Cooking Tips rss

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

Beans Without Soaking

Despite the many bean recipes that call for dried beans to be soaked for a few hours or overnight before cooking, Chowhounds say there’s no need. Following a method from Rick Bayless, dexters covers the beans with water, brings them to a boil, reduces the heat to a simmer, and cooks for around two hours or until the beans are tender, adding more water if necessary. Don’t throw out the water, says dexters—it has a lot of flavor.

Pressure cookers are a good way to cook beans in a hurry. sarah galvin uses a pressure cooker, and says unsoaked beans take only about 15 minutes. lgss uses a pressure cooker too, and says that presoaked beans only take 3–6 minutes.

scubadoo97, another nonsoaker, adds that it’s fine to salt bean cooking water—it does not prevent beans from cooking, as some cooks say. “ACID will in fact keep beans from cooking,” scubadoo97 counsels Sallie, who was annoyed that a French bean soup recipe with wine took six hours to cook. “Add acid at or near the end,” says scubadoo97.

Board Links: How long should you soak black beans?
Red Beans and Rice—Presoak or no?

When to Sift Flour

There is no need to sift flour unless a recipe specifically instructs you to, say Chowhounds with professional baking experience. Scoop the flour, level it off, and pour it into the bowl, says todao, who adds that you should whisk or otherwise stir the flour and other dry ingredients together before combining them with wet ingredients. “Sifting flour, when the recipe calls for it, helps adjust for the compaction that the flour has experienced during processing and shipping. A recipe that doesn’t include sifting instructions has usually taken that into account in specifying the amount of flour to be used,” says todao.

If a recipe calls for “sifted flour,” the flour is sifted before measuring. On the other hand if the recipe calls for a cup of flour sifted, measure and then sift.

Board Link: when to sift

Creative Cranberry Sauces

Cranberry sauces made with wine are popular with Chowhounds. Val is devoted to cabernet cranberries. Nyleve says you needn’t use cabernet—any red wine works well. DaisyM says cranberry sauce with cherries, Marsala, and rosemary is “AMAZING. I couldn’t stop eating it.” SSqwerty loves spiced cranberry sauce with zinfandel, but cuts the sugar to a cup; she says it can be made and frozen up to a month ahead.

Kate is always hungry uses the recipe on the cranberry bag but add chunks of a tart green apple, a cinnamon stick, a few whole cloves, and the zest of one orange. Claudette throws clean, raw cranberries, orange or tangerine, a few slices of candied ginger, and sugar to taste into a food processor and purées it until chunky-smooth. She says it’s very simple and refreshing, especially if you don’t add too much sugar. valerie made triple cranberry sauce last year, and says it’s “so good that I have been thinking about it all year.”

Board Link: Your best cranberry sauce recipe please

Beyond Fried Green Tomatoes

There are lots of delicious ways to use up green tomatoes beyond frying them. melly thinks they’re good raw on sandwiches, where they give a nice, crunchy texture. alanbarnes makes green tomato pilaf with a little bacon, onion, and garlic. cimui simply sautées them with onion, garlic, salt, and pepper, and says leftovers are good in quiche. alliedawn_98 says Emeril Lagasse’s hot ’n’ spicy green tomato soup with crispy pancetta is delicious.

paprkutr likes pickling green onions as you would good kosher dills, with lots of garlic. pondrat pickles them with vinegar, kosher salt, garlic, fresh dill, and dill seeds, and adds a variety of fresh chiles to the canning jars.

Green tomatoes might seem an unlikely ingredient for desserts, but Hanky calls this green tomato cake with brown butter icing delicious and easy, and alanbarnes suggests green tomato and apple pie.

Board Link: Green tomato ideas?

Tips for Thick Chili

Chowhounds have plenty of tricks—some traditional, and some original—for making their chili nice and thick. danhole says a couple hours of simmering does the trick. Several recommend using masa harina (flour for corn tortillas) mixed with water; Will Owen mixes about a third of a cup with enough cold water to make a runny gruel and adds it to the simmering chili. tzurriz crumbles up and adds some tortilla chips (or just throws in a tortilla or two) and lets it simmer. The tortillas will dissolve and thicken the chili at the same time.

Davwud mashes some of the chili’s beans to help thicken it, while sheilal uses refried beans, and says they don’t alter the flavor much but thicken nicely. mamaciita has used canned pumpkin to thicken turkey and black bean chilis, and grrlscout adds mashed cooked sweet potato.

Board Link: How to make thicker chili?

Recipes from the Pumpkin Patch

It’s pumpkin season, and Chowhounds take pumpkin cuisine beyond pie, with favorite savory recipes and cakes. nofunlatte recommends this black bean pumpkin soup. yamalam likes a creamy puréed pumpkin soup. greygarious likes puréed pumpkin soup with curry powder (sautéed with the aromatics) and chopped apple.

bear calls this baked pumpkin packed with bread and cheese very good. She microwaves the empty pumpkin for about five minutes before filling it to cut down on baking time.

upstate girl says Paula Deen’s pumpkin gooey butter cake is “a huge hit. Really good.” drewb123 makes these spiced pumpkin cupcakes for Halloween.

Board link: Your favorite pumpkin dishes?

Shortcut Stock Substitutes

Several Chowhounds are fans of Better Than Bouillon stock base as a shortcut when small amounts of stock are called for. There’s “no comparison to those salty bouillon cubes,” says jorame, who’s a fan of the chicken flavor. “When you just need just a little enhancement—such as flavoring a stir fry, boosting sauces, making rice pilaf, adding zip to soups, stews—it’s great!” The Professor says it makes a great broth in a pinch, especially when simmered with a bit of meat. jcattles adds a teaspoon of chicken base to her mashed potatoes with milk and butter, giving them great flavor.

As a vegetarian, arifa thinks that “nothing beats their No Chicken and No Beef products when a recipe calls for meaty broths that I can’t use.” MMRuth keeps the vegetable base on hand, and oakjoan uses the mushroom quite often. C. Hamster thinks Minor’s Soup Bases have better flavor, though.

More Than Gourmet concentrates can be used as is as you would demi-glace, or diluted as stock. “They’re pricey,” says nemo, “but all the work is done!”

Board link: Better than bouillon?

Lighter Fall Veggie Dishes

Take a break from the rich foods of the upcoming holiday season with these ideas for lighter vegetable sides. CeeBee finds that mashing a few carrots with potatoes adds an appealing sweetness that doesn’t leave her missing cream and butter. versificatrix does the same with parsnips. galleygirl says boiling potatoes for mashing in vegetable or chicken broth or skim milk “ups the tasty quotient.”

RosemaryHoney fills the cavities of pie pumpkins or winter squash with unsweetened applesauce and bakes, or makes a savory stuffed squash by sautéing chopped onions, apples, celery, and red cabbage with sage, deglazing the pan with apple cider, and stuffing the mixture in acorn or butternut squash halves before baking. RVAwino loves spaghetti squash with sausage filling. She uses chicken sausage.

operagirl likes celery Victor and shredded Brussels sprouts sautéed in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes. RosemaryHoney roasts assorted vegetables by tossing them with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, sprinkling with salt and a dash of sugar, placing on a heavy, preheated baking sheet, and roasting at 425°F until caramelized.

Board link: Hi, health-conscious Chowhounds — best seasonal vegetable recipes, please!

Sensational Salt Cod Dishes

Salt cod must be soaked in water for a day or more in order to remove much of the salt and make it pliable. Then it’s used in a variety of dishes. Here are some Chowhounds’ favorites.

Brandade—salt cod, mashed potatoes, butter, cream, and garlic, served hot as a spread with good bread—is one of TheSnowPea’s favorite appetizers. Barely set scrambled eggs with chunks of salt cod is one of the best tapas Miss Mac has ever had. tmso bakes soaked salt cod with olives, capers, onion, potatoes, and olive oil, and he says you can rinse pieces of it and let it reconstitute directly in a pot of simmering beans.

Lemon Curry recommends the Basque dish bacalao al pil-pil, salt cod in garlic sauce, which is made by slowly poaching salt cod in garlic-infused oil so its gelatin helps emulsify the oil into a sauce.

mrsleny likes the bacalhau from The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, while jayt90 is a fan of the Caribbean dish ackee and saltfish, which he says justifies the high cost of ackee.

Board Link: Impulse buy- salt cod- now what?! Help!

Extra-Fluffy Scrambled Eggs

How do you get the fluffiest scrambled eggs? Chowhounds use a variety of methods. jerzzy asserts that a low burner and constant mixing are all that’s needed, but blue room adds a teaspoon or two of water for every two or three eggs. Miss Needle agrees that adding water makes fluffy scrambled eggs.

yayadave says that aerating with an immersion blender before scrambling does it, and maria lorraine whips with a hand-held mixer. tmso produced “scrambled egg clouds” by separating out half the whites, beating them to soft peaks, and folding the beaten eggs into the whites, then cooking. “Those were some seriously fluffy eggs.”

For a really unorthodox approach, Wiley adds a heaping tablespoon of creamed horseradish for every two eggs, saying the horseradish’s heat disappears as the eggs are cooked, but really fluffs them up somehow.

Board Link: Tip for fluffy scrambled eggs