Cooking Tips rss

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

Crazy for Eggplant

Eggplant is great as the base for a dip or spread. "Eggplant roasted into submission, minced garlic, mayo, salt, pepper" is the_MU's simple recipe. "That's it," says the_MU. "Serve with warm pita, or eat with spoon." eight_inch_pestle purées roasted eggplant with Parmesan, minced parsley, and garlic, and stirs in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Baba Ghanoush is karianne's favorite, "hands down."

Jetgirly likes eggplant-heavy Thai-style roasted vegetables (she uses yellow curry paste).
cheesemaestro loves a Northern Burmese recipe from the cookbook Hot Sour Salty Sweet titled the best eggplant dish ever (scroll down).

fearlessemily recommends Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce. gourmet wife dresses steamed eggplant with a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, chile sauce or oil, vinegar, and cilantro.

Many hounds love eggplant Parmesan, either made the traditional way with fried eggplant, or with roasted or grilled eggplant, and fearlessemily likes Ina Garten's rich eggplant and tomato gratin.

TorontoJo is a fan of scuzzo's method of cooking eggplant on a waffle iron.

Discuss: Your favorite recipe for eggplant

Lentils from Paris to Bombay

Chowhounds love lentils in a range of dishes representing cuisines from around the world. nomadchowwoman loves lentils with garlic and ginger, and says it is good served hot, room temperature, or cold (which also makes it ideal for picnics). "I always use French green lentils, which hold their shape so well," she says, "and this makes all the difference."

i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream is a fan of Ina Garten's stewed lentils and tomatoes. "It is so, so easy to whip up and really comforting on a cold night," he says. nofunlatte likes lentils with wine-glazed vegetables.

Lentils are frequently used in South Asian cooking. rainey says this red lentil curry is "quick and easy to prepare and extremely tasty." "I'm rather keen on Ottolenghi's spiced red lentils at the moment," says Channa. "It calls for a long list of ingredients, but the dish absolutely bursts with flavour."

"The one critical thing for any lentil recipe," counsels GretchenS, "is some acid—citrus juice, vinegar, what have you. Anytime lentils are sort of meh they can be lifted with a good squirt of lemon or vinegar." Aggressive spicing is often called for as well: CHOW's Red Lentil Pâté relies on smoked paprika for a savory kick.

Discuss: Best Lentil Recipe?

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"Nut crusts are wonderful with fish since they add flavor as well as texture. Almonds are a classic, but pecans and hazelnuts are good, too. You just need to dip a fillet in a bit of egg white and dip in ground nuts." - JoanN

"For me the best falafel is made with fava beans, or a mix of fava beans and chickpeas. Never precook, and never, never use canned unless you want something that tastes like a fried dumpling with a mushy interior. I tried it once, and that was one too many times." - Zeldog

"I usually use a cast iron pan and once the steak is resting, I save the fat and cook the Brussels sprouts in the fat instead of bacon or butter. It's really quite good, especially if your steak leaves you with yummy fatty goodness." - gourmet wife

Low-Cost, High-Flavor Meats

Canny home cooks know that many inexpensive cuts of meat have deep flavor. Depending on the cut, it might need long braising or only a quick sear to bring out its best qualities.

"Day in and day out," says fourunder, "pork cuts, in my opinion, are always the most flavorful value protein for my money." Pork shoulder "is tasty and very tender when treated to slow and moist cooking methods," says stilton, who adds, "It's often the least expensive cut of pork around in my neck of the woods." c oliver grinds it to make homemade pork sausage. Zeldog says pork cheeks work well in recipes calling for belly.

It is more difficult to find bargain cuts of beef, but they can be had. wallyz likes to grill chuck and 7-bone steaks to medium rare: "A little tougher," he says, "but lots of flavor." Flank and blade steaks take well to the same treatment, when sliced thin across the grain, and are also good for stir-frying. Chuck roasts are great for braising whole as pot roast or for stews; beef shin costs even less and is also good for braising. Oxtails aren't as inexpensive as they once were, but can often be found at a good price at ethnic markets, and make a good stand-in for beef short ribs.

Lamb neck is a bargain. emmee likes this 10-hour braised lamb neck. "The meat falls off the bone and is rich, flavorful, and delicious," she says.

EricMM buys well-priced duck legs at an Asian market and makes faux Peking duck by glazing them with soy sauce, sugar, and five-spice powder, and roasting them; he then shreds them and eats them with the traditional pancakes, scallions, and hoisin sauce. I use duck legs in this stovetop Chinese "roast" duck (as a bonus, it yields lots of rendered duck fat ).

And, of course, most offal is bargain priced. Many hounds are fans of chicken livers, hearts, and gizzards. cimui likes them grilled, yakitori style, or braised in soy sauce, five-spice, ginger, and sugar. ipsedixit soaks gizzards in buttermilk for 12 hours to tenderize, and then cooks them in a cast iron skillet with bacon fat, onions, garlic, and diced tomatoes.

For more clever ways to use underrated cuts like brisket and heart meat, see CHOW's Beyond the Porterhouse.

Discuss: Cheap yet good cuts of meat
Chicken Gizzards- How To Prepare And Your Favorite Recipes Please

A (Delicious) Chicken in Every Pot

Chicken, whether cooked whole or in serving pieces, is the star of many affordable one-pot meals, both homey and elegant.

thew describes a basic technique for a braised one-pot chicken dish that he notes is endlessly adaptable, depending on the combination of ingredients you use: "Cut the chicken into parts, brown, set aside. Sauté aromatics of choice. Return chicken to pan. Add vegetable matter. Add spices. Add liquid to halfway up the chicken, or all the way if you prefer. Simmer." cheesecake17 follows these steps using onion, garlic, red and green bell peppers, and button mushrooms, seasoning with thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes; add a can or two of stewed or diced tomatoes and their juices for the braising liquid and finish with capers and green olives.

ptwasheater is a fan of Marcella Hazan's chicken fricassees. "Her cacciatore [scroll down] is TOTALLY different than an American version," says ptwasheater. "It's divine." toveggiegirl thinks Hazan's chicken fricassee with red cabbage is excellent, too.

joonjoon loves Cook's Illustrated's French chicken in a pot. "The amount of chicken flavor you get out of chicken in a pot is incredible," joonjoon says. "When I bit into that chicken it was like ... wow, now that tastes like chicken!" Other French-inflected hound favorites include chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and chicken bouillabaisse from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

For a French-country-style braise, try CHOW's Chicken Basquaise.

Discuss: Looking for yummy, inexpensive, and delicious recipe for a one-pot meal with chicken

Salmon, Simple but Super

It's easy to make flat-out delicious salmon main dishes with a few flavorful ingredients and the right cooking technique.

Sam Fujisaka mixes soy sauce, finely grated ginger, and toasted sesame oil and sprinkles this on salmon, then microwaves for a couple of minutes. iahebert makes a marinade from soy sauce, olive oil, brown sugar, lime juice, garlic, ginger, sriracha, and a few dashes of Angostura bitters, marinates salmon for a couple of hours, and grills.

"I always think serving salmon en papillote seems impressive," says The Dairy Queen, "even though it's super simple." pcdarnell says salmon with vermouth sauce, with ingredients inspired by a martini, is "easy enough to cook on a weeknight, but makes a really terrific meal and presentation."

todao counsels a minimalist approach: "There are several varieties of salmon (five Pacific varieties alone)," he says, "and each deserves to be respected in any recipe for its individuality. Additionally, I hate to see salmon prepared with a lot of 'stuff' that does little more than cover up the natural flavors." He steams skinned sockeye fillets with a bit of shredded ginger and green onion, and serves with a squeeze of lemon.

For an easy but special occasion-worthy approach, check out CHOW's Salmon en Croûte.

Discuss: Salmon .. take it to the next level

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I don't know what it was, the freshness and quality of the ingredients or the fact that I could cook shoes in the fireplace and they would be sublime, but it was fantastic." - mendogurl

"There was a lot of air space between the flesh and skin, so the latter was very crisp. [Yukon Golds] are thinner-skinned than russets, so the skin tasted like potato chips." - greygarious

"It sounded so odd but perfect for New Year's, I tried it a couple of weeks ago as a test. Wow. This is one of the best dishes I have made in a long time ... and it is ridiculously easy." - Tom P

Home Cooking 2009 Top 10 Roundup

1. No-Fuss Polenta
2. Pasta and Sauce in Perfect Harmony
3. Sunny Side Up Perfection
4. Crack-Like Kale
5. Magic Flavor-Enhancing Cheese Rinds
6. Salty Secret to Creamy, Tender Beans
7. Positively Degenerate Flourless Chocolate Cake
8. Is That Oil Hot Enough to Fry In?
9. Pimento Cheese 101
10. Instant Ice Cream, No Ice-Cream Maker Required

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"I also tried this for Christmas. It yielded a wonderfully juicy, evenly cooked and tender roast with a nice crust." - AndrewK512

"Monkey bread is popular in my house - cut into small pieces, roll in butter, cinnamon and sugar, and heap the balls into a cake pan. Bake, and serve by turning out of the pan - everyone just pulls pieces off to eat..." - jeanmarieok

"My mom had an Xmas Eve fondue tradition--only every year it was a new recipe that bombed in a new way (the year that my 2-year-old nephew nearly got drunk on Kirsch-laden fondue was particularly special!). We carry on the tradition as well, but with what I hope is better fondue!" - mebby

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?