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In Good Taste

My apartment kitchen is small but mighty. It's a rental, it's fine. But sometimes I see someone else's kitchen and it makes my heart just ache. Case in point:

Barefoot Contessa - overall image

Now the bright and lovely Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa, (whose kitchen is pictured above) runs a veritable food empire, so she might have a few more resources than us ordinary people. Still, there are a few great lessons here for any smart home cook.

1. Eliminate Counter Clutter

Keeping the countertop clear actually makes you feel more efficient when you're cooking. And whenever possible, tidy up as you go. If you're planning a reno, consider adding pantry storage. I find staying organized keeps my head clear and I'm less likely to burn something, or myself.

Barefoot Contessa - the pantry

2. Add Casual Seating

Put in a few stools for guests near your countertop so you can prepare dinner and socialize at the same time.

Barefoot Contessa - Casual Seating

3. Use What You Have

If you own something beautiful, use it! Don't hide it away behind closed-door kitchen cabinets.

Barefoot Contessa - Open Cabinets

4. If all else fails, have a soak in the tub.

Especially if it looks like hers!

Barefoot Contessa - bath tub

See more kitchen design inspirations. You might also enjoy photos of Lynda Reeves' kitchen, a great example of all of the organization and design tips above.

Photo credits:
Photography by Simon Upton, published in 
House Beautiful

There are so many hidden treasures in the grocery store. Here are three of my favourites:

Herdez - Chipotle Peppers in Adobo


1. Herdez Chipotle Peppers in Adobo

Inside this tiny tin is a world of flavour. Chipotles are smoked jalapeños, and here they are packed in a rich "adobo" or sauce. They were once the "it" taste in the food world, but no matter how many chipotle chicken wraps the fast-food world dishes up, the flavour itself is still delicious.

Purée the whole can — chilies and sauce — and store in the fridge. The purée will last about two months. It adds a little or a lot of smoky mellow spice to scrambled eggs, turkey sandwiches, creamy pasta sauces, spread over a cooked burger, steak or pork chop, or mixed with soft butter and spread under the skin of a roasting chicken.

See more recipes with chilies.

Aurora - Diced Tomatoes

2. Aurora Diced Tomatoes

These are better than the average canned tomatoes because they are not at all watery. They are so useful, I buy them 4 at a time. Here’s my fastest weeknight supper: while a pot of pasta boils, sauté chopped garlic and chilies in olive oil, add one can of these, a glug of wine or water and simmer until the pasta is ready to go. Add black olives, feta and a tin of tuna to the tomato sauce. Drain the pasta, add to the sauce and dig in.

See more pasta recipes.

Patak's Curry Paste


3. Patak’s Curry Paste

I used to only make curries on weekends when I had the time to toast and grind the spices, mince the garlic, onion, ginger and chilies, and go through the whole rigamarole. Now, a weeknight curry comes together in 20 minutes: sauté sliced chicken and some chopped onion, stir in a generous spoonful of this curry paste, then add a tin of Aurora tomatoes (see above) and some water and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in some frozen peas and a handful of fresh cilantro. It’s ready (and ten times better than take out) before you can say “jai ho”. Check out our September issue for more recipes that use curry paste as a delicious, authentic-tasting time-saver.

See more recipes with curry.

Photo credits:
Claire Tansey

juicy hamburger for the summer

Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the season, but there is a hamburger frenzy happening in the food world right now. This summer’s trend? Make it yourself. And by that they mean everything — from the buns to the ketchup.

That might be a bit much. My own Perfect Burger is really simple. It’s all about buying the right beef — ideally from a good butcher and with a respectable percentage of fat in it (lean beef has very little flavour and moisture, leading to chewy, bland burgers.) With great beef to start, I just add salt and pepper and very gently shape into thin patties (they cook more evenly and you can eat two!). I grill them over really high heat so there’s a bit of a crust on the patties, then add cheddar, my favourite pickles (Strub’s Full Sour Kosher Dills) and toasted bakery buns. Mmmmmm.

Hamburger buns

But for a restaurant-style, over-the-top treat, you can start with a whole sirloin steak and mince it by hand (this takes time and a sharp knife but actually makes a huge difference.) And why stop there? You can also bake your own buns, make a special condiment (try our Green Tomato Chutney Recipe) and splurge on an amazing cheese (Canada’s own smoked Blue Haze would be incredible.) And after all this, you might even make a batch of your own fries to go with it — or even Ricardo Larrivée’s incredible Panfried Potatoes from H&H’s August 2009 issue. Serve these beauties at a proper dinner party — trust me, your guests will go crazy for them.

For more delicious burger recipes, check out our Best Burgers Menu.

Photo credits:
1. Gourmet’s
The Ultimate Burger
Light Brioche Burger Buns

grilling asparagus on cast iron pan

Local asparagus is still available, and while you might be tired of it, I say bring it on. But maybe it’s time for a new spin on the stalk.

Although small spears get more attention, experts know it’s the fat asparagus spears that are the tastiest. To prepare the stalks, fill the sink with cold water and let the asparagus soak for about 10 minutes. Then give them a vigorous swish to dislodge any little bits of soil from the heads. Hold each stalk near the bottom and bend it until it snaps off — this is the natural place where the asparagus stalk become very woody. If the remaining stalks still feel quite tough, use a vegetable peeler on them.

Creamy pasta with asparagus

My current favourite way to cook them is either roasted in the oven or grilled on the barbecue. I always cook twice as much as I’ll eat at one sitting — the leftovers make a great addition to creamy pastas, cheese and onion omelettes, frittatas, even tuna salad wraps.

Mario Batali's raw asparagus salad

But I’m going to try Mario Batali’s raw asparagus salad tonight. It would be a great alternative to the Sugar Snaps And Pea Tendrils Recipe from our July 2009 issue.

For another delicious asparagus recipe, check out our Roasted Asparagus With Bacon Recipe.

Photo credits:
The Kitchn

new knife in the family

Every cook has a favourite knife. It’s the one tool you can always depend on, whether you are cutting up an apple for a snack or carving ribs for a family barbecue. My own BFF is an 8” Henckels chef’s knife that I got when I was first apprenticing as a chef more than 12 years ago. I named it “Ken” (don’t ask). At the time it was the most expensive thing I owned, and I still use it every day.

Santoku - the new Wenger knife

But my new favourite is this little Santoku knife made by Wenger. The blade is short — just 5” — and yet it’s much more useful than a paring knife because the blade is so wide, and you can wrap all your fingers around the handle. It’s perfect for just about every little job, from trimming the ends off carrots to cubing chicken to slicing a pound cake. I find myself reaching for it again and again for any slicing job. I hope Ken isn’t jealous.

For a quick lesson in knife skills, check out this Bon Appétit article. Or for tips on finding the perfect knife, check out this Globe and Mail article.

Photo credits:
1. Angus Fergusson

Trust lowly broccoli to make a surprise comeback. Just when you thought locally-raised fiddleheads were the last word in trendy green vegetables, all sorts of pictures like this start showing up on the web:

Broccoli Slaw

Um, yes please!

Now instead of staring blankly at the broccoli display at the grocery store, wondering what I could possibly cook with it (besides the old stand-by stir-fry), I am daydreaming about making a giant dish of this Broccoli Slaw:

Broccoli Slaw in grey bowl

Affordable, hardy, beloved by nutritionists and moms and now a hot food trend, too. Well done, broccoli.

Photo credits:
The Kitchn

Cooking at home is the hands-down hottest trend in food right now, and what better reason to tackle a full-on, no-condiment-is-safe spring cleaning of the kitchen? Wouldn’t you love to have a fridge that looks like this?

clean fridge portrait

You will no doubt come across items that have got to go (bye-bye leftover buttercream). But you might also re-introduce yourself to interesting ingredients that have just been forgotten (hey there, French lentils!), and inspire your way to new cooking feats.

Mark Bittman has great hints in his article from The New York Times (though I respectfully disagree with his no-canned-beans policy).

And for true inspiration, read along with The Kitchn’s “The Kitchen Cure” here. It's a six-week series of posts aimed at whipping your kitchen into shape so you can cook more delicious foods than ever (and have a pantry that looks as neat and tidy as this next shot).

clean organized pantry

My own Achilles heel is duplicates. I found two open jars of Branston relish and a number of Parmesan rinds I’m “saving for soup.” And though the peach crisp I made didn’t quite use up all the two open bags of brown sugar from the pantry, it sure tasted great!

So what’s in your fridge?

Photo credits:
1. Fridge from Flickr
2. Pantry from The Kitchn’s “The Kitchen Cure”

Hummus parlours are popping up all over New York City like sprouts on a sandwich. Oh how I hope this trend catches on in Canada!

hummus restaurant

Exposed brick and sexy globe pendants in Hummus Kitchen in NYC.

Who doesn’t adore hummus, especially with tabbouli for a cheap-and-cheerful lunch or supper. Sure, we’ve got lots of falafel houses here in Toronto, but all that fried food leaves me a bit cold. Frankly, I am almost ready to fly to NYC for some hummus and a plate of Hummus Kitchen’s Super-Healthy Salad, with quinoa, apricot, walnut and yogurt over butternut squash.

hummus platter

Bring home a taste of Israel with one of these easy recipes:
Paula Wolfert’s Hummus from
Quinoa with Mango and Curried Yogurt from Epicurious.

Photo credits:
Hummus Kitchen
2. Cline

In the honeycomb of little jars of condiments at my favourite gourmet grocery shop, I can’t say what specifically drew me to this:

But now I can’t get enough of it. It’s spicy but deeply flavourful, like that mouthwatering intensity of sundried tomatoes. I add it to every pasta sauce, to soup, to mayo for sandwiches, to avocado for spicy guacamole, to scrambled eggs and omelettes, to Indian dal, to mashed sweet potatoes … you get the idea.

Usually when I buy some specialty condiment it wastes away at the back of the fridge. Suffice to say, this one is always at the front!

Photo credit:
1. Claire Tansey

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