Cooking Tips rss

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

Rhubarb Junkies

Similar to peaches, rhubarb has a striking, unmatched flavor and an achingly short season. So in springtime when it’s ripe, those who love it gorge on it. As well as old standbys like strawberry-rhubarb pie and rhubarb crisp, hounds find ways to use rhubarb in ways both savory and sweet.

Rhubarb is of course a classic dessert ingredient. Candy is crazy for millefoglie with grappa cream and rhubarb, an Italian version of the classic French pastry mille-feuille. Other hounds make upside-down cakes with rhubarb instead of pineapple, or rhubarb custard pies without a strawberry in sight.

On the savory side, todao uses rhubarb in a rhubarb-garlic quick bread that is reportedly “heavenly” toasted for sandwiches, and kaaris loves this stuffed butternut squash, with rhubarb and Italian sausage.

Rhubarb makes wonderful drinks too: “Rhubarb syrup + Pellegrino = a refreshing soda not unlike a natural, homemade Ting!” says kattyeyes. Here’s a rhubarb syrup recipe that includes rosewater, a common rhubarb pairing in some parts of the world, or berbadeerface just makes it with a quart of water and a cup of sugar for each pound of rhubarb. Bring to a boil, simmer for an hour, strain, chill, and mix with vodka.

Board Link: What is your favorite rhubarb recipe?

Wine for the Sauce, Wine for Me

Everyone knows the old saw about not bothering to cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink, but ipsedixit wants to know its converse: When is a wine too precious to go in the pan?

Opinions diverged wildly, of course. Some hounds say that wine quality makes a major difference (rebs ruined a perfectly good coq au vin using Two Buck Chuck instead of a nice $35 bottle of Burgundy), while others reckon they can’t tell much of a difference either way.

Sallie breaks down her reasoning most convincingly: It’s not price that matters, it’s the character of the wine. “Something with a lower alcohol content, minimal oak, higher acidity = good for a braise,” she says. Think Chianti, Pinot Noir, Côtes du Rhône. When using whites, she advises, similarly avoid oaky tasting wine like Chablis or Chardonnay. “A lot of cheap Chards have fake oak flavoring put into them which is extremely weird tasting in a pan sauce,” she says. A better inexpensive option, she says, is Chenin Blanc, which is very neutral.

Board Link: When is a wine too good to cook with?

Natural Wraps to Keep Fish Moist

zeprosnepsid wants to use “something natural” to wrap fish in for baking. Blanched lettuce leaves came to mind, but there were none in the house. What else can one use?

Chowhounds had lots of ideas, including:

• banana leaves
• corn husks: let them dry in a low oven or in the sun and then re-hydrate in hot water, says Sam Fujisaka
• grape leaves
• lotus leaves: “If you use dried lotus leaves, soak them in warm water first for about half an hour,” says Sam D
• cabbage
• kale
• Swiss chard
• fresh herbs like mint or basil
• spinach

Board Link: What can I wrap fish in to bake it that is natural?

Creamy Potato Salad 101

There are a few tricks to ensure potato salad with creamy dressing has great texture and is as flavorful as possible, say hounds. You can use waxy white and red potatoes or starchy russets, depending on the potato texture you prefer. According to alwayscooking, starchy potatoes will absorb more dressing. Several hounds insist that, for best flavor and texture, you should cook the potatoes with their skins on, then peel them while hot. Be sure to cook them only until just done.

For the most flavorful potatoes, many agree that the trick is to toss the potatoes with vinegar while they are still warm (red wine, white wine, and cider vinegars are all popular). Allow the potatoes to cool before adding your other ingredients. Karl S recommends rinsing sliced white onions before grating or chopping them if you use them, to make them less harsh. And Kater notes that you should be generous with salt, as the salad will taste less salty once chilled.

In addition to vinegar and mayonnaise, hounds like to season their potato salad with chopped hard-boiled eggs, celery or onion salt, mustard, chopped dill pickles and a bit of pickle juice, capers, chopped parsley, fresh chives, and lemon zest.

As an alternative, DanaB shares an unfussy recipe she got from her stepmother: Ahead of time, chop a bunch of scallions and/or chives, mix with a couple of cups of mayonnaise, and refrigerate. Later, boil peeled waxy potatoes until tender, cool, and cube. Mix generously with the prepared mayo and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper. “While this recipe sounds deceptively simple,” she says, “the outcome is amazing.”

Siobhan likes this creamy potato salad, or try CHOW’s Potato Salad with Peas and Mint.

Board Link: ISO of the best potato salad

Great Ways to Use Tarragon

Tarragon is a leafy herb with a faintly licoricelike flavor that marries well with eggs, chicken, and fish. Try it in chicken salad, or cook pork with tarragon, orange, and honey, recommends mojoeater.

oakjoan makes poulet au vinaigre by browning chicken parts with onion and garlic, then adding white wine vinegar, tarragon, and good stock, and cooking them until done. “Fabulous with crusty bread and a big salad,” she says. Val calls chicken Louisa “a lovely and easy dish” that uses tarragon. And Nigella Lawson’s tarragon chicken is marinated with 3/4 cup of the herb.

You can also make flavorful condiments with tarragon. Make a compound butter, suggests baseballfan: Add tarragon to softened butter, then roll into a log. You can freeze this and cut off portions as needed. It’s delicious on grilled seafood, pasta, and baked potatoes, baseballfan says. Fritter infuses vinegar with tarragon by heating it, then adding the tarragon, taking it off the heat, and letting the tarragon steep until the vinegar cools, then straining.

Karen_Schaffer adds chopped tarragon to green salads for a lovely effect. Channa thinks green goddess dressing is best with lots of tarragon. And check out CHOW’s Shallot-Tarragon Jam.

Board Link: What to do with a huge bunch of tarragon?

Salty Secret to Creamy, Tender Beans

Contrary to conventional wisdom, adding salt to dried beans before cooking does not make them tough. But adamshoe reports that America’s Test Kitchen recently advocated soaking beans in salt water (three tablespoons table salt and one gallon water) for 8 to 24 hours before cooking. Drain and rinse to remove remaining salt, then cook as usual in unsalted water until tender.

adamshoe tried this method for baked beans, and says they were “very tender and creamy,” with “few ‘exploded’ beans.” alwayscooking concurs, saying her beans cooked in just 40 minutes and were “absolutely creamy and remained whole.” She notes that they had a slightly salty flavor, so she simply reduced the amount of salt in the dish she made with them.

Board Link: Brining beans? Yes!

Crack-Like Kale

Kale baked until crisp in a low oven is can’t-stop-eating-it good, say Chowhounds. Ruth Lafler had some at a party, and says, “everyone was amazed at how fun and delicious it is, especially for something that easy.” “Hot damn this is good!” raves extrasalty. “The first batch didn’t even make it from the baking sheet to the serving bowl.”

Here’s how: Remove stems then tear kale leaves into pieces. Toss with a tablespoon of oil and a sprinkle of salt. Place on a baking rack set over a sheet pan and bake at 250°F for about 25 minutes, tossing about halfway through. “The kale will darken in color and diminish in volume dramatically,” says yumyum. “[The] result is a crispy crunchy snack that makes it easy to get your kale.”

Hounds warn against using too much salt, since it becomes concentrated as the kale shrinks. scuzzo has tossed it with a mixture of wasabi, soy sauce, garlic powder, olive oil, and salt, and says it was “a stellar combo.” He adds, “A bit of cayenne is nice too!”

Board Link: Jacques Pepin’s crispy kale

Cilantro with Everything

Chowhounds who love cilantro also love dishes that use a lot of it. Sauces and condiments are a popular use. Val recommends grilled Korean-style steaks with spicy cilantro sauce, and says the sauce is so awesome, “I could almost just eat [it] with a spoon.”

Indian cilantro chutney is just a “whole bunch of cilantro whizzed in the food processor with some finely-diced green chile, a little lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a bit of ground cumin,” says alanbarnes, who adds that it’s a great accompaniment to steaks or roasted chicken, as well as Indian dishes. (Here’s a video lesson on making it.)

Veggo cuts fresh corn from the cob and sautées it with minced jalapeño until it starts to caramelize, then removes it from the heat and adds fresh lime juice and lots of chopped de-stemmed cilantro. zamorski stir-fries gai lan (Chinese broccoli), ginger, shallots, a cup or so of cilantro, and about a tablespoon of turmeric, then finishes with fish sauce, a bit of sugar, and a bit of lime juice. “Sounds a little overpowering,” he says, “but it works.”

Board Link: Cilantro

Fresh, Fabulous Favas

It’s the season for fresh fava beans, one of the best things about late spring. Fresh favas are so glorious (and labor intensive, with shelling and skinning) that hounds prefer to serve them simply. cyberroo just throws the whole pods on the grill and cooks them until they’re soft, then pops the beans out to eat. “It’s easier than shelling them raw, and if you’re having a party that’s casual enough, it’s kind of fun,” says cyberroo.

oaklandfoodie’s favorite prep is fresh ricotta and fava bean bruschetta, which uses a fava purée. For a chunkier take, try CHOW’s Chopped Fava Bean Crostini with Pecorino.

Phurstluv serves favas at room temperature dressed with lemon juice, crumbled feta, and bacon. Old Spice tosses them with olive oil, salt, and chopped fresh thyme. weezycom likes hers hot, with a dressing of freshly chopped garlic and parsley mixed with tahini, salt and pepper, and enough lemon juice to make it about the consistency of loose sour cream. BamiaWruz suggests cooking favas with rice and sautéed onion or shallot, then adding lots of fresh dill at the end.

And check out CHOW’s Farro Risotto with Asparagus and Fava Beans.

Board Link: Favorite Favas

Instant Ice Cream, No Ice-Cream Maker Required

It’s easy to make a fruity, creamy dessert that tastes a lot like ice cream in minutes. The key is frozen fruit. Put a bag of frozen berries or peaches, sugar to taste, and a little milk or cream in a food processor, pulse it, and you’re done. “OMG! I had almost instant ice cream! It was delicious,” says Sherri.

greygarious keeps sweetened condensed milk in the freezer, and makes single servings by combining a couple of spoonfuls with some frozen fruit, and milk or cream if desired. jeni1002 uses 1 cup frozen mango, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup milk, and a bit of cardamom for a tropical treat. For a low-calorie, decadent-tasting version, TrishUntrapped processes together frozen fruit, a packet of alternative sweetener, a couple of tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder, and some ice water.

nemo has a neat trick for making instant sorbet: Freeze cans of fruit in heavy syrup, then open the frozen can and pulse the fruit and its syrup. One advantage to this method is the ability to use fruits not normally available frozen, nemo notes, such as pears.

Board Link: An absurdly simple dessert that tasted good - instant ice cream (for lack of a better name)