Tips & Tricks

How To Open a Walnut Without a Nutcracker

Périgord Walnuts

I learned how to open a walnut with this cool trick this summer: Maxence and I took a little more time off than we usually do, and the three and a half weeks (three! and a half! weeks!) we afforded ourselves allowed us to embark on a mini-Tour de France to visit with friends and family: from Franche-Comté to the Vosges in the East of the country, then all sails South toward the Périgord, the Pyrenees, Toulouse, and finally Provence.

We ate like kings, as can be expected, and our luggage got heavier and heavier at every stop as we loaded up with various local treats.

The Périgord walnut wasn’t the least of them: about halfway through our trip, we happened upon La Maison de la noix, a shop entirely devoted to the brainy nut. In addition to all the walnut spreads and jams and terrines and cakes one could dream of, I loved that they sold four varieties of walnuts that you could sample — using their cool low-tech nutcracker — and compare.

“Oh, but you can just use any old knife,” she said, and proceeded to show me how, with a deft twist of the blade and very little force, she could tame the toughest walnut.

Most people think of the walnut as being a single thing — a walnut is a walnut is a walnut — but examining and tasting just these four side by side showed how wrong that is, as each displayed a different size and shape, and a different flavor profile, too. The one we liked best was the Lara, a jumbo walnut with a sweet, delicate flavor and very little bitterness. We filled up a big bag and went on our merry way, excited to share them with our friends at the mountain house we were renting together on the Ariège side of the Pyrenees.

But, as you might remember from my minimalist cooking kit, a nutcracker wasn’t part of my traveling arsenal, and the house kitchen — which was otherwise much better endowed than I’d feared — didn’t have one either.

When I shared my dismay with my friend Marie-Laure, she replied, “Oh, but you can just use any old knife!” and proceeded to show me how, with a deft twist of the blade and very little force, she could tame the toughest walnut.

Slip the tip of a knife at the seam

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Meal Planning Tips and Tricks

Planning the week's meals

I never dreamed I would one day become a meal planner.

For years and years, planning meals sounded achingly dull to me, and also pointless: I just kept a well-stocked pantry and fridge, and spontaneity was my middle name. In truth, I did formulate a plan for the fresh stuff I bought, but it was a fluid, unwritten one that was often altered or nixed when something came up, or I changed my mind, or I was short on time, or we felt like eating out.

And then, I had a kid.

I stuck to the same non-system for months, until I eventually realized it was no longer working for me. Rather than enjoying the delicious freedom of improvised cooking, as I had since my early twenties, I was feeling stressed trying to find time for meal preparation between work and child, and worst of all frustrated that I always seemed to be in a rush, cooking basic things that required no forethought and gave me no sense of accomplishment.

My cook’s soul was shriveling up, and meal planning was the obvious solution. A few months later, I am a much happier and more serene cook. I don’t plan our meals in writing every week — sometimes the mental plan is enough for me to wing it — but doing so regularly enough has helped me regain a sense of peace and control in the kitchen.

Meal Planning Tips: How I Do It

First of all, I only plan for meals I take with Maxence — my lunches are either simply assembled at home or eaten out — and in my household, breakfasts, desserts, and snacks can be trusted to happen satisfyingly without the need for planning.

I draw up my meal plan on Mondays, after I uncover the contents of my weekly vegetable delivery, and I also take into account:

  • A quick inventory of pantry or freezer items that I feel like (or need) using, plus leftover ingredients or dishes from the previous week (say, a container of homemade stock, some pesto, a few scraps of dough…),
  • The current list of things I’m inspired to cook,
  • A rough schedule for the upcoming week, to know when we’ll be eating in or out or having guests over, on which nights I’ll have time to cook, etc.

I give it a think, look through my recipe collections online and offline, do some research as needed for extra information or inspiration, and come up with:

  • A list of dishes and the days on which I plan to cook them, factoring in leftovers nights and wildcard meals (see below), and outlining what part(s) of those menus should work for our two-year-old,
  • A list of advance prep steps that can or should be done the day before (cleaning vegetables, soaking chickpeas, mixing the dough for a pizza or quiche crust, taking an item out of the freezer to thaw…),
  • A shopping list of missing ingredients, with the days I’ll be needing them so I know when to go to which shop.

This gives me a clear picture of what I need to do and when, so I can squeeze prep steps wherever they most readily fit in my schedule.

Read on for more on the 9 benefits and 7 “Yes, buts” of meal planning.

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6 Tips to Make the Most of Your Cookbook Collection

Notice how English titles are printed in reverse direction from French titles. It's good for stretching your neck when browsing.

Notice how English titles are printed in reverse direction from French titles. It's good for stretching your neck when browsing.

I’m sure your cookbook shelves are groaning as heavily as mine, and if I were to ask you how often you cook from them you might look away, embarrassed, and try to change the subject. Especially if your spouse, who regularly comments on the extent of your collection, is within earshot.

It’s not that you don’t want to cook from all these books; you do. It’s just that it’s impossible to remember what’s in them. And however well built their indexes (or indices), it would be pretty cumbersome to open every single one of them to look up, say, “Brussels sprouts” when you come home from the greenmarket on a chilly but sunny Saturday morning.

6 Easy tips to make the most of your cookbooks

It does seem a shame to let so much knowledge and inspiration go untapped, and here are six ways to avoid that:

  1. Sticky-tab appealing recipes, and regularly leaf through your collection to refresh your memory.
  2. In each of your cookbooks, list all the recipes you want to try, with page number, on an index card. Place that custom-made index in the front of the book for quick reference. (This also serves as a good decision tool to see whether you should really keep that book.)
  3. Take photos of (or scan) the recipes you want to try, and keep the image files, grouped together by book or dish type as you prefer, in a dedicated folder on your computer. (I use the application Tiny Scanner on my phone, and generate a separate pdf for each book.)
  4. Keep a top 10 list of dishes you want to try right here right now, referencing the cookbook(s) they come from. You could maintain a list without setting any kind of limit, but in my experience, the list grows too long and stops being useful.
  5. Pick a different cookbook every month or so, and challenge yourself to cook X number of recipes from it (make X realistic) before moving on to the next.
  6. Sign up for Eat Your Books, a cookbook recipe database that lists over 125,000 cookbooks, plus food magazines and blogs (you’ll find an index of C&Z recipes in particular). EYB allows you to replicate your cookbook collection online, so you can run searches for recipes, bookmark the ones you want to try, or have already cooked and enjoyed. It’s a brilliant service, and I’m only sorry it doesn’t cover the French half of my cookbook collection.

Join the conversation!

Tell me how you make the most of your cookbook collection: what’s your system? Do you even have a system? If not, what’s your greatest challenge?

Disclosure: The founder of Eat Your Books, Jane Kelly, converted my trial membership to a complimentary lifetime membership back when I first joined in 2010. When this post first appeared, it was a membership giveaway that I had arranged at my initiative. All opinions expressed are my own.

This post was first published in March 2014 and updated in January 2016.

How To Transport Your Knives

How To Transport Your Knives

When I went out and got my knives sharpened recently, I had to solve the question of how to transport them safely, and my intuitive idea was to roll them up in a kitchen towel.

When the guy at the shop handed them back to me to take home a week later, I was pleased to hear him say that this was the best method. I also noticed his fold was a lot neater than mine, so I thought I would share it with you.

Learning how to transport your knives

Naturally, if you’re a traveling cook who has to carry knives around frequently*, it might make sense to buy a special carrying case such as this knife roll, but if you’re only transporting them a few times a year to cook at a friend’s house or to get your blades sharpened, you can definitely save the money and use a simple kitchen towel.

The trick, as you’ll see in the animation below, is to pick one of your thicker kitchen towels, and to fold it so that the tips of the blades push against a double layer of fabric, so they won’t just slice through.

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How To Open A Pomegranate (In 4 Easy Steps)


When I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I met up with my long-time friend and fellow blogger Elise, who very kindly showed up with homemade chocolate biscotti, and a few pieces of fruit from her garden.

Among them was a pomegranate, and I had to pick my jaw up from the floor. To a Parisian kid, pomegranates (grenades in French) are super exotic, the kind of fruit that must grow in some faraway tropical forest with multicolored birds and monkeys flying around, the kind of fruit that should also (once the kid is all grown up and environmentally conscious) be eaten in moderation because of the carbon footprint.

Pomegranate juice is a gorgeous ruby pink color, yes, but do you want it polka-dotting your clothes?

Yet I adore pomegranates. I love biting into their little seeds bursting with tart juice, and I love sprinkling them on stewed vegetables and on salads, especially the raw kale salad with avocado and cilantro that I made a few times in San Francisco.

Showing you how to open a pomegranate

So I received this local pomegranate with great joy, and as I was about to cut it open and harvest the seeds — standing at Heidi‘s beautiful marble counter — I thought I’d take a few quick pictures to share the technique with you in case you’re new to this whole pomegranate opening thing.

(I have only just heard about this wooden-spoon whacking technique, and will have to try that next time, though I have yet to be convinced it saves that much time. Also: the violence of it!)

0. Before you begin, put on an apron and roll up your sleeves; pomegranate juice is a gorgeous ruby pink color, yes, but do you want it polka-dotting your clothes?


1. Using a sharp knife, cut a slice off the top and the bottom of the fruit, just to uncover the seeds. Make four vertical cuts all around the fruit, cutting through the rind just until you reach the seeds but not slicing into them.

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