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

How to Cook Pasta Without Boiling Water

Does pasta really need to be cooked in boiling water? While the conventional wisdom says yes, some hounds contend that it makes sense to cook pasta in a more flavorful liquid, such as stock or even the sauce you plan to serve with the pasta. "By cooking in sauce or stock," says bushwickgirl, "you're enhancing the flavor of a rather bland product."

Many hounds use regular dried noodles in lasagne without pre-cooking, and find it works fine as long as they add a bit more sauce than usual. Cooking pasta in sauce on the stovetop takes a bit more finesse in order to ensure it cooks evenly and the sauce doesn't stick. You'll need to dilute your sauce a bit so it doesn't get too thick as the pasta absorbs liquid, and you must stir often. The method works best with short and small pasta shapes, according to bushwickgirl. cinnamon girl has made skillet lasagne this way with good results.

Another approach is to cook pasta as you would risotto, gradually adding small amounts of liquid and allowing the pasta to absorb it, as in this absorption pasta and Alain Ducasse's olive mill pasta. "You can do it equally well with a tomato-based sauce" as with stock, says rainey. "It's a unique method and works quite well."

Discuss: Why cook pasta in water and not the sauce?

The Smooth Indulgence of Chicken Liver

Chicken liver pâté is a rich, elegant appetizer that's perfect for a cocktail party or celebration meal.

This recipe from BLT Steak restaurant, in which the livers are cooked in duck fat and combined with a port reduction, is "truly decadent," says goodhealthgourmet. Emeril Lagasse's version is "relatively simple and very good," thinks caiatransplant. She suggests adding jarred truffles for an extra touch of luxe.

bizkat recommends Jacques Pépin's recipe, but uses only one stick of butter, which he thinks gives a liver-to-butter ratio that's "just right." nomadchowwoman likes this bourbon chicken liver pâté; she doubles the allspice and adds a bit more salt.

Most pâté recipes call for sautéing the livers before combining them with the other ingredients, but aggiecat prefers to poach them gently in dry white wine, to avoid overcooking. nomadchowwoman notes that, while most pâtés will only last a few days in the fridge, they can be frozen and later thawed with excellent results.

Discuss: favorite chicken liver pate recipes?

Tangerines Brighten Winter Dishes

Tangerines that quite aren't sweet enough to eat out of hand are terrific roasted with duck, chicken, or pork, says chefathome. "Roasted citrus is more flavourful than raw and adds a new dimension," he notes. Slice a tangerine paper thin and place the slices atop the meat before roasting, and "the tangerine cooks down into a lovely mass of flavour." Halve a second tangerine and roast the halves, flesh side down, in the pan with the meat, then squeeze the juice onto the finished meat.

Tangerine peels can be dried and used as an aromatic seasoning. Pare them in large pieces, allow to air dry, and use in Chinese soups and braises, suggests fourunder. Dried tangerine zest mixed with sea salt and dried rosemary makes a blend that's great on many things, but is especially wonderful on delicate white fish, says chefathome.

Ottolenghi's orange polenta cake is delicious made with tangerines, according to jen kalb. Or use them in this flourless clementine cake, made with almonds.

Discuss: what to do with about a pound of tangerines

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"The way to salt a burger is to put about a half teaspoon of salt in the bottom of a preheated cast iron pan and then put the unsalted patty into the pan on top of the salt." - KaimukiMan

"Just for a variation here, add a cup of creamy peanut butter and 1/4 cup butterscotch to any of the finished hot fudge recipes and you'll have an awesome peanut butter fudge sauce for ice cream." - morwen

"The greatest error I'm aware of when using liquid smoke is that it's quite easy to use too much and allow the smoky flavor to overpower the dish. Start with small amounts, add a very little at a time until you achieve the level of smokiness you want." - todao

Tasty Teatime Sandwiches

Tiny, delicate tea sandwiches are primarily found at British afternoon tea, but you needn't be putting the kettle on to enjoy them, and hounds have lots of tasty ingredient ideas.

Shrimp salad is a classic filling; making it well is all about getting the details right. Use a medium shrimp, recommends alkapal, who thinks they're sweeter than large ones. Most hounds boil or poach shrimp for salad in the shell in water flavored with some combination of lemon, peppercorns, and herbs.

To your peeled, chopped shrimp, add "a little mayo, minced celery, shallot, S&P, maybe a tiny bit of very finely minced hot pepper, and you're good to go," says pikawicca. "I think the real key in any seafood salad is simply to barely dress it," advises dmd_kc. In addition to using in sandwiches, "try serving in boats made of hollowed-out ripe avocados, suggests pasuga. "Wonderful texture combination."

On the vegetarian front, smartie says classic cucumber sandwiches are made with thinly sliced white sandwich bread spread with salted butter, thinly sliced English cucumbers, and salt and pepper. "It's a great sandwich in amongst the other standards of a classic British afternoon tea," says Harters. But, he adds, "On their own, they're waste of space."

Hounds make cucumber variations that hold greater appeal. wineos uses Boursin cheese in place of butter. Others use mixtures of cream cheese, mayo, and grated onion; or cream cheese, garlic, dill, and lemon juice. Refrigerate these mixtures overnight so the flavors marry. LaLa says that, in Kentucky, a spread known as Benedictine is made by combining cream cheese, mayo, grated onion, salt, and drained grated cucumber, and tinting it with green food coloring.

Discuss: Shrimp Salad Sandwich
How to make cucumber sandwiches?

Buttermilk, Savory and Sweet

Buttermilk is a tangy cultured dairy product that enhances both savory and sweet dishes.

Several hounds love to use buttermilk in mashed potatoes. soupkitten suggests making buttermilk-herb dressing (here's CHOW's recipe), which you can use on a green salad and then "make the world's best mashed potatoes using the leftovers."

Buttermilk is often used to soak chicken before it's fried; Val likes this spicy oven-fried version. Sharuf's standard gravy uses buttermilk and Wondra flour or cornstarch. Just add them to the pan used for cooking meat. "This gives a sour cream flavor, minus the calories," she says. coll has used buttermilk in curries as a lower-fat alternative to coconut milk.

Buttermilk is a great base for creamy sweets such as panna cotta, smoothies, and mango lassi. "Though most Western recipes use yogurt to make lassi," notes Rasam, "it can be made with buttermilk." Hansel says this pineapple buttermilk sorbet is delicious and refreshing.

Discuss: Surplus of Buttermilk

Decadent-but-Fluffy Cheesecake

How can you make a cheesecake that's as rich and decadent as the dense, creamy New York style, but with a fluffy texture? another_adam's family recipe achieves this result via folding stiffly beaten egg whites into the batter. Cook's Illustrated's light and airy cheesecake uses the same method.

A friend of ChefJune's served an airy cheesecake "with all the great flavor of the New York cheesecake we know and love" in his restaurant, she says. "They achieved the texture," she explains, "by combining all the cake ingredients and then inserting the whisk attachment on the KitchenAid mixer and letting ’er rip! A few seconds later, the ingredients had a lot of air whipped into it, and when baked was extremely ethereal in texture." She now uses this trick at home.

Discuss: Airy/fluffy cheesecake?

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I've steamed entire meals in my rice cooker. In addition to the rice, I also put in ceramic bowls of meat and veggies that steamed while the rice was cooking." - raytamsgv

"When I have a leftover ham bone or two, I'll throw it in with some chicken or beef bones to round out the flavor a little, and use it for either ramen-type noodle soups or kimchee soup. Yum." - joonjoon

"I tried it and it worked very, very well. It did get the temperature up to what you need for a pizza." - TSAW, on baking pizza on a preheated cast iron skillet

Half-Hour Dinners with Baked Fish

Baked fish fillets or steaks make easy, no-fuss meals, as using the oven is an easy way to cook dishes low in added fat.

Will Owen bakes fish in fresh salsa, such as pico de gallo, to which he adds capers and olive oil. He makes a bed of salsa, adds thick fillets or a double layer of thin fillets, covers with more salsa, and bakes at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes. pasuga bakes salmon smothered in salsa and says, "The salsa keeps the fish very moist."

millygirl bakes fish in parchment with orange juice, a touch of olive oil, sliced fennel, a few black olives, red onion, herbs, salt, and pepper. "OMG, it is wonderful," she says. "I sometimes even add some rice or very small pasta. I've even served this dish for company and everyone loves how flavourful it is."

Veracruz-style red snapper "is always a good bet for healthy, delicious baked fish," says goodhealthgourmet. She also likes black sea bass with Moroccan vegetables and chile sauce.

valerie is a fan of a halibut with capers, olives, and tomatoes. janniecooks recommends cod in fennel-tomato broth, but thinks a shot of Pernod "is necessary to bring out the fennel flavor."

Discuss: your fave baked fish recipe

Taming Rapini’s Bitterness

Rapini, also called broccoli rabe, is a green with a bitter bite that "can be toned down by making it compete for attention with other flavors: sweet, salt, sour, umami. Or with spice," says Junie D. Bitterness also varies from bunch to bunch, she adds. Many also find that briefly blanching it before further cooking can reduce bitterness.

Favorite hound takes on rapini:

• Pasta with sautéed rapini, spicy italian sausage, golden raisins, garlic, chicken broth, and pecorino.
• Rapini with anchovies, garlic, and chiles sautéed in olive oil. It can then be served as a side, used in soup, and tossed with pasta, a classic treatment. mbfant blanches the rapini in boiling water before sautéing, lifts it out, and then cooks the pasta in the same water.
• Sautéed with garlic and oil, topped with tomato sauce, and used as a sandwich filling.

Discuss: Rapini