Saturday, June 24, 2017

Question for Mom

What are chicken tenders? Alexis R.

Chicken tenders are skinny pieces of white meat that are part of a chicken breast but not fully attached.  You used to see them in packages of boneless chicken breasts.   About 15-20 years ago stores starting selling them as separate cuts of white meat, and they were cheaper than regular boneless breasts.  Now they’re priced higher. 

If you’re squeamish about cutting boneless chicken breasts into skinny pieces, by all means buy chicken tenders.  But you can easily cut boneless chicken into pieces yourself.  If you use a fork to hold them steady, you don’t have to touch the raw chicken.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Meat and Salad in One Bowl = Strange Bedfellows

I don’t usually have meat in my salad – or salad on my meat.  In fact, when I was growing up, my mother set out “salad plates” so that her salad wouldn’t mingle with other dinner items.  No gravy ever touched a lettuce leaf in our house.

In college I discovered Chef’s Salad: hard-boiled eggs, strips of ham and/or turkey or roast beef, tomatoes, cucumber and grated cheese, mixed into chopped iceberg lettuce and covered with Thousand Island Dressing.  It made a great dinner on the run.

When I moved to California, I was introduced to Cobb Salad: chicken chunks, pieces of bacon, tomatoes, avocados, hard-boiled eggs and Roquefort cheese, topped with a vinaigrette dressing and served on top of chopped iceberg lettuce.  Another full meal on one plate.

Also new to me was Taco Salad, with its ground beef or shredded chicken mixed with taco chips, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, sour cream and guacamole and served over chopped iceberg lettuce.

I’m seeing a theme here: chopped iceberg lettuce, which must be the blandest salad ingredient ever grown. 

Iceberg lettuce also turns up in Thai Pork Salad.  The novelty here is that the pork is served hot on top of the salad ingredients.  I was skeptical, but it works.  Leftovers turn out to make a great tortilla filling.

Thai Pork Salad – serves 4 
1 pound boneless pork chops
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 –10 ounces iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
4 scallions, trimmed and white and green parts sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 small or 1/2 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon canola oil 
Remove any fat and cut pork into 1/2-inch by 1-inch strips. 
Combine lime juice, ketchup, brown sugar, soy sauce, chopped garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper in a medium bowl.  Add the pork strips and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes. 
Put the lettuce, scallions, red bell pepper, cucumber, mango and cilantro into a salad bowl.  Refrigerate until needed. 
Begin heating the oil in a frying pan or wok over high heat.  When hot, scoop out the pork pieces from the marinade, saving the marinade, and add the pork to the pan. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes, or until the pork is no longer pink in the middle.  Transfer the cooked pork to the top of the salad.  Then cook the remaining marinade in the pan for about 1 minute, or until it comes to a boil.  Pour it on top of the pork and serve the salad immediately.
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 114

To crisp bacon, pour off the fat into a disposable container—not down the drain—while it’s cooking.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remember Recipe Cards?

Back when I first started cooking, some grocery stores offered free recipe cards.  They were made of heavy-duty paper, cut into a 3” x 5” shape so they would fit into a wooden or metal recipe box.  On one side would be a detailed recipe and on the other a picture of the end result.  The cards were marketing tools.  If the picture looked attractive and the recipe called for a pound of stewing beef, why not buy some right now?

At the time there was no such thing as the Internet or companies that sold Make-It-Yourself Meals in a home-delivered box. Most people cooked dinner every night, and families sat down together to eat.

People even traded recipes, which they wrote out on 3” x 5” cards.  Apparently I even did this.  I recently came across my mother’s old recipe box, and in it was my recipe for Meatloaf, in my handwriting.

Times have changed, but not totally.  Last week I was shopping at my local Ralphs supermarket, and what did I see near the fish counter?  A rack of recipe cards.  I couldn’t resist grabbing a few because the pictures looked so inviting: Tuna Poke Bowl, Greek-Crusted Catfish and Crab Cake Sliders.  I’m going to try them all. 

But first I wanted to explore my old meatloaf recipe.  These days I seldom eat beef, so I switched out a few ingredients.  Ground beef became turkey and pork, and barbecue sauce and brown sugar became soy sauce and sesame oil.  I quite liked the end result.   Maybe I’ll put it on a 3” x 5”card.

Asian Fusion Meatloaf – serves 6-8 
1 pound ground turkey
1 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
4 cups Chinese (Napa) cabbage or 1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli
6 scallions, white and green parts sliced thinly
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more if you like very spicy food
1 teaspoon canola or other oil for greasing
Hoisin Sauce 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Combine all the ingredients except the oil and Hoisin Sauce in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. 
Grease a large casserole dish or roasting pan.  Transfer the meatloaf mixture into the dish/pan and shape it into an oval, patting the surface smooth. Bake uncovered for 60-to-70 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the meatloaf reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing.  
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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fava Beans: What Are They and How Do I Cook Them?

The reputation of fava beans got much darker after Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter confided in The Silence of the Lambs, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

That’s a rather grim image to bring up at the dinner table, but it did give fava beans their 15 minutes of fame.

Some people may know fava beans by another name: broad beans. They look like super-wide green beans with mumps.  Inside the tough pod are 3 - 5 large beans.  To get to the edible part, you’ve got to remove the tough covering on the bean itself.  Some people like to boil these beans for 60 seconds and then slip the skin off.  Others use a knife to cut into the skin and then pull it off.  Once this skin is gone, simply boil the beans for 2-3 minutes, drain and eat.

Preparing fresh fava beans is more work than shelling fresh peas or trimming green beans, but how often do you find a new vegetable to serve? 

On the down side, fresh fava beans are primarily available between March and June, mostly in specialty stores.  I bought some yesterday at Jons Marketplace in Redondo Beach for $1.79 a pound.  I’m going to add them to Shakshuka

Don’t substitute dried fava beans for fresh ones, which can be cooked in just a few minutes.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 113

If you want to ripen a rock-hard avocado, enclose it in a paper bag for a day or two.  It will soften right up.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

If You Are Drinking Chocolate Syrup…

I don’t necessarily advise drinking chocolate syrup.  But if your chocolate craving is on the rampage and there’s no other chocolate in the house, why not?  My dad liked Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, and he would occasionally imbibe straight from the can of syrup we always had in the fridge. 

Maybe that’s why I developed a taste for it too.  However, as my cooking skills progressed, I tried to make a better version.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup is considerably tastier than what comes pre-packaged.  It’s also incredibly easy to make.  It takes 5 minutes. 

Pour it on ice cream, cake or Mississippi Mud Pie.  Put a few tablespoons into a cup of milk and stir.  Dip cookies, fruit or marshmallows into it.  Or just take a sip or two.

Mom’s Chocolate Syrup – makes 1 cup (adapted from “Chocolate on the Brain”)  
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Put the cocoa, brown sugar, water and corn syrup in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring continuously.  Cook for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and let cool.  Stir in the vanilla extract.  Serve immediately, or when needed. 
Refrigerate leftovers in a glass or plastic jar or a small, self-sealing plastic bag.  To return to room temperature, place the container in a bowl of hot water. 
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Friday, June 9, 2017

Question for Mom

Can I freeze milk?  --Naomi A.

Yes.  Milk freezes well.  I often freeze extra milk or milk that has gone sour, defrosting it to use when making bread or cake.  One key thing to remember: like any liquid, milk will expand when it freezes, so do not fill the container completely to the top.  Leave at least 1 inch of space in a wide-rimmed container and at least 2 inches in a narrow-rimmed container.  Otherwise, the container may crack from the pressure of the liquid expanding.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 112

Need an emergency dessert?  Chocolate Chip Squares are easier to make than chocolate chip cookies.  You just need some basics + chocolate chips.  Clean-up is quick because you mix and bake in the same pan.
Chocolate Chip Squares – serves 8 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen”
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips 
Place one of the oven racks in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
To save time on cleanup, cook and bake in the same container.  Place an 8-inch square metal baking pan on a stove burner over low heat and add the butter.  As soon as it’s melted, turn off the heat.  
Add the two sugars and stir thoroughly.  Make sure the pan has cooled down and then add the egg, vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt, and stir until well combined.  Mix in the chocolate chips. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top of the dough has begun to brown and pull away from the sides of the pan. 
Remove from the oven and run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the squares. Cool on a rack.  To remove from the pan, cut the baked square in half and then in quarters.  Slide a metal spatula under 1 of the quarters and lift out.  Repeat for the other quarters.  Cut each quarter in half so that you have 8 large oblong pieces.  Serve.
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Saturday, June 3, 2017

My Worst Food Prep Job

Cooks deal with a lot of yucky jobs in the kitchen, but right now I can’t think of anything worse than removing the skin of a raw chicken.  Maybe I’ll feel differently when I sit down to eat Indian-Style Whole Roast Chicken tonight, but not now.

Why did I take the skin off?  The recipe told me to.  I’m not fond of cooked chicken skin, so I was happy to see it go.  This recipe calls for all the spices to be poured into deep slits made in the chicken and then over the whole chicken itself.  If I left the skin on and then didn’t eat it at dinnertime, I’d be missing most of the flavor.

Other food prep jobs aren’t nearly as bad, although I didn’t much enjoy peeling and slicing 4 pounds of raw onions for a big pot of French Onion Soup.  Smooshing raw ground turkey and other ingredients into turkey burgers or meatballs is not my favorite thing either.  Nor is removing the intestines of raw shrimp.

I don’t mind pulling bones out of fresh fish or peeling a bowl of apples to make Apple Pie.  I find kneading bread relaxing.

I faintly recall my grandmother telling me how she used to pluck chickens.  And I remember how the father of my childhood friend would go deer-hunting and bring back a carcass for his wife to cut up, freeze and eventually cook.  I guess I shouldn’t complain about a measly bit of chicken skin.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Question for Mom

I thought all mangoes were the same, but I just found a new kind at my grocery store.  What’s the difference between baseball-size mangoes that are green with large areas of red and smaller, yellow mangoes? – Gloria Z.

Taste, for one thing.  The yellow mangoes, called ‘Yellow Honey’ or ‘Honey’ mangoes, can be a little sweeter.

(Left) Honey Mango  (Right) Tommy Atkins Mango
After some investigation, I learned that the name of the bigger mango, which is the type I always see in Southern California, is called ‘Tommy Atkins.’  It’s named after the Florida farmer who first grew it on his property and recognized its commercial potential.  It travels well and therefore is commonly available in produce aisles.

Your choice of mango often depends on where you live.  They are at least four other kinds of mango, and they have a similar taste. 

Here’s what you should know about mangoes.  This fruit, which grows on trees, very inconveniently has a very large, flat seed right in the middle.  There’s no way to remove it.  Instead, you have to remove the fruit from it. 

Peel the mango first.  Then, holding it firmly, use a sharp knife to cut slices from top to bottom on one side of the seed. Eventually you will get to the seed.  Repeat on the other side.  If you like, cut the slices into bite-size pieces.  Before throwing the seed away, trim off any remaining edible fruit.

Tommy Atkins Mango - note large white seed
Honey Mango - note large white seed
When choosing any kind of mango, avoid those that are extremely soft or have wrinkled skin.  If you plan to eat it with in a day or two, choose a mango that has started to soften.  Squeeze it gently to check.  If you plan to eat the mango next week, pick one that’s rock-hard.  It will ripen at room temperature within a few days.  When it’s ripe, store it in the refrigerator until a few hours before cutting and serving.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 111

if you need something cooled-off quickly, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.  However, don’t make a habit of this because you don’t want your frozen foods to start defrosting.

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

I Can Make That Too: Chicken Tikka in Mom’s Kitchen vs. the Restaurant Version

Mom's Chicken Tikka
Chicken Tikka is basically an Indian shish kebab with lots of spices.  Traditionally these kebabs are cooked in a tandoor oven, which can heat up to nearly 1,000 degrees.  Indian restaurants have such ovens.  I don’t.  I researched online and found one for $600+. Not worth it.  I decided to use my own oven, which will heat to 545 degrees and makes perfectly respectable Chicken Tikka.

In fact, my Chicken Tikka tasted just as good as the version I ordered at Mayura, a critically praised Indian restaurant in Culver City, CA.  Surprisingly, the two Chicken Tikkas looked and tasted exactly the same.
Chicken Tikka at Mayura Restaurant
Chicken Tikka – serves 4 
2-3 boneless chicken breasts (1 1/2 – 2 pounds)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika 
Remove any fat from the chicken breasts and cut them into 1-inch cubes.  Set aside. 
Combine yogurt, oil, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, chili powder, cumin and paprika in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.  Add the chicken cubes and mix again so that they are covered with the yogurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours. 
Pre-heat the oven to 545 degrees.  Cover a baking sheet with a silicone mat or foil.  Place the chicken cubes on skewers and the skewers onto the baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked.  Check to make sure it’s white in the middle, not pink.  If it’s pink, bake for 1 more minute.  Serve immediately.
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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 110

To help bacon slices separate from each other, roll the package of bacon into a cylinder and squeeze it a few times before opening it.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Revisiting Old Favorites

Ground Turkey Stroganoff
My tastes have changed.  I began to realize this when leafing through a collection of old recipes, looking for something different to cook. 

I stumbled on Hamburger Stroganoff, a dish I made regularly when I was first out of college.  When I read the list of ingredients, though, I began having second thoughts.  I don’t eat ground beef any more, and I stopped using canned cream of anything soup years ago.

So I reworked the recipe: ground turkey instead of beef, no soup at all, much more garlic and half the amount of sour cream.  The end result seemed bland, so I added a few shakes of a new Penzeys spice called 33rd & Galena, which the company describes as a “chicken and pork rub.”  The label says it’s a mixture of Tellicherry black pepper, paprika, nutmeg, sage, cayenne, crushed red pepper and oleoresin of basil.

My newly named Ground Turkey Stroganoff was a big hit and much more in keeping with my current preference for spicier, less fatty food.  Next I’m going to try my old recipe for Sweet and Sour Pork.  I’m sure it will need a lot of updating.
Ground Turkey Stroganoff – serves 4-6 
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Penzys 33rd & Galena or other multi-spice mixture
2/3 cup sour cream
3 cups cooked rice or noodles 
Begin heating the oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat.  Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and stir-fry for about 5 minutes, or until the onions and mushrooms have softened.  Transfer this mixture to a large bowl or plate. 
Add the ground turkey to the hot pan and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up the chunks of turkey.  When the turkey no longer shows any signs of pink, drain and discard the fatty liquid.  Return the meat to the pan and add the salt, black pepper and 33rd & Galena or other multi-spice mixture.  Stir thoroughly. 
Return the onion/mushroom mixture to the pan.  Then add the sour cream and stir to combine.  When the stroganoff is hot, transfer it to a large serving bowl.  Serve with rice or noodles.
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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Argentine Red Shrimp: What Are They and How Do I Cook Them?

Argentine Red Shrimp, also called crustacean shellfish, are wild caught in the Southern Atlantic and have much more flavor than the average shrimp.  They are usually sold frozen in bags, 16-to-20 per pound.  Most likely they will be raw, and their tough shells, which are red, will still be attached.

These specialized shrimp can be hard to find.  I never heard of them until I stumbled across them at the fish counter of Jons Market, a store new to my neighborhood.  Even though their heads have been chopped off, they can be nasty to clean if their large veins (aka digestive tracts) have not been removed. 

At my store they are moderately priced (2 pounds for $9.98), so cleaning them is worth it.  They cook quickly-- just 2-3 minutes--even though they are so big.  You can tell when they’re ready because they will start to curl.

Stir-Fried Argentine Red Shrimp
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Friday, May 19, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 83

If you live where lemons are plentiful only part of the year, freeze freshly squeezed lemon juice into ice cube trays.  Once the cubes have frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag and use as needed.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Yikes! Not Chicken Again!

Moroccan Chicken
Sometimes I go overboard when I see a sale on boneless chicken breasts.  When I’m loading a 4-pound package into my cart, all I can think about is “What a great bargain this is.”  Only when I’m starring at it in my refrigerator do I actually think about having to cook it and eat it.

I knew that freezing half of what I bought would solve the immediate problem, but experience has taught me that chicken tastes better when it’s freshly cooked.  That’s why I decided to make a huge batch of Moroccan Chicken, which is basically an Asian stir-fry with raisins, pine nuts and a lot of mint and cinnamon.

I first ate this at a dinner party in London and begged for the recipe.  Foolishly I worried that it would require ingredients unavailable in Southern California, but the problem was more basic.  How often could I serve it before getting sick of it?

I recently found out the answer: three consecutive dinners.  Moroccan Chicken tasted wonderful the first night and pretty good the second night.  By the third night I was thinking, “Maybe it’s time to make pizza.”  But I was in a hurry, which meant “Heat up the rest of the leftovers.”

There was no Night Four.  In my freezer there is now a storage container clearly labeled Moroccan Chicken.  I plan to defrost it in a few months. 
Moroccan Chicken– serves 4 (adapted from “Faster! I’m Starving!”
2-3 boneless chicken breasts (1 1/2 – 2 pounds)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive or canola oil, divided use
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 2 teaspoons dried mint
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons Black Bean Garlic Sauce 
Remove any fat from the chicken breasts and slice them into strips 1/2-inch wide and 2 inches long.  Put them into a large bowl.  Add the raisins, pine nuts, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, mint, garlic, cinnamon and red pepper flakes.  Mix well. 
Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large frying pan or wok and begin heating over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken mixture and stir-fry for 5-6 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked.  It should be white in the middle, not pink.  Add the scallion pieces and black bean garlic sauce and mix well.  Heat for 1 minute and serve immediately.  Or set aside until ready to eat and then reheat briefly.
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Monday, May 15, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 109

Chocolate makes just about everything taste better, especially chocolate cookies that aren’t quite as chocolaty as you’d hoped.  Start melting a cup of chocolate chips in a small, thick-bottomed pan over low heat and stir until the chips start to lose their shape.  Remove from the heat, stir until all the chocolate has melted and then dip fruit, cookies or marshmallows halfway into the chocolate.  Place on a wax paper-covered plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes until the chocolate has hardened.  Transfer to a serving dish.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Question for Mom

What is a silicone baking mat, and how would I use one?  Howard M.

Imagine being able to bake cookies and bagels or roast vegetables and meat without having to grease the pan or scrape off encrusted pieces of food.  Just lay the mat onto a bare baking sheet as you would foil or parchment paper.  Do NOT grease the mat.  Then place whatever you want to bake on top of it--even if it's frozen--it and put it in the oven to bake.

A silicone baking mat saves endless cleanup because nothing sticks to it.  After use, just wipe it with a damp cloth, rinse in clear water and air dry.  With proper care, it will last for years.

To keep this baking mat in good working order:

Don't use it under the broiling unit or on an outdoor grill,
Don't lay it directly on an oven rack.
Don't cut it.  These mats come in several sizes.  Buy the size that best suits your needs.
Store flat or rolled in a tube.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

I Can Make That Too: Honey Shrimp in Mom’s Kitchen vs. the Restaurant Version

Mom's Honey Shrimp
Until I ate some Honey Shrimp at Pho Show in Redondo Beach, CA, it never occurred to me to combine these two ingredients.  They work surprisingly well together.  And here I thought the best match-up with shrimp was cocktail sauce!

That’s because of my Western Pennsylvania childhood.  The only times I ever had shrimp was at restaurants, and they were always served as Shrimp Cocktail.  How ignorant I was.

What a surprise to move to Manhattan, where Chinese restaurants flourished.  At the time Kung Pao Shrimp was a big deal.  Then it was Salt & Pepper Shrimp and Southern Fried Shrimp. In London I discovered Shrimp Curry, Tandoori Shrimp and Shrimp Masala.  I also found out I could buy shrimp at the fish counter.

I still make Shrimp Cocktail once in a while, but I’ve moved on. Now that I’ve added Honey Shrimp to my must-serve list, I’m on the prowl for something new.  Suggestions?
Honey Shrimp – serves 3-4 
1 pound large raw shrimp (16-25 per pound)
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon canola or peanut oil
1/2 pound snow peas, strings removed
5 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cups cooked rice 
Peel the shrimp and put them in a medium bowl. 
Combine the honey, soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.  Pour half the mixture over the shrimp, stir and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. 
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the shrimp mixture and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, making sure to cook both sides of the shrimp.  Add the rest of the honey sauce to the shrimp and stir.  Then add the snow peas and scallion pieces and stir-fry for another minute.  Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with rice. 
Pho Show's Honey Shrimp
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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tilapia: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

Tilapia sounds like something that belongs in a tool box, but it’s actually a fish.  It was virtually unknown until about 15 years ago, when it started being farmed.  Now it's very popular. 

Tilapia is not a fashionable fish, but I like it for a number of reasons:

1) It’s reasonably priced
2) The fillets have no bones
3) It’s easy to bake - see Crunchy Baked Fish
4) It has a mild flavor

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 108

When cooking pasta, be sure to stir the noodles a few times during the cooking process, especially at the beginning.  This helps prevent the noodles from sticking together.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Is Cauliflower the Hot New Kid on the Block?

Roasted Cauliflower
Every so often an old-time vegetable shoots to the top of the fashionable pile.  Recently it was kale.  Now it seems to be cauliflower’s turn.  If you’re tired of boring old white, this vegetable is even available in different colors—green, purple and orange.

I first became aware of cauliflower’s transformation to hotness when my friend Lynne, who has worked in the food industry for many years, told me that she finally found a non-meat item her husband would eat for dinner—Roasted Cauliflower.  She sent me her recipe, and sure enough, it not only looked good but it also tasted good.

Then last month I went to event featuring a restaurant owner, a TV food presenter and an executive who feeds thousands of people a day at a sports center.  When asked what food was cutting edge today, all of them said, “Cauliflower.”

In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, nearly a whole page was devoted to a recipe from Sarah Michelle Gellar (better known as Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  Guess the name of the recipe: Cauliflower Popcorn.

And just yesterday I saw a new version of cauliflower in the fresh produce department—a bag of cauliflower so finely chopped that it looked like puffy rice.  Just the thing if you want to make a Cauliflower Crust Pizza or Cauliflower Fritters.

I guess I’m old-fashioned because I still like Cauliflower in Cheese Sauce—my first introduction to this vegetable.  Eventually I moved on to Cauliflower with Potatoes from Madhur Jaffrey’s “Indian Cookery.” 

Pasta with Indian Cauliflower Sauce
This became a dinner staple until I combined cauliflower with penne pasta and invented Pasta with Indian Cauliflower Sauce.  

Now I’ve discovered an even spicier dish called Benarasi Cauliflower from “The Good Cook: Vegetables”, an old Time-Life cookbook series.  This is my go-to cauliflower recipe at the moment.

Benarasi Cauliflower
Benarasi Cauliflower – serves 4-6 (adapted from “The Good Cook: Vegetables”)  
1 small cauliflower, divided into bite-size florets
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil + more if needed
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves
2 cardamom pods, seeds only
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Begin heating 1 tablespoon oil in a large frying pan or wok.  Add the cauliflower florets and stir-fry until the florets start to brown, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the florets to a large bowl or plate.  
Puree the onion, coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cloves, cardamom seeds and chopped tomatoes in a blender.  Pour the blended liquid into the frying pan or wok and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to thicken.  
Add the cauliflower florets and stir gently until they are covered with sauce.  Cover with a lid and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the florets can be pierced with a fork.  Serve immediately or reheat when needed.  This dish is also good cold.  
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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 82

Do you need a quick and cheap vegetable side dish?  Try making Broiled Onions.  
Broiled Onions - serves 4 
1 large purple onion 
1 large white or yellow onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Slice the onions into very thin rings.  Put the slices in a large bowl and separate the rings with your fingers.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and salt and stir well. 
Preheat the broiler to High.  Transfer the onion mixture to a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or foil for easy clean-up.  Spread the onions into a thin layer and broil for 5 minutes.  Stir the mixture and broil for another 5 minutes.  Transfer the broiled onions to a bowl and serve.  
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Monday, May 1, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 107

With corn coming into season, here’s a quick way to remove corn silks.  Rub them off with a damp paper towel.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Chocolate Frenzy

The only sure-fire way I’ve been able to drag teenagers away from computers and video games is to say, “Let’s make something chocolate!”  This time the lure was Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.

Andy, 16, had already researched the topic online.  He discovered a video about how to make a peanut butter cup that was apparently the size of a dinner plate.  Unfortunately he couldn’t find it again, so we had to fall back on adapting my Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chunks recipe.  It was a lot easier than I expected, mostly because of Andy’s enthusiasm.

I got out my 3 muffin pans, paper cupcake liners and a large economy size bag of chocolate chips.  Then I showed Andy how to melt chocolate—a useful life-long skill.  He dropped cupcake liners into the muffin cups and carefully spooned some chocolate into each liner. 

While we waited for the chocolate to harden, we made the peanut butter filling.  He shaped 1 spoonful into a disc, placed it on top of the chocolate and then spooned more chocolate on top.  The end result looked very homemade, but Andy didn’t care since he was mainly interested in how they tasted. 

We had one unexpected problem—too much peanut butter filling.  Because it had the consistency of Playdough, we decided to shape the leftovers into marble-size balls and dip them in chocolate.  We refrigerated them too for a while before we could sample them.  They were a big success!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups & Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls - makes 18 cups, 7-8 balls 
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips + more if needed
Paper cupcake liners
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3/8 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons milk + more if needed  
Melt the chocolate in a small, heavy pot over very low heat, stirring constantly.  When the chocolate is almost melted, turn off the heat and set aside.  The heat of the pot will melt the remaining chocolate.  
Make the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups first.  Place the cupcake liners into the muffin pan(s) and spoon enough chocolate into each liner to cover the bottom of the paper.  Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes, or until the chocolate hardens.  
While you’re waiting, make the peanut butter filling.  Put the butter, powdered sugar, peanut butter, brown sugar, salt and milk in a food processor or large bowl.  Process or beat with an electric mixer or by hand until smooth and creamy.  Taste to see if the mixture is too dry and crumbly.  If you want it smoother and creamier, add another teaspoon or more milk and mix until it reaches the consistency you prefer.  It should remain firm enough to pick up without sticking to your fingers.  
Shape 1 heaping teaspoon of the peanut butter mixture into a flat disc slightly smaller than the bottom of the cupcake liner and place on top of the chocolate. Repeat until you have filled each cupcake liner.  Then spoon a thin layer of warm chocolate onto the peanut butter filling, making sure it completely covers the filling and touches the edges of the liner.  Refrigerate until firm. 
Shape any remaining peanut butter filling into marble-sized balls and roll in melted chocolate.  Melt more chocolate chips if needed.  Place balls on a plate lined with wax paper and refrigerate until firm. 
Store in a closed container or wrapped in foil or plastic.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Question for Mom

What’s the difference between parchment paper and wax paper?  Celeste N.

Both are used in baking, but parchment paper is more expensive.  If money is no object, always use parchment paper.  Here are the differences.

Parchment Paper: It is coated with silicone to keep food from sticking to it.  The coating is what makes it more expensive, but it also makes it more versatile.  I use parchment paper when heat is involved. Last night I laid a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and baked crab cakes on it.  They slid right off, and I didn’t have to wash the cookie sheet.  

I also use it to line cookie sheets when baking cookies, Portobello mushrooms, fish or anything else that's not runny.  Parchment paper (cut to the appropriate shape) is good for lining cake pans before adding the batter and baking.  The cakes will come out of the pan easily this way.

Wax Paper: It has a light coating of wax, which makes it particularly useful if you are making your own piecrust.  I put a piece of wax paper on the counter, place the piecrust dough on it and then top with another piece of wax paper.  I roll out the dough between the two pieces of wax paper, pull off and discard the top piece, then lift the bottom piece with the dough attached and lay it across the pie pan.  Then I carefully peel off the wax paper.  Clean-up is easy.

Use wax paper to wrap sandwiches.  If you want to make chocolate-covered strawberries, place the hot dipped strawberries on a plate lined with wax paper and store in the fridge until the chocolate hardens.  The chocolate covering would stick to the plate, but it won’t stick to the wax paper.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 81

If a recipe calls for buttermilk and you don’t want to buy a whole quart of it, here’s how to make it yourself.  Add I tablespoon lemon juice to a cup of milk.  Wait 5 minutes and it’s ready.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 106

Eggplant tastes a lot better when you peel and discard its purple-black skin before cooking it.  Once I figured this out, I began to like Eggplant Parmesan.
Simple Eggplant Parmesan – serves 2-3 
1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil + more if needed
1 24-ounce jar spaghetti sauce (some sauce will be left over)
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
Peel the eggplant and slice it lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices. 
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add as many slices of eggplant as will fit in a single layer and cook for about 2 minutes, or until they begin to brown on the bottom. Turn down the heat to medium if the eggplant starts to burn.  Turn the slices over and cook for another 2 minutes.  Transfer the cooked slices to a plate and repeat the process, adding another tablespoon of oil to the pan. 
Begin preheating the oven to 400 degrees. 
Put 1/2 cup of the spaghetti sauce in a large casserole or baking dish and spread the sauce around to cover the bottom. Lay half the cooked eggplant slices in a single layer on top of the sauce.  Spread about 1 cup of spaghetti sauce on top of the eggplant slices.  Scatter half the mozzarella cheese over the sauce.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese on top.  
Then add a second layer of eggplant, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese. 
Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce bubbles and the top begins to brown.  Serve immediately.

                                   See all my Cooking Tips!