Monday, May 30, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 53

If you eat a lot of beans, use dried beans instead of canned. Contrary to what you may have heard, dried beans do not have to be soaked overnight before cooking. However, they do need to be cooked for about 2 hours. How hard is that? It just takes some planning.

Consider this: 1 cup dried beans equals about 2 15-ounce cans of cooked beans. A 1-pound package of dried beans costs anywhere between $1.25-$1.99. I recently saw them for 77 cents a pound, sold loose in a bin. That is considerably cheaper than 4 15-ounce cans of cooked black beans, which range in price from about 79 cents (on sale) to $1.25 per 15-ounce can. Stored in the refrigerator, beans you have cooked yourself will last for about a week.  Freeze any excess beans.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 57

To prevent a messy cake platter while icing your cake, cut a piece of wax paper into four 3-inch strips and place them in an open square on the platter.  Then place the cake or bottom layer of a layer cake in the middle of them, making sure the wax paper extends at least 1 inch beyond the edges of the cake.  The wax paper will catch icing drips.  When you have finished icing the cake, gently pull away and discard each strip of wax paper.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oh Tortilla! How I Love Thee!

Chicken Tikka Masala Tortilla
Tortillas came into my life when I moved to California a few decades ago.  Up until then I didn’t even know there were two types—flour and corn—let alone what to do with them.  Today flour tortillas have become a key ingredient in my diet, although not in the way you might think. 

I use flour tortillas as wraps.  I’ll wrap anything, be it scrambled eggs, tuna salad, black beans with cheese and hummus, shredded rotisserie chicken, pulled pork, sardines--even a tossed salad. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

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

Pancetta falls somewhere between ham and bacon.  Also known as Italian bacon, it’s made from pork belly that has been salt-cured.  It’s available in thin slices, like prosciutto, and also in tiny cubes.  I use it to flavor soups and pasta in the same way I would use bacon, although bacon is saltier and smokier—more in your face in terms of taste.  It is pronounced pan-CHET-ah.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 52

Do not buy chopped veggies from the salad bar unless you are seriously pressed for time. Prices are considerably higher than buying the actual vegetables and washing/trimming/cooking them yourself.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Overcoming My Biggest Disaster

The biggest disaster of my cooking career happened decades ago, and yet I still cringe when I think about it.  I didn’t poison anyone or even ruin a dinner, but I destroyed my budding self confidence in the kitchen. 

The item in question was banana bread. The cause of the problem?  I never figured it out.

I don’t recall where I found the recipe or why I even wanted to make banana bread.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Question for Mom

When a recipe says, “Add a pinch of salt,” how much is a pinch? -- Robert W.

A pinch is the amount that you can pick up between your thumb and forefinger, which is normally a little less than 1/8 teaspoon—unless you have a very large hand.

If the recipe says, “Add a dash of vanilla” or any other liquid, 3 or 4 drops will do.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 56

Never add flour or cornstarch directly to hot liquids because they will clump. Instead, dissolve these thickeners in a few tablespoons of cold water and then add the resulting mixture to the hot liquid.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Monty Python Skit Introduced Me to the World of Cheese

When I was growing up, cheese was not a laughing matter, although maybe it should have been.  My family ate only one kind: Velveeta.  We kept a large block of it in the fridge, and it suited our every need.  It melted well for grilled cheese sandwiches, and it also worked as a snack.

When I left home, I moved onto slices of processed cheese, neatly separated by paper or plastic.  Then at my first New York cocktail party, I spotted something white and furry looking, which turned out to be a French cheese called Brie.  It was the beginning of my adult relationship to this new food group.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Question for Mom

Clockwise from left: 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 1 stick butter sitting in 1/2 cup measure, 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/4 cup measure
What measurements are the most useful to know? --Deirdre G.

These four measurements will get you up and running in the kitchen:

3 teaspoons equals 1 tablespoon
4 tablespoons equals 1/4 cup
1 cup equals 8 ounces of liquid or 16 tablespoons of a dry ingredient like flour
1 stick butter equals 1/2 cup

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Is It Possible to Make Dinner for $1?

That used to be my goal when I got my first job and was just feeding myself.  Obviously that was quite a while ago, and it was a goal I could usually meet.  My dinner was not a lavish three-course meal, but it did include a main dish and at least one side dish. 

Most of my kitchen experiments were bland because I grew up with bland: meatloaf, hamburgers, boiled chicken and brisket   However, I did try to make Egg Foo Yung, the oddest dish I’d ever eaten before I left home.  It was exotic and strange yet somehow familiar.  My date had ordered it at a restaurant and gave me a bite.  I recognized an egg taste, but only later did I discover what it actually was--a Chinese omelet filled with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, sliced cabbage, scallions and water chestnuts.  Maybe there was some kind of meat in it.  I don’t remember.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 51

Heavy-duty soups can become a full meal.  Add cooked lentils, beans or chickpeas--all inexpensive sources of protein.  Garlic bread would make a good side.

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 55

With summer approaching and berries coming into season, here’s a quick and healthy dessert: a mixture of strawberries and blackberries.  What could be easier?

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

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

Nopales are cactus leaves, called paddles (calling to mind ping pong paddles without handles).  They are various shades of green and have bumps and thorns, which must be removed.  I often see nopales in Latino grocery stores in Southern California, where I live.  Curious about their taste, I decided to buy some at the bargain price of 3 pounds for 99 cents. 

The first person I consulted about how to cook nopales was the young woman at the checkout.  She told me that her mother boiled them to get all the ‘liquid’ out. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 54

Some sausages are sold fully cooked, but others contain raw meat. To make sure these are fully cooked, boil them in water for 10 minutes before browning them in a frying pan or on a grill.

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