Monday, October 26, 2015

Homemade Cloverleaf Buttermilk Dinner Rolls

Soft, homemade buttermilk rolls - Susan McWhinney / Getty Images
Susan McWhinney / Getty Images

These buttermilk yeast rolls are soft and fluffy and they're great for holiday dinners.

They're made in the cloverleaf style, which means that they're baked in a muffin pan with three little dough balls in each muffin cup. But you could also simply roll the dough into 12 balls and bake them on a sheet pan.

Besides adding a tangy flavor, buttermilk helps produce softer rolls because the lactic acid in it relaxes the glutens in the flour. I imagine bakers in ye olden times originally added buttermilk (which at that time was a byproduct of churning butter) to their bread dough because "why not? We might as well use it for something." And then discovered that their bread turned out not only yummy but also pleasantly soft.

Today, buttermilk is a cultured product (like yogurt) rather than a butter byproduct. If you haven't got any, and maybe there's a blizzard and you can't get to the store, there are a few ways you can make your own buttermilk so that you can still make this recipe.

You can also use powdered buttermilk, which is a good product to have on hand and keeps well in the fridge for quite a while. Follow the instructions on the container for mixing up one cup of buttermilk.

  • 400 grams all-purpose flour (about 3 1/4 cups)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup buttermilk, warmed to 115°F
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 3 Tbsp butter, melted, plus more for brushing the tops and greasing the pan
  • 1 egg
  • Prep Time: 90 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 115 minutes
  • Yield: 1 dozen rolls
  1. Butter a 12-muffin baking pan.
  2. Combine half the flour, along with the salt and yeast and stir until blended.
  3. Combine the warm buttermilk with the honey, egg and melted butter and whisk to blend. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until thick. Add the rest of the flour and stir until it comes together in a soft, sticky mass.
  4. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for about 7 to 8 minutes or until a smooth ball forms.
  1. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, then cut each piece into thirds, so you have 36 pieces all together. Now gently roll each piece into a ball. Don't roll them too tightly, though,  or your rolls will turn out like little rocks.
  2. Place three dough balls in each cup of your prepared muffin pan. Brush the tops with melted butter, then cover with a kitchen towel and set the pan someplace warm for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush the rolls with a bit more butter and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

More Bread Recipes:
Easy Bread Recipe
Whole Wheat Bread
Basic Dinner Rolls

Three Pie Recipes:
Pumpkin Pie Recipe
Pecan Pie Recipe
Custard Pie Recipe

9 Signs You Might Have Food Poisoning

Woman sitting on bed holding stomach, head bowed - Tom Le Golf/Photodisc/Getty Images
Tom Le Golf/Photodisc/Getty Images

The symptoms of food poisoning can vary depending on what sort of bug you might be dealing with, but there are definitely some characteristic signs that show up in most cases.

For example, Salmonella poisoning, the most common type of food poisoning in America, features abdominal cramps, headache, nausea, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms are quite general, and are likely to be present in pretty much every form of food poisoning you can think of.

Moreover, while you're in the throes of sickness, you may not be in the frame of mind to make a fine distinction between abdominal cramps and abdominal pain.

Food Poisoning or Flu?

Also, you might wonder whether the symptoms you're experiencing are really signs of food poisoning, or whether it's merely some sort of stomach flu or stomach bug.

In reality, though, the terms "stomach flu" or "stomach bug" are just expressions used to describe symptoms that are, for the most part, caused by food poisoning. In other words, if you have the stomach flu or a stomach bug, you probably got it by eating something that gave you a case of food poisoning.

For that reason, simply looking at symptoms isn't always enough to diagnose a case of food poisoning. You might also want to think about what you recently ate and where you ate it. For example, many people tend to feel a little queasy after their Thanksgiving dinner. It's easy to attribute that to having eaten too much, when in reality it may be a case of Salmonella poisoning.

So, if someone else who ate the same food also has the same symptoms, that's a strong indicator of a case of food poisoning.

This is an important point, because the question of whether it's a "stomach bug" or food poisoning may seem like a matter of semantics. But it's actually crucial to know, because if you ate contaminated food, you're going to want to know about it so no one else in your household eats the same food. Alternately, if you got food poisoning from a restaurant, that could be a major public health hazard and it would be important for the local health department to know about it.

Note that there's one special form of food poisoning, with its own unique set of symptoms and conditions, that we'll get to at the end of this article. Here, then, are some of the most common food poisoning symptoms, and some of their most likely causes:


Vomiting is one of the most common signs of food poisoning. This makes sense, because if you ate something bad, your body is going to try to get it out. Sending it back out the same way it came in is the best way to accomplish that.

Vomiting is one of the signs of food poisoning caused by the following bacteria:


Diarrhea is another common food poisoning symptom, and it's characteristic of the following bacteria:


Yes, even a headache can be a sign of food poisoning, but usually it will occur in combination with some of the other symptoms described here. Headache can be present in food poisoning caused by these bugs:

  • Salmonella
  • Listeria
  • Staphylococcus aureus (in severe cases)
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter jejuni

Abdominal Pain / Abdominal Cramping

Again, there's a pretty fine distinction to be made here, as it may not be so easy to isolate abdominal pain caused by cramping from some other type of abdominal pain. Nevertheless, this can be a symptom of some of these foodborne illnesses:

  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • E. coli (pain is severe)


Another very basic symptom and not so easy to quantify, nausea can range anywhere from a mild queasiness to vomiting and severe abdominal cramping. Like headache, it will likely present itself in conjunction with some of the other symptoms listed here. Nausea is among the signs of these kinds of food poisoning:

  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • Listeria
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter jejuni


Because the bacteria that transmit the illness are generally (but not always) causing an infection, one of the most common symptoms of food poisoning is a fever, as seen in the cases caused by these bacteria:

  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • Listeria (fever can be quite persistent)
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • E. coli (sometimes; can be mild)


Dehydration can be caused by vomiting and diarrhea, so it's another symptom that's difficult to distinguish on its own. Still, you may experience dehydration when suffering from any of these forms of food poisoning:

  • Salmonella (particularly in very young or very old people)
  • Shigella
  • Clostridium perfringens

Muscle Pain / Muscle Cramping

Another reason people sometimes mistake food poisoning for the flu is that the flu can cause muscle aches, and so can some forms of food poisoning, including:

  • Listeria (backache)
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Campylobacter jejuni

Botulism: A Special Case

Botulism is one of the most deadly forms of food poisoning, and it's caused by a bacteria that lives in an oxygen-free environment. This makes it different from other foodborne pathogens. Botulism also presents its own unique set of symptoms. You can see that they're quite different from the symptoms described above. Botulism symptoms include:

  • Fatigue / weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision or blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • Paralysis (in extremely advanced cases)

Here's an article that goes into much more depth about botulism.

How to Make The Perfect 5-Minute Omelet

How to make an omelet - Westend61 / Getty Images
Westend61 / Getty Images
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Some people are intimidated by omelets, but trust me: if you can make scrambled eggs, you can make an omelet.

Part of the secret is using the right tools. You should always make an omelet in a nonstick pan. The best choice for a 2-egg omelet is an 8-inch omelet pan, especially when you're first learning. But any nonstick sauté pan will do as long as it's round with sloped sides and between 6 inches and 10 inches in diameter.

But don't try to make a 3-egg omelet in a smaller pan. Once you've mastered the technique, you can move up to a 3-egg omelet, but you'll want to use a 10-inch omelet pan for that. (Here's a set that includes an 8-inch and a 10-inch pan.)

Also, you should always use a heat-resistant silicone spatula, so that it doesn't melt and so that you don't scratch your nonstick pan.

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: N/A
  1. Crack the eggs into a glass mixing bowl and beat them until they turn a pale yellow color.
  2. Heat a heavy-bottomed nonstick sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the butter and let it melt.
  3. Add the milk to the eggs and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Then, grab your whisk and whisk like crazy. You're going to want to work up a sweat here. If you're not up for that, you can use an electric beater or stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whatever device you use, you're trying to beat as much air as possible into the eggs.
  1. When the butter in the pan is hot enough to make a drop of water hiss, pour in the eggs. Don't stir! Let the eggs cook for up to a minute or until the bottom starts to set.
  2. With a heat-resistant rubber spatula, gently push one edge of the egg into the center of the pan, while tilting the pan to allow the still liquid egg to flow in underneath. Repeat with the other edges, until there's no liquid left.
  3. Your eggs should now resemble a bright yellow pancake, which should easily slide around on the nonstick surface. If it sticks at all, loosen it with your spatula.
  4. Now gently flip the egg pancake over, using your spatula to ease it over if necessary. Cook for another few seconds, or until there is no uncooked egg left.
  5. If you're adding any other ingredients, now's the time to do it. (See below.) Spoon your filling across the center of the egg in straight line.
  6. With your spatula, lift one edge of the egg and fold it across and over, so that the edges line up. Cook for another minute or so, but don't overcook or allow the egg to turn brown. If necessary, you can flip the entire omelet over to cook the top for 30 seconds or so. Just don't let it get brown.
  1. Gently transfer the finished omelet to a plate. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs if desired.
NOTE: There's no limit to the number of fillings you can use with this basic omelet recipe.

Some suggestions include:
  • Grated cheese
  • Sautéed mushrooms
  • Diced and sautéed onion
  • Chopped cooked bacon
  • Diced ham

Finally have an answer for "What's for dinner?"  Sign up to receive a new recipe every day for a week's worth of tasty inspiration.

Pasteurized Eggs: Where to Buy Them, How Do They Taste?

Davidson’s Safest Choice pasteurized eggs - Photo courtesy Davidson’s Safest Choice
Photo courtesy Davidson’s Safest Choice Rating

Pasteurized eggs are a great product for anyone who's got special concerns about food safety. But not every grocery store carries them.

A company called Safest Choice sells pasteurized eggs in grocery stores across the country, and they have a store locator to help you find stores in your area that carry them.

I got my hands on some and tried them out. The flavor and texture do leave something to be desired, especially for preparing basic egg dishes like omelets or scrambled eggs.

Still, pasteurized eggs provide peace of mind when it comes to food safety, particularly when preparing recipes that call for uncooked eggs. And if you're cooking for young kids, pregnant women, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system, the safety you get with using pasteurized eggs might be worth the flavor trade-off.

All things considered, I give them five stars for safety and peace of mind, and three stars for flavor — four stars overall.

Pasteurized Eggs: Pros & Cons

Eggs carry salmonella, which is the leading cause of food poisoning in the United States. Cooking kills the salmonella bacteria, but that still leaves two problems.

One, some recipes, like eggnog, spaghetti carbonara and Caesar salad dressing, call for uncooked eggs.

And two, even when preparing cooked eggs, you run the risk of cross-contamination. A little speck of raw egg on your hands or cutting board can be transferred to something else and ultimately make someone sick.

The solution is to use pasteurized eggs. Pasteurized eggs are gently heated in their shells, just enough to kill the bacteria but not enough to actually cook the egg, making them safe to use in any recipe that calls for uncooked or partially cooked eggs.

Note that poached eggs and eggs prepared over-easy or sunnyside-up aren't fully cooked.

Moreover, because of cross-contamination risk, if you're cooking for someone in one of the categories mentioned above, you might want to use pasteurized eggs anyway.

Safest Choice Pasteurized Eggs

That's where Safest Choice eggs come in.

For a long time, the only pasteurized egg products that were available to consumers were liquid eggs or liquid egg whites. It was difficult, if not impossible, to find pasteurized shell eggs in a normal grocery store.

And while Safest Choice eggs aren't available everywhere, they are getting their products into more and more stores across the country. And they'll send you some coupons if you fill out a survey on their web site. (I never actually got my coupons, so I can't totally vouch for that, but they say they'll send you some.)

In any case, if you're into food safety, Safest Choice seems to be a company that genuinely shares your concerns.

That's the good news.

The slightly less-than-amazing news is that the eggs don't taste that great. Or rather, they taste okay, if a little bit flat or bland. That eggy flavor you want from an egg was a little thinned-out somehow. Maybe you wouldn't notice the difference. A little salt will help, in any case.

The bigger issue to me was one of texture. "Mushy" is not a nice word to use for describing eggs, but it's the word that comes to mind. The eggs just weren't as firm as regular fresh eggs — they definitely lacked some of that "bite" you expect from a properly cooked, fluffy scrambled egg.

Another problem is that pasteurized eggs are terrible for preparations where you want to whip the egg whites to get stiff peaks. The pasteurization process affects the ability of the proteins in the eggs to get firm. Unfortunately, that's just the reality of pasteurized eggs.

The obvious solution: use regular eggs for cooked egg recipes, and use pasteurized eggs for sauces and other recipes that call for raw eggs. That's unless you're cooking for someone in one of those high-risk groups I talked about before, in which case, safety trumps flavor.

Orange Simple Syrup Recipe

Orange simple syrup - Lisa Hubbard / Getty Images
Lisa Hubbard / Getty Images

Simple syrup is a solution of equal parts (by weight) sugar and water. It can be used to sweeten and add moisture to cakes and other desserts.

It's also handy for sweetening cold drinks like iced coffee and iced tea, since granulated sugar doesn't dissolve as well in a cold drinks as it does in hot ones.

There are also a slew of cocktails that use simple syrup, like the Old Fashioned and the Mojito.

The thing about simple syrup is that traditionally it's made by boiling the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. The resulting syrup is then cooled and then stored in a bottle or jar. You can infuse it with orange flavor by simmering orange peel in the syrup, which might be nice for brushing onto the layers of a classic genoise cake.

There are a couple of problems with this technique, however. One, if you should accidentally splatter a drop of boiling-hot simple syrup on yourself, you're going to be in a lot of pain. And two, the pot you used to simmer the syrup is going to be a pain to clean — so much so that you might prefer the pain of being burned by the stuff.

And also, you have to wait for it to cool.

Fortunately, you can make simple syrup without boiling. Just combine the sugar and water in a jar or bottle and let it sit for about 20 minutes, giving it a shake or stir every five minutes or so. Zero cleanup, zero waiting for it to cool, and zero chance of sustaining second-degree burns.

Still, boiled simple syrup will keep a lot longer, because boiling gets rid of any bacteria that might cause it to go bad. But we're talking the difference between keeping for three months with the stirred syrup versus more or less indefinitely with the boiled kind. So if you're planning to use it up quickly, the shaken version will work just fine.

Of course, if you're not cooking the syrup, you can't flavor it by simmering orange peels in it. But you can just stir in half a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice (per liter of syrup), or 1/4 lemon juice and 1/4 cup orange juice.

And if you're just using your simple syrup to sweeten drinks, feel free to leave out the citrus juice altogether.

By the way, you can buy a simple syrup kit which is basically a bottle with markings on it to indicate how much sugar and water to add. You just cork it and shake it up. Totally unnecessary, but still kind of cool and might make a nice gift.

  • 1 quart filtered or distilled water
  • ½ lb granulated sugar
  • Peels of about 3 oranges, sliced
  • Prep Time: 0 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 liter
  1. Combine the water, sugar and orange peels in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir to combine, bring to a boil and cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat, remove the peels and let the syrup cool. Transfer to a bottle or jar. Store in the fridge for longest life.

Blancmange? It Used to Be a Boozy (and Bougie) Dessert

Vanilla blancmange surrounded by berry sauce - Joris Luyten / Getty Images
Joris Luyten / Getty Images

Blancmange (pronounced "bluh-MONGE") is a classic French dessert, similar to panna cotta or Bavarian cream, which today is made from milk (or cream) and sugar, and thickened with gelatin (or cornstarch), and prepared in a mold or dish.

When the blancmange is chilled and set, it can either be served in the dish or mold, or turned out from the mold beforehand.

But this is a lot different from the way blancmange used to be made.

Traditional Blancmange: A Rare Delicacy

The earliest version of blancmange in classical French cuisine was made with the milk of crushed almonds, rather than ordinary milk. And it was thickened with a substance called isinglass, which was derived from the swim bladders of European sturgeon (aka beluga, as in beluga caviar).

As such, it was considered a delicacy, since isinglass was expensive and difficult to obtain. Plus, preparing the blancmange required the dish to be submerged for several hours in crushed ice, which (other than during the wintertime) was only available to the very wealthiest people.

The word blancmange translates literally into "white food," from "blanc" (the French word for "white") and "mange" (the French word for "eat").

Indeed, the earliest blancmanges were prized for their whiteness and their smoothness. Which makes sense when one considers the fact that it was made by pounding blanched almonds into a fine paste using a mortar and pestle, then diluting with water and squeezing the the resulting almond milk through a cloth napkin.

Thus its whiteness was a function of how thoroughly the almond milk was extracted from the almonds; and its smoothness (always prized in French cuisine) a function of ensuring that no small bits of crushed almond made it through the squeezing process.

Additionally, traditional cooks used a combination of sweet and bitter almonds.

Sometimes they'd substitute hazelnuts or pistachios for almonds. Alternate flavorings including coffee, vanilla, chocolate, citrus and other fruits were also common.

Another important distinction: Blancmange was unquestionably a boozy dessert. Rum, brandy or flavored liqueurs were non-optional ingredients. A glance at a few modern blancmange recipes suggests that this practice has largely fallen by the wayside.

English Vs. French Blancmange

At some point in the recipe's evolution, isinglass was replaced by gelatin, which was much cheaper; and almond milk was replaced by ordinary milk (or cream) and flavored with almond extract.

This milk-based version is considered "English" blancmange, while the French version is still made using almond paste.

Note that the almond milk product that you can buy in supermarkets these days is a much weaker version of the almond milk made by pressing almonds, and it doesn't taste like almonds. So if you wanted to make a non-dairy blancmange, you could certainly use commercial almond milk, but you'd still have to flavor it with almond extract.

Finally, most modern recipes for blancmange call for thickening it with cornstarch rather than gelatin.

Basic Muffin Recipe: Simple and Easy

Basic muffins recipe - temmuz can arsiray / Getty Images
temmuz can arsiray / Getty Images
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Why a basic muffin? It's a good question. Assuming you want muffins, wouldn't you want them with blueberries or chocolate chips or nuts or raisins or, I don't know, something?

In response, I have three words: plain cake donuts.

In other words, sometimes you're in the mood for something simple. In fact, sometimes simple ends up being better. For one thing, you actually taste the muffin.

But also, sure, you might want to start with this basic muffin recipe and stir in a cup of something, blueberries, chocolate chips or whatever. And if you do, here's a tip: Add your stir-ins with the dry ingredients, rather than stirring them in at the end. Coating them with flour will help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins while they bake.

By the way, I heartily recommend using freshly ground spices instead of ground spices from jars, because those go stale quickly and lose their flavor. You can get whole cinnamon sticks and whole nutmeg and grate them using a spice grater like this Microplane.

Finally, if you want to spruce your muffins up a little bit, here's a recipe for a cinnamon streusel topping you can mix up in just a few seconds.

  • 260 grams all-purpose flour (about 2 cups) or pastry flour (2 1/4 cups), sifted
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 Tbsp butter (½ stick)
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 1 dozen
  1. Preheat your oven to 400° F.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
  3. Heat the butter in the microwave, in a microwave-safe bowl, for about a minute, until it's thoroughly melted. Set it aside at room temperature to cool, but don't let it solidify again.
  4. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and then add the sugar, milk and vanilla.
  5. Thoroughly grease and flour a 12-cup muffin pan (or use paper muffin liners).
  1. Ensure that the melted butter is warm but not hot. Pour a tiny bit of the butter into the egg-vanilla-milk mixture and stir it in. Repeat a few more times, adding a slightly larger amount of the liquid butter each time until it's all incorporated.
  2. Now add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and mix just until the dry ingredients are barely incorporated. Don't mix too long! Ten to 15 seconds at the most. The batter will be visibly lumpy, and you may see pockets of dry flour, but that's okay. Overmixing the batter will cause your muffins to be rubbery.
  3. Let the batter rest for 10 to 15 minutes, to allow the glutens in the flour to relax, and some of those pockets of dry flour to dissolve.
  4. Gently pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan and bake immediately.
  5. Bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Also see: Is it OK to Have Lumps in Pancake Batter?

Fresh, Homemade Salsa: A How-To

Fresh, homemade salsa - Danilo Alfaro
Danilo Alfaro

Years ago I did a semester abroad in Mexico, and one of the first things I did upon arriving in Oaxaca was to buy a 10-pound mortar and pestle made of solid basalt. This stunning act of shortsightedness meant that I would spend the next four months hauling a melon-sized chunk of volcanic rock around in my luggage.

It was called a molcajete, a traditional tool that's still commonly used for grinding spices and making fresh salsas and guacamole. But really, what was I thinking? They've been making them for 8,000 years, but I couldn't wait until the end of the semester to buy one?

I was just so excited by the way the molcajete combined flavors through sheer brute force. Which is why, to this day, I'm still a bit suspicious of salsas consisting of neatly diced cubes of tomatoes, onions and so on. A molcajete simply pulverizes all the ingredients, melding them into a satisfying melange of colors and flavors.

I don't still have the molcajete. It was super heavy, and too hard to keep clean. But I continue to believe that the best way to make salsa is to combine the ingredients as thoroughly as possible.

Fortunately, there's another kitchen tool that will achieve this same result. It's called a blender. It not only produces a superior salsa, but it's faster and much less tedious than doing it by hand.

Cilantro is Not the Only Herb!

The essential ingredients of salsa are tomatoes, onions, chiles, herbs, lime juice, and salt. Considering how many different types there are of chiles and tomatoes alone, this simple preparation can give way to a million variations.

It's a different story when it comes to the herbs, however. Most salsa recipes (including this one) specify cilantro, and cilantro is a wonderful herb to use in salsa. But there are others. For one thing, not everyone likes the taste of cilantro. But also, not every salsa needs to taste alike. Parsley, chives, tarragon, and even rosemary are good choices to substitute for some or all of the cilantro. Seriously, try fresh rosemary in your salsa. (Only the green parts, though, not the woody, stemmy parts.)

You're going to have to eyeball it when it comes to the herbs. If you're using cilantro, about 1/2 cup of whole leaves should be right. The same for parsley. With chives you might want to start with 1/4 cup of snipped chives. If you're using rosemary, start with one tablespoon. In every case, you can add more to taste, so there's no harm in starting with less.

Tomatoes, Onions and Chiles

This salsa recipe uses Roma tomatoes, but you can use whatever kind you want. Got cherry tomatoes growing in your garden? Use them! The same goes for onions — this recipe calls for white onions, but by all means try yellow, red, sweet, spring, whatever.

And now let's talk about chiles. Jalapeños are probably the most common, and they're a nice medium hotness. But substitute serranos peppers if you like, which are a little bit hotter, or habanero peppers if you prefer a much spicier salsa. But use caution, because habaneros can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times hotter than jalapeños.

Roasting Ingredients Brings Out Flavors

I absolutely love to roast the chiles when I make salsa. It brings out tons of flavors while also tempering the raw heat of the hotter peppers.

Heat up a dry cast iron skillet, place the chiles on it and let them sit there until they turn slightly black. Roll them around with tongs to blacken them all around. From there you can pull off the stems and add the chiles straight into the blender.

Or seal the roasted peppers up in a plastic bag for five minutes, which loosens the skins so you can peel them off. This isn't strictly necessary, but the skins can be difficult for some people to digest, and once they're roasted the skins peel right off, so it's easy enough to do.

You can do the same with your onion. Cut it in half, peel it and place the halves cut-side-down on the skillet until it's brown and caramelized.

For that matter, you can even roast the tomatoes. To do this, halve them, drizzle them with olive oil and roast them on a sheet pan in a 450°F oven for 10 to 20 minutes, until they're tender and wilted.

Once your ingredients are in whatever form you want them, simply purée them in a blender or food processor. Ideally you'd let the salsa sit in the fridge for a few hours so that the flavors can marry, especially if some or all of your ingredients are still warm from roasting. But if you're starving, you have my permission to break out the chips and dig right in.

Finally, if you're interested, here's a traditional Mexican molcajete that someone will deliver straight to your door instead of you having to lug it through airport security and all.

  • 1 lb (6 to 8) Roma tomatoes
  • 1 white onion
  • 3 jalapeño peppers
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs (but see above)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 3 - 4 cups
  1. If you're roasting the tomatoes, halve them and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and roast in a 450°F oven for 10 to 20 minutes. Otherwise, quarter them and add them to the blender.
  2. If you're roasting the onions and/or jalapeños, heat up a dry cast iron skillet. Halve the onion, remove the skin and place the onion cut-sides-down on the skillet along with the jalapeños. Roast the onion until the cut sides are browned and slightly caramelized. Roll the jalapeños around until blackened all around.
  1. Seal the jalapeños in a plastic bag for 5 minutes, then remove the stems, peel off the skins, and add the peppers to the blender.
  2. Roughly chop the onion and add to the blender.
  3. Add the herbs, lime juice and salt to the blender and process until thoroughly puréed. Transfer to a bowl and chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

What is Cannelloni?

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni - Georgia Glynn Smith / Getty Images
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni.  Georgia Glynn Smith / Getty Images

Cannelloni (pronounced "can-uh-LOW-nee") is a type of pasta shaped like a short, wide tube. Traditionally, cannelloni is made by wrapping sheets of fresh pasta into cylinders. But you can buy dried cannelloni at the store.

Dried cannelloni are more difficult to fill than the fresh kind, because with fresh cannelloni you can simply place your fillings on the sheets and then roll them into tubes. With dried cannelloni you have to sort of thread your fillings into the tube.

But it's not brain surgery.

Alternately, guess what? You can make cannelloni by boiling sheets of dried lasagna pasta and then rolling them into tubes.

Note that there's another large tubular pasta called manicotti, which is more or less the same as cannelloni, only it has ridged sides instead of smooth ones.

Classic Recipe: Cannelloni with Spinach and Ricotta

This classic dish is traditionally made with fresh pasta: flour and egg yolks are mixed together and then pressed into a dough. The rested dough is then flattened and rolled in a pasta machine into thin sheets which are cut into squares. So far, so good.

Meanwhile, cooked spinach is combined with ricotta cheese, egg and béchamel (a simple white sauce that happens to be one of the five mother sauces of the culinary arts), along with garlic, onions, salt and pepper. Other cheeses might also be added, such as Romano and/or Parmesan.

Finally, the spinach filling is spooned onto the pasta squares, and the squares are rolled into tubes and sealed with a little bit of water or egg wash.

The filled tubes are placed in a baking dish with a layer of basic red sauce underneath, and then topped with more béchamel and baked. It's good stuff.

Cannelloni Vs. Cannellini Vs. Cannoli

If you're like many people, you'll find it confusing that the word cannelloni sounds so much like the word cannellini ("can-uh-LEE-nee"), which is a type of white bean that's very popular in southern Italian cooking and is similar to navy beans or great northern beans.

Moreover, there's an Italian specialty called a cannoli ("can-OH-lee"), which is a tube of fried pastry dough stuffed with sweet ricotta cheese, which adds to the confusion not merely because it sounds the same but also because it's another form of cheese-filled dough-tube.

One time at a party, I said something about "cannelloni beans" and the person I was talking to looked at me like I had seven heads. So I came up with this system to keep them straight: Cannelloni has an "O" in it, which is like the tube in the pasta. Cannellini rhymes with "beany." And cannoli has the word "no" in it, as in "no, this is not a type of pasta or a type of bean." Foolproof.

What Are Collard Greens?

Plate of collard greens with smoked turkey wings and corn bread - Andre Baranowski / Getty Images
Plate of collard greens with smoked turkey wings and corn bread.  Andre Baranowski / Getty Images

Collard greens are a type of leafy green vegetable that is common in southern U.S. cooking.

Collards feature dark green leaves with tough stems.

They're a member of the same group of plants that also includes kale, turnips and mustard.

Indeed, collard greens share many characteristics with kale, turnip greens and mustard greens, and they're all typically prepared in the same way (at least in the southern U.S., which is where they're most popular).

In addition to being tough, collards can also be bitter. Both of these qualities can be remedied by long, slow cooking using moist heat.

The fact is, for all the culinary innovation happening in the latter half of the 2010s, it's difficult to imagine a better way of preparing collard greens than the tried-and-true method of braising them with a smoked or cured meat like a ham hock or turkey wing.

Nor is it clear that there is any need to improve on it. Sometimes a dish is fully realized, and apart from a minor tweak (like whether to include things like vinegar, garlic, hot sauce), the classic southern collard greens recipe is canonical.

It simply is what it is. Just like the best way to prepare skirt steak is by cooking it very quickly on the hottest surface available. You can season it different ways, but there's only one way to cook it.

The same goes for collard greens. You could choose to steam them for five minutes, or sauté them, but why? These alternate cooking techniques aren't refinements, they're novelties, like pumpkin spice martinis.

Preparing Collard Greens

Collard greens need to be washed thoroughly before cooking them, as they can carry a lot of grit in them.

But there's no point washing the parts you're not going to cook. So the first step is to remove the stems.

You can just fold the leaves in half lengthwise and trim the stems off with a knife. Or you can tear the leaves away from the stems.

Then fill up the sink with cold water and add the leaves. Swish them around a bit to loosen the grit, which will settle on the bottom of the sink.

Drain the sink, refill and repeat as necessary until no more grit settles on the bottom. Then chop the leaves up into 1-inch pieces and simmer them in enough water to cover them along with a smoked ham hock or pork cheek, smoked turkey wing, or turkey neck.

Note that simmering refers to a temperature range of 180° to 205°F, so the water should not be at a full rolling boil.

Separately you can sauté some onion and garlic, and maybe a sliced serrano pepper, and add them to the pot. When the greens are done (in anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes), remove the ham hock (or whatever you used), pull off the meat, chop it up and return it to the pot.

The flavorful cooking liquid, known as "pot liquor," is highly prized, and is especially wonderful sopped up with homemade cornbread.

Easy, Festive, Homemade Eggnog Recipe

Easy, festive, homemade holiday eggnog recipe - Lauri Patterson / Getty Images
Lauri Patterson / Getty Images
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Breaking news: Eggnog ought to taste like eggs.

This may not come as news to everyone. After all, it says "egg" right in the name. It's the first three letters in the name, in fact.

But you know those containers of eggnog you buy at the store? They can (legally) contain as little as one percent egg yolk.

Now, I don't know what sort of nog that 99-percent-not-egg stuff is, but it's certainly not eggnog.

Made properly, eggnog is essentially a drinkable custard — rich, creamy, boozy, golden-hued and festively spiced. And custard needs eggs.

Eggnog is Made Using Raw Eggs

In the case of eggnog, that means raw, unpasteurized eggs, and I say this as someone who has spent a good portion of his food-writing career spouting vague warnings about the dangers of consuming raw eggs.

And to be clear, it's a small but real risk. Let's put it into perspective, though. Current statistics suggest that driving to the store to buy the eggs is literally about a thousand times more dangerous than the eggs themselves. Over the years I've come to accept that consuming raw eggs, especially if they're fresh and have been handled properly, is very, very low on the list of things to worry about in life.

Having said that, people in a high-risk group, such as kids under the age of five, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system, should stay away from raw eggs.

But look: We're talking about eggnog here. Those first two groups of people probably ought to stay away from eggnog anyway.

Beyond that, though, if you can get your hands on really fresh, organic, pasture-raised eggs, this would be the time to do so. Not only are these eggs probably safer than conventional eggs, but they'll taste better, too.

What About Pasteurized Eggs?

So what about pasteurized eggs? If you can find them, they're a good option for anyone in the high-risk groups I mentioned earlier. The yolks emulsify just fine, so they're perfectly acceptable for making mayonnaise, or Hollandaise, or Caesar salad dressing.

On the other hand, the whites don't whip up as well, so they're basically terrible for making meringues or souffles or anything else involving whipped egg whites. Including eggnog. It's nearly impossible to get them to form stiff peaks, and it will take twice as long, and even then they'll start to collapse almost immediately.

I also find that pasteurized eggs can have an odd, funky smell. All things considered, fresh, organic, pasture-raised eggs are your best bet. Farmer's markets are a good place to find them.

But at a minimum, I encourage you to dig into the back of the egg case at the supermarket to find the freshest cartons. (Yes, I actually do this.)

Use the Best of Everything Else

So we've covered the egg part of the equation, but let's not forget the rest of your ingredients. If you're going to go to the trouble to get really good, fresh eggs, you should do no less when it comes to the other ingredients.

Like the half and half, the liquor, and certainly the nutmeg. Forget about those jars of ground nutmeg that are already stale before you even open them. If you do nothing else, buy a whole nutmeg and grate it yourself with a spice grater like this Microplane.

  • 6 whole eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 qt half and half
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • ½ cup brandy
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg, plus extra for garnish
  • Whole cinnamon sticks for garnish (optional)
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 generous servings
  1. Separate the eggs and collect the yolks in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer or a glass bowl.
  2. Using the mixer's whisk attachment or an electric beater, beat the egg yolks and ½ cup sugar until it's a light yellow color.
  3. Stir in the half and half, the bourbon, brandy and the nutmeg.
  4. Beat the egg whites plus the remaining ¼ cup sugar until stiff peaks form.
  5. Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk-cream mixture. Transfer to a refrigerator and chill for at least an hour.
  1. Ladle into cups, garnish with an additional dusting of freshly ground nutmeg and cinnamon sticks and serve.

Cooking with Cast Iron (Benefits and Drawbacks)

Cooking steak in a cast iron skillet - Jason Poole / Getty Images
Steak in a cast iron skillet.  Jason Poole / Getty Images

Cast iron cookware is cheap, versatile, and practically indestructible. If you treat it right, not only will your cast iron last pretty much forever, it will also develop an excellent nonstick surface.

Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron

Cast iron can get very hot, and it holds heat extremely well, making it perfect for searing meats. It can also go straight from the stovetop to the oven. Foods like steaks and pork chops turn out great cooked this way, because you want to get them brown on the outside but not overcook them in the middle.

Cast iron also happens to be terrific for deep-frying (or pan-frying, as in this buttermilk fried chicken recipe), because it holds the heat so well. One of the tricks to deep-frying is making sure the cooking oil stays at the proper temperature. If the oil isn't hot enough, the food can come out greasy.

In fact, a cast iron skillet is so versatile, you can use it for baking brownies, cornbread, pies, crumbles, cobblers, and even pizza.

You can also plunk it straight on the grill, which is great for caramelizing onions or even braising, when you might not want to heat up your kitchen.

By the way, another benefit is that food cooked in cast iron will actually absorb trace amounts of iron, which is an important nutrient and one that many people are deficient in.

Potential Drawbacks of Cast Iron

One downside of cast iron is that it takes longer to heat up than other types of cookware, and it also takes longer to cool off after you're done cooking.

It's also heavy — especially when it's full of food.

Using two hands, with two oven mitts, can be essential. And if you have one of those glass cooktops, be careful not to scratch or crack it.

And of course, cast iron does need a bit more maintenance than ordinary cookware, but it's nothing too intense. (Contrary to what you might have heard, it's perfectly okay to use soap on cast iron.

See How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware for details.)

Cast iron cookware wouldn't be my first choice for long braises involving tomato-based sauces or any other acidic ingredients. The acid can react with the iron and give the food a metallic taste. However, a cast iron Dutch oven with an enameled coating is perfect for that sort of thing.

Is Cast Iron Really Nonstick?

Let's compare the nonstick properties of a cast iron pan with a pan that has a nonstick coating on it (i.e. a Teflon pan).

A new cast iron pan takes time to develop its nonstick properties. When oil is heated in a cast iron pan, it reacts with the iron and forms an impermeable layer that bonds to the surface of the pan. Over time, this nonstick layer gets thicker and thicker, which is called seasoning.

Once that seasoning is in place, it'll stay there as long as you take reasonable care of the pan.

On the other hand, a Teflon pan starts out nonstick but gradually loses its nonstick coating over time, as it's scraped and scratched and otherwise abused. Not only that, but high temperatures cause the Teflon to break down and release fumes into the air.

Leaving aside the question of whether breathing these fumes is harmful to your health, if the coating has turned into fumes, then it's not on the pan anymore.

In short, Teflon pans become LESS nonstick over time, and eventually have to be replaced, while cast iron ones become MORE nonstick over time, and can last forever.

More About Seasoning Cast Iron

You can buy cast iron pans seasoned or unseasoned. Unseasoned means you have to season it yourself, which can be a messy process, and if you've never done it before, you might end up with a brand new pan covered with sticky burnt oil. As such, my recommendation is to buy your pan already seasoned.

It's a very slight seasoning, to be sure — nothing like what will build up after years of use — but it's enough to get you started. You'll want to use a bit of fat to cook (oil or butter), just as you would with any other pan. The more you cook with your cast iron, the more that seasoning will develop, until you can actually cook eggs in it without them sticking.

Here's a 12-inch pre-seasoned 12-inch cast iron skillet, which is a good size for pretty much anything you might want to do.