Why You Need to Give Brussels Sprouts Another Chance

I can’t think of a vegetable more people grew up hating than the lowly brussels sprout. They would usually go straight from the freezer into a pot of boiling water, from which they emerged in a grayish, overcooked clump without any distinct flavor except one. Bitterness. The brussels sprouts of the 1970s and 1980s weren’t typically prepared well, and they didn’t taste good.

Fortunately, many adults today have learned how to properly cook and season vegetables, and there are more options for fresh produce than many people had access to in decades past. But there’s an even more important reason that brussels sprouts aren’t as horrible as they used to be – the actual sprouts themselves are much less bitter, and much, much tastier.

What happened? In the 1990s, a Dutch scientist named Hans van Doorn, who was working at the company Novartis (which at the time included a seed division) was able to isolate the chemical compounds that made brussels sprouts taste bitter. Dutch seed companies then cross-bred old varieties of sprouts that had low levels of those chemicals with modern high-yield varieties. After several attempts in test plots, they discovered some crops that weren’t as bitter. Eventually, this resulted in varieties of brussels sprouts that became significantly more popular.

When you start with a less bitter vegetable, it’s much easier to cook it in ways that bring out its pleasing qualities. One technique that works wonders is to halve the sprouts, toss them with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Then, pop them into the oven to roast at a high temperature, which makes their leaves brown and crispy. (Cooking them in an air fryer would also work well.) To add a touch of sweetness, toss the roasted sprouts with balsamic vinegar and either honey or maple syrup.

The result is a well-seasoned, flavorful vegetable that, even with the salt, oil, and sugar, is still relatively good for you and will disappear from your dinner table like candy on the day after Halloween. But if you want to make sure that there won’t be any leftovers, there’s one easy way to make your brussels sprouts taste even better – just add bacon.  

What I Ate: Roasted brussels sprouts with balsamic and honey

Brussels sprouts are much tastier than they used to be, thanks to science

Reader Q&A: Where’s the Best Place to Eat for Under $10?

It’s time to answer our first reader question! Today, we’re tackling cheap restaurants in North Seattle. If you have a food dilemma or a cooking conundrum, send it to seafoodhound@hotmail.com. Include your first name and initial and your location, and the answer may appear in a future post.

Where’s the best place in North Seattle that I can get dinner for $10 or less? – Arthur W., Seattle

Great question, Arthur! I’ve got a few ideas for cheap restaurants in North Seattle, where you can enjoy a satisfying and filling meal for the cost of a Hamilton. And as a bonus, you’ll get to travel around the world as you zip around city neighborhoods between Lake City and Aurora.

Our first stop is a taco truck that’s located between Northgate and Lake City on 15th Ave NE, just south of NE 117th St. At Loxicha Authentic Oaxaca Cuisine, you can get a plateful of street tacos plus a drink for $5.99 (four tacos) or $7.99 (six tacos). I’m partial to the tacos al pastor, juicy morsels of pork mixed with chunks of pineapple and accented by chopped cilantro and onions. For another budget-friendly choice on the menu, try a bowl with rice and veggies that can be topped with chicken, fish, or carnitas. Loxicha is cash-only, but you might want to bring a little extra to try their creamy, cinnamon-flavored horchata ($3.00).

Next, we’ll head up to Lake City Way, north of NE 137th St., to another cash-only establishment, Man’oushe Express. Here, you’ll get a taste of the Middle East, with almost everything on the menu under $10, including flatbreads called manakish that are topped with ground lamb, zaatar and cheese, or sujuk (spicy beef sausage). I’ve tried a few versions, and they were all well-seasoned and filling. If you’re looking for Mediterranean fare that may be more familiar, try the gyro or falafel plates, shawarma sandwiches, or the stuffed grape leaves.

Further south on Lake City Way, just north of NE 110th St., is one of my favorite sandwich stops, Tubs Gourmet Subs. The Italian combo sub includes ham, turkey, salami, provolone cheese, and vegetables on a toasted baguette. Order the small version ($7.99), and it should be plenty for a single meal, but a healthier appetite might make you want to add a few dollars to your budget and go for the large. Tubs also has a wide-ranging menu of beef, chicken, and vegetarian options, as well as sandwiches that nod toward every corner of the country, like a Texas turkey sub, a Southern sandwich with ham, bacon, and coleslaw, a Philly dip, and even a Hawaiian special with ham, pineapple, and “BBQ dust.”

When I’m hungry for an inexpensive meal, I frequently turn to banh mi, and a good choice on the north side of town is Luu’s Cafe (8507 35th Ave. NE). The Vietnamese sandwiches ($5.95) are served on a French baguette with the typical accompaniments of carrots, cilantro, and mayo, but also come with a smear of pate and some additional veggies. I prefer the BBQ pork version, but you can also get beef, chicken, or vegan meatball as your protein. And if you have room in your budget (and your stomach), try a macaron, a waffle taco, or a milk tea in one of 30 flavors, including ginger, lychee, pomegranate, and sesame.

Still feeling peckish? For our final stop, let’s stay in Asia and head west to Pop Pop Thai Street Food (13242 Aurora Ave. N), where several tasty entrees will feed you for under $10. Less adventurous eaters may want to order pad thai ($9.95), which comes with either chicken, pork, tofu, or mixed vegetables, or a rice dish like the spicy holy basil (also $9.95) that’s stir-fried with your choice of protein, green beans, and onions in a rich and flavorful garlic sauce. Other intriguing, budget-friendly options on the menu include a salted crab papaya salad, a Thai omelette served over rice, and a spicy chicken noodle soup with fish balls.

Happy eating, Arthur! Enjoy your excursions to the cheap restaurants in North Seattle and let us know what you tried! For more ideas, read how pop-ups are changing Seattle’s dining scene

What I Ate: Al pastor street tacos from Loxicha

Cheap restaurants in North Seattle like Loxicha will let you eat well for less than $10.


Why Professional Food Writing Is Just as Important as Ever

When Chicago Tribune restaurant reviewer Phil Vettel accepted a buyout last month, it left the nation’s third-most populous city without a full-time food critic. A few weeks later, Detroit Free Press dining critic Mark Kurlyandchik also took a voluntary layoff, leaving that city without one of its food writing mainstays. 

These departures are just the latest high-profile examples of a trend in food media that’s been accelerating over the past few years. As local newspapers across the country have cut costs in the wake of severe advertising shortfalls and declining subscription rates, their food sections, which can be expensive to produce, have been decimated. Many newspapers no longer have a dedicated restaurant critic, and some alt-weeklies that were mainstays of local criticism, like the Boston Phoenix, the Village Voice, and Seattle Weekly, are out of business or no longer publish articles about food. And while there are plenty of food influencer Instagram accounts, paid bloggers, and Yelp reviewers, few are serious independent journalists who have the big picture on the city’s restaurant scene that helps provide context for their opinions.

But even as the media landscape shifts, professional food journalists still provide an important service to their readers and enhance the cultural life of a community, even if their role is in flux. A recent article in Eater Chicago, commenting on Vettel’s departure, described a food critic as an “arbiter of taste” whose role is to “champion places that return value for your hard-earned money and keep you away from the spots that would fleece you.” But during a panel discussion this morning hosted by Eater Chicago, two prominent critics disputed that view, saying that food writing has expanded to wrestle with issues in American culture through the lens of dining, not just recommend or pan restaurants.  

Tejal Rao, a restaurant critic for the New York Times, mentioned “Black Lives Matter” as a cultural movement that has informed multiple pieces she’s written over the past year. “There’s this idea of restaurant criticism about being at a table tasting something and giving a bunch of adjectives. It has to be more than that or it’s really boring,” Rao said.

Devra First, restaurant critic for the Boston Globe, added that restaurants, many of which have closed or shifted to takeout operations, have been a huge story during the pandemic. She believes that part of her role is to “support and uplift” the industry, not just decide which restaurants are worthwhile. “In the moment that we’re in now any restaurant that is managing to muddle through is a four-star restaurant,” First said.

Rao’s colleague Pete Wells agrees. In an article in the New York Times last week, Wells said that with takeout and outdoor dining during the pandemic, his job has changed but the essence of his food writing remains the same: telling people about where to find great food. When he discovered a restaurant that was bringing New Yorkers joy while keeping them healthy, “I didn’t want to just report on it. I wanted to bang a drum so people would pay attention,” Wells said.

Journalists who write about food can take their reporting in many different directions. Freelance writer Korsha Wilson, who was also on the Eater Chicago panel today, pitches stories to publications about voices who aren’t already at the table. She says her mission is to “highlight the amazing work that black and brown chefs are doing in this country.”

Rao said she’s written several stories about food policy, as well as “weird” essays like the one about all the smells she encountered during a day. Other writers highlight important trends that are affecting local businesses. In one example this week, the Los Angeles Times reported on a “dine and dash” scam in which some customers are ordering takeout using fraudulent credit card numbers, or disputing charges made through delivery apps (who often side with the customer rather than the restaurant). One such scam helped put a Korean restaurant called Spoon by H out of business.

Closer to home, local food writing, in publications like the Seattle Times, Seattle Met, and Eater Seattle, helps inform readers about changes in the local dining scene. Sometimes these writers also offer their opinions about recommended spots. Just this week, I’ve learned about a restaurant that one critic thinks is the best pizza in Washington State, about a historic Japanese restaurant in the International District that’s evolved its izakaya menu to include Nashville-styled fried chicken and a teriyaki-inspired cheeseburger, and about a Syrian food cart on Vashon Island.

While there aren’t as many restaurant reviews as there used to be, and even the ones that exist don’t usually come with star ratings, local and national audiences depend on these independent voices to help them understand how the food world is changing. When social media is dominated by advertising and influencers, it’s critical for readers of all backgrounds to have trusted sources who can give them valuable information and put them at the heart of their efforts. And these food writers – even if they’re no longer just arbiters of taste – can still make recommendations on where you should spend your dining dollars.

What I Ate: Roasted beet salad from Joli

Food writing done by professionals helps enhance the cultural life of a community

How Ottolenghi’s Intriguing Flavors Are Changing the Way I Eat

Eleven months into the pandemic, it can sometimes be hard to feel enthusiastic about cooking. How many different ways are there to prepare chicken, anyway? But a new book by Jerusalem-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi has infused some new flavors into my kitchen that have inspired an experiment with eating differently – and perhaps, more healthfully.

Ottolenghi’s latest book, co-written with Ixta Belfrage, is called Flavor. Its recipes make use of 20 essential ingredients that layer a punch of heat, spice, or texture within Ottolenghi’s typically vegetable-forward creations. These flavors include chiles (aleppo, ancho, cascabel, and chipotle), fish sauce, gochujang (fermented soybean paste), mango pickle, miso, rose harissa, tamarind paste, and more. You can find each of these ingredients online or in local specialty markets, and they add complexity, variety, and depth to the Middle Eastern flavors for which Ottolenghi is typically known.

The book’s three major sections describe how to transform vegetables with cooking processes (charring, browning, infusing, and aging), how to pair them with other flavors to bring out their intrinsic qualities, and how to get the most out of different types of produce, keeping them at the center of individual dishes. Ottolenghi’s “ultimate roasting-pan ragu” recipe develops a rich umami flavor with the use of both oyster and dried porcini mushrooms, as well as miso paste and tomato paste, and also includes a complex heat from the addition of rose harissa. And using cumin seeds, soy sauce, and coconut cream helps steer the dish in the direction of Asia, a surprising turn for those used to making a meaty, typically Italian Bolognese like Marcella Hazan’s well-regarded sauce.

As is customary for Ottolenghi, the number of elements included in some of his dishes can turn a recipe that seems easy into a cooking project. When I made his asparagus and gochujang pancakes the other night, it involved mixing a dipping sauce, toasting sesame seeds, chopping vegetables, making a batter, cooking pancakes individually, and garnishing them with cilantro. Sure, you could simplify the recipe, but would the results be as delicious or as visually interesting?

Ottolenghi argues that the extra effort helps his recipes move beyond just tasting good. He expanded upon his cooking philosophy on a recent episode of the Milk Street Radio podcast with Christopher Kimball. Ottolenghi said that his recipes are designed to look appealing, with an emphasis on visual contrast. “I hate a boring meal, even if the level of cooking is exquisite … A smooth soup with nothing in it is kind of my idea of hell,” Ottolenghi said. That aesthetic is also something he brings to his restaurants, like his takeout shop in London’s Notting Hill that I visited in 2019. His dishes are presented on large, colorful platters, which he says recreates the feeling of the souks he grew up near in Jerusalem.  

Inspired by the interesting flavor combinations and appealing look of the recipes in Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, I’ve decided to experiment this winter with eating less meat. Instead, I’ll look to gain satisfaction from using a variety of produce as well as some of his essential flavors that are less familiar to me. I’m eager to try Ottolenghi’s ultimate ragu, as well as meatless schnitzels made with romano peppers, and tacos that are filled with celery root and a date barbecue sauce that contains black garlic and smoked paprika.

And if these dishes start to feel like too much effort for a weeknight dinner? Well, I’m also a fan of Ottolenghi’s 2018 cookbook, Simple. His cauliflower, pomegranate, and pistachio salad is something I can whip together quickly. And when I’m ready to switch things up again, it seems like that dish would go great with some lamb and feta meatballs.

What I Ate (A Few Days Ago): Ottolenghi’s asparagus and gochujang pancakes

Asparagus and gochujang pancakes by Ottolenghi pack a world of flavor into a small bite

A Few Grains of Salt About Choosing the Right Seasoning

Most home cooks probably grew up with only one type of salt – table salt, which was kept in a cylindrical can in the pantry, or in a shaker on the table, next to the pepper. But in many kitchens these days, you can easily find kosher salt, sea salt, and specialty salts like Himalayan pink salt or black volcanic salt. And more than any other seasoning, the types of salt you use – and for kosher salt, even the brand you buy – can make a tremendous difference in how your food tastes on the plate.

Professional chefs and experienced cooks typically don’t use table salt because of its small, dense grain that makes it hard to distribute evenly on food. Also, packaged table salt usually contains iodine, which can give food a slightly metallic taste. By contrast, kosher salt granules have a larger surface area that clings more easily to meats and vegetables, and tastes clean and pure.

But all kosher salts aren’t exactly the same. The two major types of salt are Diamond Crystal, which you’ll find in a red box at the grocery store, and Morton’s, which comes in a blue box. Because these brands use different processes to produce the salt crystals, Diamond Crystal granules are larger and more fragile than Morton’s, which are denser and crunchier. And that means that a teaspoon of Morton’s is much saltier than a teaspoon of Diamond Crystal, about 70% more by weight.

As with other dry ingredients, like flour or sugar, one way to ensure you get the right amount in your dish is to measure by weight, not volume. But recipe writers usually specify the amount of salt in teaspoons (or fractions of teaspoons). Because the leading brands of salt have such different salinities, unless your recipe specifies which type it’s using, you risk over-salting your food if it was written with Diamond Crystal in mind, and you’re using Morton’s. (You can often add more salt if a dish is under-seasoned, so the opposite scenario isn’t quite so treacherous.)

That’s why Milk Street announced last year that it was switching to using Morton’s in its kitchen. “By developing our recipes to use less salt by volume (but the same amount by weight, and therefore the same level of saltiness in the finished dish), we believe it will be more difficult for people to unintentionally add too much salt to a recipe,” Milk Street said in its blog.

Another solution for recipe writers is to forego kosher salt entirely rather than specify a favored brand. Samin Nosrat, author of “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” has shifted to using fine sea salt in the recipes she’s written for the New York Times and other publications. Nosrat says that refined sea salt, which comes from evaporated seawater, has the same salinity as table salt but doesn’t have its metallic taste.

Other types of sea salt, like fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt, are less refined and more expensive. They’re better choices as finishing salts, when you want the contrast of a salty texture on top of a sweet chocolate chip cookie or a sharp and creamy tomato-and-mozzarella salad. “Fleur de sel, one of the most expensive salts in the world, is not something you want to dump into your pasta water, because you just spent $22 to dissolve all of that away,” Nosrat said on a July 2020 episode of her “Home Cooking” podcast.

And what about those specialty pink or black salts? “To me they’re much less about how they taste than how they look,” Nosrat said.

Whichever types of salt you use, remember that salt is a flavor enhancer that can keep your food from turning out bland. Whenever you’re sprinkling it, tasting as you cook will prevent you from being unhappy with how your dish comes out – a disappointment that might lead you to use some salty language.

What I Ate: Cucumber salad with sumac-pickled onions

The types of salt you use for seasoning can make a big difference in how your final dish tastes

The Spicy, Crunchy Condiment That’s Also an Ice Cream Topping

One of my favorite quarantine food discoveries is chile crisp, a spicy condiment from the southern Chinese province of Guizhou. The version I’ve been using is called Lao Gan Ma, and consists of soybean oil, chiles, fermented soybeans, and onion, as well as other spices and additives. The chile-infused oil lends the sauce a rich, citrusy heat, but the addition of fried chiles and onions also gives it a pleasing crunchy texture. Food & Wine magazine says that Lao Gan Ma is the best-selling hot sauce in China, and Chinese media reported that the label had over $700 million in sales in 2019.

Another brand that’s commonly available is Fly by Jing, which is “turbocharged with fermented black beans and fresh Sichuan peppercorns, mushroom powder, dried seaweed, ginger and who knows what else,” according to Sam Sifton of the New York Times. “You could spread that concoction on a mitten and be very happy with your meal,” Sifton says.

I’ve enjoyed chile crisp lately as a condiment for the Lunar New Year dumplings I made last week, both by itself and as a dipping sauce in combination with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. But, inspired by an article by Kenji Lopez-Alt, I’ve also found that it makes a surprisingly tasty ice cream topping. The chile heat offers a pleasing counterpoint to the creaminess of the dessert (I used gelato, but ice cream would work just as well), and the crunchy bits of chile and onion in the sauce provides some textural contrast, just like chopped peanuts or chocolate chips do on an ice cream sundae.

Lopez-Alt says that after testing the combination of ice cream and chile crisp in his restaurant kitchen, he removed the onion, and infused chile oil with garlic and ginger as well as Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cumin, and fennel. I haven’t tried his recipe for a Sichuan chile crisp sundae, which he tops with peanut streusel, but Lopez-Alt says you can just as easily use Lao Gan Ma chile crisp and crushed peanuts. I don’t see any reason you couldn’t also add whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Have you tried chile crisp or any other condiments as a dessert topping? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

What I Ate: Vanilla gelato with chile crisp topping

Chile crisp is a surprisingly delicious ice cream topping

‘Worst Cooks’: The Best (and Most Entertaining) Culinary Education on TV

A Sunday night staple in my house is the Food Network show “Worst Cooks in America,” which premiered in 2010 and is now in its 21st season, including a handful that have starred B-level celebrities. On Worst Cooks, a dozen or so contestants who start out with few if any cooking skills go through a series of challenges in a culinary “boot camp” that’s led by two professional chefs. Each week, a pair of contestants are eliminated until the final two compete for a cash prize by cooking a “restaurant-quality” meal for a panel of judges.

Like many reality shows, “Worst Cooks” casts some oddball characters and emphasizes their personality quirks as they proceed to set pans on fire, cut themselves – sometimes repeatedly – while chopping vegetables, and recoil at having to break down whole chickens or handle live lobster. But the show separates itself from the pack by operating with a surprising amount of education, entertainment, and just plain heart that has kept me watching for over a decade.

On this week’s episode, Chefs Anne Burrell, a Food Network personality who has starred on every season of Worst Cooks, and Carla Hall, who previously appeared on two seasons of “Top Chef” as well as a talk show called “The Chew,” led the recruits through a series of baking and cooking challenges. First, the contestants had to mimic the decorations on a layer cake, following a demonstration by Zac Young, a well-regarded pastry chef. Then, after Burrell and Hall show them how to bake cupcakes, they create their own versions with creative flavor combinations.

While some contestants struggle with the challenge – one uses powdered sugar instead of flour in his batter and has to start over – another works with Hall, who supportively helps her develop a version of carrot cake and gives just enough information to make the at-home viewer think they can do it too. Meanwhile, on-screen graphics punctuate certain moments with creative animations and sound effects like a talking unicorn or a salt shaker that buzzes like a fly, providing both entertainment and whimsy. (Whoever at Food Network is responsible for these graphics definitely deserves a raise.)

Related: Toss Your Useless Cooking Gadgets and Eliminate Kitchen Clutter

During the final segment, the contestants make their own pasta and sauce, and on-screen graphics provide educational tidbits about the different shapes Burrell and Hall demonstrate. And throughout this episode and the entire series, both chefs return to cooking mantras that have become imprinted in my brain over the years. Burrell often emphasizes the proper way to hold a knife, and the importance of chopping vegetables consistently for even cooking, by cutting them into “slices, sticks, dices.” She shows the contestants how to “blanch and shock” broccoli, or when cooking a sauce, that you need to “bring to boil, reduce to simmer.” And she repeats “brown food tastes good” so often that it’s hard not to think of that phrase whenever I’m searing a piece of meat. (The show also provides a surprising number of ideas for good dishes. I can’t tell you how often I’ve cooked a meal based on what I’ve seen on a given week’s episode.)

While the show sprinkles in culinary education and entertainment throughout each hour, yet another reason to watch “Worst Cooks” is to see how the contestants gain confidence in the kitchen as they transform from “culinary zeroes to kitchen heroes.”

This week, a teacher named Tiffany struggled with her dish and didn’t get to continue in the competition, but she says, with a tear in her eye, “I had the worst pasta dish, but I’m heading home with my head held high.” Another eliminated contestant, a model named McKayla, says proudly, “I’ve learned more here than I ever thought I would. I will absolutely continue to cook … and I’m making lobster, because I know how to cook it now.”

While these contestants might still be among the worst cooks in America, their stories make it seem likely that they will no longer poison their loved ones with undercooked chicken or disgust them with dishes like bologna quesadilla. And the home viewer, while being entertained and informed, might just also be inspired to get up off the couch and start making dinner.

What I Ate: Jambalaya with chicken, shrimp, and sausage

Contestants on Worst Cooks learn how to make complex dishes like jambalaya

Toss Your Useless Cooking Gadgets and Eliminate Kitchen Clutter

The German word “eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher” translates as “eggshell predetermined breaking point cause.” It describes one of the most useless cooking gadgets I’ve ever heard of, a tool that lets you remove the top of an egg without cracking the rest of the shell.

If you want to present a softboiled egg in an elegant cup during breakfast, I suppose this tool will get the job done. But it strikes me as the quintessential example of something that only serves to add clutter to your kitchen drawers.

A quick survey of my own kitchen reveals at least 20 devices collected over the years that, while often evoking fond memories of travels or cooking adventures, could mostly be replaced by some essential kitchen tools. These cooking gadgets range from single-use to the practically useless to the completely whimsical (but super-fun!). If you’re a home cook like me, with precious drawer and cabinet space, you might consider relegating some of these items to the storage closet — or the dustbin.

Single-use gadgets

  • The wooden fork with holes that help you measure the right amount of pasta before cooking
  • The ceramic tortilla warmer
  • The quesadilla maker
  • The empanada press
  • The matcha tea whisk
  • The tea ball infuser
  • The cherry pitter
  • The apple corer
  • The pie beads and silicone crust wrapper
  • The cheese shaver

Practically useless tools

  • The battery-operated automatic stirrer called, well, Stirr that I recently received as a gift. I tried using it to mix a cake the other day and it barely stood up in the bowl. A whisk or a stand mixer would have been a much better choice!
  • The battery-powered ice cream cone that, I guess, rotates so you don’t have to turn the ice cream while you’re licking it. As an alternative, I’d suggest using your wrist.
  • The hot chocolate frother that aerates the drink after mixing. Again, a whisk would do a better job here.
  • The Slap Chop that slices! And dices! And minces! I think that’s what knives are for.

Whimsical but fun

  • The bagel guillotine (although, I have to admit, it slices my bagels perfectly every time)
  • The bear claws for shredding pulled pork or other meat
  • The hedgehog-shaped cheese grater
  • The dinosaur-shaped taco holder

Essential tools

In a recent video on Master Class, Chef Thomas Keller explained that both professional chefs and home cooks can benefit by eliminating unnecessary tools in their kitchens. And in this category he includes measuring cups and spoons, which he says can be completely eliminated when you measure by weight instead of volume. “I’m happy enough to be able to use my essential tools to accomplish anything that any gadget can do for me, or any convenience a gadget can offer,” Keller said.

So what are the essential tools a home cook needs? With inspiration from Keller, I’d take these items, along with my digital scale, to my desert island kitchen:

  • Good knives and kitchen shears
  • Cutting boards
  • Spatulas, spoons, ladles, and whisks
  • Tongs and tweezers
  • A microplane grater
  • A vegetable parer
  • A strainer
  • Cheesecloth and kitchen twine

What other cooking tools do you find essential, and what are the most ridiculous gadgets that take up space in your kitchen? Let me know in the comments!

What I Ate: Lemon snacking cake with coconut glaze

No cooking gadgets were used while making this snacking cake


How to Travel the World (of Pizza) Without Leaving the City

Who makes the best pizza in town? That’s not a question I can settle once and for all. For one thing, there are over 200 restaurants that serve pizza in Seattle, according to Yelp. And I can’t claim to have eaten at more than a few dozen of them. But more importantly, there are at least five or six distinct styles of pizza here. Everyone has their favorite, which might say something more about where people came from or the style they’re most familiar with than which one is objectively best.

But if you’re like me, you’re always looking out for new places to try, hoping to find that perfect pie. Here’s just a small slice of the Seattle pizza scene.

  • For Neapolitan-style pizza, which typically has a soft, thin dough and is baked in a wood-fired oven that produces charred spots on the crust, you can’t go wrong with Delancey in Ballard. Their dough is made with Washington-grown wheat, and they use locally raised meats including Zoe’s pepperoni and bacon. Via Tribunali, with locations in Queen Anne and Capitol Hill, is another top contender. Take a ferry over to Bainbridge to try one of the finest versions, at Bruciato, which uses ingredients imported from Italy and a three-day fermentation process. And I’d still like to try Guerrilla Pizza Kitchen, which is popping up this week at Fair Isle Brewery in Ballard and Fast Penny Spirits in Queen Anne.
  • Jon Stewart famously referred to Chicago deep dish pizza as a casserole, but transplants from the Midwest may take comfort in its deep, thick crust that’s typically baked in an iron skillet and topped with uncooked tomatoes. The best version in town is probably at Windy City Pie in Phinney Ridge, but I’d also like to try West of Chicago Pizza Company in West Seattle.
  • Detroit-style pizza is similar to deep dish in the thickness of its crust, but is baked in a square pan that makes the pie resemble a foccacia with toppings. Sunny Hill in Sunset Hill sells Detroit-style square pizzas, with or without pepperoni, as well as round pies. I’ve also heard good things about Moto in West Seattle.
  • The New York-style thin-crust, foldable slice used to be the prevailing style, but you can still find it at places such as Big Mario’s in lower Queen Anne, Pagliacci, with locations all over the city, and Northlake Tavern in the University District, which was my go-to spot when I first moved to Seattle. Dantini Pizza, a popup that sells pies weekly in Capitol Hill, is high on my list of places to try.
  • Tavern-style pizza has a thin, crispy crust that some disparage as a flatbread with toppings, and is usually cut into small squares. A similar style, St. Louis pizza, is a version of tavern-style pie that uses Provel, a mix of provolone, cheddar, and Swiss cheese. You can find it at Petoskey’s in Fremont, which bills itself as a Midwest sports bar and calls its pizza “Minnesota-style.” (It’s filling a niche once held by the late, great Zayda Buddy’s.)

With all of these options, is there a distinctive Seattle style? I believe there is, characterized by locally sourced ingredients and often naturally fermented dough. Cornelly on Capitol Hill has gotten some rave reviews for its sourdough-based, naturally leavened pies, with both classic and experimental toppings. Flying Squirrel in Maple Leaf and Georgetown uses Salumi meats as well as ingredients like figs, asparagus, and strawberries in its seasonal specials. And I’m eager to try Romeo, which pops up on Mondays at Homer in Beacon Hill and makes use of naturally fermented local grain and seasonal vegetables.

Do you have a favorite style of pizza, or is there one that you can’t stand? I’ve only mentioned a few of the top spots in Seattle, and I’ve probably left out the best place in your neighborhood. Add a comment below and let me know!

What I Ate (on Sunday): Detroit-style pizza with pepperoni, mozzarella, and parmesan

Options for pizza in Seattle include Detroit-style slices from Sunny Hill

Omsom Starters Provide a Shortcut to Asian Flavors

When you don’t want to trek to a specialty supermarket and you don’t feel like ordering in, it’s still possible to enjoy Asian dishes at home. A new company called Omsom, run by two Vietnamese sisters, Vanessa and Kim Pham, sells pantry starters that contain all of the seasonings you’ll need to make traditional versions of some classic Asian meals.

Omsom works with chef “tastemakers,” mostly in New York City, to develop the flavor combinations included in their kits. Currently there are six packages you can buy: Vietnamese lemongrass BBQ, Filipino sisig, Thai larb, Japanese yuzu misoyaki, Korean spicy bulgogi, and Chinese mala salad. Each starter serves 2-3 adults, and is sold as a 3-pack for $12 (you can also buy a more expensive combo pack that includes multiple flavors).

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My first experience with Omsom was the Thai larb salad. All I needed to pick up at the grocery store was ground chicken, scallions, shallots, and mint. After cooking the chicken, I mixed it with the starter, which includes Red Boat fish sauce, lime juice, cane sugar, and Thai dried chili flakes. Then I added in the vegetables and herbs, as well as a packet of toasted rice powder that was included with the starter. I cooked up some jasmine rice, and served the larb over a bed of spinach (cabbage is traditional, but not my favorite), with cucumbers on the side.

The salad was full of flavor, with some moderate heat from the chili flakes, sweet and sour notes from the lime juice and sugar, and a hint of nuttiness from the rice powder. The fish sauce added a lot of salt – there are about 600 mg of sodium per serving – but if I had made the sauce myself with a teaspoon of fish sauce per serving, I would only have cut out about a quarter of the sodium.

I’d recommend giving Omsom a try if you’d like to sample a variety of Asian dishes and don’t want to stock your pantry with specialty ingredients. Of course, you can always substitute with items you already have on hand, but you may not get the traditional flavors in your recipe. Omsom starters will save you an extra trip to the specialty market, and might just keep you from placing an order for takeout.

What I Ate (for Lunar New Year): Thai larb salad with ground chicken on a bed of spinach

Omsom starters include all the seasonings you need to make dishes such as Thai larb salad