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.

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.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Ramen Noodles Not Just for College Students


If you toss out the flavor packet (too much salt), packaged ramen noodles can be the basis of a reasonable emergency meal.  I proved it last night when I was scrambling to get dinner on the table and discovered two lonely packages of ramen noodles at the back of a pantry shelf.  They were just what I needed for the leftover pork stir-fry I wanted to make.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 105


After serving ice cream, put plastic wrap directly on top of what’s left.  That will help prevent ice crystals forming inside the container.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Mom’s Basic Bootcamp: Salmon


This is the third 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. 

A popular restaurant menu item, fresh salmon is very easy to cook at home.  You can grill it, roast it, poach it or pan-fry it.  You can serve it whole or as fillets, steaks or kebabs.  You can make it into a soup or an appetizer spread the British call Potted Salmon.  If any salmon is left over, you can turn it into Salmon Cakes or add it to Risotto or a salad.  If you’re adventurous, you can even make your own smoked salmon.

Served hot or cold, salmon is hard to ruin. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 80


Did you know you can freeze grapes?  Buy some extra seedless ones when they’re on sale.  Wash and dry individual grapes and put them on a tray in the freezer.  Make sure they don’t touch each other.  When they're frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag, seal it tightly and store in the freezer.  They will last for several weeks.  Serve them frozen, if you like, but they taste like fresh grapes once they have defrosted..

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Everything Is Better with Chocolate, Even Pizza


When I first floated the idea of making Chocolate Pizza, my kids thought I was nuts.  They said that chocolate did not belong in the same sentence with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, sausage, anchovies or pepperoni.  And I agreed. 

I’m not about to waste chocolate on a cockamamie idea, but I could visualize this pizza.   Maybe it’s because I make regular pizza at least once a week, or maybe it’s because I’m slighted obsessed (some would say demented) when it comes to chocolate.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bok Choy: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

Baby Bok Choy
The first time I saw bok choy in the produce department, I thought it was a new kind of celery.  One end had thick white stems attached to a base and the other end had big leaves.  Since I was tired of my usual beans, broccoli, spinach and asparagus, I bought a large bok choy so I could try it out.  Here’s what I learned:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 104

Frying Chicken Tikka
Use tongs rather than a fork to turn meat as it cooks.  That way the juices won’t drip out through the holes made by the fork. 

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Free Cookbook Bonanza


My California small town has free book kiosks throughout the community. Residents donate books they don’t want, and other residents take them and then add their own unloved volumes.  It’s a great way to find old cookbooks. 

The first cookbook I discovered was one that I didn’t know existed.  However, once I saw the cover, I realized it was a companion volume to a book—“Thoughts for Festive Foods”—I used faithfully when I was learning to cook.  Published in 1964 and illustrated with line drawings instead of the gorgeous color photos we’re used to today, the book is very much of its time.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Question for Mom


Does it matter if I start baking with a cold oven or must it always be at the pre-heated temperature when I put food into it?  Alyssa D.

If you’re baking cake, cookies, pies or most breads, the oven needs to be at the exact temperature the recipe requires.  However, if you’re roasting potatoes, beets, other root vegetables or large pieces of meat, starting them in a cold oven is fine.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 79

Baked Chicken + 4 Sides: Cauliflower, Green Beans, Couscous and Bread
Add extra side dishes to your dinner menu.  If you traditionally serve one vegetable, try serving two or add a salad or bread.  That way you can serve less meat, which is usually the most expensive item on your plate.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Bulgur Wheat: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?


Bulgur wheat (bulgor wheat) is made of whole wheat kernels that have been boiled, dried and ground.  It needs to be cooked before eating.  Its high amount of fiber and nutrients make it a popular ingredient in Indian, Turkish and other Middle Eastern cuisines.

Many diners first come across bulgur wheat when eating Tabouli Salad (Tabbouleh Salad), a Middle Eastern dish made with fresh tomatoes, fresh parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, a few spices and some of this grain.