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 several weeks.

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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.

Spaghetti Carbonara
Spaghetti Carbonara – serves 4 
4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes 
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
2 eggs, beaten 
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese + more for serving 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper  
1 pound cooked spaghetti 
The sauce can wait for the spaghetti, but in this recipe the hot, cooked spaghetti can’t wait for the sauce.  So prepare the sauce first. 
Put the pancetta in a wok or large frying pan and cook over medium-high heat until it starts to turn brown and crispy.  Remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and let it drain on paper towels.  
Add the oil to the melted fat left in the pan.  Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds over medium-high heat until the garlic sizzles.  Remove from the heat and set aside. 
Beat the eggs in a bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Set aside. 
Cook the spaghetti.  Before draining it, fill a 1/2 cup measure with the spaghetti water and set aside. 
Reheat the oil/garlic mixture in the wok or frying pan.  Drain the spaghetti and add it to the hot oil.  Then immediately add the egg mixture and stir thoroughly so that the egg cooks and clings to the noodles.  If the mixture seems too dry, add some of the leftover spaghetti water.  Stir in the pancetta and serve immediately. Offer extra Parmesan cheese. 
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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. Maybe my mother had some over-ripe bananas she wanted to use up, and I voIunteered to find a way.  I was about 12, and it was my first solo outing in the kitchen.

I followed the recipe exactly and put the banana bread into the oven to bake.  The problem occurred when the timer rang.  As directed, I tested the banana bread by poking it with a skewer to see if it was done.  The skewer had uncooked batter sticking to it, so obviously it wasn’t ready.  Nor was it ready 10 minutes, 20 minutes or even 60 minutes later. 

For years afterwards, I refused to eat banana bread on principle.  Then someone offered me a slice of Chocolate Banana Bread. I was woo’d by the chocolate and won by the taste.  By then I was no longer a cooking novice, and I quickly figured out how to “chocolatize” a basic banana bread recipe.

I added cocoa and chocolate chips and took away the liquid.  Ah, maybe there was too much liquid in my long-ago banana bread.  Maybe it was the recipe’s fault. 

As a pre-teen, I automatically blamed myself for the disaster.  Now maybe I can blame somebody else.
Chocolate Banana Bread – serves 12-16 (adapted from Chocolate on the Brain
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature + more for greasing 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour + 1 teaspoon for dusting pan 
1 cup sugar 
3 large or 4 small ripe bananas 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
Cut a piece of wax paper to fit the bottom of the pan.  This makes the banana bread easier to remove.  Lightly rub the paper and sides of the pan with butter.  Add 1 teaspoon flour and swirl it around to coat the buttered surfaces. Set aside. 
Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until creamy.  Add the bananas, eggs and vanilla and process again. 
Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and process briefly.  Add the chocolate chips and pulse 10-15 times, or until they are combined with the batter. 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake for about 1 hour, or until the bread pulls away from the sides and a cake tester, skewer or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. 
Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.  Loosen the bread by sliding a knife around the sides of the pan.  Transfer the bread to a cooling rack.  When cool, remove the wax paper from the bottom and wrap the loaf in foil or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until needed.
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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. 

Watching MontyPython’s Cheese Shop Skit truly introduced me to the world of cheese.  I’d never heard of Camembert, Pont L’Veque, Red Leicester, Stilton or dozens of others until they came trippingly off John Cleese’s tongue. 

It took a trip to Paris to make me realize cheese could be an entire course served at the end of a meal, often as a substitute for dessert.  Every French restaurant we visited offered a Cheese Board, from which diners could select several portions. 

This leads me to Raclette, a semi-hard cheese that’s a comfort food in Switzerland after a hand day’s skiing.  Because I do not have an expensive Raclette grill, I had to improvise how to melt the cheese.  But if you’re flexible in your cooking, you too can enjoy this unusual meal. 

Thinly Sliced Raclette Cheese

Melting Raclette Cheese

Raclette – serves 4 as a light dinner, accompanied by a salad 
1 1/2 pounds baby potatoes 
Black pepper 
1 pound Raclette, Gruyère or Fontina cheese, sliced into 1/4-inch slices and rind removed 
1 jar gherkins (baby pickles) or olives 
1 jar pickled onions (optional) 
1/2 pound sliced prosciutto 
Sliced French bread 
Cook the potatoes in a medium pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes, or until they can be easily pierced by a sharp knife.  Remove from the heat, drain and season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside to keep warm. 
While the potatoes are cooking, set out the gherkins or olives, pickled onions (if using), prosciutto and French bread on 4 dinner plates and put on the table.  
Place the slices of cheese in a large cast iron frying pan and heat the pan over medium-high heat.  The cheese will begin to soften almost immediately.  When all the cheese is soft, remove the pan from the heat. Place it on a trivet or heat protector in the middle of the table and provide several large spoons. 
Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and set on the table.  Let diners top their potatoes with several dollops of runny cheese directly from the pan.  If the cheese solidifies in the pan before it is all eaten, reheat the pan for a few seconds.
          For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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.

That first year on my own I tried making Egg Foo Yung, using the recipe in my new Joy of Cooking.  Judging by the notes I wrote in the margin, it was not a success.

But I was on the right track for making a meal for under $1.  Eggs may be the cheapest protein in the supermarket.  Today a plain two-egg omelet can cost about 35 cents.  Add a bit of cheese, part of an onion and a few mushrooms and you’re up to 75 cents.  Throw in a baked potato and you’ve reached your $1.

(Clockwise from left): Chopped Onions, Cheddar Cheese, Mushrooms

(Top): Cooked Mushrooms  (Bottom): Cooked Onions
Easy Two-Egg Omelet – serves 1 (adapted from Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room)   
2 large eggs  
Dash salt  
Dash black pepper  
1 teaspoon olive oil  
Possible Fillings:   
1 cup mushrooms, sliced and sauté
1/4 cup onion, chopped and sautéd  
1/4 cup ham or leftover meat, chopped 
1/4 cup grated cheddar or jack cheese  
If you plan to have a filling, prepare it before making the omelet.  
Choose a frying pan at least 7 inches wide at the bottom, preferably with slopping sides so that you can slide the omelet right out onto the plate.  It’s important that the omelet doesn’t stick while it’s cooking, so use a nonstick pan if you have one and be prepared to slide a metal spatula under the omelet as it cooks to keep it from sticking.  
Break the eggs into a small bowl and mix lightly with a fork just until the whites and yolks are combined.  Add dashes of salt and pepper.  
Heat the oil in the frying pan over medium-high heat.  Tip the pan so that the oil covers all the inner surfaces.  When you think the pan is hot enough, flick in a bit of water.  If it sizzles, the pan is ready.  
Pour the eggs into the pan.  They will begin to cook immediately.  Use a metal spatula to lift the edge of the already cooked portion to permit the uncooked egg to run underneath.  Tip the pan to speed this process.  All this should happen in about 30 seconds.  
When the top of the omelet is still slightly runny, sprinkle on any filling.  Then fold the omelet over on itself, using a metal spatula, to make a half-moon shape.  Transfer it to a plate and serve immediately.

For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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. 

I next consulted the blog of Mexican food expert Pati Jinich: It told me how to clean and cook fresh nopales.  It’s simple but time-consuming, and unless you wear rubber gloves you are likely to impale your fingers on the thorns. 

Basically you need to use a potato peeler to dig out/peel away the bumps and thorns from both sides of the nopales.  Then cut away about 1/4 inch of the edges and 1/2-inch of the stem.  After that, cut each nopale into 1-inch squares and fry the squares in a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan for 2-3 minutes.  Then lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and let the pieces cook for about 10 minutes.  During that time the ‘liquid,’ which is similar to the goo that comes out of okra, will appear on the bottom of the pan.  Remove the lid and continue cooking for a few more minutes until this ‘liquid’ evaporates. 

You are left with a pan full of soft, spicy green squares that make an excellent addition to stuffed tortillas, salads and soups. 

If all this seems like too much trouble, you can buy jars of pre-cleaned and cut up nopales in some grocery stores.  But where’s your sense of adventure?

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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