Thursday, December 21, 2017

The No-Cost Gift

What’s cooking? Curried Squash &  Red Lentil Soup with Parsley Oil

In this Age of Acrimony, the Kitchen Goddess has been thinking that maybe we just need to start small, rebuilding trust and good will on a truly local level. So here are a handful of suggestions – admittedly, not all of which are no-cost, but we have to start somewhere...

The truly no-cost gift

1. Shake someone’s hand, and while you do, look them in the eyes and tell them how glad you are to see them or how much you appreciate what they do or who they are in your life. If hand-shaking seems inappropriate, try putting your hand on his/her arm or shoulder. Scientific research now correlates physical touch with a broad assortment of benefits, including decreased violence, increased trust, greater well-being in terms of reduced cardiovascular stress and increased production of white blood cells, and increased cooperation.

2. Hold the door open for someone. Expressing kindness to others, even strangers, makes you feel better about yourself.

3. Take a moment to tell a sales clerk “Thank you.” It’s a pretty brutal time of year for those people – they have to find the energy after work to do their own shopping. So say something nice to them. Especially grocery store clerks – you have no idea how many of them get little acknowledgment of their work or their presence in your life.

The low-cost gift

1. Drop a $5 bill in a Salvation Army bucket, and thank the man/woman in the Santa suit for helping out.

2. Pay it forward. Cover the cost of the car behind you in line at your favorite drive-through. At one fast-food restaurant in Canada, the spirit was so infectious, it caught on for more than 200 cars in a row.

OK, maybe this one might cost more than a little

If you keep your eyes open, you’ll find opportunities everywhere. In my grocery store the other day, the elderly man in front of me was having a hard time making his credit card work. “Let’s use this one,” I said, as I swiped my card through the machine. When he realized I was offering to pay for his groceries, he was so overwhelmed, I thought he was going to hug me. The clerk and I just grinned at each other. Made my day, I can tell you.

And in the spirit of feeling warm and fuzzy, here’s the Kitchen Goddess’s gift to you. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes in total (even with the chopping!), as long as you can find pre-cut butternut squash – if not, add another 20 minutes. It’s gluten-free and lactose-free, and it tastes like a quiet evening in front of a crackling fire.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) Ginger is one of those herbs or spices that pack a tremendous punch in raw form – so much more than the powdered stuff. It may be the most important ingredient in this soup, so make an effort to pick up a nice big piece of ginger root at the grocery store for this recipe. Freeze what you don’t use – peeled or unpeeled – there’s always a knob of ginger in the KG’s freezer, and it’s almost easier to grate in the frozen state. To remove the skin – even when frozen  use a veggie peeler or scrape the edge of a spoon against the ginger. Grate it on a rasp.

(2) The Omani lime I mention is a great flavor-enhancer for soups and stews, especially ones like this with a Middle Eastern flavor. Small limes boiled briefly in salt brine, they are then dried in the sun for several weeks, until they start to resemble..., well, something that’s been boiled in salt brine and dried in the sun for weeks. Dimpled, musty smelling, and almost black on the inside. Sort of like some of the lemons and limes in the bottom of my fridge’s fruit drawer. Only these are rock hard and have an amazing citrus flavor. An article in The NY Times described them as “one of those power ingredients that can transform a whole range of dishes with virtually no effort on your part.” The KG gets hers from – where else? – A 4-ounce bag will run you about $8.

(3) The parsley oil (or cilantro oil) isn’t a must but it adds another level of flavor to this dish. I know, it sounds very frou-frou, but it’s really easy to make and will last quite a while in your fridge. If you make it with parsley, use only leaves (the stems are bitter); with cilantro, you can use leaves and stems.

Curried Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Adapted from a recipe by Ruth Cousineau in Gourmet magazine, February 2009

Serves 4-6 (main course)


For the soup:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1 large onion, diced (about 1¼ cups)
2-3 medium carrots, diced (¾ cup)
2 celery ribs plus leaves, diced (¾ cup)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2½  tablespoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons mild (sweet) curry powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (can substitute ¼ teaspoon chili flakes or a dash of cayenne)
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 quarts water
6 teaspoons Knorr powdered Chicken Bouillon (or 3 large bouillon cubes)
1 dried Omani lime (optional – see Note above)
1-1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For cilantro/parsley oil:
½ cup chopped cilantro (or parsley)
½ cup vegetable oil or grapeseed oil
½ teaspoon salt

Accompaniment: cooked basmati rice (optional)


In a large heavy pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil until the foam subsides. Add the squash, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 20 minutes.

Add the curry powder, cumin, and Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes) and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes.

Stir in the water, then add the lentils, the Knorr powder, and the dried lime (if you have any). Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, covered, until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, make the cilantro/parsley oil: purée the herb of your choice in a blender with the oil and the salt.

Take the soup off the heat and stir in the lemon juice plus ½ teaspoon salt. Discard the dried lime. If you like a creamier look, purée a cup or two of the soup in a blender, and add that back to the pot. Season to taste with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle about a teaspoon of the herb oil on each serving of soup.

The original recipe called for serving the soup over Basmati rice, but the Kitchen Goddess prefers it straight, and only adds rice when there’s not enough soup for a meal.

Happy holidays to you all, and may the spirit of giving embrace you and guide you throughout the year.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens... The 2017 Gift List for Foodies

What’s cooking? Are you kidding? Who has time to cook?

Who’s on your shopping list this holiday season? A newlywed outfitting a new house or apartment? Someone whose kitchen got wiped out in one of this year’s natural disasters? Maybe you just need ideas for your own letter to Santa. Whoever it is, if your friend or loved one is food- or cooking-obsessed, the Kitchen Goddess has some great suggestions for you.

Disclaimer note: The Kitchen Goddess, being a paragon of virtue, has not received as much as a Christmas card for her endorsement of these products.

Stocking Stuffers

The Kitchen Goddess finds herself apron-deep in kitchen tools this year.

The latest word is that tongs are so 2000s, having been replaced by many in the professional world with tweezers. I know, you think tweezers are for eyebrows, but not these beauties. The extra-long 12-inch Tweezer Tongs by Kuchenprofi ($12.49 at are great for turning steaks or chicken or tender sea scallops, and much easier to use than traditional tongs. They’re also way better for grabbing a piece of pasta out of a pot of boiling water when testing for doneness. For plating food and picking up small items – as when you’re sautéing tiny bay scallops or fishing olives or capers out of those ridiculous jars – the smaller, 6½ -inch stainless steel precision tongs with offset tip by Mercer Culinary ($11.15 at are amazing. The Kitchen Goddess also prizes them for placing decorations on rollout cookies. Just about anything tongs can do, tweezers work better.

As much as the KG loves baker’s parchment and the labor it saves from not having to grease baking sheets or scrub to get them clean, those rolls of parchment never cut as neatly or easily as, say, wax paper. And then there’s the trick of trying to keep the corners from curling while you’re laying out dough on them. No more! The Kitchen Goddess has discovered pre-cut parchment sheets. Want to start small? The Smart Baker will send you 24 for $8.80. If you don’t need convincing, get a pack of unbleached sheets from EntreBake, where they’re $11.98 for 100 or $19.98 for 200. But if you’re going to buy 200 (the Kitchen Goddess’s choice, naturally), get the ones from 2DayShip, which sells 200 unbleached sheets for $12.99. All of these are at

Those people at America’s Test Kitchen will take on any challenge. Most recently, they spent a ridiculous amount of energy testing veggie peelers. You heard me. But the KG is not ashamed to take advantage of such studies. The one they liked best is the Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler (model 2212) – fast and smooth, with minimum food waste, cheap, and comfortable to use. And eight great colors. Winner winner lobster dinner! The KG bought five (she has stockings to stuff, too), and agreed with ATK on all points. You can buy one for $3.95 at Chef’s Resource (online), or $4.50 at Or get three for just under $10 at or Walmart or Bed Bath & Beyond.

In the KG’s humble opinion, you can never have too many strainers. The only one she doesn’t yet have is a chinois – a conical sieve with an extremely fine mesh. It’s used to strain custards, purees, soups, and sauces, producing a very smooth texture. It can also be used to dust food with a fine layer of powdered sugar or cocoa. A 10-inch version from is $23.49; but if you have the storage space, there’s a totally cool version, the Fox Run Food Press with pedestal, that comes with a stand and a pestle, that’s only $26.09 at Ace Hardware online.

Actual Gifts

I know, it sounds like a treatment at a high-end spa (and there’s another great gift idea!), but in truth, the Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is the latest in sophisticated cooking equipment. Sous vide (pronounced “soo veed”) cooking involves sealing the food in a plastic bag and immersing it in a water bath that is precisely controlled at a specific temperature. Eventually, the food reaches the same temperature as the water, and it’s ready to eat. (For meat and fish, you’ll still want to quickly sear the finished product to give it a more traditional look.) The low cooking temperature offers a few game-changing benefits: 1) meat remains juicy – never dry; 2) use of a specific temperature delivers a consistency that can’t be achieved with a stove, oven, or grill; and 3) there’s virtually no risk of overcooking.

High-end restaurants have been using this technique for years, and the equipment has finally gotten small enough for home use.

The folks at America’s Test Kitchen ran a bunch of  immersion circulators through their paces, and they recommend the Joule by ChefSteps. It’s not the cheapest around, but it’s small, powerful, and works via an app on your phone. How cool is that? It’s available in white polycarbonate for $179 (plus tax) at, or in stainless steel for $199 (plus tax). Free shipping.

One of the women in my book group told me she’d only recently purchased her first piece of Le Creuset. She called it a life-changing piece of cookware and she can’t believe it has taken her so long. I agree – on both counts. So if any of you don’t have the Le Creuset 5½-quart Dutch oven, or are buying a gift and don’t mind spending a bit of moola (best price I could find on these is $329.95 at Bed Bath & Beyond), there’s hardly a better gift for the money. Williams-Sonoma has a broader selection of colors, but you’ll pay an extra $36 in shipping cost for the privilege.

Actual Food

About a year ago in New York City, I ate at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, the birthplace of the whole ramen noodle craze in the U.S. A great lunch, the highlight of which was discovering Chang’s Ssam Sauce. This spicy, umami-rich seasoning can transform a bowl of ramen noodle soup into a near hallucinogenic experience. Now you could make your own, because the recipe is right there on the internet. But you’d have to go out and find two kinds of fermented chili pastes, and frankly, I’d just as soon skip that step. So I buy it online, at Momofuku Foods, where I gladly pay $7.50 per 11-ounce bottle. They’ll charge you an additional $6.95 for the shipping, but that same $6.95 is also the charge to ship up to five bottles, so get at least one extra while you’re at it. Or maybe go in with a friend and get more. It’s a great gift for anyone who likes Korean food.

At the end of the olive harvest, farmers in the Abruzzo region of southern Italy create special oils made by pressing citrus fruit simultaneously with the olives. The cold-extraction process releases the oil from the citrus peel directly into the olive oil, which makes the flavor clearer and more intense than with infused oils. While you can find it in tangerine and orange flavors, the lemon is the most widely known: Agrumato Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 200 mL ($25.54 on It’s a great finishing oil for any seafood, as well as grilled veggies and salads.

I know, buttermilk doesn’t sound like a gift. Read on. Why is it the milk industry doesn’t offer 8-ounce containers of buttermilk? I don’t know anyone who drinks it, and most recipes call for, ... oh, half a cup. But it adds moisture and flavor to baked goods, so you buy the quart – the smallest that stores have – and you keep it and you keep it, and maybe you throw another half cup into some soup or a salad dressing, and finally you throw it out because it’s about a month after the due date. Then the next week, you have to buy more for another half cup. The KG has the solution: powdered buttermilk. (The one pictured here –  and in my pantry – is Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend, which is $5.48 at Walmart.) It only needs refrigeration once you’ve opened it, and it’ll keep for 2-3 years(!). When you’re making something that calls for buttermilk, just stir the powder in with your dry ingredients and add water in the appropriate amount.


In 1998, New York Times food writer extraordinaire Mark Bittman published How to Cook Everything. Then, in 2007, he emerged with the definitive book on vegetarian cooking, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and in 2008, the Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition of How to Cook Everything. So you’d think he’d have covered the waterfront. Hah! This year, we have the Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (hardcover, $15.40 at This one is the usual doorstop (at 830 pages), but the first, to my knowledge, that includes color photos, which is a great help. And in an interview on NPR, he says this new version has less egg/cheese, and generally lighter cuisine. I didn’t get the first edition, but this one is remarkable – Bittman’s usual tips on cutting, cooking, and storing, as well as separate sections on soups, pasta, breads, and sauces, plus 150 pages of A-to-Z details on all the major fruits and veggies. I guess that is everything.

Winning the prize for the longest title is A Meatloaf in Every Oven: Two Chatty Cooks, One Iconic Dish and Dozens of Recipes - from Mom’s to Mario Batali’s, by Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer (hardcover, $16.32 at Two more New York Times journalists (Bruni was the Times’s restaurant critic for 5 years, and Steinhauer has covered Congress since 2010) got together one day and started talking about food. It turned out that both were fanatics on the subject of meatloaf. So they wrote a cookbook. The only criticism of note that I’ve seen is that it’s too chatty for some. But I like chat, especially about food, and 46 of 53 amazon reviews gave it 4 or 5 stars, with many commenting on how much they enjoyed the chat. It’s worth noting that the authors solicited recipes from a number of famous chefs, including Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, April Bloomfield, and Alex Guarnaschelli, and – in a nod to the Capitol beat – Republicans Susan Collins and Paul Ryan, and Dems Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Something for everyone.

Happy shopping!