Friday, December 30, 2016

Mom’s Basic Bootcamp: Lentil Soup

This is the second in a series of basic recipes anyone can easily make.  They have existed for centuries because 1) they are simple, and 2) they taste good.  Once you master their preparation, you’re free to improvise…or not. 

I often experiment with Lentil Soup because this basic recipe is very forgiving.  You can make a vegetarian version or a meat-eater’s version. You can add leftovers or more ingredients (see below).  Best of all, Lentil Soup is cheap to make.
Dried Brown Lentils
Basic Lentil Soup – serves 4 as a soup, 2-3 as a main dish (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!")    
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices 
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1 15-ounce can ready-cut tomatoes 
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1 cup uncooked brown lentils 
4 cups water (or chicken or vegetable broth) + more if needed 
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional) 
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the celery, onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the tomatoes and their liquid, oregano, salt, black pepper, lentils and water or broth. 
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Then turn down the heat to low and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes.  Test lentils to see if they are soft by tasting one.  Undercooked lentils are like pebbles.  If the lentils are too hard, cook for another 5-10 minutes.  
When the soup is ready, it will be very thick.  You can add 1/2 cup or more water to thin it slightly.  Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if using, and serve.
* * * * * * * * * * * *  
Possible Lentil Soup Add-Ins:

I potato, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (added with onion)
Cooked baked potato, skin removed and remaining potato cut into 1/2-inch pieces (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
Handful dried pasta or 1 cup leftover pasta (dried added with lentils; leftovers added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
1/2 cup uncooked rice or 1 cup cooked rice (uncooked added with lentils; cooked added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices (added with onion)
Handful spinach, chopped kale or chopped bok choy (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

1 or 2 fully cooked sausages, sliced thinly (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
Leftover small pieces of cooked chicken, turkey, lamb or beef (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

For an Indian flavor, use 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon ground coriander instead of oregano.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 71

To keep fresh ginger from getting moldy, store a chunk of it in a zip top bag in the freezer.  Grate it frozen.  You can first scrape off some of the skin with a knife or just ignore any small pieces of skin.  They will disappear into the dish you’re making.  Or peel and chop the ginger into 1/4-inch dice before bagging and storing in the freezer.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Question for Mom

Chocolate-Dipped Tangerines
I ate too much over the holidays.  What’s a cheap, easy, healthy dessert?” –Sara A.

Fruit dipped in chocolate.  Tangerines are easy to peel.  Chocolate chips aren’t too costly.  Combine them and you have a knock-out dessert with lots of vitamin C.  You can find a detailed recipe here

           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 87

When baking and using 1 or more sticks of butter, cut the stick(s) into 4-6 pieces before adding to the bowl.  They will incorporate into the batter more quickly.  If the butter is frozen, cut the stick into 16 pieces for quick thawing.

See all my Cooking Tips!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

12 Ways to Use Chocolate Chips

The absolute easiest and cheapest way to use chocolate chips is eating them by the handful.  No cooking involved!  This is a particularly attractive option when you feel the need for something chocolate NOW.  I’ve often gone that route, and you may well have too. 

My job is to tell you another 11 ways to use chocolate chips that involve actual cooking – or baking.  All but one I’ve already written about, so I’ll provide links.  Below is a new recipe—Chocolate Chip Cake.  It’s not as rich as some of these other dishes, but you are unlikely to have leftovers.

1) Eat chocolate chips directly from the bag.

2) Melt Chocolate Chips in a Flour Tortilla, wrap and eat. 

3) You can’t go wrong with Chocolate Chip Cookies

4) Chocolate Chip Bagels are good all day, not just for breakfast! 

5) The Simplest Chocolate Icing Ever has just two ingredients: chocolate chips and sour cream. 

6) Chocolate Banana Bread tastes even better with chocolate chips. 

7) Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chunks (my version of Peanut Butter Cups) make good use of chocolate chips.  

8) Fruit Dipped in Melted Chocolate is an easy dessert.  

9) For the richest dessert ever, you can’t beat Chocolate Cheesecake.  

10) Chocolate Fondue makes a simple but effective way to end a meal.  

11) Ever heard of Chocolate Chip Squares?  They’re addictive.  

12) Chocolate Chip Cake is even good for breakfast.

Chocolate Chip Cake – serves 12-20, depending on serving size (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!") 
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter) softened to room temperature + more for greasing pan 
1 cup sugar 
1 cup sour cream (regular or light) 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 cups flour + 1 teaspoon for dusting pan 
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter 
1/2 cup flour 
1/2 cup dark brown sugar 
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder 
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
Make the Cake: Place one of the racks in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Lightly rub the bottom and sides of a 9”x12”-or-13” baking pan with butter.  Add 1 teaspoon flour and swirl it around, coating the buttered surfaces.  Set aside. 
If using a food processor, put the butter and sugar in the processor bowl and briefly process until well-blended. Add the sour cream, eggs and vanilla and pulse about 20 seconds, or until well-blended.  Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda and pulse just until blended.  Add the chocolate chips and blend 5 seconds.  Pour the batter into the baking pan and set aside. 
If using an electric mixer or mixing by hand, put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and mix or beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy.  Add the sour cream, eggs and vanilla and mix until just blended.  Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda and mix just until blended.  Mix in the chocolate chips.  Pour the batter into the baking pan and set aside. 
Make the Topping:  Cut the butter into pea-sized bits in a medium bowl.  Add the flour, brown sugar and cocoa and toss gently.  Spoon evenly over the top of the cake.  Sprinkle on the chocolate chips. 
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a cake tester or knife comes out clean when inserted in the center.  Remove the pan and cool on a rack.  Cut into squares and serve.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 70

If honey crystallizes, don't throw it out.  Put the container it’s in into a bowl of hot water.  The heat of the water will cause the crystals to dissolve.  Stir if necessary. 

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 86

Refrigerators and tomatoes do not go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Refrigerating tomatoes changes their taste.  Store tomatoes at room temperature so they will continue to taste like tomatoes should.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Question for Mom

Mushroom Risotto
I like serving risotto for company, but I hate having to spend so much time in the kitchen preparing it once guests have arrived.  Any suggestions? –Julie R.

Traditionally risotto, which is an Italian rice dish, is prepared just before serving.  If it sits around and is then reheated, it can turn into a gelatinous mass.  But there is a trick to avoid that lengthy last-minute time in the kitchen. 

Make most of the risotto in advance.  You can cook it two-thirds of the way through and then stop.  About 10 minutes before you plan to serve, continue preparing it.  The boiling stock you will be adding will prompt the risotto to resume cooking.

Here’s a Mushroom Risotto recipe with the cooking twist. 

Mushroom Risotto 3/4 Cooked
Mushroom Risotto – serves 4-6  
6 cups chicken broth + boiling water (if needed)  
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil + 1 tablespoon or more for cooking mushrooms 
1 large onion, finely chopped  
2 cups Arborio rice  
1 cup dry white wine  
2 8–ounce packages sliced mushrooms 
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
1 teaspoon salt      
Heat the broth in a saucepan and keep warm over low heat.  
Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a large pan and add the onions.  Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onions soften.     
Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes, or just enough to coat the rice with the butter (or oil).   
Stir in the wine. Cook, stirring constantly, until the wine has evaporated.  Add a few ladles of broth, just enough to cover the rice.  Cook over medium heat, continually stirring, until the broth has been absorbed.   
Continue cooking and stirring the rice in this manner, adding broth a bit at the time, for 10 minutes.  The rice will not be fully softened, but that’s fine.  Remove from the heat and set aside, uncovered.  

Before leaving the kitchen, cook the mushrooms.  Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a frying pan and add about half the mushrooms.  See Mom Cooking Tip 83.  Remove cooked mushrooms from the pan and add more butter or oil if needed.  Then cook the rest of the mushrooms.  Set aside. 
About 10 minutes before you plan to serve, reheat the remaining broth.  Retrieve the partly-cooked risotto, turn on the heat the medium and add a few tablespoons hot broth.  Continue stirring and adding more hot broth until the rice is done. If you run out of broth, use boiling water.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and the cooked mushrooms. 
At this point, the rice should be tender but still firm to the bite. It should have a creamy, moist consistency.  Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately with the remaining Parmesan cheese.   

           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 85

Bored with plain old mashed potatoes?  Jazz them up with 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, several teaspoons chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon oregano and 1/2 teaspoon paprika during the mashing process.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cooking Can Be Great Self-Entertainment

“It’s not fun to be in the kitchen,” an old friend told me recently.  He was explaining why he was eating frozen TV dinners every night.  His wife was out of town, and he wasn’t willing to employ cooking skills he learned in college to feed himself. 

A lot of people apparently feel that cooking is drudgery, so the aisles of frozen meals have multiplied at the grocery store.  People still want to eat at home yet haven’t realized that cooking can be great self-entertainment.

I’ve had times when getting dinner on the table felt like drudgery, but I’ve also had my share of frozen TV dinners.  I would rather make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich, an Omelet or Spaghetti—all easily prepared with ingredients on hand.  By the time I’m eating what I’ve made, I’ve forgotten that I wasn’t in the mood to cook.

Cooking calms me.  Whatever worries I have disappear because I’m in a different zone.  Of course, if I’m trying a new recipe and something isn’t working, I can get irritated.  But my focus is on the food in front of me rather than the work problem I haven’t solved.  Some people might prefer to play Minecraft or Pokemon Go, but I’m quite happy melting chocolate or frying potatoes.  The trick is to cook dishes you like. 
Sizzling Pork Noodles – serves 3-4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen”) 
1 pound lean ground pork
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup chili sauce (or 7 tablespoons ketchup and 1 tablespoon bottled horseradish)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar (any kind)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
12 ounces vermicelli
1/2 large cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 scallions, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch pieces 
Without using oil, brown the pork in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring frequently to break the meat into small clumps.  This process takes about 10 minutes.  After the meat has browned, drain away any fat by covering the pan with a lid and carefully pouring the liquid into an empty can.  Discard. 
Add the onion, garlic, chili sauce (or ketchup and horseradish), water, soy sauce, vinegar and black pepper to the pan and stir.  Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm. 
Cook the vermicelli.  Before draining it, fill a 1/2-cup measure with the vermicelli water and set aside.  Then drain the noodles and transfer them to a large bowl or platter. 
Add the hot water to the pork sauce and pour the sauce over the noodles.  Sprinkle with cucumber and scallion pieces and serve.

           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Friday, December 9, 2016

Mom Cooking Tip 84

To keep butter from burning as you melt it, add 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil.

See all my Cooking Tips!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 69

Do you know about unit pricing? Most grocery stores have tiny shelf signs in front of all their products that tell you the price of the product AND the unit price—which means how much something costs per ounce. Two cans or packaged products may look the same size, but sometimes they’re not the same. United pricing makes it easier to compare two products to see which is the better value.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Question for Mom

Do you need to add salt to the water when you’re cooking pasta?  Geraldine H.

Adding salt is not a requirement, but it helps flavor the pasta.  Try it both ways and see if you can tell the difference.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What’s the BEST Chocolate Cake Recipe?

There are so many decisions to make about chocolate cake: 

* Sheet cake vs. layer cake
* Chocolate icing vs. buttercream
* Type of chocolate used—Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate vs. chocolate chips vs. eating chocolate vs. unsweetened cocoa
* Flourless vs. flour
* Brown sugar vs. white sugar
* Milk vs. buttermilk vs. water
* How many people will the cake serve (or how big a pig are you?)

One decision we never make in my house is packaged mix vs. made from scratch.  The last time I used a packaged mix was in my Girl Scout days, which was some time ago.  The chocolate tasted fake.  In fact, that disappointment motivated me to learn how to bake.

Since then I’ve mastered a dozen different chocolate cakes.  The easiest was a fudge-type single layer cake that was so rich that it didn’t need a proper icing.  A smattering of powdered sugar on top was enough.

When I was working on my all-chocolate dessert cookbook, I solicited recipes from all my friends and their friends.  That’s how I discovered my favorite chocolate cake recipe—Devil’s Food Cake.  It’s made with cocoa. 
Devil’s Food Cake – serves 12 (adapted from Chocolate on the Brain
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature, + more for greasing
1 1/3 cups boiling water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 – 2 cups Chocolate Icing   
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
To make it easier to remove the cake from two 8- or 9-inch cake pans, cut a piece of wax paper to fit the bottom of each pan.  Place the papers into the pans and wipe them with a bit of butter.  Set aside. 
In a bowl, stir together the boiling water and cocoa and set aside to cool.  The boiling water brings out the cocoa’s flavor. 
Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat on low speed until well blended.  Add half the cocoa mixture and beat until blended. 
Add the flour, baking soda and salt and beat on low speed just until blended.  Add the remaining cocoa mixture and beat again until blended.  Do not beat the batter too much or the cake will be tough. 
Pour the batter evenly into the pans and shake them from side to side several times so the batter spreads to the sides.  Bake on the middle rack, at least 2 inches apart if possible, for 30-35 minutes (for 8-inch pans) or 25-30 minutes (for 9-inch pans), or until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pans and a cake tester or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and cool for at least 10 minutes.  At this point you can cover and refrigerate overnight, if need be. 
Loosen the cakes by sliding a knife around the edges of each pan.  Place a plate or cooling rack over the top of each cake layer.  Carefully turn over the plates/racks and cake pans together so the cakes slip out.  If the pans are still hot, use potholders.  If the cakes stick, hit the bottom of the pan with the flat of your hand.  
Let the cakes cool to room temperature upside down.  Remove the wax paper from the bottom of each cake. 
To ice the cake, put one layer, bottom side up, on a large plate or tray and spread some icing over the top with a knife.  (Check this Mom Cooking Tip to make clean-up easier.) 
At this point don’t ice the sides.  Carefully place the second layer, bottom side down, on top of the first layer.  Spread some icing over the top layer, making sure not to press so hard that cake crumbs are dislodged into the icing.  Then ice the sides.  Spread any leftover icing on top of the cake. 
Serve cold or at room temperature.  Store in an airtight container or wrapped in foil or plastic wrap.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mom Money-Saving Tip 68

Don’t buy one-use-only cooking gadgets just because they are available. If they take up drawer space or require more time to wash than the time they saved by using them, walk on by. How often do you need a cherry pitter or pineapple corer unless you have a cherry tree or pineapple plant in your backyard?

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