Mashed Potatoes, Holiday Time’s Comfort Food • Nov. 13, 2006

For a thoughtful home cook, whipping up a batch of mashed potato can induce an identity crisis. What kind of potato: Russet, Yukon, fingerling, blue or red? Do you boil or steam? Use broth or cream? Melt the butter or keep it at room temperature? And don’t even start on the add-ins: garlic, onions, herbs, chiles, even chocolate. Fortunately, while this humble concoction’s versatility resembles nothing so much as a choose your own adventure book, all roads lead to a delicious conclusion.

The first order of business for a mashed-potato cook is simply deciding which kind of potato to use, a debate largely settled amongst American chefs. It’s either Idaho russets or Yukon golds, depending on your flavor preferences. The former is the least likely to turn starchy while the latter has a mild buttery flavor. Be wary of other spuds, particularly smaller ones.

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Perfect Cheesecake Recipe Takes the Cake • Nov. 6, 2006

With American’s predilection towards easy and inexpensive, it’s difficult to comprehend just how cheesecake became a family gathering staple. Yet, from Brooklyn splurges at Junior’s Restaurant to Midwestern family reunions, there are few desserts that elicit as strong a sigh of delight — and sense of home — as this finicky, cheese-based custard.

That delectable indulgence doesn’t come easily. From top-notch chefs to down-home cooks, everyone agrees: If there’s one thing to keep in abundant supply when baking a cheesecake, it’s patience.

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Nix the Pancake Mix for Breakfast Perfection • Oct. 17, 2006

If you’re like me, your first pancakes came from a griddle manned by your dad on the weekends. My father as chef was a special breed, one whose culinary skills — as with many men of the Boomer generation — were limited to summertime barbeque and Sunday breakfast. Indeed, pancakes likely became “Dad’s specialty” due to one of their finer selling points: They’re extraordinarily simple to make from scratch.

“There’s no need to use a mix when it’s so easy to make them,” marvels Maryana Vollstedt, author of The Big Book of Breakfast. “It’s just about as fast as mixing up a mix.”

The typical American hotcake is soft, spongy and golden brown, with the slightest of crispiness at the edges, and getting there takes mastering the three tenets of pancake cookery: Batter, griddle, and flipping.

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Thick Enough to Stand up a Straw • Sept. 26, 2006

These are difficult times for the milkshake. The coffee craze has brought a series of sophisticated imitators — most of them ending in “cino” — to the table, and whether you’re avoiding fats or carbs this mid-century treat is an offender on both counts.

All of which suggests that if you’re going for a shake, you want it to be worth the trouble. That means adhering to the three pillars of shake-making: quality ice cream, thick consistency, and creamy texture.

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Welcome Shoppers

City Limits • Aug. 21, 2006

From beneath a purple awning emblazoned with “East New York Bargain$ For Less,” a handful of local residents are working to put a fresh spin on its previous tenant’s declaration by opening the neighborhood’s first food cooperative.

By mid-September, volunteers and staff from the Local Development Corporation of East New York hope to open the doors on a member-run grocery store featuring high-quality fresh produce, as well as bulk dry goods and other prepared foods. It’s the latest in a series of efforts by the East New York Food Policy Council, a project of the LDC, and other local activists to bolster access to fresh, healthy food in East New York.

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Kiwi Culture: New Zealand’s Capital Gets Hip

Metro • March 29, 2006

Wellington, New Zealand–Say New Zealand and three things come to mind: Hobbits, sheep and mountains. Soon you’ll be adding a fourth: Hipsters. After a flurry of government investment in local creative industries—everything from film to fashion to popular music—young trendsetters are choosing to roost at home and they’re bringing the silkscreened T-shirts. The result? A transformation of Wellington, once known as a drab government hub, in to a vibrant arts and culture center, and the nightlife that comes with it. Here’s the best of what hip Wellington has to offer:

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