Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

I admit to having a slight obsession with butternut squash. I love the flavor. I love its versatility. I love the color orange.

On the cooking show I work on we have used butternut squash in a couple healthy mac n' cheese recipes. The first season, one of our chefs made baked butternut squash mac n' cheese.  This season, Chef Vikki made a stove top butternut squash mac n' cheese.  I've seen a number of butternut squash lasagna recipes, and I even read about a squash carbonara.  Having tested, tasted, and loved the recipes for the show, it felt like it was time to take a stab at my own version of some kind of butternut squash pasta sauce.

For almost every squash recipe I make, especially soup, I prefer to roast my squash as opposed to cooking it in a liquid on the stove.  The squash gets caramelized, which adds to the depth of flavor. I find simmered or steamed squash slightly bland.

This recipe shouldn't be followed exactly. You'll need to taste the ingredients and add more of whatever you think it needs or doesn't need.  The basic idea is: roast squash, sweat onions and garlic, add roasted squash to the pan, add fresh thyme salt and pepper, add some water (or stock), add some milk, let it simmer and cook through, boil some pasta while that's happening, puree the sauce, add some cheese, top with fresh herbs, and serve.

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
Serves 4

olive oil
1 medium butternut squash (about 3 lbs.)
1 box rigatoni, or any other kind of pasta you like (i.e. brown rice pasta or quinoa pasta)
1/2 a large white or yellow onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
1/2 cup water, or more as needed
1/2 cup milk (any kind), or more as needed
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere (or Swiss, or cheddar,  or mozzarella)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Line a sheet pan with parchment or foil (easier clean-up).  Cut your squash in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds.  Drizzle olive oil over the squash.  Place flesh side down, and roast in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the squashed is cooked through (it should be soft when you pierce it with a fork or knife.  Once the squash is cooked, let it cool slightly.

Bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil.

In a deep sauce pan or pot, over medium high heat, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the diced onion to the olive oil and let the onion sweat until soft and translucent, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and thyme leaves to the onion and let it cook for another minute or two.  Scoop the cooked squash out of its skin, and add it to the pan.  Add the water and milk to the squash mixture. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, and then turn down the heat to low.  Let the butternut squash sauce simmer while you prepare your pasta.

Add your pasta to the boiling water, and cook until just al dente the box will indicate the correct amount of time for an al dente noodle, but keep your eye on those guys and make sure they don't get mushy because that's the worst.  Once the pasta is cooked and drained, add it back to the warm pot. This will allow any excess water to evaporate.

Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, food processor, or potato masher, puree your squash mixture until it is smooth and sauce-like.  It doesn't have to be perfect, in fact, just roasting the squash will make it break apart easily when added to the liquid. Turn the heat off.  Add the shredded cheese and stir until it is melted into the sauce. I like to go light on the cheese.  If you want to mimic mac n' cheese, add more of the cheese.  You can also adjust the thickness of the sauce by adding more milk or half and half if you're feeling decadent. This sauce is all about what you like. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the finished sauce to your pasta leftover sauce can be frozen.

Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.  Serve with grated parmesan and red pepper flake.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Flourless Chocolate Brownie Cookies (gluten free)

I stumbled across this recipe for Chocolate Brownie Cookies in the January 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. The picture of the cookie looked great, and the recipe seemed as simple as any cookie recipe could possibly be.

Well done Bon Appetit test kitchen!  This is a stellar cookie, and an excellent gluten free dessert.

Look, I'm a big fan of gluten.  I don't have an intolerance to it, and I have nothing against it from a nutritional perspective.  But, I know many folks that do have difficulties with gluten; and it's nice to have more recipes I can serve those friends.

Plus, the omission of flour is texturally significant in these cookies. They are crispy and light on the outside, and gooey in the center.  They remind me of a cross between a meringue and a french macaron.  What could be bad about that?

I only made a few changes to the recipe. Next time, I might add cinnamon or cayenne to the batter. But really, it's pretty perfect as is.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies 
Makes 2 dozen cookies

3 cups gluten-free powdered sugar (you can also use regular powdered sugar if you aren't gf)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (the better the powder, the better the cookie)
1 tsp. kosher salt (essential)
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
4 oz. (1/2 cup) bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead)
3 tbsp. cacao nibs (I did not have these on hand. Instead, I added 3 extra tablespoons of chocolate chips)

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F.

Whisk powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl, then whisk in egg whites and egg; fold in chocolate and cacao nibs.  You don't have to be perfect about any of these steps. This batter is very forgiving.  Just don't overmix the batter once you add the eggs; err on the side of clumps.  

Your batter should look glossy and almost like melted chocolate

Spoon batter by the tablespoonful onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2" apart.  I used an actually measuring tablespoon.  The batter is very very sticky, so I scooped up spoonfuls, and needed to use my hand to release the batter from the spoon.  

Bake, rotating sheets once, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and set just around the edges, 14-16 minutes. Mine took 14, I always prefer cookies just under, and they continue to cook even out of the oven.

Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool on pan (they'll firm up). Okay, here's the ONLY tricky part of this recipe.  My cookies needed to cool in the pan for a minute or so before they would unstick from the bottom. The first hot cookie I tried to move with a spatula broke apart.  After a minute, it was easier.  It also helped to lift up the parchment off of the hot cookie tray, transfer the parchment to the counter, and lift the cookies off the parchment once they were not in the pan. This is still a delicate process, and you'll want a good spatula for the operation.

Do ahead; Cookies can be baked 3 days ahead.  Store airtight at room temperature.  

And this is what you get!


Friday, February 21, 2014

Wildwood Restaurant

Disclaimer: this post has no recipes. It is a long-winded homage to a restaurant that is closing its doors.  I'll return to the recipes in the next post.

There has been no shortage of great culinary influences in my life. I had immigrant parents and grandparents, which meant that I was exposed to an array of interesting home-cooked foods, many of them foreign to where I was born and raised.  I watched countless hours of PBS culinary programming, and then countless hours of the food network in its early days.  I had a father who loved to garden.  Our house growing up had a backyard with a farmer's market's array of vegetables growing in it, in addition to fruit trees and berry bushes.We would harvest incredible organic bounties before anyone I knew even talked about produce in those terms.  My father also took my brother and I foraging around the Northwest.  We hunted morels, we picked Italian plums off of overflowing trees, we collected big plump blueberries, and wild strawberries.  The fruit and veg that we got in abundance were then preserved into pickles and jams by my grandmother. My mother made us dinner every night, and a special shabbat dinner every Friday night.  We almost never went out to restaurants, and fast food was not a concept I grew up with. Food meant a lot to me very early on. I started teaching myself to cook at a young age. By college, I was cooking for friends and roommates on a regular basis.

In 2004, I graduated from a liberal arts school with a degree that was worth very little in the marketplace. I was living in Portland, and I was trying to find a day job that would help me pay the bills while I worked on starting an art-non profit.

I walked up and down the streets of Portland, handing out a mediocre resume to any restaurant that might have been hiring.  My previous service industry experience included working at an ice cream shop, and waitressing at a Greek restaurant. I remember stopping outside Wildwood. I thought, "This is a fancy place. I'll never get a job here." I walked in anyway, I left my resume, and soon after I was called in for an interview with the manager.  I had no idea that I was about to work in a place that would fundamentally impact the rest of my culinary life.

Wildwood has defined the bar by which I now compare every single fine-dining experience.  Food has to be as good or better than it was there.  Service has to be as good or better as it was there. Unfortunately for other restaurants, they often miss the mark.  

Wildwood didn't just teach about how great a restaurant can be, it taught me about what was possible with food, it taught me about what was possible when one has passion, it taught me about what it means to form a business that is rooted in a community.

Wildwood is closing after 20 years.  I worked there 10 years ago for about a year.  At that time, Wildwood was packed every day.  Lunch service on a Friday in December was the hardest I've ever worked in my life.  As a recent college grad, Wildwood gave me more than a paycheck that paid my rent. Wildwood graciously welcomed me into the "real world." I made lifelong friends there, I developed a strong work ethic and attention to detail, and I made lifelong memories.  

I quit my job at Wildwood because I was offered my first gig in Los Angeles.  Two weeks after I gave notice, I moved to Hollywood and started working at Sony Pictures TV. Before I left, Cory Schreiber, Wildwood's founder and executive chef at the time, asked me about my upcoming move and job change, and in a nervous attempt at self deprecation, I said; "Yeah, I'm going off to do a real job."  To which he responded, "This IS a real job." His tone was not recriminating or condescending, but there was a weight to what he was telling me.  I worked as a busser at Wildwood. In my 20-something mind, I was the lowest on the totem-pole in the restaurant food-chain, and I was trying to make light of my status. I was full of shit. The truth was, I was honored to work at Wildwood.  Cory called me out on making light of what I was doing.  He wasn't just saying my job was real, he was saying any job is real. He was saying: take pride in your work. Take pride in the place that supports you. Take pride in what you do. 

In no particular order, I'd like to thank Wildwood for the following things:
  • Introducing me to the idea of farm to table food.  
  • Introducing me to the idea of seasonal cooking and eating.  
  • Showing me that every part of an animal can be butchered and used for something.
  • Serving me some of the most memorable meals of my life, with the greatest company
  • Teaching me that cooks are the filthiest, crassest, funniest, hardest working bad-asses out there.
  • Teaching me that you should never, I really mean never, clear one diner's empty plate when their companion diner is still eating.  It's incredibly rude. No one should feel bad or rushed about lingering with their food.  The meal is done when everyone is finished, only then should plates be cleared. 
  • Teaching me how to properly cook a steak, how to properly chop with a knife (learned the hard way), how to properly cook a piece of fish, and how to properly fry an egg.
  • Learning that you can be a well-known James Beard award winning chef and still be incredibly humble, kind, generous, innovative, and an activist.
  • The first time I smelled and tasted freshly shaved truffles was at Wildwood.  That is probably all I needed to say about the affect the place had on me, and how grateful I am to have worked there.
Goodbye Wildwood, and thank you for what you were.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Simple Salad and Simple Dressing

I love making salads. It's a funny thing to love to make. Salads are often an afterthought when one is preparing a meal for friends. Salads are that thing you eat when you're trying to be healthy, or when you're trying to incorporate more greens into your diet. Salad is often treated as a second class citizen in the culinary world.

I hold salads and salad dressings in high esteem.  As a kid, I would always ask my mom for seconds of salad. As an adult, I crave them on a daily basis. Part of my love of salads coincides with my love of condiments.

I'm a sucker for a good sauce or add-on.  A great dressing or vinaigrette is my personal favorite kind of sauce.  The best kind of dressing is one that masters a balance of tangy, salty, sweet, and oily.  One of the staples in my arsenal is an exceedingly simple dijon balsamic vinaigrette.  Personally, I prefer a tahini dressing; but a great balsamic dressing is always a crowd pleaser.

It is imperative that you start with a great balsamic when you make this dressing. There are a lot of guides on the internet for picking the best balsamics (here's one). Above all else, check the ingredients. Added sugar or caramel is super whack. Avoid buying vinegar with any kind of added sweetener.

Back to the salad itself... for dinner parties, I like to keep my salads simple. Usually, I stick to 3 ingredients: something leafy, something crunchy, something unexpected/fun - this could be an ingredient with a great color, flavor, or texture (i.e. watermelon radishes, thinly sliced zucchini, carrot ribbons, pickled shallots, and so on.)

This salad is super easy, and the earthy pine nuts and sweet currants go well with the spicy arugula. Tangy sweet balsamic dijon dressing brings it all together.

Arugula, Currant and Pine Nut Salad with Balsamic Dijon Vinaigrette
Serves 4-6

for the salad:
7 ounces of arugula
2 tablespoons pine nuts (or however much you want), lightly toasted if desired
3 tablespoons dried currents (or however much you want)
salt and pepper

for the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard (optional)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely minced shallot (totally optional)

Put al of your salad ingredients in a large bowl.  Season your arugula with salt and pepper. Yes, before you dress the salad.

Add the balsamic and mustards to a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. If you're using shallot, add it to the dressing and stir. Ok, here's what should happen at this point:
TASTE IT. Taste your dressing for Pete's sake. You might need more oil. You might need more mustard. You might need more balsamic. Every ingredient differs, everyone's taste differs.  If you like your dressings on the sweet side add a little honey or agave to the mix. Start with a 1/4 teaspoon and go from there.  A great way to taste your dressing is to dip a leaf of arugula into it. If it tastes the way you want it on the rest of your salad your dressing is good to go.

Just before you're about to eat the salad, drizzle some of the dressing around the sides of the bowl. Gently toss the leaves in the dressing. Your hands are best for this operation. Start slowly, you can always add more dressing.  Once your leaves are glistening with your desired amount of dressing, serve!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Cookin' Cheap" - Cooking Club Recap

Our cooking club met this past Sunday, and as usual, a great time and great dishes were had by all. Each month, the host of that month's gathering chooses a theme.  My sister-in-law hosted this month's club, and she chose the following theme:

The theme for next cooking club will be bringing forth recipes that in one way or another came about to overcome hardship. Whether the hardship was due to war, poverty, dietary restrictions, I'd like to know and be inspired by what you guys have come across. I am not sure if this is totally clear, so I will rely on Tamar Adler's intro to her book An Everlasting Meal, lent to me by Liz to make a better point. In An Everlasting Meal, Adler pays homage to one of my favorite books, How to Cook A Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher.

"[How to Cook A Wolf] is a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries... The essays it contains make it seem practical to consider one's appetite. It advocated cooking with gusto not only for vanquishing hardship with pleasure but for ' weeding out what you yourself like best to do, so that you can live most agreeably in a world full of an increasing number of disagreeable surprises.'"

She also shared one of her favorite old cooking shows that she grew up watching in Philly:

I love the show. I can't get enough of watching old cooking shows on youtube.  I'm amazed by the differences between now and then; different productions values, different styles of plating, different types of ingredients, and different cooking techniques.

I was a big fan of the theme.  Some of the greatest dishes of all time were born out of hardship.  Aside from the obvious types of economic hardships, it also got me thinking about what other types of hardships might bring about interesting dishes.

Here's a recap of what the ladies made this month:
Ottoleghi's Salad with Radish, Sundried Tomato

Stewed greens with tomato and onion (greens were from the cook's garden)

Roasted brussels sprouts
Ina's recipe works well

spam fried rice with toasted coconut and herb topping on the side (the topping is such a good idea, I'll be stealing that for the future)

Turkish meatless meatballs (made of lentils and other nice things)
here's a similar recipe

Chocolate pudding and tea biscuit cake (that's all it is, pudding and tea biscuits :)

Coconut milk brown rice pudding topped with ground pistachios, served with macerated cherries and whole pistachios
Update: here's a simple recipe via Mark Bittman for something similar. You can add vanilla, cinnamon, and other flavors to jazz it up.  Top with dried cherry and pistachio at the end.

oh, and I contributed the previous posts's borscht

I am already looking forward to next months' club.  Theme TBD.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My grandmother's Borscht

As the child of Russian immigrants, beets played a big role in my culinary upbringing. Borscht is the king of all beet dishes, and no one makes it better than my maternal grandmother.

Borscht is beet soup.  Many Russians include meat in their borscht.  The kind that I grew up eating was vegetarian, and it is the kind I prefer.

My grandparents have very civilized meals.  Among other things, they begin every dinner with a bowl of soup. Borscht is in heavy rotation in a cycle of other great soups.

I have made borscht different ways.  I have also made non-borscht beet soups (creamy, with yogurt and dill). This recipe is the most classic version of this type of soup.  To me, it tastes like home and family. It tastes like sweet earth, bright with lemon and dill. A dollop of sour cream is an essential component. Extra fresh dill always helps. The soup does take a bit of work, but each step is easy.

To make this borscht especially good, I started by getting all of my ingredients at the Hollywood farmer's market.  I especially like going to the market when I have a specific recipe in mind; hunting for root veggies and cabbage couldn't be easier in February... even if you're not in agriculturally abundant California. These ingredients are also readily available at any grocery store.

From my experiences growing up bringing "weird" things to school in my lunchbox, I know this stuff isn't for everyone. But if you're into beets, and you're into soups, you'll probably enjoy Borscht.

Baba's Borscht
Serves 10-12

1 large onion, or 2 small onions, peeled and halved
3 stalks of celery
handful of fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3-4 medium sized beets, shredded
2 medium carrots, shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
2 cups roughly shopped beet greens (optional)
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill
Juice of 1 lemon
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Sour cream 

Fill a large pot with water.  Add your peeled and halved onions, celery stalks, flat leaf parsley, garlic and bay leaf to the pot.  Season the water with a generous amount of salt.  Bring the ingredients to a boil, lower to a simmer, and let the steep for 30 minutes.  

While your broth is simmering, peel your carrots and beets.  If you do not want beet-stained hands, use disposable gloves whilst peeling your beets.  To make life easy, you can shred your carrots and beets in a food processor.  If you don't have a food processor, or you want to work out your dominant arm's bicep, you can shred the beets and carrots with a box grater.  Add the olive oil to a large pan on medium high heat.  Add the shredded beets and carrots to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper. Sautee the vegetables until they are softened, about 15 minutes.

Once the beets and carrots have wilted and softened, and the broth has been simmering for a while, you can scoop out the onion, celery, parsley, garlic, etc. from the broth using a spider or slotted spoon.  Add the shredded cabbage and beet greens to the pot (I save the tops of the beets, wash them really well, and chop them up... if you didn't get your beets with greens, you can skip this ingredient).   Add the cooked beets and cabbage to the pot.  Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.  

At this point, the flavors will come together, and the liquid will become a brilliant red color. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and fresh dill to the pot. Ladle and serve the borscht with a generous dollop of sour cream.  I like to serve this soup hot, but you can also eat it chilled.

Borscht is best eaten with a chunk of hearty crusty bread.  If you're feeling really Russian, you can also eat your borscht with a side of raw garlic cloves, seriously.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Grapefruit, Avocado, & Celery Salad

You want to make a salad but you don't have any leafy greens or lettuce...
Make an avocado grapefruit and celery salad!

The other evening, I wanted a salad, but was out of lettuce and most other common salad ingredients. I searched around the kitchen and found that I had a ripe avocado, a soon to be overripe grapefruit, and some celery that was on its way to becoming a limp sad version of its original fresh crisp self.

Avocado and grapefruit are a popular pair for salads.  The fatty richness of the avocado marries perfectly with the tangy bittersweetness of the grapefruit.  However, texturally, they're both a little on the mushy side. Celery seemed like it would offer a welcome contrast to those ingredients.

Celery really isn't my favorite vegetable. I'll use it for a soup or a lentil dish and then I end up with 3/4 of a bunch leftover. It is soon forgotten in my vegetable crisper.  But celery leaves are flavorful and bright with a slight bitterness to them. When thinly sliced, celery has the most satisfying crunch and texture. There's a natural saltiness to celery.  Used in combination with other things, it can be surprisingly lovely. If I had had lettuce on hand, I wouldn't have experimented with the celery, but it was the perfect addition to the two fruits.  The best recipes seem to always evolve from lacking the ingredients I normally rely on.

As a last note, I think this salad would be a great vehicle for some kind of  smokey salty meat or charcuterie. I would crisp it up in a pan, and serve it as a warm topping on the cool salad. With or without meat, this salad is an excellent starter to a nice meal.

Avocado, Grapefruit, Celery & Celery Leaf Salad with Apple Cider Shallot Vinaigrette
Serves 2-4

1 large ripe avocado (Hass)
1 large ripe ruby red grapefruit, supremed into sections + tablespoon of juice, reserved
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon celery leaves, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon grapefruit juice, reserved from before
1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil, good quality
1/2 a small shallot, super-finely diced
salt and pepper to taste

Start by preparing your vegetables. Thinly slice the celery and lay across the bottom of a large plate. Chop up the celery leaves and reserve.

Supreme a grapefruit, here's how. The pith of the grapefruit makes it unpleasantly bitter, at least to my liking. If you're super into bitter, keep that white pith on the fruit. Cut your grapefruit over a bowl so that you can save any juices that escape as you are cutting into the fruit.  If you really don't want to be wasteful, you can save the grapefruit peel and candy it later. Lay the sliced grapefruit over the celery.

Slice up the avocado, and top the celery and grapefruit with the slices.  Sprinkle the reserved celery leaves on top of the avocado.

In a small bowl, add the apple cider vinegar, grapefruit juice, mustard, shallot, salt and pepper.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is thick and emulsified (has come together).

Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.

Here's the thing about dressings... I never measure any of the ingredients when I add them together.  I always make my dressings to taste, and I taste the mixture each step of the way. Vinegars differ, juices differ, oils differ.  Each one has its own unique flavor profile and level of acidity. I start with the amounts I think will produce the right balance of flavor. If it's too tangy, I add a little sweetener (agave or honey). If it's too oily, I add a little more of whatever acid I'm using.  I dip a vegetable into the dressing to taste it before I dress the salad I'm making.  Don't be intimidated by dressings; no exactness is necessary. They're fun, easy, and once you start making them you'll get better and better at creating the perfect balance of flavors.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cooking the perfect (looking) egg

Sometimes you get asked to food style a small commercial.  Sometimes, for said commercial, you have to make lots of eggs that will look perfect, and will also perfectly slide out of a pan.  In addition to those perfect looking eggs, you have to make perfect omelets, steaks, hamburgers, cakes, stir fry, roast chicken, pot roast, pancakes, breakfast meats, and more.

I won't bore you with all of the details of the surreal experience that my assistant and I had styling this shoot.  We absolutely learned a lot about making both good-looking and bad-looking food.  I also believe that the producers are kind, hard-working, well-meaning folks.

That said, I knew the day would be wacky from the get-go.  First, I stepped in dog poo while loading up my car with equipment (please, for the love of everyone, clean up after your dog).  Then, I got a deep paper cut on my finger.  I had a weird feeling in my stomach about the rest of the day. The shoot itself took place in a home in North Hollywood, in a small kitchen, we had over 50 set-ups, and the crew meal was from Subway.  If you work in the entertainment industry, this description of the day is all you really need to know.  For those of you not in this crazy business, I'll just add that over the course of our day, the director and director of photography never referred to us by our names.  As my assistant said, "All they had to do is learn one of our names and we both would have responded. Just say "Sonya, can you (blank)? And we both would have done it." Instead, for 10 hours we were referred to directly and indirectly as "girls."  Hey girls, we need the omelets. Girls, where is the chicken? Girls can you stop moving while we're trying to shoot this, but can you also keep moving so we have something to shoot immediately after this? It was a challenging shoot for everyone.

Moving on... the point of this post is about how to make beautiful looking eggs.  Making pretty eggs should not be confused with making delicious eggs.

If you're a nerd about food, or have a hobbyist's interest in food styling, then you should immediately go get this book by Delores Custer.  Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera has taught me an invaluable amount of tips and tricks that might have otherwise taken me years of trial and error to discover on my own.  Want to know what pancake batter makes the best looking pancakes? Delores will tell you (it's Aunt Jemima's Complete Buttermilk Blend).  Want to know how to give that omelet structure and lift? Delores knows (you can do it by using a hard taco shell inside, or by using a folded up damp paper towel).

Eggs are tricky suckers.  Many a culinary professional has claimed that a chef can be judged by how well they can cook an egg.  So how do you get that commercial quality look out of your sunny-side up egg?

How to Make a "Perfect Looking" Sunny-Side Up Egg:
1) Use refrigerated eggs
2) Fill a nonstick pan with enough vegetable oil to cover the white of the egg (about a 1/4-inch deep)
3) Heat the oil slowly on low until it the oil reaches 160°F. Oil that is too hot will cause the egg white to bubble. If the oil is too cold the egg will take a very long time to cook.
4) Break the egg into the pan.  You can position the yolk into the center of the white by nudging it with the shell of the egg (P.S. using the shell is a great way to get broken shell out of an egg once you've cracked it... much easier than by using a spoon or fork).
5) Using a spoon, baste the white of the egg with the oil form the pan.
6) Once all of the white is firm, remove the egg from the pan and transfer it to a sheet pan that is lined with plastic.  Or if you don't want the egg to move around, blot the bottom of the egg with paper towel before transferring it onto a plate.

I'm not sure how valuable this information is outside of learning to make food for the camera, but who knows? Maybe you can make perfect looking eggs as a decorative centerpiece for a brunch party?! These eggs can sit out and look the same all day long. Maybe this is a cool party trick that you can use to impress your friends?  Maybe this is extra information that you'd rather soon forget?

Just remember: this is one instance where you shouldn't eat with your eyes. This egg is just for looks.