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.  I’d bought it about a decade ago in a kitchen supply store in Chalk Farm, a North London neighborhood where my friend Judy lives. 
Photo by Andy Mills
When I thought of Judy, I was reminded of a delicious cheese dish she once made me for dinner.  The cheese—Halloumi—is from Cyprus.  It’s sold in almost every London food emporium and, because it has a high melting point, is often fried, grilled or baked.  Only recently has it become widely available in the U.S. 

And that brings me back to my new refrigerator.  When I was clearing out the old one, what did I find in the cheese drawer but a package of Halloumi cheese that I’d bought at Trader Joe’s. 
Photo by Andy Mills
I’m making Pan-Fried Halloumi Cheese for dinner tonight.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll cook up a batch of Chicken Tikka Masala with the frozen chicken breasts I transferred from the old freezer space into the new one.  Luckily they’re only 2 months old.

Tell me your freezer stories!
Pan-Fried Halloumi Cheese - serves 3-4 (from Trader Joe’s package) 
 7-to-9-ounce package Halloumi cheese – cut into 1/4-inch thick slices 
Place slices of Halloumi on a hot, dry grill or hot, dry non-stick frying pan.  Lower the heat to medium and heat about 2 minutes on each side.  When golden brown and warm, remove from heat and serve with a mixed salad.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.  The idea was to press the open end into thin slices of cheese, ham, cucumber and salami until the tube was full.  Then we would insert a toothpick through the slices, and push the plunger.  Out popped a 2-inch cylinder of sliced stuff.

Lynne and I had great fun varying the order of the slices.  Years later she got a job in the New York test kitchen of a major food company.  Were these appetizers the beginning of her career?

Over the years my tastes became more sophisticated.  I discovered brie cheese, pate, stuffed grape leaves, taramasalata, seven-layer dip, guacamole, tapenade, samosas, spinach dip and stuffed mushrooms.  The appetizer list is endless, and my appetite for them is endless as well.  I could make a whole meal out of appetizers. 

Here is one of my favorites, first eaten in a restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Roasted Beets, Feta Cheese and Candied Walnuts with Mixed Greens – serves 6-8 
4 medium-size raw beets
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 5-ounce bag mixed greens
Vinaigrette Dressing
Candied Walnuts (see recipe below) 
Scrub beets and wrap them tightly in foil. Place foil package in a pan (in case it leaks) and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours.  When cool, rub the skin off the beets and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. 
While the beets are in the oven, make the Candied Walnuts.
Combine the beets, feta and mixed greens in a large salad bowl, toss and add vinaigrette dressing.  Sprinkle on the candied walnuts or serve on the side. 
Candied Walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water
Dash salt
1/2 pound walnut pieces 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
Combine the sugar, honey, water and salt in a medium-size pot and bring to a boil.  Stir to make sure the sugar is dissolved.  Add the walnuts and continue stirring until they are covered with the sugar mixture and there is none left in the bottom of the pan.
Pour the coated nuts onto the foil-covered pan and, with a spoon or rubber spatula, carefully spread them out in a single layer,  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the nuts begin to brown.  Be careful they don’t burn.
Remove from the oven and let cool.  Separate the nuts with your hands or a spoon.  Use as many as you wish for the salad and store the rest in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  They will last for several months.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!" 

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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. 

I ate the chocolate immediately, of course, and then focused on the red bulgur wheat. I decided to make Tabouli Salad. 
Tabouli Salad – serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room”)  
1 cup red bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
2 cups fresh chopped parsley
1/2 cup fresh chopped mint leaves or 3 tablespoons dried
3 finely sliced scallions
2 large tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
Put the bulgur wheat in a large bowl, add the water and stir. Set aside for 20 minutes while the bulgur wheat absorbs the water.

Add the parsley, mint, scallions, tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and black pepper.  Mix thoroughly.  Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, until needed.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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).

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

I was reminded of my one-time vegetable aversion this morning when I got an email from a 40-year-old acquaintance named Eric, who is about to become a first-time father.  In answer to my request to pick out a sandwich I was getting for him, he said, “I’ll take the grilled pesto chicken breast (no lettuce or tomato, because I am a four year old).”

To Eric I dedicate this very easy recipe. 
Two-Minute Sugar Snap Peas – serves 3-4  
1/2 pound fresh sugar snap peas 
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil 

Thoroughly rinse the sugar snap peas.  Pat dry.  Very large sugar snap peas have a tough string along one edge.  To remove it before cooking, snap 1/4-inch off the pod’s stem end and pull it off.  

Add the oil to a pot, frying pan or wok and begin heating over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the sugar snap pea pods and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, or until some of them start getting brown and blistery.  Transfer to a serving bowl.

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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).

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

* Add an appetizer (see White Bean Spread recipe), a soup or an extra vegetable

* Make a big salad

* Prepare garlic bread (keep loaves of French bread in the freezer)

* Cook extra rice or potatoes

* If your menu features meat or fish, cut it into bite-size pieces and make shish kebab.  Fill out the skewers with quick-cooking raw vegetables and oven-grill everything.  Your guest will think you planned it that way. 
Salmon Shish Kebab – serves 3    
1/2 pound salmon filet (not steaks) 
1/2 large onion cut into 1-inch pieces 
Handful cherry tomatoes 
A selection of quick-cooking vegetables such as asparagus, celery, mushrooms,
zucchini or an ear of corn sliced through the cob into 1-inch sections 
1/4 cup bottled marinade (or 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons
          brown sugar, 1 tablespoon wine and 1 tablespoon oil mixed together) 
 1 tablespoon canola oil or more if needed 
2 cups hot cooked rice (optional) 
Rinse the salmon.  If the skin is still attached, place the salmon, skin side down, on a cutting board and slide a sharp knife between the skin and the salmon flesh.  Discard the skin, cut the salmon into 1-inch pieces and put in a large bowl. 
Wash the vegetables and cut them into 1-inch slices or 2-inch lengths.  Add the vegetables to the bowl.  Add the marinade and stir the salmon/vegetable mixture and let sit for 5 minutes. 
Begin preheating the broiler, making sure the top rack is about 4 inches from the broiling unit. 
Cover a broiling pan with foil for easy clean-up.  Thread the vegetables and salmon onto 6 skewers and place on the foil.  Place the pan under the broiler for 2-3 minutes per side, or until the fish is cooked.  Serve 2 skewers per person on a plate. 
Photo by Jenny Craig

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.”

See all my Money-Saving Tips!