Photo Credit: Ron Palacio
For many people, Martha Stewart is the be-all and end-all when it comes to the domestic arts. She can cook, bake, sew, craft or make pretty much anything, from building chicken coops to baking layer cakes – and she makes it all seem attainable. If you have the time, budget and inclination, that is. And if even if you don’t, Martha World is endlessly inspiring and entertaining. Who hasn't drooled over an issue of Martha Stewart Weddings without having a wedding to plan?
Can you tell I’m kind of a fan?
Whether or not you worship at the altar of Martha, she is unquestionably one of the best teachers out there, especially when it comes to cooking. Her new TV series for PBS, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School (based on her book of the same title), is a back-to-basics show that focuses on fundamentals: how to cook eggs, how to cut meat, how to make stock. Whether you’re a seasoned cook or just starting out, it’s always useful to watch a pro demonstrate all the steps of a basic technique. The way you’ve been frying eggs, or cutting a chicken, or making salad dressing might not be the best way – or the easiest way.
For instance, I’ve made mac and cheese many, many times. But on Wednesday morning, I found myself whisking a pot of béchamel sauce alongside Martha herself. I was not hallucinating; I was at a press event for Cooking School, once again being the nervous assistant. Whisking the sauce, trying not to freak out, glancing at Martha, adding some salt, trying not to freak out. Is that too much salt? Is it the same amount of salt Martha is putting in her béchamel?
Now and forevermore, I will make my mac and cheese a la Martha, with a béchamel sauce (melted butter, flour and milk, whisked together until thick), four cheeses (fontina, extra sharp cheddar, parmesan and Gruyere), a pinch of cayenne pepper and a generous shaving of nutmeg. The final product was everything you'd want in a mac and cheese – rich and creamy and with a nice tang from the sharp cheddar. But even if you only follow one of these tips, you learned something new, and you might just improve your go-to mac and cheese recipe.
A few more “good things” Martha mentioned at the Cooking School event:
- Rice wine vinegar
Martha likes a three-to-one ratio of oil to vinegar when making a vinaigrette. She says you can play around with any combination of oil and vinegar (or other acids, like lemon juice), but she likes the more delicate flavor of rice wine vinegar.
- Grapeseed oil
Likewise, she often uses a mix of grapeseed oil and olive oil when dressing tender greens because grapeseed is much lighter in flavor, and balances out the strong flavor of olive oil. But for salads with robust greens like radicchio and kale, olive oil is better.
- Wooden salad bowls
Martha’s really into deep wooden salad bowls. You can whisk the vinaigrette and toss the greens in the same bowl, then bring it straight to the table. No mess, and no wasted dressing!
- Bar cloths
We all know Martha’s a neat freak. Inspired by her favorite Japanese restaurant, where the chefs constantly wipe the counters, she always keeps plenty of bar cloths (cheap little dishtowels) on hand to wipe up any messes.
- 00 flour
She’s really into 00 flour, which is powder-fine and typically used in Italian restaurants to make pizza. You can use it for light-as-air baked goods as well – Martha mentioned using it to make an amazing coconut cake. (The flour can be a bit hard to find, but King Arthur sells it.)
- Garlic video
She also loves this video, which shows you how to peel an entire head of garlic in 10 seconds by (loudly!) banging it inside of two bowls. She even demonstrated the trick for us. See, Martha’s all about technique!
Martha Stewart's Cooking School debuts Oct. 6 and 7 on PBS, check your local listings for air times.
WATCH: How to Make Gourmet Macaroni and Cheese