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Hand Crush Your Tomatoes, Says Julia Turshen (+ Other Bits of Kitchen Wisdom)

This week, members of our Cookbook Club submitted questions they wanted to ask Julia Turshen, the author of this month’s featured book, Small Victories. She answered queries on everything from why it’s worth taking the time to hand crush tomatoes (instead of just starting with crushed tomatoes) to what her go-to cookbook is.

Read on to see her answers on cooking, cookbooks, and don’t forget to vote for what cookbooks the Cookbook Club covers next.

A good morning for Perfume Genius and chilaquiles. ✨

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On Cooking

Sonia Hawkins: What’s your favorite kind of food?

Julia Turshen: My favorite kind of food is anything I get to eat while I’m sitting next to my wife. 


Chrissy Francis: Why should I hand crush whole tomatoes instead of using crushed to start?

Julia Turshen: I think the whole tomatoes tend to be a higher-quality product (crushed aren’t usually just straightforward crushed tomatoes, but rather the bits and pieces leftover from tomato processing). Plus it’s so fun to get your hands messy. And you get to keep them from being too crushed (I like irregular pieces). That said, if you want to save a little time (I know I do all of the time), by all means, use the crushed. 


Nanda Garber: When you say juice of one lemon, how much do you mean, approximately?

Julia Turshen: I would say approximately 3 to 4 tablespoons. I just hate measuring lemon juice and love just squeezing it straight from the fruit! 

On Cookbooks

Dara Vandor: Which cookbook is your go-to? If you could have dinner with one chef/baker alive or dead who would it be?

Julia Turshen: The answer for both is one in the same: The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis is my go-to book, and if it were humanly possible, I’d love to have dinner with her. And my late grandfather, who was a bread baker. 


Hayley Evans: What are your top five favorite cookbooks? (Excluding your own, wonderful though they are.)

Julia Turshen: Oh you’re so sweet, thank you. Edna Lewis’s book as I mentioned above, plus Lee Bailey’s Country Weekends, Ina Garten’s Parties!, Dr. Jessica B. Harris’s The WELCOME TABLE, and Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots

Brian Hogan Stewart: How did creating your own cookbook differ from working on others’ cookbooks? What was easier, harder?

It was much quieter! It was different and easier in many ways (less scheduling, less back-and-forth) and also harder (more responsibility and the work of promoting it and not just moving onto the next). I loved creating my own but I also love great collaborations. I’m so happy I get to do both. 


Joan Laws Osborne: I’m enjoying cooking from Small Victories and was wondering if you have plans for another cookbook.

Julia Turshen: Thanks so much! And yes!! Stay tuned…

Have a question for Julia? There’s still time to ask her—join the Cookbook Club today.

Vote for our next cookbooks

Cookbook Club books are chosen by you, the participants. To have your say on what cookbooks we’ll cover in July, August, and September, fill out this Google Form by Monday, May 22.

A Little Spice Goes a Long Way in This Vegan Breakfast Porridge

Last fall, I met a friend in Hudson for brunch at Rivertown Lodge, where I ordered their quinoa and oat porridge, devoured it in record time, and have since spent months dreaming about it. I recently learned that the dish (and Rivertown’s entire menu) was created by Jean Adamson, owner of Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn, who kindly shared the recipe with me. It read like many of the recipes in Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune: ingredients listed in bulk quantities (e.g. 2 boxes of almond milk, 10 cardamom pods), and instructions written for a line cook, each component of the dish cooked separately, followed by what to do at “pick up.”

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All these become a very satisfying breakfast.
Photos by Alexandra Stafford

To make Jean’s porridge, the first step is to heat almond milk with cardamom and bay, ideally fresh bay, the flavor of which Jean has “always loved in sweet things like custard and ice cream.” (She makes a chilled muesli in the summer with the same infusion.) The next step is to cook oats and quinoa separately, then unite them with the now-infused almond milk. Just before serving, the porridge receives a showering of garnishes: toasted almonds, flaked coconut, and fresh berries or soaked prunes.

I’ve been making this porridge nearly every morning for breakfast since learning the recipe, and while it’s a bit more work than other cooked-from-scratch hot breakfast cereals, it’s well worth the effort. Also, a little mise en place goes a long way: with cooked quinoa stashed in the fridge and the garnishes prepped ahead, making this porridge amounts to cooking oats and heating some almond milk with a single crushed cardamom pod and half a bay leaf, which impart the porridge with the loveliest spiced and floral notes. Playing restaurant at home has its advantages: an aromatic, light but satisfying, perfectly sweet porridge that comes together in a snap.

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Wake up and smell the coffee (and the bay leaf!)
Photo by Alexandra Stafford

When I spoke with Jean over the phone earlier this week, in addition to sharing her recipe, she passed along some kitchen tips and wisdom:

  • Cook the oats and quinoa separately. The quinoa cooks in about 20 minutes and the rolled oats in 10, so it’s best to keep them separate or neither will be cooked properly. (As noted above, this may seem like too much work for porridge, but if you make a large batch of quinoa—i.e. 1 cup of dried quinoa—ahead of time, you’ll have enough on hand all week to stir into your morning oats (or your evening salads).
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A good thing to do while listening to a podcast.
Photo by Alexandra Stafford

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Save a pot—cook quinoa ahead of time.
Photo by Alexandra Stafford

  • Don’t fear fat. Jean always cooks oats with a little bit of fat. Here, it’s coconut oil—this porridge happens to be vegan (and gluten-free)—but if you’re not keeping vegan, it could certainly be butter.

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Quinoa and Oat Breakfast Porridge

By Alexandra Stafford

  • 2
    cups unsweetened almond milk, divided, see notes above

  • 1
    cardamom pod, crushed with the flat side of a knife

  • 1/2
    a bay leaf, fresh is best

  • 1/2
    cup quinoa, red is nice for color

  • 3/4
    cup rolled oats, extra-thick if you can find them, see notes above

  • 1
    teaspoon coconut oil

  • 2
    tablespoons maple syrup

  • 1/4
    teaspoon kosher salt, plust more to taste

  • toasted coconut, toasted almonds, fresh berries such as strawberries and blueberries, for garnish

View Full Recipe

What’s your favorite restaurant-adapted recipe? Let us know in the comments!

This Company Wants to Hack Your IKEA Kitchen (Affordably)

Last month, two London-based designers, Tim Deacon and Adam Vergette, launched Plykea. It’s a startup committed to making bespoke plywood worktops, drawer fronts, cover panels, spacer panels, and doors that adapt themselves naturally to IKEA’s wildly popular METOD kitchen line.

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Photo by Plykea

Plykea grew out of the men’s mutual realization that there was no centralized node committed to simplifying a process that many homeowners tried to do on their own: to enliven their IKEA kitchens with a wider, more aesthetically-enticing array of materials than the particleboard offered to them. The two often found that re-outfitting IKEA’s METOD line with new, birch plywood fronts was unsettlingly expensive, a byproduct of this decentralization.

So the two teamed up to offer a solution to other homeowners suffering from this same predicament of trying to make their IKEA kitchens feel more personal without totaling their wallets. Both are pretty high-profile designers—Diacon is a co-founder of design agency Normally, while Vergette is an alum of furniture company Vitsoe—and they settled on a simple, obvious name, a portmanteau of plywood and IKEA.

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Photos by Plykea

I’m afraid that Plykea only ships within the United Kingdom for now, but they’re a mere month old. They’re hoping to expand to continental Europe and, eventually, the United States. Bummer! It’s a resource I imagine many people around the world could use. Let’s hope it lasts.

In the meantime, distract yourself with never-ending permutations of the Frakta tote.

Learn more about Plykea here.

Throw a Top-It-Yourself Pie Party, Never Choose Between Apple & Chocolate Again

Pie dough scraps are a beautiful thing. There are so many ways to create warm, golden, flaky bites of goodness out of them, agreed? Now consider the following proposal: Make your favorite pie dough recipe with no intention of baking an actual pie. Instead, roll the entire raw dough into a large flat rectangle, bake it in a rimmed baking sheet, and create a single heroic “scrap” of pie crust!

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A sight to behold!
Photo by James Ransom

This idea was inspired by a recurring dream: A gigantic rectangle of pie crust sits on a cutting board, surrounded by an array of sweet accompaniments (chocolate mousse, fresh berries, toasted nuts, whipped cream, roasted fruit, caramel sauce…). At the end of the night, the guests (we’re at a cocktail party, by the way) suddenly notice the freshly-baked pie crust and collectively lose their minds with delight. They tear pieces of pie crust with their bare hands, customizing each individual handful with a different combination of toppings.

We brought this dream to life, although in a (slightly) less hedonistic way: by topping the slab of pie crust with six distinct combinations of toppings, calmly slicing it into neat little squares, and happily stuffing our faces with tastiness.

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All Buttah Pie Dough

By Erin McDowell

  • 1 1/4
    cups all-purpose flour, sifted

  • Pinch salt

  • 8
    tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 1/4
    cup ice water, or more as needed

View Full Recipe

To make the pie crust, we suggest a double batch of Erin McDowell’s classic All Buttah Pie Dough. Make sure the raw dough has been thoroughly chilled in the fridge before rolling it out. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper, lay the rolled-out dough down across the rimmed baking sheet, and use a fork to dock (make holes in) the dough. For optimal pie crust, place the baking sheet back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Set your oven to 375° F. When your rolled-out dough is chilled, take it out of the refrigerator and place another silicon mat or piece of parchment paper on top of your dough. Top this with another rimmed baking sheet (this will prevent the dough from puffing up while it bakes). Cook the pie crust for 20-25 minutes. Remove the rimmed baking sheet and parchment paper from the top of the pie crust and bake it exposed for an additional 5-10 minutes at 400°, until the crust looks golden. For a deeper golden color, brush an egg wash over the dough and bake for a final 5 minutes.

Toppings!

We elected to use the following six combinations:

  • Chocolate mousse topped with chocolate syrup and shaved dark chocolate
  • Blueberry compote topped with toasted coconut flakes
  • Roasted apples topped with caramel sauce
  • Vanilla whipped mascarpone topped with caramelized pineapple
  • Macerated strawberries topped with candied ginger and chopped pistachios
  • Raspberry whipped cream topped with fresh berries

Of course, you can use any array of toppings that you want, from more esoteric items like fresh herbs and roasted sweet potato to simple ingredients like peanut butter and sliced bananas. Let your imagination run wild.

After cooking a giant pie crust inside the friendly confines of the Food52 test kitchen, I continue to believe that “family-style pie crust with accompanying buffet of toppings” is a brilliant dessert idea for large groups. And if you forgo the knife and cutting board, opting instead to rip into the warm pie crust with your bare hands, give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back, because that is how this dish was originally intended to be eaten.

If you throw a party and serve this pie crust with an assortment of toppings, please write a comment below to let us know how it went. Was it a success? A messy disaster? Both? We want to hear from you!

7 Types of Fruit Trees You Can Grow in Your Living Room

There are decorative house plants and then there are edible plants that you tend to in a tiny kitchen garden. But what about in between?

If you’re looking for an indoor plant that’s both decorative and edible, look to the world of fruit trees! While many grow to be enormous in the wild and are native to perpetually sunny conditions, there are a number of dwarf plants that will do just fine—and even fruit!—in a big pot in your living room. Proper care and conditions (and a reliable nursery for sourcing them!) are extra important if you want an indoor fruit tree to prosper, but with freshly grown produce is the goal (and no garden required), we have confidence in your drive. Here’s a primer on fruit trees that you can grow indoors.

1. Figs

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Now that you've seen this stunner, will you ever go back to fiddleleaf?
Photo by Another Ballroom (via Riazzoli)

Fruit?

If you want a fig tree that fruits, steer clear of the ever-popular decorative fiddleleaf—which won’t even consider it. Instead choose a small cultivar like Brown Turkey (also known as Negro Largo or Aubique Noire), which tolerates heavy pruning, is self-pollinating, and can thrive indoors. They’ll sprout pretty oblong leaves.

Planting & Care

The size of the pot you choose will factor into how large and productive your tree becomes (opt for a larger planter for more fruit, smaller if you need the fig tree to stay small). Water it about once a week, until it comes out of the drainage holes, and prune when it reaches the size you want.

Habitat

While inedible fig trees do fine in indirect sunlight, edible cultivars will need to be positioned in bright light—right in line with a northern exposure would be ideal. They don’t like the cold at all, so keep away from drafty doors and windows.

2. Lemons & 3. Limes

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Happy indoor lemons.
Photos by Atelier Rue Verte, Ode to Things

Fruit?

If you want to grow lemons and limes inside, opt for a dwarf cultivar that self-pollinates—like Meyer Lemon (which doesn’t require as much heat to ripen the fruit) or Kaffir Lime; they’ll yield the quickest crop and the plant will stay a manageable size.

Planting & Care

The best soil for growing healthy citrus trees is slightly acidic and loam-based (meaning 2:2:1 sand to silt to clay). They also like lots of moisture in the air—up to 50% humidity, ideally!—but you can simulate that environment by spritzing them regularly with water from a spray bottle. Let the soil fully dry out before watering.

Habitat

No surprise here: Citrus plants need a whole lot of sunlight—8 to 12 hours of it every day. Place your tree in the sunniest spot you have—better yet if it’s a room with double exposure (southern and eastern, say). And if you have any outdoor space, they’d appreciate a few months in the fresh air if you have a balmy summer.

More: A week of dinner recipes inspired by a bag of Meyer Lemons.

4. Olives

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Photos by Honestly WTF

Fruit?

Self-pollinating and prolific (a single tree can produce as many as 20 pounds of fruit a year), olive trees do not require much care compared to other fruit trees. When shopping for an indoor olive tree, keep in mind that many cultivars are purely ornamental, meaning they won’t fruit, but there are great indoor varieties that will: Consider an Arbequina—which is slow-growing and will drip water through the leaves (called “weeping”)—or a Picholine, which is more upright.

Planting & Care

Indoor olive trees need only be watered when the top inch of soil has dried out, and less in fall and winter when they take a natural rest.

Habitat

An olive tree needs at least 6 hours of solid sunlight each day. Place it near a sunny, south-facing window (but not too close or the leaves will frizzle).

5. Avocados

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Photos by Lessy Lu's, Morten Holtum (via Bolig)

Fruit?

To be clear, it’s very very tough to get an indoor avocado tree to fruit but it isn’t impossible. Instead of growing one from a seed (that is, the pit—see above left), seek out a grafted starter plant that has some tissue from a tree that does produce good-tasting fruit. Naturally small trees—like Wurtz, Gwen, and Whitsell—are your best bet, and they don’t have to be cross-pollinated to fruit.

Planting & Care

Add some sand to the bottom of a pot and fill in with regular potting mix so your tree doesn’t get wet feet, and water it regularly without letting the soil get sopping wet. Ripe fruit can be left hanging on the tree for a few weeks.

Habitat

Warm-season plants, avocados like lots of bright light. Right in line with a south-facing window is your best shot at finding it a happy place!

6. Bananas

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Photo by Hardy Tropicals

Fruit?

Some banana trees produce edible fruit while others produce fruit you can’t eat—and again you’ll want to get a dwarf plant—such as Super Dwarf Cavendish or Dwarf Red—so that it doesn’t grow too huge. They’re self-fruitful, meaning they don’t require a pollinator.

Planting & Care

Your banana tree’s soil should be light and peat-y; fertilize it monthly to keep it growing strong. They like lots of water due to their enormous leaves, but you’ll want to let the soil dry out fully between waterings. The leaves can be misted to simulate a humid climate.

Habitat

Lots of bright indirect sunlight is best, so set it up near a southern-facing exposure if possible. Rotate the plant periodically so that all sides get light.

7. Mulberries

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Photo by Logee's

Fruit?

Yet again, you’ll want to opt for a dwarf mulberry tree such as Dwarf Everbearing if you’re growing it indoors. The fruit of a mulberry tree, which will look something like a blackberry but smaller, should be picked as soon as it’s ripe—and the tree’s fruit supply will ripen over time rather than all at once.

Planting & Care

Regular potting soil works fine, as will regular watering! Mulberry trees are slow-growing and like roomy pots.

Habitat

A warm, bright, sunny space is best for your mulberry tree; move it to a spot with full exposure from spring through fall, if possible.

Note: This piece originally indicated that fig trees only require indirect light, but has been updated to clarify that edible fruit-bearing fig trees need lots of direct sunlight. This story is being re-upped from last spring.