them into an oven at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

If you’d like to make a glaze, you can use powdered sugar and a tiny bit of water, whisked together to a thick consistency (be careful when you add water, a little goes a long way). Or, if you want to be extra decadent, you can mix together half a package of cream cheese with some powdered sugar to taste, and a little cream.

Voila! You’ve got fresh cinnamon rolls and your whole family rejoices!

Infusing Oils

Today we’re going to talk about something that sounds very fancy. You’ll impress your friends so much that you may be inclined to write your own minimalist menus to put on their plates with things like:

Organic hanger steak
+
Frizzled leeks
+
Garlic sage oil

(More on frizzled leeks in future weeks.)

This week we’re going to learn several ways to infuse your own oils for dressings, flavoring, cooking, etc.

Infusing Oils

There are two methods to infusing oils: heat and time.

First you must determine what type of oil you want to use and what flavor you want to infuse it with.

Let’s start with oils. For an infused oil, I find that cheap is fine since the infusion is going to impart most of the flavor anyhow. Vegetable oil is excellent if you want a blank palette. Olive oil is going to have some fruity notes that will compliment spicier or more herbal infusions. Ultimately, though, choose what you like best, have around, can afford, etc.

Making leek oil using the heat method.

Next you need to determine what you want to infuse your oil with. Think about your favorite flavors to cook with. Do you like herbal notes? Brighter lemony notes? Extreme spice? We can make any of those things happen.

For your first infusion, let’s start with the simplest and most common item to infuse with–garlic.

Heat Method

When working with the heat method, place a saute pan on the oven and warm to medium heat. Then add 1 cup of oil. After the oil heats slightly, add 4-8 cloves of garlic (depending on size of clove and garlic love) and stir the garlic until it starts to brown (but not burn). This should take approximately 8 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the pan (though feel free to use this cooked garlic in future cooking projects, say a hummus?) and strain the oil into a container.

Leftovers from making wild garlic oil.

Suggestions for other items to heat infuse: leek tops, green onion, wild onion/garlic, sage, rosemary, etc. The possibilities are endless. (If you’re unsure about a flavor and want to test it, use less of the item and less oil to try out a small tasting batch.)

Time Method

There are two variations on this method which require a bit time (~20-30 minutes) and others that require a lot of time (4-6 weeks). Let’s start with the quick one.

So it’s salad night, and you need to whip up a quick dressing. No problem! Chop (or, even better, use your garlic press) one or two garlic cloves (as well as a pinch of any chopped herbs or dry spice you’d like to infuse) into a small bowl (ramekin ideally) and cover with olive oil. Let sit for at least 20 minutes; note that the longer something sits, the more flavor will infuse. Now whisk in your vinegar (or lemon/orange/lime juice of choice) until it emulsifies. Add salt and cracked black pepper. Now you’ve got a dressing!

If you’re looking for more complex flavors, maybe it’s time to start your own long-infuse. This is one of my personal favorite things to do when hot peppers are in season at the market. Here you want to think about the flavors you want to bring to your oil.

You can start with something simple. Have a lot of herbs? Add a few cloves of garlic and a spring of basil. Cover with oil. Strain the oil after 4 weeks. Boom! You’ve got garlic-basil oil.

Ready to get complex? Great! So think about flavors that you want to see together. Love cilantro? What does it usually pair with? Yep! Lime! And garlic! And jalapeños! So why not make an oil with all of those things? (Note, when using citrus in oils, cut the fruit into rounds rather than squeezing the juices into the oil.)

Cilantro, serrano, lime oil.

Don’t have fresh herbs? No worries! Dried herbs work just as well. Try bay leaf and peppercorn for a excellent couscous topping.

Again, this will need to sit for at least 4 weeks. You can strain the oil at this point or you can leave it to continue to infuse. Do note, though, that you’ll likely want to remove any leafy herbs from the mix since they can get funky after a month, which can cause your oil to grow mold.

What to Do with Your Infused Oils

Now that you have all these fancy oils, what do you do with them?

  • Salad dressings
  • Roasting vegetables
  • Finishing oils
  • Popcorn flavoring
  • Bean dip flavoring

You can also use it in place of a standard cooking oil to impart more flavor to meats or sauces. Just make sure to strain your oil before using.

Let us know what your favorite flavor combo is for your own infused oils in the comments!

Pizza with Pesto and Homemade Ricotta

This week, Erin showed you the many beautiful incarnations of pesto. Today we’re going to combine that recipe with two more easy ones to make something delightful — homemade pizza!

Yeah, deliveries are still up in many places, but I guarantee you once you make your own pizza you will never want to go back to Dominos. Today I’m going to provide two simple recipes to add to your repertoire — pizza dough and homemade ricotta.

Making cheese may sound like a daunting task, but it’s really just a few simple steps. Let’s get started there.

MAKING THE RICOTTA

To set up, you’re going to want a large bowl and a thin-mesh sieve. A lot of recipes will tell you to use a cheesecloth, but if you, like me, don’t have one, paper towels or just the sieve will work fine.

Next take 4 cups of whole milk, 1/2 a cup of cream, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring them to a boil in a large pot, then cut the heat by half. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of acid (lemon juice or vinegar work equally well). Stir constantly until the milk begins to curdle. It won’t look like much, in fact, you may still think you’re just stirring milk. But after a few minutes, pour it into your sieve and, like absolute magic, you’ll have this:

Let drain completely. It’ll sink a bit in the middle when more water comes out. Then, discard the liquid and cool your brand new, homemade ricotta! (I am so proud of you, making cheese like a goshdarn PRO!)

MAKING THE PIZZA DOUGH

This isn’t too dissimilar from making focaccia dough! You’ll need 1 cup of water (around the same temp as your skin), a teaspoon of sugar, and 1 packet (.25 oz) of dried yeast. Mix them in a bowl the same way you did for foccacia, and let them sit for 10 – 15 minutes until the yeast bubbles and becomes active.

Next, add 3 cups of all purpose flour (you may need to adjust this, like with any dough, for the humidity of the day, season, or your kitchen. Don’t be afraid to add splashes of warm water if you need to! You’ll want the dough to be smooth and elastic), one teaspoon of salt, and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Mix it all together by hand, knead until somewhat smooth, cover, and let rise in a warm place (it’s chilly in my apartment, so I use my oven, not turned on, for a proofing box) for around 45 minutes to an hour, until it’s light and risen and about doubled in size.

If you have a sourdough starter the recipe is even more simple! Combine a 1:1:1 ratio of starter, flour, and 90 degree water (ie, 1/4 pound of starter, 1/4 pound of flour, 1/4 pound of water.)

ASSEMBLING THE PIZZA

If you’re making a round pizza, you’ll want to roll the dough into a tight ball. You do this by cupping your hand around it and moving it in a circular motion on a clean, dry surface. You’ll want your thumb and pinkie tucking dough underneath as it circles. If the ball is too big, and you want to keep it big, use both hands for this same motion, tucking with your pinkies as you go.

Let the dough rise again, but less this time. Then, spray down the pan you’re baking on, and grease it again with olive oil. Stretch your dough out and over it and par-bake for about 10 minutes. Add toppings — in this case, tomato sauce, pesto, and ricotta. You can also just cover the whole thing in pesto, and add fresh tomato and dabs of ricotta.

Bake at 350 until it’s brown and crispy around the edges, and the sauce and cheese are hot.

Infinity Pestos

Like most home cooks, I started with recipes from chefs or foodie friends I admired. I bought the exact ingredients called for. I measured them with tablespoons and measuring cups. I followed every step called for, making sure to read all of the instructions before I started.

Which means when I first made pesto, it had to be made with the following items: sweet basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil. That’s it. Nothing else. Ideally you crush it all in a mortar like an Italian grandmother as well.

But I was also a poor grad student/non-tenure-line faculty member for a long time. (I’m still the latter.) So who had the money for basil and pine nuts and good parm? So I started changing out one thing at a time. Sub in walnuts for pine nuts? Actually really excellent! What if I don’t have Parmesan? How about this on-sale Aldi goat cheese? Even more excellent!

Ingredients

Eventually I realized that all pesto is basically the following things:

  • Greens
  • Seeds/nuts
  • Cheese (optional)
  • Garlic and/or onion
  • Oil

This means your greens can be pretty much anything–spinach, beet greens, garlic scapes, carrot tops, cilantro, parsley, radish tops, etc. The only thing I would probably avoid are more traditional lettuces like iceberg or Romaine simply because of the water content, but toss that spring mix in the blender! It’s good to go!

For seeds and nuts, I’ve used pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. I’m sure there are more. Just think about the saltiness and the flavor profile because this taste will come out more than you may think since pine nuts are less flavorful in traditional pesto.

For cheeses, I personally lean towards soft cheese like goat cheese or ricotta. However, hard cheeses that mimic the umami of Parmesan also work. Think manchego or an aged gouda. There are truly endless possibilities ,and it’s up to you to figure them out! Or, if you’re vegan, leave it out altogether!

Traditional pesto use garlic, but I also like to add some scallion or a little bit of something from the onion family to mine. You could include a bit of shallot or chives to add some oomph as well. (Or if you’ve got spring onions or field garlic growing in your front yard, toss those in instead. I love yard food!)

Finally, while the quality of oil does help, you’re going to need quite a bit of it, so I usually recommend whatever olive oil you traditionally cook with. (For me it’s the Aldi brand that’s $3.99 a bottle.) I also like to include a squeeze of lemon or a tiny bit of good vinegar just to help it keep it’s color longer if you’re planning on storing it in the fridge.

The Process

To make the pesto, just add all of the ingredient, minus the olive oil and lemon, to your food processor or blender.

Blend until all ingredients are equal size.

Squeeze your lemon (or add a splash of good vinegar) and turn to blend.

Slowly add your olive oil to the mixture until you’ve hit a desired consistency.

Eat immediately or store in your refrigerator for up to two weeks. Alternatively you can freeze your pesto in ice cube trays.

The Outcomes

Below are two different pestos I made this week.

Carrot top pesto makings.

Above are the ingredients for a carrot top pesto. This one (final version pictured at the top of this post) I was making as a dip, so I used my leftover homemade ricotta, pumpkin seeds, green onion, lemon, and olive oil. Note that by adding a 1/2 cup of cheese instead of the tablespoon or so I usually do, this takes on a more creamy and dip-like consistency. It’s still great on pasta or pizzas though!

Turnip green pesto makings.

Here I wanted to make a more “traditional” pesto to put on baked potatoes and rice this week for lunch. (Yes, pesto + rice is amaing! Put an egg on it, and it’s breakfast!)

This one includes turnip greens, sunflower seeds, cotija cheese, garlic, lemon, and olive oil.

The final version of turnip green pesto

Now you’re ready to get creative! Let us know your favorite combinations in the comments!

A Brief Introduction To Congee

Congee is a savory rice porridge that is eaten all over Asia. Also called kayu, juk, among other things, congee is a simple and comforting dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner depending on your mood and/or preparation.

What’s wonderful about congee is just how versatile it is. Add bacon and a runny egg, and you’ve got a breakfast iteration. Roast chicken and green onions with sesame oil, and it’s an entirely different dish.

The basics of congee are very simple. You need rice, water or broth, and your choice aromatics. You can also add meat directly into the cooking process for a bulkier version.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Add 1 cup white rice (any type) abd 8 cups of liquid to your stock pot. (Reduce water by 1 cup if using an Instant Pot.) Remember that broth we made last week? Now’s a great time to use it! I usually use a mixture of 2/3 broth to 1/3 water. However, you can play with it to your liking. And any broth/stock/bone broth/bouillon will do!
  • Now add your aromatics. I usually use 1 tbsp ginger, 1 tbsp garlic, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp white pepper. (Five spice powder is also an excellent addition here if you want a more traditional Chinese route.) If you’re adding meat (we recommend chicken or turkey on the bone), now is the time to do it.
  • Stir and bring everything to a boil, then turn it down and let it simmer, covered, until rice has come apart completely, approximately one hour. Make sure to stir it every so often so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Alternatively, set your Instant Pot to High for 35 minutes. Let the steam release naturally.

The final version should look something like this:

Congee fresh out of the Instant Pot.

Taste the congee to see if you need to add more salt. (This will depend on the salt content of your broth and your proportion of broth to water.)

Now comes the fun part–toppings!

Congee is truly a palette on which to work. Think about the flavor of your aromatics and then go from there. Some things I personally love on congee are:

  • Egg (either fried with a runny yolk or just the raw yolk from a farm-fresh egg)
  • Chopped green onions
  • Meat (cooked bacon, stewed chicken, grilled ginger pork, lemongrass meatballs, etc.)
  • Vegetables and/or tofu (sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, crispy tofu, etc.)
  • Diced kimchi or other fermented vegetables
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame seeds
  • Foraged greens or flowers
  • Chile crisp

The options are endless! Plus one cup of rice is now 4-5 meals, so this is about as economical as food gets. If you’re cooking for one, congee will last for a week in the refrigerator and can be endlessly rearranged to make different meals and use up what’s in your pantry or vegetable drawer.

Congee with raw duck yolk, preserved daikon, green onions, buttered leaks, and white sesame seeds.

Let us know some of your favorite toppings and share your pictures of your congee in the comments or on social media with the hashtag #apocalycious.