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Baking Croissants with Sarabeth Levine

Sarabeth Levine's Croissants

Notice the layers in this side shot of Sarabeth Levine's perfectly flaky croissants, from her book Sarabeth’s Bakery: From my Hands to Yours.

Sarabeth's BakeryI once considered signing up for a croissant-making class but I decided to buy a cookbook instead. Then I bought more cookbooks and subscribed to more magazines and I bookmarked recipe after recipe online, and still I had never baked croissants. . . I’m quite the recipe hoarder. But when I flipped through my latest cookbook acquisition, Sarabeth’s Bakery: From my Hands to Yours (recently nominated for a 2011 James Beard Award), I was inspired to chat with Sarabeth Levine about the secrets to making those flaky, buttery croissants I occasionally snagged from her bakery in Chelsea Market.

“You have to flip to the first pages of my book and make them,” said Sarabeth, when we met and I blurted out the truth about my croissant-making procrastination. She explained that most people are intimidated by the final product, but croissants really aren’t that difficult to make. They only take a few ingredients and time-wise, you spend most of your time waiting for the dough to chill, freeze and proof. “Making a pound cake takes more focus,” she said.

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Make Pancakes for Mardi Gras

buttermilk pancakes

Indulge in a batch of buttermilk pancakes to celebrate Fat Tuesday.

Pancakes (along with fried bread and fatty pastries) are traditional Mardi Gras staples, since Fat Tuesday is the last chance to eat rich, fatty foods before the 40 day fasting of Lent. But even if you’re going to skip the fasting, go ahead and indulge in the feasting. There’s no better time to cook up fluffy buttermilk pancakes.

Here are some no-fail pancake making tips I rounded up, with a little help from The Pancake Handbook: Specialties from Bette’s Oceanview Diner.

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Risotto: A Rice Story

Risotto Jamie’s Grilled Musrhoom Risotto makes an easy and elegant Valentine’s Day dish, especially when made with carnaroli rice.

Stirring, ladling, stirring, ladling, tasting, stirring, second-guessing, ladling. . . Making the perfect risotto is a labor of love best undertaken with backup – your sweetheart, a friend or even an unsuspecting dinner guest with a strong arm will do. Because no matter what happens, if the salad needs mixing, the fish needs roasting, the cat’s tail catches fire, that risotto must be stirred and observed, with ladleful after ladleful of stock gradually added to the rice, for 17 to 30 minutes. This makes it both a bother and the most amazingly social, make-together dish imaginable, perfect for an intimate dinner for two (for Valentine’s Day!) or a small, friends-in-the-kitchen dinner party.

The magic of risotto is the alluring creaminess that emerges from the combination of just rice, broth and a little (okay, a lot of) stirring. I consulted Made In Italy: Food & Stories, by Giorgio Locatelli, and it turns out the starches are key to risotto’s unique texture. The rice contains two contrasting types of starch: soft amylopectin on the surface, which rubs off and gets reabsorbed by the rice, making risotto creamy, and firmer amylase inside the rice grains, which maintains the shape and keeps the cooked rice al dente, or firm to the bite.

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DIY Asian Dumplings

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings Steamed dumplings make a great at-home dim sum treat.

Dumpling making is the perfect project for a Chinese New Year celebration, a Valentine’s Day dinner-for-two or any ho-hum weekend at home. Rolling the wrappers, mixing up fillings and all that folding, crimping and shaping can be the ultimate social activity – it’s surprisingly easy and even misshapen mistakes make good eats.

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Why Not One-Pot?

There’s no need to dirty up a sink’s worth of dishes for tonight’s dinner. Turn to these one-pot solutions and keep the clean-up simple.

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DIY Greek Yogurt

Greek Yogurt This year, eat more Greek yogurt! Image courtesy Food Network Magazine.

This year, make a new year’s resolution you can keep all year long: Eat more Greek yogurt! It’s thick, creamy and tart, high in protein and super-versatile. Here’s how to make your own, plus tons of ways to use it.

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Sparkling Wines that Won’t Break the Bank

Champagne Picks for New Year's Eve

It’s almost time to ring in the New Year. And the occasion just wouldn’t be complete with something bubbly to drink at midnight. But that doesn’t mean you have to splurge on a $80 bottle of Champagne to make the night special. We spoke with Lorena Ascencios, wine buyer at Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City, to find out the best bets for affordable sparkling wine.

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Homemade Holiday Gift: DIY Harissa

Finished Harissa, With Ingredients

Food-wise, December looks something like this: Cookies, cookies, doughnuts, cookies, candy, cookies, cake, cookies. Champagne. Cookies.  I love all those sweets (and the bubbly) as much as the next gal, but between bites of buttery cookies and homemade caramels, I crave something savory, spicy and delicious.

I’m banking that I’m not the only one who feels this way, so this year I’m making a batch of harissa to give to friends as a holiday gift. This ubiquitous North African condiment is popping up in restaurants and on food blogs everywhere, and you can use it in many forms, from ketchup-like condiment to star-of-the-show spice rub. Sure, you can buy it in a tube, but making your own is easy, and you can control the heat level and seasoning.

Here’s how to make your own, package it and serve it up all month long.

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Thanksgiving 911

A girl can't survive on whipped cream alone! Here are our tips to save the rest of your feast.

Thanksgiving can be disastrous enough even if the food goes off without a hitch, but serving runny potatoes and raw turkey can make you feel about as bad as playing referee between two feuding family members. But don’t worry — we’re here to help!  Just take a deep breath (or two) and read our solutions for the most common Thanksgiving (food) woes.

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Canning Tomatoes: Many (Dirty) Hands Make Light Work

Finished Tomato Sauce A little effort today means fresh tomatoes for months to come.

The end of summer means that once again my husband and I, along with a couple of friends, are undertaking a major tomato canning extravaganza. We work together to stock all of our shelves with jars of tomato-y goodness for the year to come, methodically processing the fresh tomatoes from firm, whole fruit to bubbling red jars of liquid summer.

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