Cooking Tips rss

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

A Chocolate Cake for Every Taste

There are many ways to make a great chocolate cake. Whether a recipe uses butter or oil, cocoa powder or chocolate, or includes ground nuts will affect its texture and flavor. Chowhounds have a variety of go-to recipes, depending on their taste in chocolate cake.

Do you prefer a dense and very moist cake? Try the Hershey's black magic cake, made with oil and cocoa. It's quick to make, too. "I can have the batter done before the oven is finished preheating," says chowser. This double chocolate layer cake is similar, but uses chocolate as well as cocoa. It's "the best chocolate layer cake I've ever made," says heidipie, "and about the best I've ever eaten." Val notes that it is a huge cake, and suggests baking it in three 9-inch pans instead of two 10-inch pans.

Some hounds go for traditional butter cakes. This one is "by far, the best chocolate cake I have ever had," says tall sarah, who finds the ganache filling recipe makes enough to cover the cake as well. chowser is a fan of Cook's Illustrated's master recipe, which she says is soft and intensely chocolaty, but sweet.

Some prefer flourless or almost-flourless European-style tortes with nuts, like Maida Heatter's queen mothers cake and Julia Child's reine de saba. MichaelB says the reine de saba is "quite spectacular--conversation came to an abrupt halt while we ate it. Almost like a flourless chocolate cake but not so intense and fudgy, more velvety, and with a delicate crunch from the pulverized almonds. Really great."

Discuss: Please share your favorite chocolate cake recipe!

Bake Yourself a Fifty Dollar Pie

Are you dying to try the famous Crack Pie from Momofuku Milk Bar, but blanch at the idea of paying $44, plus overnight shipping, to have one shipped to you? Good news: you can make it yourself. The Los Angeles Times has the recipe, and several hounds have tested it.

Crack Pie has a crumb crust made from homemade oatmeal cookies and a filling that "tastes just like a pecan pie without the nuts," says bluemoon4515. Made with egg yolks, heavy cream, and lots of sugar, it's "REALLY, REALLY, REALLY rich, sweet and buttery," says housewolf. "The cookie seemed weird when I made it," confesses Tom P, "the cookie crumble crust seemed like it would not support the pie, and it looked pretty ugly. But man oh man, did it taste amazing."

There is disagreement about whether the pie is best hot out of the oven or chilled, as the recipe specifies. Tom P thinks that, while it is good both ways, it is best warm; butterscotchtoki feels it's much better cold.

Discuss: Crack Pie Recipe

Waffles Go Savory

Fried chicken and waffles is one popular way to serve waffles in a savory meal, but why not incorporate savory flavors into the waffles themselves instead?

jvanderh loves these white bean waffles, which he tops with Hollandaise sauce. runwestierun recommends Bobby Flay's savory wild rice waffles.

bushwickgirl makes cornmeal waffles with creamed corn and chopped canned green chiles in the batter, and serves them with chili or chicken a la king. silverhawk makes waffles savory by steeping fresh herbs in the milk for an hour before making the batter. "One can add all sorts of flavors to the waffles by infusing the milk," he notes.

scuzzo says Dorie Greenspan's Waffles: From Morning to Midnight "is a great cookbook with lots of savory ideas." gimlis1mum concurs, and recommends the curried couscous waffles with red bell pepper dip from the book.

Discuss: looking for savory waffle recipes

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"[P]lace all ingredients, including the oil, in a hand immersion blender cylinder and blend. Perfect, easy mayo every time. People often don't believe that this method is possible until I show them." - Sam Fujisaka

"Another 'trick' is to boil the egg for 1 minute, break it by cracking on a flat surface, gently pour it back into the water which should be on a gentle simmer. It holds its shape better." - Paulustrious, on poaching eggs

"The other sure-fire way to get anybody to eat them is to toss them in a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and maple syrup and then roast. The sweetness of the maple syrup and the bitterness of the sprouts make for a perfect match." - montrealwaitress, on Brussels sprouts

Juniper Flavors More Than Gin

Juniper berries are a key flavor component of gin, but they are also great in recipes, like CHOW's Poached Fig, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Tart.

Juniper berries are common in sauerbraten; rainey thinks Alton Brown's recipe is excellent, and says it makes enough marinade for two roasts.

cocktailhour grinds juniper berries with rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and orange zest and uses the combo as a rub for duck. vincentinparisandrome finds that a mixture of wine, stock, and juniper berries makes a nice sauce for duck or pork.

caiatransplant poaches fish in dry white wine with crushed garlic, whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, and a small handful of whole juniper berries. "The fish comes out wonderfully every time," she says. mickeygee likes this salmon with martini sauce, which incorporates both juniper berries and the ingredients of the cocktail.

Juniper berries are also terrific braised with red or green cabbage or sauerkraut, and in choucroute garnie, the classic French dish of pork cooked in sauerkraut, say hounds. They work well with lamb too, and are a classic pairing with venison. Oh, and look for Scandinavian recipes, recommends eight_inch_pestle, who says, "Scandinavian food is lousy with juniper berries."

Discuss: What can I do with this bag of Juniper Berries, besides garnishing G&T's?

Using Up Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil are a flavor-filled addition to all kinds of dishes. They're a staple in thursday's kitchen for jazzing up quick dinners: "If what we're making seems a little boring," she says, "we throw in some sun-dried tomatoes and voila! A little sharpness, a little sweetness, a little color."

Many hounds use them with pasta. The simplest treatments: Sauté garlic in olive oil and add the sliced tomatoes and chopped parsley, or add them to your favorite pasta sauce. bear makes a more complex dish with Italian sausage, mushrooms, kale, and sun-dried tomatoes with farfalle or penne. The oil they're packed in is great for arrabbiata sauce, says mbfant, so don't toss it.

cookie44 loves braised chicken in sun-dried tomato cream, and lexpatti makes a goat cheese, pesto, and sun-dried tomato spread.

More ideas for sun-dried tomatoes:

• Purée with goat cheese and use to top crostini.
• Add to omelets, frittatas, and scrambled eggs.
• Mix into a compound butter with herbs and citrus zest.
• Add to sandwiches in place of fresh tomatoes.

Discuss: need ideas for using sundried tomatoes in oil

The Million-Dollar Chicken Recipe

Chowhounds are high on a simple Moroccan-style chicken recipe with cumin, cinnamon, dried currants, and prepared salsa that won the million-dollar prize in the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

"I've been making this since it was first published," says cinnamon girl. "I'm embarrassed to say I made it mainly [because] I was indignant that a recipe with a jar of salsa poured over some chicken pieces would win a $1M prize! But the sum of the parts proved to be greater than the individual ingredients." She prefers it made with bone-in thighs, rather than the boneless called for. "Before I put in the liquids," she adds, "I push the chicken to the edges of the pan, put the garlic in the middle and lightly cook, then put in the spices and stir them a bit being careful not [to] burn. It just adds something."

"This is unbelievably good," raves coll, who substituted beer for the water to good effect.

"It's amazing how the salsa cooks down and changes—there are no 'Mexican' notes to this dish like I feared," says Snorkelvik.

Discuss: Million Dollar Moroccan Chicken, Thanks Free Sample Addict aka Tracy L

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"[S]tale pita bread makes the best tasting bread crumbs! Something about pita bread crumbs makes the food they are cooked with extra special. Nice texture, and good flavor." - smtucker

"I use mine when brewing iced tea or for punch type things like sangria or homemade margarita mix. I keep extras in the freezer." - just_M on mango pits and the fruit left clinging to them

"I never have a problem EVER if I crack them as I'm running them under cold water, once cracked they can sit in the cold bath until I'm ready for them. If I don't crack them, even if sitting in a cold bath—they are miserable to peel." - lexpatti on peeling hard-boiled eggs

Frozen Corn Satisfies Winter Cravings

While freshly picked summer corn can't be beat, you can make dishes with great corn flavor using frozen corn kernels during months when it isn't in season.

cheesecake17 says roasting corn kernels "really changes the corn and adds a nice sweetness." She spreads the kernels in a single layer on a baking sheet and pats them dry with a paper towel. Use the roasted corn in salsa or salad. alkapal likes roasted corn with diced red bell pepper, black-eyed peas, lime juice, and cilantro.

Corn marries well with shellfish in corn and crab bisque and crisp chipotle shrimp with corn and scallions, which is "really great," says Val. "The colors in this dish are amazing too," she adds.

For a side dish, try spicy Indian corn with mustard seeds, or Mexican-style corn with crème fraîche, lime, and chile, suggest hounds.

AndrewK512 suggests a delicious pasta sauce made by puréeing the corn and lightly pressing it through a sieve until you have corn milk; bring to a simmer, emulsify with butter, add whole corn kernels and chives. Gild the lily with truffle oil if you wish.

Discuss: what to do with all this corn?

Tzatziki Doesn’t Have to Be Watery

Tzatziki, the Greek yogurt and cucumber spread, is too often watery and bitter, rather than creamy and flavorful. Here's how to make it right.

Start with thick Greek yogurt, or strain the whey from a natural, full-fat yogurt by putting the yogurt in a dampened paper coffee filter or cheesecloth set in a sieve for several hours, until the yogurt is thick.

Wring the grated cucumber in a towel to get rid of excess moisture; some hounds salt the cucumber to draw out moisture before wringing it out. If you are using standard American cucumbers, remove the seeds, advises danieljdwyer.

Add minced or crushed garlic and salt to taste, but keep in mind the garlic will get more pungent over time, says chowser. yamalam marinates the garlic in the juice of half a lemon and a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar for 10 minutes to soften its bite. Some finish with a bit of olive oil, and add fresh dill or mint.

kattyeyes loves this recipe. "Try it with a lamburger," she suggests. "Mmmmmm!"

Discuss: Anyone have a good recipe for tzatziki?