Menu Suggestion: Bread Pudding

“Um… you don’t know me but your daughter has been run over by a car.”

Last week, one of my worst fears as a mother came true. My husband and I received THAT phone call. You know, the one where you’re told that something horrible has happened to your child while you were not with them to prevent it.

We were very fortunate that our daughter survived being hit by a car while she was crossing the street at a crosswalk, but there’s nothing which can erase the agony of those first few hours as the doctors ran tests and our daughter was in and out of consciousness.

Even when we knew she was going to be okay, though, and the world was once again filled with the light of what would eventually be, there was still this need for comfort, and while most of my comfort came through prayers and the support of friends and family, I came to a place one day where I knew I simply had to cook something, because, for me, cooking is soothing to my soul, and being able to cook something special for my daughter brought a different type of  solace.

As I thought about what to make, the first thing which came to my mind was bread pudding. Now, bread pudding isn’t something which folks in my part of the United States make much these days, and that’s such a shame, because folks don’t realize what they’re missing. Bread pudding is a delicious, homey sort of dish which is also extremely versatile and easily adaptable for a lot of food allergies. It’s also a great way to use up leftovers of any type of bread product like loaf bread, muffins, bagels, croissants, or quick breads. Plus it can be anything from a sweet dessert to a savory side dish to a breakfast entree.

I happened to have some allergy friendly pumpkin muffins leftover (free of gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, and sugar) so I decided to chop those up and mix it up with eggs, chocolate soy milk and chopped pears. It was so delicious! And I confess, I ate it for breakfast, too, since you know — eggs, pumpkin, fruit, milk — all good things to start your day, right? *grin*

There’s some general information, though, which you should know for making bread pudding, and I’ll share them below:

1. The egg to milk ratio: Search for bread pudding recipes in cookbooks and online, and you’ll find that people differ on the ratio of milk to eggs. For myself using at least 1/2 cup of milk per egg is the lowest ratio I use; using 1 cup of milk per egg is the most I’d suggest you’d use. You’re essentially making a custard for the bread to soak up. The milk contributes to the creaminess; the eggs bind it together. The more eggs, the firmer the custard; the more milk, the softer the custard.

2. The milk: The thicker your milk, the more rich your bread pudding, so heavy cream obviously makes for a richer bread pudding than skim milk. You can, however, use any type of milk you want, from skim to heavy cream, from cow milk to coconut, soy, almond, rice or flax milk. Since we have dairy and nut allergies, I use either soy milk or flax milk. Flax milk is thicker so it mimics more the consistency of whipping cream, and it has the added bonus of those omega 3s. Soy milk is nice because it adds some more protein. In addition you are not limited to plain milk. Flavored milks, of any type, are a great way to change up the bread pudding you’re making.

3. The eggs: Using whole eggs with both the whites and yolks makes for a creamier pudding, but you can also make bread pudding with only egg whites, with Eggbeaters, and even without eggs. While eggs do bind, simply using milk alone will work, too. You just need to remember that your liquid to bread ratio has to account for the loss in eggs, which requires using more milk.

4. The liquid to bread ratio: How much liquid you need really depends on your bread. Denser whole grain breads or leftover bagels or muffins will require more liquid than an airy French or Challah bread. As a general rule, though, a one to one ratio works well — one cup of liquid for every one cup of bread. So, for example, 4 cups of bread could be mixed with 4 eggs (which would equal one cup) and 3 cups of milk which would give you a four cup liquid yield to the 4 cups of bread. If you’re uncertain, start with half the amount you think you might need and then add more if necessary.

If you’re making a bread pudding in a 9 x 13 pan, usually you’ll be using at least 3 cups of bread for a shallower bread pudding and up to 6 cups for a thicker bread pudding.

5. Mixing the custard: If you are using both eggs and milk, it’s really important to mix them together before pouring the liquids onto the bread. You’ll sometimes find a recipe that soaks the bread with milk and then mixes in the eggs. You really don’t want to follow that recipe. The key to a good bread pudding is the bread evenly soaking up the liquid, so be sure to whisk your eggs and milk together before pouring them over the bread. Obviously if you’re only using milk, you have no issues.

It’s important that any flavorings or sweeteners or aromatics you use for your bread pudding, whether sweet or savory, are mixed into your custard so that the flavors will soak into the bread along with the custard liquid.

6. The bread: What’s lovely about bread pudding is that most anything will work. Any type of sliced bread, whether wheat based or gluten free, and any type of leftover muffins, bagels, cake pieces, scones, croissants, donuts, etc…. The advantages to using leftover baked products is that you’re using up something you might otherwise throw out and usually those products are already flavored so you don’t need to add any to the custard.

If you are using bread, though, you’ll note that people will say that it should be stale bread or they’ll have you toast the bread in the oven or lightly cook it on the stovetop. This is because the drier your bread, the more obviously it’ll soak up liquid. You don’t, however, need to wait until you have stale bread to make bread pudding. If using fresh bread, simply let the bread soak longer before you put it into the oven. The effect will be the same.

7. The bread shape: Here again you will find that people’s preferences vary. Some will say use cubed bread; others say to keep it sliced; a few will argue for large hunks; many suggest small pieces. Really, it’s all about what you’re looking for as the end product. When I made the chocolate pumpkin pear bread pudding, I actually crumbled the muffins because I wanted a smoother, creamier texture. If you keep the bread in slices, it’ll make for a denser, crispier texture. Bread chunks give you something to bite into. Small cubes make for a chewier texture. So, you decide.

8. The flavorings: Bread pudding can be both sweet or savory. If you want the bread pudding for a dessert, use cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, ginger or vanilla or fruit peels. If you want a savory side dish or something for breakfast use herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram or basil and/or aromatics like onions, garlic or celery.

9. The sweetener (for dessert puddings): If you’re making a sweet bread pudding, you can sweeten it with sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave, stevia, or coconut sugar. How much you add to your custard mixture really depends on your sweet tooth. Recipes vary from 1/4 cup to 2 cups for a 4 to 6 cups of cubed bread. I personally add chopped or pureed fruit or some mini chocolate chips if I’m making a sweet bread pudding and omit any other added sweetener.

10. The additions: Okay, the best part of bread pudding is that you can create whatever you want. As I mentioned, this time around I took leftover pumpkin muffins and added chopped up pears and used chocolate soy milk to make a chocolate-pumpkin-pear bread pudding.

You can add anything you like to a bread pudding. For sweet puddings add chopped or pureed fruits or chocolate chips or coconut flakes or dried chopped fruits. For savory puddings add chopped vegetables or pureed pumpkin or squash or sauteed vegetable aromatics like mushrooms and celery or add cheeses like romano or parmesan or even chopped up chicken or sausage.

What’s important is that you either mix the additions with the bread or sprinkle them onto the bread before you add the custard mixture. The custard mixture is always last.

11. Assembling a bread pudding: We’ve basically gone over this in pieces-parts: Prepare your bread, whatever it is, the way you want, whether crumbling, cubes, chunks or slices. If you’re going to mix in any additions, do so. Grease a pan with your preferred method of greasing. Spread the bread mixture evenly in the pan. Mix together your custard, whether it’s eggs and milk or just milk, with your flavorings. Pour the mixture over the bread. Let the bread soak up some of the custard before baking (This can be anything from 15 minutes to overnight.)

12. Cooking the bread pudding: Okay, this is where you decide what type of pudding you want. I like my bread puddings to be soft and creamy in texture. So, for my bread puddings I use a pan with a large overhanging edge and place that pan into a larger pan. Then I put the larger pan, holding the smaller pan, into the oven. Slowly I pour hot water from my tea kettle into the larger pan until the water comes up just under the overhanging edge of the smaller pan. As the pudding cooks and solidifies, the hot water bath more evenly cooks the pudding and the moisture keeps the pudding soft and creamy. If you prefer a heartier texture to your pudding, you can simply bake the bread pudding in the oven in its pan without any hot water bath.

Most bread puddings in a 9 x 13 pan will cook in about an hour at 350 degrees. You’ll know it’s done because the bread pudding won’t be liquidy but puffed and solid.

And bread puddings last for days and days in the fridge without going bad so you can go ahead and make that big 9 x 13 batch instead of the 8 x 8 which many recipes these days make!







Menu Suggestion: Mini Cheesecakes

website mini cheesecakes

“You’re going to host a brunch? With everything you have going on?”

Even after 20 years together my very introverted husband doesn’t fully understand his more extroverted wife. The more he has happening, the more likely my husband is to retreat to a corner of the house for time alone because being with people drains him. For me, the crazier my life is, the more I need time with people with whom I can “refuel”. Extroverts are invigorated by the energy they get from spending time with people.

So, when I had an article due, a baking workshop to prepare for, several recitals, baseball games, and volunteer meetings to attend, my daughter’s graduation to prepare for, relatives coming in from town, and literally a dozen doctors’ appointments for myself and my children, it seemed a good time to host a brunch of some of my closest friends.

We had a great time, and I received the laughter and love I needed to sustain me through the hectic weeks to follow.

So, when I received a question this past week at a baking workshop about what I’d recommend as the perfect dessert to take to a potluck brunch if you had to make something gluten, dairy and tree nut free, I was ready with an answer: mini cheese cakes.

Mini cheesecakes are elegant, easy to make, versatile, and very adaptable for dairy, gluten and tree nut allergies.

Cheesecake Tips:

1. The crust: Crusts for cheesecake can be made from just about anything you want – honey graham crackers, animal crackers, shortbread cookies, oreo cookies coconut cookies, chocolate grahams, ginger cookies  – your imagination is your only limitation. And today we live in a time where all the above can be found in gluten, dairy, and nut free versions at the grocery store. Depending on the type of cheesecake you want to make, you can vary which type of crust you want to make.

Making crusts are ridiculously easy, too. Simply zoop up your cookie or graham crackers in a food processor to make crumbs, or if you don’t have a food processor, put the cookies or crackers into a ziploc bag, seal, and whack away with a rolling pin or the end of an ice cream scoop or a clean meat mallet. then you mix the crumbs with a little bit of a sweetener like Agave or coconut sugar and a little bit of a fat like melted vegan butter or safflower oil. A good ratio is one tablespoon each of the sweetener and fat for every 1/3 cup of crumbs.

And if you’re trying to watch your overall caloric, carb and fat content, you can always omit a crust altogether.

2. The cheesecake filling: Cream cheese is the main ingredient in cheesecake. Today, folks with dairy allergies can find vegan versions of cream cheese at their local grocery store which makes for a nice substitute. Sometimes, though, folks prefer to use straight tofu, which works well, too.

The key tip for making good cheesecake is to be sure all your ingredients come to room temperature. If your cream cheese or tofu are cold, you’ll get lumps in your cheesecake, which doesn’t affect the taste but definitely detracts from the texture. To make sure your cream cheese isn’t affected by other ingredients, all other ingredients like your eggs should be at room temperature, too.

You should always cream the cream cheese alone before adding any of the other ingredients. Sometimes an online recipe will tell you to just mix all the ingredients together. Don’t. It will affect the texture of your cheesecake. Also, if you start to cream your cream cheese and find it’s still too cold, you can then just wait a little bit and resume creaming. If all the ingredients are together, you’ll never get the lumps out, no matter how long you wait.

If you are using cream cheese instead of tofu, you should decide on the type of texture you want for your cheesecake. Using only cream cheese makes for a nice, thick, “cheesy” cheesecake. If you want your cheesecake to be a bit silkier, adding sour cream (a vegan version) or silken tofu or a dairy free yogurt will lighten the cheesecake. If lightening the cheesecake, use a 3 to 1 ratio (e.g. 3 containers of cream cheese with 1 container of sour cream).

If you’re making cheesecake with tofu, I like to use the silken tofu because it’s so much smoother. One 15/16 ounce container is about equivalent to two containers of cream cheese.

3. The flavoring: You can make just about any type of cheesecake you desire. For a regular cheesecake, you only add vanilla and some sweetener. If you want a flavor, you can add lemon or orange zest, unsweetened cocoa powder, raspberry liquor, pureed cooked pumpkin or squash, or even herbs like rosemary and basil for a more savory type of cheesecake.

If you’re in a fun mood, you can make a layered cheesecake where you layer two different flavors of cheesecake or you layer cheese cake on top of a brownie crust or layer a mousse on top of cheesecake. The ideas are endless.

4. The sweetener: Regular cheesecake will often call for about 1/4 cup of sugar per one 8 ounce container of cream cheese. If you’re watching sugar, you can always use Agave (half the amount of sugar called for) or coconut sugar (same ratio as sugar) or Truvia (half the amount you’d use for sugar).

If you’re using Agave, the best way to incorporate it into the cream cheese is to slowly pour the Agave into the creamed cream cheese mixture while the mixer is constantly stirring and incorporating the Agave into the mixture. For coconut sugar and truvia, simply follow the instructions for sugar.

5. The eggs: Most cheesecake recipes call for eggs to help give the cheesecake structure. If you’re trying to watch your cholesterol, you can use egg whites only. The cheesecake will be slighly drier and a little less creamy but some people actually prefer their cheesecake that way.

If you want to avoid eggs altogether you can simply omit the eggs, but you’ll need to add a little flour or cornstarch to give the cheesecake some structure, about a 1/4 cup of either. I make an eggless chocolate cheesecake where I mix  a 6 oz container of yogurt with cornstarch as a substitute for the eggs.

6. Making the cheesecake mini: The advantages of mini cheesecakes are several. For one, they bake up more quickly. Secondly, they are easier to serve. Thirdly, if you’re taking them to a party, they’re easy to transport. Fourthly, when you decorate them, you can vary the toppings and have a variety of cheesecakes to offer to the guests.

To make mini cheesecakes, you just use muffin tins. I like to line my muffin tins with paper liners to prevent any cross-contamination and for easy removal of the cheesecake, but you can also simply spray or grease the tins, too.

7. Baking the cheesecake: Cheesecakes are usually baked at low heat to prevent cracking and drying out the cheesecake. So, the best temperature is about 325 degrees. If you want to have extra smooth cheesecakes and really prevent cracking,it’s best to add some moisture to your oven. You can fill a pan with some hot water and put it at the bottom of your oven while the cheesecakes cook or you can put the muffin tins into another larger pan which is filled halfway with hot water. If you don’t do either of these steps, it is not a big deal. The cheesecakes just may crack a bit on top or be a little less smooth and moist. They’ll still taste good.

When your cheesecake is done, the edges are more done than the center. A knife inserted into the edges should come out clean while the middle should still be less stiff. It shouldn’t be liquidly and runny still, but it shouldn’t be as stiff as the edges. If you overcook the cheesecakes and the middles are stiff and cracked, don’t sweat it. the cheesecakes won’t be as creamy, but they’ll still be good and you can cover the cracks with your lovely toppings.

8. Cooling the cheesecakes: Cheesecake needs to cool before you eat it because it’s the coolin process that finishes cooking the cheesecake center and which solidifies the cheesecake. It’s best to let the cheesecakes cool at room temperature first and then to put them into the fridge.

9. The toppings: You can top your cheesecakes with just about anything. Slices of fruit like strawberries, kiwi or blueberries or a chocolate drizzle or crushed cookies or a whole cookie or a raspberry drizzle or shredded coconut. Your imagination is the only limit.

You can wait to add fruit garnishes until right before you’re taking them to a party or before you serve them so the fruit will stay fresh. Drizzles can be added while the cheesecakes are still warm or when they are cold. Cookies should be put on while the cheesecakes are still soft enough for you to push them down into the cheesecake.

10. Transporting mini cheesecakes: Always keep your cheesecakes in the fridge until it’s time to take them to the party. If you’re going a short distance, you don’t need to worry about keeping them cold, but if you’re going far away, pop them into a cooler with an ice pack or into a bag with a ziplock baggie full of ice.

Since the mini-cheesecakes are muffin size, you can usually fit them into a rectangular tupperware container or cupcake holder and transport them easily.

Mini Cheesecakes


2 cups Smorables Gluten Free Graham crackers (about one box)
6 tbsp melted vegan butter
3 tbsp Agave
4 8 oz containers Tofutti vegan cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup Agave
2 tsp gluten free vanilla
4 eggs, at room temperature

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners.

2. Crush the graham crackers into crumbs by either processing them in a food processor or by whacking them with a rolling pin or mallet in a sealed bag.

3. Mix the melted butter with the Agave and blend well into the graham cracker crumbs until the crumbs are moist.

4. Evenly divide the crumbs among the muffin cups, about one tablespoon per muffin cup. Press the crumbs down to form an even crust.

5. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes and remove onto a cooling rack.

6. Cream the cream cheese in a mixer until smooth and creamy.

7. Slowly pour in the Agave while continually stirring until all the Agave is incorported into the cream cheese

8. Add in the vanilla.

9. Add the eggs, incorporating them one at a time.

10. Divide the cheesecake filling evenly among the muffin cups. They will be almost to the top of the muffin cups.

11. Bake until the cheesecakes are dry on the edges and mostly firm but still slightly soft in the center. This will take between 15 and 25 minutes depending on the thickness of your muffin tins and how evenly your oven is heating food.

12. Remove the cheesecakes to a wire cooling rack and cool to room temp. Put into the fridge so they can cool completely and solidify.

13. Garnish with fruit or chocolate drizzle or raspberry drizzle or cookie crumbs and serve.

Recipe Makeover: Banana Sheet Cake


“I need it to taste good.”

For the beginning cook, the most nerve-wracking part of experimenting with a recipe is that niggling thought which you can’t banish, no matter how hard you try:  “What if it doesn’t taste good?”

When I received an email a few days ago with a request for help in making over a family favorite recipe, the plea was “I need it to taste good.” As I finished reading the email, I thought about the number of times I’ve made something that “didn’t taste good”.


Really. I know it’s hard to believe, but in all my years experimenting, only once has something come out so badly that I couldn’t eat it. All the other times, the texture and/or taste may not have been exactly as I wanted, but it’s always been edible and/or fixable to be edible.

I share this, because worrying about how something will taste can be paralyzing. The only thing we can do is to simply forge ahead and see what happens. Might it be less than perfect? Sure, but will it be such a disaster that you can’t serve it? Most likely not.

The request received was about a banana sheet cake which the family has always enjoyed. Unfortunately new food allergies have hindered the mom’s ability to make the cake anymore, and she was wondering whether it was possible to recreated it.

The answer, of course, is “yes”, but the caveat is that the cake will obviously be different once you make the adjustments. I took a stab at making over the recipe over the weekend, and the result was something that my family liked very much. Below I’ll explain what I did and other possible ways for recreating the recipe.

The recipe for the original banana sheet cake is:

2 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 tsp vanilla, 4 eggs, 5 cups flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1 1/3 cup buttermilk, and 2 to 3 mashed bananas — all of which combines to make an 11 x 15 sheet cake.


1. The Flour: This mom needed the recipe to be gluten free. Here’s the tip: Banana cake can be dense, so if you’re going to use a gluten free flour blend, you should opt for something that is lighter like a brown rice flour blend as opposed to a heavier flour like a garbanzo bean flour blend. For this makeover, I used Authentic Foods Gluten Free Multi-Flour blend because it’s a lighter flour and already has the xanthan gum mixed in.  If you use a blend that doesn’t have the xanthan gum, be sure to add it in: 1/2 tsp per cup of flour.

If you don’t need your cake to be gluten free but you’d like to make it a bit healthier, opting for a white whole wheat flour will make for a more fibrous but still light cake. Otherwise, you can use a whole wheat flour which works well but will give the cake a slightly denser texture and a nuttier taste.

2. The Sugar: This mom didn’t care about replacing the sugar, but since I try to avoid as much refined sugar as I can, I’m letting you know that you can replace the sugar in a one to one ratio with coconut sugar or use half as much of the called for sugar by replacing it with Agave or Stevia.

If you use the dry options (coconut sugar or Stevia), you don’t need to adjust any of your other ingredients. If you use Agave, though, you should either increase your flour by 1/2 cup or decrease your liquids by 1/2 cup.

I chose to use Agave and decreased the oil which decreased the overall fat for the recipe.

3. The Vegetable Oil: I always suggest replacing vegetable oils with an oil like olive oil or safflower or grapeseed or a blend like Smart Balance because the fats are considered good fats. I also like to reduce the fat if at all possible. For this recipe I used a Mediterranean blend of olive, grapeseed, and canola oils, and I reduced the oil from 1 1/2 cups down to 1/2 cup since I was increasing the liquids with the use of Agave.

4. The Eggs: This mom didn’t have any egg allergies, so I kept the eggs, but to decrease the fat and cholesterol, I opted to use liquid egg whites instead of whole eggs.

If you have an egg allergy, though, I’d recommend using ground flaxseed meal mixed with water. You use 1 tbsp of flaxseed meal mixed with 3 tbsp of water for every egg you replace. Let the mixture sit for at least five minutes so it can thicken.

Because this cake calls for buttermilk, omitting the eggs and replacing it with the flaxseed mixture will actually work quite well since the acid in the buttermilk will help with the leavening you lose from the eggs.

5. The Buttermilk:  This mom needed to avoid dairy so I chose to make a nondairy buttermilk. I used flax milk but you can use any type you prefer like soy or rice or almond or coconut milk.

To make your own buttermilk, simply mix your “milk” with one tablespoon of an acid per cup of milk. For the acid I prefer to use either lemon juice or white or apple cider vinegar. Mix the lemon juice or vinegar with the milk and let it sit for about five minutes to thicken before using it in your recipe.

6. The Sodium:  Since I always try to reduce salt use, I cut the salt in half and decided to add some other spices instead like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; and because I added the spices, I decreased the vanilla to 1 teaspoon, but you can even omit it altogether if you like.

7. The Bananas: Since the recipe called for bananas by amount, I decided to change it to a measurement. If you simply say 2 to 3 bananas, the question becomes, “What size banana?” and the size is important because your entire recipe can be messed up if they meant two to three small bananas versus the larger sized ones you normally find at the store.

Working off my knowledge of most banana recipes, I figured about two cups of ripe mashed bananas would be good for the recipe. This worked out to 5 5 inch in length bananas.

8. The Additions:  Banana cake is not actually a favorite for two of my three children, so I decided that if I was going to make this, I would need to liven it up a bit. To do so, I chose to add some allergy friendly chocolate chips, but I didn’t want to have actual chips affecting the texture of the banana cake. So, I put the chocolate chunks into my food processor and processed them into pieces smaller than mini chips but not quite ground up, which I mixed into the flour mixture. The result was quite tasty.

9. The Topping: The original recipe simply said to frost with a cream cheese frosting, but my children aren’t fond of cream cheese frosting. Instead, I used a chocolate frosting recipe from Elana’s Pantry ( to top the cake instead. Since I had put the chocolate pieces into the cake, I figured chocolate frosting would top the cake well.

10. The Final Recipe:  Banana Sheet Cake


5 cups Authentic Food Multi-Flour Gluten Free Blend (whisked well)

2 1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

10 oz Enjoy Life chocolate chunks, processed smaller in food processor

2 cups ripe, mashed bananas (about 5 five inch bananas)

1 1/3 cup flax milk mixed with 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice

1/2 cup Mediterranean Oil Blend (olive, grapeseed and canola)

1 cup liquid egg whites

1 1/4 cup Agave

1 tsp gluten free vanilla

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 11 x 15 pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg well. Combine the processed chocolate pieces with the flour mixture.

3. Mix the mashed bananas, flax milk, oil, egg whites, Agave, and vanilla together.

4. Mix the dry ingredients slowly into the wet ingredients until they’re combined. Give the batter a quick stirring for about 30 seconds to make sure everything is well mixed.

5. Carefully spread the batter into the pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes. The cake will be puffed and golden when it’s done and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

NOTE: Because of the Agave, the cake may brown more quickly than you’d like. About halfway through the cooking time, you can always place a piece of foil or parchment paper lightly across the top to prevent darkening of the cake.

6. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire cooling rack. When cooled frost with your favorite frosting.






Cooking Techniques: Roasting Meats and Chicken

website roasting

“There was this little black bowl sitting on my plate.”

As unique as every family is, families are similar where story-telling is concerned. All families have those stories which they tell over and over again about some member of the family or something that happened which gets passed down from parent to child to grandchild. Some stories are sentimental, meant to be remembered for as a truth. Others are funny and told to elicit laughter time and time again. All become a part of what makes your particular family special.

In our family, my parents love to tell the tale of my mom’s first time cooking my dad a steak. Being Korean and only eating kalbi (kind of like Korean ribs) and bulgogi (think cooked stir fry size beef strips) on special occasions, my mom hadn’t cooked a steak before. Since Korean meat is always cooked until it was well-done, that’s exactly what my mom did. She cooked that steak until it was so well-done it curled up on itself, and when she served it to my dad, as he puts it, “There was a little black bowl sitting on my plate.”

Since my dad actually likes his meat rare, only love could have made him eat that steak. I, however, would have been just fine eating it, because I’m not much of a meat person in general and when I do eat it, I like it to be as my husband and dad call it “shoe leather” texture.

Just like people have different preferences for eating meat, people have different ways of cooking it. The most traditionally agreed up method for the most flavor, though, tends to be roasting, and for this post we will look at roasting both meat and poultry since the methods are similar. I will focus on the questions people have recently asked me.

Questions about Roasting Meat and Poultry:

1. Does my roast or chicken need come to room temperature first? The answer is, “No.” One, unless it’s a hot day, it’ll take a long time for your meat or chicken to come to room temperature, and if it is a hot day, leaving the meat or chicken out will increase your risk of bacterial growth. Two, better folks than I who run test kitchens all the time have run experiments, cooking both a room temp piece of meat and one straight from the fridge, with no difference. In the end, though, folks are going to do what they want, and I know many people who would never dare to roast a piece of meat or a turkey without letting it sit out for at least half an hour first. To date, they are all alive and well and enjoying their meat and poultry, so in the end, it’s your prerogative.

2. Should I season before or after? If you were to google this question, you’d find a variety of conflicting answers. What I’ve found in my years of cooking is that you should really do both. Seasoning rubbed onto the roast or chicken before it’s cooking helps to imbue the meat or chicken with flavor, but adding some fresh herbs or spices before serving adds a little spark to the flavors which become a bit stale from cooking in the oven for so long.

The corollary question which folks have asked is about salting meat or chicken. Some folks swear by the brining method of salting a day or two ahead of time. Others say to salt just before cooking. I personally stay away from salt use at all and allow people to salt their meat or chicken on their own when it’s on their plates. For people who want to use salt, though, the answer is that it depends on your taste preference and the type of meat you are cooking. Test kitchen cooks have determined that salting or brining poultry ahead of time really does make for a tastier chicken or turkey. For meats, though, with the exception of lamb, pork and beef don’t receive any benefit from salting ahead of time and often actually makes for a drier piece of meat.

3. What is the best way to season my meat or poultry? Again, you’ll find differing opinions, and in reality, most methods will give you a nice tasting chicken or roast beef. What I have found to be the most flavorful, though, is to make a nice dry rub of seasonings – usually herbs like thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil, rosemary, etc… mixed with black pepper and ground onion and/or garlic powder – and to mix it with just enough olive oil to make a paste and then rub it completely over the roast or chicken.

For a roast beef, I increase the flavor by cutting little slits into the meat and inserting slivers of garlic and/or onion into the slits. This adds flavor inside the meat instead of just outside.

For chicken, I loosen the skin away from the breast and legs and rub the seasoning rub inside the skin as well directly on top of the breast and legs, and I put onions, garlic, and herbs inside the cavity of the chicken. This way you get flavor all around and not just on the skin of the chicken.

A corollary question folks have asked is about butter verse oil: I always use olive oil. One, for folks with dairy allergies, it removes that worry. Two, it’s a healthier oil. Three, you can make a nice rub with it using less than what you’d need for butter.

Having said that, test kitchens have found that using butter can help to keep a chicken moist without the need for basting because it melts as it cooks and seals in the liquids. So, if you don’t have any health or allergy issues keeping you from using butter and like the taste of it, go for it.

4. What type of pan should I use to roast my meat or chicken? The best pan to use for roasting is one that can withstand high and lengthy heat and which just fits your roast or chicken. You don’t want to have a lot of space around what you’re cooking.

People differ on whether you should use a rack or not. I’m a rack person. I have found that if I put my roast on a flat rack and my poultry on a v-rack that the bottoms of the meat and chicken cook more evenly. I do find that I need to grease the racks, though, to make sure the roast or chicken doesn’t stick.

5. What is the best method for roasting meat or poultry? Okay, this is where it gets tricky. The consensus is that there isn’t any consensus. Well-known chefs and test kitchen cooks all differ. Some say you should cook at low heat to keep the meat or poultry from drying out and to keep it moist. Some say you should cook it at a high temperature to cook it more quickly which will prevent it from drying out and will keep it moist. Others say you should do a combination of both.

The fact is that all methods work. It really comes down to the type of texture and flavor you’re looking for. Slow roasting meat or chicken at 275 degrees for several hours gives you a more evenly cooked through piece of meat or chicken with a softer, more falling apart texture. This is a good method is you’re cooking larger, more uneven, tougher cuts of meat or a more mature bird.

Cooking the meat or chicken at 350 degrees for 20 minutes per pound for poultry and pork or 15 to 30 minutes per pound for beef, depending on how rare to well done you like it, gives you a nice flavorful piece of meat or chicken without having to do too much work. This is a good method if you don’t particularly want a crispy outside.

Cooking the meat or poultry at a high temperature of 450 degrees for 45 minutes will cook your roast or chicken quickly and give it it a nice crispy exterior.  This method is particularly nice if you don’t have a lot of time.

Finally, the method which I like best is that you cook your roast or poultry at a high heat of 450, 475 or 500 degrees first and then lower the heat for the rest of the cooking time.  If cooking at 450 degrees, you’ll cook your chicken for 35 minutes or your roast for about 15 minutes and then you’ll lower the temperature to 350 degrees. For a roast, cook the meat 12 to 18 minutes per pound, depending on how rare or well done you like. For poultry, cook for about 8-10 minutes per pound until the chicken is done.

Just an FYI about internal temperatures for poultry and meat: If you want your roast or poultry to be at the correct temperature for eating, you cook them in the oven to a temperature that’s about five to ten degrees lower than the temperature you want because even when you take the meat or chicken out of the oven, it will continue to cook.

6. Should I baste my roast or poultry? That’s really up to you. Basting does help to keep roasting meat and poultry from drying out, but there are pros and cons. On the pro side by basting you ensure that your roast or chicken won’t dry out, it adds to the juices you’ll have for making a nice gravy in the end, and it prevents anything from burning on the bottom of your pan. On the con side, every time you open the oven to baste, you’re letting heat escape which might mess with your cooking, and by keeping the exterior of the meat or poultry moist, it won’t crisp up. As well, basting then requires you to do more because you have to baste every fifteen minutes or so.

I personally add liquid to the bottom of my roasting pan, beef or chicken broth, at the beginning and then halfway through cooking. The broth slowly evaporates as the roast or poultry cooks, allowing some moisture to accumulate in the oven and preventing the roast or chicken from drying out without me having to continually baste. Then just before I’m ready to take the roast or chicken out of the oven, I turn the heat back up to 500 degrees for a couple of minutes to re-crisp the exterior of the meat or poultry.

7. Is there anything special I should do to my roast or poultry before putting it into the oven? That depends on you really. I usually try to cut off some of the fat from my roasts. While it’s true that the fat adds flavor, too much of it isn’t good, so I remove as much as I can and rely on my seasonings for flavor instead.

For chicken, there are differing thoughts. Some folks say you absolutely must truss up the bird by tying the legs together. Others say that allowing the legs to be free helps them to cook more evenly and quickly in time with the breast portion. I’ve done both and haven’t found too much of a difference.

The other part of the bird folks worry about is the wings. Because they’re so small the tips can burn. If you’re cooking with any of the high heat methods, you’re definitely better off turning the tips of the wings underneath the bird so they won’t burn. If you’re slow roasting with the very low heat, I’ve not noticed much of an issue.

8. Should I turn my roast or chicken while it’s cooking? The fact is that rotating your chicken or roast will ensure more even cooking. It allows heat to reach all sides of your meat or poultry and it allows the juices to run from one side to the other. That’s why those spit roasted pigs and grocery store rotisserie chickens taste so good. So, if you are inclined to put in the effort, cooking your chicken breast side down and then flipping it is fine. Turning your roast so all sides face the top at some point in the cooking is fine. The effort will be worth it, but not necessarily so much so that you’ll want to put in the effort.

9. How do I know when my roast or chicken is done? The best method is to invest in a meat thermometer. Poultry should be at an internal temperature of 165 when you insert the thermometer into the breast near the bone. When it’s done the juices should be running clear not tinged with pink, and the legs should be easy to pull away from the breast.

Roasts vary depending on how you like your meat cooked. Most meats are said to be rare when they’re about 120 to 125 degrees in temperature and the temperature goes up by five to ten degree increments for medium rare, medium, medium well and well-done which is about 160 degrees.

10. Should my meat or poultry sit after it’s come out of the oven before serving? The answer to this is an unqualified, “Yes.”  One, it is true that the liquid which has been drawn out to the surface of the roast or chicken while it was cooking will resettle to the center of the meat or chicken as it cools which makes for a moister dish. Two, your roast or poultry will still be finishing cooking, so you want to make sure it does and gets to the proper temperature. If you didn’t pull your roast or chicken out of the oven a little early and let it get to the temperature you wanted for eating, well, then your dish will be overcooked by the time you serve it. So, in that case you may want to start cutting immediately, but remember that it’ll be a bit dryer then.