Saturday, July 30, 2016

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

Thai Pasta Salad
Hoisin sauce is an Asian condiment, in some ways similar to ketchup.  I first came across it when I ordered Peking Duck at a restaurant.  This sauce, which is a deep, rich brown, appeared in a bowl when the duck was served.  The waiter advised spreading some on the accompanying pancakes and then adding slices of duck .  I was enchanted with the flavor of the sauce and assumed it was part of the Peking Duck recipe.

Years went by before I tasted hoisin sauce again.  Then I discovered it’s a key ingredient in Thai Chicken Pizza, one of the offerings at the California Pizza Kitchen chain.  In that instance hoisin sauce is mixed with peanut butter to make the ‘pizza’ sauce.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 59


If you can’t find beef pre-cut for stew or if the pre-cut beef looks too fatty, buy a chuck roast and cut it into small pieces yourself.  Remove as much fat and gristle as possible.  In some cases, a chuck roast will be cheaper than stewing meat but not always. 

Chuck Roast
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Monday, July 25, 2016

We Need a New Food Group

“If I have to eat another piece of broiled fish, I’ll scream.”  So announced my life-long friend, whose dinner plans now revolve around her husband’s diet. 

I know the feeling.  My husband wants the same thing for lunch every day—a tortilla filled with black beans, melted cheese, hummus, salsa and hot sauce.  On the bright side that’s one less meal I have to think about, but I don’t want to eat that day after day.

I’m hoping someone will discover a new food group, something totally different from the usual options.  A few years ago quinoa was the exciting go-to food.  Then I ate a quinoa salad made by someone who didn’t know to thoroughly rinse this grain before cooking to wash away the bitterness.  That killed my taste for quinoa.

Before that, tofu reigned for a while.  However, only some members of my family will eat it.  Oats had a short run, even winding up in Chocolate Chip Cookies, but I’m not a horse—even though I occasionally eat like one. 

Until something better comes along, I’m going to designate Homemade Pizza as my new food group.  I’ve loved it since high school, and it remains a Saturday night favorite at our house.  Bring on pepperoni, mushrooms, tomatoes, anchovies and extra onions.  It’s one meal we all like.  Maybe I’ll work on a diet version for my friend’s husband.

Unbaked Pizza
Basic Pizza – makes 2 10-inch pizzas  
Dough
2 1/4 teaspoons or 1 packet (1/4-ounce) dry yeast    
1 teaspoon brown sugar 
2/3 cup water (or more if needed) 
2 cups flour (or more if needed) 
2 tablespoons olive oil + more to grease the bowl 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
Toppings
1 jar pizza sauce (or make your own)  
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese 
1 small onion, thinly sliced (optional) 
4 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced (optional) 
Pepperoni slices (optional) 
Other toppings you prefer 
Prepare the Dough
Using a food processor or an electric mixer with a dough hook: 
Add the yeast and sugar to the bowl.  Then add 1/3 cup water and stir to dissolve.  (My food processor leaks if I add more water at this point.)  Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes.  
Add the flour, olive oil, salt and rest of the water and process or beat on slow speed to incorporate.  Add more flour as necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough stops being sticky and becomes smooth and satiny.  If the dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process or beat until it becomes smooth and satiny.  In a food processor, this takes about 1 minute; in a mixer 5 to 6 minutes.  
Mixing by hand: 
Pour the water into a large bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast and sugar into the water and stir to dissolve.  Add 1 1/2 cups of flour, olive oil and salt and mix with a wooden spoon.  
Sprinkle 1/4 cup flour onto a dry, clean work surface and carefully transfer the dough onto the flour.  Knead the dough by folding it over and over on itself while pushing it with your hands, for 8 to 10 minutes.  Gradually add more flour as necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough is smooth and satiny.  
Pour 1 teaspoon olive oil into a large bowl and spread around with a paper towel.  Be sure to grease the sides as well as the bottom.  Place the kneaded dough in the bowl and turn it over so that the top is greased.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, set aside on a counter and let rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.  
While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings. 
About 20 minutes before you are ready to make the pizzas, put a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and begin heating the oven to 505 degrees (or high).  If you don’t have a pizza stone, use a heavy-duty baking sheet. 
Sprinkle a pizza paddle or the back of a baking sheet with cornmeal or flour to prevent the pizza dough from sticking. 
Divide the pizza dough in half.  Stretch one of the halves into a rough circle about 10 inches in diameter and place on the paddle or baking sheet.  Pinch together any holes. 
Spread the pizza sauce over the pizza and sprinkle on 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese.  Add your toppings.  Slide the pizza off the paddle onto the pizza stone and bake for 8 minutes.  If you don’t have a pizza stone, use the baking sheet itself to bake the pizza. Repeat with second pizza.  Cut and serve immediately. 
NOTE: Pizza stones are available from $10-$35.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 64

Cornstarch (left), Flour (right)
If you want to cut down your calorie intake, use cornstarch instead of flour to thicken sauces.  If the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons flour (28 calories per tablespoon), you can substitute just 1 tablespoon cornstarch (30 calories per tablespoon).

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Question for Mom

My Favorite Gadgets (from bottom left: apple corer, meat thermometer, potato masher, nut cracker, egg slicer, 2 lid openers, cheese slicer, mini-grater, whisk)
Which kitchen gadgets do you use most often and which aren’t worth having?  --George G.

Some people like to have every gadget ever invented, just in case they might need it.  I used to be that person, until my drawers got too full and I could never find the gadget I wanted.  One day I shoved most of them into a box and retired them to the garage.  However, that did not solve the problem.  Friends and family members gave me gadgets as gifts. 

Your question prompted me to retrieve the box and also clean out my gadget drawer.

The picture above displays the gadgets I most use, including my grandmother’s potato masher.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 63

Lava Cookies (from "Chocolate on the Brain")
Remove freshly baked cookies from the baking sheet as soon as possible because the residual heat of the baking sheet will keep baking them.  

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tomato Glut


Is it possible to have too many home-grown tomatoes?  If you asked me in December, I would say NO.  But in July, my answer is YES. We get big bags of ripe tomatoes all through the summer from our gardener friend Kenny, who doesn’t cook but can’t resist planting them every year. 

Nothing tastes better than a tomato picked ripe from a vine, but how many a day can you eat?  I’ve already confessed to making blueberry jam, but I don’t think I want to start canning tomatoes.  I’ve thought about oven-drying some, but plum tomatoes are best for that procedure.  The ones on my counter are big and round.  Better to use them in dishes where you can appreciate their flavor. 

If the tomatoes are ripe and still firm, try Salade Nicoise.  With such key ingredients as green beans, tuna, potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, this French salad is hearty enough to be a main course.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce is another option.  Hot cooked noodles are added to chopped fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and goat cheese.

If you have access to fresh mozzarella, make Caprese Salad, which is basically slices of fresh tomatoes layered with slices of mozzarella and fresh basil leaves.  Packaged mozzarella will do in a pinch.

If the tomatoes are getting soft, Gazpacho, a cold tomato soup, is the perfect choice.  It’s easy if you have a blender.

Gazpacho – serves 4-6 (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!") 
2 pounds ripe tomatoes 
1 large cucumber 
1/4 cup olive oil 
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
6-8 drops hot pepper sauce 
Cold water, if needed 
1 scallion, cleaned and thinly sliced 
Remove and discard the tomato cores and skins.  Here are 2 ways to loosen the skins: microwave or pot of boiling water. Cut 1/2  of 1 tomato into 1/4-inch pieces and set aside.  You will add this to soup bowls just before serving.  Put the rest if the tomatoes into the blender pitcher.  
Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise and scrape out and discard the seeds.  Cut it into pieces and add to the pitcher.
Add the olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, garlic powder, black pepper and hot pepper sauce to the pitcher.  Blend briefly.  Stop before the resulting liquid is totally smooth. 
Refrigerate the soup in the pitcher or transfer it to a large bowl.  Refrigerate until needed.  The liquid will thicken as it sits. If it thickens too much, add some cold water, 1/4  cup at a time, and stir until it is the consistency that you like. 
Ladle the gazpacho into soup bowls and add some chopped tomatoes and scallions.  Serve immediately.
          For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Tomato Glut


Is it possible to have too many home-grown tomatoes?  If you asked me in December, I would say NO.  But in July, my answer is YES. We get big bags of ripe tomatoes all through the summer from our gardener friend Kenny, who doesn’t cook but can’t resist planting them every year. 

Nothing tastes better than a tomato picked ripe from a vine, but how many a day can you eat?  I’ve already confessed to making blueberry jam, but I don’t think I want to start canning tomatoes.  I’ve thought about oven-drying some, but plum tomatoes are best for that procedure.  The ones on my counter are big and round.  Better to use them in dishes where you can appreciate their flavor. 

If the tomatoes are ripe and still firm,

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 58




Repurpose leftovers.  I could only eat so much of the potato salad left over from my July 4th BBQ, so I put it in a colander and washed off all the dressing.  Luckily I had used red potatoes, which hold their shape.  I patted the potatoes dry and fried them.  A perfect new side dish! 

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Yet Another Way to Eat Chocolate

Chocolate Chip Bagels
I suppose it’s possible that chocolate chip bagels are not high on your bagel shopping list.  I understand.  I am a chocoholic, and even I would not like to have my smoked salmon on a chocolate chip bagel. 

Luckily a chocolate chip bagel doesn’t need any topping.  There’s something special about eating one fresh from the oven, when the yeasty bread taste sets off the warm, gooey chocolate.  Heating the bagel in a toaster will produce a similar effect.

Bread and chocolate have been an irresistible duo for me since I ate my first chocolate croissant.  Frankly, chocolate croissants are way too complicated to make, but making your own chocolate chip bagels is easy. So is eating them.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Question for Mom


What’s the best way to hard-boil eggs? -- Alice K.

Put the eggs in a small pot, cover with cold water and then a lid.  Bring the water to a boil (about 5 minutes) and cook the egg for 3 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water, covered, for 12 minutes.  Then drain and add cold water to the pot so the eggs will cool quickly.  Peel, wrap in plastic or place in a covered container and refrigerate until needed.

NOTE: The best way to peel hard-boiled eggs is to start by poking a hole in the egg shell before cooking the egg (click on this link).  The hole pierces the egg’s membrane.  So after the egg is cooked and you roll it around on a counter to create a web of cracks, the shell will just slip off.  Without the poke, the shell will often stick to the cooked egg. 

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 57

One Grilled Chicken Thigh with Noodles and Baby Bok Choy

Serve smaller meat portions and larger portions of vegetables and grains or pasta.

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Arborio Rice: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

(left) Arborio Rice     (right) Long-Grain Rice
If you’ve ever eaten Risotto, you’ve very likely eaten Arborio rice.  It’s an Italian short-grain rice that is creamy when cooked.  Arborio Rice is more expensive than long-grain rice and thus tends to be used for specialty dishes like Risotto and Rice Pudding, where its creaminess is valued.  You’ll find it at gourmet food stores and some groceries, as well as online.

I first tasted this rice at a fancy Italian wedding, where plates of Risotto were plopped down in front of 500 guests.  It was a poor choice for an appetizer because it arrived at the table cold and looked like a large lump of brown coal.  Everyone at my table picked at it before the waiters took it away.  I’d heard that Risotto was a real delicacy and decided I must have heard wrong.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 61


Here's a new way to remove tomato skins.  Microwave the tomato for 30 seconds.  Then cut out the stem end and pull away the peel with your fingers.

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