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

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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