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.

Main dishes go in and out of favor, but few become classics.  For a while, Cheese Fondue was a popular entrée.  Beef Wellington, which is beef tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry, baked and then cut into thick slices, was once the ultimate power meal.  Chicken Tikka Masala recently replaced Fish & Chips as England’s most popular take-out meal.

Today people travel everywhere and discover more exotic fare.  Our friend Ken just reported from Zanzibar that he dined on pizza stuffed with beef, veggies and avocado, followed by a giant grilled banana.  I’ll have to look for those recipes.  Meanwhile, though, I need to get Goulash into my cooking rotation.

Dorothy’s Hungarian Goulash – serves 5-6
2 pounds lean stewing beef
Black pepper
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
2 teaspoons butter + more if needed
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 pound small mushrooms
2 tablespoons flour
5 teaspoons paprika
1 12-ounce (1 1/2 cups) bottle or can beer
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cup sour cream
12-ounce package cooked egg noodles (optional) 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
Sprinkle beef with salt and black pepper.  Heat oil and butter in a large pot and brown the meat on all sides.  Transfer it to a large casserole.  Add the onions and mushrooms to the pot and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft.  Add a little more butter, if necessary.  Add the flour and paprika and stir thoroughly.  Add the beer, chicken broth, mustard and caraway seeds, stir and bring to a boil. 
Transfer the onion mixture to the casserole and stir to combine with the beef.  Cover and bake for 1 3/4 hours.  While the casserole is baking, set the sour cream on the counter so it comes to room temperature.  Just before serving, stir in the sour cream.  Serve with egg noodles, if desired. 
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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.

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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)

In middle school, a friend occasionally invited me over for a Syrian sandwich, which consisted of a wedge of flat Syrian bread split in the middle and housing slices of ham and tomato.  It was heavenly—nothing like the thin and listless pita breads on the market today.

These sandwiches were perfect for their time--which was before fast-food restaurants began appealing to the lunch crowd with their burgers, hotdogs, pizza and submarine sandwiches.

I’m still enamored of sandwiches today.  I recently discovered the Cuban sandwich, which features ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread (somewhat similar to French baguettes).  I’ve also developed a liking for the Vietnamese sandwich called bánh mì.  Sliced pork (or chicken or meat or pate) is served on a small baguette, along with fresh cilantro, cucumbers and pickled carrots and radishes.

Right now, though, my favorite lunch is half a toasted onion bagel topped with cream cheese, sliced purple onion, sliced tomatoes and smoked salmon.  Pardon me while I go make one right now. 
Chipped Ham Barbecue Sandwiches – serves 2 (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!")   
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce 
2 tablespoons sweet relish 
1 tablespoon brown sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared mustard 
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce 
Dash black pepper 
1/2 pound cooked ham, very thinly sliced 
2 hamburger buns 
Combine the tomato sauce, relish, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and ham in a medium-size pot.  Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn down the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes to heat through. 
Cut the buns in half, fill each bun with half the ham and sauce and serve with plenty of napkins.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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.

A baked potato needs an hour in the oven.  Boiled potatoes, cut in quarters, are ready in about 15 minutes.  If you cut them into 1-inch squares they’ll be soft in less than 10 minutes.  French fries take about 7 minutes--if the pan isn’t overloaded.  Grated potatoes can be stir-fried and ready to eat in 3 minutes. 

Taste and speed are not mutually exclusive.  Many recipes, like the one below, will give you both. 
Photo by Andy Mills
Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce – serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room” 
Chicken Satay 
1/4 cup soy sauce 
2 teaspoons chopped garlic 
2 tablespoons brown sugar 
2 tablespoons light corn syrup 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds) 
Combine the soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, corn syrup and lemon juice in a medium bowl and stir. 
Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes and add to the soy sauce mixture.  Stir to coat the chicken pieces, cover and refrigerate while you make the Peanut Sauce. 
Peanut Sauce 
2/3 cup milk + more if necessary
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small pot and begin heating over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is well combined.  Turn down the heat to low and continue cooking and stirring until the sauce comes to a boil.  It should have the consistency of thick salad dressing.  If it’s too thick, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the consistency you want.  Remove from the heat and set aside until the chicken is ready. 
Place a rack 4 inches from the broiling unit and preheat the broiler. 
Thread the chicken pieces into metal or wooden skewers and place on a cooling rack sitting on a broiling pan.  Broil 3-4 minutes per side.  Watch carefully so the chicken does not overcook.  Test for doneness by cutting a piece in half.  The interior should be white, not pink. 
Transfer the kebabs to plates and serve with the Peanut Sauce.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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.

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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.

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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?

I make a good Russian Vegetable Borscht, but I didn’t have any beets handy.  Instead I decided to try a Cabbage Soup recipe from a popular cookbook. It called for 4 cups of grated cabbage.  

Big mistake.  The cooked cabbage itself tasted fine, but the blue cheese the recipe recommended (“a garnish of Roquefort adds just the right finish,” the headnote said) brought the memorable comment from my cookbook collaborator/son Kevin, “It smells like armpits.”  Unfortunately he was onto something.  Forget that recipe.

Cabbage Soup with Blue Cheese
To use up the rest of the cabbage, I put together my version of Asian Chicken Slaw.  The next day I discovered that the leftovers made a great tortilla filling.  Cabbage is staying on my shopping list.
Asian Chicken Slaw – serves 3-4 
For the chicken (recipe below or leftover roast chicken):
2 boneless chicken breasts (totaling about 1 lb.)
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil + more for stir-frying
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 
Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch wide slices.  Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and stir well.  Add the chicken slices and set aside, covered, in the refrigerator.

For the slaw:
5-6 cups shredded cabbage
3 scallions, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried mint
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
Put the cabbage and scallions in a large serving bowl.  Combine the vinegar, sugar, fresh ginger, sesame oil, basil, mint and cayenne pepper in a small bowl, stir thoroughly and pour over the cabbage mixture.  Toss to coat the cabbage.  Cover and refrigerate until needed.
To stir-fry the chicken, add 1 tablespoon oil to a wok or large frying pan and begin heating over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the chicken and any marinade left in the bowl and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked.  When you cut a slice in half, the middle should be white, not pink.  Turn off the heat and transfer the chicken to a cutting board.  Cut the strips into bite-size pieces and add to the cabbage slaw.  Toss again and serve. 
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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?

Once I had my own kitchen, I never had to wait around.  That’s one of the thrills of cooking your own food.  When I had guests, I planned ahead. They never twiddled their thumbs or sucked them while their stomachs grumbled. 

I even mastered cooking a prime rib roast, just to prove I could.  However, it’s a skill I seldom use because, like me, most of my dinner companions have stopped eating masses of meat.  Unfortunately I have yet to discover how to cook two servings of prime rib. 

However, I have figured out how to make two pulled pork sandwiches.  Instead of starting with an enormous boneless pork shoulder and cooking it for 7-8 hours, I substitute 2 pork chops.  Cooking time is 2 hours (unattended), and with the addition of BBQ sauce the taste is almost the same.  The best part?  No endless leftovers.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches - serves 2  
2 pork chops (the cheapest – looks don’t count because the meat will be shredded) 
1/2 cup cider or wine vinegar 
8 black peppercorns 
BBQ Sauce 
Buns (4 small or 2 large) 
Combine the pork chops, cider and peppercorns in a medium pot.  Add enough water to cover + 1 more cup.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Check periodically to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away.  Add more water as needed.  
After 2 hours, the meat should be very tender and easy to pull apart.  If not, continue cooking, checking it every 15 minutes, until it is tender enough.  Turn off the heat and let cool.  Discard the liquid. 
When the chops can be easily handled, pull off the meat in shreds.  Refrigerate, covered, until needed. 
About 10 minutes before serving, heat the rolls in the oven.  Put the shredded pork in a medium pot, add a few tablespoons water and heat over medium heat until hot. 
Pile into buns and pass the BBQ Sauce.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a 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!

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