How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Roasted Peppers

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By Alaina Sullivan

Aside from color, a roasted bell pepper bears little resemblance to its raw counterpart.  After a stint in the oven, the skin becomes charred and wrinkly, sagging around the flesh it once held so tautly. The molten inside easily sheds its blistered skin – emerging incomparably more succulent and sweet than the raw version. The transformation is magical and delicious, and can easily be achieved in the oven, under the broiler, or over an open flame. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Pork Stir-Fry with Greens

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By Alaina Sullivan

In the time that it takes to wait for take-out, you could already be sinking your chopsticks into this savory stir-fry. Nothing more than pork and greens dressed in a garlicky soy-lime sauce, it is not only weeknight-dinner easy, but also a foundation for any number of variations (each more delicious and more fun than any take-out version). I used red chard here, but any green is fair game (bok choy, spinach, mustard greens, kale and collards are other great options).

The trademark flavors of lime juice and soy sauce create a bright, umami-rich sauce. If you want to give it extra kick, toss in a bit of lime zest and some crushed red pepper flakes. I also added a drizzle of toasted sesame oil (and sesame seeds too) for some nuttiness and extra crunch. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Rice Pudding in the Oven

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By Alaina Sullivan

Patience is a virtue with oven-cooked rice pudding. It takes some time for the rice and milk to warm up to each other, but when they finally do, the wait is rewarded. The foundation of rice pudding is incredibly simple — rice, milk and sugar. From there, the possibilities are basically limitless. I tested three versions using three different grains and three different milks: 1) Brown basmati rice and almond milk, with lemon zest, honey and crushed almonds (I particularly like the brightness of the zest here); 2) Arborio rice and rice milk, with coconut flakes and vanilla (exotic, rich, and very sweet); 3) Brown jasmine and regular cow’s milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pistachios (warmly spiced with a more subtle sweetness).

The arborio version achieved the creamiest consistency, while the brown rice delivered a coarser-textured pudding with a nuttier fragrance. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, but if you want to speed up the process and make the pudding creamier, pulse the brown grains in a food processor a few times before cooking. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Roasted Chicken Cutlets

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By Alaina Sullivan

Baked chicken wrapped in breadcrumbs immediately conjures up memories of the dry, bland versions I used to endure as a kid. (The kind where a vat of dipping mustard was essential and you needed a glass of milk to wash down each chalky bite.) This recipe is anything but dry or bland. Part of it is because the breadcrumbs are limited to a topping – they maintain a strong textural presence without sealing the chicken in a dusty coat. Using thinner cutlets instead of full breasts ensures that the ratio of crust to meat is just right. The other part of the equation is using fresh breadcrumbs – homemade crumbs from a decent loaf of bread will take your dredge to a whole new level. Add some fresh parsley and grated Parmesan to the mix and you’ve got yourself an easy and flavorful crust that makes the store-bought version all-but useless. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics. Continue reading

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Brownies

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By Alaina Sullivan

Despite its simple seven-ingredient roster, this recipe is rich, complex and sinfully delicious. I bolstered the classic version with some nutty additions: ground almonds were substituted for part of the flour, chopped almonds were folded into the batter, and I even sprinkled more on top before it went into the oven, just for good measure.

When it comes to baking, brownies live outside the “toothpick test” rule that signals the doneness of other baked goods (like cakes and quickbreads). Once a brownie releases a clean toothpick, it’s gone too far. The trick is to time the baking so that the top firms up just enough to seal the molten middle. A good brownie is fudgy and moist; a bad brownie is cakey and dry. When my batch emerged, still slightly gooey and studded with nuts, it was hard not to indulge straight from the pan. But if you have the patience to plate, you can’t go wrong with a slice a la mode. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Steamed Fish with Leeks

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By Alaina Sullivan

Steaming fish with vegetables is a foolproof way to serve up a main and a side dish in a single pan. The recipe for steamed fish in The Basics features a classic summertime cast of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, but I opted to go with a more seasonal variation featuring leeks. Simply sautéed in garlic and sauced with a little white wine, the leeks become a fresh-yet-buttery steaming machine.

A thick, mild-flavored white fish pairs particularly well in this case – hake was my pick, but cod or halibut would be great too. Set atop the bed of leeks, the fish cooks in the steam as the vegetables bubble beneath. Lid on, it takes just about ten minutes for the flesh to become perfectly opaque and flakey. The leeks finish cooking with the fish, and, brightened with Italian parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, are transformed into a delicious side. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Curried Chickpea Salad

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By Alaina Sullivan

Chickpeas – aka garbanzo beans –  have a distinct flavor and a meaty bite that make them exceptionally versatile for mashing, roasting, frying and serving in a variety of ways. Here they are used as the foundation for a substantial salad—one that is dressed in classic Indian flavors (curry, coconut milk and cilantro), and bulked up with red bell pepper and peas. There’s a ton of room for flexibility with this recipe—you could serve the salad with grains or greens, or change up the supporting vegetables as you like. But regardless of any creative tweaks, I highly recommend cooking your own chickpeas rather than using canned ones—it takes a bit more time, but the difference in flavor and texture is worth it. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics. 

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