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.

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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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.

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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.

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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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