Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 69

If you forgot to defrost the fish fillets you planned to eat for dinner, don’t despair.  Just cook them frozen but for 50% longer.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Crazy Combinations That Work

I discovered my first crazy food combo in middle school when I ate a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  For some unknown reason my parents did not eat peanut butter, so the peanut butter itself was quite eye-opening.  Mixing it with chocolate seemed heavenly.

My second crazy food combo also involved peanut butter--a plate of sliced bananas with a layer of peanut butter in between the slices.  They looked like sticky hors d’oeuvres.  I never got to taste them because the little kid who invented this combo in my kitchen was 4 years old and very possessive of his food.  He left me nothing to taste.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Question for Mom

Is there any way to make chocolate cake have stronger chocolate flavor?  Sharon A.

Yes.  If the recipe calls for milk, substitute an equal amount of water instead.  You will be surprised how much richer the chocolate flavor will be.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 68

Broccoli (left), Pureed Broccoli (right)
If you overcook vegetables, puree them in a blender or food processor with a bit of butter and say that was your intention all along.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Blast from the 1970's

No wonder someone donated “Chafing Dish & Fondue Cook Book” to my Friends of the Library sale.   Published by Sunset Magazine in 1973, the 80-page book focuses on a style of eating that few people seek out today.

Fondue pots are considered quaint, and chafing dishes are more likely to turn up at garage sales than on somebody’s table.  In case you’re not sure what a chafing dish is,

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Artichoke: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

Fresh Artichoke
The artichoke has been around since Ancient Greece flourished, but it’s still a mystery to many.

Technically an artichoke is a thistle.  Some actually have thorns on the outer edge of each leaf.  Be careful not to stab yourself while handling them.  Cut off the thorns with scissors.

To cook an artichoke, boil or steam it first for about 35-50 minutes, depending on size, and then set it upside down in a colander on the sink to drain and cool.  Too much boiling makes everything mushy, but too little means the edible parts will be tough to chew.  An artichoke is ready to eat when a thick bottom leaf can be pulled off without using force, and the ‘meaty’ part of the leaf is soft.

Cooked Artichoke
As for the stem, you can leave it on while cooking since the inside is edible.  If you serve an artichoke whole, cut off the stem and serve it on the side.  If you serve half an artichoke, leave the stem on.  It makes for a dramatic presentation. 

There probably should be etiquette lessons on how to eat an artichoke.  My favorite way to eat one is whole – or if it’s very large I’ll cut it in half.  If you tackle the whole artichoke, set it upright on a plate, pull off one of the outermost leaves near the bottom and dip the edge of the leaf into a small bowl of melted butter, hollandaise sauce or vinaigrette dressing.  Put it in your mouth and scrape off the ‘meaty’ part off with your teeth.  Discard and start on the next leaf.

Note 'choke' (fibrous area) just below leaves
Continue until you reach the inner part of the artichoke, where the dreaded ‘choke’ lies.  The ‘choke’ is a mass of inedible fibers that you need to cut out or scrape away and discard.  Just below these fibers is the heart, which is the best part of the artichoke.  Dip it into the sauce.  You can do the same with the stem.

'Choke' removed
Some people like to remove the ‘choke’ and stuff their artichokes with breadcrumbs or ground meat, but to me that dilutes the artichoke flavor—plus it’s a lot more work.

Artichoke hearts are sold in cans or frozen.  You can also buy them in jars, marinated in oil.  But none of these options really taste like fresh artichokes.

How to buy a fresh artichoke: Some artichokes have purplish leaves while others are pure green.  Sizes vary—from baseballs to softballs.  Avoid artichokes with brown, withered leaves.  The artichoke pictured here is also called a globe artichoke.  There is another vegetable called a Jerusalem artichoke, also known as a sunchoke, which looks more like a skinny, knobby potato or a piece of fresh ginger.  It’s handled in a different way altogether.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Question for Mom

How do I pick a ripe watermelon?  - Stephen D. 

Ask the produce manager at the store to pick one for you.  If no manager or knowledgeable staff is available, buy a watermelon that’s already been cut.  The assumption is that whoever in the produce department cut it would only cut a ripe one.  Or, thump various watermelons with your thumb and finger and find one that sounds hollow.  A hollow sound indicates that the watermelon is ripe. 

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 67

If your recipe calls for a lot of eggs, break them one at a time in a cup and add each egg individually to the mixture.  This way, if an egg is bad (it happens), you won’t ruin what you’re making.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Mafia and Manicotti

I recently discovered that my Western Pennsylvania hometown was a hotbed of Mafia activity when I was growing up.  I’d heard vague rumors but had no inkling of specifics until I came across a book called “Little Chicago: A History of Organized Crime in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.”

All I can remember is that this small mill town on the Allegheny River was home to many different nationalities.  Every summer I looked forward to attending the annual Polish Picnic, Syrian Picnic, Greek Picnic and Italian Picnic, where I got to sample wonderful homemade foods I never ate at home. 

After reading “Little Chicago” and learning that Catoris Candy Store, which I occasionally visited for a candy fix, was the location of one mobster’s office, I began thinking about my favorite ethnic foods.  Suddenly I had a great craving for Manicotti, which I ate regularly when my family went out for dinner.  Because Manicotti is basically the Italian version of Blintzes, I adapted my Blintzes recipe to make it.
Manicotti – serves 6- 8 
1 1/2 cup flour 
1 1/4 cup milk + more if needed 
3 large eggs 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon oil + more if needed
1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) ricotta cheese 
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese + more to pass at the table 
1 large egg 
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 
1 24-ounce can or jar spaghetti sauce 
First make the pancakes.  Combine the flour, milk, eggs and salt in a large bowl and whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Don’t worry about a few small lumps. 
Add the oil to a large, heavy frying pan (cast iron or non-stick, if possible) and begin heating over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, pour 2-3 tablespoons batter into the frying pan and, holding the pan’s handle, tip the pan at different angles to spread the thick liquid into a rough 5-inch circle.  It’s okay if the pancakes are different sizes.  
You will need to move quickly because the frying pan is hot and the batter will begin cooking.  It may take you several tries before you master this technique.  You probably won’t need to add additional oil to the frying pan unless the pancakes begin to stick.  
Continue making pancakes and stacking them on a plate until you’ve used up the batter.  Set them aside while you make the filling. 
Combine the ricotta, grated Romano, egg and parsley in a large bowl and stir thoroughly. 
To bake the Manicotti, use your largest baking pan or 2 smaller pans.  Pour 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce in the bottom of the large pan or 1/4 cup spaghetti sauce into the bottom of each smaller pan.  Set the pan(s) aside. 
Begin preheating the oven to 350 degrees. 
Place 1 pancake on a plate and add 1 or 2 tablespoons ricotta mixture, depending on the size of the pancake.  Roll the pancake into a tube shape and place it, seam-side down, in the baking pan.  Repeat this process until you have used up all the pancakes and ricotta mixture. 
Spread the rest of the spaghetti sauce over the filled pancakes.  Cover the baking pan(s) with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Serve immediately with extra Romano cheese.
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Friday, August 12, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 66

To make plain rice more colorful, stir 1/2 teaspoon turmeric into 3 cups hot cooked rice before serving. 

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 60

When buying red, yellow or orange bell peppers, look for pre-packaged bags of small peppers.  These bags often are cheaper than buying several full-size bell peppers and will last for more than a week if refrigerated. Slice up a few and add them raw to salads and stir-fries.

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

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

Kippers are herrings that have been salted and then smoked.  Sometimes you can buy them whole, but usually you will find them sold as boneless filets in cans near the canned tuna, sardines and clams.  They are also available online and might be labeled ‘Kipper Snacks” or “Kippered Herring.”  Canned kippers, which are fully cooked, are modestly priced.

I first discovered kippers when I lived in London.  I became a fan and would buy them whenever I saw them at my local fish stall or grocery store.  Fresh kippers require a quick broiling (2-3 minutes per side) with a little melted butter on top.

I’m sure your life would be just as full and interesting without eating or even knowing about kippers, but I’m telling you about them because they are distinctive in taste and make an excellent emergency meal taste.  Try my version of Kedgeree--an Indian curried rice dish—which is as an exotic cousin to Fried Rice. 
Kedgeree – serves 2 
2/3 cup uncooked rice 
2 large eggs 
2 teaspoons olive oil (divided use) 
1 medium onion, chopped 
2 teaspoons curry powder 
1/2 teaspoon turmeric 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
1 can Kipper Snacks, including liquid from can 
Handful fresh coriander leaves, cut roughly into pieces 
Cook the rice and let cool, or use leftover rice.  Set aside until needed. 
Beat the eggs in a small bowl.  Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large frying pan or wok.  When the oil is hot, pour the beaten eggs into the pan and make an omelet.  Here are directions.  
Remove the omelet, put it on a plate and set aside.  Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to the pan and, when hot, add the onion.  Cook, stirring for about 3 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften.  Add the curry powder, turmeric, salt and pepper and stir until dissolved.  Mix in the rice and stir well. 
Add the kippers, along with their liquid, and break them into small pieces.  Add the omelet, and break it into small pieces.  Stir thoroughly and continue heating until hot.  Sprinkle on the fresh coriander leaves, stir to incorporate and serve immediately.
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Friday, August 5, 2016

Question for Mom

Any suggestions on what to do with an excess of peaches? –Molly R.

How about turning them into a quick dessert?  Spiced Peaches take less than 10 minutes to make.

Spiced Peaches – serves 2-4 
2 large ripe but firm peaches 
1 tablespoon brown sugar 
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg 
2 teaspoons butter  
Cook whole peaches in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Cut in half, remove the stone and pull off and discard the skin.  Put the peach halves in a broiling pan, cut side up.    
Place an oven rack 4 inches from the broiling unit and begin preheating the broiler to high. 
Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.  Fill each depression with the sugar mixture and then top with 1/2 teaspoon butter. 
Place the broiling pan under the broiler and broil for about 2 minutes, or until the butter has melted and the peaches are hot.  Serve immediately, 1 or 2 halves per person.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Do You Have Memories Related to Food?

I was 9 when my future was sealed.  I found a stack of discarded American Home magazines in a neighbor’s trash.  I brought them home to examine them, because until then the only magazine I knew was Reader’s Digest.

American Home, which merged with Redbook in 1977, didn’t have a page of jokes, but it was filled with recipes and accompanying pictures. I don’t think I’d ever seen a real recipe before since I didn’t pay attention to what my mother did when she disappeared into the kitchen. 

My grandmother also cooked, but whenever I visited her I was more interested in her ice box.  It actually had a big block of ice sitting on the top.  This, of course, was the Dark Ages. I vaguely remember that one day the whole contraption was gone and a shiny new fridge had taken its place.

My grandmother’s repertoire was mostly boiled chicken, boiled vegetables, boiled potatoes and noodle pudding, which I’m pretty sure involved boiled noodles.  I still have one of her big pots, in which I boil my own noodles.

Needless to say, none of the dishes photographed in American Home looked even vaguely familiar to me.  As I clipped out the recipes and stored them in a little wooden box, I was determined that one day I would make them.

A dozen years passed before I opened up that box and picked out a recipe to try.  I can’t remember what it was or how it came out, but it was the beginning of my love of cooking. I still have the box, and a few of those recipes still look appealing.  Also in that box I found my grandmother’s vintage Potato Kugel recipe.  I tried it last night, and it was surprisingly good.

Potato Kugel – serves 4 as a side dish 
2 tablespoons butter 
1 large onion, grated 
2 large eggs 
4 medium potatoes, grated 
1/2 cup flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
2 teaspoons olive or canola oil (divided use) 
Begin heating the oven to 350 degrees. 
Heat the butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the grated onion, turn down the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the onions get very soft and begin to brown. Turn off the heat and set aside. 
Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Add the grated potatoes and mix so they are well coated.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt and black pepper and mix thoroughly.  Stir in the cooked onions. 
Add 1 teaspoon oil to a 1-quart casserole dish and spread it around the bottom and sides with a paper towel.  Transfer the onion/potato mixture to the casserole.  Drizzle 1 teaspoon oil onto the top and bake, covered, for about 1 hour, or until the edges of the potato kugel begin to get brown and crispy.  Serve immediately.
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Monday, August 1, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 65

Boneless Chicken Thighs Shredded with a Useful Gadget
If you have horribly overcooked some meat or chicken, shred it and serve it in tortillas or soup or add it to a pasta sauce.  Pictured above is the Schneidroller in action (see my post about useful gadgets).  It’s a handy device, although for thorough cleaning it needs to go in the dishwasher.

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