Monday, February 19, 2018

Mom Cooking Tip 138

Bacon slices are easier to separate when you’re frying them and the fat begins to melt.  Use a fork or tongs to nudge the slices apart.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Rice Vinegar: What Is It and How Do I Use It?

Until I began cooking Asian dishes, I was unfamiliar with rice vinegar. At first I substituted cider vinegar, which seemed to work--although I wasn't really sure what the dish was supposed to taste like. Then I bought a bottle of rice vinegar, which is made from fermented rice.

Tasting it on its own was a shock. The label describes it as "the mild vinegar," but the back of my throat did not enjoy the experience. But when I mixed it with other ingredients, including oil and spices, the sharp flavor mellowed out.

Somehow I used up two bottles of rice vinegar within a few months. It was a good addition to Super-Easy Fried Tofu  and Asian Chicken Slaw I've also added it to my homemade oil and vinegar dressing recipe. Rice vinegar is not a kitchen essential, but using it makes me feel like a more sophisticated cook.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with Homemade Truffles

In case truffles are new to you, they are little balls of chocolate mixed with cream, butter and vanilla, then covered with cocoa or powdered sugar. 

They are a lot more exotic than a bar of chocolate, even though they’re usually made from a bar of chocolate.  The process is straightforward, but there are two steps that require your full attention.

1) Melting the chocolate—a simple task as long as you focus on it.  Look away for a minute while checking your phone, and the chocolate may turn gritty and inedible.  Melting directions are below.

2) Shaping the truffles once the chocolate mixture is cold.

Store-bought truffles can be expensive, but 15 homemade truffles can cost less than $5 total. 

Even teenagers can make them.  I know this first-hand because I just guided two teenage boys through the process.  They wanted to impress their girlfriends with some homemade truffles for Valentine’s Day?

Homemade Truffles – 15-20 pieces, depending on how large you make them 
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder or powdered sugar, plus more if needed
Mini paper baking cups, optional 
Melt the chocolate in a small, heavy pot or frying pan over very low heat, stirring constantly.  When it’s half melted, turn off the heat and stir so the residual heat will melt the rest. 
Add the cream and butter and stir until the butter has melted.  Add the vanilla and stir for 1 minute, or until the mixture is thick and glossy.  Refrigerate, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until firm. 
Put the cocoa and/or powdered sugar in a small bowl(s).  Set out 2 large plates. 
Remove the truffle mixture from the refrigerator.  Scrape a teaspoon across the top of the chocolate mixture and manipulate it into a ball up to 1 inch in diameter.  If it starts to crumble, use your hands to shape it.  This is messy but effective.  Set the truffles on one plate. 
Place the mini paper baking cups, if using, on the second plate.  Gently put a truffle in the cocoa or powdered sugar and roll it around so the surface is covered.  Then transfer it to a paper cup, if using, or directly onto the second plate.  Repeat until all the truffles are coated with cocoa or powdered sugar. 
Store, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Truffles will keep for about a week.
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Monday, February 12, 2018

Rutabagas: What Are They and How Do I Cook Them?

A rutabaga is a root vegetable.  It’s not the most popular choice at the supermarket, nor is it sleek like asparagus or irresistible like heirloom tomatoes.  It’s a work-horse vegetable that’s been around for at least 400 years.  If you find it on a menu it’s likely to be part of a stew or a pile of roasted vegggies.

Some people think rutabagas are just used to feed livestock, but that’s not true.  Peeled, cut up and cooked, they appear in many Scandinavian dishes.  In fact, in those countries rutabagas are called “Swedes” or “Swedish turnips.”

If you cook and then mash rutabagas, they can be used in place of or mixed in with mashed potatoes.  Their leaves are edible and can be cooked like spinach, chard or mustard greens, although many produce departments cut off the greens.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Mom Money-Saving Tip 90

Why buy breadcrumbs when you can easily make your own?  If you’re dealing with traditional store-bought bread, 1 3-ounce slice makes about 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs. If you dry it in the oven, the slice makes 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Can You Ever Have Too Much Chocolate?

I find this hard to admit, but I was once in a room with too much chocolate.  This room, about the size of two football fields, was inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. 

A Chocolate Festival was in progress.  My job (courtesy of the International Herald Tribune) was to visit as many booths as possible, take notes and taste whatever was on offer.  That way I could tell readers about the latest American chocolate trends. 

I couldn’t believe my luck, especially when I saw 25-pound bars of semi-sweet chocolate being hacked into fist-sized samples.  But I soon discovered there’s truth in that old saying, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

Monday, February 5, 2018

Question for Mom

Does size of egg matter when you’re cooking? --Natalie R.

No, unless you’re baking, and even then it may not matter much.  As you can see from the picture above, not all large eggs are exactly the same size

1 extra-large egg = about 4 tablespoons
1 large egg = about 3 1/4 tablespoons
1 medium egg = about 3 tablespoons

Most recipes call for large eggs, so as long as you’re using only 1 or 2 eggs, you can easily substitute extra-large or medium eggs.  However, if the recipe calls for 6 large eggs, you would be wise to substitute 5 extra-large eggs or 7 medium eggs.

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