Cooking Tips rss

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

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?

Cool Soups for Hot Days

Chilled soups are a light, refreshing option during warm weather. Lots of puréed vegetable soups are tasty cold; sparkareno makes broccoli soup and enjoys it heated or cooled.

Cucumber and avocado are popular flavors for chilled soups. ceekskat loves this creamy cold cucumber soup, and karykat’s favorite is cold avocado corn soup with cilantro oil. “You don’t really know the corn is there or that it’s been grilled,” karykat says, “but it adds an elusive something. Incredibly good.” “This was absolutely terrific,” concurs DGresh, noting, “This is an elegant and impressive company dish.”

KiltedCook enjoys Bobby Flay’s chilled white gazpacho as a starter, or even for dessert, while sparkareno likes this pear soup at room temperature.

Or, if you prefer to keep things simple, try CHOW’s easy gazpacho recipe.

Board Link: great cold soup recipe?

How to Peel Beets

Chowhounds have divergent views about whether to peel beets before or after cooking, and how to go about it.

Some hounds who prefer to peel beets after roasting or boiling use two paper towels to rub the skins off and protect their hands from staining beet juice. Will Owen dons a pair of yellow latex kitchen gloves. Rubbing the beets “with a rubber-clad thumb works better for me than a knife,” he says. When he’s done, he washes his glove-clad hands with dish soap to clean off the juices. Even if you use a knife, cheap surgical gloves will protect your hands from stains, while dishwasher-safe cutting boards will do the same for your counters.

MGZ peels beets before roasting because he likes the caramelization that occurs and doesn’t want to lose it. He finds a vegetable peeler makes quick work of the job. jsaimd peels them after roasting in the winter, but in the summer, she peels them first, then slices them and cooks them on the grill, in a skillet, or in the toaster oven. “Only takes 15 minutes and doesn’t heat up the house. You still get caramelization you don’t with boiling/steaming,” she says.

And if you cook pretty golden or chioggia beets, hounds point out, there are no red juices to stain your hands.

Board Link: Best way to peel fresh beets…

How to Use Tomatillos

Tomatillos are a tangy addition to many Mexican and Southwestern dishes. They’re frequently used for salsas. Bakersfield Hound roasts them with an onion, a serrano chile, salt, pepper, and some olive oil at 375°F for 50 minutes and blends it all into a salsa that’s great in tacos and omelets. goodhealthgourmet halves them and grills for a couple of minutes on each side to make a smoky salsa.

amazinc uses grilled tomatillos in pozole: Brown 1-inch cubes of pork, add stock and canned hominy, and simmer until pork is tender. Add chopped grilled tomatillos and heat, then serve topped with chopped tomatoes, jalapeños, and onion. “With corn or flour tortillas, you will have a pozole to make you weep!” he says.

AmyH is a fan of this corn and tomatillo soup, and Sue_B recommends layered chicken enchiladas with tomatillo-cilantro sauce and turkey-chipotle chili. You can also try CHOW’s Chicken Chile Verde.

Board Link: tomatillos

Improvised Jam Sessions

Jam, jelly, and preserves are great for adding flavor to breakfast foods, sweets, and meat dishes.

Jam enhances muffins. geminigirl makes jam-filled muffins by putting some batter in the muffin tin, placing a bit of jam on it, and covering with more batter; bake as usual. Val likes these jam muffins, in which the jam is stirred into the batter. For dessert, these raspberry oatmeal squares are good made with any flavor jam, says maplesugar.

Jam is great in sauces or marinades for meat and chicken. Melt it and mix to taste with good vinegar, or with stock and drippings from roasted meat, and use as a sauce. domestikate combines apricot preserves, whole grain mustard, and garlic to glaze pork chops on the grill; othervoice marinates pork chops in orange marmalade, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger; and BeefeaterRocks likes peach-mustard pork chops.

More ideas for using jam:

• Mix into plain yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta, or oatmeal
• Use to flavor milkshakes or smoothies
• Use to fill rolled crêpes or thin, plain omelets
• Add a bit of apricot jam or orange marmalade to butternut squash soup
• Stir into herbal or fruit-flavored tea to sweeten
• Combine with oil and vinegar to make salad dressing

Board Link: Help! Multiple open jars of jam and jelly!

Steel-Cut Oats 101

Steel-cut oats are a step up in the oatmeal department. They “have a kind of flavor and personality that rolled oats just do not have,” says LauraGrace.

alanbarnes starts by toasting the oats dry over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the color starts to change and they become aromatic, then adds three times as much water as oats, and simmers slowly for half an hour. By toasting the oats, “you’re not completely transforming the flavor, but definitely adding significantly to it,” he says. “It’s like the difference between toast and plain bread.” mobirose toasts the oats in a bit of butter, then cooks them in water and milk.

LauraGrace cuts down on the cooking time by bringing the oats and water to a boil the night before, then removing from the heat and covering; return to a boil in the morning and cook until thick. She also cooks a large batch on the weekend, and reheats it for breakfast during the week. “The stuff reheats like a champ!” she says.

Some hounds bake with steel-cut oats, too. They’re “killer in bread,” according to Fritter, and greygarious substitutes them for half the rolled oats in oatmeal cookies for a nutty chew.

Board Link: I bought a can of Irish Oats-now what?

Fresh Berries for Dessert

Blueberries and raspberries are at the height of their seasons now, and ripe for transforming into delicious desserts.

Blueberries are a classic component of casual cakes and muffins, such as the colorfully named blueberry boy bait. It’s “really fabulous,” raves newfoodie, “and everyone—boys or not—loved it!” For an elegant dessert, this blueberry buttermilk tart is delicious, says Candy.

Cheese Boy recommends raspberry tiramisu, while kattyeyes likes to add slightly crushed raspberries to brownie batter.

Olallieberry crushes berries a bit to release their juices, pours them into ice cube trays to freeze, and uses them in lemonade, cocktails, and club soda. “Or you can just pop a whole one in your mouth for a mini popsicle!” she says.

Also check out CHOW’s Nectarine and Blueberry Slump and Almost Summer Pudding, which uses both blueberries and raspberries.

Board Link: Just picked raspberries and blueberries

Summer’s Cherry Tomato Bounty

Sweet cherry tomatoes are a summer mainstay for salads and sauces. Many Chowhounds oven-roast them, then either use the roasted tomatoes in quick pasta sauces, or freeze them for later use.

hotoynoodle uses them raw to make a pasta sauce: Toss halved cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, soft cheese (such as Brie or goat), basil or mint, chile flakes, and lemon zest in a serving bowl; cover and let marinate a room temperature for a couple of hours. Cook pasta, add to bowl, and toss.

Several hounds love spicy roasted chicken with tomatoes and marjoram. Tom P makes it frequently, “not only because it is so easy but because it is so killer good.” Val says it works beautifully with basil instead of marjoram, too.

hollyd makes a summer succotash of lima beans, halved cherry tomatoes, fresh corn, red onion, and cilantro. “So good,” she says.

CHOW’s Green Bean, Tomato, and Shallot Salad also stars cherry tomatoes.

Board Link: Cherry Tomatoes

Ideas for Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is a versatile green, great as a side or as a component of heartier main dishes.

Wilted chard is good as an addition to sandwiches, quiches, frittatas, and pastas, or simply sautéed with olive oil and garlic (CeeBee loves this recipe for Swiss chard with raisins and pine nuts).

For heartier fare, cannellini beans complement chard, says TheDescendedLefticleOfAramis, in recipes like CHOW’s Braised White Beans with Chard. LindaWhit recommends combining chard and garbanzo beans in this African vegetable stew.

Also beloved are chard, onion, and Gruyère panade (bread casserole) from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and leek and Swiss chard tart.

Board Link: chard …

Zap! Instant Bacon

Cooking bacon perfectly with little splatter or mess is easy when you use a microwave. Cook for around one minute per strip of bacon, depending on your microwave and the thickness of the bacon.

Many hounds line a plate with a few layers of paper towels, lay strips of bacon on top, and cover with another paper towel. The towels absorb the bacon fat as it renders and the bacon crisps.

You needn’t sacrifice the rendered fat if you like to cook with it, though. greygarious places her bacon on an unlined plate and covers it with a piece of parchment paper to prevent splatter. Once the rendered fat has cooled a bit, she pours it into a jar to save. alkapal uses a microwave bacon tray, which drains the fat into a collection tray and is easy to clean.

Board Link: Bacon, Lovely Real Bacon Microwaved