Cooking Tips rss

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

More Fig Seduction

The mania for late-summer figs continues, with Chowhounds offering more ideas for sweet and savory ways to use these versatile fruits.

Fresh figs are especially delicious paired with salty fresh cheeses like goat, Gorgonzola, and feta, and with cured pork. Many hounds like them halved, topped with goat cheese, and drizzled with honey or wrapped in prosciutto and briefly grilled. JasmineG tops pizza with figs and feta, and adds prosciutto as soon as it comes out of the oven. Basilette serves warm figs with feta and basil for a sweet-savory dessert.

“Fig tarts are the food of gods,” enthuses carswell. Quartered figs are amazing in this brown butter custard tart, says ginqueen (just substitute figs for the apples in the recipe). amazinc makes a “scrumptious” fig upside-down cake by substituting figs for pineapple in a standard recipe, and mnosyne loves fig-honey gelato.

Fresh figs are “great in certain sandwiches when you want to add an element of sweetness,” says Miss Needle. rworange is a fan of adding figs to grilled cheese sandwiches, especially when they’re made with a smoked cheese, which lends a bacon-y note.

And check out CHOW’s Chicken with Goat Cheese and Figs.

Board Links: Fresh Fig recipes
what to do w/fresh figs besides gobbling?

Maximum Tomato Flavor

It’s the apex of tomato season, and a perfect time for simple cooked preparations that maximize their flavor.

Ellen sprinkles halved, seeded, cored tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and pepper and roasts them at 450°F for 45 minutes, then stirs and roasts for another 45 minutes. These can be eaten as is on pasta or bread, Ellen says, or puréed to make soup. You can add thickly sliced onions and whole garlic cloves; eggplant and red peppers are also good additions. “There is no wrong way to do this,” she adds.

souschef likes tomatoes “peeled, seeded, chopped, and put into a pan with butter, diced garlic, salt, and pepper. Then cooked till all you have left is the concentrated essence of the tomato. Great stirred into risotto or pasta.” 4Snisl says thick slices of tomato topped with Parmesan and bread crumbs make a topping for macaroni and cheese that’s “achingly good.”

Nyleve raves about paella with tomatoes. She took it to a potluck, “and people were licking out the pan,” she says, before adding, “you should really make this.”

Summer tomatoes star in CHOW’s Heirloom Tomato–Basil Pasta with Olives and Feta.

Board Links: Your Favorite Fresh Tomato Recipes
Don’t forget tomato paella

Fresh Ideas for Shrimp

Shrimp are a great base for all sorts of quick, delicious dishes. Several hounds like to wrap shrimp in bacon or pancetta and broil or grill them; bermudagourmetgoddess cuts a slit in the shrimp and inserts a strip of jalapeño before wrapping with bacon.

MGZ loves shrimp and grits, and says this recipe is a traditional version with a very clean flavor, adding, “I think it’s kick ass!” Val likes sautéed shrimp in Chardonnay-Dijon cream sauce and says, “There is never one iota of it left when I make it.”

Homero goes for grilled shrimp skewers with charmoula sauce served over couscous, and silverhawk makes a Greek bake that combines shrimp with chopped tomatoes, garlic, chopped onion, basil, and feta cheese.

Board Link: In search of new shrimp ideas

Creative Cheesecakes

Cheesecake is as adaptable as it is popular, and flavors are limited only by your imagination, according to Chowhounds.

“Cheesecakes are pretty foolproof, as long as you have the right technique,” says chowser. “You can play with the number of eggs, cream cheese, adding sour cream, etc. For the crust, I use whatever ‘cookie’ type base that’s appropriate for the type of cheesecake. So, gingersnaps for pumpkin, granola for a key lime.” Swirling in ingredients like caramel or fruit purée is easy, she says: “With any swirl, just remove some of the cheesecake batter, add it in, and swirl on top.”

Citrus is a classic flavoring for cheesecake. Marino’s ricotta cheesecake, flavored with candied lemon peel, orange and lemon zests, rose water, and orange blossom water, is the most delicious one mnosyne has had. Old Spice likes Diana’s favorite lemon mousse cheesecake. “I’m not sure that ‘mousse’ is the right word,” says Old Spice. “It’s definitely lighter than a lot of cheesecakes, but not really very mousse-like. It’s extra lemony, with the addition of the lemon curd spread on top. And, if you like, you can top the curd with almost any seasonal berry.”

Hounds have holiday favorites that would be delicious any time of year. LindaWhit says this light-textured, crustless cranberry swirl cheesecake is a family favorite. And Rubee’s dinner guests always request pumpkin cheesecake with bourbon–sour cream topping.

HillJ loves caramel macchiato cheesecake. She also recommends 101 Cheesecake Recipes as a resource, saying, “The entire website is a marvel.”

And check out CHOW’s Orange-Vanilla Ricotta Cheesecake and Pecan and Salt Caramel Cheesecake.

Board Link: Your best cheesecakes, please. (No savory ones!)

Great Uses for Cooked Lobster

If you have a steamed or boiled lobster, you have the makings of a great dish. When reheating cooked lobster, it’s important to do it quickly because it takes very little time for it to become tough, says souschef. If reheating the meat on its own, Infomaniac suggests the gentle method of putting it in a sealed plastic bag and running hot water over it for a while.

Phurstluv’s favorite dish is the Connecticut-style lobster roll: Sauté the meat gently in copious amounts of melted butter, and serve in a warmed hot dog bun (top-split buns are traditional for lobster rolls, but they can be hard to find outside New England). Or go for a Maine-style lobster roll: Mix the meat with mayonnaise, chopped celery, and a drop of fresh lemon juice.

fourunder makes a salad of lobster meat, julienned sweet bell peppers, snow or sugar snap peas, orange or grapefruit sections, and mixed lettuces, dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. emilief makes lobster quesadillas with chopped green chiles and Monterey Jack cheese.

Hounds recommend saving the lobster shell to make stock for bisque or other uses. danieljdwyer likes to use the shell to make lobster butter. “After you pluck out all the meat,” he says, “chop up everything that remains, including the head and all the funky stuff in there. Sauté that in butter until the kitchen smells strongly of lobster. Strain the butter.” You can use the butter for lobster rolls, or make “a killer eggs Benedict” by using it to make hollandaise and replacing the usual Canadian bacon with warmed lobster meat.

Board Link: Cold, cooked, whole lobster…. ideas???

How to Freeze Fresh Corn

There’s nothing quite like superfresh summer corn, but corn you freeze yourself when it’s at its peak runs a close second. “Will it be as good as fresh? No. Will it taste great in the middle of winter? YES,” says dct.

Some hounds blanch corn before freezing it. dct blanches, cuts it off the cobs, spreads it on a baking sheet, freezes, and then packs the frozen kernels in freezer bags. kizil freezes blanched corn still on the cob by shocking the ears in ice water to cool them quickly, wrapping each one in plastic wrap, and then packing them together in freezer bags.

Niki in Dayton simply cuts the corn kernels off the cob and freezes them raw. “Tastes great, and seems to be just a bit crisper than blanched,” she says. Allice98 says she knows people who “don’t blanch, don’t take off the cob, don’t even take off the husk. They just put the corn right in a bag and freeze that way for on-the-cob corn.”

If you do decide to cut the corn off the cob, greygarious shares her method: Stick the pointy end of the ear onto the center tube of an angel food or Bundt cake pan, then slice down, and the kernels will all be caught in the pan. Holding your knife at a 45-degree angle to the counter, start cutting at the point end of your knife, sliding it toward the handle as you cut downward. This way you don’t need to apply much force, and the knife just glides through.

Board Link: Corn on the Cob: how to freeze?

Thai Secrets for Better Fried Chicken

The fried chicken sold by one street vendor in Bangkok is especially crunchy, juicy, and delicious, and the Atlantic has the recipe. The chicken has an amazing crust, according to Spot, who adds, “Everybody dug it.”

“I had never made fried chicken with rice flour before,” says F Schubert, “and I was amazed at not only how crisp it turned out, but how sturdy it is—it doesn’t easily detach while frying like buttermilk/flour batter sometimes can. The coating also seems to seal in the heat and juices. Twenty-five minutes after it came out of the oil, it was still piping hot and juicy inside. Even the breast meat.”

“The marinade is the batter is the coating for the fry,” explains wrisjarrett, author of the Atlantic piece. “When you leave overnight, the chicken absorbs much of the liquid, and you’ll get a stickier batter, and more crunch.”

The recipe calls for cilantro roots and stems; Asian and Hispanic markets often sell cilantro with its roots attached, say hounds.

Board Links: Soi Polo style Thai Fried Chicken
Bangkok fried Chicken

The Essence of Summer Corn

Celebrate the flavor of summer corn in a new way with this fresh corn polenta. Grated raw corn kernels and their milky liquid are transformed by a few minutes over low heat. “Darn if this isn’t the loveliest stuff,” says rworange. “It really does have the look and texture of a light fluffy polenta with a wonderful fresh corn taste.”

rworange cooked hers without the called-for butter, and says, “While butter ups the flavor, starting with a nice fresh ear of corn makes it unneccesary.” The light flavor would pair well with delicate seafood such as lobster or scallops, but a bit of grated cheese renders it “swell … really, really swell,” she raves.

Board Link: Fresh corn polenta

Don’t Throw Away Watermelon Rinds

Watermelon rind pickles are an old-fashioned specialty, but they’re not the only way to enjoy this oft-wasted part of the fruit.

PandanExpress says her mother slices the inner rinds thinly (discard the green outer shell) and stir-fries them with garlic, salt, and soy sauce. “It ends up tasting like a pickled vegetable,” she says. “Delicious.” madkittybadkitty adds a bit of ground pork and cut-up shrimp to her stir-fried rinds.

madkittybadkitty also chops watermelon rinds and adds them to salsa, or shaves them and tosses them with either a mint and yogurt dressing or sesame noodles. Pei slices them paper-thin and marinates them in a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and water.

Board Link: Water melon rind

Pasta and Sauce in Perfect Harmony

When digging into a pasta course, you want the pasta and sauce to cohere, otherwise the sauce will pool on the plate and leave the pasta bare. There are a few simple tricks that help.

“What you actually want,” explains mbfant, “is not for the sauce to stick to the pasta but for the pasta to absorb the sauce. Anything that gives the pasta a slick surface will prevent this from happening,” including rinsing the pasta or adding oil to the cooking water.

The brand of pasta you use can also make a difference. “Extrusion through bronze dies (as opposed to stainless steel or even Teflon) imparts a rough surface to the pasta that, among other things, makes the pasta absorbent,” says mbfant. Bronze die-extruded brands include supermarket staple De Cecco, as well as Latini and Benedetto Cavalieri, which are available at specialty markets.

Several Chowhounds recommend finishing the pasta in a pan with the sauce. soypower ladles some sauce into a skillet over medium-low heat, adds a serving or two of pasta when it’s just shy of al dente, and cooks until the pasta is done.

Other hounds note that the pasta shape you use can make a difference. “Long, thin pasta shapes simply do not hold sauce as do the shaped pastas,” says Gio, while silverhawk notes that shapes such as shells, radiatore, and penne “are pretty much designed to hold sauce.” Check out CHOW’s guide to pairing pasta shapes and sauces.

Board Link: Why won’t my sauce stick to my pasta?