Stick To Your Ribs

For years, I’ve resisted the lure of corn ribs. Despite the fact that they were everywhere I turned, plastered over Instagram and Pinterest, playing on an endless loop in TikTok videos, it wasn’t hard. The whole concept was a turn off. Who really wants corn that eats like ribs, with all that sticky, messy sauce coating your fingers as much as the food? In age and wisdom, I’ve come to realize two simple truths:

  1. I need to take myself less seriously.
  2. Being messy and playful is the whole point.

The reason why it took off as a food trend is exactly why I couldn’t stand the idea to begin with, which is more of a personal failing than a dig on the social media complex. Yes, some of the appeal is novelty, like most “stunt food,” but it goes deeper than aesthetics. If you let yourself get dirty, digging in with both hands and throwing caution to the wind, you might just enjoy it.

Besides that, the technique yields effortlessly tender-crisp fresh corn with beautifully charred, lightly caramelized edges.

If BBQ isn’t your bag, there are plenty of alternative seasonings to consider for corn ribs:

To be honest, no further garnishes need apply. A touch of green scallion is nice for color and a gentle hint of allium flavor, but you can happily take those corn ribs from the kitchen to the table as is. When you want to pull out all the stops, that’s far from the only choice. Dipping sauce on the side is always welcome for a cooling contrast too.

More tasty toppings for your corn ribs includes:

An air fryer makes easy work of this recipe without heating up the whole house, but it’s a snap to toss into a conventional oven as well. Double, triple, or quadruple as needed to feed a crowd; the formula is flexible and infinitely scalable like that.

If you’re going to serve corn this summer, you might as well have fun with it. Stop worrying and learn to love the mess.

Continue reading “Stick To Your Ribs”

Make Pasta Salad Grate Again

Macaroni and cheese is the foundation of every childhood diet, often the first thing kids learn to make for themselves. Meanwhile, macaroni salad is the catalyst for every summer picnic or backyard barbecue worth attending. How is it possible that these two keystone American staples have never met before? The share the same beloved noodle and the same creamy consistency; what’s kept them apart for all these years?

Mind you, I’m not talking about leftover mac and cheese eaten cold, straight out of the fridge, due to sheer apathy or lack of energy. We’ve all been there and I think we can agree, that is not the pinnacle of culinary achievement the concept truly deserves.

This summer, let’s make it happen. Macaroni and Cheese Salad is the stuff of dreams, made in brilliant full color.

Like the original inspiration, it doesn’t take crazy ingredients, tons of time, or extenuating effort to make possible. Just some noodles, some cheese, and a craving to kick-start the process.

Enough noodling around. What is a macaroni and cheese salad?

It’s quite simple, really. Take al dente elbow noodles and toss them in a creamy, mayonnaise dressing along with your favorite cheese shreds, tender green peas, and a touch of fresh scallions, and that’s it! Like magic, the combination becomes increasingly irresistible overtime as the flavors meld and grow more harmonious. Like any any good picnic offering, it’s ideal for making ahead of time, sitting out like a champ all day, and tasting just as fresh as the minute you made it, regardless of the conditions. That means it’s also an excellent addition to any packed lunchbox for school, work, or travel.

What can you add to level-up your macaroni and cheese salad?

That’s an easy one, my friend. Think of all the things you love in either of the original dishes, and you’ll be golden. That means…

  • Rich caramelized onions
  • Crisp meatless bacon bits
  • Umami sauteed mushrooms
  • Spicy vegan pepperoni
  • Chopped tofu “eggs”
  • Wilted spinach or arugula
  • Fresh basil
  • And beyond!

At long last, this is the mashup the world has been hungry for, even if that need was never verbalized. Just show up at your next big summer shindig with a big bowl of this luscious pasta powerhouse, and you’ll be the guest of honor going forward.

Continue reading “Make Pasta Salad Grate Again”

Pearls Before Wine

Given the choice of any bottle on the shelf, red wine is probably the last variety I would reach for when I want a drink. Why, then, do I keep buying it regularly, and sometimes even more often than my preferred whites and roses? Few ingredients can unlock such a wide range of flavors, transforming an average dish into something spectacular. Red wine is my secret ingredient for many savory recipes.

The science behind cooking with wine really is fascinating. The alcohol content is almost completely nullified, leaving behind great taste without the buzz. Much like salt, the alcohol itself doesn’t exactly add to the final flavor but instead helps other elements taste more like themselves. It adds acidity for brightness, and umami for greater depth and savory richness.

Although you shouldn’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink, the very best bottles are not great cooking wine, especially when it comes to reds. Your best bets are a merlot, cabernet sauvignon, or red blend, and should cost somewhere between $3 to $15 a bottle. Choose a young (not aged) wine with low tannins, since these can impart a bitter aftertaste.

The best red wine to cook with, of course, is whatever you have leftover! That’s where this simple, comforting, yet dazzlingly luxurious side dish comes in. Acini di pepe take center stage, which are really just a fancy way of referring to pearl couscous in Italian. The Translation means “seeds of pepper,” which makes a final flourish of cracked black pepper only fitting.

Balancing out these intense, robust flavors, candy cap mushrooms introduce an unmistakably sweet flavor, shockingly much like maple syrup with an added earthy undertone. The combination is complex, nuanced, and truly greater than the sum of its parts. Even if you’re not much for red wines either, you’ll want to keep some on hand to whip this dish up in 15 minutes flat.

Continue reading “Pearls Before Wine”

Take a Leek

For anyone into “clean eating,” I must imagine that leeks are obvious nonstarters. There are few foods more likely to be covered in filth, no matter where or when you buy them. Fresh from the farmers market, packaged in plastic; even those that claim to be pre-washed conceal a mouthful of silt woven between those leafy layers. No one could call this clean by any stretch of the imagination.

Thankfully, unlike the toxic mindset of diet culture, this is a problem that’s easily remedied. Wash away all those nasties in one fell swoop, and your labor will be handsomely rewarded. Related to garlic, chives, shallots, and onions, you get hints of all the four in one, with a subtle sweetness that lends itself to pretty much any dish you might add an allium to. Unlike their more pungent brethren, leeks are mild enough to be enjoyed on their own, simply grilled or roasted.

Why isn’t there more love for leeks? I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the dirt. It’s because of the way they’re grown, like asparagus, with dirt pushed up around them to keep their stalks whiter and more tender, that large amounts of sand gets trapped inside. Think of them as diamonds in the rough, that just need a bit of polishing. If you can take the time to peel an onion, try to muster a bit more patience and reap the benefits of luscious leeks.

Baked until they practically melt in your mouth in a savory sauce laden with cheese, this creamy leek gratin is the unassuming side dish that complements every meal. It’s so creamy and luscious, it’s almost like if mac and cheese and creamed onions had a love child. There’s even a bread crumb topping to finish each bite with a satisfying crunch.

Don’t write off leeks for their dark, dirty roots. They’d happily clean up their acts if given the chance.

Continue reading “Take a Leek”

A Smash Hit

Forget about turkey and pecan pie; it simply isn’t Thanksgiving without potatoes. The greatest disappointment of my teenage years was a fateful Thanksgiving potluck where no one stepped up to bring potatoes. I haven’t spoken to them since.

Okay, so we exchanged a few choice words about the value of using spreadsheets for menu planning in the future, but I’ll never forget that lost year.

While you can’t go wrong with good old buttery mashers, smashed potatoes introduce a whole new textural element with crispy edges, making them even more compulsively edible with a drizzle of rich gravy aioli on top. After one taste of these spuds, no one could ever forget about the celebratory potatoes again.

Continue reading “A Smash Hit”

Be Thankful for Small Mushrooms

Taking a moment to pause and appreciate our good fortune is something we should really do all year round, but Thanksgiving is the only national holiday that calls for such mindfulness. As a celebration of a successful harvest, seasonal produce takes center stage, but that doesn’t always mean that fresh is best for every ingredient.

Believe it or not, dried Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms are a wiser choice than fresh for numerous reasons. They have much greater longevity, better flavor, and enhanced nutritional attributes.

By removing the moisture, they’re naturally preserved to keep longer, without the need for refrigeration, making them an indispensable pantry staple. Fresh mushrooms must be kept in the fridge for about a week, two at the most, while dried Sugimoto shiitake will keep perfectly at room temperature at least a year, springing back life as good as new when needed.

Long used in eastern medicines as natural supplements, shiitake mushrooms are rich in many vitamins and nutrients, but only when dried can those elements be concentrated and better absorbed. The drying process breaks down proteins into amino acids and transforms ergosterol to vitamin D.

Of course, most importantly for their culinary value, Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms are incredibly delicious because the drying and rehydrating process produces guanylate, a natural umami enhancer. Guanylate amplifies the umami taste of all foods, making dishes richer, bolder, and simply better.

That’s a whole lot to be thankful for right there. It should go without saying that these powerful little mushrooms definitely deserve a place of honor at your Thanksgiving table. I’ve got the perfect dish to grace your menu right here.

We’ve already talked about the best stuffed mushrooms, so what about… Mushroom stuffing? This one isn’t designed to be stuffed into a bird, of course. Some would say that it’s more accurate to call it “dressing” if that’s the case, but that’s an even more confusing title, if you ask me. Dressing is a liquid condiment meant to coat and flavor various side dishes, not something to eat as the side dish itself! Semantics aside, this is a dish that’s essential for any holiday feast.

Tangy, crusty sourdough creates a hearty foundation for this autumnal treat. Perfumed with savory herbs and umami mushrooms, one whiff could tide you over, at least until the meal is served. Chewy and soft in the center, saturated with stock while crowned with crisp, crunchy, toasted edges, each bite is a study in contrasts. Don’t forget the nutty flavor of caramelized browned butter infused into every soft cube of bread, adding luxurious layers of umami into a simple casserole dish.

There are many ways to make great stuffing, or dressing, if you prefer, but shiitake mushrooms should always make the guest list. This is the secret ingredient for an unforgettable feast that everyone will talk about for years to come.

Continue reading “Be Thankful for Small Mushrooms”