Tasty Tufts: How to Conserve Water in the Kitchen

drought

My latest post on Tasty Tufts has been published, and it includes my top ten tips to reduce water usage in the kitchen. You can find the article by clicking here. Little things like loading the dishwasher correctly and being careful about running the tap can really add up over time when done consistently, and while these habits are especially important for us Californians they’re good ideas for all cooks regardless of your state’s annual rainfall.

In other news, I’m home for the summer! Which means that there are two loaves of bread rising on our kitchen counter and I’ve already seen my brother laugh so much that he accidentally inhaled some mesclun greens at dinner. It’s good to be back.

Pumpkin Bread and Tasty Tufts

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Some of you may already know this, but this semester in addition to posting on Kinsey Cooks I’ll be contributing to the Tufts food blog, Tasty Tufts. It’s a great website full of Boston and Somerville restaurant reviews, recipes, and thoughts on eating in college. My first post (which you can find by clicking here) is the recipe for my favorite pumpkin bread, and more posts will be coming from me this semester. Anytime I have a post on Tasty Tufts, I’ll post the link here on Kinsey Cooks so that you can stay up to date with the Tufts food scene.

ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast


I like to think that college has turned me into somewhat of an opportunist—go explore Boston or Sommerville for a day? Sure, why not. Take a butternut squash from the dining hall’s autumn display and stealthily walk out of breakfast with a suddenly much heavier backpack? Of course. There were plenty of other decorative gourds where it came from, anyways, and I couldn’t bear to see such a seasonally appropriate food languish on top of the salad bar when I knew it could become so much more.

The butternut squash sat on my desk for nearly two weeks, staring me down every time I sat down to finish a problem set or write a paper. Last Saturday I finally decided put it to good use. This dish we made, a recipe for butternut squash toast with ricotta and caramelized onion jam is certainly nothing new, but the recipe from the John-Georges Vongerichten’s famed ABC Kitchen has been a favorite recipe of many home cooks for the past few years, and the combination of good cheese and fully caramelized, seasoned vegetables sounded too good to be true after eating dining hall food for the past few months.

So, with a few friends, a cutting board and a mixing bowl bought from Goodwill for two dollars each, the squash, a few drinking glasses of oil, vinegar, and a bowl of sliced onions taken, again, from the dining hall, we sat down in the dorm kitchen and had our first dinner party of the semester. After having eaten nearly all of our meals in the bustling dining hall—the kind with tall ceilings that noises reverberate off of so that that every meal is punctuated with the clatter of dropped plastic cups and the whir of the soft-serve machine—it was such a treat to sit down in a cozy kitchen and enjoy hearty bread topped with creamy ricotta, spicy roasted squash, and caramelized onion jam. The vegetables were cooked but still had life in them—a delicate balance to attain when cooking 5 gallons of broccoli florets for hundreds of students, but straightforward when roasting a single pan of sliced squash—and the contrast of the mild sweetness of the squash against the tangy onions tied all of the flavors into a perfect autumn tartine. It may have been our first dinner party of the semester, but it certainly won’t be our last.

Special thanks to Tufts University Dining Services for creating such a practical autumn display and for having all kinds of vegetables and vinegars in the salad bar. My friends and I are most grateful.

ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast

Recipe from ABC kitchen found via Smitten Kitchen and adapted for dorm living

Serves 4 as a light main course

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion thinly sliced—I used 2 cups of sliced red onion, which worked well

1 teaspoon table salt

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar—I used red wine vinegar, which served in a pinch

3 tablespoons maple syrup—I used an equal amount of brown sugar

1 medium butternut squash, 2 ½-3 lbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons table salt

½ teaspoon red chili flakes

8-10 slices of hearty whole grain bread, a nice Pain au Levain or any sort of seeded rustic boule will work well

Extra olive oil, for brushing the bread

4 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature

Optional garnishes: chopped fresh mint, a few pinches of kosher or sea salt

  1. Heat the 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt, and saute for 10-15 minutes, until beginning to turn golden brown. Then add the vinegar and maple syrup or brown sugar, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook until the onions are thoroughly caramelized and jammy, 15-20 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and seed the butternut squash, then cut it into ¼ inch thick slices (see the photos above for a visual). In a large bowl, toss the squash slices with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and chili flakes. Spread into an even layer on the prepared baking sheet, then roast in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the squash is tender and beginning to turn golden brown.
  3. Once the squash is finished, remove the sheet from the oven and transfer the squash to the bowl with the onion jam. Mash the squash into the onions with a fork until combined but not too homogeneous. Set aside and keep warm.
  4. Toast the bread under the broiler element until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Brush each slice of bread with olive oil, then spread with a heaping tablespoon of ricotta. Place a layer of squash on top of the ricotta and top with mint and salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Dorm Kitchen Caramels

I don’t want to make any blanket statements, but I think I’m probably the only person who has made caramels so far this year in a Tufts dorm kitchen. I made caramels, not because I have a masochistic love of boiling sugar on slightly unreliable kitchen appliances, but because I wanted to bring something to a get-together in Brookline that traveled well and used minimal ingredients. Caramels are something I’ve made many times before at home, and they come together easily when you have potholders and a laser thermometer at your disposal, but they require a little more creativity and chemistry outside of without modern equipment. Turns out, a small ice water bath (or moderately cold water bath) allows you to check what stage of caramelization the sugar is at during the cooking process. For caramel candies, the ideal stage is somewhere just beyond the “soft-ball” stage, meaning that when a few droplets of caramel are added to the ice water, they will solidify into a small clump that can be rolled into a ball that will hold its shape but will yield easily under pressure. The technique is nowhere near as precise as using a thermometer, but while I don’t mind borrowing the odd plate or cup from the dining hall I’m not yet bold enough to borrow a glass thermometer from my biology lab. (Don’t worry, Mom, Dad, and any other concerned adult reading this; I don’t plan on doing that for at least another semester.)

The stars—and Massachusetts humidity—could have aligned against me that Friday, but luckily the caramels set up perfectly—they were firm enough to hold their shape but not a danger to orthodontia. Unlike most candies the almost-bitter taste of the caramelized sugar keeps the caramels from being too cloyingly sweet, making it all too easy to eat more than one. Just one batch of this recipe makes quite a few caramels, so if you happen to be going to a college reunion in place of your dad on one night and hosting a TV night the next, you’ll have plenty of caramels for both events.

For those of you back home who are curious about what the dorm kitchens are like, here’s a snapshot of the Houston kitchen:

On the stovetop is a batch of Brown Sugar Cookies that I made last Sunday, and Kenny and Ellie would like you all to know that they got their stamp of approval.

Soft Caramel Candies

Makes about 64 Caramels

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

  1. Fill a small bowl with ice water and set it within reach of your stovetop. Line an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water and place over medium-high heat. Cook without stirring until the sugar melts and begins to caramelize, swirling the pan to ensure even cooking. Continue to cook until the caramel is the shade of deep amber but not yet burnt—this process will take 10-15 minutes total depending on the material and surface area of the pan.
  3. Once the caramel is about 30 seconds from becoming burnt sugar, take the pan immediately off the heat and add the butter and cream. Stir until the butter is melted and incorporated, then return the pan to the burner over low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the caramel has reached the soft-ball stage. This means that when you drop a small spoonful of caramel into the prepared bowl of ice water, it will quickly form a soft, malleable ball that can be flatten once squeezed but will not harden into a toffee. Alternatively if you are cooking in a well-equipped home kitchen and not the basement of your dorm, cook the caramel until it registers 245-250F. Once the caramel has reached the appropriate temperature, pour it into the prepared pan and let it sit until set, at least 2 hours. Remove the parchment and the caramel from the pan and cut with a sharp knife into caramels about 1 square inch in size. Wrap the caramels in small rectangles of parchment, twisting the ends to close. Keep in an airtight bag or container, and serve within 2 weeks.

Note: If you have some nice sea salt and want to make salted caramels, stir ½ teaspoon of sea salt into the caramel along with the butter and the sugar and sprinkle a few flakes on the top of each individual caramel.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Berry Mascarpone Cake


Hello from Tufts! It’s been nearly a month since I left Palo Alto and flew to Boston. Though it’s only been three and a half weeks, it feels like I’ve been gone for much longer; from the five-day backpacking trip to the whirlwind of move-in and orientation that flowed straight into the start of classes, clubs, and events. Just like everyone has been telling me since I decided on Tufts, the campus is full of people with all kinds of interests that don’t mind making friends with a Californian, even though I don’t say “wicked,” say “melk” instead of “milk,” and can’t understand why everyone says “rotary” instead of “roundabout.” Vernacular differences aside, however, I feel like I fit right in with this student body that talks about politics, science, and food with the same enthusiasm as the geeks of Silicon Valley.


This cake was the very last thing that I made in my kitchen at home; a recipe born partly out of the necessity to finish off a container of mascarpone that I knew would languish in the fridge unless I did something about it, but I also wanted to seize any last moments I had in the kitchen that I have used for so many years. There’s been a lot of cooking at Tufts—a pan of toffee made on a Whisperlite at a shelter on the Vermont Long Trail, a batch of brownies in a spare basement kitchen, four trays of dehydrated fruit in my friend’s dorm room, and a spectacularly constructed ice-box cake made from stolen dining hall cookies and whipped cream—but I’ve not yet begun to trust ovens and stoves in the same way that I did at home, where a batch of perfect chocolate chip cookies took exactly six minutes and 30 seconds and a loaf of bread went from dough to a deep brown boule in 45 minutes.


Although this cake was something more or less improvised, it deserves to be made again and again. The mascarpone creates a tender and buttery crumb that supports the berries that sink into the cake while it bakes, creating pockets of jammy flavor in every bite. A layer of sugar on top of the batter and the cast-iron skillet together make for a golden-brown crust on all edges of the cake that gives way to the delicate cake. It may look like a summer recipe for the final weeks of berry season, which it is, but with some frozen berries it can be made all year round. It’s a cake simple enough to make for a potluck but impressive enough for a dinner party. Who knows, maybe sometime I’ll see if my dorm kitchen can handle this recipe.

Berry Mascarpone Cake

Makes 1, 10-inch cake

Adapted from the recipe for Raspberry Buckle

1 1/2 cups flour

Pinch allspice

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 cup sugar

6 oz. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

2 eggs

2/3 cup milk

12 oz. mix of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, either fresh or frozen

1 tablespoon sugar

1. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with butter and preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, allspice, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the melted butter and sugar, then beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the mascarpone and beat until well combined, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is smooth and homogenous. With the mixture running on low, add the milk and mix until evenly incorporated.

3. Scrape down the sides of the mixer, then add the dry ingredients. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter with a rubber spatula until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Spread the berries in a single layer on top of the batter, then sprinkle with the tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean, with only a few crumbs attached. Let cool for at least 30 minutes, then serve with powdered sugar and whipped cream, if desired.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!