Cooking Tips rss

Ideas, advice, and what to make now from the Chowhound community and CHOW editors.

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I just made my first attempt at pancetta. Turned out awesome, the best I've ever had."

"Homemade eggnog is a different animal from store-bought. The beaten egg whites will rise to the top of the nog, even after folding them in, giving you a nice frothy head. Ladle a bit of it on top of each serving."

"I like casseroles because the flavors have a chance to meld and mingle. There's something delicious about having the noodles or rice pick up and absorb the flavors of the sauce which you don't get when you put sauce on top."

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"First rule: write down your entire planned menu and make a schedule. Figure out what you can do before Thanksgiving Day itself."

"You can also make avocado fries. They are a beautiful thing."
-small h

"I eat lobster as often as I can, but Julia Child's Lobster Souffle beats any other preparation I've ever had."

Thanksgiving Pie Extravaganza

Classic pumpkin pie is delicious, but there are plenty of inventive twists you can give this quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. Or start a new tradition with chocolate or fruit pies.

HillJ substitutes coconut milk for evaporated in the classic pumpkin pie recipe, or uses eggnog in place of eggs and milk. shaogo uses a tablespoon each of cinnamon and Chinese five-spice powder in place of the spices called for, and adds 1/4 cup molasses. cinnamon girl puts a smear of mincemeat on the pastry before pouring in the pumpkin filling for a double dose of holiday flavor.

middydd's favorite is pumpkin pie with ginger streusel. "The contrast between creamy filling and crunchy topping is really nice," she says. heypielady likes this pumpkin chocolate tart, with a chocolate crumb crust, pumpkin filling, and chocolate drizzle; the key is to use a good chocolate, says heypielady, who favors Valrhona.

another_adam is a fan of Paula Deen's pumpkin pie recipe, which includes cream cheese and butter and is very rich. "It had something of a cheesecake taste and a nice smooth texture," he says, "but not a true cheesecake consistency." It's best at room temperature rather than cold. chowser recommends a double-layer pumpkin cheesecake.

If pumpkin doesn't do it for you, try a fruit pie. heypielady calls the gingersnap topping on this pear-cranberry pie "amazing," and loves the addition of lemon zest to the crust. cheesecake17 calls Key lime tart and lemon meringue pie "light and refreshing after a heavy meal." Divamac goes the opposite direction, serving "stunningly good" double-chocolate tart with dulce de leche.

Oh, and by the way, if you have a pizza stone, by all means bake your pies on it. Doing so "does a stellar job of keeping the bottom crust from getting soggy when the pie contents are likely to exude quite a bit of liquid," says JoanN, who uses a Pyrex pie plate.

Board Links: Super-duper pumpkin pie?
Non-traditional pies that are worth it... Thanksgiving
Baking pie on pizza stone? Yay or nay?

Ladle On the Gravy

For many people, turkey gravy is the highlight of the Thanksgiving meal. Here's how to make it so flavorful you'll want to eat it with a spoon.

Good turkey stock is key to good gravy, say hounds. Many make stock from browned or roasted turkey parts (wings, backs, or necks, which many meat departments carry around Thanksgiving); some also save the skimmed fat for cooking the roux that starts the gravy. "Making a rich stock ahead of time lets you concentrate on building layers of flavor without the pressure" of Thanksgiving Day, notes Melanie Wong.

Add another layer of flavor by using white wine, dry sherry, or Cognac to deglaze the roasting pan. "A goodly slug of dry sherry makes a world of difference to the finished product," says jmnewel, and Diane in Bexley thinks Cognac "makes everything taste good!" Making the gravy in the roasting pan allows you to get all the fond into the sauce, too.

TorontoJo roasts a dozen shallots in the pan with the turkey, then blends them and mixes them into the gravy. "It gives a wonderful deep flavor," she says. "My 'secret' ingredient is soy sauce," she adds. "After I make the gravy and taste it, if it's a bit bland, I find a good splash of soy gives it the depth and umami that is missing."

maria lorraine goes in another direction altogether: She roasts the bird on a bed of carrots and apple halves, then separates the fat from the pan juices and blends the carrots and apples with the pan juices. "No stock. No flour and water," she says. "Best gravy I ever had. And I'm a gravy fan."

mcsheridan recommends this make-ahead gravy, which yields many servings and can be frozen for up to a month.

Board Links: Gravy good enough to drink: what makes your mostly classic turkey gravy special?

Dressed-Up Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce doesn't have to be plain. Adding fruits, nuts, and even booze makes it extra-special.

Some hounds start with the basic recipes on the back of the cranberry bag and add their own touches. Nyleve uses the whole-berry sauce recipe, but substitutes Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot for the water called for and adds orange zest. "Fantastic and easy," she raves. Val concurs, and adds that she makes hers with tangerine zest and a cinnamon stick. bushwickgirl makes the cranberry-orange relish on the Ocean Spray bag and adds chopped walnuts or pecans and a slug of brandy or Grand Marnier.

Full tummy recommends this spiced cranberry sauce to which she adds a couple of tablespoons of marmalade or preserves. valerie's favorite is triple-cranberry sauce, made with fresh and dried cranberries and cranberry juice cocktail.

Board Link: Cranberry Sauce

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

“Toasting spices can be useful, but it’s just one way of bringing out their flavour.”

“I actually quit using a rack several years ago, and instead roast my turkey on a bed of vegetables.”

“My first time eating fennel pollen was dusted over pizza, and it was absolutely divine.”

Mascarpone Makes Everything Better

Mascarpone, the rich Italian cream cheese, is handy for both sweet and savory dishes. “Marscapone makes everything better,” enthuses normalheightsfoodie.

TorontoJo mixes mascarpone with homemade or jarred caramel and uses it to fill a baked pastry shell, then tops with sliced bananas. “One of my easiest, yummiest desserts,” she says. Paula76 recommends mascarpone cheesecake with candied pecans and dulce de leche sauce.

jeniyo likes these sesame-mascarpone cookie and lemon-ginger ice cream sandwiches. “The cookies are very tasty, even without the ice cream,” she says, and they keep for a long time. Full tummy loves room-temperature mascarpone on scones with jam. “Please don’t anyone accuse me of sacrilege,” she begs, “but the flavour of mascarpone reminds me somewhat of Devon cream.”

4Snisl makes a pasta sauce by combining mascarpone with some pasta cooking water, lemon juice and zest, and blanched broccoli rabe or spinach. Occasionally, she tops the whole shebang with a poached egg.

More ideas for mascarpone:
• Add it to cooked polenta or mashed potatoes.
• Mix it with herbs and goat or blue cheese and use as a spread.
• Use it to fill the cavities of halved poached pears.
• Stir it into scrambled eggs.’s Chocolate Icebox Cake with Mascarpone and Blackberries gives a sophisticated spin to a classic.

Board Link: leftover mascarpone–what to do?

How to Keep Tortillas Hot for the Table

Tortillas, whether used to make tacos or as an accompaniment to an entrée, should be served hot. Chowhounds have some creative solutions for keeping them hot on a buffet table or taco bar.

hoosfoos likes the La Tortilla Loca Microwave Tortilla Warmer, which holds up to a dozen and keeps them warm for at least an hour. Bryan Pepperseed wraps tortillas in a damp cloth and puts the whole bundle in a slow cooker on the low setting.

HillJ has developed a technique that she says keeps tortillas “moist and warm for hours”: Wrap an electric heating pad in a bath towel, place it on the serving table, and plug it in. Park a platter of tortillas on the towel-wrapped heating pad, keeping the tortillas covered with a paper towel or napkin. HillJ uses the same setup for brunch buffets, and says it works equally well for waffles, French toast, and pancakes.

Board Link: Keeping tortillas warm

Better Béchamel

Béchamel, the white sauce that’s a building block in many casseroles and creamed vegetable dishes, is a simple enough affair: Milk and seasonings are added to a butter-and-flour roux and cooked until thick. A few variables can make for an easier and better result, say hounds.

It’s not necessary to heat the milk before incorporating it, many hounds contend, though using cold milk can lead to lumps if you don’t take care. But others do find using heated milk easier. “I always throw the milk in the microwave to warm it up,” says Janet from Richmond. “No lumps and also makes the sauce thicken much more quickly.” Heated milk creates a glossier, shinier, and much smoother béchamel, adds maria lorraine.

Sooeygun learned to make béchamel by heating the milk with onion, bay leaves, and peppercorns to infuse it with their flavor. “And don’t forget the nutmeg,” another classic addition, says maria lorraine.

Board Link: Sauce-making technique (bechamel)

Positively Degenerate Flourless Chocolate Cake

When it comes to flourless chocolate cake, there are two main types: dense and intensely chocolaty versus lighter-textured and -flavored. The dense type is made with whole eggs, while the lighter type calls for separated eggs, with the whites whipped and folded in. “I guess it comes down to whether you want a truffle-like experience, in which case you’d go with the whole egg recipe, or something a little more subtle like the ones with beaten whites,” says bear.

Among the rich and dense types, bear is a fan of David Lebovitz’s “lusciously smooth” chocolate idiot cake. “It’s incredibly easy,” she says. BobB loves Lora Brody’s bête noir, which is also easy (it’s made in a food processor) and “so rich that a one-inch slice is plenty.”

fern makes a different dense flourless chocolate cake, also called la bête noir. Lynndsey Rigberg tried it, and says it was almost too intense: “The Beast is indeed, the Beast. It had a wondrously smooth texture…it was almost like a chocolate pot de creme.”

Lynndsey Rigberg prefers the texture that comes from incorporating beaten egg whites. Martha Stewart’s recipe has “a light, but surprisingly chocolaty and rich texture,” she says. Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cloud cake is also fabulous, says bear.

Board Link: best flourless chocolate cake recipe?