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Ask My Friend Maillard

to roast or to braise, is that the right question?

QUESTION: “I am a master of roast chickens. But I love watching cooking shows, and whenever they present a braised dish my mouth waters, it looks so much better than when they roast things. I’ve tried some recipes for braises, but never get that deep dark melt in your mouth looking plate. What am I doing wrong? When should I roast and when should I braise!?”  


The short answer:

If you are cooking something relatively lean or delicate you roast it. If you are cooking something that is fatty and/or came from the shoulder, belly, or leg of a large animal, you braise it. But continue reading because the long answer, while highly science-y, is much more interesting and will explain the disparity between cooking television shows and your kitchen counter...


The long answer:

I love this question; it gives me an excuse to be incredibly nerdy and explain my company’s name both while helping someone solve a problem. Basically, this is all of the things! Roasting and braising are both cooking techniques that utilize the convection method of heat transfer. This means that you are using a moving heated medium to cook: when roasting that medium is air, when braising that medium is liquid. (Cooking in an unmoving hot pan is conduction, grilling/broiling and microwaving are radiation.)



First of all, I applaud you on your expertise at roasting chickens. Second, your bird looks better on your kitchen counter than a roast chicken looks on TV because you can experience it with all of your senses. I think hearing is a very important part of enjoying food and that crackling sound of the juices and fats under a perfectly crisped chicken skin is probably half of my enjoyment of roast chicken. It is also a very fragrant food, even if you have added no seasoning besides salt and pepper. Since television can only convey the image of the food, it is hard to fully enjoy.


A crisp, golden brown chicken skin (or french fry, or the cheese on top of your lasagna) is a result of caramelization and the various Maillard reactions that occur when the surface of whatever you are cooking has come into contact with high enough heat, generally above 325 degrees Fahrenheit. The Maillard reactions, for which I named my company because of how I feel about the part smell plays in the enjoyment of food stated above, are hard to fully explain without giving you a potentially unwanted flashback to high school chemistry. Suffice it to say, the high heat transferred by the air in roasting/baking rearranges the molecules on the surface of a chicken or loaf of bread and produces the colors, smells and textures associated with the desired end result of whatever food you are cooking.



Water is more efficient at transferring heat, but since water becomes steam at 212 degrees fahrenheit, braised foods don’t reach the temperatures necessary for caramelization and the maillard reaction to occur. So then why do we ever braise when the maillard reaction is so cool? Because it is the easiest way to cook fatty and collagen-y cuts of meat so that they DO melt in your mouth. So with shoulders, ribs and shanks, etc. we braise, and we make the liquid we braise in extra flavorful to make up for the lack of the chemical reactions. Pictured below: pork shoulder braising in apple cider, sliced onion braising in butter and madiera. I combined the two to become a pasta sauce.

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When you see braised foods on cooking shows, especially if it is a cooking competition show, you can see the tender textures of the meat sitting in velvety or syrupy rich looking sauce. They have usually done extra things to both the meat that has been braised and the liquid that are not going to be in most braise recipes you might try as a braise novice. But there are things you can do to braise better. Namely pay extra attention to the flavorful liquid. Whether you add richness and mouthfeel with red wine or umami-heavy ingredients like soy sauce or ground-up dried mushrooms, you will need to add flavor boosting properties to the liquid. Also, related to my last post regarding soups, braising the day before you are going to eat the braise often helps amp the flavor and texture because the meat is going to reabsorb it's own fats and the flavors in the braising liquid as it cools down. But the way to really master braising is to add more cooking techniques to your dish.



So if you want to make a television-worthy braised meal, what you actually need to do is find dishes with combination cooking. After braising meat to make it tender you can sometimes sear it in a pan or use very high heated air like grilling or broiling. Both of these will introduce the surface to high enough temperatures for maillard reactions to occur through an additional method of heat transfer, conduction in the case of the pan or radiation in the case of grilling/broiling, remember. You can also take the flavorful liquid and simmer it until it has reduced down into a velvety, syrupy sauce that will be rich because that liquid now also includes the rendered fat from the piece of meat. Be careful doing this for the first time though, the salt levels will intensify as you reduce the liquid so you will actually need to underseason the braising liquid a bit.


To see how combination cooking works I recommend trying Emeril Lagasse's braised pork belly recipe. It takes several days, but is easy to follow and the result is amazing. Because it involves large pieces of meat instead of the stew-like chunks called for in most braises, you will actually be braise-roasting so you won’t need to choose between the two.



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No (Second-Day) Soup For You

THE QUESTION: I’ve heard and read in many places that “soup is better the second day”, but I’ve never found that to be true. Am I making it wrong?


THE ANSWER: If you enjoy it, then there is no wrong in making soup. 

Stand behind your own taste and cut your favorite soup recipes in half if you think it it not as good the next day. [This next statement will probably be taken with a grain of salt since I am a food blogger] General food knowledge or truisms are not infallible, especially when that knowledge is propagated by the internet. In short, my main advice in this instance is to trust your taste buds and look for the intent behind click-bait food phrases. But of course as a food blogger I do have several soup-related tips and tricks that may help you find the mythical day-after soup or perhaps prove to friends and families that it is indeed mythical. 

I would suggest that before you give up on soups or change the way you make them, try a completely new kind of soup to you. Perhaps unfamiliarity will allow your taste buds to sense things in a new context. I suggest trying out the Pistachio Soup from blockbuster cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It is similar to traditional Virginia Peanut Soup but is simultaneously a brand new experience (the orange juice was a revelation for me). You can find the book at CRRL or just that recipewith some tips on the vegan cooking blog Braisen Woman.

 While there is no “wrong way” to make soup, you may be trying to apply the second-day theory to the wrong kinds of soup. Stews, chilies, and other hearty soups with big flavors tend to taste richer and more balanced after all of the components have been hanging out together for 12 or more hours. The seasoning gets distributed evenly and the chemical processes that happen when food cools and then gets reheated means that those deep flavors gelatinize into large bits like meat or potato chunk, making the entire dish more flavorful and more tender. You can read a little more about the phenomenon here.

Tips for soups that are “better the next day”:

  • Cuts of meat that require long cooking times to break down the proteins are best for stews, curries and chilies. They have more membranes for the flavor to burrow into and the long cook time allows for even more flavor mingling.
  • Reheat as slowly as possible. If you put cold stews into a pot over high heat it will heat unevenly and scorch creating unpleasant bitter flavors to emerge instead of the comfort food vibe you are aiming for.
  • When seasoning, remember two things. Salt intensifies in liquid when it condenses and thickens in a stew so be conservative when salting at the beginning of cooking. Most flavors will mellow overnight, so if you want that sharp hit of cayenne the next day you will need to add a little extra when you re-heat.

  On the other hand, plenty of soups benefit from distinctiveness in their flavors and textures. I wouldn’t want the carrot, celery and fennel to blend into a uniform vegetal-ness in my minestrone, and I would hate for the egg noodle iin a chicken noodle soup to fall apart the second my spoon hit it. 

Tips for soups to eat immediately:

  • Cook smaller batches. If you know that when a recipe says 4 servings it will actually be 8 for your family because you are eating the soup as a side, cut your recipe in half.
  • Cut ingredients uniformly so that they all cook at the same rate. Also, know how long they will take to cook; peas will turn to mush before a potato has cooked through. Adding different ingredients at different times will help you achive textural perfection. 
  • Garnish with fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon, parmesan cheese, or all three. While great on their own, these flavors also balance the flavors of a bright, fresh soup. The lemon brings out sweet and salty notes, the cheese adds a depth of umami and fresh herbs act like harmonies in a great Motown song.
  • Cook noodles and grains separately. Sometimes a soup gets ruined sitting in the fridge overnight because noodles or rice become soggy. You can save your soup by hydrating noodles and rice on their own then simply warming them in the soup right before serving. If there are leftovers your starch will be safe from disintegration.
  • Make all of your soups in the model of pho. In this Vietnamese comfort food most components are fresh herbs, veggies and meat that was cooked separately. You arrange these in a deep bowl and then pour a fragrant and flavorful broth over top. (pictured below on left, Pho components waiting in a bowl for broth).

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[PRO TIP] If you find yourself with leftover soup that has gone sad and soggy, dont throw it out, you can probably save it. Give soggy soups a second life as pureed soups. With the help of a blender and a little cream or extra stock your sad leftovers will become Cream of Insert-original-soup-here. Crispy garnishes like the croutons pictured above on the right, a little soft cheese or sour cream, and fresh cracked black pepper and suddenly that second day really is magical.

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#PSL - Pumpkin Spice [Lasagna]

THE QUESTION: "Please Help! My family and friends are all obsessed with 'The PSL' and I just don’t get it. I like pumpkins and nutmeg as much as anyone else, but would rather have actual pie if I’m going to take in that many calories...what can I do to not feel left out?"



First of all, don’t panic. You are not alone. As a fan of black drip coffee, made in my kitchen, in my PJs, I’ve never really understood the Pumpkin Spice Latte craze either (or any calorific flavored espresso drinks). 

The fad has grown each year to include more and more ridiculous pumpkin spice branded items (see sign for haircuts here). BUT since your concern is about being included in the fun of the season, why not throw a “pumpkin spice” dinner party for your family and friends. It can be potluck, or not, depending on how much time and effort you want to spend, but I would suggest one rule: no packaged/store-bought items.


[NOTE: to readers who are not pumpkin spice fans, the seasoning is completely optional in all of my ideas for making autumnal squash dishes.]



During the paragraph break I changed my mind. Your dinner party should definitely be a potluck of sorts, a contest even. Everyone must devise some pumpkin spice themed thing to bring whether that's a cocktail, cheesecake, centerpiece, costume, cartoon, or carol. Everyone votes to crown a winner “The PSL: Pumpkin Spice Leader/Lord/Lady”. Or perhaps as host you give out many awards: “most addictive”, “most out-of-the-box”, “best dressed” etc.


While planning for such a party, one might ask, “What exactly IS pumpkin spice?”. Wikipedia would answer that it is the ground spice mixture commonly used to flavor pumpkin pies: 2 parts nutmeg to 1 part each of ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and clove. Whether you blend it yourself or buy a little pre-mixed shaker of it you can use this to add a hint of fall to pretty much anything you would normally season with spices. Replace half of the cumin in an enchilada sauce recipe with it and have pumpkin spice enchiladas, top with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds to step it up a notch. Or for a great fall snack add it, and a little candied ginger, to a granola bar recipe.

If you are not great at improvising in the kitchen the best way to create a pumpkin spice dish, sweet, savory, or anywhere in between, is to roast a winter squash or pie pumpkin mash it with some pumpkin spice mixture and add this mash to something simple...

I’ve unfortunately buried my best tip here in the middle of the post:

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You don’t ever need to peel winter squash! Acorn, butternut, pumpkin, carnival (pictured), which ever you have just cut it in half, remove the seeds, roast at 375 for an hour or until the flesh is soft, let cool and the skin comes right off in your hands. Your thumbs may turn orange for an hour or so but you'll  never nick them with a knife or peeler using this technique.

In a bowl, using a fork, mash the roasted squash flesh with the pumpkin spice mixture. Then a pinch of salt and tablespoon of oil if you want to create a savory dish or a couple tablespoons of melted butter and honey if you want to create a sweet dish. 

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Squash Dishes to Make Right Now (and all winter long): 

  • Pasta sauce. Add some of the starchy water after boiling noodles to your mashed squash along with extra olive oil and minced garlic then toss with your noodles ( I recommend fettuccine). A creamy sauce without any dairy...although if you are not vegan some parmesan and crumbled bacon would be perfect garnishes. You could also simply add some of the mash to your usual tomato or cream based sauce.
  • Quesadillas. Stir a cheese blend into your mash and spread on a tortilla. Monterey, gruyere, fontina, and stilton would all be great choices. Or go full on Thanksgiving like the lunch I'm enjoying as I edit: squash, cold cut turkey, bacon, and havarti! Yum. 2015_10_09_14.50.38.jpg
  • Frittata. Whisk some eggs and cream together and pour into a greased pie pan or casserole dish. Place dollops of your mash into the egg mixture with a spoon. Top with grated parmesean. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the eggs have set.
  • Flatbread. Make or get store-bought pizza dough. Stretch it with plenty of olive oil on a sheet pan, cover and let rest for 20 mins then stretch again. Spread your mash over the surface,  sprinkle with fresh rosemary and salt, bake at 475 for 15-25 minutes. To finish, drizzle with spicy honey right after it comes out of the oven (steep red pepper flakes in some honey).
  • Muffins/Cupcakes. Substitute your sweet mash for the fruit in your favorite banana or zucchini bread recipe. OR add some mash to a cupcake recipie. Bake as usual.
  • Dessert Dip aka Lazy Cheesecake. Blend sweet squash mash with goat cheese or cream cheese and sour cream, add some extra pumpkin spice for good measure. Bake in a casserole dish or individual ramekins at 350 for just a few minutes, until hot. Use graham crackers or shortbread cookies to scoop up your pumpkin-cheesecake-dip.
  • Filo Cigars. Get some store-bought filo dough. Place your sweet mash in a ziplock bag, snip off a tiny piece of a bottom corner and use the bag to pipe your mash onto the sheets. Roll the filo around your filling and bake as the package directs. Bonus points if you dip one end in some melted white chocolate after they come out of the oven.


By now you are probably confused about the title of this post since I have yet to mention lasagnas; if I were invited to a Pumpkin Spice Potluck Party, I would absolutely bring a '#PSL' or Pumpkin Spice Lasagna. There’s a slow roasted carrot recipe I love where you put the carrots on a bed of coffee beans and bake at a very low temperature so that while the sugars in the carrots intensify, they are also absorbing the aroma and oils from the beans. It's genius. To create a lasagna I would layer those carrots with homemade noodles infused with instant espresso powder and pumpkin pie spice, mascarpone cheese, and a bechamel sauce. Is it dinner or dessert?


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Waste Not Want Not

The Question: "I heard a lot about food waste in the news this summer, is there a way to avoid wasting food in my own kitchen?"


The Answer: Absolutely, and in so many ways!


Much of the news this summer revolved around so called "ugly" produce and the food that gets wasted by grocery stores due to their standards of merchandising. To help with that cause you can sign the #WhatTheFork petition on encouraging Wal-mart and Whole Foods to sell less than "perfect" product. More recently, the cause was taken a step further when some of the most high-ranking world leaders were fed a working lunch made only from grocery-store waste, which you can read about here.

Whether you are looking to save money, save farmers, or save the world...I have several tips to avoid wasting food in your home. 

Shopping to avoid waste:

These tips can be a little challengin to keep to if you and your household have a hectic schedule, but they have the added benefit of also saving money. Here are three great ways to avoid flood waste by changing your shopping routine:

  • Shop for your produce at the farmers market. By doing this you are buying seasonally and locally, virtuous goals in and of themselves, but you are also helping buy up what chain stores won't/can't. We in Virginia have an advantage through weather; our markets can operate for a large portion of the year. Fredericksburg has even more advantage because every day there's at least the C&T stand open at Hurkamp Park (except Sunday).
  • Don't impulse shop. Pre-plan all the meals you are shopping for. This may mean that you have to shop more often or spend more at one time depending on your current shopping habits, but if you know when and how you are using each piece of produce you will automatically not be wasting any.
  • Look for dates on packaging and understand what they mean. Non produce items usually have either (and sometimes both) a packaged on date and a sell by date. BUT that doesn’t mean throw it away if what’s printed is before today’s date. Eggs are safe to eat for over a month after the date on the carton. There are some great tips for decoding packaging dates in this interview from NPR.

Avoiding waste in your home:

  • The best way to avoid waste is to be more aware of what you bought at the store and when it is going to go bad. There are both organizational and cooking techniques to do this.
  • It can take time to reorganize your life, but in this case the results can make it worth the effort!
  • Keep a running list of what you have in the fridge and when it is likely to go bad. Giant post-it pads with a magnet are great for this.
  • Organize your fridge so that leftovers or older products don't get hidden by newer purchases.
  • Keep produce in clear glass or plastic containers after they have been cut. You'll be able to see if something is starting to go bad and will always be able to see what is currently in your fridge without searching and opening every container.

Cooking with scraps:

  • Sometimes the natural packaging can feel wasteful. On one extreme that natural packaging really is just protection for delicacies, like pomegranates, and good for nothing else. At the other extreme that organic waste is usable as a flavoring agent (corn cobs, onion skins, etc.). I like to remove corn kernels before cooking and then steep the cobs and smashed garlic clove or two in milk to make bechamel, adding layers of flavor. To steep these sorts of remains add a cold liquid to your flavorful oddments, bring to a boil, cover and take the pan off the heat, then wait for 20 or so minutes -if it is fibrous like onion skin turn the heat down and simmer for a while before turning the stove off. With this technique you can make your own stocks and flavored milk or cream to use in my second cooking tip...


  • "Leftover magic" is my mom's favorite kitchen phrase. Avoid letting odds and ends of old meals mold/crust in the fridge by restructuring them all into a new dish. Imagine you have one odd piece of chicken, some sausage and various vegetables or fruit about to go bad. Alone, none of those things scream, “That dinner was delishous, thanks!”, but together they can be transformed into comfort food with common pantry items. Usually, the secret to truly great leftover magic is adding a crispy texture and of course some cheese. Once you taste leftover magic you will never throw away that lone drumstick again.



  • Make leftovers au gratin (pictured above)! Many think that potatos are the only gratin, but here's a secret: the word "gratin" just means the crispy crust on top. So cut or shred your leftovers to a generally uniform size. Stir them all up and put them into a wide, shallow dish. Make sure there's some liquid, a little stock or cream if you want to be super French. Then cover the top with cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees to reheat everything inside and then broil the top until golden and crust-y.
  • If the stovetop is more your style, treat your leftovers like you're making paella. The same general idea as the gratin above...add all of your uniformly cut leftovers to some short grain rice add broth and simmer until the rice has fully hydrated. Then turn the heat up to crisp the bottommost layer of rice. Top with grated parmasean if possible depending on your leftovers. 
  • Before you know it, you'll be wasting less and saving more. I call that a win!


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Beat the Heat #3: In An Instant

It's September [already!?], but it's also Virginia. We all know there will be several more days this year when using the stove/oven will be unimaginable for fear of making the temperature inside our houses as unbearable as it is outside. So here are my final tips to “Beat the Heat” this summer.

The Question: “How can I create the carb-based meals that my little ones love without overheating at the stove?”


The Answer: Bulgur, couscous, rice noodles etc...

There are many products you can use as a carb-y base for summer meals that require only boiling water poured over them in a bowl to hydrate them. So you can go “instant” without the sometimes questionable ingredients usually associated with foodstuffs labeled as instant. Bulgur, couscous, rice noodles and frozen noodles are all incredibly versatile and require only a kettle; if you have an electric one even better, NOT an open vat of boiling water adding to the humidity. Some brands do instruct you to use the stovetop but all it takes is a little time reading labels in the store to find what you’re looking for. My mom and I learned this past winter (during an intense kitchen remodel) that any noodle that instructs you to cook in boiling water for any time between 1-5 minutes can be hydrated by pouring boiling water over them, covering the bowl, and waiting. 30 second intervals in the microwave can be added if the boiling water and steam still leave something too al dente for your taste. 

So to close out my “beat the heat” series, I’ve got several meal ideas using “instant” products. Mix and match these ideas to find your family’s new warm-weather go-to.


Miso/Ramen (or any broth-y soup):

I instantly fell in love with the frozen soba and lo mein noodles when Wegmans introduced them a year or so ago. They are the perfect texture and so quick to prepare. Instead of stir frying with them, you can also toss with one of any number of premade or blender sauces and grilled veggies and/or proteins, but they are also great in ramen or miso broth (two things that also only require some hot water to dissolve the paste). Throw in fresh cherry tomatoes and herbs and you’ve got a fast, light meal ready to go. There are plenty of paste versions of chicken and beef broth too if you wanted to use one of the other instant carb options for a more European style soup. 


Grilling for sauces:

One of my favorite things about grilling is how the flames intensify the sugars and flavor of fruits and veggies. Grill any vegetable and blend it with some aromatics (also try beans or yogurt) and you’ve got a great sauce or dip. Eggplant, peppers and tomatoes are the popular pick for this and they are all plentiful at both the farmers market and grocery store this time of year... but sweet potato season is beginning. Try grilling slices of sweet potatoes then pureeing them with garlic, sesame oil and this year's fad asian condiment, gochugang, for a flavorful korean-hummus-esque spread that would be great with steak or a store-bought rotisserie chicken over bulgur. You could use any of the instant carbs for that matter, but I think the nutty-ness of bulgur makes it the best pairing for grilled flavors.


Made in the Morning: 

As summer comes to a close the nights are getting cooler and less humid *knocks on wood* so braising or roasting in the morning then reheating at dinner time is a great way to cook what you already know how to cook and still leave the oven off on hot afternoons.Braised meats only get better with 8 hours of sitting in their flavorful juice. Then all you need to do in the muggy evening is toss a salad and quickly hydrate some couscous. Israeli, sometimes called pearl, is my favorite; the bits of pasta are larger so they have a more distinct texture. You can take it a step further by waking up early one day and cooking proteins and veggies for several meals at once, then the only dinner-related thing you need to worry about all week is what to microwave on which night (or call a personal chef service like mine and the diciding and warming up is the only actual work you will have to do)!


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About Joanna

blogger joanna2

I am a young entrepreneur who loves to solve problems; from the daily crossword to a client's cooking conundrum. Passion for soccer, architecture, travel, and experimenting with cooking techniques (mostly) define my life. My company, My Friend Maillard, is a personal chef service designed to help clients who don't have the time or inclination to cook at home. I approached Fredericksburg Parent to host this blog so I could also help local families find answers for their seemingly intractable food and cooking related problems.

Did your teenager just decide to go vegan? Do you want to know why your cakes always collapse in the center? Do you want to know how to get chicken skin really crispy? Just Ask My Friend Maillard. Make your queries as specific or as weird as you like and submit them anytime through Twitter, on Facebook, or via email to myfriendmaillard (at) Can't wait to hear from you!

Pouches' Community Corner

Trains, Planes and Automobiles Kids' Race Series


From a small beginning, Cathy Weise of the Ron Rosner YMCA has developed an ambitious three-race series for kids for this summer, with the help of The Great Train Race, Shannon Airport, Dominion Raceway & Entertainment, the Fredericksburg Area Service League and Race Timing Unlimited.

Great Train Race Director Jennifer Taylor was one of the first on board.