Cooking Tips rss

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

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

Magic Flavor-Enhancing Cheese Rinds

Don’t toss the rind from that delectable wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese: Save it to enrich your next soup or risotto.

“I throw my rinds into soups,” says smtucker, “especially tomato-based ones, which gives them a wonderful earthy and slight cheesy flavor.” Others add them to minestrone or French onion soup. Add the rind early on, suggests greygarious; much of it will melt into the soup, and you can fish out what’s left.

corneygirl uses the rinds to make a quick soup: Add a rind, a bay leaf, and a dried chile to broth and simmer; “toss in tortellini and it’s dinner.”

rock0052 adds Parmigiano rinds along with the stock when starting to cook risotto. relizabeth doesn’t bother fishing the rinds out of risotto. “It is a magical melty cheesy suprise,” she says. “I purposely dish servings out so I always get the rind.”

Board Link: Parmigano Reggiano rinds

Fresh Soups for Tomato Season

Summer tomato season is the perfect time for homemade tomato soup, served hot or chilled. You can adapt recipes that call for canned tomatoes to use the bounty from your garden or farmers’ market.

JoanN feels that “roasting the tomatoes is the key to a truly superior tomato soup.” She loves roasted tomato soup with garlic, while kattyeyes favors tomato soup with lemon-rosemary cream. “It’s quite special!” she exclaims. harrie is a fan of hearty tomato soup with shrimp and orzo.

Some other ideas to liven up tomato soup include adding grated fresh ginger, finely chopped fresh rosemary, and homemade croutons.

For classic comfort food, try CHOW’s Creamy Tomato Soup. And if you’re starting with fresh tomatoes, check out CHOW’s video on How to Peel Tomatoes.

Board Link: Basic Tomato Soup, with a Twist?

Fresh and Minty

Mint lends a summery flavor to savory and sweet cooking, and perks up drinks.

Mint is great in condiments, and is a classic pairing with lamb. BeckyAndTheBeanstock makes an easy mint chutney: Purée 3 cups mint leaves, 2 cups cilantro leaves, a sprinkle of sugar, a jalapeño, some lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a food processor, then serve as a dip for bread and veggies. Erika L makes a sauce for leg of lamb with chopped mint and basil, olive oil, and garlic; brush it on the lamb while cooking, and serve more on the side. Or try CHOW’s Braised Lamb Shanks with Mint-Parsley Pesto.

morwen buries mint leaves in sugar for easy mint flavoring, and steeps mint in vinegar, which she uses to dress fruit salads. Sooeygun says, “We grow ours pretty much exclusively for ice cream.” “The ice cream with real mint is so much better than what you buy,” agrees karykat. “No comparison.” Steep the leaves in the hot milk and cream, then strain and use to make the custard. lfirebrand makes lemon-mint granita. “Can’t get easier or more refreshing than that!” he says.

Or maybe you can: CHOW’s sweet Southern-style Mint and Lime Iced Tea uses green tea.

Board Links: Tons of mint -- seeking creative suggestions
Mint help please

Perfect Grilled Potatoes

Like other vegetables, potatoes are delicious grilled. Most hounds prefer to parboil waxy potatoes. This gives “a nice crisp outside and smooth texture inside” when they’re grilled, says Infomaniac. Cut them into same-sized pieces so they cook evenly, recommends goodhealthgourmet. Thick slices or wedges are easiest to turn with tongs. Smaller chunks can be grilled on skewers; leave the skin on and thread the skewer through the skin on each piece to provide a sturdy anchor.

Infomaniac doesn’t parboil russet potatoes. He brushes them with oil, starts them over direct heat, and moves them to indirect heat to finish cooking. ipsedixit also prefers not to parboil. His instructions: “Slice into thick wedges. Rub with some garlic. Brush with olive oil. Place over hot coals until tender.”

waver calls this recipe for grilled potato salad with watercress, green onions, and blue cheese vinaigrette “awesome.”

Board Link: Potatoes on the grill

Simple Tricks for Light, Fluffy Pancakes

Making pancakes from scratch is almost as easy as using a mix, and the flavor is much better. A few simple techniques help guarantee a light, fluffy texture.

mels finds that folding an additional egg white beaten to soft peaks into the batter creates “the lightest most tender pancake I have ever made.” Others simply separate the eggs in their recipes, beat the egg whites, and fold them into the batter (Siobhan is a fan of Hannah’s pancakes, which uses this technique). Folding in beaten egg whites “makes all the difference, especially with heavier add-ins or recipes with cottage cheese or ricotta,” says amyzan, who adds, “Egg whites also work wonders with whole grain batters, so you don’t have to sacrifice texture for nutrition.”

Letting pancake batter rest for 15 minutes before cooking makes for lighter pancakes too. This is especially true when whole-grain flour is used because it takes longer to absorb liquids, notes amyzan. And, according to greygarious, replacing half your recipe’s milk with applesauce “not only improves flavor but makes the pancakes more tender.”

Board Link: I have discovered the secret to light/fluffy pancakes!