Archive for December, 2010

Culinary word of the week: Slurry

If you’ve ever poured concrete or made a house of mud, you’ve worked with a slurry. In the culinary world, too, we are at times required to concoct a slurry, and we do it for the same reason as those others: To make something thicker and bind it together.

A slurry is just a mixture of liquid (usually water) and “insoluble” matter, according to the Merriam-Webster. When it comes to cooking, the slurry most often utilized is one consisting of cornstarch and water, such as the one we used recently in making cheese fondue.

In that case, we used the slurry to thicken the mixture of cheese and wine so it became one big, unified, melting pot of joy.

But there is protocol to making a slurry, and just as it takes liquid combined with cement to make concrete, we need both a liquid and a powder (i.e., cornstarch) to make a slurry in the kitchen.

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You, too, can make fondue

During these harsh winter months, there is a certain special recipe that warms the heart and soul like few others, a dish that’s as enjoyable to eat as the conversation that comes with it: fondue.

Yes, that ’70s staple is still around, tempting a new generation to dip into its lush, creamy, goodness. At a restaurant it can cost you an arm and a leg; at home it’s not only totally doable but creates an instant party in the process.

There are a few kinds of fondue, from chocolate that can be a dip for fruits, to sizzling oil that can be used to cook pieces of meat tableside. But when most people think of fondue, it’s that sumptuous mixture of wine and cheese, a wonderful combination if there ever was one.

To make the kind of traditional cheese fondue made famous in the Jura region of Switzerland and France, you basically just melt cheese in simmering wine, add some seasonings and then thicken it with cornstarch.

Kept warm at the table via a Sterno or a similar fire-emitting device, and you have an instant party favorite that is then dipped into with day-old bread, crudités (that’s fancy raw veggies, you know) or anything else that fits on a small fork and can be slathered with cheese sauce, which in my book is just about anything.

Who says grown adults can’t have fun with their food? Now, if you’re ready to get you own party started, I’ll show that you, too, can make fondue.

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Linguine and Clams = luxurious and cheap

When I was a boy, my mom on occasion would make a certain meal that tasted and felt like we were living in the lap of luxury, even if our family’s bank account indicated otherwise. The dinner was a treat, an Italian classic like the kind that generations of her family ate in their home country: linguine and clam sauce.

Now that I make this dinner regularly, I can see why my mom counted on it so often. Aside from it coming together in less than 30 minutes – my mother worked hard in an office all day, too – it’s delicious, healthful and, at about $3 a serving, inexpensive. It can feed a young couple like my wife and me for less than the cost of a bowl of soup at many restaurants, and when the recipe is doubled in portion, will still feed a family of four for around $12 or less.

Using canned clams not only cuts the cost significantly, but also makes the dish way easier to prepare: no cleaning the clams, pan-steaming them, and then having to pry the meat from the shells. Sure, canned clams won’t taste as good as fresh, but keep in mind that in this dish they’ll be complemented by additional flavorful ingredients such as mushrooms, onions, garlic and capers, all mixed in with the pasta.

I buy canned clams on sale just to make this dish, and recently found name-brand ones for $1.50 at Vons, and even cheaper at 99 Cents Only.

It’s one clam dish (literally) in which you don’t need a lot of clams (figuratively) to make. Here’s how to do it:

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