Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 35

If you’re serving plain pasta in a bowl, offering sauces on the side, add one tablespoon oil or butter to the noodles to keep them from sticking to each other.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Recipes That Live On

Dorothy's Hungarian Goulash
If I had more time, I’d make Julia Child’s Coq au Vin (Casserole of Chicken in Red Wine) recipe once a week.  I have successfully recreated her Cheese Souffle—a dish I was terrified to cook for guests because at the time I was a newbie in the kitchen and worried it wouldn’t rise.  I also treasure her Beef Bourguignon (Beef Stewed in Red Wine) recipe, and there’s no fear factor involved—just lots of steps and waiting around.

Last night I was reminded how good these classic dishes can be, especially when someone else is cooking them.  Our friend Dorothy invited us over for dinner and served Goulash, the Hungarian version of beef stew.  Dorothy clipped this recipe from a newspaper a few decades ago, cooked it dozens of times and made it her own.  It’s less complicated than Beef Bourguignon but equally delicious.

Main dishes go in and out of favor, but few become classics.  For a while, Cheese Fondue was a popular entrée.  Beef Wellington, which is beef tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry, baked and then cut into thick slices, was once the ultimate power meal.  Chicken Tikka Masala recently replaced Fish & Chips as England’s most popular take-out meal.

Today people travel everywhere and discover more exotic fare.  Our friend Ken just reported from Zanzibar that he dined on pizza stuffed with beef, veggies and avocado, followed by a giant grilled banana.  I’ll have to look for those recipes.  Meanwhile, though, I need to get Goulash into my cooking rotation.

Dorothy’s Hungarian Goulash – serves 5-6
2 pounds lean stewing beef
Black pepper
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
2 teaspoons butter + more if needed
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 pound small mushrooms
2 tablespoons flour
5 teaspoons paprika
1 12-ounce (1 1/2 cups) bottle or can beer
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cup sour cream
12-ounce package cooked egg noodles (optional) 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
Sprinkle beef with salt and black pepper.  Heat oil and butter in a large pot and brown the meat on all sides.  Transfer it to a large casserole.  Add the onions and mushrooms to the pot and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft.  Add a little more butter, if necessary.  Add the flour and paprika and stir thoroughly.  Add the beer, chicken broth, mustard and caraway seeds, stir and bring to a boil. 
Transfer the onion mixture to the casserole and stir to combine with the beef.  Cover and bake for 1 3/4 hours.  While the casserole is baking, set the sour cream on the counter so it comes to room temperature.  Just before serving, stir in the sour cream.  Serve with egg noodles, if desired. 
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 34

If you’re tired of rich holiday food and also want to save some money, make a big baked potato or two medium-size potatoes as your entrée. If you must have a little meat, add some chopped-up leftover turkey, beef, pork or ham and top with salsa.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 33

Clockwise from left: dried figs, ground flax seed, dried cranberries, cornmeal, wild rice medley

Buy basics like dried fruit, rice, grains, lentils, flax seeds, nuts, cornmeal and flour from bulk bins. Not only is the price cheaper but also you’re not paying for packaging.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Perfect Lunch

Smoked Salmon on a Bagel

Is there such a thing as the perfect lunch?  As a kid, I alternated between a deviled ham sandwich and a tuna salad sandwich.  Sometimes my mom made grilled cheese sandwiches on weekends. 

On special occasions, we would go to lunch at Isaly’s, a local delicatessen chain. You could get chipped chopped ham barbecue sandwiches—basically soft buns filled with hot shaved ham in a spicy tomato sauce.  (see recipe below)

In middle school, a friend occasionally invited me over for a Syrian sandwich, which consisted of a wedge of flat Syrian bread split in the middle and housing slices of ham and tomato.  It was heavenly—nothing like the thin and listless pita breads on the market today.

These sandwiches were perfect for their time--which was before fast-food restaurants began appealing to the lunch crowd with their burgers, hotdogs, pizza and submarine sandwiches.

I’m still enamored of sandwiches today.  I recently discovered the Cuban sandwich, which features ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread (somewhat similar to French baguettes).  I’ve also developed a liking for the Vietnamese sandwich called bánh mì.  Sliced pork (or chicken or meat or pate) is served on a small baguette, along with fresh cilantro, cucumbers and pickled carrots and radishes.

Right now, though, my favorite lunch is half a toasted onion bagel topped with cream cheese, sliced purple onion, sliced tomatoes and smoked salmon.  Pardon me while I go make one right now. 
Chipped Ham Barbecue Sandwiches – serves 2 (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!")   
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce 
2 tablespoons sweet relish 
1 tablespoon brown sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared mustard 
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce 
Dash black pepper 
1/2 pound cooked ham, very thinly sliced 
2 hamburger buns 
Combine the tomato sauce, relish, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and ham in a medium-size pot.  Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn down the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes to heat through. 
Cut the buns in half, fill each bun with half the ham and sauce and serve with plenty of napkins.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 34

Basting a turkey makes you feel like you’re helping the turkey cook, but it doesn’t do much for the turkey. I’ve found the best way to give the turkey an attractive brown sheen is to rub it with some cooking oil before putting it into the oven. After an hour, cover the breasts with a sheet of foil. About 45 minutes before the turkey is done, remove the foil for final browning.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Cooking Fast Often Means Cooking Small

Early in my kitchen days I figured out that the quickest way to get cooked meat, potatoes and vegetables on the table was to cut them up into small pieces before cooking them.  It takes more than 1 hour to roast a chicken, 20 minutes to poach a boneless chicken breast in water, 8 minutes to grill or broil a skewer of chicken kebabs and 2 minutes to stir-fry 1/2-thick strips of chicken.  If I were truly in a hurry, stir-fry was my cooking method of choice.

Similar timetables hold true for beef, lamb and pork.

A baked potato needs an hour in the oven.  Boiled potatoes, cut in quarters, are ready in about 15 minutes.  If you cut them into 1-inch squares they’ll be soft in less than 10 minutes.  French fries take about 7 minutes--if the pan isn’t overloaded.  Grated potatoes can be stir-fried and ready to eat in 3 minutes. 

Taste and speed are not mutually exclusive.  Many recipes, like the one below, will give you both. 
Photo by Andy Mills
Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce – serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room” 
Chicken Satay 
1/4 cup soy sauce 
2 teaspoons chopped garlic 
2 tablespoons brown sugar 
2 tablespoons light corn syrup 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds) 
Combine the soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, corn syrup and lemon juice in a medium bowl and stir. 
Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes and add to the soy sauce mixture.  Stir to coat the chicken pieces, cover and refrigerate while you make the Peanut Sauce. 
Peanut Sauce 
2/3 cup milk + more if necessary
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small pot and begin heating over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is well combined.  Turn down the heat to low and continue cooking and stirring until the sauce comes to a boil.  It should have the consistency of thick salad dressing.  If it’s too thick, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the consistency you want.  Remove from the heat and set aside until the chicken is ready. 
Place a rack 4 inches from the broiling unit and preheat the broiler. 
Thread the chicken pieces into metal or wooden skewers and place on a cooling rack sitting on a broiling pan.  Broil 3-4 minutes per side.  Watch carefully so the chicken does not overcook.  Test for doneness by cutting a piece in half.  The interior should be white, not pink. 
Transfer the kebabs to plates and serve with the Peanut Sauce.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 32

Don’t eat out. Saving money can’t get any simpler than that. Anything you cook for yourself will usually cost no more than 25% of what it would cost in a restaurant. Maybe it’s not so convenient to boil water to make spaghetti, but consider this: a 16-ounce package of uncooked spaghetti noodles costs between $1-$2, and it will serve 3 generous portions. A jar of marina sauce costs $1.50-$3. A 1-pound sirloin steak—enough for 2 people—is likely to cost somewhere between $7.50 and $10 per pound. A 4-pound chicken, which is easy to roast and will feed 4 people, costs under $5.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 33

Keep extra bread in the freezer (well-wrapped in plastic) to prevent it from getting stale. Individual slices of bread thaw within a few minutes on the counter or even quicker in the toaster. Heat French bread on an oven rack at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. It will taste just as good, and sometimes even better, than when you bought it.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why Is Cabbage One of the Most Hated Foods on the Planet?

Asian Chicken Slaw

The stuffed cabbage I grew up with was loathsome, although I now realize it was the fatty ground beef stuffing that made it so. My kids still talk about the dinner ladies and the smell of overcooked cabbage at their London elementary school.

Fish Taco with Cabbage and Salsa
So what prompted me to buy a cabbage the other day?  I was making fish tacos, and raw shredded cabbage is a perfect accompaniment.  But cabbages are big and they’re dense.  After making the tacos, I had about three-quarters of the cabbage left.  What was I going to do with it?

I make a good Russian Vegetable Borscht, but I didn’t have any beets handy.  Instead I decided to try a Cabbage Soup recipe from a popular cookbook. It called for 4 cups of grated cabbage.  

Big mistake.  The cooked cabbage itself tasted fine, but the blue cheese the recipe recommended (“a garnish of Roquefort adds just the right finish,” the headnote said) brought the memorable comment from my cookbook collaborator/son Kevin, “It smells like armpits.”  Unfortunately he was onto something.  Forget that recipe.

Cabbage Soup with Blue Cheese
To use up the rest of the cabbage, I put together my version of Asian Chicken Slaw.  The next day I discovered that the leftovers made a great tortilla filling.  Cabbage is staying on my shopping list.
Asian Chicken Slaw – serves 3-4 
For the chicken (recipe below or leftover roast chicken):
2 boneless chicken breasts (totaling about 1 lb.)
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil + more for stir-frying
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 
Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch wide slices.  Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and stir well.  Add the chicken slices and set aside, covered, in the refrigerator.

For the slaw:
5-6 cups shredded cabbage
3 scallions, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried mint
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
Put the cabbage and scallions in a large serving bowl.  Combine the vinegar, sugar, fresh ginger, sesame oil, basil, mint and cayenne pepper in a small bowl, stir thoroughly and pour over the cabbage mixture.  Toss to coat the cabbage.  Cover and refrigerate until needed.
To stir-fry the chicken, add 1 tablespoon oil to a wok or large frying pan and begin heating over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the chicken and any marinade left in the bowl and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked.  When you cut a slice in half, the middle should be white, not pink.  Turn off the heat and transfer the chicken to a cutting board.  Cut the strips into bite-size pieces and add to the cabbage slaw.  Toss again and serve. 
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 31

Instead of using half-and-half or cream, substitute powdered milk mixed with a small amount of water to make it the consistency of cream.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 32

Thicken soups with instant potato flakes. Add 1 tablespoon at a time and stir thoroughly before adding more.

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why Wait Around to Eat?

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
One of my most vivid childhood memories involves sitting in a fancy restaurant called The Skyliner.  Our parents thought it was a special treat to dine out at least twice a year.  My brother and I considered it torture because of all the waiting around.  

Back then, bread baskets didn’t exist in Western Pennsylvania.  Or maybe our little town was too unsophisticated to have them.  All I know is that once we ordered our prime ribs of beef, it took the waiter at least 30 minutes to bring them to the table. To a kid that was like half a day.  What were they doing in the kitchen?

Once I had my own kitchen, I never had to wait around.  That’s one of the thrills of cooking your own food.  When I had guests, I planned ahead. They never twiddled their thumbs or sucked them while their stomachs grumbled. 

I even mastered cooking a prime rib roast, just to prove I could.  However, it’s a skill I seldom use because, like me, most of my dinner companions have stopped eating masses of meat.  Unfortunately I have yet to discover how to cook two servings of prime rib. 

However, I have figured out how to make two pulled pork sandwiches.  Instead of starting with an enormous boneless pork shoulder and cooking it for 7-8 hours, I substitute 2 pork chops.  Cooking time is 2 hours (unattended), and with the addition of BBQ sauce the taste is almost the same.  The best part?  No endless leftovers.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches - serves 2  
2 pork chops (the cheapest – looks don’t count because the meat will be shredded) 
1/2 cup cider or wine vinegar 
8 black peppercorns 
BBQ Sauce 
Buns (4 small or 2 large) 
Combine the pork chops, cider and peppercorns in a medium pot.  Add enough water to cover + 1 more cup.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Check periodically to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away.  Add more water as needed.  
After 2 hours, the meat should be very tender and easy to pull apart.  If not, continue cooking, checking it every 15 minutes, until it is tender enough.  Turn off the heat and let cool.  Discard the liquid. 
When the chops can be easily handled, pull off the meat in shreds.  Refrigerate, covered, until needed. 
About 10 minutes before serving, heat the rolls in the oven.  Put the shredded pork in a medium pot, add a few tablespoons water and heat over medium heat until hot. 
Pile into buns and pass the BBQ Sauce.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 30

Turkey Salad
Turn leftovers into a new meal. If it’s turkey, make cold turkey sandwiches, open-faced hot turkey sandwich covered with gravy, turkey and rice soup, turkey salad, turkey and noodle casserole, turkey tacos, turkey and vegetable curry. Be imaginative!

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 31

Instead of using large unpeeled carrots for roasting or making soup, cut up baby peeled carrots instead. Saves time and trouble.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 29

If you aren’t already sick of turkey, watch for birds at half-price or less after Thanksgiving. Store a whole turkey in a large freezer, if you have one. Otherwise, cut it up, roast the pieces and freeze until needed.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Easiest Ever Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Unless you’re wedded to can-shaped cranberry sauce, make your own.  It’s probably the easiest dish you will ever create, and you will be unduly praised for it.

Of course, there is always a way to go wrong—adding too much water.  My mother often wound up with cranberry soup.  But even that can be remedied by continuing to cook the cranberry sauce until the excess water boils away.

Cranberry Sauce - serves 10-12 (adapted from “Help!My Apartment Has a Dining Room”)  
2 12-ounce packages fresh cranberries 
2 cups sugar 
2 cups water 
Rinse the cranberries, drain and discard any stems or moldy berries.  Put them in a large pot, add the sugar and water and stir thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved. 
Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the berries begin to pop.  The first berry should pop in 4 to 5 minutes. Watch out for spattering juice.  When most of the berries have popped, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.  Stir thoroughly, transfer to a storage container, cover and refrigerate. Serve cold.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 30

If your vegetables are not in pristine condition, cut them up and make vegetable soup. Even wilted lettuce can provide a little color, although not much flavor.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Plantain: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

The first time I saw a plantain in the produce aisle, I thought, “Who would buy this overripe banana?”  The skin was mostly black.  In fact, the whole pile of what I thought were big bananas looked ready for the compost pile.
Banana at top, Plantain below

Here’s what I didn’t know:

* When the skin is mostly black, maybe with streaks of yellow, it’s ripe enough to be fried.
* It’s a staple in many African, Caribbean and South and Central American countries and is often served with beans and rice.
* It’s served as a vegetable but can also stand in for potatoes.

Here’s an easy way to cook a plantain for 2 people.

Cut away both ends. Try to peel the very tough skin.  If the skin won’t come off, cut along the length of it with a paring knife, taking care not to cut into the plantain flesh.  Open the cut and pull away and discard the skin (but not in the garbage disposal).

Slice the plantain flesh into 1/4-inch rounds and fry the rounds in 1 tablespoon butter or oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes per side, or until they are golden brown.  Cooked this way, plantains are slightly sweet.

Fried Plantains

Or cut the skinless plantain in half lengthwise and fry as above.

For more cooking tips, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 28

Impulse purchases are supposedly a bad idea, but you can save money if you stumble across a sale. Be flexible enough to rethink your upcoming meals while pushing your cart down the aisle. Meat, poultry and fish are usually the most expensive items in a non-vegetarian meal, so think about stir-fries and stuffed tortillas when you come across a bargain. If you can’t use it this week, pop it in the freezer.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 29

When using a lot of ingredients in a recipe, line them up on the counter in the order of use and as you use them either put them away or push them out of the line so that you don’t inadvertently add them again.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

It’s 6 pm and I Haven’t Planned Dinner

Risotto Parmigiano
At least once a week I have no idea what I’ll be making for dinner.  Too late to run to the grocery store, I have to scrounge through my pantry to find something, anything, that will make a presentable meal. 

What basics do I always have available?  What can be defrosted in 15 minutes?  What is easy and quick? 

Right at the top of my mental list is Risotto, a fancy name for an Italian rice dish.  Although it requires hand-stirring for 15-20 minutes, Risotto is simple to make.  Once you get around the idea of eating a plate of rice for dinner I bet you’ll like it as much as I do. 

Conveniently it has just a few basic ingredients, although sometimes I’ll add 1-inch pieces of raw asparagus or 8 ounces of halved fresh mushrooms or maybe a handful of cooked, peeled shrimp or frozen peas.  Once I tossed in a thinly sliced spicy chicken sausage. 

The key to Risotto is the rice.  Look for Arborio rice.  It’s short-grained, which means it has a high starch content and is creamy when cooked.  It’s available at gourmet stores and some grocery stores.

Add a salad and you have a filling meal.
Risotto Parmigiano – serves 2-3 
3 cups chicken broth + boiling water (if needed) 
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil 
1 medium onion, finely chopped 
1 cup Arborio rice 
1/2 cup dry white wine 
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
1/2 teaspoon salt     
(Optional ingredients: 10 raw asparagus spears cut into 1-inch lengths, 8 ounces whole mushrooms cut in half, a handful of frozen peas or a handful of cooked shrimp or sliced cooked sausage)  
Heat the broth in a saucepan and keep warm over low heat. 
Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a large saucepan and add the onion.  Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onion softens.    
Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes, or just enough to coat the rice with the butter (or oil).  
Stir in the wine. Cook, stirring constantly, until the wine has evaporated.  Add a few ladles of broth, just enough to cover the rice.  Cook over medium heat, continually stirring, until the broth has been absorbed.  
Continue cooking and stirring the rice in this manner, adding broth a bit at the time, until the rice is done, 15-20 minutes. If you run out of broth, use boiling water.  Stir in 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. 
At this point, the rice should be tender but still firm to the bite. It should have a creamy, moist consistency.  Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately with the remaining Parmesan cheese. 
NOTE: Add the asparagus or mushrooms right after adding the rice.  Add the peas, shrimp or sliced cooked sausage when the rice is almost fully cooked.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 28

When frosting a cake, place strips of wax paper under the edges of the cake to collect icing that falls off the knife during the icing process. When the cake is fully iced, pull away and discard the strips so the cake plate doesn’t look messy.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 27

Investigate restaurant and chef supply stores, which may offer better prices than chain grocery stores. They also sell cookware and hand-to-find cooking items at competitive prices.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Chocolate Calamity

Intensely Chocolate Cocoa Brownies

The worst four words in the English language are: I burned the chocolate.

Not only is burned chocolate inedible but also it smells nasty.  There is no guaranteed way to revive it, so you have to start again.  

However, if the chocolate turned gritty while melting but didn’t actually burn--AND if you’re an optimist--you can try to rescue it:

Gritty can happen if a few drops of water get into the melting chocolate.  A lot of water is fine but 1 drop can cause chocolate to seize up—the chocolate version of a heart attack.  Here are two things to try to smooth it out:

1) turn off the heat, quickly add 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil, stir and slowly reheat the chocolate.  No guarantees here, but maybe it will be usable. 

2) add 1 tablespoon water or cream for every 2 ounces of chocolate you are trying to melt and stir until the chocolate smooths out.  If there is no liquid called for in the recipe you’re making, switch to another recipe that can use diluted chocolate.  If you can’t find one, make hot chocolate.  Add more water, cream or milk and, if you’re using unsweetened chocolate, enough sugar to make it palatable.

Fear of burning the chocolate has been around ever since cacao beans were discovered in 1500 B.C.  I firmly believe that the double boiler was invented just to prevent chocolate from burning.  In case the term is new to you, a double boiler is a two-pot combo, with the top pot resting about halfway into the bottom pot.  To melt chocolate, you fill the bottom pot with boiling water, place the solid chocolate in the top pot and put the upper pot partially into the water.  The heat from the boiling water melts the chocolate, but the chocolate shouldn’t get hot enough to burn.  Sounds good in principle, but it’s annoying in practice.

I hated my double boiler and discarded it long ago.  Now I melt chocolate in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over very low heat. I stand next to it till it’s half-melted, then turn off the heat and shift the pan to a cooling rack.  The residual heat in the pan will melt the rest of the chocolate.

If you want to avoid the chocolate melting process altogether, use cocoa instead of solid chocolate.  Here is a wonderfully easy brownie recipe that has a stronger chocolate flavor than any brownie I’ve ever eaten.

          Intensely Chocolate Cocoa Brownies – serves 6-8 (from “Chocolate on the Brain”)    
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter + more for greasing 
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 cup sugar 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2/3 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional) 
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8- or 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, making sure two ends of the foil overhang the pan by about 2 inches so you can easily lift the brownies out of the pan later.  Lightly rub the bottom and sides of the foil with butter and set aside. 
Melt the butter in a medium pot over low heat.  When it has melted, turn off the heat and stir in the cocoa.  When the mixture has cooled, add the sugar, eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly. 
Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix until just combined.  If you are adding walnuts, stir them in now. 
Pour the batter into the foil-lined pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top feels firm.  These brownies taste better under-baked than over-baked.  Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Carefully lift the ends of the foil and remove the brownies from the pan.  Cut into squares and serve.  Store leftovers in an airtight container or wrapped in foil or plastic wrap. 
For more chocolate recipes get “Chocolate on the Brain” 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 27

Store cookies in the freezer. Out of sight, out of mind – and yet you can actually eat them without defrosting them. Not true of brownies, which need at least 15 minutes at room temperature to soften up.

See all my Cooking Tips!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 26

Buy spices in bulk, as long as you use them frequently. Dried spices tend to lose their punch after six months. If that happens, add 1 1/2 or double the amount you would normally use—although be careful if it’s cayenne pepper.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Disasters in the Kitchen

Usually they’re my fault—dropping a hot turkey on the floor, miscounting the cups of flour, not realizing my oven was overheating, forgetting to add something important, misreading the directions. 

Once in a while I’m over-hopeful about a new recipe. Pizza baked on a grill sounded delicious to me, but it was my biggest disaster ever.  I stepped away from the grill for 30 seconds and returned to a charcoal crust. 

There was no way to save that pizza.  In other instances, though, I’ve been able to turn a disaster into something edible—and sometimes something good.

When clumps of cake fell out of the angel food cake pan I had set upside down on a large soda bottle to cool—I misread the directions—I invented a new dessert.  I put chunks of cake in small bowls, added a scoop of ice cream and chocolate sauce and popped the bowls in the freezer until serving time.  I called it Sundae Cake.

When I burned the rice, I scraped out the non-burned part and put it in a new pot.  I knew that if I added water, all the rice would taste burned.  I’ve also burned potatoes and managed to salvage some of them in the same way.  Now when I leave the kitchen, I carry the timer with me.

Here are some ways to rescue potential disasters:

Undercooking meat is far preferable to overcooking it.  You can cook it longer but you can’t un-cook it.  If the meat is too rare, slice it and put the slices under a hot broiler for 15 seconds.  If you’ve overcooked it, shred it, add BBQ sauce and serve it in a bun.

What I just said is not true for poultry.  Err on the side of over-cooking to prevent salmonella poisoning.  If chicken is undercooked, put it back in the pan or oven or grill and keep cooking until it has reached a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer—good advice from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

If you’ve put too much salt in soup, remove 1 cup of the broth, if possible, and add 1 cup water. Or you can add more ingredients to dilute the saltiness: 1-2 diced potatoes, a handful of dry noodles, 1/2 cup rice or some dried lentils plus 1 cup water.  Heat for another 10-15 minutes, until your additions are fully cooked.

No matter what occurred in the privacy of your kitchen, don’t tell anyone at the table about your disaster.  Just say it’s a new recipe.

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 26

Want to speed up cooking times? Cut meat and vegetables thinner or into smaller pieces. They’ll cook faster. For instance, make mashed potatoes in less than 15 minutes by dicing raw potatoes into 1-inch squares and boiling them for 8-10 minutes. They will be soft enough to mash.

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 25

Go rogue at the grocery store if you see a real bargain. Accepted wisdom is to buy only what’s on your list. But if you find that whole chickens are 50 per cent off, buy one (or three if your freezer is big enough).

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

How Cookbooks Reflect Eras of Your Life

Seafood Pie
I learned to cook from books because my mother was not too skilled in the kitchen.  She made good chocolate chip cookies, but it was downhill after that.  Her go-to guide was “The Settlement Cookbook: The Way to a Man’s Heart,” originally published in 1903.  I wasn’t a fan. 

Much more interesting to me was “Joy of Cooking,” a book I heard of when I got my first apartment in New York after college.  I bought a copy and was thrilled with the huge variety of recipes, although many of the dishes I picked out to cook were on the bland side.  That was probably my fault because I was afraid of seasonings.

That changed when my mother bought me “The Spice Cookbook.”  Here were recipes with major flavor.  During my four years of cooking for myself and my roommate, I toggled between “Joy” and “Spice.”  They’re still in a prominent place in my kitchen, and whenever I pick them up I remember my young and fun days in The Big Apple.

Then I got married and moved to London, where we lived out of suitcases for five months.  Without access to “Joy” and “Spice,” I hung out in the cookbook section of W.H. Smith booksellers on Baker Street.  That’s where I discovered Elizabeth David, England’s answer to Julia Child.  I was so enamored of her recipes that I bought all her books.  I also fell for Madhur Jaffrey and her skill in making Indian cooking feasible at home.

Now back in America after 12 years abroad, I find that these two women still influence my cooking.  Chicken Tikka, Oeufs à la Monteynard (Eggs over Rice) and Mediterranean Vegetable Soup are often on my menu.

Ever curious, I’m now exploring soups through James Peterson’s “Splendid Soups” and Italian food through a mammoth cookbook called “The Silver Spoon.”  This is my less-meat-eating era, and I’m finding plenty of new recipes to try.
Seafood Pie – serves 4-6 (adapted from “The Silver Spoon”)  
1 unbaked pie crust (click here for an easy recipe) 
1 cup cottage cheese 
2 medium eggs 
1 6 1/2-can minced clams including liquid 
1/2 cup cooked shrimp 
3 tablespoons sour cream 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prick the bottom of the unbaked crust about 15 times and bake it for 8-10 minutes, or until it begins to brown.  Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. 
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until everything is thoroughly combined.  Spoon the filling into the pie crust and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the filling comes out clean.  Cut into 4-6 pieces and serve. 
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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 25

When freezing liquids, make sure there is about 1 inch of empty space between the top of the liquid and the lid of the container. The liquid will expand slightly when frozen and can push the lid off.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 24

Save money by making your own garlic mayonnaise: mix 2 tablespoons store-bought mayonnaise with 1/4 teaspoon chopped garlic, 1/8 teaspoon dried dill and a few drops olive oil. The olive oil gives the mayonnaise a slightly golden hue and suggests it’s homemade.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

A Tale of Two Woks

Juggling two woks is second nature to some chefs.  I’m nearly there myself.  Ever since half of my family became vegetarian a decade ago, I’ve found myself performing feats of stir-fry derring-do at my stove top. 

Stir-Fried Shrimp and Vegetables

Last night it was a face-off between shrimp and tofu.  The shrimp won (no leftovers), but the fight was close.  The contenders:

1 pound (21-25 per pound) raw shrimp - cost $5.77 (on sale)
12 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into small squares - cost $1.49

Stir-Fried Tofu and Vegetables

Cooking two dishes at the same time is stressful. Here are some tricks I learned:

Stir-fry all the vegetables at once and then share them between the two dishes.  Do this early in the day so the veggies are ready when you need them.  Put the shrimp and tofu in separate bowls, add the flavorings directly to each bowl and let marinate in the refrigerator until needed.  

About 15 minutes before serving, get out the cooked veggies, marinating shrimp and tofu,  everything else you need (no searching desperately for the black bean sauce) and start cooking.

When the two stir-fries are ready, transfer them to large serving dishes, set out the rice, ring the dinner bell and collapse.

Why do I put myself through this wok dance when I could easily order out?  I like hearing everyone at the table asking. “May I have some more, please.”
2-Wok Dinner – each wok serves 4  
1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil 
2 medium onions, thinly sliced 
2 red or orange bell peppers, thinly sliced 
1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces 
1 pound raw peeled shrimp 
12-ounce package extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch squares 
2 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 teaspoons chopped garlic 
2 teaspoons fresh chopped ginger 
2 teaspoons sugar 
2 tablespoons water + more if needed 
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
2 tablespoons sesame oil 
2 tablespoons black bean sauce (available in jars in the Asian food section) 
3-4 cups cooked rice 
Add peanut or canola oil to a large wok and begin heating over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the onions, bell peppers and asparagus and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, or until the vegetables have just begun to soften.  Turn off the heat, transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and set aside or refrigerate. 
Put the shrimp and tofu in separate bowls and add half the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, water and red pepper flakes.  Stir, cover and refrigerate. 
When ready to make the stir-fries, add 1 tablespoon sesame oil to each wok and begin heating over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the contents of the shrimp bowl to one wok and the contents of the tofu bowl to the other.  Stir-fry the contents of each wok for about 3 minutes.  The shrimp will turn pink and the tofu will begin to brown in spots. 
Add 1 tablespoon black bean sauce to each wok and stir-fry briefly so that the flavors are mixed.  Then add 1/2 the partly-cooked vegetables to each wok.  Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the contents of both woks are hot.  If the mixtures seem dry, add 1-2 tablespoons more water. 
Transfer to serving bowls and serve with rice.
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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 24

To make a quick dessert pie crust, mix 1/2 15-ounce package crushed, cream-filled cookies with 1 tablespoon melted butter and press into a pie pan. Bake for 8 minutes at 350 degrees.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 23

Grate your own cheddar, mozzarella and other hard cheeses as needed. Not only will you save money but also your opened package of cheese will be less likely to get moldy.

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Injuries in the Kitchen

I haven’t hurt myself lately in the kitchen, but I still have a cooking scar on my right hand.  It came from boiling blueberry juice that overflowed the pie pan when I was taking it out of the oven.  That’s when I learned to bake a fruit pie on a cookie sheet.

The skin on my knuckles finally healed after I removed some of it while grating mozzarella cheese.  Now I pay more attention to what I’m doing.

I scalded myself only slightly while draining spaghetti.  Since then I’ve used potholders in both hands and made sure the sink was completely empty so there was no chance of splash-back.

Nothing can be as bad, though, as what happened to Bart when he was on kitchen duty at his college co-op.  Students cooked for each other, and his job on one particular day was baking trays of chicken in the co-op’s industrial strength gas oven.  He turned on the gas, put in the trays and went off to study.  About 10 minutes later he returned to check on the chicken’s progress and noticed that the oven was still cold.  “Hmm,” he thought.  “I forgot to light the gas.” 

This was in the old days before gas ovens lit automatically.  He got some matches, struck one and opened the oven door.  A huge ball of flame roared out and burned off his eyebrows.  No wonder he prefers electric ovens.

Here’s a chicken recipe that could have been like the one he was trying to cook.

Spicy Baked Chicken Legs – serves 4  
3 tablespoons olive or canola oil 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices 
2 large red bell peppers, thinly sliced 
8 chicken legs 
Bunch of kale (cut into large pieces) or fresh spinach 
Combine the oil, garlic, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a large bowl.  Add the potatoes, red pepper slices and chicken legs and mix thoroughly.  Set aside for 15 minutes.  
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Transfer the chicken mixture and any marinade left in the bottom of the bowl to a roasting pan or sheet pan.  Bake for about 45 minutes, turning everything about halfway through.  When you turn the chicken, add the kale or spinach and mix.   When the timer rings, test the chicken to make sure it’s not pink in the middle.  If it is, bake another 5 minutes.  Serve immediately.
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Friday, October 16, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 23

To prevent salt grains from sticking together in a salt shaker, add 1/4 teaspoon uncooked rice grains to the shaker to absorb moisture.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 22

Kitchen scissors will save you time and money. Use them to quickly cut up whole chickens and pizzas, snip fresh herbs into small pieces or quarter canned tomatoes.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How Important Is Color in Food?

One of the most exciting food sightings of my childhood was a turquoise popsicle.  Food was not turquoise in my little coal-mining town.  Until then, the only blue food I’d ever eaten was a blueberry.  Pizza was a novelty item covered in red sauce, and it smelled strange because of the Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.  Egg Foo Yung, an oddly named dish I later learned was an omelet, was equally surprising and wonderful.

Photo by Andy Mills
These foods had two things in common – they were colorful, and they weren’t boiled chicken or any of the other tasteless concoctions I was apt to find on my plate at mealtimes.  I began to associate “exotic” flavors with bright colors.  Now I know that intensely colored vegetables are rich in antioxidants, a great hidden benefit.

Photo by Andy Mills
I still like colorful foods, and I like them even better when presented in colorful bowls.  I bet even boiled chicken served in a bright blue bowl would be delicious.

Photo by Andy Mills

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 22

When you’re cooking rice, make extra, cool to room temperature and freeze in a plastic bag. Remove from the freezer a few hours before reheating or microwave to defrost.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 21

Shop at the farmers’ market when it’s about to close. Selection will be more limited, but vendors may give you a better price on what’s left.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

How to Get 6 Meals from 1 Rotisserie Chicken…and That’s Feeding 2 People

Vegetable and Chicken Soup
I’ve always considered myself thrifty, but maybe I’m going to an extreme here. 

On the one hand, I’ve never forgotten my budgeting days right after college when I truied to spend just $1 per dinner.  Food was much cheaper then, but my New York City salary was equally low--just under $100 per week.  I ate meat every night because that’s how I was raised.

On the other hand, I’m now older, wiser and more adventurous.  I know I won’t die or become malnourished if meat isn’t on the menu every day.  In fact, eating an amount of meat the same size as a deck of cards—a guideline in general use—seems way too much, although it’s just 3 ounces. 

I eat a lot of vegetables, potatoes, grains and bread, and that’s the key to making so many meals out of a $5 or $6 rotisserie chicken.  Here’s what I do.

Instead of serving the whole chicken, I cut the breasts into thin slices and the rest into bite-size pieces.  Then I use the cut-up chicken to make the following:

* 2 Sliced Chicken Sandwiches
* 4 Tortillas stuffed with chicken, grilled bell peppers, grated cheese, guacamole, lettuce and salsa
* Vegetable and Chicken Stir Fry
* 3 Chicken Reuben Bagels
* Chicken Salad
* Fresh Vegetable and Chicken Soup (see recipe below)

If I get sick of chicken during the week, I’ll freeze some of it and use it later for the stir fry and soup.  They taste just as good with defrosted chicken.
 Vegetable and Chicken Soup – serves 2 as a meal or 4 as a soup 
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil 
1/2 cup diced carrots 
1/2 cup diced celery 
1/2 cup diced onion 
1 teaspoon bottled crushed garlic 
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1 cup water + more if needed 
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce 
1 medium diced zucchini 
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms 
3/4 cup cooked barley, rice or small pasta 
1/2 cup cooked chicken pieces 
Put the oil in a medium pot and begin heating over high heat.  Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic and stir for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the thyme, salt and black pepper and stir.  Add the water and tomato sauce and bring the mixture to a boil.  Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  
Add the zucchini and mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes, or until these vegetables have softened.  Add the barley, rice or pasta and the chicken pieces and bring the mixture back to a boil over high heat.  Add more water if the soup seems too thick.  Serve immediately or set aside until needed.   
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