Saturday, April 30, 2016

Childhood Food Memories

Whenever I talk to my lifelong friend Lynne, we usually find ourselves reminiscing about our teen years.  Those conversations remind me how good Lynne’s house always smelled when I’d stop by after school.  Her mother was a first-class baker, and she apparently spent many afternoons making bread, cakes, cookies and cloverleaf rolls.

Maybe Lynne’s mother, whom I will call Mrs. B, is the reason I was never daunted by yeast and or by baking in general.  I use several hundred pounds of flour every year and seldom botch what I bake.

Mrs. B’s recipe that I love best is her version of the classic Chex Party Mix.  This snack is an irresistible concoction of various Chex cereals, nuts and mini-pretzels mixed with butter, Worcestershire sauce and some spices.  It was the perfect accompaniment to summer evening bridge games with our friends.  I never excelled at bridge, but I could eat an entire bowl of this Party Mix at one sitting.
Chex Party Mix – 10-12 snack servings 
1 1/2 cups Corn Chex 
1 1/2 cups Rice Chex 
1 1/2 cups Wheat Chex 
1/2 cup shelled peanuts or mixed nuts 
1/2 cup mini-pretzels 
3 tablespoons butter 
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce 
3/4 teaspoon seasoned salt (see NOTE below) 
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
1/4 chili powder 
1/4 teaspoon onion powder 
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (omit or use less if you don’t like spicy food) 
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. 
Combine the cereals, nuts and mini-pretzels in a large bowl. 
Melt the butter in a small pot, turn off the heat and add the Worcestershire Sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, chili powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper (if using).  Stir to combine and then pour over the cereal mixture. 
Spread the mixture onto a large cookie sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the coating has baked onto the cereal, nuts and mini-pretzels.  Stir after 30 minutes to prevent burning. 
Let cool.  Store in an airtight container--if you haven’t eaten it all. 
NOTE: To make your own seasoned salt, combine the following ingredients in a cup: 
1 tablespoon salt 
1 teaspoon sugar 
3/4 teaspoon paprika 
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
1/2 teaspoon onion powder 
1/2 teaspoon turmeric 
Store unused seasoned salt in an airtight container.
          For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 53

Here’s a shortcut when making garlic bread from French bread– slice the bread horizontally and spoon on the butter/garlic mixture.  Wrap tightly in foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  When ready to serve it, unwrap and slice vertically into 1-inch pieces.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 50

Leftovers in My Refrigerator: Stuffed Mushrooms, Penne, Candied Yam
Analyze your leftovers. If you consistently have 1-portion servings left, either reduce the amount of food you are cooking or increase it enough so that you can freeze half for a future meal.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

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

Mussels from Mom's Kitchen
I started loving mussels when I lived in London and could buy fresh ones at the fishmonger’s stall in the Tachbrook Street Market, near Victoria Station. This was before mussel farming began in earnest, so the mussels I got were wild ones, often with barnacles attached to their shells.

Cleaning the mussels took ages and sometimes required a hammer and flat-head screwdriver to knock off the barnacles.  They had to go because they were likely to be full of sand.  I also had to yank out the mussels’ beards—a bunch of threads that help the mussel attach to an underwater surface.  That took brute strength. 

You really have to like mussels to put yourself through the prep.  Cooking them, however, is a snap.  All you need are a pot and lid plus some onion, garlic, parsley and white wine.  In 10 minutes you’re ready to eat. 

Raw mussels may be hard to find.  The ones flown in from New Zealand are especially tasty, but mussels bought from any reputable store should be fine.  Keep them in the refrigerator either in a bowl of water or wrapped loosely in paper—not tightly wrapped in plastic because they will suffocate.  Aim to eat them within 24 hours. 

If all this seems too complicated, consider flying to Paris to visit a chain of restaurants called Léon de Bruxelles, which specializes in Moules Frites (Mussels and French Fries). I ate an enormous bowl of Moules Marinieres, along with a side of fries, there not long ago for $25. 

Mussels from Léon de Bruxelles
Moules Marinieres - serves 2 
2 pounds mussels in their shells 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/4 cup finely chopped onions 
1 tablespoon chopped garlic 
2/3 cup white wine 
1/2 cup chopped parsley 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1/2 loaf French bread 
French fries (optional) 
An hour or two before cooking, put the mussels in a bowl of cold water in the sink so that they will open and any sand inside the shells will float out and settle at the bottom.  Check each mussel to see if it’s alive by tapping its open shell.  It should close when touched.  If it doesn’t, it’s dead and should be discarded.  Also discard mussels with broken shells.  If any shells feel very heavy, check to make sure they are not simply full of sand or mud.   
Remove the mussels’ beards and scrub the shells. 
Begin heating the oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion has begun to soften.  Add the wine, parsley, salt and black pepper and bring to a boil over high heat.  
Drain the cleaned mussels and add them to the pot. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pot every minute or so.  Check to see if the mussels have opened.  If they haven’t, cook for another minute.  If they have, serve in soup bowls with some hot liquid from the pot poured on top.  Offer French bread and French fries (if desired).  
          For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 52

Corn on the cob gets tough if it’s overcooked. Add ears of corn to a pot of unsalted boiling water, cover and cook for about 2 minutes.  Remove from the water with tongs and serve with butter and salt on the side.  I prefer removing the husks before cooking because there’s less folderol at the table.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stuffing a Tomato

When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, fresh tomatoes were for eating whole or cut up in salads.  Somehow cooking them didn’t occur to my mother.  If she wanted tomato sauce, she opened a can or she used ketchup. 

Imagine my surprise when I went to Greece as a high school exchange student and had my first Stuffed Tomato.  Everything about it was exotic—the herbs and spices, the crunchy breadcrumbs on top drizzled with something called olive oil? 

Okay, I was 16 and pretty ignorant about cooking, but that summer in Greece changed everything.  For one thing, I gained 15 pounds because I liked the food so much.  More importantly, I realized that I could have an impact on what I ate.  If I wanted a Stuffed Tomato, a Stuffed Grape Leaf or some Taramasalata (a Greek dip made from fish roe), I could learn to make it myself.

During the next few years I had many disasters and occasional triumphs in the kitchen.  I have never made a decent Stuffed Grape Leaf, and only once did my Taramasalata work out.  However, I can make a killer Stuffed Tomato. 

It helps to have tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, but a spicy stuffing can work wonders.  I tend to use Roma (plum) tomatoes, which are less watery and cook faster because they are small.  Also, you can eat more without appearing greedy.

Uncooked Stuffed Tomatoes
Cooked Stuffed Tomatoes
Stuffed Tomatoes – makes 6 
Olive oil 
6 medium tomatoes 
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs 
3 scallions, thinly sliced 
2 tablespoons chopped parsley 
1 tablespoon chopped garlic 
1 teaspoon za’atar spice (or 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 teaspoon ground
          thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt) – see NOTE below 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease one 6-cup muffin pan with oil and set aside. 
Slice a very thin sliver from the stem end of each tomato so it will stand up straight. Hollow out each tomato with a spoon, saving the insides of the tomatoes for another use.  Set the tomato shells into the muffin pan. 
Combine the breadcrumbs, scallions, parsley, garlic, za’tar (or other spices) and black pepper in a bowl.  Stuff the tomatoes with this mixture and pour 1 teaspoon olive oil over each tomato’s breadcrumb mixture. 
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to slump.  Serve immediately or let cool and serve at room temperature. 
NOTE: Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture available at gourmet food stores and online.  It traditionally includes thyme, toasted sesame seeds, salt and sumac.  If you have never used za’atar and don’t want to buy it, forget about the sumac and instead combine 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  The whole idea is to give an interesting flavor to the breadcrumbs. 
           For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Question for Mom

Clockwise from left: Coriander Seeds, Cilantro, Ground Coriander
What’s the difference between coriander and cilantro?--Steve D.
Coriander is the name of the plant.  The leaves, commonly known either as fresh coriander or cilantro (the Spanish word for coriander), are sold in bunches like parsley.  Cilantro is a popular ingredient in Mexican and Indian recipes. 

The coriander plant’s small round seeds are called coriander.  The seeds can be used whole or ground up and sold as a powder.  The powder tastes considerably different from the leaves, which have a lemony flavor. 

I was surprised to discover that the leaves lose a lot of their strong flavor when cooked. I know this because I decided to try a legume noodle soup recipe developed by Israeli/British chef Yotam Ottolenghi and published in The Guardian that calls for 2 cups of chopped cilantro. That’s a lot of cilantro.  But the soup, which also features chick peas, lima beans, spinach and lots of onions and garlic, is mellow and well worth the considerable effort it takes to make. 

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 49

To crisp up stale cereal, spread it out on a pie plate or cookie sheet and bake it for 10 minutes at 250 degrees. Let cool before storing it in an airtight container.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Another Reason to Eat Dark Chocolate

1-Person Serving
Not that I need a reason, but here is an excellent one to justify my daily intake of dark chocolate.  According to a study published last December in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine, eating dark chocolate may improve endurance performance.  Researchers at Kingston University in England tested this theory on recreational cyclists by giving them 1 1/2 squares (1.4 ounces) of dark chocolate.  Their endurance improved, possibly due to the effects of an antioxidant in the chocolate called epicatechin. 

More research needs to be done.  For instance, researchers did not test people who ate chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, fudge or chocolate ice cream.   I’ll volunteer for the follow-up study.  I think I qualify because I have recently begun going to the gym three days a week, usually after eating some dark chocolate.  Maybe I’ll up my intake and see if I can do more leg lifts.

To test out the research yourself, here’s a very easy recipe made almost entirely of dark chocolate. 
Fruit with Melted Chocolate – serves 6 in moderation 
A selection of fruit could include: 
  1 pound strawberries, washed and stems removed if desired 
  2 navel oranges, peeled and separated into sections or 
  2 tangerines, peeled and separated into sections and seeds removed 
  1 banana, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch slices  
  1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips or a 6-ounce semisweet chocolate bar  
Prepare the fruit and pat it dry with a paper towel.  If it’s covered with juice, the chocolate won’t adhere well.  Place it on a serving platter and set aside. 
Here are 2 ways to melt the chocolate: 
1) stove-top: In a small, heavy pot: melt the chocolate over very low heat, stirring continuously.  When most of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and stir until all the chocolate is melted. 
2) microwave: if using a chocolate bar, break it into small pieces and put it in a microwave-safe bowl.  If using chocolate chips, just add them to the bowl.  Microwave for 20 seconds, remove and stir.  The chocolate has probably not yet begun to melt so microwave again for 15 seconds.  Remove and stir.  Melting should have begun.  Continue microwaving for 15-second periods and keep stirring until the chocolate is just about melted.  It will be smooth and shiny.   
Spoon the chocolate onto plates and pass the platter of fruit.   Provide forks and napkins.
           For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 51

According to a friend from India, adding spices directly to oil or butter while it’s heating intensifies their flavor. It works for me.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Cipolline Onions: What Are and How Do I Cook Them?

Somehow I managed to miss the existence of Cipolline onions until yesterday, when I stumbled across a bag of them at my local grocery store.  These onions are tiny, although not quite as tiny as pearl onions. 

They’re cute the way baby carrots or other miniature vegetables are cute.  They taste stronger than scallions and need about 45 minutes of roasting in the oven to be soft enough to enjoy.

They’re pronounced chih-poh-LEE-nee.  Cipolla is the Italian name for onion, and Cipolline means small onion.  

Roast Cipollini – serves 4 
1/2 pound (8 ounces) cipolline onions 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 
Black pepper 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
Scrape the papery skin off the onions with a sharp knife.  Or boil them in water for 1 minute and then pull off the skin.  The first layer of the onion may also come off.  Trim the ends.  
Put the onions in a small ovenproof container or cake pan.  Pour the oil and vinegar over them and shake the pan to coat the onions.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
Roast, uncovered, stirring the onions occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until they can be easily pierced with a fork.  Serve immediately.
          For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Does Size Matter?

I’ve seen pictures of potatoes the size of Volkswagons, but only recently have I stumbled across potatoes large enough to feed six people.  It was one of the unexpected benefits of not paying attention while I was shopping. 

Russet potatoes were on my list.  Twenty-pound bags were on sale for $5, so I heaved one into my cart without really looking at what I was buying.  Hours later when the dinner hour was approaching, I reached inside and pulled out a 2-pounder.

I didn’t have time to bake it.  I’m sure it would have taken at least 2 hours, so I decided to make Greek Roast Potatoes.  Peeling this junior football was awkward because it was so heavy.  Cutting it into 2-inch chunks required brute strength.

But eating the end result was an unexpected joy.  Never have I had such a fresh potato.  It almost made me want to grow my own.  For this recipe, normal-size potatoes work almost as well.  If you don’t want to peel the potatoes, use red-skinned ones and scrub them thoroughly.

Greek Roast Potatoes – serves 4-6 (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"
1 giant or 3 large Russet potatoes (total weight about 2 pounds) 
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil 
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1 teaspoon dried oregano 
Black pepper 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  
Peel the potatoes and cut each into 2-inch pieces.  Put them in a medium-size pot and cover with water.  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook, covered for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes have partly softened.  Drain and set aside. 
Put the oil and lemon juice in an ovenproof dish or baking pan.  Add the potatoes and stir them around so they are completely coated with the oil mixture.  Sprinkle with lemon juice, oregano, salt and black pepper. 
Bake uncovered for 45-60 minutes, stirring about every 15 minutes so the potatoes will brown more evenly.  They are done when they can be easily pierced with a fork. 
          For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Friday, April 8, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 48

Meat used to be the most expensive item in a meal, but now fresh vegetables, especially the organic ones, push prices up. Buy only as much organic produce as you know you will be able to use.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 50

     When cleaning strawberries, use the tip of a potato peeler to dig out the stem.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

When Is It Worth Spending a Lot of Time in the Kitchen?

Vegetarian Black Bean Soup
Some people would say “Never,” but I find cooking relaxing—unless it’s not going well. 

Recently I spent more hours than I care to admit making three large chocolate desserts for a bean-to-bar chocolate tasting (more on that in a future post).  It was worth it to me for many reasons, but mostly because I felt competent doing something most people I know would be afraid to try.  My circle of friends does not include professional chefs, although a close friend used to work in a test kitchen.

I make pizza just about every Saturday night because three teenagers are at the table and congenially demand it.  It’s worth the effort because they love pizza – and so do I.  There are no shortcuts when making real pizza dough, but hey…how often do teenagers willingly talk to you while waiting for the next pizza to come out of the oven?

Yesterday I was moved to make Black Bean Soup because my husband was laid low with allergies.  He has fond memories of his mother’s version of this soup, so I decided to cheer him up with some.  It’s not difficult, but it takes a few hours if you use dried black beans.  And that’s without soaking them overnight first—a process I have determined is not necessary.  Dried black beans taste better than canned, and they’re economical.  One pound of dried beans makes enough soup for 10-12 people.

Not only was this soup cheap to make but also it worked as an allergy cure.  Today he’s out of his sickbed and off playing softball. 
Vegetarian Black Bean Soup – serves 10-12 
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil 
2 large onions, roughly chopped 
2 sticks celery, thinly sliced 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1 tablespoon flour 
2 teaspoons salt 
1 bay leaf 
1 teaspoon chili powder 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper  
16 ounces (1 pound) dried black beans 
6-8 cups water 
2 lemons, thinly sliced 
Put the oil in a large pot, turn the heat to medium and add the onions, celery and garlic.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the flour, salt, bay leaf, chili powder and black pepper and stir until fully combined. 
Rinse the black beans and add to the vegetable mixture.  Add 6 cups water and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat to low and cook, covered for about 2 hours, or until the beans are very soft.  Check every 30 minutes to make sure the water has not boiled away.  If the mixture looks dry, add 1 cup water.  
When the beans are soft, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.  Remove and discard the bay leaf.  Process the mixture in batches in a blender until it is close to smooth.  If you prefer chunkier soup, process just briefly.  Return the soup to the pot.  If it seems too thick, add more water.  If it’s too thin, cook uncovered over low heat for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
When ready to serve, reheat the soup, ladle it into bowls and add 1 slice of lemon per bowl.
           For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 49

Yellow Lentil Soup
If your soup is too watery, heat it over medium-high heat for a few minutes while constantly stirring. This works well for cream soups. To prevent overcooking soups featuring cut-up vegetables, pasta or rice, scoop most of them out and set aside. Then boil the broth for several more minutes.

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