Category Archive: essays

Candy in Quinoa: Seeing Like a Cook

  Much of my teaching and writing illustrates specific techniques for cutting food prep and production time, and that makes sense–it usually isn’t possible to carve out more time within your busy schedule to cook at home.  So I help you find space for cooking more efficiently, within the preparation of each meal: washing not just whatever lettuce you need for a […]

A Better Way to Prep: What Does it Mean to HOLD food?

Two sliced onions sit side by side on a cutting board. The first onion, measured for soup, is set aside for dinner. The other waits on reserve, on alert, at the ready—in Purple Kale parlance, Held™—for making something else. How is Holding an ingredient different than prepping it?

Cutting Board Meals

At the end of a workshop weekend, I am able to bring home food to feed a meal to my family, and often a guest or two. At the end of one such weekend, I was left with a small lot of mostly Roasted Things: pieces of roasted apple, a hunk of fennel pork loin, […]

Dinner Inspiration on the R Train

Having prepared ingredients in my refrigerator helps me put together a meal quickly, with less mess, and fewer mishaps. But there’s another reason for kitchen advance work: by breaking up my time at the stove—chopping onions one day to use the next –I spread the work of a planned dish out over time. This helps […]

Crib Notes in the Kitchen

My kitchen is a working one, with little resemblance to sleek, barren showrooms. It is organized, but not tidy; not serene, but ready. Equipment teeters in wonky stacks over open shelves, clean pots drip-dry on the stovetop, smallwares in bins crowd the corners, and mixers and processors fill the wall space in between. Pens collect […]

Taking Stock for a New Year

This year, for the break fast at Yom Kippur, I set out to make matzoh ball soup. It was a last minute decision, as was hosting the meal itself, which led to an early morning scramble to find chicken bones for stock. As the stock simmered, I prepared the matzoh meal. I’d serve the soup […]

Finger Food: Do Manners Matter?

I am no expert on feeding kids. But I think the worst mealtime strategies uphold the false classification of food “for children” and “for adults” and often result in lower standards for what we’ll ask our kids to eat. Most of us do this as a matter of circumstance–lack of time, not much in the […]

Forget Organization; Be Nimble

The organized cook schedules meals and pre-prints shopping lists. She always has garlic, which she chops before starting stir-fry. She keeps buttermilk for pancake batter, which she makes the night before. Everyone admires the organized cook.  But, for many of us, her impressive efficiencies–advanced prep, meal planning, and ambitious scheduling—requires control beyond our grasp.

Toward a Personal Taxonomy of Food

To archive recipes for a cookbook, you must subscribe to a specific taxonomy of food. Any distinction beyond “poisonous” and “edible” would reflect your assumptions about how people decide what to cook and eat. You might divide ingredients by the seasons, or separate dishes neatly by course or occasion. Or you may dismiss such organizational […]

“Otherwise, Trash” Talk.

The press has been hot on the topic of food waste these last few weeks, giving some of the city’s best chefs due coverage of a terrific food waste restaurant. But while writers, drunk with self-reflection, celebrate this quirky (and worthy) chef exercise, what’s the take-away for the rest of us? No one wants to […]

To Do Before Leaving Town: Make Chocolate Ganache

Before leaving town last weekend, I wrestled with the obligation to write a seasonally-appropriate blog post for Passover, Easter, and spring.  But in New York, frost still blanketed budding leaves.  The editorial gesture felt formulaic, forced. Besides, packing for a week away drew my attention more immediately to the remaining food in my fridge, than […]

Assets and Liabilities: A Tale of Two Turnips

This is the tale of two turnips.  One is small and creamy white, footed by a thin ropey root and flaunting a party hat of sprightly, green leaves.  The other is dense, bulbous, and naked but for a pale purple collar surrounding tough, truncated stalks.  

Inside a Custom Class

I traveled to Philadelphia to visit Alison, a student who had taken Purple Kale’s workshop just over a year ago.  Her sister Janet joined us for a cooking session built upon ingredients they use most and designed to best fit their skills and time.  Specifically, they wanted to learn different ways of working with root […]

Clear the Clutter? Not in my kitchen.

Organization is a key tenet of professional kitchens.  In the home it is, too, but here it plays out differently. Guided by a new year’s charge to both cook more at home and take control in the kitchen, home cooks heed the following well-intentioned though questionable advice:

Embracing the Unknown: Magic in Cassoulet

A friend told me she made quiche the other day, and that she liked it, but that it lacked for some salt. I told her that many cooks make the common mistake not to taste their food each step of the way, and till the end.  Too many rest on trust (in a recipe, their […]

Leave the Family Meal Alone

Food writers who sermonize about the importance of the family meal (of note, Michael Ruhlman)  create a false divide between those who cook and those who don’t (see, Virginia Heffernan) when most of us get trapped in the messy middle.

Kids in the Kitchen: Ella’s Pink Peppercorn Salt

In my teaching kitchen, I watch adults enjoy experiment, but seek success. They want to acquire experience, but to come away, ultimately, with an arsenal of tested ideas. Kids, however, don’t care as much about culinary convention or precedent. Adults want rules for avoiding costly, disappointing mistakes. Kids just want permission to make them, again.

Taking Chances on Dinner: Hoping the Meal Comes Together as You Eat

Sometimes, I get lucky. Particularly if I lack time or energy to “come up with” dinner, I’ll set the table with a bunch of single, simply-prepared ingredients, maybe alongside leftovers and items that require no preparation (cheese, dried fruit).  Then, only while or after I eat, do I determine if my collection of disparate plates […]

Diana’s ‘Yummy Sauce’

Diana has been on PKale’s crew since the beginning of the year.  As she sets off for other adventures, she leaves us with a lovely statement about her family and food.  Those of you who grew up in a culinarily rich home will recognize yourself in her story. Included here, is her Korean family’s recipe for […]

Saved by Salad: a chopped salad for spring

What I LOVE about chopped salads: They need only one utensil. They require no specific ingredients (not even lettuce). The best last forever.

A Story of Dinner: Everyday Improvisation at Work

Last Monday, I was interviewed by a local radio producer and food writer for their upcoming podcast series.  Talk turned to how I feed my family, and then there was the sometime-inevitable request to see the inside of my fridge.  Together, we rummaged through its sparse contents, pulling out a bag of baby spinach and […]

Two Tales of a Recipe

Cooking is an extension of circumstance. Take these food photos, part of a cooking and photography challenge from a beautiful food blog, called Liz and Jewels ( Each photo pair shows two independent preparations of the same exact dish, from the same exact recipe. The contrast reflects the different though complementary styles of each photographer […]

Preserving Mom’s Recipes

I spend a good deal of my workday in the test kitchen, developing strategies and recipes for the home cook. But it’s the editing that is one of the most important final steps in bringing a recipe to print. Writers as well as cooks, we take particular care with a recipe’s headnotes, which explain the […]

“Take Out” as a Tool: Leaning on Luigi’s Pizza

I live in Brooklyn, around the corner from Luigi’s Pizza.  In fact, I live in “Grandma’s house,” where the pizzeria’s current patriarch romped around as a young boy.  Giovanni tells long tales of former fig trees in our yard and a giant press—was it for grapes or olives?—in our basement.  Many traces of this older […]

A Zero-Waste Habit: The Case of Clementine Peels

Purple Kale Kitchenworks didn’t start as a platform for condemning food waste. Our aim in using every scrap of each ingredient is to create a flexible system for making delicious, impromptu things to eat. The success of this system depends on how it fits with the way we live our lives. We will only cut […]

The Wastefulness of Meal Planning

Meal planning often lands on the list of things we feel we should do more of, and better. But as home cooks, we cannot assume that meal planning will save us time, money, and stress. Meal plans aren’t a silver bullet. In fact, most plans are inherently wasteful, and require too much effort to sustain. […]

Purple Kale-ing “Jerusalem”

Here at Purple Kale Kitchenworks, as much as we press to break free from recipes, we recognize that a great recipe provides not only a script but also an  inspiration for what to eat.  Starting as excellent teaching tools, recipes become launching pads for everyday improvisation. When I speak of improvising a recipe, I don’t […]

Four Quick and Easy Kitchen Organizing Tips

I’m not fond of typical “Top Tips for…” headlining lists, but I make an exception today.  I visit many people in their home kitchens, armed with the following list of organizing tips.  Thought I’d share it here, at the start of the new year.

Your Kitchen Before Vacation: Cooking Whatever is Around

As lucky folks prepare for vacation, they bury kitchen counters in travel papers and checklists, hovering with take-out containers over last-minute laundry, rather than sitting down for home-cooked meals. While to some, a week straight of take-out is a start to vacation itself, for those who want to make their remaining in-town meals from whatever […]

The Power of Prepping Your Own Food

I am not opposed to the recent growth of pre-prepped ingredients. I understand why, for instance, a home cook finds it tempting to buy pre-cut vegetables or packaged stocks, especially if he/she is typically pressed for time to prepare meals. But while it is understandable to buy a bit of mise en place to help […]

Rethinking the Vegetarian Plate

From the vegetarian workshops I teach, come the following frustrations with the vegetarian meal: “All my meals taste the same.” “Please, not another stir fry.” “I mean, I like rice and beans, but….” “Dinner looks like a cafeteria line.” “It’s too starchy.” “I’m still hungry after we eat.” “I don’t want another pasta.” “I eat […]

Still Life as Dinner

Most of us have one: an artfully set bowl, shelf, or basket, filled with root vegetables.  Staples like potatoes, onions and garlic find frequent housing here, before we use them to anchor whatever else we’re eating.  Rarely, though, do we look to this food arrangement as a meal unto itself.  But tonight, rid at last […]

The Purple Kale Path to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is that ONE holiday, that one event, where even those who rarely cook, do, and those who cook a lot, go all out.  The following is a guide to getting yourself to Thanksgiving dinner, a meal of the highest spirits and expectations.  We’ll review professional-level organizational steps for pulling off this dinner with no […]

Taking Stock of What’s Trash

Sometimes, we need to get food on the table in the most assured way, without operating on impulse and discovery.  But only if we are open to the possibilities accumulating around us as we prepare meals, particularly those items we’d otherwise throw away, do we develop a habit of curiosity, which is key to becoming […]

The Trials of Testing Recipes

This week’s post was supposed to be a lesson in “Roasting Whole Citrus”.  In fact, that was the title of the entry that failure forced me to scrap.  While I hoped to sit down to tell you about a Roasted Lemon and Raisin Citronette for winter greens, and the Roasted Orange, Garlic, and Chile Shrimp […]

Labeled Astray

I was setting up for a workshop last week, which included pulling dozens of prepared items from the refrigerator.  We always start with a nice lunch, and I often marinate olives to match whatever we’ll eat that day.  I wanted to give the olives time to warm up before serving. The olives filled a plastic […]

Refrigerator Blinders: When We Can’t See What’s to Eat

Our family was on vacation when lunchtime rolled around. One day, my husband peeked into the fridge to see what there was to eat. “We have nothing for lunch,” he declared.  We’d been to the grocery almost every day on this trip, so it was odd to think we would have depleted our stock. “We’re […]

The Pitfalls of Meal Planning

Twenty minutes into a Purple Kale workshop, after we pour the wine and serve lunch, we begin tackling an inch-thick workbook.  We start with several Meal Planning charts, some detailed enough to include entries for snacks and dessert.  Inevitably, a few people’s eyes light up; THIS, it seems, is their salvation. My aim is to […]

Making the Most of Kitchen Mistakes

Purple Kale has been in moving limbo for over a month.  Our books and files are in boxes, still strewn about.  Our kitchen equipment is caught in an endless and hilarious migration from cabinet to cabinet (we now have more than two!), and our office equipment remains unplugged and in boxes.  In the midst of […]

Feeding Kids: A Toast Crusts Tale

A few months ago, I wrote about using the crusts of toasts some of us cut off daily for our kids.  When I didn’t eat them for my own breakfast, I saved them to make a Buttermilk Banana Bread Crusts Pudding.  It’s the kind of thing I do, in part because I’m manic about not […]

The Flow of Improvised Meals, 2

It was fun to create the first “Flow of Improvised Meals” for the Just Food Conference in February. Since it was so well received, I decided to do another one for my presentation at the 2012 Brooklyn Food Conference this past weekend.  You can view it, below. This new sketch charts the movement of three ingredients–spring […]

Improvisation in a Pan, April’s workshops

A favorite moment this past workshop weekend: a student was warming a bit of pork shoulder for her improvised meal.  The pork had been braised with coriander, fennel, white pepper, wine, and orange, and she wanted to pair it with kale seared with garlic and lemon, and pickled yellow beets.  She placed some pork in […]

Otherwise, Trash: Strainer Smarts

I love my chinois.  It might be my favorite kitchen tool.  Its conical-shaped, fine, overlapping mesh strains out the tiniest seeds, fiber, and pulp from sauces and purees.  It turns soup into something “silky,” and transforms a rustic sauce into one more elegant. For me, what passes through the chinois is only part of the […]

Holding Points as Teaching Tools, 2

Last week, I wrote about how Holding Points can help us break down a familiar recipe into discrete steps. This time, I describe how Holding Points offer structure to looser improvisations, like when you start cooking with a few raw ingredients, “holding” them as you go, though you have no exact end dish in mind. […]

Holding Points as Teaching Tools

Here is what happened at a cooking class this week. Five of us spent several hours plowing through a host of raw ingredients to create a flexible mise en place for practice improvisations. We cooked pasta (tagliatelle) the Purple Kale way, which includes storing it cold in its salty, starchy cooking water. The mushrooms, we […]

The Flow of Improvised Meals

The Purple Kale workshops at this weekend’s Just Food conference were phenomenal.  Thanks to everyone who came out for two standing-room-only presentations.  Spurred on by numerous requests for materials, I’ve decided to post an excerpt of my notes on line. The following is a flow chart telling a story of how just two ingredients became many meals. […]

Holding Points: Citrus

In this new column, I will explore my favorite holding points for a range of ingredients, starting today with citrus.  My aim: to expand the options for prepping each ingredient, and hence, its role in the improvisation of excellent, everyday meals. Holding Point ™ is a central Purple Kale concept, referring to a point to […]

Rethinking Convenience Foods

Holding Point™ is a central concept of the Purple Kale approach to home cooking. It refers to the point at which an ingredient is stored or prepared for best use. “Best,” of course, is not specific to an ingredient, necessarily, but also relative to a cook’s skill, her physical space, her patience, time, and care. If […]

Beyond the Price Tag

You know that moment. You’re standing in front of the fish counter despairing the higher cost of wild salmon over farmed.  You want to make the environmentally kinder choice.  Or maybe you don’t care, and you just prefer the flavor of salmon to sole, today’s token budget fish.  Regardless, the strain on your wallet momentarily […]

The Kitchen Clearance: Stray Bean Soup

The New Year is an expected time to cull our kitchen stock of items that have fallen out of rotation or rarely see any play. But a kitchen clearance doesn’t just target dusty spice jars and condiments sporting sticky drips. It includes neglected, partially-used bags of common pantry goods, too. In Purple Kale Workshops, I […]

A Different Omnivore’s Dilemma

You may think me blasphemous, but I’m over pork belly. And offal. And pieces of fat for fat’s sake. This isn’t an issue of health or of taste, but of fatigue. For too many chefs, gratuitous additions of animal oddities creep into every appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert. I’m an omnivore, but I don’t need […]

Thanksgiving Soup

Leftovers.  Some of us happily eat them, leaving the rest to moan about the repetition.  For the naysayers, leftovers are punishment cloaked as economic good sense, turkey sauced with guilt. At Purple Kale, of course, I see leftovers as possibilities, playgrounds to experiment with new forms.  We all do this automatically, when we envision the […]

Braising Root Vegetables, Celeriac Soup

Just in time for Thanksgiving, and–as promised to the last workshop participants–the Purple Kale Kitchenworks recipe for Braised Celeriac and, out of that, one for Celeriac Soup. Additionally, below are my thoughts on braising vegetables, perhaps my favorite way to HOLD roots and tubers arriving for the season. Enjoy the holiday, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving. ******* […]

A Recipe: Why Size Doesn’t Matter

Often people come to me, gripping recipes in their hands, “Can you help me simplify this? It’s too long!” They are referring, of course, not to the time it takes to make the dish in question, but to how long the recipe takes to read. Somehow, “lots of words” translates into “lots of work.” But […]

What to Do With What You Have — your culinary toolbox

At Purple Kale, we’re big on making a meal from what’s on hand, and about setting up systems and strategies to make this possible for everyone—even the most time-pressed or temporarily uninspired. We focus on ingredients, generally, but “what’s on hand” also includes your own toolbox of culinary skill. Most of us, for example, have […]

Floods and Farming

To us city and suburban dwellers, flooding involves interrupted subway service, maybe a run on water vacuums. We stock up on provisions to weather a celebrated storm, most of us taking for granted that our infrastructure will arise intact, in time, and confident that markets will re-supply once the storm recedes. To farmers, those same […]

Prepping for Possibilities

At Purple Kale Kitchenworkss, I talk a great deal about mise en place. The lynchpin of professional kitchens, this classic idea of having “everything in its place” places priority on advance work, organizing ingredients to assemble an efficient, delicious meal. To look at it, a cook’s mise en place is an impressive and tidy arrangement […]

Anyway, what to do with Purple Kale?

Copied from a guest blog post on Park Slope Parents: We’ve always known we should eat our hearty winter greens, but for most of us, anything beyond the silky pads of baby spinach were either unforgiving in the pan or to the digestion. Enter kale. Of course kale has been around for a long time […]

Workshop Improvisations and Cauliflower Veloute

I’ll get right to it, because this past weekend’s workshops churned out a long list of thoughtful, delicious, unique dishes–plates created by enthusiastic participants, many who had never successfully improvised an original dish before. The list is impressive: Crostini with Anchovy Butter, Seared Oyster Mushrooms, and Swiss Chard Crostini of Buttery Carrots, Cauliflower, Aioli, and […]

To Have and Hold

Those who know well the idea of “holding point” likely have encountered the following scenario: After a terrific day of “modular” food prep, and several days of eating well from this pantry, you are left with smaller amounts of the same selection to eat. While we go out of our way at Purple Kale Kitchenworks […]

The Winter Put-By

I’m curious if this summer will see the same craze to home canning as last. Imagine greenmarket fans keeping vigil by the stove for hours in the summer heat of their poorly air-conditioned apartment, dreaming of pressure-packed corn and jars of whole, peeled tomatoes to eat in the winter frost. These are enthusiasts of the […]

Braising Root Vegetables

December Purple Kale Kitchenworks cooking workshops coming up! For more information on classes other parents have credited as “totally liberating,” CLICK HERE. Braising is the act of cooking something slowly, completely submerged in liquid. My favorite thing about braising is that it is hard to do wrong. You can cook something for just enough time […]

Otherwise, Trash: Stalk Stock

Some waste is a necessary by-product of cooking. Perhaps that explains the popular trend toward pre-cut vegetables and fruit. After all, if we buy mushroom tops, because they require less effort to prepare, we are buying food that we are more likely to eat. Of course, the convenience is not just in minimizing the labor […]

Gingersnaps, and “Dry” Mise en Place

Just as we may “mise out”  vegetables and herbs when preparing to make a soup, we may also “mise” out dry ingredients for baked things we like to have around:  biscuits for a lazy weekend breakfast, quick breads, favorite cookies. A “Dry” mise includes those ingredients that generally get “sifted” together. Spices and flour, for […]

Parsnips Ought to Do

The following menu is from a demonstration I gave on October 13 at Eden Village Camp in Cold Springs, NY. My hosts were Eden Village Camp, in association with the Jewish Farm School, and the Foundation for Jewish Camp, organizations that, among other things, help strengthen Jewish communities through agriculture and recreation, respectively. I was […]

Otherwise, Trash: a new blog series

A zero-waste kitchen is a noble goal, but to use up odd parts of ingredients we might otherwise throw away means we have to justify the extra time spent to create and execute a dish that we might not have exactly planned for. Introducing a new blog series here at “2 minutes to dinner” called […]

Workshop Improvisations, and Cool and Creamy Corn Soup

Yesterday was the first official “parents-only” workshop at Purple Kale Kitchenworks. The impetus behind the class was to give parents a forum for sharing the challenges of and priorities for feeding their families well. Still, the specific concerns of each parent varied as widely as did their work schedules and their kids’ personalities. Gathered together […]

What restaurants can’t do

If restaurants weren’t cautious about food costs, many would go under, quickly. Food cost is the amount of a dish’s raw ingredients taken as a percentage of its sales price. If, for example, a whole fish costs $7 wholesale, and its accompaniments (say, garlic, white wine, and thyme) cost $1, the cost to the restaurant […]

Heat Wave mise en place

Heat waves, like that which hit New York this week, are good for restaurants that do a quick take-out, or can seat people in an air conditioned oasis. The quick meal is a boon to many who live, and try to cook, with a patchwork at-home cooling system. Not one to complain about sweating to […]

Make it Work

This is in response to a comment posted a couple of days ago about how to implement a meal system by Holding Point. I thought it worthy of full explanation. The “2 minutes”, Purple Kale Kitchenworks method will change the way you feed yourself and your family, enabling you to put healthy, improvised meals on […]

Holding Points

By the Purple Kale Kitchenworks, “2 minutes” method, the concept of a Holding Point is key to a great, working mise en place. For those new to this idea, here’s a brief explanation. When we speak of “Holding Point,” we refer to the furthest useful point of preparation of an ingredient; that is, the point […]

“It really is 2 minutes to dinner (and lunch!)”

–a quote from Maria, a novice cook with a tiny East Village kitchen and a addiction to take out.  Maria was a participant in the Purple Kale Kitchenworks’ May workshops. Maria and I couldn’t figure out how she could post a picture with her comments to this blog, so I told her that I would […]

2 minutes to dinner moves to the web

Before my archive of recipes from previous “2 minutes” emails grows too long, I thought it best to collect many of them here on the web. This way, Purple Kale Kitchenworks students and others passing by can browse at leisure for ideas to fuel their own kitchen sessions. To get set up quickly, I’ve left […]

“I am really tired of chicken.”

That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? I’m tickled that many of you have taken to the Za’atar recipe for roast chicken and, especially, at those who have found inspiration in the jus (and fat!) at the bottom of the pan. But if you’ve made chicken, and maybe even this one in particular, the default protein […]

It takes more than initiative

Recipe writers too casually, and often, toss about directives such as the following: “Save the bones for stock!” “Use extra egg whites to make meringues!” I am guilty of doing the same. I assume that the most efficient, economical, and ambitious home cooks have the initiative to follow through on such imperatives—but that they deserve […]

Are you off the mise en place path?

I spoke with a Workshop “alum” this week about the effort required to set up her weekly mise en place.  After taking the workshop some months ago, she had a burst of energy to label and mise everything insight.  Her buying was more impulsive and her cooking rewarding in a way it hadn’t been for […]