Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Secrets of the Radish

Radishes never seemed mysterious.  When I was growing up, they sometimes appeared as a side dish along with some slices of cucumber.  It was like an instant salad, both spicy and colorful.  Once in a while my mother put sliced raw radishes and small chunks of cucumber into a bowl of sour cream.  That would be our lunch when she’d run out of everything else.

When I began cooking, I ignored radishes unless a recipe called for them, which was almost never.  Recently I bought a bunch to use in a salad and began wondering what they would taste like roasted.  They were surprisingly good.  There was a little bite left in them, but the taste was mellower.  Radishes also turn out to be good sliced and sautéd briefly in butter. 

Pre-Roasted Vegetables
Roasted Vegetables – serves 4 
1 pound very small white, red, new, Yukon Gold or fingerling potatoes, unpeeled
Olive or canola oil
1 large onion, cut roughly in big pieces
1 bell pepper, seeds removed and cut into 1-inch slices
8-10 radishes, ends trimmed
Radish greens, well-rinsed
1 zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (optional)
8-10 small mushrooms (optional)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt 
Wash the potatoes and cut any large ones in half.  Put the potatoes in a medium pot, half-fill with water and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.  If you’re using tiny new potatoes, skip this step.  
Begin heating the oven to 400 degrees.  
Put 1 tablespoon oil into a roasting pan and shake the pan to distribute it around the bottom.  Add the partly cooked potatoes, onion, bell pepper radishes and any other vegetables.  Add 1-2 tablespoons more oil over the vegetables and sprinkle on the oregano, salt and pepper.  
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes and radishes can be easily pierced with a knife.  Midway through roasting, shake the pan or stir with a large spoon.  Serve immediately or reheat when needed.
Roasted Vegetables
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Monday, September 18, 2017

Reinventing a Classic Vegetable

Sometimes cooking a traditional vegetable a different way makes me think I’m Christopher Columbus discovering a new world.  It happened a while ago with green beans. 

My first memory of green beans involved a tuna casserole.  I’m pretty sure those beans came out of a can.  They must have been overcooked because they were soft and squishy.  But at the time I didn’t know they could taste any different.  I just ate what was put in front of me.

Years later I picked some green beans growing in a friend’s garden and discovered: 1) You can eat them straight from the vine, and they’re crunchy, not limp.  2) You must not cook them for more than a few minutes or they will taste like canned beans.

Later still, when I began liking Indian food, I discovered an Indian dish called Gugarati Green Beans, which taste nothing like any other green beans I’ve ever eaten. 
Gugarati Green Beans – serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room”)  
1 pound fresh green beans
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like really spicy food)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon mustard seeds 
Wash the beans and trim and discard the stem end.  Remove and discard any strings.  (These beans are also called string beans for a reason.)  Cut the beans into 1-inch lengths. 
Half-fill a medium pot with water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the beans and boil uncovered for 4-6 minutes, depending how thick they are.  Taste-test after 4 minutes to see if they are beginning to soften but are still slightly crisp.  When they reach this stage, drain in a colander or sieve and run cold water over them so they stop cooking.  Set aside. 
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, sugar, red pepper flakes and black pepper and cook for about 30 seconds, or until the garlic begins to sizzle.  Add the mustard seeds and stir for about 10 seconds or until they start to pop out of the pan.  Return the beans to the pan, stir briefly until the beans are covered with the spice mixture and serve.
                            For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Friday, September 15, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 88

Be creative with leftovers.  Six uneaten French fries from last night’s dinner became the basis of today’s lunch.  First I warmed up the fries in the microwave.  Then I heated up a flour tortilla in a frying pan, flipped it over, placed the fries in a rough line down the middle and added some cheddar cheese.  I covered the pan with a lid and continued cooking for about 30 seconds, or until the cheese melted.  Voila!  Cheapest lunch ever.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mortar and Pestle: What Is It and How Do I Use It?

Glass Mortar and Pestle
A mortar and a pestle are actually two stand-alone items that are sold together and work together.  Basically they mash things up, things not really mashable with a fork.  In my case that usually means whole spices.

I bought a mortar and pestle some years ago because I thought it looked cool, but I only started using it when I began liking the taste of Szechuan peppercorns.  They were too expensive to put in a pepper mill, so I ground them up in my mortar and pestle.

A mortar and pestle sitting out on the counter makes you look like a real cook.  This combo is relatively cheap—as little as $4 in some stores, although much higher in others.  That’s for the smallest size mortar (a small bowl), which can be made of glass, wood, stone or ceramic.  The pestle (a miniature club) is usually made of the same substance. 

Here’s how it works: put a teaspoon of peppercorns, coriander seeds or similar hard spice in the mortar and carefully pound them with the pestle.  Use your free hand to cover as much of the mortar as possible while pounding so the spices don’t jump out onto the counter.  When you’re done, the spices may be ground down to a powder or are at least a lot smaller than they were.

In some countries large mortars are used to grind meat and make hummus.

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Spinach: Fresh vs. Frozen

I couldn’t resist the 40-ounce bag of fresh spinach at Costco yesterday for $3.99.  I’ve been a fan of fresh spinach since my earliest cooking days.  I like putting it in salads, dropping a few handfuls into soup, a stir-fry, a stew or hot pasta.  I’ve recently taken to mixing some fresh spinach into ground turkey recipes, just to provide some novelty.  I also make an excellent Spinach Quiche   

Frozen spinach just doesn’t provide the same taste experience, especially the chopped version.  Draining a pot of one-frozen, then-cooked chopped spinach is highly unappealing.  I would never serve it as a vegetable.  Whole-leaf frozen spinach is slightly better in principle, but I can’t remember the last time I offered it as a side dish.  As for canned spinach…I don’t want to think about it.

Here are some facts that might come in handy if you get seduced by a big bag of fresh spinach:

1 pound fresh spinach equals 10 ounces frozen spinach

Spinach stems are edible.  They shrink when cooked.  However, when serving the spinach uncooked in a salad, take the time to remove and discard any really long stems.

Fresh spinach cooks in 2-3 minutes in 1/2 cup boiling water or sauted for 1-2 minutes in olive oil.

Use it fresh spinach whenever you think to use lettuce.  A BLT can easily become a BST.  If you’re dealing with picky eaters, don’t mention that you’re using fresh spinach.  Just say it’s a new kind of lettuce.

When cooked, a huge pot of fresh spinach cooks down to 3-4 servings.

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 121

Don’t rinse cooked pasta.  Fresh water washes away the starch coating that will help the sauce stick to the pasta.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Oops! I Ran Out of xxx in the Middle of Cooking

How many times have you discovered you were missing an ingredient in the middle of getting dinner ready?  Somehow I can look at a recipe, carefully check the ingredients and still manage to overlook the need for an egg or a cup of milk. 

If the ingredient is something odd—like anchovies or honeydew melon—I make a special point of confirming its existence in the house. But if it’s something so basic, so certain to be in the fridge or the cupboard, then I often don’t bother to check that I actually have it. 

I never buy lemons, for instance, because there’s a lemon tree 20 feet from my front door.  So lemons are always in supply—except when they’re not, as I discovered the other day when I went out to pick one.  The tree was full of mini-green lemons, which should be ripe next month.

Once in a while I have to drop everything and run to the store…or at least to my neighbors.  If that’s not an option, I may leave out the ingredient.  Most times, though, I come up with a substitute. Lacking a lemon to squeeze on my fish, I made garlic mayonnaise instead.  I could have also used a splash of vinegar, which is what British fish & chip shops offer their customers.

If I were trying to thicken a soup and somehow was out of flour, I would use cornstarch: 1 tablespoon cornstarch for 2 tablespoons flour

If I had no spreadable mustard, I would use dry (also known as powdered or hot) mustard and water: 1 tablespoon dry mustard and 1 tablespoon water mixed together and allowed to sit for 10 minutes for 1 tablespoon prepared mustard.

If I should run out of hot pepper sauce, I would substitute 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes for 5-6 drops of sauce.

My best discovery came when I was making a chocolate cake and had no milk.  I substituted water, and the cake had a much stronger chocolate taste.  It turns out that the milk had been hiding the flavor.

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