Friday, June 30, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 115

(left) Traditional Cranberry Sauce  (right) Cranberry Sauce Made From Dried Cranberries 
Pining for cranberry sauce but can't find any fresh berries?  Use dried cranberries soaked overnight in a small amount of water.  No cooking needed.  The cranberries will plump right up, and any excess liquid can be spooned off and drunk as cranberry juice.  Kudos to my brother Steve for coming up with this idea.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Blood Oranges: What Are They and How Do I Use Them?

The first time I saw the inside of a blood orange I was shocked. It really looked like the orange was bleeding. There was some normal orange flesh, but what was that big splotch of purple?

Then I tasted it and realized it was an orange with benefits.  Not only was it exotic to look at but also it had a sweeter, more intense flavor than orange oranges.  

You can treat a blood orange like any other orange—squeeze them for juice, eat them in sections or, for maximum effect, peel them and cut them and serve them in a bowl with some greens as a side salad.  Or serve them sliced as a dessert, by themselves or with sliced strawberries.  Guests will be impressed. 

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Monday, June 26, 2017

How Often Do Your Dinners Seem Like Restaurant Fare?

Not very often at my house?  Maybe it’s because I’m usually in a hurry or I’m obsessed with using up leftovers. 

This week I had two graduations to go to, both starting at 6 pm, so eating did not begin until after 8 pm.  Who wants to be in the kitchen after spending two hours in a football stadium cheering on the new grads?

One of those nights I was drafted to make pizza for the new grad.  The other night we stumbled home and had leftovers.

Last night I was finally inspired to make something gourmet-worthy—using my definition of gourmet, which is something I would not be ashamed to serve to guests. 

I chose Catfish Masala.  It was quick and easy, and I was shocked how good it was. It would certainly stand up well against any fish dish in an Indian restaurant.  I even used not-quite-thawed fish.  Unfortunately we ate it all up, so there are no leftovers.

Catfish Masala – serves 2 (adapted from “Faster! I’m Starving!”)  
3/4 pound catfish, red snapper or tilapia
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil (divided use)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
1/2 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
Cut the fish into 2-inch pieces.  You can use frozen fish, if you like. 
Begin heating 1 tablespoon oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat.  Add the fish and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and transfer the fish and any liquid to a bowl. 
Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pan and begin heating over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, tomato and bell pepper and cook about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. 
Add the garlic, ginger, paprika, coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper and mix well.  Return the partly cooked fish and liquid to the pan and stir gently so the fish is covered with sauce.  Turn down the heat to medium, cover and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the fish is firm.  Serve immediately.
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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.

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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.

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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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