Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 83

When cooking mushrooms, don’t overload the pan.  Mushrooms give off liquid as they cook, so if you want them to brown they need to be in contact with the bottom of the pan.  If they’re not, they will simply give off liquid and shrink.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Dish Worthy of Henry VIII

I have to confess that some years ago I cut down on my meat consumption, favoring fish and poultry.  But some meat dishes I just cannot resist.  One of them is Lamb Shanks.

Most stores don’t carry lamb shanks, so you may have to ask the butcher to order them for you.  I discovered some frozen ones from New Zealand on sale last week for $2.99 a pound.  Three lamb shanks together weighed more than four pounds.  Once thawed, they looked like weapons, not dinner.

Unlike a leg of lamb, a lamb shank is tough.  In case you were wondering, it’s the leg part below the knee. It’s the perfect piece of meat to bake in a covered casserole in the oven.  Just add a lot of liquid, cover and cook for a few hours. 

If you want to serve lamb shanks caveman-style, offer one per person on a large plate.  Otherwise, cut off the cooked meat, trim away any fat and serve the lamb pieces in a bowl, with gravy on the side.  Cutting the meat off the bones allows you to serve more people.

Traditional Lamb Shanks – serves 3-4 
3 lamb shanks (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 black pepper
2 cups red wine
2 cups water + more if necessary 
Trim and discard any excess fat from the lamb shanks.  Begin heating the oil in a large cast-iron (if possible) casserole dish over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, brown the lamb shanks, cooking them for about 5 minutes and turning them at least once. Remove from the heat and transfer the lamb shanks to a plate. 
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Add the carrots, onion, garlic, salt and pepper to the casserole and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to brown.  Turn off the heat.  Return the lamb shanks to the casserole and add the red wine and water. 
Cover the casserole with a lid or tight-fitting foil and bake for 2 hours.  Check after 1 hour to make sure all the liquid hasn’t boiled away.  Add 1 more cup water if there is less than 1 inch of liquid.  At the end of 2 hours, remove the casserole from the oven and carefully turn over the lamb shanks.  Add up to 1 more cup water if most of the liquid has boiled away and continue baking for another 30 minutes, or until the meat is very soft. 
Remove from the oven and transfer the lamb shanks, carrots and onions to a large platter.  Cover with foil to keep warm. 
To make the gravy, remove as much fat as possible from the liquid left in the casserole.  Either spoon it out or, if you have enough time, transfer the liquid to a container and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.  The fat will rise to the top and begin to harden.  Use a fork to lift out the hardened fat and discard it.  Or if the fat hasn’t quite hardened, use a spoon.  
If the lamb shanks have cooled off, add the defatted liquid to the casserole, return the lamb shanks and vegetables and reheat everything.  
Serve 1 lamb shank per person, along with some carrots and onions. Or cut the meat off the shanks and serve it on a platter with the carrots and onions and a separate bowl of gravy.  Mashed potatoes would make a good side dish. 

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 82

If a kiwi is too soft to peel, cut it in half and scoop out the insides with a spoon.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Question for Mom

What oil should I use when I’m cooking?  Barbara B.

In a pinch just about any oil, except motor oil, will work.  Some oils--including peanut oil and sesame oil—have very distinctive flavors.  They can add to a dish or overpower it.  

My favorite is extra-virgin olive oil, partly because I cook a lot of Mediterranean-style dishes and partly because I have become accustomed to the flavor.  Extra-virgin olive oil costs more than plain or light olive oil. Millions of words have been written about the various properties of olive oil—much more than I want to know about.  So here’s my take.

I use extra-virgin olive oil in most of my cooking.  However, if I'm seeking a bland oil, I’ll choose canola oil or corn oil.  And I’ll add a teaspoon of sesame oil when an Asian recipe calls for it.  Other than that, I just want to get on with the cooking.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 81

Want to make sure your green vegetables stay bright green after cooking?  Add them to boiling water and don’t over-cook them.  Five minutes should be enough time to cook any green vegetable.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 67

Why boil water twice? When you’re cooking pasta, prepare hard-boiled eggs at the same time. The eggs need to be in boiling water for at least 10 minutes, and many noodles need to cook for at least that long.

If the noodles have a shorter cooking time, add the uncooked eggs to the water when you start heating it. Add the pasta when the water comes to a boil.

If the pasta requires much longer cooking, remove the eggs after 10-12 minutes.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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

Chef Hannes Spicy Potato Spread
One of my favorite local restaurants in Southern California is Chef Hannes in El Segundo, not far from the Los Angeles Airport.  When you arrive for lunch or dinner, the first dish that lands on your table is a complimentary bowl of thick green spread accompanied by slices of French bread.

I wasn’t sure what I was eating, but I knew that I liked it.  I hinted to the owner, who sometimes also serves as the waiter, that I would like the recipe. All I got were two clues: garlic and potatoes. 

For several years I tried to duplicate this appetizer in my kitchen.  After making another inedible version, which this time included vinegar, I finally had a breakthrough.  Pesto.  I had a jar of Basil Pesto, which I keep around as an easy topping for spaghetti.  It’s green and garlicky.  Why not mash a boiled potato and stir in a few spoonfuls of pesto.  It worked.  I drizzled some hot sauce on the top, heated up some French bread and demolished the whole bowl.
My Spicy Potato Spread
Spicy Potato Spread – serves 4 
2 medium potatoes
1/4 cup basil pesto + more if needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Several drops hot sauce + more if preferred
Sliced French bread 
Boil the potatoes in water for about 20-25 minutes, or until they can be pierced easily with a knife.  Drain the water and pull off and discard the potato skins.  Roughly mash the potatoes with a fork. 
Stir in the basil pesto, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is mostly green, with only a few flecks of white showing.  Add the salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.  Taste to see if more seasoning is needed. 
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and top with some hot sauce.  Serve with slices of French bread, warm if possible.
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Monday, November 14, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 80

When preparing fresh broccoli, don’t discard the long stalks.  Peel them, slice them into 1/4-inch coins and cook them along with the florets.

Unpeeled Stem

Peeled Stem
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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Roast Chicken Leftovers – How Do I Love Thee!

Basic Chicken Salad
Let me count the ways. 

If you like the burn of red pepper flakes, add Chicken Arrabiata to your menu.  A spicy tomato sauce with small pieces of leftover chicken, thin strips of salami and sliced mushrooms make a perfect topping on a bed of penne.

Then there’s Chicken Fajitas—strips of leftover chicken spread out on a tortilla with a wealth of toppings, including fresh or cooked red peppers, onions, shredded cheese, salsa, black beans, hummus or anything else that strikes your fancy.  This can be a build-your-own dinner.

Too tired to cook?  What about a simple plate of Sliced Chicken, cold or reheated, possibly with gravy?    

Consider a stir-fry?  Cut up and stir-fry some onions, bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, asparagus, garlic, fresh ginger or other veggies, add some soy sauce, red pepper flakes and leftover chicken and voila! 

Then there’s Chicken Salad, which completely changes the experience of eating roast chicken.  It’s cold, with crisp celery and red onion and/or scallion pieces, lightly coated with mayonnaise. It’s what I’m having for dinner tonight—on a toasted bun in the car on the way to a movie.
Basic Chicken Salad – serves 3-4 
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
2 stalks celery, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup red onion, diced
2 scallions, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon mayonnaise, or more if preferred
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly.  Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.  Serve cold.
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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 79

Dull knife? Try cutting with the widest part of the blade, which is near the handle and thus apt to be sharper because it’s used less.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Question for Mom

If I want to make Baked Potatoes, which call for a 400-degree oven for 1 hour, and Chicken Strips, which need to be baked at 475 degrees for 10 minutes, what can I do so they’re both ready to eat at the same time?  George J.

Baked potatoes are flexible.  About 55 minutes before you plan to serve dinner, start baking the potatoes at 400 degrees.  Forty minutes later, turn up the oven temperature to 475 degrees.  When the oven reaches this higher temperature, start baking the Chicken Strips.  After 10 minutes, remove both foods.  The extra heat at the end will finish cooking the potatoes.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 66

Stale French bread makes wonderful fresh breadcrumbs. Two small slices make about 1/4 cup. Use a food processor to chop the bread into small pieces.

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Glamorous Potato

Normally I would never link the two words “glamorous” and “potato.”  “Filling,” “comfort food,” “humble,” “inexpensive” or “traditional” are the words I usually think of when the subject of potatoes comes up.  

But that was before I saw and then sampled my friend Dorothy’s Roasted and Sliced Potatoes. They called to mind sophisticated dining—not an arena in which I often find myself.

These potato slices were slender—maybe 1/8-inch thick--and rimmed with the tiniest bit of brown skin.  Spread out on a serving dish and covered with melted butter, they seemed almost too elegant to eat.  But I managed to down more than my share.

It takes time to slice the potatoes so thinly and evenly—unless you happen to have a slicing blade for your food processor.  You can also use a mandoline, which makes the job easier, as long as you’re paying attention to what you’re doing and don’t also slice your fingers.
Dorothy’s Roasted and Sliced Potatoes – serves 4 
2 large russet potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds total), brick-shaped rather than long and  
            tapered, if possible 
4 tablespoons butter 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese  
Begin preheating the oven to 450 degrees. 
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil to speed clean-up.  Put the butter, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper on the foil-covered pan and put into the oven until the butter melts.  Remove the tray from the oven and stir the mixture around until all the foil is covered with butter. 
Thoroughly scrub the potatoes to rid them of dirt but do not peel.  Slice them into 1/8-inch slices and lay the slices onto the butter mixture.  Using tongs, turn the potato slices over so the butter covers both sides.  Overlap the potatoes if necessary.  Bake for 15 minutes.  

Remove from the oven and sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and lemon juice.  Bake for another 10 minutes, or until the potato slices are just beginning to brown.  Carefully transfer them to a plate or bowl and serve.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 65

Use up leftover cooked vegetables or small bits of cheese or cream cheese in Quiche.  Here’s an easy Quiche recipe that effectively uses up half an 8-ounce package of cream cheese.  It can also absorb a cup of leftover cooked vegetables.
Spinach Quiche – serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room”)  
4 ounces cream cheese 
1 baked pie crust – see here  
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach 
2 scallions 
3 large eggs 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1 cup leftover cooked vegetables, chopped into small pieces (optional) 
Take the cream cheese out of the fridge so that it will begin to soften. 
Prepare and bake the pie crust. 
Cook the spinach according to the package’s directions (about 6 minutes).  Drain and set aside. 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
Wash the scallions.  Cut off the root tip and last 2 inches of the green parts and discard.  Cut the remaining white and green parts into 1/4-inch pieces. 
To make the filling, beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Add the cream cheese, spinach, scallion pieces, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Mix thoroughly, making sure there are no large lumps of cream cheese.  If you want to add some leftover cooked vegetables, do it now, stirring them into the mixture. 
Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the filling is firm.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 5-to-10 minutes before serving.
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