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. 

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.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

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. 

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 84


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

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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?)

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?

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

See all Questions for Mom

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

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
See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

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.

See all my Cooking Tips!

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.

See all Questions for Mom

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.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

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.

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.

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!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Question for Mom


How long do spices last? – Cheryl Z.

When I was growing up, my mother kept spices around for decades.  She hardly used them and didn’t realize they would lose their punch after awhile.  I’ve been guilty of that myself on occasion.  But after reading Penzeys Spices Thanksgiving catalog, I know better.  Here is what this herb and spice company says: 

“The government’s guidelines for freshness dating is four years for whole spices and two years for ground.  Some people say six months is the longest spices should be stored, but most spices are harvested only once a year, so it does not make sense to discard them every six months.  On the other hand, two years is too long to store finely powdered spices….  When in doubt about a spice, just smell it.  If it smells strong and spicy, use it.  If not, toss it.”  

See all Questions for Mom

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mom’s Basic Bootcamp: Roast Chicken


This is the first 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 usually don’t because I know what I’m getting, and I don’t have to think twice about how to make it.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Turning Leftovers into New Dishes

Chinese Fried Rice
I feel guilty if I throw away leftovers—unless they have a suspicious green tinge.  Luckily I don’t mind eating the same thing a few nights in a row.  I feel like I’m on kitchen vacation.

Unfortunately, Bart doesn’t share this view.  If he liked what I made originally, he will drum up some enthusiasm when he sees it on his plate on Day #2.  But there’s no way he will eagerly lap it up on Day #3.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 77


Keep a package of dried tortellini is your cupboard.  It makes an excellent, cheap, quick emergency dinner.  Top it with a few tablespoons of pesto sauce, garlic butter sauce or a prepared pasta sauce. Sprinkle on Parmesan cheese, if you have some handy.

See all my Cooking Tips!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 64


Don’t store unripe bananas next to apples. Apples produce a type of gas called ethylene that ripens fruit.  Bananas will turn brown much faster in the presence of ethylene.

See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bean Sauce: What Is It and How Do I Cook with It?

Ground Bean Sauce (left) and Bean Sauce (right)
There are various forms of Bean Sauce on the shelves of Asian supermarkets, including Bean Sauce, Black Bean Garlic Sauce, Ground Bean Sauce, Spicy Black Bean Sauce and Chili Bean Sauce.  This condiment is used to add spice and some thickness to Asian dishes.  It is quite salty, so you don’t need very much—1-2 teaspoons should be enough for a dish that serves 4.  Consistency varies, from smooth to chunky. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

When Someone Else Is Cooking


On that rare occasion when friends invite us to dinner at their home, I couldn’t be more excited.  First of all, it means I have to cook just one thing since I always like to contribute something.  Often it’s a dessert.  I seldom make desserts when I’m putting dinner on my own table.  It’s a combination of laziness and calories.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 76


Peanut Butter
If you’re measuring something sticky, wipe the inside of the measuring cup or spoon with a bit of oil. The sticky ingredient will pour right out.

See all my Cooking Tips!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 75

Undercooked Pork
If meat is undercooked, slice it and put it under the broiler and broil for 45-60 seconds per side, continuing to keep an eye on it, until it is done enough for your taste.

See all my Cooking Tips!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

I Can Make That Too: Peanut Butter Cups in Mom’s Kitchen vs. Store-Bought Peanut Butter Cups


My first encounter with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup came in middle school, when we had a fundraiser that involved buying candy wholesale and selling it full price to fellow students.  The Peanut Butter Cups sold out immediately.  Did I really buy them all?

Now, many years later, I’m okay with not getting too many Halloweeners.  That way I can take charge of the leftover Peanut Butter Cups.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 74

Baked Tilapia
If you overcook fish, top it with salsa and say that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The salsa will disguise any dryness.

See all my Cooking Tips!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Comfort Food

Blintzes with Pumpkin Butter, Blueberry Jam and Sour Cream
Most children give up their blankies, teddy bears and other childhood comforts as they reach adolescence.  But they often continue to be partial to certain foods that remind them of happy times.  For some, Mashed Potatoes are their comfort food.  Others want Chicken Soup, Fried Chicken, Spaghetti Bolognese, Chocolate, Chips and Salsa, Ice Cream or, as my friend Ilene says, “A cup of hot tea with a really good cookie.”

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 73

Cold Grated Cheese
Cheese is easier to grate when it’s cold, so grate it straight from the fridge. If it’s been sitting out for a while, chill it in the freezer for 20 minutes. That way the grated slivers won’t stick together.

Warm Grated Cheese
  See all my Cooking Tips!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Question for Mom

Ricotta (left) and Cottage Cheese (right)
When should I use ricotta instead of cottage cheese? –Tom P.

I bought my first tub of ricotta not long ago after someone criticized me for using cottage cheese in a lasagna recipe.  I have to confess that although I’d heard friends speak lovingly of ricotta, I was perfectly happy with cottage cheese.  I’d eaten it since I was a kid and was used to its taste.

Finally I decided to see what all the fuss was about.  Ricotta is creamier than cottage cheese.  In fact, it reminded me of cream cheese, although a little less dense.  In the lasagna the taste of ricotta was pretty much indistinguishable from cottage cheese, although it looked better. 

The family’s picky eater, who normally gobbles down lasagna, ate the noodles but pushed the ricotta around on his plate.  On the other hand, the family’s junior eating machine ate three portions.  Several of the adults said they liked my new version of lasagna better than the old.  Others said they preferred the cottage cheese version. 

End result: Ricotta, which is somewhat more expensive than cottage cheese, may make some dishes better, but lasagna isn’t necessarily one of them.  I plan to experiment with the leftover ricotta in a different dish and will report back.