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

Don’t Be Afraid of Mussels

Cooking mussels may seem intimidating if you've never done it, but a few simple steps guarantee good results. "Mussels are awesome," says andytee, "very affordable and easy to cook."

Mussels are commonly sold in two-pound bags in the US (often mesh bags, which allow them to breathe). "Check the attached tag to see the harvest and ship date," advises EricMM. "It should have been within the previous week. Most will be open a crack ... that's OK. Sniff the bag—this is the most important step of all in purchasing mussels! There should only be a faint briny smell. Anything stronger, do not buy!"

When you place the mussels in cold water, they should start to close, EricMM says. If one doesn't close, set it aside; if it hasn't closed in five minutes, it is dead and should be thrown away. Farmed mussels often don't have beards, but removing mussels' beards and cleaning them is straightforward; here are illustrated instructions.

Mussels cook quickly, notes hotoynoodle: "As soon as they open they're finished." If any don't open during cooking, discard them. EricMM thinks the most flavor can be extracted from mussels by putting them in a dry pan, covering it, and letting them steam in their own juices.

Many like them steamed in white wine, butter, and garlic. Harters also likes them cooked in tomato sauce with garlic and onion. "Simple is best," he says. bushwickgirl makes a rich dish by cooking them with shallots, heavy cream with a bit of saffron bloomed in it, and a shot of Pernod, with basil chiffonade for garnish. She also likes steamed mussels in lemongrass-coconut curry.

Discuss: cooking mussels?

Chocolate Chip Cookies to Die For

Chowhounds are choosy about their chocolate chip cookie recipes, and which they prefer depends in part on the texture they like in the cookie: crisp, chewy, or a bit of both.

Mandymac can't say enough about these chocolate chunk cookies, which are both crunchy and chewy. "Follow all of her instructions to the letter," Mandymac counsels. "Yes, yes, yes," concurs TorontoJo. "These are my favorite chocolate chip cookies—they are amazing! Small batch, great results.

foiegras' standby is Maida Heatter's "positively the absolute best" chocolate chip cookies, which are a variation of the Toll House recipe where the baking soda is dissolved in hot water and beaten in after half the flour is added. "I find that adding it at the end yields a cookie that is flatter, like the ones I remember from childhood," says foiegras, who likes them best made with equal parts white and whole wheat flour, Ghirardelli 60 percent cocoa chocolate chips, and 11 ounces of pecans broken by hand.

chowser's favorite when she wants a crisp exterior and chewy interior is this New York Times adaptation of a Jacques Torres' recipe. Or, for crunchy, crisp cookies with an adult flavor, she likes this Neiman Marcus recipe. (chowser points out that this is the store's true recipe, found on its website, not the recipe that circulates with the urban myth that Neiman Marcus charges an arm and a leg for its recipe.)

If thin, crisp cookies are your desire, try CHOW's Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Discuss: The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Coq au Vin for the Cold Months

Braised dishes are comforting during the cold months, and while chicken stewed in a bottle of wine may sound indulgent, its roots are rustic and practical. "Coq au vin is an ancient dish that used up tough old fowl," notes hotoynoodle. "It's not a recipe that needs overthinking. Good/decent quality wine and dark meat chicken."

bear had great results with Alton Brown's recipe, which she made with a whole chicken in pieces, plus extra thighs. The dark meat was superior, but white meat lovers were pleased with their portions. erica says it may not be for everyone, but she has had great success with Mark Bittman's coq au vin with prunes.

Discuss: truly great coq au vin recipe?

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I used to think this was totally pretentious until I rented a furnished apartment with a kitchen scale. It is super convenient and my baking results have never been better!" - ChristinaMason

"I just discovered Newtown pippins. Great for baking AND eating. It's a firm apple so I wouldn't recommend for applesauce or apple butter. But my god the flavor is delightful." - Dcfoodblog

"I made the marmalade on Sunday morning and baked bread on Sunday afternoon. If you could capture that combined smell in an aerosol, you'd be rich." - mandycat

Spiced Nuts They’ll Gobble Up

Whether you serve them as cocktail nibbles or wrap them up to give as gifts, spiced nuts are a snack that people just can't stop eating.

Many hounds love Union Square Cafe's bar nuts recipe, with brown sugar, cayenne, and rosemary. "Union Square nuts are quite simply the best!" raves katecm. They're terrific served warm, but good room temperature as well. cinnamon girl notes that they get crunchier once they've cooled.

amyzan says David Lebovitz's candied peanuts are fantastic warm or cool, and will be "gobbled down astoundingly fast." The recipe works well with almonds, too, she says, adding, "They're crunchy and sweet and super easy because it's all stove top."

karykat loves spiced nuts with sugared bacon, and says, "People just snarf them down." Val is a fan of sweet and spicy candied pecans, and hounds sing the praises of CHOW's Honeyed Cashews with Kosher Salt and Roasted Rosemary Walnuts.

Discuss: What's your best holiday nut recipe?
’Tis the Season--To Go To a Party

The Whole World Loves Spinach

Spinach is a staple green that lends itself to an international roster of cuisines.

Paula76 likes spinach and basil pesto on pasta; just add chopped spinach to your basil pesto recipe. shanagain thinks it's awesome cold on sandwiches, too. "It's like bargain pesto, but SO good," she says. For a fast weeknight dinner, ginnyhw drains a pot of cooked tortellini over a colander of baby spinach leaves; toss together, and the spinach wilts as the boiling water drains. Top with your favorite sauce.

"If you are craving something Japanese," says Yukari, "quickly blanch the spinach and top with soy sauce and sesame oil. If you have some toasted sesame seeds, toss them on top after crushing." thursday fries pancetta until almost crispy, drains off most of the fat, adds chopped garlic and spinach and sautés, before topping with toasted pine nuts, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and salt.

alkapal loves Lebanese spinach turnovers, and agopal says this spinach dal is easy to make.

LindaWhit makes spinach cabrini, a rich pasta casserole, and coll loves Creamed Spinach. bear thinks baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms are delicious.

Discuss: Spinach ideas

Dinner Party Pork Tenderloin

Most dinner hosts want to keep it simple in the kitchen, but still wow guests with an elegant and delicious dish. The answer? Pork tenderloin.

mariacarmen simply salts and peppers a tenderloin, then rolls it in crushed toasted cumin seeds, sears it on all sides, places it in a shallow roasting pan filled with chicken stock or white wine to half the depth of the pork, and braises it for 20 to 30 minutes. It's "very tender and juicy," she says. sparkareno wraps pork tenderloins in pancetta, brushes with a mixture of apricot jam, orange juice, hot mustard, and garlic, and grills.

jmullen1251 stuffs pork tenderloin with spinach and goat cheese, or with sun-dried tomato pesto, Gruyère, and prosciutto. goodhealthgourmet recommends grilled pork tenderloin with mustard, rosemary, and apple marinade and pork tenderloin with roasted grape sauce. They're delicious, and very easy, she says.

CHOW's take: Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with apples.

Discuss: Easy yet elegant pork tenderloin ideas

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"The best Alfredo sauce I ever had was simply one part each Parmesan, Romano, and butter kneaded together until soft. Not even any cream. Bits of it were tossed with hot pasta and parsley and oregano were sprinkled on top." - rainey

"Much like nutmeg, caraway can add complexity to so many dishes and people never actually can identify it." - RetiredChef

"Goose is a little darker and richer than duck, but they're far more similar to one another than they are to any other bird." - alanbarnes

Sweet Wine Has a Purpose

Many hounds aren't wild about drinking wines on the sweeter side, but they use them to good effect in both savory and sweet cooking.

A lightly sweet wine is good for braising sauerkraut, according to Will Owen, either with bacon as a side dish, or as part of a full choucroute garni. buttertart steeps prunes in sweet wine and uses this as an accompaniment to pork chops or roasted pork. miss louella loves the results so much when she uses a sweet wine in risotto that she buys sweet wines solely for that purpose.

Vetter uses sweet wines for poaching pears or stone fruit, while Querencia pours sweet wine over cut-up fresh fruit. HillJ says sweet Rieslings are a good base for sorbets and granitas.

Discuss: Half a bottle of too-sweet Riesling

Beets, Beets, Pretty and Sweet

Roasted beets are perennially popular in salads or on their own, but there are other fine ways to cook the sugary root.

Grated beets are nice simply sautéed in butter or oil; add a bit of liquid, cover, and cook until tender. If you add onions, use vinegar as the liquid, and finish with a sprinkle of celery seed: "You get sort of a warm beet-pickle effect," says sfmiller. Grated beets are also a component of recipes such as fettucine with grated beets and cheese, cumin-scented beet latkes, and beet rosti with rosemary.

bizkat likes this beet tzatziki. "Very good," he says. "Beautiful color. Definitely snazzy." Cherylptw adds beets to risotto, and smile81 says beet ravioli with poppy seed butter is simple, but beautiful and "super-tasty."

Discuss: Beet recipes - other than roasted or in a salad?