Thursday, March 31, 2016

Leeks: What Are They and How Do I Cook Them?

Leeks, which are part of the onion and garlic family, look like scallions on steroids.  They have a mild taste and a much bigger price tag than onions.  To make their food seem more exotic, some recipe-writers call for leeks when they could just as easily use onions.  That’s a waste of money as well as time because this vegetable is much harder to clean.  In fact, cleaning leeks can be more of a challenge than cooking them.

Leeks vary greatly in diameter—as little as 3/4-inch to 2 inches--and are often sold in bundles of two or three.  Most of the leek is edible, although the dark green part is fibrous and strong tasting.  I usually cut much of it off.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Mystery Meat

Greek Roast Leg of Lamb
Like most home cooks, I fall into ruts.  The same old stuff is easy to make, everyone eats it and I can prepare it in my sleep. It’s comforting, but where’s the thrill of the new and exciting?  

It’s not that I want to dine on exotic animals, but when a mountain lion crept into the Los Angeles Zoo recently and gobbled up a koala I did wonder what it tasted like.  I had venison once as a kid but have no recollection of its flavor.  A friend shot a bear recently, and his wife filled the freezer with bear meat.  I never got to try it because they live 3,000 miles away, but she said it tasted fatty.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 47

If buying large quantities of food at a big box store intimidates you, find a friend or group of friends to shop with and divvy up the purchases. Eight cans of tomatoes may be too many for your pantry, but four or even two are manageable.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Question for Mom

(L-R) Cheddar Cheese, Goat Cheese, Colby/Jack Cheese
 If cheeses like Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda or Goat have some mold growing on the surface, should I throw the cheese away? --Sheila S.

No.  Just cut off and discard the moldy portion. 

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 48

To cut 8 or 9 cherry tomatoes in half at once, put 1 plastic lid from a take-out container on the counter, sharp edge up. Place the washed cherry tomatoes on the rim next to the sharp edge. Place a second plastic lid on top of the tomatoes, sharp edge down. While pressing firmly on the top lid with one hand, take a sharp knife in the other hand and slice through all the tomatoes at once.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

When Someone Offers to Cook Me Dinner, What Do I Choose?

Blini, which are Russian yeast pancakes.  They remind me of all the traveling Bart and I did while we were living in London some years ago. We met our first blini in Moscow, when we were part of a package tour that included all our meals.  One night we escaped and went to a club filled with prosperous young Russians.  Everyone was eating blini, so we ordered them too.  We’ve been eating them ever since.

By now, the whole family likes them.  Instead of sulks and arguments at the table, everyone is filling their plates with little pancakes and covering them with sour cream, jam, smoked salmon or, on the rare occasion, a very inexpensive caviar.  Sometimes we play some Tchaikovsky to get us in the right mood.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 47

Before using a cup or spoon to measure anything sticky, including peanut butter or honey, wipe the cup or spoon with oil to prevent sticking.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 46

If you frequently use yeast, look for 2-pound packages of active dry yeast at places like Costco, where it costs around $5. Store the unused portion in the refrigerator.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Hominy: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

My first encounter with hominy was in a California supermarket.  A store employee was offering samples of Pozole, a traditional Mexican stew, and stacked on the table were cans of hominy.  The picture on the label showed large kernels of corn, so large that they could have been on steroids.  They tasted like corn, only more so. 
Hominy on the left, Corn on the right
Is hominy a new vegetable?  No.  Here’s how corn transforms into hominy: dried corn kernels are soaked in an alkaline solution, and that process causes the kernels to swell.  You can buy hominy in ready-to-eat form in cans or you can buy it dried in bags.

I bought a can and added a cup of hominy to homemade vegetable soup.  It was definitely a conversation-starter.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Who Can Resist a Recipe Called Shakshuka?

Not me.  When I recently saw a New York Times recipe for this Middle Eastern dish, which I’d never heard of, I was intrigued.  A few hours later I opened my daily email from The Guardian, a British newspaper, and what should be featured but a big story about Shakshuka.

Popular for breakfast in Israel, Shakshuka may have an exotic name but

Friday, March 11, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 45

Make your own pie crust.  It may seem complicated at first, but it’s not.  And it will cost just pennies to prepare.  Click here for an easy recipe. 

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 46

If you’re out of milk and the recipe calls for some, water down 1 tablespoon sour cream or just use water.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Teaching a Friend to Cook

It’s not often that I have an opportunity to give a cooking lesson.  Bart would rather eat a bowl of leftover plain rice than learn how to stir-fry some chicken to put over it.  But once a year or so my young friend Alayne drops in for the afternoon so I can show her how to make a few new dishes.  Then we eat the end results.

This time she wanted to know how to cook fish and bake a lemon meringue pie.  The Crunchy Baked Fish recipe she chose was easy. Click here for the recipe. (

Not so the Lemon Meringue Pie.  There are several ways to go wrong if you’re not concentrating.  One time I was so busy talking to a girlfriend while making this pie that I forgot to add the sugar to the beaten egg whites.  Only after I’d spooned them on top of the lemon filling and was putting the pie into the oven did I notice the meringue looked funny.  Luckily I was able to scrape the egg whites back into the bowl, beat in the sugar and return the now fluffy meringue to the top of the pie. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 44

When a recipe calls for butter, consider substituting olive or canola oil instead. Not only are these oils cheaper but also they’re healthier. Note: this won’t work when you’re baking, unless the recipe calls for the butter to be melted.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Question for Mom

Chocolate Cheesecake
If you open the oven door when a cake is baking, will it hurt the cake? --Emily F.

Possibly it could.  Keep the door shut until you can actually smell the cake—that means it has baked for at least 2/3 of its suggested baking time.  An open door lowers the temperature of the oven and can cause the cake to sink in the middle.  This is one reason most ovens have a light inside and a glass panel on the door.  If you want to see how a cake is coming along, switch on the light and look through the glass window. 

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 45

Crush nuts or make breadcrumbs out of toast by putting the nuts or toast into a self-seal bag and banging it with a rolling pin or side of a can.

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