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Canal House: Cook Something
Recipes to Rely On
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Learn to cook well with this Joy of Cooking for the Instagram generation from James Beard Award-winning cookbook studio Canal House, "the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue of the food world" (Bon Appetit), with 300 simple recipes to rely on for the rest of your life.
Canal House's Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer are home cooks writing about home cooking for other home cooks. From a lifetime of making dinner every single night, they've edited their experience down to the essentials: 300 simple and genius recipes that reveal the building blocks of all good cooking, and are guaranteed to make you a better cook.
Each chapter of Cook Something helps you master a key ingredient or powerful technique, moving from simple (a perfect soft-boiled egg, and how to make it uncommonly delicious) to ambitious (a towering chocolate souffle). Recipes for salad dressings, sauces, braises, roasts, meatballs, vegetables, and even perfect snacks and sweets help novice and experienced cooks alike reach for the perfect dish for any occasion. Inside, you'll find:
- Poached salmon with lemon-butter sauce
- Fettucine with ragu bolognese
- Oven-braised chicken with gnocchi
- French onion soup
- Canal House's classic vinaigrette
- Classic Italian meatballs
- Caramelized apple galette
- And so much more.
Filled with step-by-step photographs and indispensable kitchen wisdom, it is a perfect gift for beginners and an ideal reference for confident cooks.
Cook. Cook something. Cook something for yourself. Cook something for others. It will satisfy you more than you know.
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(why we wrote this book)
We cook to feed ourselves. We cook to celebrate. We cook to honor. We cook to bring people together. We cook to satisfy our cravings. We cook to remind ourselves who we are. We cook to give. We cook to feed the ones we love. We cook to nourish. We cook because we have to. Go ahead, please cook something.
THIS IS A BOOK ALL ABOUT HOME COOKING. It is how, with nearly a century of experience between us, we cook. Everyone needs a small cache of classic recipes: everyday recipes, weekend meals (when you have a little more time to cook), some special dishes for those big deal dinners, and of course, a way to tackle a holiday turkey. But you also need a helping hand to guide you through the process. Home cooking should be simple, but for too many people (especially young people), it seems intimidating. We love to share our kitchen knowledge. In fact, both of us have daughters, nephews and nieces, and many friends, young and old, who ask us kitchen/cooking questions all the time. We always take a work break, dry our hands, and answer them. We want to pass along what we have learned and encourage everyone to cook. It is our mission. Wholesome, healthy home cooking feeds both the body and the spirit.
What is it that gets in the way of cooking at home, even something simple on a weeknight? Everyone works and work now absorbs a lot more time, even after we “punch out”. Add in a couple of kids with soccer games and piano lessons, and you can see how cooking can fall by the wayside. Most of us think we don’t have an hour or two to spare each day to prepare a meal and sit down at the table to eat. How do you even begin? Dashing home in the evening, we all face the daily dilemma, “What’s for dinner?” Too often, it is easier to grab ready-made food, or shop one meal at a time with no strategy or planning. We both grew up in big families that always gathered together for dinner at the end of the day. The table was set, and the meal was served on platters that were passed from one person to the next. That’s where we were enlightened to the art of conversation and civilized table manners. So often memorable moments are celebrated at the table. These meals humanize us.
Good cooking begins with good shopping. Fresh, wholesome food is the starting point for any recipe, so find a really good grocery store. You want helpful service, fair prices for quality goods, and management that is willing to bring in what shoppers want to buy. After all, it’s the place we rely on when the garden has gone to sleep and it’s too cold for farmers’ markets. We keep things very simple and return to flavors that feel familiar. Our kitchens are stocked with a good supply of olive oil and Irish butter; parsley, chives, and other fresh herbs; bacon and pancetta; Parmigiano-Reggiano; good anchovies; canned tomatoes and tomato paste. We follow the seasons and look forward to their flavors as the year rotates: slicing, tossing, and grilling in the summer and braising and roasting in the winter. We anticipate asparagus and strawberries in spring, tomatoes in the summer, beets and squash in the fall.
There is good thrift in shopping once or twice a week. Then use what you have in your pantry of provisions to make what you want. Shopping every day can break the bank. Some weeks we might buy a big fat chicken. We cut it up, then use the parts to make weeknight meals like chicken soup (legs, back, and wings), chicken breasts poached in cream, and chicken thighs with kale and golden raisins. Or we cook pots of beans on Sunday to use in different ways throughout the week. Remember, leftovers are often the basis for the next night’s dinner.
We learned to cook first by watching, then doing. If you grow up in a house where someone is cooking, the kitchen is filled with indelible sights, sounds, and smells. These early experiences remain in our memories and become a collection of maps that help us navigate through our culinary lives. Real recipes are usually attached to stories of people and place. They can reawaken a memory or create something you’ve never experienced. If a recipe is good, it will keep the story and the people associated with it alive for a long time. We rely on recipes as they hold the nuts and bolts of cooking. But there is no such thing as a foolproof one, there are just too many variables in the whole process of cooking. That’s where your senses come in.
With enough experience you can almost learn to cook “by ear”. It happens all the time to us. Before the timer rings, a waft of vanilla and cardamom will float through the studio, then we’ll both look up at the same time and say, “The pound cake’s ready”; a stir with a wooden spoon can determine the tenderness of a pot of cannellini beans; and gentle pressure on a steak or piece of fish will tell us if it is done.
It’s good to remember that home kitchens don’t have the rigor of professional ones. It always strikes us as curious that novice cooks set such store in honing their knife skills and/or mastering techniques that you rarely use, like tempering chocolate. Chefs are überskilled with their knives, but they might face chopping bushels of onions or cutting up hundreds of ducks. They need to be Olympians. For home cooking you’ll need sharp knives; they are safer, and you’ll find the more you use them, the better your slicing and dicing will get. We don’t worry too much about special tools and intricate techniques. We focus our attention on the process: what are we making, what should it look and taste like, what is it supposed to be when it’s finished. Then we work toward that vision. Should the onions be sliced so they offer texture, or do we want them minced so they offer flavor? Is the flavor delicate or full and rich, straightforward or complex? We watch, taste along the way, fuss, or leave things alone, but we are always paying attention.
Every morning when we come to the studio, the first one there starts the coffee or puts the kettle on for tea. If it is cold, we light a fire and if it’s hot, we go outside to gather a few herbs or flowers. There is so much comfort in these rituals. In the past we traveled the world to eat, but now it’s our studio and its little garden that give us our center. We prefer to go slower, paying attention to simple moments often involving food: cream biscuits slathered with butter and apricot jam with a cup of strong black China tea on a rainy morning; a bowl of thick, soft noodles curling in golden chicken broth; cold leftover spaghetti bolognese for breakfast straight from a plastic container; or eating fat asparagus spears bathed in lemon butter with our fingers. Every day we stop to cook and eat lunch together. It’s usually simple, often leftovers, but always delicious and satisfying. Then at the end of each day we both go home to our families to cook and share a meal with them. Because after all, they are the ones that really matter.
And that’s what we hope for you, that you’ll find many things to cook in this book and eventually you’ll make those recipes your own. The everyday practice of simple cooking and the enjoyment of eating are two of the greatest pleasures in life. Eat well, be happy!
Our Favorite Fallback
Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken.
IT WASN’T STARTING WELL. OUR PLANE ARRIVED LATE. It was raining hard. All the shops and cafés were closed, and we were hungry. We drove through the dark streets, each of us silently wondering why we had left our homes to go on this adventure.
The house was remote, but the thoughtful landlady had left us a bottle of red and breakfast makings—a slab of butter, a wedge of cheese, a loaf of bread, cream for our morning coffee, and a carton of eggs. One lit a fire to warm up and cheer up, one opened the wine, poured two glasses, then cranked up the music—Van Morrison. We knew how to cure this homesick feeling—we’d make a breakfast dinner. The eggs were farm-fresh, we could see by their thick, clear whites and firm yolks as we cracked them into a bowl, then scrambled them together with heavy cream. Soon butter foamed, then sizzled in a slope-sided pan, the audible cue to add the eggs. A shower of grated cheese, a nudge and fold with a spatula, and two lovely omelets emerged. We sat in front of the fire in this new place, eating the familiar taste of buttery eggs, and felt at home. That’s the power of food.
Usually we eat eggs in the morning at breakfast, the most private of meals. It is the bridge between our state of sleep and our reentry into the conscious world. From dark to light, from dream to awake.
An egg is a sacred thing. The beginning of something, a symbol of the cycle of life. To break an egg into a saucer and slide it into gently simmering water is sacramental. How did anyone venture to eat an artichoke? It seems almost a challenge to nature. But the egg; this is an obvious gift.
We both come from big families, but neither of us ever experienced the pageantry of a Cleaver breakfast with June in pearls, heels, and an apron serving up pancakes and eggs. Instead, our family members, then and today, wander or rush downstairs to grab a cup of coffee to slosh on the ride to work or to sip quietly while reading the paper. But we love eggs for breakfast, and we both have childhood memories of eating eggs in an eggcup, almost a lost art. We used a small spoon to tap the fat round end of the egg, circumnavigating the shell, then lifted off the top to reveal a soft-boiled yolk and white. We plunged in with a small spoon or dipped toast soldiers into the runny yolks. Then there were Sunday breakfasts after church, with slices of fried ham with a golden crust topped with two fried eggs. Everyone loved the salty sweetness of the meat, the yolk like golden velvet, and the slightly metallic taste of the edge of the egg white. The best part: mopping up the drippings with slices of buttery toast.
We both love to poach eggs in simmering salted water, lifting and draining them with a slotted fish spatula, before placing them on buttered, toasted English muffins. Add a baste of butter on each egg, salt, and a few grinds of pepper. There is nothing better—except maybe the time we were on a truffle hunt near Aix and stopped by a farmhouse for lunch. We watched a woman sit at the hearth as she scrambled eggs in a big seasoned steel pan over the fire. When they were barely set, she shaved a shower of black truffles over them. The warmth of the eggs released their sensual perfume, infusing the eggs and the air around us.
The preparation—scrambled, poached, soft-boiled, coddled—is a preference most likely tied to childhood. We are no exception. We each like our egg cooked in a particular way. Take scrambled eggs: barely mixed eggs, streaked with yellow and white versus well-beaten eggs, pure pale yellow. Then the matter of consistency: very soft, barely cooked is loved by one but intolerable to the other, who prefers still soft but completely cooked. It’s a visceral thing.
One of our friends explains patiently whenever she orders eggs, “I would like my eggs fried hard. I mean really hard.” They rarely get them right. She just can’t eat them any other way. And we know a man who we would call a gourmand if that word didn’t sound so poncy. He’s forgotten more about food and wine than most people will ever know. But he won’t touch an egg. Maybe someday he will sit at our table and we will win him over with spoonfuls of delicately scrambled eggs. But we may have to throw in a truffle.
JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM…
THE COLOR: An eggshell’s or yolk’s color has nothing to do with its nutritional value, quality, or flavor. Hens with white feathers and white ear lobes lay white eggs; hens with red feathers and red ear lobes lay brown eggs.
THE SIZE: It hardly matters! Most recipes are written for large eggs. They are interchangeable with extra large eggs until you get to 5 eggs. Then for every 5 large eggs, use 4 extra large eggs; for every 6 large eggs, use 5 extra large eggs.
BUYING: Egg cartons from packaging plants that produce eggs graded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must display a Julian date, the date the eggs were packed. Although not required, egg cartons may also carry an expiration (sell by) date and/or a best by (use by) date. Expiration dates are included on some egg cartons, ensuring that retailers do not keep eggs on shelves past a certain date. However, eggs can be safely eaten 2 to 3 weeks beyond the sell by or expiration date. Look for the Certified Humane label which ensures the best practices for raising birds.
STORING: Under normal refrigeration (35F°–40°F), eggs can be kept for 4 to 5 weeks beyond the pack date or about 3 weeks after purchase. Store the eggs in their carton inside the refrigerator (rather than on the door, which may be slightly warmer). Eggs have 7,000 to 17,000 pores that (unfortunately) allow them to absorb other odors in the fridge.
FRESH TEST: Though the yolk takes center stage, it is really the quality of the albumen surrounding it that determines freshness. Thick albumen holds the yolk up, round and proud, right in the center of the egg. An off-center, flattish yolk surrounded by watery albumen is a good indication that the egg isn’t fresh.
1. SALTED WATER Very fresh eggs are tricky to peel when hard-boiled. The shell clings so tightly, it often tears and pockmarks the surface. Storing eggs in the fridge for a week or two before boiling them makes slipping off their shells easier. However, to peel very fresh eggs easily, we’ve come to rely on this trick: Add ⅓–½ cup salt to a pot of water (6–8 cups) and bring to a gentle boil.
2. BOILING WATER Adding eggs to gently boiling water takes the guesswork out of determining just when to begin timing your eggs. It also makes peeling them easier. Use a slotted spoon to carefully lower large eggs straight from the fridge into the gently boiling water. Boil the eggs in a single layer covered by at least 1 inch of water.
3. COLD WATER Unless you are making soft-boiled eggs, you need to quickly stop hard-boiled eggs from cooking beyond the desired doneness. Drain the eggs, then immediately submerge them in cold running water until they are cool to the touch.
4. CRACKING & PEELING Tap eggs on a hard surface, cracking them all over. Peel off the shell, starting at the fatter end (where the air sac is). Dipping eggs under water will help. If not using uncracked, unpeeled eggs within 4 hours, keep them in the fridge.
5. THE 5-MINUTE SOFT-BOILED EGG A perfect soft-boiled egg is a matter of taste. How soft or firm you like the yolk to be when you spoon into it will determine how long to boil the egg. A large egg straight from the fridge, submerged into gently boiling water and cooked for 5 minutes, produces a soft-boiled egg with a firm white and a warm, runny yolk that is just set around the outside. A perfect soft-boiled egg for some, just a minute shy of perfection for others.
6. THE 6-MINUTE SOFT-BOILED EGG If you want a soft-boiled egg with a firm white and a warm, jammy yolk just a bit runny in the center, this one will suit your taste. Submerge a large egg straight from the fridge into gently boiling water and cook for 6 minutes.
7. THE 11-MINUTE HARD-BOILED EGG We like the texture and flavor of hard-boiled eggs with a just-firm yolk, still moist in the center. Boiling large eggs for eleven minutes gives us these—our all-purpose hard-boiled eggs.
8. THE 12-MINUTE HARD-BOILED EGG We boil large eggs for 12 minutes when we want firm, dry yolks without the dreaded green ring (which indicates an over-cooked egg). We use these to make deviled eggs. The yolks pop out of the whites easily and make the fluffiest filling.
makes as many as you like
Before we started writing cookbooks, we simply boiled eggs by ear. Our instincts became so acute that we could “feel” when they were done. But then we needed times and temperatures, so we started paying attention to what we were actually doing. Here’s what we found: Keep the water at a gentle boil or vigorous simmer, as a hard boil may cause the eggs to crack. Older eggs peel more easily, so it’s best to use eggs that are about a week old. And, we have a trick! Add lots of salt to the cooking water, then douse the cooked eggs in cold running water, and the shells will peel off easily.
⅓–½ cup salt
Large eggs, any number
Choose a saucepan large enough to accommodate the eggs in a single layer. Add water to cover the eggs by about 1 inch (well submerged). But don’t put the eggs in just yet. Depending on the size of the pan, use part or all of the salt. Bring the water to a gentle boil over high heat.
Reduce the heat until the water is just bubbling. Give the water a stir to be sure the salt has dissolved. Use a large spoon and lower the eggs into the simmering water. Start the timer and cook until the eggs are done to your preference (see here).
Drain the eggs in the sink and immediately start running cold water in the pot to cool down the eggs. You can add ice cubes to really cool them down. Drain the eggs when they are cool enough to handle. Now they are ready to peel if you are going to eat them in the next few hours.
Tap the eggs all over on the kitchen counter, then peel off the shell starting from the fatter end of the egg (where the air sac is). This is easier to do under cold running water (see here).
Keep the uncracked, unpeeled hard-boiled eggs in a covered container in the refrigerator if you are not going to use them within 4 hours.
SOFT-BOILED EGGS TWO WAYS
makes as many as you like
As a rule of thumb, start with the best ingredients you can find. Eggs are no exception. A “farm-raised” egg with a sturdy shell, tight thick white, and deep yellow-orange yolk is not only a thing of beauty; its flavor is rich and round. Good markets, farmers’ markets, and roadside farmstands sell eggs worth gathering.
There are two ways we like to eat soft-boiled eggs, neither one better than the other. It just depends on the weather, or what we’re in the mood for that day.
In an eggcup—Place a just-cooked, still warm, soft-boiled egg (here) into an eggcup, fat end up (where the air sac is). Using a spoon or dinner knife, tap around the top third of the egg, cracking the shell as you go, and lift off the top, revealing the cooked white and soft yolk. Scoop out the white and pop it in your mouth. Eat the rest of the egg, spooning it straight from the shell, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and with warm buttered toast cut into narrow strips (called “soldiers”) for dunking into the soft yolk.
In a bowl—Using a dinner knife, cut off the top third of 1–2 still warm, soft-boiled eggs (here). Run a spoon between the egg and the shell, scooping the egg out and into a bowl with warm buttered toast cut into bite-size squares. Add a knob of soft butter to the eggs and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
These deviled eggs stand on their own but we often embellish the tops with a dab of harissa (Tunisian chile-spice paste), a fat cooked asparagus tip, shards of crisp bacon, chopped ham, prosciutto, a small spoonful of salmon roe, or a thin slice of cornichon (see here). We’re sure you will think of your own combinations.
12 twelve-minute hard-boiled eggs, peeled (here) and halved lengthwise
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pop the egg yolks out of the whites into a fine sieve set over a bowl. Set the whites upside down on a paper towel to drain before filling. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to press the yolks through the sieve. Fold in the mayonnaise, sour cream, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. (Or alternately use a food processor to purée everything together until smooth.) Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the filling until ready to fill the eggs.
Use two small spoons to fill each egg white with the filling. Garnish the eggs simply with fresh tarragon leaves or finely chopped fresh chives, or as you like.
—makes as many as you like
- ONE OF THE BEST AND MOST ANTICIPATED COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR
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- Sep 10, 2019
- Page Count
- 432 pages