Chow, Baby

Filed under Featured In on October 12, 2012. Tags Tyler Florence, pasta, salsa.

Gourmet Cooking

Healthy eating doesn't have to mean whey protein doused with carrot juice. Let Mario Batali and three other top chefs turn you into a guy-food gourmet. It's an age-old adage: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to buy a fish, sauté it, then serve it with a mound of mango salsa, and you feed him for a lifetime.

That's what chefs have been doing for more than a decade on the Food Network, where guys like Bobby Flay and Mario Batali herald the merits of high-heat grilling and espouse the importance of knowing your butcher by name. Along with Tyler Florence and Alton Brown, these gurus of gastronomy accepted our challenge to take you from kitchen novice to serious cook in six pages flat.

The payoff for your palate is obvious, but there are other boons: First, the more control you exercise over what you eat, the less junk you'll actually ingest. Second, it's a fact that few women can resist perfect pasta (or its confident creator), which means we've also taken care of dessert.

The Hunter: Mario Batali
For Mario Batali, great cooking isn't about complicated techniques or rockin' orange clogs -- it's about premium ingredients. "If I want to impress someone, I don't spend 6 hours cooking for them. I spend an hour shopping and 25 minutes cooking," says the host of Molto Mario.

That's because killer components -- from really plum plum tomatoes to hours-old fresh fish -- don't require the title of chef and a talent for doctoring to become edible, or even delectable.

And Batali's quality-first philosophy will also benefit your health: The best beef is raised without antibiotics; great organic produce is grown without pesticides; and wild fish contain fewer contaminants than farm-raised fish do. Follow these rules for how to always choose what's choice.

Carve Out a Friendship
When it comes to buying meat, the fate of your plate rests in the hands of the butcher. Find one and buddy up. "If there's the opportunity to have that one prime piece of the cow, they're going to give it to someone they know," says Batali.

Be aware, however, that quality shouldn't cost. "A cheaper pork shoulder or a beef shank will always be more flavorful than a chop or fillet," he says, adding that a pork shoulder simmered in a Crock-Pot will put you in hog heaven. Another overachiever: skirt steak, which is great on the grill.

Can't find a butcher to befriend? Try an online purveyor that offers personalized service, such as Alderspring Ranch (alderspring.com).

Join the Farm Team
Supermarket produce isn't so super compared with what's at a farmer's market, where the pickings are often organic and always fresh and seasonal. (Go to ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/map.htm for a state-by-state list of 3,700 farmer's markets.)

Of course, no matter where you purchase your produce, there are times when the selection is slim, so be ready to improvise, says Batali. Asparagus looking just eh? Substitute zucchini, green beans, or artichokes. Eggplant unimpressive? Try portobello mushrooms. For more swaps, click here.

Explore Uncharted Waters
As with meat, unbeatable seafood is all about who you know--namely, a fishmonger. After you find one (usually in a private store or a natural-food market like Whole Foods) and establish a rapport, experiment with some lesser-known specimens: skate, bluefish, mackerel, and whole sea bass. Roast any of these in a 450˚F oven until the skin flakes easily, and serve with a squeeze of lemon. Landlocked? Go to freshseafood.com.

Go to the next page and learn Batali's tips for perfect pasta...

Perfect Pasta
"The key is remembering the three screwups: overcooking, oversaucing, and overthinking," says Batali.

What You'll Need

  • 8 oz dried spaghetti (Batali likes Barilla.)
  • 1 lb seasonal vegetables, chopped into bite-size pieces (In the spring, try asparagus, artichokes, or fava beans; summer: eggplant, zucchini, cherry tomatoes; fall: butternut squash, parsnips, chard; winter: wild mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (Batali likes oils from Tuscany.)
  • Handful of fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, basil, oregano)
  • Parmigiano reggiano (real Italian parmesan cheese) for grating

How to Make It
1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium high. Add the garlic and toast it lightly, then add the vegetables and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook it for 1 minute less than the shortest time listed on the package.

3. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta in the pan with the vegetables and cook for 30 seconds. If the pasta is dry, add a bit of the cooking water. Toss in the chopped herbs and serve with grated cheese.

Makes 3 or 4 servings

The Flavor King: Bobby Flay
Some chefs have such a subtle touch, your tastebuds need tastebuds to savor the flavor. Not Flay: "I want explosive flavor, whether on Iron Chef America or at home cooking with friends." Or at one of his restaurants, where you'll rarely find a dish swimming in butter, but you will see steaks topped with fresh salsa or encased in a spicy dry rub.

Simply put, Flay has an almost alchemical ability to transform the mundane into the mouthwatering.

His secret? There are dozens, but his three flavor mainstays are chili peppers, fresh herbs, and citrus fruits. These ingredients inject that explosive "pop" and a stealth supply of antioxidants and phytochemicals. If you want your own food to work that hard, pay attention to the man behind the grill.

Create a Powder Keg
An overnight marinade can work wonders, but for those times when you didn't anticipate your appetite for meat, go with a dry rub instead.

Mix paprika, cayenne pepper (containing cancer-fighter capsaicin), cumin, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and oregano (rich in antioxidants) until you find a balance you like. Store in an airtight container. "When you're ready to grill, drizzle olive oil on the meat and rub one side with the spices," says Flay. Bonus: This rub doubles as a blackening spice for fish.

Learn to Salsa
"Everyone should know a basic salsa recipe," says Flay. Start with a base of 2 cups of either chopped tomatoes, mangos, papaya, pineapple, roasted tomatillos, or sautéed mushrooms. Then add a handful of chopped cilantro, a chopped red onion, a finely diced jalapeño pepper, fresh lime juice, and salt and pepper.

"Change it up depending on your protein," says Flay. Generally, fruit salsas go best with fish and white meat, while tomato and mushroom salsas go with steak and lamb.

Spike it with Spices
Write these words on your grocery list: saffron, smoked paprika, and star anise. Each of these spices can "completely change a dish," says Flay.

For example, reinvent rice by adding a pinch of saffron to the water while it simmers. Bored with French toast? Drop a teaspoon of star anise into the batter. Or save oven-roasted potatoes with smoked paprika. Click here, for more tweaks.

Go to the next page and get Flay's recipe for perfect steak...

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Perfect Steak
"Most guys feel the need to flip the meat 400 times," says Flay, "but it needs undisturbed grill time to develop a crust." That contrast in texture -- between a lightly charred exterior and a tender center -- is critical, as are these fine points:

What You'll Need

  • 8 oz rib-eye steak (When you want a break from beef, substitute chicken breast, pork tenderloin, or lamb chops.)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp homemade dry rub (as described previously, adjusted to your liking)

How to Make It
1. Preheat the grill to high, giving it 15 minutes to build heat.

2. Coat the steak with olive oil, then cover one side with the spice rub. When the grill is hot, lay the steak on it, rub side down.

3. Cook, undisturbed, for 4 minutes. Flip the steak with tongs, not a fork (the juices will escape), and move to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking it through, another 4 to 5 minutes. The steak is medium rare when its internal temp reaches 145˚F or it feels like a Nerf football to the touch.

Serve with a side of grilled vegetables dusted with smoked paprika, and a scoop of homemade salsa. If you've used pork or chicken, serve with mango or pineapple salsa.

The Globetrotter: Tyler Florence
If your idea of ethnic cuisine is pork fried rice, Tyler Florence would like to introduce you to a few ingredients. Typical American man, meet fresh rosemary, gingerroot, and ancho chilis, cornerstones of Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin cooking, respectively.

"Ten years ago, a lot of this stuff wasn't available, but now anyone can pick it up at their corner market," says the host of Tyler's Ultimate, adding that once you get to know this trio, you'll see how easy it is to cross the border and escape from cooking boredom.

For example, with guidance from Florence, you can prepare a chicken breast 10 different ways without breaking a sweat (or cracking a cookbook). And unlike an order of General Tso's chicken, none of these ways require a bigger belt or a home defibrillator.

"Great staples allow you to make better decisions about what you put into your body," says Florence. So put down the takeout menu and pick up these tricks from the globetrotter.

Go East
Replace the 37 soy-sauce packets in your fridge with a bottle of the low-sodium stuff. Next, pick up sesame oil (a proven BP buster), rice-wine vinegar, fresh garlic (an antiviral champ), fresh ginger (a natural anti-inflammatory), toasted sesame seeds, and chili paste.

Then either wok to a low-fat dinner (see the next page) or steam-treat yourself: Combine equal parts soy sauce, vinegar, and brown sugar in a small saucepan and cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture clings to the spoon. Brush the sauce on a salmon fillet or chicken breast and place in a steamer basket along with some bok choy, asparagus, or fresh broccoli. Steam for 8 to 10 minutes, then sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with brown rice.

Dip into Mediterranean
For a light weeknight dinner or a healthy alternative to wings, prepare an antipasto platter with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and marinated artichoke hearts (all bottled), along with fresh mozzarella, olives, and thinly sliced prosciutto.

Another option: Combine two minced cloves of garlic with a handful of chopped fresh rosemary, the juice and zest of a lemon, and a bit of HDL-boosting extra-  virgin olive oil. Rub it on a chicken breast (or a leg of lamb if you have guests). Roast in a 400°F oven; 15 minutes for chicken, 15 minutes per pound for lamb. Serve with fresh arugula, cherry tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. For a changeup, substitute a scoop of pesto for the lemon-rosemary mix.

Move Beyond Burritos
Hot sauce does not a Latin meal make. Forage for ancho chili powder, cumin, fresh limes, avocados, chipotle peppers, black beans, fresh cilantro, and orange juice. Start with a few teaspoons each of ancho chili powder (or two chopped chipotle peppers), cumin, chopped cilantro, and enough orange juice to create a thick paste. Rub the paste on a chicken breast, pork tenderloin, or flank steak. Cook on the grill or in a 450°F oven (10 to 12 minutes for the steak and chicken; 20 to 25 minutes for the pork). Serve with a wedge of lime, half a sliced avocado, and a cup of black beans. Or slice the meat thin and use corn tortillas for killer tacos.

Go to the next page for Florence's stir-fry recipe...

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Perfect Stir-Fry
"The key is having a few fresh vegetables, a lean protein, and a screaming-hot wok," says Florence, who also recommends using a metal spatula to keep the meat and vegetables constantly moving, so everything cooks evenly.

What You'll Need

  • 4 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast or pork tenderloin, sliced thin; or raw, peeled, and deveined shrimp
  • 1 1/2 c fresh vegetables (asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, onions), chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger
  • Sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp each low-sodium soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar, and brown sugar, mixed together

How to Make It
1. Set a wok (or, failing that, a large stainless-steel sauté pan) over high heat and coat the bottom with a tablespoon of oil.

2.When the oil begins to smoke, add the garlic and ginger and cook until lightly browned. Add the meat or shrimp and the vegetables and cook for about 8 minutes, until the protein is cooked through and the vegetables have softened.

3. Add the soy-sauce mixture (or a tablespoon of your favorite stir-fry sauce) and cook for another 2 minutes, until everything is coated and the sauce has thickened. Serve by itself or with a scoop of brown rice and a hit of chili sauce. To change things up, keep different stir-fry sauces, like chili-garlic and black bean, in the fridge.

The Minimalist Kitchen : Alton Brown's Essential Gear For Guys
He's spent years applying science to the art of cooking‚ so you might expect Alton Brown's kitchen to resemble an MIT lab. But the brainy host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America keeps it surprisingly simple: "I'd rather have one good knife and a few quality pans than a bunch of crap," he says. "I can set up a really good guy's kitchen for under $500, soup to nuts." And so that's what we asked him to do: Name the best tools for taming the kitchen.

1. An 8- Or 10-Inch Chef's Knife The only blade you need to chop, mince, carve, and fillet. Brown's pick: Shun Classic 10-inch chef's knife ($130), for its comfy handle and supersharp edge.

2. A Stainless-Steel Sauté Pan Sauté in a stainless-steel pan like the 2-quart All-Clad ($155) and you'll finish in near microwave time, minus the microwave flavor.

3. A Cast-Iron Skillet When you can't grill outside, use the Lodge 12-inch cast-iron skillet ($27) to whip up your burgers and steaks.

4. A 6- To 8-Quart Stockpot For noodles, soups, and sauces, use the Calphalon 6-quart Tri-Ply stockpot ($130). Another Calphalon must: the Simply Nonstick 8-inch omelet pan ($25).

5. A Hand Blender Brown passes on gadgets unless they multitask. That's why he likes the Toastmaster 1740 Hand Blender ($15): It purees soups, smooths out sauces, and churns out smoothies with the push of a single button.

Go to the next page for more simple tips to become a better chef...

A Dozen More Recipe Tweaks

  1. Mix 1 teaspoon curry powder and a handful of golden raisins into your chicken or tuna salad
  2. Stir a healthy pinch of cumin into your next batch of beans: black, pinto, or garbanzo
  3. Roll a chicken breast in crushed fennel seeds
  4. Sprinkle slices of fresh mango or papaya with chile powder or cayenne pepper (and squeeze a lime over the top)
  5. Fold a few tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley into your scrambled eggs
  6. Roll a filet of ahi tuna in coriander seeds
  7. Sprinkle a pinch of ground nutmeg on sauteed spinach
  8. Dust grilled corn on the cob with 1/4 teaspoon chipotle or ancho chile powder (and squeeze a lime over the top)
  9. Toss roasted wedges of sweet potatoes with a teaspoon of Chinese five spice
  10. Add a teaspoon of herbes de Provence to your next batch of tomato sauce, or in your next marinade for chicken or beef
  11. Top grilled vegetables with a few pinches of zahtar, a Middle Eastern herb and spice mix.

Can't find these in your cupboard, or at your local market? Try ordering them at wholespice.com

Ingredient Swaps

 Produce  Possible substitute(s)
 Potatoes/carrots  Parsnips
 Spinach  Chard/Kale
 Zucchini  Yellow or summer squash
 Plums  Peaches, nectarines or pluots
Butternut squash Sweet potatoes; yams; pumpkin; kabocha or acorn squash
 Broccoli  Cauliflower
 Mango  Papaya, pineapple
 Onions  Leeks; green onions (scallions); shallots
 Arugula   Watercress; dandelion greens

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