Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ingredients Hiding in Plain Sight

Right now my refrigerator is stuffed with food that doesn’t quite add up to dinner: a slice of mushroom pizza, at least one cup of cottage cheese, a huge pan of rice left over from a business meeting, some mushrooms, 2 bell peppers + the usual block of cheddar cheese and several dozen eggs.

I really should pop out to the store or find something in my freezer, but I want to clear out the fridge shelves first.  What can I make from these ingredients?  Click on the links below for the three recipes.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 102

When making brownies or other dessert bars in a square or rectangular pan, line the pan with aluminum foil, making sure two ends of the foil overhand the pan by about 2 inches.  That way you can easily lift the brownies out of the pan after they’re baked.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Question for Mom?

Sugar Snap Peas (left)  Snow Peas (right)

What’s the difference between sugar snap peas and snow peas?  --Edna V.

Not a lot, especially considering that snow peas are the parent of sugar snap peas.  Scientists developed sugar snap peas in the 1950s through cross-breeding a snow pea with a garden pea.

There are differences.  Snow peas are flat and have small peas inside.  Sugar snap peas are puffier, and their peas are bigger.  Both make excellent side dishes.

Unlike garden peas, which you must shell, you eat the entire pod of snow peas and sugar snap peas. First, though, it’s a good idea to pull off and discard the tough strings running along the edges of each pod. 

Some people like to eat both these pods raw, but cooking them is quick and easy.   Snow peas cook faster – about 60 seconds in boiling water or 1-2 minutes when added to a stir-fry.  Sugar snap peas have a slightly tougher pod, so double the cooking time.  I like to stir-fry sugar snap peas on their own in a few drops of oil for about 2 minutes, which will keep them crisp.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 101

Some recipes call for saving a cup of hot pasta water before draining the pasta.  Here’s why: you may want to add at least some of the water to the sauce for extra flavor.  Also, the starch left in the pasta water helps the sauce stick better.     

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Where Do You Get Your Recipes?

Shrimp Chowder
I like trying new recipes, but I’ve learned to be careful about the source.  If my aunt, a terrible cook, hands me a copy of a recipe she likes, I say thank you and put it in my purse, never to be seen again.  If a close friend who is also a skillful cook offers one, I try it immediately.  I don’t always like the end result, but I’m willing to give it a chance.

With cookbooks, I’ll test out one or two recipes.  If they’re successful, I’ll try some more.  If they’re not, that cookbook moves down to a shelf near the floor of my kitchen and may never be consulted again.  If it was an epic fail, I banish the cookbook to the garage.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 100

If a soup recipe calls for fresh spinach and you don’t have any, substitute several handfuls of mixed salad greens.

Bean and Vegetable Soup
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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Durum Wheat: What Is It and How Do I Use It?

When I was a beginning cook, spaghetti was one of my fallback meals.  I happily ate it two or three times a week.  The one thing that worried me about it, though, was that I might inadvertently buy the “wrong” kind of pasta. 

I’d read somewhere that pasta made from durum wheat was the proper product to buy.  So every time I had to restock my pasta supply, I would spend 15 minutes in the grocery aisle carefully choosing packages labeled “durum wheat.”  I wasn’t quite sure what would happen if I bought a non-durum wheat product.  Would the pasta taste horrible?  Be super-sticky?  Dissolve in boiling water? 

This was one of my “terror-in-the-kitchen” worries.  Others included buying the wrong size egg and leaving out an important ingredient in a recipe.  Back then, I believed in following cooking rules, even if I weren’t fully convinced they were correct.

Now that I know a lot more about cooking, I wonder why I was so terrified of making a mistake.  These days if a recipe bombs, I’ll just cook an omelet or some pasta—which gets me back to durum wheat.  

Durum wheat is hard wheat (as opposed to soft wheat). Pasta made with it will hold its shape when cooked.  Sometimes ground durum wheat is used in bread flour.  Regular white flour, which is made of soft wheat, is used to make cookies, cakes and other desserts. 

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 99

Kiwi Slices
Use an egg slicer to slice hard-boiled eggs and other foods into slender slices.  The foods, which need to be semi-soft, could include bananas, kiwis, strawberries, avocados, pieces of ripe peach, apple or pear (skin side away from the blades), as well as nearly-cooked carrots, potatoes, beets and other root vegetables.

Hard-Boiled Egg Slices 

Banana Slices
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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dinner While Driving

More often than I would like, Bart and I wind up driving somewhere during the dinner hour.  Getting a proper meal on the table before we leave usually isn’t an option, so I have built up a list of dishes we can take with us and eat on the road.

The criteria are pretty rigid:

Nothing messy
Nothing runny
Nothing that requires a knife
Nothing that only tastes good hot

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Egg Salad on a Bun are typical choices, but I want to introduce you to the Portobello Mushroom Sandwich.  A large grilled Portobello Mushroom fits nicely in a bun or chunk of sliced French bread.  It’s a filling but not too messy meal to chow down in the car. 
Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches – makes 3 sandwiches  

3 large (about 4 inches in diameter) Portobello mushrooms 
4 teaspoons olive or canola oil (divided use) 
1 cup fresh bread crumbs 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
3/4 cup grated cheddar, mozzarella or other hard cheese you may have 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silicone baking mat and set aside.  
Briefly rinse the top surface of the mushrooms but don’t let any water get onto the underside.  Turn the mushrooms over and gently pull off the stems and olace on a cutting board.  The oil keeps the mushroom from sticking. 
Chop the stems into 1/4-inch pieces and put in a bowl.  Add the bread crumbs, garlic, salt, black pepper and grated cheese and gently mix together.  Fill the cavity of each mushroom with 1/3 of the breadcrumb mixture.  Then drizzle 1 teaspoon oil over each stuffed mushroom. 
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened and the breadcrumbs have browned.  Serve immediately on buns.  
NOTE: If you have some leftover cooked meat or chicken and want to make the filling heartier, shred about 1/2 cup of it and add it to the breadcrumb mixture before stuffing the mushrooms.
                        For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Friday, March 10, 2017

Question for Mom

I have a recipe that calls for BBQ sauce, but I don’t have any.  Can you suggest a substitute? – Daryl W.

Make your own BBQ sauce.  It’s easy, although it’s only worth it if you already have most of the ingredients.  
BBQ Sauce – makes about 4 cups – (adapted from “Help!My Apartment Has a Dining Room”
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil 
1 large or 2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
2 cups ketchup 
3/4 cup cider vinegar 
1/2 cup lemon juice 
1/4 cup water 
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce 
1/3 cup brown sugar 
2 tablespoons chili powder 
1 tablespoon celery seeds 
2 teaspoons ground cumin 
2 tablespoons butter 
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften.  Add the remaining ingredients, except the butter, and stir thoroughly. 
Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the butter, stir and remove from the heat. 
Use immediately or refrigerate until needed.  This sauce will keep for several months.
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 98

If you have to suddenly delay serving cooked pasta that you’ve just drained, put it back in the pot and add 1-2 tablespoons olive or canola oil, stir so the oil covers the noodles and cover.  The oil will keep the noodles from sticking to each other while awaiting sauce.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

India Meets Italy at My Table

Pasta with Indian Cauliflower Sauce
I like food from other countries.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in a Western Pennsylvania coal and steel town populated by many nationalities.  Every summer weekend my family attended a community picnic featuring dishes from a specific nationality.  The Italian Picnic introduced me to Spaghetti and Meatballs and Veal Parmesan.  The Polish Picnic offered Grilled Kielbasas (sausages) and Sauerkraut.  I loved the Flatbread on offer at the Syrian Picnic and the Stuffed Grape Leaves, Baklava and Tiropita (cheese turnovers) at the Greek Picnic.

These were once-a-year treats because such exotic dishes seemed too complicated to make at home.  I was a bit na├»ve back then.  I thought spaghetti came out of a can because that’s how my mother served it. 

Once I became an adult and developed some cooking skills, I mastered a few of these dishes.  That’s when I discovered that different ethnic cuisines shared some of the same ingredients.  Noodles didn’t just belong in Italian cooking.  I discovered them in Chinese, Japanese and Thai dishes.  When I began loving Indian food, I searched for noodle dishes but found none.  So I tried combining a spicy Indian cauliflower recipe with a plate of noodles and was happily surprised.
Pasta with Indian Cauliflower Sauce – serves 3-4 (adapted from “Faster! I’m Starving!”
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
1 16-ounce jar Masala Simmer Sauce 
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 small or 1/2 large cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Dash cayenne pepper
1/4 cup sour cream 
8 ounces spiral (fusilli), penne or butterfly (farfalle) noodles 
Half-fill a large pot with water and begin heating over high heat. 
Pour the jar of Masala Simmer Sauce into a medium pot or make your own sauce, as described below.
Put the onion and tomato sauce into the bowl of a blender and process until smooth. Pour the sauce into a medium pot.  Add the cauliflower, coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt, black pepper, cloves and cayenne pepper and begin cooking over medium-high heat.   
Cook about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the cauliflower is soft enough to be pierced with a sharp knife.  Add the sour cream and stir.  Remove from the heat and cover until needed.
When the water comes to a boil, add the noodles and cook according to directions.  Drain the noodles and put them in a large bowl.  Reheat the cauliflower sauce and serve it in a separate bowl.  Let diners help themselves.
                        For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Question for Mom?

Should I store potatoes in my fridge? 

No!  Cold temperatures change the flavor of potatoes.  Also, potatoes take up a lot of room.  Keep them in a cool, dark place. 

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 78

Maximize your use of boiling water. If you need to cook raw shrimp for a few minutes, use the opportunity to remove the skins from a few tomatoes and/or make hard-boiled eggs.  Just drop everything into the same pot of boiling water?  The tomatoes will take no more than a minute.  Then scoop them out and pull off the skins.  The shrimp will take 3-5 minutes, depending on size, to turn pink and slightly curl.  Then scoop them out and peel them.  The eggs will take 10 minutes in boiling water and then another 2 minutes sitting in hot water.  Then run under cold water and peel.  

It’s culinary multi-tasking!

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