Tips & Tricks

5-Ingredient Recipes

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Jules Clancy’s fantastic new book, 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes, and offered to give away three copies as prizes in a 5-ingredient recipe contest.

You collectively submitted nearly 140 five-ingredient recipes, all of which sound fantastic and provide a fascinating glimpse into your personal tastes and appetites. It’s been very difficult to pick just three — why, oh why do I put myself in these situations? — but I had to, so I elected Ms. C’s pan-fried tofu with kale and noodles, Rakhi’s mujaddara, and Pierre Pozi’s sardine boulettes (submitted in the French version of the contest). Congratulations! You will soon be receiving your copy of 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes.

And to thank you all for your invaluable contributions, I’ve collated your recipe formulas into a masterlist we can all dip into; recipe details can be found in the comment section of the original post. (If you read French, you’ll find even more 5-ingredient suggestions in the French masterlist.)

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How To Peel Onions Without Crying

Of all the kitchen inconveniences the cook has to live with, the one that generates the highest number of defensive strategies is no doubt the chopping of onions, and the associated teargas effect.

The reason why it makes you cry is explained in detail here, and if you like to read about enzymes and syn-propanethial-S-oxide, as do I, it is worth a read.

But to put it more simply, chopping onions causes the release of an irritant gas in the air, which, upon reaching your eyes, triggers a blinking and tearing reflex designed to wash it away. Yet another illustration, albeit an annoying one, of what a nifty machine the ol’ human body is.

Such an unusual tip could not go untested, so I soon tried it, using the butt end of a loaf of pain au levain and feeling both experimental and silly, but I am happy and amazed to report it worked perfectly.

Not all onions are created equal (the fresher the onion, the less you cry) and not all cooks are as sensitive, but this phenomenon explains the volume of tips and tricks floating about — some of them amusingly contradictory — designed to either hinder the release of said gas, or prevent it from reaching the eyes.

Some people rinse the onions in cold water after peeling, or chop them underwater. Some recommend keeping onions in the fridge, or plopping them in the freezer for a few minutes before chopping. Some chop from the stem end down, others from the root end up. Some recommend breathing through the nose, others only through the mouth, while others still hold a sip of water in their mouth, and try not to laugh and spit it out.

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Dehydrating Your Sourdough Starter

When people get curious about baking with a sourdough starter and I explain how it works, I can tell they are a little freaked out by this idea of keeping the culture alive, day in, day out, for ever and ever.

“This is too much responsibility,” they say, followed by variations on “This is why I don’t have kids!” or “Houseplants all die under my care!” and “What about my trip to Marrakech?”

I understand the sentiment, so I’m always quick to point out that a sourdough starter can be kept in the fridge for a little while without the skies caving in, and that if “a little while” becomes “indefinitely”, you can always dehydrate the precious blob into a dormant matter that won’t require regular attention.

This is a handy procedure if you’re about to go through a period of time when you won’t be able to care for it consistently or bake with it, but also if you’d like to share your sourdough culture with a friend who lives far away, and also if you’re smart and want a backup copy to restore in the event that your live starter has a disk failure (i.e. dies).

It’s very easy, and requires no special equipment.

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How To Tell When Meat Is Done

A few weeks ago, I read Tara Austen Weaver‘s book The Butcher and the Vegetarian, a memoir in which she writes about being brought up as a vegetarian and the challenges she faced as an adult, when she had to start cooking meat for herself to try to recover from a serious health issue.

The Butcher and the VegetarianIt’s a very good read, witty and honest, and even for readers like me, who don’t share her dietary background or meat-handling angst, there are a lot of elements to relate to in her story. I especially enjoyed the sections where she addresses the political and ethical sides of the meat question in a remarkably level and dispassionate way.

A number of things she wrote stayed with me after I’d turned the last page, but there is one short passage in particular, early on in the book (p.31), in which her brother gives a technique for testing the doneness of red meat. It’s a small thing, but I liked the tip so much I thought I would, in turn, share it with you:

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45 Things To Do With Fresh Sage

I recently remarked to a sympathetic friend how difficult it is to buy fresh sage around here. Sage isn’t used intensively in French cuisine, so it’s not part of the classic range of fresh herbs sold at produce shops or at the green market. But I enjoy its flavor very much, so I decided I would try and find seeds to grow my own.

Only days later, I walked past the sidewalk display of Etablissements Lion on my way home, and noticed that they sold potted sage plants that looked exceptionally healthy. I couldn’t resist; I chose the most beautiful one and adopted it.

It now rooms with our blooming strawberry plants on the bathroom window sill, but it is so bushy I thought I’d better start thinking of ideas to put it to good use. And I did what any modern person would do: I turned to twitter and asked, “What do you like to do with sage?”

The response was multicolored and inspired, and I thought it would be a pity not to share it with you. Surely there are other owners of expansive sage plants who would benefit. So here’s a compilation of the suggestions I collected — my sincere thanks go to the twitterers who kindly contributed their ideas.

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