We were so excited to get the opportunity to interview Noelle Carter from the Test Kitchen Director for the Los Angeles Times. She oversees all the recipes that appear in the LA Times and we were so excited to spend some time touring the Santa Monica Farmers Market with her and get a little insight into her wealth of knowledge about food.
The Los Angeles Times is a producing the Los Angeles Times Food Bowl and bringing together the best of LA's food chefs, restaurants and businesses for the entire month of May with a series of unforgettable food events. This event is brought together to promote food sustainability and fight food insecurity and waste!
Check out our interview with Noelle below:
What is the process of recipe testing at the LA Times Test Kitchen?
So here at the LA Times, we are one of the three major newspapers that still has a dedicated test kitchen and has staffing specifically for testing. Every single recipe that we run is tested and frequently retested. I think my record for testing a recipe is 43 times, for a focaccia recipe that we ran several years ago. The chef and the kitchen were passionate to make sure that the recipe could be reproduced consistently at home, that the results would come out consistently each time. Every week we run 2-5 new recipes, so we are testing and shooting recipes every single week.
Usually we just have to test a recipe one or two times before its run, and I've been doing this job long enough where I can anticipate where we might have problems so we can correct those problems before we even start cooking. Most of the dishes are also photographed while we are testing the recipes. At the LA Times, we promise that what you see int he paper is the actual recipe as it was made, there's no doctoring or weird food styling, what you see is what you get.
Where do find the recipes that are featured in the LA Times?
Recipes comes from all different outlets. I develop a lot of the recipes, we also try cooking recipes from various cookbooks to test to see if those work. We work with food writers and chefs who develop recipes that we test. Finally, we run a culinary SOS column where readers request their favorite dishes from various restaurants.
Tips on how to shop at the Farmers Market
The Farmers Market can be extremely intimidating especially if you are visiting for the first time. Noelle recommends that you go prepared to the Farmer's Market of a list of what you need to grab. Also, make sure that you speak to the farmers about what they recommend, all the farmers are highly knowledgable about their product and are excited to share their produce with you and how to best use them at home.
Don't be intimidated, just ask the farmer! If you see something beautiful, just throw it into a salad or look online - the internet is a veritable wealth of resources for recipes. Also, make sure to check the LA Times recipe list. All the recipes on the LA Times website are heavily tested so you can trust that you won't be surprised with poor results when cooking the recipe at home (as long as you follow the instructions!)
How do you recommend preparing Swiss Chard?
Chard is a winter green: kale and collard greens also come into season around Thanksgiving to early Spring. Chard has a bit of a bite, you'll typically want to sauté it, put it into a stew or gratin because it has that bitter bite. Rainbow chard will lose a bit of its color when cooking but will still make a dramatically beautiful dish when sautéed with some garlic.
How would you best prepare Kale?
Add it to a stew or a casserole. Kale is great in a salad but you've all had a super chewy kale and you feel like a horse when you're chewing it right? Thats because kale is super fibrous, which is great for your system but not so much fun to chew. When you are making a kale salad, first add a little salt and dressing to it and then you're going to want to massage it. I've written about it in our LA Times Culinary SOS, but what it does it break down the fibrous nature of the kale, its almost like you're cooking it but all you're doing is to massage it to make it tender. Massage is for just a few minutes and you'll begin to feel it soften and get silkier in your hands, just about 3 minutes or so.
Jonathan Gold called 2018 the year of the new potato. What's the best way to prepare them?
They aren't quite in season yet here in the farmer's market but they'll just be coming into season as May rolls around. To bring out the most flavor in new potatoes, its really a matter of taste, I think Jonathan Gold's favorite new potato recipe just a simple dish in a bowl with a little bit of olive oil and herbs. There's so many types of new potatoes and there's so many types of flavors, really the most minimal type of preparation is best. Just roasting them or boiling them and then just lightly seasoning them to let the real flavors of the potatoes come out.
What would you cook to impress a new date?
Pastas are always really nice or even a simple steak that's done well can be amazing. You can make beautiful pasta dishes with the fresh produce from the market. and you can get these really incredible flavor pairings for very little work and you can easily put together some really dramatic, beautiful presentations.
What are some of the sustainability practices that a home cook could put into practice immediaely?
There's so much you can do, my game is to see how I can not throw anything away. I'll bring home produce like carrots and if I'm lucky they still have the tops on them. Next I'll ask myself, what can I do with every part of the vegetable? With the carrot tops, I'll turn it into pesto or I'll throw it into salads or add it as a garnish, because the carrot tops have a little bit of a bite but they still have the flavor or carrot in them so you can do a lot. Carrot peelings can be thrown into stocks or soup bases or puree them and turn them into a dip.
What can we expect from the LA Food Bowl?
It's the entire month of May and what I really like this year is that there are a lot more events at different price points. There are tons of free talks and free demos. Here are the Santa Monica farmers market, Miles Thompson of Michael’s Santa Monica is going to be doing a demo, showing whats in season here at the market and what you can do with it.
There are incredible dinners planned, Weiser Family Farms is partnering with Outstanding in the Field and Virgilio Martinez to produce an amazing meal featuring native Peruvian ingredients. They are actually going out into the forest and foraging things for the dinner.
There are also great panel discussions planned, many with Jonathan Gold, talking about everything from sustainability to other major food issues. Jose Andreas will be giving a talk, he has been feeding the people of Puerto Rico and chefs are stepping up to make sure a lot of these food needs are met. Jose Andreas is a hero!
The #METOO movement is going to be addressed, I worked in restaurants for years, its quite different from an office environment and there is a lot of harassment both front of the house and back of the house. We address the questions of how we should deal with these issues in today's environment. There are not only male chefs that have been accused but also female chefs who have partnered with their male counterparts have been accused also.