Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 75

Note Sell-By Date on Lid

Sell-by” dates don’t mean that the food is inedible or hazardous.  The date tells you that the food will taste better if you eat it before or on that date.  You can stretch the eating time a few days, although if the product smells off or has mold on it discard it.  “Expiration” dates, however, do matter.  Do not eat any food product that has expired. 

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Cardamom Pod: What Is It and How Do I Cook with it?

The first time I saw a cardamom pod was in an Indian restaurant.  A bowl of them was sitting by the front door, and I was encouraged to take a few to chew on as I left.  Naturally I assumed cardamom’s main use was as a post-dinner breath freshener.  Later I realized that the little black or brown seeds inside each pod had probably been used in some of the dishes I’d just eaten.

One of the most expensive spices sold, cardamom is popular in Indian, Middle Eastern and Scandinavian cooking.  The Vikings are thought to have used it as a cake flavoring.  Ancient Greeks and Romans also had it in their kitchens.

Cardamom has a gingery flavor and is often added in combination with cinnamon and cloves.  It is one of the components of Garam Masala, an Asian spice blend.

You can buy cardamom as pods, seeds or ground.  The flavor is strongest when the seeds are still in the pods, so remove them just before adding them to what you’re cooking.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 92

(Clockwise from Left) Mustard Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Coriander Seeds, Red Pepper Flakes

Some recipes ask you to heat whole spices such as mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a hot pan.  The heat may cause the seeds to pop out onto the stove, so have a lid handy as a barrier. 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What to Eat on a Dark and Stormy Night

Wanna-be world-famous-author Snoopy said it best in the first line of his never-finished novel: “On a dark and stormy night….”  If only Snoopy or his creator, Charles Schultz, could cook, we might have seen some memorable meals in that comic strip instead of an empty dog dish. 

On one recent dark and stormy and cold night in usually sunny California I decided not to go out to the grocery store.  Instead I looked in my fridge to see what I could turn into dinner.  I found a roast chicken carcass with a few scraps of meat, some carrots, an onion, a few mushrooms, a package of mixed salad greens and some leftover cooked barley.  On the windowsill were 2 plum tomatoes.  An hour later we sat down to a colorful and filling soup.
Chicken and Fresh Vegetable Soup – serves 3-4 as a main dish 
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil 
2 carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds or 1/2 cup grated carrots 
1 medium onion, finely chopped 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
6-8 medium mushrooms, thinly sliced 
2 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces 
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary or 2/3 teaspoon dried rosemary 
1/2 teaspoon paprika 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
3 cups chicken broth or water + more if needed 
2 handfuls mixed salad greens, fresh spinach or other greens 
1 15-ounce can Cannellini, Great Northern or other white beans, drained and rinsed 
1-1½ cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces or slivers 
3/4 cup cooked barley, cooked rice or cooked spaghetti, cut into 2-inch pieces 
Parmesan cheese (optional) 
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the carrots and onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, rosemary, paprika, salt and black pepper and stir.  Continue cooking for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms have softened. 
Add the chicken broth or water and bring to a boil.  Add the salad or other greens, beans, chicken and barley and return to a boil.  If the soup seems too thick, add 1/2 cup water or more.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the soup is hot and the greens have shrunk.   
Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese, if using. Or let cool and reheat when needed. 

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Question for Mom

(Left) Light Brown Sugar  (Right) Dark Brown Sugar
What’s the difference between light and dark brown sugar? --Evelyn R.

Mostly the color, although dark brown sugar includes more molasses than the lighter version and thus has a slightly stronger taste.  However, I think the subtleties are lost in baking.  Use whatever sugar you have, although do NOT substitute white sugar for brown sugar.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 91

If your French fries come out soggy rather than crisp, you may be cooking too many at once.  Don’t pile them up on each other.  Try using two pans or cooking them in batches.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

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

Eatalia Cafe's Penne Arrabbiato
The word “arrabbiato” is Italian for “angry.”  In food terms that’s code for “very spicy” or “as spicy as you can stand it.”  I prefer medium-spicy, with a glass of water standing by just in case.

The secret of Arrabbiato is red pepper flakes.  It’s surprising how much heat can come from just a few flakes added to the tomato sauce while it’s still cooking.

My version of Penne Arrabbiato often includes mushrooms and strips of salami.  Sometimes I’ll add some scraps of leftover chicken.  But I’m also fond of the version found at Eatalian Café in Gardena, California.  It’s more basic—just tomato sauce, spices, parsley and noodles.
Mom's Penne Arrabiata
Penne Arrabbiata – serves 4 
1 15 1/2 –ounce can ready-cut tomatoes 
1 teaspoon soy sauce 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like very spicy food) 
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms 
8 thin slices Italian dry salami, cut into 1/2-inch thick strips 
1 1/2-cups uncooked penne 
1/2 cup chopped parsley 
Grated Parmesan cheese, if desired 
Half-fill a large pot with water, cover and begin heating over high heat.  Meanwhile, make the sauce. 
Put the tomatoes and their liquid, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper and red pepper flakes in a medium pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the mushrooms and salami and turn down the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, or until the tomato mixture thickens.  Stir occasionally to make sure the mixture does not get so thick that it sticks to the bottom of the pan.  Add 1/4 cup water if it gets too thick.  Turn off the heat, cover and set aside. 
When the water comes to a boil, add the penne and set the timer according to the directions on the penne package.  When the timer rings, taste a noodle.  If it’s too chewy, cook for another minute.  Drain the noodles in a colander, shaking the colander to make sure all the water drains. 
Transfer the noodles to a serving bowl or platter.  Pour the sauce on top and sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan cheese, if using.  Serve family-style.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 74

Don’t own a cooling rack or need more than one?  An oven rack can substitute for a cooling rack--as long as you don’t take it out of a hot oven and burn yourself.  Remove the rack when it is cold and set it on a counter until needed. 

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Does It Taste Better If It Has a Fancy Name?

If you saw a dish called Rice and Peas on a restaurant menu, would you order it?  If it were me, I’d say, “Why would I pay good money for this dish when I could make it tomorrow with my eyes shut?”

But what if it were called Risi Bisi or Risi e Bisi?  I might be intrigued enough to order it.  I like Italian food so Risi (rice) e (and) Bisi (peas) could be a thrilling discovery.  Maybe I’d be convinced that it contained some special ingredient that justified the price. 

For adventurous eaters, exotic-sounding dishes like Coq au Vin (Chicken in Wine Sauce), Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Stew), Sopa de Albondigas (Meatball Soup) and Weinerschnitzel (Fried Veal Cutlets) sound much tastier in their native language.

Next time you cook a boring-sounding dish, give it a French, Italian, Spanish, German or other foreign name.  Everyone will be eager to try it, even you. 
Risi Bisi – serves 4 
2 cups cooked rice 
1/2 cup cooked peas 
Combine the rice and peas, heat until hot and serve as a side.  What could be easier? 
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Friday, January 13, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 90

Check cookies 2 minutes before the recipe says they should be ready.  Your oven may be baking hotter than it’s supposed to.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 73

Freeze extra lemons.  Cut them in half and store in a plastic freezer bag.  Defrost before squeezing out the juice.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

The Joy and Agony of Leftovers

Sometimes I’m thrilled when I open the fridge and see nicely wrapped packages of leftovers.  “Ah,” I think to myself.  “Dinner is going to be easy tonight.  Thank goodness I have a microwave.”

Other times I cringe.  “Oh, no!  Not more turkey.”

This Christmas produced a lot of leftovers from the leg of lamb I cooked Christmas Eve.  We had a multitude of company, so I cooked mussels and grilled lamb.  Everyone ate the mussels but not much of the lamb.  Well, they ate the rare slices and left the rest. 

I’m not a fan of well-done lamb, so I had to be creative.  At times like this, I turn to Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery, a 200-page book full of delicious dishes.  That’s where I found a recipe for Lamb with Spinach.

It wasn’t a very exciting-sounding main dish.  It called for uncooked lamb, but I figured I’d just cook it less.  Also, I didn’t have any spinach.  But I did have beet greens—the greenery attached to raw beets—and that’s almost like spinach. 

I adapted the recipe to the ingredients I had and added lots of spices.  Less than an hour later we were eating a very tasty lamb stew.  Too bad there’s none left for dinner tonight.
Beet Greens
Spicy Lamb Stew – serves 3-4 (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil 
6 whole black peppercorns 
3 whole cloves 
3 cardamom pods 
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped 
2 teaspoons chopped garlic 
1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped 
1 - 1 1/2 pounds cooked lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes 
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
1 teaspoon ground coriander 
Few dashes cayenne pepper 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
3 tablespoons plain yogurt 
1/4 cup milk or water 
Beet greens from 3 beets, washed and roughly chopped (or 1 pound fresh spinach or
            10-oz box frozen spinach) 
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  When hot, put in the peppercorns, cloves and cardamom pods.  Stir for a few seconds.  Add the onions, garlic and ginger and stir and fry until the onions soften. 
Add the meat, cumin, coriander cayenne pepper and salt and stir until well mixed.  Add the yogurt and milk and stir again. 
When the mixture returns to a boil, add the beet greens (or spinach), stir and cover tightly.  Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes until the greens have cooked.  Serve immediately.  The whole spices are not meant to be eaten, so remove them or ask diners to remove them.
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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 89

Do you always have more fresh cilantro and parsley than the recipe calls for?  Cut off and discard the long stems and put the leaves in a small plastic storage bag.  Store in the freezer until needed.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Szechuan Peppercorn: What Is it and How Do I Cook with It?


The Szechuan (also spelled Sichuan) peppercorn is a spice popular in many Asian countries, particularly China.  Rather than simply being hot, this peppercorn has a spicy, more exotic flavor than black peppercorns. It is not related to the pepper family.  Reddish brown, it is actually a dried berry husk from the Chinese prickly ash bush.  Because it can cause your mouth to tingle, use it sparingly.


To prepare these peppercorns, briefly toast the amount you need in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat until they begin to give off their fragrance.  Remove them from the heat, let cool and then crush them using a mortar and pestle.  Or put them between two sheets of wax paper and gently bang them with a heavy can or rolling pin.


Dishes in which they are featured include Stir-Fried Eggplant with Pork, Spicy Tofu and Szechuan Noodles with Spicy Beef Sauce, to name but a few.  I like to use crushed Szechuan peppercorns to season pieces of fresh tuna before briefly sautéing the tuna in hot oil.


Szechuan peppercorns are available in small packets at Asian markets, gourmet grocers or online.   Ground Szechuan pepper is one of the ingredients in Chinese Five Spice. 

NOTE: Small twigs may be mixed in with the peppercorns and should be discarded before crushing occurs.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 88

If you buy prepackaged mushrooms but don’t plan to use them for a few days, remove them from their boxes and wrap them in paper towels before storing them in the fridge’s vegetable bin.  This will help prevent them from becoming slimy.

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