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. 

Okay, maybe I’m stretching the truth.  I enjoyed the Shrimp Cocktail at my uncle’s house every Christmas. My grandmother occasionally made Chopped Liver and Garlic Pickles, both of which I happily devoured.  My mother eventually learned how to prepare a pretty good version of Oven-Baked Chicken.  But I had to think about this for a while to find four examples of dishes I’d like to have again.

Taste is the main reason I started cooking, and it’s the main reason I don’t buy commercially prepared frozen entrees.  Maybe I’m too picky, but I’d rather spend time making food I like.  I even created my own mini-version of a Meatball Sandwich.
Photo by Andy Mills
Mini Meatball Sandwiches – serves 2 
4 dinner rolls or a 12-inch length of French bread cut into 4 sections 
16 small cooked meatballs 
1 cup spaghetti sauce 
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Slice the rolls or bread 3/4 of the way through, so that they are still hinged on one side.  Place them on a baking sheet. 
Put 4 meatballs in each mini-sandwich and top with 1/4 cup spaghetti sauce.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons mozzarella cheese onto the sauce. 
Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the mini-sandwiches are heated through and the cheese has melted.  Serve immediately.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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.

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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.

Some of my favorite foods—Greek Salad, Pizza, Salsa, Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, Caprese Salad, Gazpacho—require tomatoes.  Now I can add Tomato Pie to the list.  Even though Roma tomatoes aren’t the most flavorful, they’re perfect for this dish. 

Photo by Andy Mills
Tomato Pie – serves 3-4 
The key to success is slicing the tomatoes at least 1 hour beforehand, placing the slices on a clean towel and then covering them with another towel.  This blots away the excess moisture and keeps the crust from becoming soggy. 
1 pre-baked pie crust 
8-10 Roma (aka plum) tomatoes 
1 tablespoon spicy mustard 
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese 
1 teaspoon garlic powder 
1 teaspoon fresh or dried rosemary (cut into 1/8-inch pieces) 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
2 tablespoons olive oil 

Cut the tomatoes into 1/4-slices and blot away the moisture, as described above. 

When ready to make the pie, preheat the oven to 400 degrees (or 375 degrees if using a glass pie pan). 

Spread the mustard onto the bottom of the pie crust and then cover with cheese.  Lay half the tomato slices on top of the cheese, making sure the slices overlap.  Sprinkle with half the garlic powder, rosemary, salt and black pepper.  Repeat the process, using up the rest of the tomato slices, salt and spices.  Drizzle the olive oil over the top and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to brown and start to shrink. 

Serve immediately or let cool and serve at room temperature.  

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

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.

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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.”

That reminded me of my own traveling days as a mother.  I too prepared meals before hitting the road.  Knowing I was feeding my family, even though I wasn’t actually in the room to serve them, allowed me to feel less guilty about trying to have it all.

Here’s an easy-to-make dish that freeze well. 
Spaghetti Bolognese – serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen”
1 pound lean ground beef or turkey 
1 12-ounce can tomato paste + 1 can water 
2 thinly sliced celery stalks 
1 medium chopped onion 
1/4 pound sliced mushrooms 
1 tablespoon soy sauce 
1 tablespoon sugar 
1 teaspoon bottled crushed garlic 
1 teaspoon dried oregano 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
16 ounces spaghetti 
Parmesan cheese (optional)  
Brown the ground beef or turkey in a large dry frying pan over medium heat, stirring to break up the clumps.  When the meat has browned, drain and discard the fat.  If you’re using turkey, there will be very little fat and you can skip draining it.  
Add the tomato paste and water and stir thoroughly.  Add the celery, onion, mushrooms, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, oregano, salt and black pepper.  Stir again and bring to a boil.   
Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  Add up to 1/2 cup more water if the sauce seems too thick.   
Serve over cooked spaghetti noodles.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if you like.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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.  I like making lasagna because there’s always leftovers.

The recipe is my attempt to recreate the lasagna we ate in Sorrento, Italy, a few years ago.  It’s good for vegetarians because you can serve the meatballs on the side.

Photo by Andy Mills
Lasagna with Meatballs – serves 8 
4 hard-boiled eggs
3 cups (24 ounces) spaghetti sauce
12 cooked lasagna noodles
2 16-ounce tubs cottage cheese
8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
Meatballs (see separate recipe)    
Thinly slice the hard-boiled eggs and set aside. 
Pour 1/3 cup spaghetti sauce into the bottom of a 9x12 or 9x13-inch pan and swirl around to cover the bottom.  Place 4 lasagna noodles in the pan, overlapping so they fit.  Spread 2/3 cup spaghetti sauce over the noodles.  Gently place 1/3 of the egg slices on top of the sauce. Top with 1 1/3 cups cottage cheese and 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese.  
Repeat this process twice.  Then add the remaining spaghetti sauce as a final layer and cover with foil.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Or refrigerate until ready to bake.  Bake an extra 15 minutes if the lasagna goes into the oven straight from the refrigerator.  
About 15 minutes before serving, begin heating the cooked meatballs.  Serve on the side with the lasagna. 
Turkey Meatballs – serves 8 as part of this lasagna dish (adapted from “Faster! I’m Starving!”
1 tablespoon fresh or dried rosemary 
1 pound ground turkey 
2/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs 
1 large egg 
2 tablespoons milk 
1 teaspoon black pepper 
1 teaspoon bottled crushed garlic 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  For easy cleanup, line a baking sheet with foil. 
Crush the rosemary in a mortar and pestle or break or cut into as small pieces as possible. 
Combine the rosemary with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.  Shape the mixture into 1-inch in diameter meatballs. 
Transfer the meatballs to the baking sheet and bake about 20 minutes, or until the meatballs begin to brown.  Remove from the oven and serve immediately.  Or set aside until ready to eat and then reheat briefly.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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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