Monthly Archives: February 2012

Best Breading Tools

As I was breading a bunch of chicken cutlets the other day, I decided to deviate from the one- wet/one-dry hand method I learned in cooking class. Others, I knew, used a fork or tong to dip and turn the item being breaded, and it seemed that approach might entirely eliminate the need go to the sink during the process. Not wanting to pierce the poultry, I tried the tongs.

As I moved the cutlets from flour to egg to breadcrumbs, the tongs quickly got gummed up with the mixture, forcing me to wash and dry them fairly often. While my usual method of using one hand for the flour and breadcrumbs and switching to the other for the egg isn’t perfect, I discovered that, for me, it’s still preferable. It necessitates fewer trips to the faucet and leaves me with one less item to wash in the end.

Cookbook Bonus

I’ve been perusing some of my favorite cookbooks and realizing how much helpful information is tucked into the introductions and conclusions. So if you buy cookbooks just to follow the recipes, you may be missing a lot of the meat.

At the beginning of The Gourmet Cookbook (Conde Nast Publications, 2004), editor Ruth Reichl lays out an excellent tip sheet entitled “How to Throw a Cocktail Party.” It includes practical advice such as how many hors d’oeuvres to make and how to store all that extra food, plus such sensible suggestions as suiting the food to the purpose of the party (nothing too messy or participatory at a formal soiree, for example).

At the back of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1999), author Ina Garten offers a chapter about “Assembling Party Food.” It consists primarily of two pages of grouped ingredients she assures us can be assembled at home to make wonderful courses that are “both simple and delicious.” Among many appetizer entries, there’s endive leaves, gorgonzola, and toasted walnuts; and stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, and toasted pita bread. Among the dessert ideas are chocolate sorbet, biscotti, and Vin Santo; and long-stemmed strawberries, sour cream, and brown sugar.

At the end of his book How To Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food, Mark Bittman assembles a list of the top 100 make-ahead recipes contained in it. It’s the perfect resource for anxious party-givers who are trying to build a repertoire of company meals. Among the recipes that qualify are: Spicy Grilled or Broiled Shrimp, Sautéed Chicken Cutlets with Wine Sauce, and Forty-Minute Cassoulet.

So when you have a spare moment, flip through your favorite cookbooks. You may find that you’ve overlooked some real treasures.

Fast, Flavorful, and Healthy

Applying a dry spice rub is one of the fastest ways to transform a boring piece of meat, fish or poultry into the flavorful focal point of a family or company meal.

I’ve been making my own dry rub for pork ribs, instead of drowning them in ultra-sweet sauce, ever since my husband was diagnosed with a high sugar problem. I leave out the usual brown sugar and even the salt, common in most restaurant rubs, but the result is remarkably tasty. My mixture, which I always have premade in my pantry, combines approximately two tablespoons of chili powder with two tablespoons ground cumin, one tablespoon garlic powder, one tablespoon black pepper, and one tablespoon dry oregano.

I lightly oil a rack of pork ribs and then heavily coat both sides with the rub, lay the rack on a baking sheet or broiler pan, and roast it at 180 or 200 degrees for three or four hours. To finish, I brush the ribs with a mixture of about ¼ cup white vinegar and about 5 dashes of Tabasco, and broil or grill (turning once) until brown on both sides. To perk up the flavor of the ribs, I baste them once again, before bringing them to the table.

While it’s easy to invent your own mixtures, I’ve discovered that some commercial combinations are worth trying, too. I didn’t think that I needed the collection from Dean & Deluca that I received as a gift a while ago, but it turns out to offer some surprisingly seductive blends that I never would have considered, and most of them are salt-free to boot. Some are intended for specific proteins (pork, poultry, seafood), while others feature regional or ethnic flavor profiles (Asian, Cajun, Moroccan).

So try some rubs and keep your favorites on hand. At the 11th hour, when you’re frantic about what to do for dinner, you’ll be happy to remember: Ah, there’s the rub!