On Friday mornings, as you drive to work, the voice of Isaac Kaplan-Woolner guides you through the kitchen.
His weekly KOHO radio show “Cooking Local” was inspired by the bounty Kaplan-Woolner found at the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market. He says that he asked himself, “what do you do when you have all those zucchinis?”
Kaplan-Woolner says his Amherst, Mass.-area hometown is largely agricultural, so the agricultural base of the Wenatchee Valley is familiar to him. “It’s been neat finding these local food avenues,” says Kaplan-Woolner, a Leavenworth resident.
“People look at me funny when I tell them I have a radio cooking show,” says Kaplan-Woolner. To him, though, it makes sense. “Cooking and radio is an imagining realm. For me, being a food-focused person, when I hear a sizzle or chop, I imagine it. Hearing it, you are participating in a mental creation of this dish on-air.”
Kaplan-Woolner says his almost year-old show focusing on cooking with local ingredients has received a “surprisingly strong response. … I think of myself as a serious reporter, but people respond to this.”
The weekly radio program runs only seven minutes. “I don’t expect people to listen once and be able to re-create it expertly,” he says of the dishes he creates on the air.
“The idea is to get people thinking about these ingredients. The most fun about cooking is getting an idea in your head. … Things can change completely halfway through. Cooking is about being really fluid and not being married to a recipe. To be a real cook is to know your ingredients well enough and not need a step-by-step guide to get there.”
Kaplan-Woolner says the show was very time-consuming initially. “It was a big process in the beginning, going to the farmers market, planning a meal, cooking with a microphone. Cooking for hours, hours and hours, and then editing for hours.” Now, though, the routine is smoother. Instead of choosing very involved recipes, Kaplan-Woolner says, “I prefer recipes that are exotic-tasting but relatively simple in execution. I try to give methods that allow for weeknight dinners.”
The focus of the show, say Kaplan-Woolner, isn’t always on how to cook a meal or a single dish. “I want to continue to involve more outside voices, local cooks, more outside experts on local foods. I like talking to the actual producers. My best salsa recipe came from a Hispanic family selling tomatillos at the farmers market.”
Going into winter, Kaplan-Woolner acknowledges the difficulty of continuing to cook locally. In addition to using locally frozen or canned foods, he suggests looking into foods that store well including local apples, root vegetables, squashes, grains and legumes from the Palouse. “Maybe our definition of local is expanded,” he concedes.
“There are a lot of things I’m not naturally good at, but cooking is something I sit around and fantasize about. … I don’t think of myself as a chef,” he says. “I think of myself as a cook. … A cook just loves food and has a curiosity and loves food for themselves.”
Isaac’s general cooking tips
◆ Always scrape chopped veggies off the cutting board with the back of your cutting knife, otherwise you’ll dull the blade.
◆ To test if an egg is rotten without cracking it, place it into a cup of water. If it floats, it’s no good (gases collect in a rotten egg and make it float).
◆ The best way to keep ginger root fresh is to plant it in soil or sand. The easiest way is to freeze it, which also makes grating it much easier.
◆ Partially freezing raw meat makes it much easier to cut into small strips for a stir fry.
◆ When making a stir fry, chop up all your ingredients beforehand and cook each kind of vegetable or meat in a separate round on high heat. This way each ingredient will be cooked the right degree.
◆ Always let a roast sit for a while before carving so the juices settle back in. Otherwise the meat’s juices will leak out onto the cutting board.
◆ A bone-in roast will cook faster than boneless because the bone transfers heat to the meat.
◆ Trust your tongue. Balance flavors with sweet, tart, salty, spicy, etc.
◆ If you like something you’ve cooked, write it down. It’s hard to re-create the exact same dish until you’ve done it several times.
◆ Isaac Kaplan-Woolner isn’t always a fan of recipes. “I think that they can be both helpful and limiting,” he says.
Here’s his general recipe for …
Caribbean Baked Stuffed Apples
For the apples:
Dried fruit (such as raisins and apricots)
Dash black pepper (optional)
For the sauce:
1/2 cup rum
1/2 apple cider
Mix oats, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon together. Chop dried fruit and cashews and mix in spices, ginger and lime juice. Combine with about half of the oat mixture. Core apples and stuff with dried fruit mixture. Top with rum, and the extra oats and sugar mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, or until apples are tender.
To make the sauce, reduce the rum, some butter, sugar, and the apple cider until it forms a thicker syrup.
Pour sauce over apples and serve with fancy vanilla bean ice cream.
Note: Freeze ginger before grating to make it easier to grate.