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.

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).

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.

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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?

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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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:

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,

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.

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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:

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.

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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.

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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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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).

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

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


Stir-Fried Shrimp and Vegetables
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.

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

Spicy Baked Chicken Legs
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.

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.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 20


Learn to love lentils. They’re a very cheap form of protein, and there are more than a dozen varieties. Use them in soup, as a substitute for rice or as a main dish. Add spices and cooked vegetables for extra flavor.

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 21

If you have questions for the Meat Department, shop in the morning when the butcher is more likely to be available.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Do You Prefer Convenience or Taste?

When I was growing up, my mother went through a phase of buying Swanson Frozen TV Dinners for the family.  She loved the idea of sliced turkey, mashed potatoes and green peas organized in their own compartments on a lightweight aluminum tray.  Taste was a distant third to convenience and novelty. 

I didn’t go that route.  Once I realized that food could be more than just something to put in my mouth, I wanted good tastes.  The Meatball Sandwich I discovered at a take-out counter on New York’s West 43rd Street, just down the block from my first real job, tasted better than any homemade food I had in my youth.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 19

Turn a simple soup into a main course by adding one or more of these ingredients and then, after bringing to a boil, cooking for 8-10 minutes: 1 can black beans, 2 raw eggs, 1/2 cup uncooked broken pieces of spaghetti or 3/4 cup cooked rice or other cooked grain.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 20

If you like the taste of lamb, try the ground version. It’s is cheaper than lamb chops and makes excellent burgers and seekh kebabs.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Can Eating Tomatoes Make You Smarter?

Photo by Andy Mills
There’s no real proof that this is true, but here’s how I see it.  If you’re eating tomatoes, you’re not eating something else that could be bad for you.  And tomatoes are certainly good for you.  Food experts call them “a nutrient-dense, super-food.”

Medical News Today says, “Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C and folic acid. Tomatoes contain a wide array of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants, including alpha-lipoic acid, lycopene, choline, folic acid, beta-carotene and lutein.”

Sounds impressive, but the bottom line to me is the taste.  Summer dinners during my Pennsylvania childhood were almost palatable because of homegrown tomatoes served on the side.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 19

Turkeyburgers should never be rare. When cooking them on the grill, keep them there long enough to get grill marks and then bake them in a pan in the oven for 20 minutes at 375 degrees to make sure they are fully cooked. If you fully cook them on the grill, they may be incinerated.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 18

Be flexible when grocery shopping. Be prepared to change your menu if you discover more expensive ingredients on sale. My grocery store has regular sales of chicken and pork at 1/2 price.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Laila Ali Reminded Me Why I Cook

Spaghetti Bolognese (photo by Andy Mills)

Seldom do I have an opportunity to talk about cooking with a well-known public figure.  But the subject came up recently when I was interviewing Laila Ali for USA Today’s Back to School magazine.  Ali is the daughter of heavyweight boxing legend Mohammad Ali and an undefeated boxing champion herself.  She was discussing the importance of being present in the lives of her two young children, Curtis Jr., 7, and Sydney, 4, and husband Curtis Conway.

Although long retired from boxing, Ali has a heavy travel schedule and hosts several TV shows.  She could easily afford to employ a cook, but she told me she doesn’t.  “I cook dinner every night, and when I'm out of town I cook and freeze dinners before I leave. It runs me a little ragged, but it's all about priorities.”

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 17

If your milk turns sour, use it for baking. Freeze extra sour milk, and defrost it when the urge to bake bread or a cake strikes you.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 18

Instead of using a beaten egg to get breadcrumbs to stick to chicken, fish or vegetable pieces before baking or frying, dip the pieces in 1 teaspoon oil spread out on a plate. Then dip them into the breadcrumbs.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Birthday Dinner

Lasagna with Meatballs (photo by Andy Mills)
We have a tradition in our family that whenever someone has a birthday, he or she gets to pick the Sunday dinner menu, and I will be the personal chef.  With kids I can usually count on Homemade Pizza as the object of desire.  Other choices over the years have included Eggplant Parmesan (from an adult vegetarian), Greek Salad (from a junior vegetarian), Noodle/Meatball Soup and Spicy Pork Noodles.  When it’s my birthday, I always pick Blinis because everyone likes them, and Kevin (my cookbook co-author) will make them.

Last week Andy, who was celebrating his 14th birthday and who I thought was a committed vegetarian, surprised me with his choice: Lasagna with Meatballs.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 17

When using a glass baking pan, set the oven 25 degrees lower than what the recipe calls for to prevent over-baking.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 16

Don’t buy "light” juice. My colleague at foodfitter.com explains why: “Manufacturers add water to the juice so you don’t have to. When they do, they then have to pay by weight to transport the juice to the store. You’re paying as much for watered-down juice as you would for a product that is all juice.” Add your own water at home.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Importance of a Killer Dessert

Chocolate Chip Squares (photo by Jenny Craig)

You can slave in the kitchen for days making the perfect meal, but if the dessert doesn’t prompt guests to demand seconds, thirds and fourths, you might as well have ordered out.  Even guests who tell you they’re on a diet or they don’t eat carbs or they’re too full will remember an outstanding dessert.  And if you somehow made a mess of the main dish, they’ll forget it immediately because they’re slavering over something much better.

You can even make your mark at someone else’s dinner party if you volunteer to bring the dessert—as long as it looks fabulous and tastes even better.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 16

Making a stir-fry? It’s easier to slice meat thinly when it’s partly frozen. Just pop it in the freezer for 30 minutes before cutting.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 15


Do you frequently make your own pizza? Instead of paying for bottled pizza sauce, spend much less on an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce. Mix in a few tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder), 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Stir and use.  Penzeys makes its own Pizza Seasoning(ingredients undisclosed).

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Foolproof Recipes…or Do Only Fools Believe That?

I would like to be able to tell someone, “This recipe is foolproof,” and know I’m being honest.  But I know better.  No matter how simple a recipe seems, something can always go wrong.

What could be easier than baking a potato?  Turn on the oven.  Set the temperature.  Scrub the potato.  Place it on the oven rack.  Set the timer.  Come back in 1 or 1 1/4 hours.  Remove and eat.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 15

When you are cutting raw chicken or other uncooked meat or fish on a cutting board, be sure to scrub the board thoroughly before using it to cut anything else. Otherwise you may inadvertently give yourself food poisoning.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 14

Know when to throw it away. If your bananas are too mushy, some people say, “Make banana bread.” I say, “Unless you’re a banana bread fanatic, why bother?” You’re just using up more ingredients and taking in more calories. Or even worse, you let the banana bread molder in the back of the fridge. Toss the bananas (or other food you can't bring yourself to eat) and don’t feel guilty.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

If Fish Didn’t Have Bones

Crunchy Baked Fish with Tabouli Salad and Garlic Mayonnaise (photo by Jenny Craig) 

I didn’t grow up with fish sticks, but I did like pickled herring and gefilte fish—neither of which had a bone in sight.  My introduction to real fish came in London, where there was a chain of restaurants called Wheelers.  You could order Dover sole cooked at least a dozen different ways.  When the waiter brought your dinner, he deboned it right in front of you.

Regrettably I never developed that skill, so my family dealt with many mouthfuls of bones and consequently hated fish.  Now that I’m more aware of fish’s healthful benefits, I have made strong efforts to cook relatively boneless versions.  

Salmon steaks (which are chopped through the backbone) have bones, but salmon fillets don’t.  Fresh tuna lacks bones, but it’s expensive.  Fillets of cheaper fish, such as rockfish, tilapia and swai, are usually bone-free.  Or if you’re looking for another gadget to add to your collection, invest in a pair of fish tweezers.

Here is my version of fish sticks.
Crunchy Baked Fish - serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room”
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 pounds fish fillets 
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. 
Combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a soup bowl or large plate and set aside.  Place the mayonnaise in another soup bowl or large plate and set aside. 
Rinse the fish and remove any visible bones.  If you like, cut each fillet into 3-4 relatively equal pieces. 
Using a fork, dip a fillet into the mayonnaise and coat both sides.  Then transfer it to the bread crumb mixture and coat both sides. 
Transfer the coated fillet to the foil-covered sheet and repeat the process until done. 
Bake for 10 minutes, or until the fish breaks into flakes when you press on it with a fork.  Serve immediately.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 14


Is your brown sugar like concrete? Instead of getting out a hammer, add a slice of apple or a slice of bread and close the container. The extra moisture will soften the sugar overnight.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 13

Substitute a cheaper ingredient for a more expensive one. For instance, it won’t make a difference if you use an onion instead of 1-2 leeks. I have nothing against leeks, although they are messy to clean. Leeks are probably listed as an ingredient in the first place because the recipe writer wanted to make the recipe more distinctive-sounding, not more distinctive-tasting. New recipes are sometimes just “improvements” on old recipes. The unwritten rule for writing recipes is to change at least 3 ingredients.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

How to Feel Like an Idiot in the Kitchen

Russian Vegetable Borscht (photo by Andy Mills)
I must be incompetent.  I found a recipe for a stuffed flatbread in a prestigious publication, and it caused my mouth to water.  It involved making dough and a filling and then frying the flatbreads on a hot griddle.  The whole process was supposed to take an hour. 

I’ve been making my own bread and pizza for years.  How hard could it be to make this dish?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 13

Too fond of bacon? Next time you buy a package, separate the uncooked strips and freeze them individually or in packages of 2 (in resealable freezer bags, freezer wrap or foil). Defrost only what you need. You can use a large resealable bag to store many individual slices, as long as they don’t touch each other. Lay the bag flat in the freezer. Once the strips are frozen, you can stack them on top of each other.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 12

Use eggs more often as a main dish. Why not make a cheese omelet or a vegetable frittata for dinner? Throw in a baked potato, and you have a meal for under $2.

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Can Food Preferences Be Genetic?

Now that my cookbook co-author/son Kevin is out of the house, I don’t get a chance to cook just for him very often.  However, he dropped by for lunch the other day, and I automatically knew what he would most prefer to eat—a tuna tortilla.

During my 4 years of high school, I packed a tuna sandwich for lunch every day.  I even ate them on weekends.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 11

Buy a whole raw chicken and cut it up yourself. Use strong scissors to make the job easier.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 12

Save time by cooking extra. Leftover potatoes can help fill a burrito, or they can become mashed potato pancakes. Extra potatoes or rice can bulk up a soup. If you have a lot of rice, make Chinese Fried Rice. Freeze leftover cooked meat in 1- or 2-person portions. Be sure to label what it is. Nobody wants to eat mystery meat.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Freezer Surprises

It’s a good thing I bought a new refrigerator.  Now I know what happened to my favorite plastic storage container.  When I emptied out the freezer, there it was, holding a batch of chicken curry that I made back in 2011.

I don’t recall that curry, but the container, which has blue plastic snap-up locks, brought back a happy memory.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 10


If you’re a baker, why bother with 5-pound bags of white flour for $3 or $4 when food warehouses and bulk-buy stores sell a 25-pound bag for $6 or $7. Yes, these bags are unwieldy, but once you get them home transfer a few pounds of flour into an easy-access container.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Spelling Appetizer Is Easier Than Spelling Hors d’oeuvre

Roasted Beets, Feta Cheese and Candied Walnuts with Mixed Greens (photo by Andy Mills)
I first heard the word ‘appetizer’ when I was a kid, helping my mother set up a card table in the living room.  We’d put out a pitcher of tomato juice and a plate of Ritz Crackers.  The red and gold color combo worked for me.  I felt very grown up with my glass of TJ and a cracker, waiting for dinner to be served.

My next encounter with appetizers came a few years later on New Year’s Eve.  My friend Lynne was visiting, and our task was making appetizers for my parents’ friends.  We used a gadget that looked like a miniature cookie press—a 2-inch-long metal tube with a plunger at one end.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 11

To keep rice from being undercooked, sticking to the pan or burning because you forgot to turn off the heat, cook it the same way you cook pasta—toss it in a large pot half-full of boiling water. No lid necessary. Cook white rice for about 12 minutes. Taste. If it’s too firm, cook for another 2 minutes or until it’s the consistency you like. Drain in a sieve, transfer to a bowl, fluff with a fork and serve. Brown rice will take about twice as long to cook.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 9

When tomatoes are cheap and in season, buy lots of them. If/when they start to deteriorate, put them in the freezer naked (no protective wrapping). A few weeks later when you need a tomato for cooking, take one out and run it under hot water briefly. Peel off the skin with your fingers and cut away and discard any bad parts. Then chop with a heavy-duty knife and add it to whatever you’re cooking.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Enjoying Someone Else’s Pantry Leftovers

Tabouli Salad (photo by Andy Mills)
Some of my most exciting new food finds arrive on my doorstep when friends move away and give me their pantry leftovers. I love using up their harissa paste, balsamic vinegar and exotic dried mushrooms because I’m forced to be creative. 

Thanks to my friend Lucien, who has a very healthy diet, I now know about organic freekeh. It’s an ancient toasted grain with a nutty flavor and lots of protein. It’s also fun to say. Before Lucien returned to London, he gave me a bag of freekeh, along with some spelt spaghetti, red bulgur wheat, low sodium garbanzo beans in a box, Vietnamese cinnamon and Madagascar chocolate.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 10

"HELP! My Apartment Has a Kitchen"
If you like to cut out recipes and then forget about them or misplace them, try this. Put them in your favorite cookbook, using them as bookmarks on the pages that have similar recipes. That way when you look up a recipe, you’ll find alternative choices.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 8

Shake up your shopping habits. Visit all the stores in your area that sell groceries and compare prices. Don’t forget to check out the big box stores, mom/pop shops, farmers’ markets and membership warehouses (which will allow you to take a look even if you don’t belong).

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Do You Hate Vegetables?

Sugar Snap Peas
I lived my early life thinking that vegetables were a necessary but evil part of a meal.  At my house my mother used the boil-to-death method of cooking carrots, peas, broccoli and corn on the cob.  Asparagus, spinach, mushrooms and green beans came out of a can.  Luckily she had never heard of eggplant.  Meanwhile, my grandmother’s beet-red borscht looked like a bowl of blood.

Eventually I grew up and, after tasting fresh peas right out of their pods, realized I had been misinformed.  I ate real borscht in Moscow, fried artichokes in Rome and okra in New Delhi.  I liked the spicy garlic eggplant someone ordered for me in Hong Kong.  Now I happily drive 5 miles out of my way to stock up on super-fresh vegetables—including bok choy, kale and chard.  I even tried mustard greens the other day.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 9

Do you like perfectly round cookies? Bake them in greased or non-stick muffin pans. Use about 1 teaspoon dough per cup and bake as you would if they were on a cookie sheet. Remove pans from oven. After 2-3 minutes, loosen edges of each cookie with a knife and transfer to a cooling rack.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 7

Do you love shrimp enough to cook and peel them yourself? You can save a few dollars per pound, and it takes just a few minutes of work—as long as the shrimp aren’t tiny (70+ in a pound).

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

S-t-r-e-t-c-h Your Dinner to Feed Extra People

Salmon Shish Kebab, Black Rice and Corn (photo by Jenny Craig)
You’ve planned dinner for two, and suddenly a third person turns up.  Don’t panic.  There are lots of ways to stretch a meal without people leaving the table hungry.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 8


Photo by Andy Mills

When you buy bundles of fresh herbs at the farmers market or grocery store, treat them as you would bouquets of flowers and put them in glasses filled with enough water to submerge the stems. They will stay fresh for more than a week.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 6

When is a bargain not a bargain? 1) When you end up not using it and letting it rot. 2) When you need to buy a lot of other ingredients to make the recipe using that “bargain.”

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Letting Kids Control Your Menu

Stuff Your Own Tortillas (photo by Andy Mills)
When I was growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I had almost no say in what the family ate for dinner.  My mother cooked it and served it, and my father, brother and I choked it down.  On Monday nights, if Dad was out at his Kiwanis dinner meeting, my brother Steve and I begged for Chef Boyardee Spaghetti.  It came in a can, and the noodles were as soft as pudding. 

I’m sure my mother obliged us because all she had to do was get out the can opener, dump the spaghetti into a pot and turn on the gas.  We lapped it up and begged for more.  It was the best-tasting dinner we were likely to have in any given week.

Flash forward to Sunday dinner...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 7


Portobello Mushroom Stuffed with Fresh Breadcrumbs
(Photo by Andy Mills)
To use up leftover or stale bread, make fresh breadcrumbs. Pulse the bread in a food processor for a few seconds or crumble by hand. If you don’t need the breadcrumbs right away, freeze them. They will last for several months.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Mom Money-Saving Tip 5

It may seem obvious but, whenever possible, buy the store brand. It's almost always cheaper than the well-known product sitting next to it on the shelf. Little-known fact: the store brand is often made by the more famous label. If you don't like one store's self-branded products, try a different store.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why Doesn’t the Doctor Say, “Take 2 Chocolate Bars and Call Me in the Morning?”

I just heard that scientists are telling people that chocolate is good for them, especially dark chocolate.  At first I thought someone was reading my mind.  Then I realized that nearly everyone I know believes in the healthy power of chocolate.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mom Cooking Tip 6

Cooking with fresh tomatoes automatically makes your dish better—except for one thing. Pesky tomato skins like to stick in your teeth. Tomatoes don’t peel like carrots. Here’s the secret to removing the skin without throwing away half the pulp:

Fill a small pot half full of water and bring it to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and run them under cold water. Cut out the stem end of each tomato and pull the skin away. It will peel right off.





Photos by Andy Mills
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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hey! Can I Have Seconds?

Mississippi Mud Pie (photo by Andy Mills)

That’s a question I like to hear.  Whenever I serve Mississippi Mud Pie, I hear it a lot.  And I can always say YES because this is a dessert that serves a lot of people.

Here are two other reasons to add this recipe to your favorites.  It’s probably the easiest dessert you will ever make, unless you think washing and polishing an apple equals dessert.  To create a Mississippi Mud Pie, all you have to do is make a pie crust out of crushed cookies and fill it with a lot of ice cream.  You can even buy a pre-made graham cracker crust, although it won’t taste as good. My favorite ice cream for this recipe is Denali Extreme Moose Tracks.