Blog Posts by Zester Daily

  • The Perfect Lamb for Easter

    Lamb for Easter may start a nice family tradition.By Nancy Harmon Jenkins

    Back in the day -- the 1970s -- during one Easter week I was planning a Sunday feast at our family farmhouse in the hills of eastern Tuscany.

    I think of that meal every year as Easter looms because I outdid myself. Somehow everything fell into place, as it often does -- the lamb was tender, the early peas and fava beans had all the immaculate delicacy of new spring vegetables, and the wine was a perfect match.

    Related: Rather have ham for Easter? Try this recipe.

    But what was most wonderful was the lamb, a couple of legs of a very young critter that I prepared from a recipe developed by an old friend, Sara Armstrong, once the chef-doyenne of the renowned Copper Kettle restaurant in Aspen, Colo. She too had traveled the world, but as a diplomat rather than a journalist, and had assembled a vast collection of recipes that were the backbone of that amazing establishment.

    Related: How about a Lebanese lamb dish with tomatoes and eggplant?


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  • The Sexy Spring Veggie You Haven't Discovered yet -- but Will Love

    Spring turnipsBy Zester Daily Staff

    Most people -- even veggie lovers -- don't think "sexy" or "spring" when they think of turnips. But the classic root vegetable is tender in spring and lends itself to some sultry and savory dishes you may end up turning to regularly.

    Related: Tips on cooking produce from your own garden.

    Until I began living in France in the early 1980s, writes Martha Rose Shulman, I thought a turnip was a big, round, woody vegetable that you could throw into a soup, but that was about it. Then I tasted tender, sweet little spring turnips, turned so they looked like little torpedoes and sauteed in butter. I thought I was eating a vegetable I'd never seen before. It was April, and every other farmer at my local Tuesday and Friday marche volant on the Boulevard Raspail had generous bunches for sale.

    Now we have farmers markets in the United States that are every bit as good as any Paris street market, so if you aren't a kitchen gardener who grows wonderful root

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  • Spring Whites: 3 White Wines You Should Uncork This Season

    White wines are perfect for spring.By Elin McCoy

    With spring, a cook's fancy turns to light seasonal dishes and the wines that accompany them. Dust off your spring-fare cookbooks -- particularly those featuring seafood -- and consider these three white wine recommendations.

    Wine #1: 2010 Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay

    Region: Santa Lucia Highlands, Calif.

    Grape: 100 percent Chardonnay

    Alcohol: 13.5 percent

    Serve with: rich fish like salmon or roasted pear salad with toasted walnut

    For years California Chardonnays were bashed as buttery, oaky and over the top. But more and more of them fit a different profile. This lemony 2010 Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay from California's Santa Lucia Highlands is pure and crisp, with weight and richness but without the telltale vanilla notes of new oak aging. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel and limestone-based cement tanks.

    And this balanced white comes in an unusual ceramic bottle that keeps the wine as chilled

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  • Pasta Without Eggs, 3 Ways: Make This Hidden Treasure Puglia-Style Classic at Home

    Oriechiette with turnip greens can be made in the eggless Puglia style.By Elizabeth Luard

    The little hilltop town of Ostuni, in Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot, overlooks the Adriatic Sea midway between Bari and Brindisi. Completed in 312 BCE, it's the last outpost of the Appian Way, which once joined the southern provinces to Rome.

    Puglia is known for the excellence of its bread (the artisan durum-wheat bread of Altamura, in particular), the venerability of its olive trees and the quantity rather than the quality of its wines. Tourism in the region is mostly from within Italy itself. The sophisticates of Milan and Rome know a good thing when they find it and like to keep it to themselves.

    Related: Check out the wines of southeastern Italy's Puglia region too.

    You'll find plenty of good restaurants, some which might be ranked as great, but home cooking is the standard by which excellence is judged, a culinary tradition maintained through the absolute conviction that no one cooks like your mama cooks -- and if anyone says otherwise,

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  • Eggplant Secrets: From Gardening to Making 3 Perfect Recipes

    Sicilian eggplant recipe is ready in minutes.By Zester Daily Staff

    For many years our idea of an eggplant was the great big American eggplant Mama Leone's used in the wonderful Melazane alla Parmigiana. Then along came the sleek, deep-purple Japanese eggplant, the round, petite and orange Turkish eggplant, the long green Thai eggplant and the options for cooking -- and growing -- eggplants opened up.

    Here's a home cook's farm-to-table guide for growing, buying and cooking what should be one of your family's favorite go-to vegetable this summer.


    Growing from seed: Sow eggplant indoors in temperatures of 75-80 F. A good quality seed starter mix -- homemade or store bought -- will get the seedlings off to a good start. Pre-soak for 12 hours beforehand. Germination is 7-14 days. Sow 1 inch apart in seed trays, then make sure to transfer up to individual pots and allow each to grow out before planting in the garden. They are ready to be planted out when the stem is a tad woody and resistant to

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  • 4 Great Greens at the Farmers Market Right Now

    Mustard greens make great pesto.By Kathy Hunt

    While farmers markets in spring tend to make us long for the bounty of tomatoes, zucchini and other late-summer produce that are still just seedlings under grow lamps, there are some fabulous finds this time of year. Some of the best tender seasonal offerings that are fresh now are edible spring greens.

    Here's a guide to four greens you're likely to find in season right now:

    Stinging nettles

    Among the wondrous wild greens available this season are stinging nettles. Possessing long, toothlike leaves and a salty, earthy taste, these tenacious plants grow along stream banks and in wooded areas. Because the nettles' leaves have hairlike fibers containing formic acid, which stings upon contact, you should wear gloves when handling them raw. Once cooked, they lose this stinging property. Nettles are prepared in the same manner as spinach and other greens.

    Although I like them best in a creamy, Irish-inspired nettle soup, they appear in a variety of British

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  • 2 Myth-Busting Mexican Dishes that Your Family Will Love

    Pork in verdolagas and green salsa shows that Mexican food need not be high fat to be tasty. By Lorenza Munoz

    Some people talk about Mexican food as if it were a sin. "I looove Mexican food," they confess in hushed tones, "but its sooo fattening." Or, they say, it's too spicy, too laborious, too meat-heavy, or that it's too unsophisticated.

    Myth No. 1: Mexican food is fattening.
    The most influential aspect of Mexican cuisine, indeed its foundation, is the pre-Hispanic culture. So, let's return to its roots and forget about the Tex-Mex-deep-fried-in-lard-giant-portion-chimichanga for a moment.

    The Indians in Mexico never used animal fat or vegetable oil to cook their food. They boiled their meats and vegetables or roasted them directly on the flame or with a comal -- a clay or metal plate. They would bury meat underground in hot embers to cook it, or wrap fish and meats in banana leaves, avocado leaves or corn husks to bake in a wood-burning oven.

    It was not until the Spaniards conquered Mexico in the 16th century that frying, lard and grease-heavy foods such

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  • 5 Tips for Buying the Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    The olive oil selection at most markets can be daunting.By Nancy Harmon Jenkins

    What extra virgin olive oil should I buy? That's a question I'm constantly asked, by readers, by Facebook followers, by people who come to my talks and olive oil tastings. I would love to be able to say: Buy this oil and you'll never go wrong. But I can't do that.

    I don't like to recommend specific oils for a number of reasons, one being that I prefer extra virgin olive oil from small producers who tend to be much more careful and conscientious about what they're doing than the big guys. And most of these small producers just don't have the capacity to be in all places at once. So if I recommend Oil A from the island of Crete, or Oil B from the southern Salento region of Puglia, whichever the suggestion, it's probably only available in half a dozen very selective shops around the U.S.

    Related: How to keep olive oil fresh.

    But there's another reason for not recommending specific oils. That's because even the finest oil from the most careful

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  • 5 Tips to Get Sweet on Honey, Including Pecan Pie

    Well-chosen honey can sweeten up everything from morning toast to cake.By Martha Rose Shulman

    Back when I was a strict vegetarian and a purist, I never cooked with sugar. It was too refined (and I wasn't). I used honey for all of my breads and desserts. Once I learned its limits (e.g. forget about most cakes, have lots of patience if you're going to try to roll out a honey-sweetened pie crust, and don't try to use it for jam if you want the jam to last), I became quite adept at working with it.

    I used orange flower honey, which I bought in bulk at my food co-op in Austin, Texas, where I began my cooking career. It was unprocessed, a good product, but its strong flavor dominated anything it sweetened.

    Related: Save the honeybees.

    Tip 1 -- Learn about the different types of honey. Honey can be divided into two types: those from the nectar of one flower, and those originating from several. The unifloral honeys are like varietals of wine; they have distinctive flavors depending on the flowers, and like wine, are compatible with different

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  • Don't Make Boring Meatballs. Try 2 Recipes for a Creative Take on an Italian Classic

    Meatballs like grandma used to make are hearty, cheap comfort food.By Heather John

    It's been said that meatballs are a dish of scarcity, so it makes sense that in the wake of economic chaos, they've become one of the defining dishes of this era. Bon Appetit magazine declared the humble meatball the "dish of the year" at the height of the recession in 2010. In New York, hipsters line up for hours outside The Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side for meatball heroes and sliders, while Donatella Arpaia is staging a street cart, Donatella's Meatball Wagon, in front of her Mia Dona restaurant in Midtown. Coast to coast, meatballs are rolling out in numbers.

    Related: A whole cookbook of meatball tips and recipes.

    Bon Appetit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton adds that a good meatball is genetic. "If you're an Italian-American and your nonna made meatballs, you already know the best meatballs in the world and there's nothing anyone can say to you to persuade you otherwise.

    Related: Check out how the Greeks do meatballs.

    That's the way

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