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Online cooking groups dish up friendships

By Bill Daley
Chicago Tribune

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  • Cook along

    Here’s where to find these online cooking communities:

    Tuesdays with Dorie http://tuesdayswithdorie.wordpress.com

    Wok Wednesdays http://wokwednesdays.wordpress.com

    French Fridays with Dorie http://frenchfridayswithdorie.com

    Baked Sunday Mornings http://bakedsundaymornings.blogspot.com


  • Little India Vegetable Barley Soup

    From “Around My French Table,” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).

    1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

    2 to 3 onions, chopped

    3 big carrots, trimmed, peeled, chopped

    1 parsnip, peeled, trimmed (cut out the core if it’s woody), chopped

    3 cloves garlic, split, germ removed, chopped

    1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled, chopped

    1/2 teaspoon salt, or as needed

    Freshly ground pepper

    Turmeric, to taste (start with about 1/2 teaspoon)

    Garam masala, to taste (start with about 3/4 teaspoon)

    Red pepper flakes (optional)

    6 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water

    1/2 cup pearl barley, rinsed

    WARM the oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, parsnip, garlic and ginger; toss until they glisten with oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and cook over low heat about 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, garam masala and red pepper flakes, if using. Cover and cook very gently, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft but not colored, about 15 minutes.

    ADD the broth or water; heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the barley. Reduce the heat until just simmering. Cover and cook until the barley is tender and considerably puffed. (The kernels will blossom and open a little.) Depending on the type of barley, this can take from 15 to 40 minutes. Taste and add more salt, pepper and/or spices as needed. Top servings with a drizzle of olive oil, if you like.

    Per serving: 142 calories, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 959 mg sodium, 6 g fiber

    Yield: 6 servings.


  • Kung Pao Chicken

    This spicy chicken dish from Grace Young’s “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge” (Simon & Schuster, 2010) has been the most popular recipe so far at Wok Wednesdays. Look for Shao Hsing rice wine, Chinkiang vinegar and Sichuan peppercorns in Asian markets.

    1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

    2 tablespoons minced ginger

    1 tablespoon minced garlic

    2 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

    1 teaspoon soy sauce

    1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry, divided

    2 teaspoons sugar, divided

    3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

    2 tablespoons chicken broth

    1 tablespoon Chinkiang or balsamic vinegar

    1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

    1 teaspoon sesame oil

    2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

    4 to 8 dried red chili peppers, snipped on one end

    1/2 teaspoon roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns, see note

    1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares

    3/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts

    1/2 cup minced green onions

    IN a medium bowl combine the chicken, ginger, garlic, cornstarch, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon rice wine, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon cold water. Stir to combine. In a small bowl combine the broth, vinegar, dark soy sauce, sesame oil and the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine.

    HEAT a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon peanut oil; add the chiles and ground Sichuan peppercorns. With a metal spatula, stir-fry 15 seconds or until the chiles just begin to smoke. Push the chile mixture to the sides of the wok. Carefully add the chicken; spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed, letting the chicken begin to sear, 1 minute. Then stir-fry until the chicken is lightly browned but not cooked through, 1 minute.

    SWIRL the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil into the wok. Add the bell peppers and stir-fry 1 minute or until the peppers begin to soften. Swirl the broth mixture into the wok and stir-fry 1 minute or until the chicken is just cooked through. Add the peanuts and green onions, sprinkle on the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt; stir-fry until the green onions are bright green, about 30 seconds.

    Note: Put Sichuan peppercorns in a dry, cold wok or skillet and remove any tiny stems. Stir over medium-low heat until the peppercorns are very fragrant and slightly smoking, 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn. Once they’re cooled, grind them in a mortar; store any extra in a jar.

    Per serving (for 3 servings): 519 calories, 33 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 141 mg cholesterol, 23 g carbohydrates, 33 g protein, 983 mg sodium, 6 g fiber

    Yield: 2 to 3 servings as a main dish with rice, 4 servings as part of a multicourse meal.



Laurie Woodward is flying from her home in Pittsburgh to Mukilteo, Wash., in April to serve as matron of honor to a bride she’s never met. And it’s all because of baking.

“She’s one of my best friends,” says Woodward of the bride, Peabody Rudd.

Although the two have never met in person, they’ve baked together online via a blog called Tuesdays With Dorie. Woodward, a stay-at-home mom of three, started the blog in 2008 as she tackled cookbook author Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours” recipe by recipe. She asked family and friends to join her in baking and blogging, the idea caught on, and people just joined in.

“I’m still sort of shocked,” Woodward says. “I started it on a whim.”

Cyberfriendships like Woodward and Rudd’s are increasingly common as cooks head to the kitchen with laptops, iPhones, tablets and other devices. Cooks are finding themselves tied together as much by mouse clicks as apron strings. Fostered by various social media platforms, Web-based cooking communities have formed, offering friendship along with recipes, giving exposure to various members’ blogs and offering the possibility of online exchanges with famed cookbook authors.

These author-focused cooking groups are like the neighborhood cooking clubs of old but on a much broader scale, says David Leite, New York-based publisher of online food magazine Leite’s Culinaria. Social media, he says, allows readers, cooks and authors to interact freely with one another to a degree never imagined before.

“It’s a globalization of what has always gone on, and it’s becoming a huge phenomenon,” Leite says. “What the Internet and social media have done is retire the gatekeeper. It’s been democratized.”

That democratization is key. For while these groups offer terrific attention – authors say they love it – this type of community is developed at the grass-roots level. Take the two groups devoted to Greenspan, for example.

“They are not driven by Dorie or her publisher,” says Betsy Pollack, a Lexington, Mass.-based blogger and a coordinator for French Fridays With Dorie, a second group formed by Woodward to cook through Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.”

“They came from a community of people who were interested in cooking the recipes she had.

“It is up to an individual to say, ‘I really like this book and I want to share it with other people. Let’s start a group.’ 

Matthew Lardie, a blogger from Durham, did just that. A member of Tuesdays With Dorie, he started Wok Wednesdays because there wasn’t an outlet for folks interested in stir-frying like he was. Now, the rapidly growing group – more than 430 members at last count – is working through Grace Young’s “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.”

Elizabeth Cahill, a Wok Wednesday member who lives in Belmont, N.C., started taking part every week after seeing it mentioned in The Charlotte Observer last year.

“I don’t have as much time to experiment in the kitchen anymore,” she says. “So when I try a new recipe, I need to know it’s going to be successful right out of the gate. There’s a lot of dialogue between members about what works for them.”

She learns about which stoves work best for which woks, and which ingredient swaps work for people.

“It lets you know what works and what doesn’t.”

Author Grace Young, a frequent participant on the Wok Wednesday site, says she feels compelled to participate because wok cooking can be intimidating to newcomers, and she wants to help. But she notes approvingly that members often jump in and help one another before she can post a comment.

Greenspan says she enjoys the interaction with group members and does take note of their reaction to recipes, and has responded accordingly.

“I’ve offered more alternatives,” she says. “I’ve made some gluten-free variations when I could. I made raisins more optional than I used to. Who knew there were so many raisin haters out there?”

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