Tomato Crostini with Goat Cheese and Taleggio

I get a little dizzy thinking back to how good these simple little toasts were. I mean, they're just cheese on cheese on sauce on toast, but they are much, much more. They're heavenly. I first had these at the Chef's Academy cooking demo . I liked them so much, I had to recreate a version of my own.

Chefs Leo Goodloe and Suzanne Winn made a killer sauce from scratch, and I went with some from a jar, but it didn't matter. The goat cheese and taleggio really make this. I mean, seriously, how amazing is cheese?

These toasts are a great appetizer for a party or a delicious snack for yourself.

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BLT Orzo

blt-orzo

Tonight, with my parents out for the evening and my little brother satisfied after a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, I set out to make dinner for my sister and I. My mom had suggested we make some BLTs, and though that sounded more like lunch than dinner, the idea stuck.

When I saw some orzo pasta in the cupboard, I decided it would be perfect for a warm and hearty reinvention of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

I crisped the bacon, then cooked tomatoes and garlic and wilted some arugula in the sauce just before tossing it with the pasta and serving with a little parmesan. To me, it was exactly what I wanted from a dinner adaptation of the lunch classic.

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Wonders of the Wok

wok

I left my wok in Argentina. And I feel nearly as strong about that as Tony Bennett leaving his heart in San Francisco.

Fine, maybe not that much, but I will miss it.

When my dad came to visit me in Buenos Aires, he was surprised to learn I had bought the wok only two months before. “It looks really well seasoned already,” he said.

Yes, I had put the wok to a lot of use. It was perfect for cooking for one. It cooks things quickly, it’s easy to clean, and it’s shaped so you can make your food do fun flips. For the first month I had it, I didn’t use the oven at all, making everything in the wok instead. Asian-style stir-frys and fried rice, of course, but also my version of Chipotle’s burrito bowl and other one-dish creations like a meal of sausage, potatoes and zapallitos redondos (round squash). Plus, a wok gets really hot quickly, and since I didn’t have a microwave, I used it to reheat pasta or other leftovers.

From what I’ve read, the most important thing to look for in buying a wok is carbon steel. Don’t go for non-stick. Carbon steel conducts more heat and gets that great seasoned effect from food sticking to it. Plus it’s cheap, especially if you can get to a Chinatown. (Mine was U.S. $11.)

Before you use a wok the first time, there’s a bit of a process to go through. I used this and this as a guide. Then you can make all sorts of dishes in it as long as you use an oil with a high smoke point (peanut oil, grapeseed oil or refined oils). It gets more seasoned with each use. (Don’t ever use metal utensils in it or you’ll end up with scratches like I did.)

Part of me wished I could have fit the wok in my luggage, but I guess I’ll have to get a new one and start over.

Chapati — Indian Flatbread

chapati-bread
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I admit I call many things 'my favorite' or 'the best thing ever,' but without any facetiousness or exaggeration, I can say that warm dough is my favorite and the best thing ever.

Baguettes, bagels, pizza dough, naan, rolls, loaves, English muffins, challah, sourdough, pita, pretzels, funnel cake, foccacia, ciabatta, empanadas, flour tortillas, arepas or good ol' sandwich bread (Oroweat's whole grain and oat is my sliced bread of choice)… I'm a glutton for gluten.

I have, on multiple occasions, organized my entire day around proofing and baking dough. Making bread from scratch is certainly rewarding, but it requires more time and planning than is often practical. Luckily, there are ways for more instant satisfaction. Pilsbury is a modern marvel — and delicious — but ancient cultures had quick ways to make bread, too.

All it takes is water and flour, people. A little fat and salt, a hot surface…we've got ourselves warm carbs from scratch in 15 minutes.

While I waited for my Goan-style roast chicken to cook last week, I watched the Mumbai episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations (the Rajasthan episode was better). Just before the show ended and the poultry reached an internal temperature of 165, I decided I needed some Indian flatbread, or chapati. Since it's an unlevened bread, and I'm all about skipping steps, I had hot bread by the time the bird was done resting. I even made fresh batch for my leftover chicken the next afternoon.

And guess what? It was the best thing ever.

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Banana Milkshakes, or I Can't Believe It's Not Ice Cream

banana-milkshake
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People laughed when they found out I packed an immersion blender for my stay in Buenos Aires. Well, I'm happy to report that it has been getting plenty of use. Pureeing butternut squash and whipping cardamom cream, but most often to make banana milkshakes.

Now, I wouldn't normally consider a banana and half a glass of milk to be dessert. In fact, I would have scoffed at the idea two months ago. But, folks, it's just like ice cream! When you blend a frozen banana with milk, it comes out thick and creamy like any great shake. Many others have probably learned this before me, but in case you haven't tried it, get some bananas in the freezer, stat!

Sometimes I put a spoonful of dulce de leche in it, and it's still the healthiest dessert I love to eat.

The immersion blender, by the way, has been a great thing to have. It makes frozen drinks easily and without the mess of a larger appliance. And if you've ever tried to puree soup in batches using a regular blender, as I did once, you know it's not a fun process. My immersion blender has a whisk attachment and another attachment for chopping. It's pretty snazzy, and doesn't take up much room in your suitcase, you know, should you ever have the need…

(And no, this isn't a paid endorsement. If anything it's an extra thank you to my mom for last year's Christmas gift.)

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Apple Celery Salad

This is a little something I came up with a few months ago when the only fresh produce I had were apples and celery. The two are a great combination, and with sunflower seeds and a quick cider vinaigrette, this has become one of my favorite sides. The apples make it a good complement to pork, but it's so crisp and refreshing, it's a good addition to any barbecue or picnic.

With Mark Bittman talking about his favorite simple salads, I figured it was time to share my new one.

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