Monday, August 21, 2017

Balsamic Vinegar: What Is It and How Do I Cook With It?

Balsamic vinegar became popular in the U.S. about 40 years ago.  It is a dark, strongly flavored vinegar made in Italy and aged for as little as three years and as much as 25 years before being bottled.  No wonder some bottles can sell for at least $1,000. 

A few drops of this liquid added to a dish at the end of cooking can make a big difference in flavor. Do read the label.  If you're paying a lot of money for a bottle, it should include the word “Modena,” which is a town in Italy, or the words “the Emilio region.”

Cheaper versions are also available and can add flavor to salad dressings, sauces, meat and even strawberries.

When you pour balsamic vinegar, it looks like thick soy sauce. You may have had it in restaurants mixed with olive oil and used as a dipping sauce for bread.

               For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Friday, August 18, 2017

Why a Recipe Doesn’t Always Come Out the Same and Does It Matter?

Wholegrain Bread
Some dishes in my repertoire are decades old.  I make them at least monthly—Spaghetti with Clam Sauce, Asian Turkey Burgers and Blueberry Jam are good examples.  At least one—Wholegrain Bread—I make weekly.

And yet, even though the recipes are burned into my brain, they often turn out slightly differently.  The biggest botch, involving Spaghetti with Clam Sauce, came about when Bart once made it and forgot to add the clams.  But he was able to sprinkle the chopped clams on top, so all ended well.

Leaving out an ingredient can vastly alter a dish, or it can make no difference at all.  I once forgot the salt when making Wholegrain Bread, and it was practically inedible.  But when I left the salt out of Chocolate Chip Cake, nobody noticed.

If you normally use 1 tablespoon fresh ginger in a recipe but substitute 1 tablespoon ground ginger, your final product will be extremely ginger-y.  Better to substitute 1 teaspoon ground spice for 1 tablespoon fresh spice.

If you can’t figure out why that old standard tastes different, consider these possibilities:

* Maybe you’re using a different brand of canned goods or pasta.

* Maybe you bought your meat or fish from a different grocery store.

* Maybe it was frozen instead of fresh or vice versa. 

* Maybe the weather was overly humid, and ingredients like flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt absorbed some moisture.  That extra liquid can affect the consistency and flavor.

* Maybe you used a different recipe.

There are lots of maybe’s.  But the biggest ‘maybe’ could be maybe it doesn’t matter.  And if it does, maybe you’ll remember not to do it next time.

                For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Question for Mom

Will a candy thermometer also work as a meat thermometer?  -- Ginger B.

No.  A candy thermometer can clip to the side of a pot or a deep-fat fryer and measure the temperature of hot oil or melted sugar used in making candy such as fudge.  A candy thermometer may go as high as 400 degrees. A meat thermometer, which registers the internal temperature of roasting meat, generally goes only as high as 180 degrees.  Some candy thermometers have a spike at one end, making you think maybe they would work on meat, but they aren’t meant to determine whether the chicken is fully cooked.

                                       See all Questions for Mom

Monday, August 14, 2017

Use at Least 1 Exotic Ingredient in Every Recipe

Thai Chicken Pizza
Here’s an idea to make dinnertime a little jazzier.  Add at least one exotic ingredient to whatever you’re cooking.  It could be a new spice you want to try or an unusual vegetable.  Maybe substitute peanut oil for canola oil. That will definitely change the favor of the dish.

If you don’t like the end result, add another exotic ingredient to counteract the first one.  Or add water or broth and turn the dish into a soup.  Throw in a handful of noodles or possibly a drained can of corn or beans.

Maybe this approach is how chocolate became a key ingredient in Mole.  Most people would never think of adding unsweetened chocolate to a main dish, but Chicken Mole has become a classic in many sophisticated Mexican restaurants.

In the 1950s fresh garlic was probably considered exotic in a lot of households.  Peanut butter was for sandwiches or cookies, not part of a pizza topping--as in California Pizza Kitchen’s Thai Chicken Pizza.  That dish also calls for hoisin sauce, a condiment common in Thai cooking but most unusual in an American recipe.  It's most welcome in Thai Chicken Pizza.  Hold the chicken if you want a vegetarian version.

Thai Chicken Pizza – inspired by California Pizza Kitchen – serves 3-4  

Spicy Peanut Sauce:

1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons ginger
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

Combine all these ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, until fully mixed.  Set aside.


1 tablespoon olive oil
10 ounces boneless chicken, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Begin heating olive oil in a medium pan.  Add chicken and stir-fry for about 5-6 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and there is no sign of pink when you cut 1 piece in half.  Coat the chicken with 1/4 cup Peanut Sauce.  Set aside in fridge until needed.

Pizza Topping:

1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
4 scallions, green and white parts thinly sliced
1/4 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Pizza dough for 2 12-inch pizzas 
1/2 cup cornmeal

Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Sprinkle a pizza paddle with cornmeal, and stretch out 1 pizza round and lay it on the cornmeal.  Spread the pizza with half the remaining peanut sauce.  Cover with 3/4 cup Mozzarella, half the chicken and half the carrots.

Unbaked Thai Chicken Pizza
Slide the pizza off the paddle onto the pizza stone and bake for about 8 minutes, or until the pizza crust is firm and has begun to brown on the edges.  Remove from the oven, sprinkle on half the cilantro and serve.

                              For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 87

Don’t want to pay a lot for unsweetened baking chocolate?  Use unsweetened cocoa instead, which is much cheaper. Three tablespoons unsweetened cocoa plus 1 tablespoon butter equal 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate.  

                                               See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Question for Mom

How can I prevent a skin forming on top of my chocolate pudding? – Karen G. 

Very easily.  Once you have made the pudding and transferred it to a large bowl or individual cups, lay plastic wrap over the entire surface of the pudding and smooth it out so there are no  bubbles.  Refrigerate until needed.  Just before serving, remove the plastic. 

                                                         See all Questions for Mom

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 86

If your cherry tomatoes taste sour, don’t throw them out.  Sauté them in a few tablespoons honey for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Serve as a side dish or bake them, as I did, as part of a tomato pie.

Cherry Tomato Pie – serves 6 as a side dish

1 pre-baked pie crust
2 tablespoons honey
2 1/2 -3 cups cherry tomatoes, washed and dried but left whole
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 8-ounce brick cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Begin preheating the oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees if using a glass pie pan).

Put the honey in a medium frying pan and begin heating over medium heat.  Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring continuously until some of them begin to shrivel.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Spread the mustard onto the bottom of the pie crust and then cover with thin slices of cream cheese.  Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.  Transfer the partly cooked tomatoes and any juices on top of the cream cheese so that the cream cheese is totally covered.   Bake for about 20 minutes, or until some of the tomatoes begin to collapse. 

Serve immediately or let cool and serve at room temperature.

                                         See all my Money-Saving Tips!