Friday, December 30, 2016

Mom’s Basic Bootcamp: Lentil Soup

This is the second in a series of basic recipes anyone can easily make.  They have existed for centuries because 1) they are simple, and 2) they taste good.  Once you master their preparation, you’re free to improvise…or not. 

I often experiment with Lentil Soup because this basic recipe is very forgiving.  You can make a vegetarian version or a meat-eater’s version. You can add leftovers or more ingredients (see below).  Best of all, Lentil Soup is cheap to make.
Dried Brown Lentils
Basic Lentil Soup – serves 4 as a soup, 2-3 as a main dish (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!")    
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices 
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1 15-ounce can ready-cut tomatoes 
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1 cup uncooked brown lentils 
4 cups water (or chicken or vegetable broth) + more if needed 
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional) 
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the celery, onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the tomatoes and their liquid, oregano, salt, black pepper, lentils and water or broth. 
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Then turn down the heat to low and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes.  Test lentils to see if they are soft by tasting one.  Undercooked lentils are like pebbles.  If the lentils are too hard, cook for another 5-10 minutes.  
When the soup is ready, it will be very thick.  You can add 1/2 cup or more water to thin it slightly.  Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if using, and serve.
* * * * * * * * * * * *  
Possible Lentil Soup Add-Ins:

I potato, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (added with onion)
Cooked baked potato, skin removed and remaining potato cut into 1/2-inch pieces (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
Handful dried pasta or 1 cup leftover pasta (dried added with lentils; leftovers added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
1/2 cup uncooked rice or 1 cup cooked rice (uncooked added with lentils; cooked added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices (added with onion)
Handful spinach, chopped kale or chopped bok choy (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

1 or 2 fully cooked sausages, sliced thinly (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
Leftover small pieces of cooked chicken, turkey, lamb or beef (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

For an Indian flavor, use 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon ground coriander instead of oregano.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 71

To keep fresh ginger from getting moldy, store a chunk of it in a zip top bag in the freezer.  Grate it frozen.  You can first scrape off some of the skin with a knife or just ignore any small pieces of skin.  They will disappear into the dish you’re making.  Or peel and chop the ginger into 1/4-inch dice before bagging and storing in the freezer.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Question for Mom

Chocolate-Dipped Tangerines
I ate too much over the holidays.  What’s a cheap, easy, healthy dessert?” –Sara A.

Fruit dipped in chocolate.  Tangerines are easy to peel.  Chocolate chips aren’t too costly.  Combine them and you have a knock-out dessert with lots of vitamin C.  You can find a detailed recipe here

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

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 87

When baking and using 1 or more sticks of butter, cut the stick(s) into 4-6 pieces before adding to the bowl.  They will incorporate into the batter more quickly.  If the butter is frozen, cut the stick into 16 pieces for quick thawing.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

12 Ways to Use Chocolate Chips

The absolute easiest and cheapest way to use chocolate chips is eating them by the handful.  No cooking involved!  This is a particularly attractive option when you feel the need for something chocolate NOW.  I’ve often gone that route, and you may well have too. 

My job is to tell you another 11 ways to use chocolate chips that involve actual cooking – or baking.  All but one I’ve already written about, so I’ll provide links.  Below is a new recipe—Chocolate Chip Cake.  It’s not as rich as some of these other dishes, but you are unlikely to have leftovers.

1) Eat chocolate chips directly from the bag.

2) Melt Chocolate Chips in a Flour Tortilla, wrap and eat. 

3) You can’t go wrong with Chocolate Chip Cookies

4) Chocolate Chip Bagels are good all day, not just for breakfast! 

5) The Simplest Chocolate Icing Ever has just two ingredients: chocolate chips and sour cream. 

6) Chocolate Banana Bread tastes even better with chocolate chips. 

7) Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chunks (my version of Peanut Butter Cups) make good use of chocolate chips.  

8) Fruit Dipped in Melted Chocolate is an easy dessert.  

9) For the richest dessert ever, you can’t beat Chocolate Cheesecake.  

10) Chocolate Fondue makes a simple but effective way to end a meal.  

11) Ever heard of Chocolate Chip Squares?  They’re addictive.  

12) Chocolate Chip Cake is even good for breakfast.

Chocolate Chip Cake – serves 12-20, depending on serving size (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!") 
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter) softened to room temperature + more for greasing pan 
1 cup sugar 
1 cup sour cream (regular or light) 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 cups flour + 1 teaspoon for dusting pan 
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter 
1/2 cup flour 
1/2 cup dark brown sugar 
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder 
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
Make the Cake: Place one of the racks in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Lightly rub the bottom and sides of a 9”x12”-or-13” baking pan with butter.  Add 1 teaspoon flour and swirl it around, coating the buttered surfaces.  Set aside. 
If using a food processor, put the butter and sugar in the processor bowl and briefly process until well-blended. Add the sour cream, eggs and vanilla and pulse about 20 seconds, or until well-blended.  Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda and pulse just until blended.  Add the chocolate chips and blend 5 seconds.  Pour the batter into the baking pan and set aside. 
If using an electric mixer or mixing by hand, put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and mix or beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy.  Add the sour cream, eggs and vanilla and mix until just blended.  Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda and mix just until blended.  Mix in the chocolate chips.  Pour the batter into the baking pan and set aside. 
Make the Topping:  Cut the butter into pea-sized bits in a medium bowl.  Add the flour, brown sugar and cocoa and toss gently.  Spoon evenly over the top of the cake.  Sprinkle on the chocolate chips. 
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a cake tester or knife comes out clean when inserted in the center.  Remove the pan and cool on a rack.  Cut into squares and serve.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 70

If honey crystallizes, don't throw it out.  Put the container it’s in into a bowl of hot water.  The heat of the water will cause the crystals to dissolve.  Stir if necessary. 

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 86

Refrigerators and tomatoes do not go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Refrigerating tomatoes changes their taste.  Store tomatoes at room temperature so they will continue to taste like tomatoes should.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Question for Mom

Mushroom Risotto
I like serving risotto for company, but I hate having to spend so much time in the kitchen preparing it once guests have arrived.  Any suggestions? –Julie R.

Traditionally risotto, which is an Italian rice dish, is prepared just before serving.  If it sits around and is then reheated, it can turn into a gelatinous mass.  But there is a trick to avoid that lengthy last-minute time in the kitchen. 

Make most of the risotto in advance.  You can cook it two-thirds of the way through and then stop.  About 10 minutes before you plan to serve, continue preparing it.  The boiling stock you will be adding will prompt the risotto to resume cooking.

Here’s a Mushroom Risotto recipe with the cooking twist. 

Mushroom Risotto 3/4 Cooked
Mushroom Risotto – serves 4-6  
6 cups chicken broth + boiling water (if needed)  
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil + 1 tablespoon or more for cooking mushrooms 
1 large onion, finely chopped  
2 cups Arborio rice  
1 cup dry white wine  
2 8–ounce packages sliced mushrooms 
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
1 teaspoon salt      
Heat the broth in a saucepan and keep warm over low heat.  
Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a large pan and add the onions.  Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onions soften.     
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, for 10 minutes.  The rice will not be fully softened, but that’s fine.  Remove from the heat and set aside, uncovered.  

Before leaving the kitchen, cook the mushrooms.  Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a frying pan and add about half the mushrooms.  See Mom Cooking Tip 83.  Remove cooked mushrooms from the pan and add more butter or oil if needed.  Then cook the rest of the mushrooms.  Set aside. 
About 10 minutes before you plan to serve, reheat the remaining broth.  Retrieve the partly-cooked risotto, turn on the heat the medium and add a few tablespoons hot broth.  Continue stirring and adding more hot broth until the rice is done. If you run out of broth, use boiling water.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and the cooked mushrooms. 
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.   

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 85

Bored with plain old mashed potatoes?  Jazz them up with 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, several teaspoons chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon oregano and 1/2 teaspoon paprika during the mashing process.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cooking Can Be Great Self-Entertainment

“It’s not fun to be in the kitchen,” an old friend told me recently.  He was explaining why he was eating frozen TV dinners every night.  His wife was out of town, and he wasn’t willing to employ cooking skills he learned in college to feed himself. 

A lot of people apparently feel that cooking is drudgery, so the aisles of frozen meals have multiplied at the grocery store.  People still want to eat at home yet haven’t realized that cooking can be great self-entertainment.

I’ve had times when getting dinner on the table felt like drudgery, but I’ve also had my share of frozen TV dinners.  I would rather make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich, an Omelet or Spaghetti—all easily prepared with ingredients on hand.  By the time I’m eating what I’ve made, I’ve forgotten that I wasn’t in the mood to cook.

Cooking calms me.  Whatever worries I have disappear because I’m in a different zone.  Of course, if I’m trying a new recipe and something isn’t working, I can get irritated.  But my focus is on the food in front of me rather than the work problem I haven’t solved.  Some people might prefer to play Minecraft or Pokemon Go, but I’m quite happy melting chocolate or frying potatoes.  The trick is to cook dishes you like. 
Sizzling Pork Noodles – serves 3-4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen”) 
1 pound lean ground pork
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup chili sauce (or 7 tablespoons ketchup and 1 tablespoon bottled horseradish)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar (any kind)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
12 ounces vermicelli
1/2 large cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 scallions, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch pieces 
Without using oil, brown the pork in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring frequently to break the meat into small clumps.  This process takes about 10 minutes.  After the meat has browned, drain away any fat by covering the pan with a lid and carefully pouring the liquid into an empty can.  Discard. 
Add the onion, garlic, chili sauce (or ketchup and horseradish), water, soy sauce, vinegar and black pepper to the pan and stir.  Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm. 
Cook the vermicelli.  Before draining it, fill a 1/2-cup measure with the vermicelli water and set aside.  Then drain the noodles and transfer them to a large bowl or platter. 
Add the hot water to the pork sauce and pour the sauce over the noodles.  Sprinkle with cucumber and scallion pieces and serve.

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 84

To keep butter from burning as you melt it, add 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 69

Do you know about unit pricing? Most grocery stores have tiny shelf signs in front of all their products that tell you the price of the product AND the unit price—which means how much something costs per ounce. Two cans or packaged products may look the same size, but sometimes they’re not the same. United pricing makes it easier to compare two products to see which is the better value.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Question for Mom

Do you need to add salt to the water when you’re cooking pasta?  Geraldine H.

Adding salt is not a requirement, but it helps flavor the pasta.  Try it both ways and see if you can tell the difference.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What’s the BEST Chocolate Cake Recipe?

There are so many decisions to make about chocolate cake: 

* Sheet cake vs. layer cake
* Chocolate icing vs. buttercream
* Type of chocolate used—Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate vs. chocolate chips vs. eating chocolate vs. unsweetened cocoa
* Flourless vs. flour
* Brown sugar vs. white sugar
* Milk vs. buttermilk vs. water
* How many people will the cake serve (or how big a pig are you?)

One decision we never make in my house is packaged mix vs. made from scratch.  The last time I used a packaged mix was in my Girl Scout days, which was some time ago.  The chocolate tasted fake.  In fact, that disappointment motivated me to learn how to bake.

Since then I’ve mastered a dozen different chocolate cakes.  The easiest was a fudge-type single layer cake that was so rich that it didn’t need a proper icing.  A smattering of powdered sugar on top was enough.

When I was working on my all-chocolate dessert cookbook, I solicited recipes from all my friends and their friends.  That’s how I discovered my favorite chocolate cake recipe—Devil’s Food Cake.  It’s made with cocoa. 
Devil’s Food Cake – serves 12 (adapted from Chocolate on the Brain
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature, + more for greasing
1 1/3 cups boiling water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 – 2 cups Chocolate Icing   
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
To make it easier to remove the cake from two 8- or 9-inch cake pans, cut a piece of wax paper to fit the bottom of each pan.  Place the papers into the pans and wipe them with a bit of butter.  Set aside. 
In a bowl, stir together the boiling water and cocoa and set aside to cool.  The boiling water brings out the cocoa’s flavor. 
Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat on low speed until well blended.  Add half the cocoa mixture and beat until blended. 
Add the flour, baking soda and salt and beat on low speed just until blended.  Add the remaining cocoa mixture and beat again until blended.  Do not beat the batter too much or the cake will be tough. 
Pour the batter evenly into the pans and shake them from side to side several times so the batter spreads to the sides.  Bake on the middle rack, at least 2 inches apart if possible, for 30-35 minutes (for 8-inch pans) or 25-30 minutes (for 9-inch pans), or until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pans and a cake tester or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and cool for at least 10 minutes.  At this point you can cover and refrigerate overnight, if need be. 
Loosen the cakes by sliding a knife around the edges of each pan.  Place a plate or cooling rack over the top of each cake layer.  Carefully turn over the plates/racks and cake pans together so the cakes slip out.  If the pans are still hot, use potholders.  If the cakes stick, hit the bottom of the pan with the flat of your hand.  
Let the cakes cool to room temperature upside down.  Remove the wax paper from the bottom of each cake. 
To ice the cake, put one layer, bottom side up, on a large plate or tray and spread some icing over the top with a knife.  (Check this Mom Cooking Tip to make clean-up easier.) 
At this point don’t ice the sides.  Carefully place the second layer, bottom side down, on top of the first layer.  Spread some icing over the top layer, making sure not to press so hard that cake crumbs are dislodged into the icing.  Then ice the sides.  Spread any leftover icing on top of the cake. 
Serve cold or at room temperature.  Store in an airtight container or wrapped in foil or plastic wrap.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 68

Don’t buy one-use-only cooking gadgets just because they are available. If they take up drawer space or require more time to wash than the time they saved by using them, walk on by. How often do you need a cherry pitter or pineapple corer unless you have a cherry tree or pineapple plant in your backyard?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 83

When cooking mushrooms, don’t overload the pan.  Mushrooms give off liquid as they cook, so if you want them to brown they need to be in contact with the bottom of the pan.  If they’re not, they will simply give off liquid and shrink.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Dish Worthy of Henry VIII

I have to confess that some years ago I cut down on my meat consumption, favoring fish and poultry.  But some meat dishes I just cannot resist.  One of them is Lamb Shanks.

Most stores don’t carry lamb shanks, so you may have to ask the butcher to order them for you.  I discovered some frozen ones from New Zealand on sale last week for $2.99 a pound.  Three lamb shanks together weighed more than four pounds.  Once thawed, they looked like weapons, not dinner.

Unlike a leg of lamb, a lamb shank is tough.  In case you were wondering, it’s the leg part below the knee. It’s the perfect piece of meat to bake in a covered casserole in the oven.  Just add a lot of liquid, cover and cook for a few hours. 

If you want to serve lamb shanks caveman-style, offer one per person on a large plate.  Otherwise, cut off the cooked meat, trim away any fat and serve the lamb pieces in a bowl, with gravy on the side.  Cutting the meat off the bones allows you to serve more people.

Traditional Lamb Shanks – serves 3-4 
3 lamb shanks (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 black pepper
2 cups red wine
2 cups water + more if necessary 
Trim and discard any excess fat from the lamb shanks.  Begin heating the oil in a large cast-iron (if possible) casserole dish over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, brown the lamb shanks, cooking them for about 5 minutes and turning them at least once. Remove from the heat and transfer the lamb shanks to a plate. 
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Add the carrots, onion, garlic, salt and pepper to the casserole and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to brown.  Turn off the heat.  Return the lamb shanks to the casserole and add the red wine and water. 
Cover the casserole with a lid or tight-fitting foil and bake for 2 hours.  Check after 1 hour to make sure all the liquid hasn’t boiled away.  Add 1 more cup water if there is less than 1 inch of liquid.  At the end of 2 hours, remove the casserole from the oven and carefully turn over the lamb shanks.  Add up to 1 more cup water if most of the liquid has boiled away and continue baking for another 30 minutes, or until the meat is very soft. 
Remove from the oven and transfer the lamb shanks, carrots and onions to a large platter.  Cover with foil to keep warm. 
To make the gravy, remove as much fat as possible from the liquid left in the casserole.  Either spoon it out or, if you have enough time, transfer the liquid to a container and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.  The fat will rise to the top and begin to harden.  Use a fork to lift out the hardened fat and discard it.  Or if the fat hasn’t quite hardened, use a spoon.  
If the lamb shanks have cooled off, add the defatted liquid to the casserole, return the lamb shanks and vegetables and reheat everything.  
Serve 1 lamb shank per person, along with some carrots and onions. Or cut the meat off the shanks and serve it on a platter with the carrots and onions and a separate bowl of gravy.  Mashed potatoes would make a good side dish. 

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

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 82

If a kiwi is too soft to peel, cut it in half and scoop out the insides with a spoon.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Question for Mom

What oil should I use when I’m cooking?  Barbara B.

In a pinch just about any oil, except motor oil, will work.  Some oils--including peanut oil and sesame oil—have very distinctive flavors.  They can add to a dish or overpower it.  

My favorite is extra-virgin olive oil, partly because I cook a lot of Mediterranean-style dishes and partly because I have become accustomed to the flavor.  Extra-virgin olive oil costs more than plain or light olive oil. Millions of words have been written about the various properties of olive oil—much more than I want to know about.  So here’s my take.

I use extra-virgin olive oil in most of my cooking.  However, if I'm seeking a bland oil, I’ll choose canola oil or corn oil.  And I’ll add a teaspoon of sesame oil when an Asian recipe calls for it.  Other than that, I just want to get on with the cooking.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 81

Want to make sure your green vegetables stay bright green after cooking?  Add them to boiling water and don’t over-cook them.  Five minutes should be enough time to cook any green vegetable.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 67

Why boil water twice? When you’re cooking pasta, prepare hard-boiled eggs at the same time. The eggs need to be in boiling water for at least 10 minutes, and many noodles need to cook for at least that long.

If the noodles have a shorter cooking time, add the uncooked eggs to the water when you start heating it. Add the pasta when the water comes to a boil.

If the pasta requires much longer cooking, remove the eggs after 10-12 minutes.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I Can Make That Too: Spicy Potato Spread in Mom’s Kitchen vs. the Restaurant Version

Chef Hannes Spicy Potato Spread
One of my favorite local restaurants in Southern California is Chef Hannes in El Segundo, not far from the Los Angeles Airport.  When you arrive for lunch or dinner, the first dish that lands on your table is a complimentary bowl of thick green spread accompanied by slices of French bread.

I wasn’t sure what I was eating, but I knew that I liked it.  I hinted to the owner, who sometimes also serves as the waiter, that I would like the recipe. All I got were two clues: garlic and potatoes. 

For several years I tried to duplicate this appetizer in my kitchen.  After making another inedible version, which this time included vinegar, I finally had a breakthrough.  Pesto.  I had a jar of Basil Pesto, which I keep around as an easy topping for spaghetti.  It’s green and garlicky.  Why not mash a boiled potato and stir in a few spoonfuls of pesto.  It worked.  I drizzled some hot sauce on the top, heated up some French bread and demolished the whole bowl.
My Spicy Potato Spread
Spicy Potato Spread – serves 4 
2 medium potatoes
1/4 cup basil pesto + more if needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Several drops hot sauce + more if preferred
Sliced French bread 
Boil the potatoes in water for about 20-25 minutes, or until they can be pierced easily with a knife.  Drain the water and pull off and discard the potato skins.  Roughly mash the potatoes with a fork. 
Stir in the basil pesto, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is mostly green, with only a few flecks of white showing.  Add the salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.  Taste to see if more seasoning is needed. 
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and top with some hot sauce.  Serve with slices of French bread, warm if possible.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 80

When preparing fresh broccoli, don’t discard the long stalks.  Peel them, slice them into 1/4-inch coins and cook them along with the florets.

Unpeeled Stem

Peeled Stem
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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Roast Chicken Leftovers – How Do I Love Thee!

Basic Chicken Salad
Let me count the ways. 

If you like the burn of red pepper flakes, add Chicken Arrabiata to your menu.  A spicy tomato sauce with small pieces of leftover chicken, thin strips of salami and sliced mushrooms make a perfect topping on a bed of penne.

Then there’s Chicken Fajitas—strips of leftover chicken spread out on a tortilla with a wealth of toppings, including fresh or cooked red peppers, onions, shredded cheese, salsa, black beans, hummus or anything else that strikes your fancy.  This can be a build-your-own dinner.

Too tired to cook?  What about a simple plate of Sliced Chicken, cold or reheated, possibly with gravy?    

Consider a stir-fry?  Cut up and stir-fry some onions, bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, asparagus, garlic, fresh ginger or other veggies, add some soy sauce, red pepper flakes and leftover chicken and voila! 

Then there’s Chicken Salad, which completely changes the experience of eating roast chicken.  It’s cold, with crisp celery and red onion and/or scallion pieces, lightly coated with mayonnaise. It’s what I’m having for dinner tonight—on a toasted bun in the car on the way to a movie.
Basic Chicken Salad – serves 3-4 
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
2 stalks celery, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup red onion, diced
2 scallions, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon mayonnaise, or more if preferred
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly.  Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.  Serve cold.
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 79

Dull knife? Try cutting with the widest part of the blade, which is near the handle and thus apt to be sharper because it’s used less.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Question for Mom

If I want to make Baked Potatoes, which call for a 400-degree oven for 1 hour, and Chicken Strips, which need to be baked at 475 degrees for 10 minutes, what can I do so they’re both ready to eat at the same time?  George J.

Baked potatoes are flexible.  About 55 minutes before you plan to serve dinner, start baking the potatoes at 400 degrees.  Forty minutes later, turn up the oven temperature to 475 degrees.  When the oven reaches this higher temperature, start baking the Chicken Strips.  After 10 minutes, remove both foods.  The extra heat at the end will finish cooking the potatoes.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 66

Stale French bread makes wonderful fresh breadcrumbs. Two small slices make about 1/4 cup. Use a food processor to chop the bread into small pieces.

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Glamorous Potato

Normally I would never link the two words “glamorous” and “potato.”  “Filling,” “comfort food,” “humble,” “inexpensive” or “traditional” are the words I usually think of when the subject of potatoes comes up.  

But that was before I saw and then sampled my friend Dorothy’s Roasted and Sliced Potatoes. They called to mind sophisticated dining—not an arena in which I often find myself.

These potato slices were slender—maybe 1/8-inch thick--and rimmed with the tiniest bit of brown skin.  Spread out on a serving dish and covered with melted butter, they seemed almost too elegant to eat.  But I managed to down more than my share.

It takes time to slice the potatoes so thinly and evenly—unless you happen to have a slicing blade for your food processor.  You can also use a mandoline, which makes the job easier, as long as you’re paying attention to what you’re doing and don’t also slice your fingers.
Dorothy’s Roasted and Sliced Potatoes – serves 4 
2 large russet potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds total), brick-shaped rather than long and  
            tapered, if possible 
4 tablespoons butter 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese  
Begin preheating the oven to 450 degrees. 
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil to speed clean-up.  Put the butter, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper on the foil-covered pan and put into the oven until the butter melts.  Remove the tray from the oven and stir the mixture around until all the foil is covered with butter. 
Thoroughly scrub the potatoes to rid them of dirt but do not peel.  Slice them into 1/8-inch slices and lay the slices onto the butter mixture.  Using tongs, turn the potato slices over so the butter covers both sides.  Overlap the potatoes if necessary.  Bake for 15 minutes.  

Remove from the oven and sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and lemon juice.  Bake for another 10 minutes, or until the potato slices are just beginning to brown.  Carefully transfer them to a plate or bowl and serve.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 65

Use up leftover cooked vegetables or small bits of cheese or cream cheese in Quiche.  Here’s an easy Quiche recipe that effectively uses up half an 8-ounce package of cream cheese.  It can also absorb a cup of leftover cooked vegetables.
Spinach Quiche – serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room”)  
4 ounces cream cheese 
1 baked pie crust – see here  
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach 
2 scallions 
3 large eggs 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1 cup leftover cooked vegetables, chopped into small pieces (optional) 
Take the cream cheese out of the fridge so that it will begin to soften. 
Prepare and bake the pie crust. 
Cook the spinach according to the package’s directions (about 6 minutes).  Drain and set aside. 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
Wash the scallions.  Cut off the root tip and last 2 inches of the green parts and discard.  Cut the remaining white and green parts into 1/4-inch pieces. 
To make the filling, beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Add the cream cheese, spinach, scallion pieces, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Mix thoroughly, making sure there are no large lumps of cream cheese.  If you want to add some leftover cooked vegetables, do it now, stirring them into the mixture. 
Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the filling is firm.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 5-to-10 minutes before serving.
           See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Barley: What Is it and How Do I Cook It?

Pearl Barley
Barley has been around for more than 10,000 years.  I first tasted it in my grandmother’s Chicken Barley Soup, but I didn’t know what it was until much later.

I really fell for this grain when I lived in London and frequented Cranks, a popular vegetarian restaurant.  It was originally located right on Carnaby Street, well before the street itself became the headquarters of Swinging London.  By the time I discovered it, though, Cranks had moved around the corner to Marshall Street.  I never noticed any high fashion people there having lunch, but I did see lots of unusual salads. Almost all of them featured such grains as cracked wheat, wheat berries or barley.

Most barley sold today is pearl (or pearled) barley.  It is missing both its outer husk and bran.  Pearl barley has a mild taste, mixes well in vegetable salads and is high in fiber.  I also like to serve it as an alternative to rice.  If I have some fresh mushrooms, I’ll slice them, brown them in a bit of butter or olive oil and add them to the cooked barley.

Cooking pearl barley is like cooking rice.  Bring water to a boil, add the rinsed barley and cook, covered, on low heat, for 40-45 minutes, or until the grains are tender yet chewy.  1 cup of barley needs about 3 cups of water to produce a chewy grain and about 4 cups of water to produce a softer grain.

You can also buy hulled barley in some stores and on the Internet.  This barley has had its hull removed, but the bran is intact.  It is darker brown in color and takes about 25% longer to cook.

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

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 78

Mixed Noodles with Pesto Sauce
If you eat a lot of pasta and have leftovers of different varieties—maybe spaghetti, farfalle, rotini and gigli --reheat them together and just add sauce.

See all my Cooking Tips!