Ideas, advice, and what to make now from the Chowhound community and CHOW editors.
Once you’ve spent good money on vanilla beans, you want them to stay nice and fresh. This is especially true if you buy in quantity, and hounds who buy in bulk to save money have storage tips. Several store vanilla beans in vacuum-sealed bags, resealing the bags after they remove beans for use. morwen uses the inexpensive Reynolds Handi-Vac, and says her beans are “still soft, sticky, and fragrant after nearly a year.” Candy keeps hers in a French canning jar with a rubber gasket and says the beans stay soft indefinitely.
Vanilla beans can add nuance to common sweeteners. HaagenDazs sticks a bean or two in a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar; scubadoo97 makes vanilla sugar with the empty pods after they’ve been scraped. morwen makes vanilla-flavored honey by slightly warming some honey, pouring it in a jar, and adding split vanilla beans.
Board Link: Storage of vanilla beans?
Pumpkin, butternut squash, and other winter squashes star in cold-weather dishes all over the world. Butternut squash is the main ingredient in many hearty Italian dishes; Vshu calls “Giada de Laurentiis’s butternut squash lasagne “divine,” and Missyme recommends Ina Garten’s butternut squash risotto. lollya concurs, saying, “Ohhh it’s sooooo damn good.”
bertie says this Thai pumpkin soup always receives compliments. Jack_ makes greens with roasted butternut squash and ricotta salata regularly. And goodhealthgourmet wins raves for this roasted acorn squash with chile vinaigrette.
Ruth Lafler shares this recipe for the Afghan dish kaddo bourani (candied pumpkin with yogurt sauce and meat sauce) from San Francisco’s Helmand Palace restaurant. It’s one of the sweeter versions she’s had, but “the sweetness of the pumpkin makes a wonderful contrast to the tangy sauce.”
chez cherie roasts cubed winter squash and sliced red onion seasoned with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika or dried sage until tender, throwing in a handful of pecans or other nuts for the last few minutes, then tosses in dried cherries and crumbled blue cheese. “I could eat this every day,” she says.
Board Link: Favorite savory butternut squash/pumpkin/winter squash recipe?
Shrimp cook so quickly that they make preparing fast home-cooked meals a snap. Here are some of Chowhounds’ favorite shrimp dishes.
mojoeater loves this quick indulgence: Peel all but the tail end of the shrimp and make a deep incision in each. Mix together diced jalapeños and cream cheese, then stuff the shrimp with the mixture. Wrap with bacon and secure with toothpicks. Throw on a grill or in a cast iron pan until the bacon is crispy and the shrimp is pink. “Damned good and easy,” she says.
whatsfordinner has a “ridiculously easy and absolutely delicious” recipe for grilled shrimp. Melt some butter and add minced garlic and soy sauce to taste. Brush some of this mixture onto shell-on shrimp and grill, serving the rest of the butter on the side for dipping.
jmullen1251 roasts tomatoes and whole garlic cloves, sautées shrimp in olive oil, and adds the tomato-garlic mixture, feta, and Israeli couscous. Marge makes Spanish shrimp with garlic: Cook shrimp in olive oil with lots of chopped garlic, red pepper flakes, a splash of tomato sauce, a bit of sherry, and a squeeze of lemon juice; garnish with chopped parsley.
Miss Needle recommends Shrimp Uggie from Uglesich’s in New Orleans (she cuts down on the oil), and BerkshireTsarina likes New Orleans–style barbecue shrimp, cooked in butter sauce and “made with the speed of lightning.”
Board Link: Need Something New for Shrimp
Riffing on the contents of her fridge, tracylee created a hit party dish, mini apple-bacon tartlets with Gouda. Here’s how they’re made: Cook some bacon until crisp, set it aside and drain most of the fat. Sauté chopped apples and brown sugar in the remaining bacon fat, then combine the apples and crumbled reserved bacon. Line the cups of a mini muffin tin with pie dough, and fill each cup with a spoonful of apple mixture. Top with grated Gouda, place the muffin tin on a preheated baking sheet, and bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes.
Board Link: Apple Bacon tartlets, any thoughts
Hanukkah is just around the corner, and Chowhounds have plenty of opinions about what makes the best potato latkes. Ruth Lafler asserts: “I can definitively say that the ‘best’ recipe is your grandmother’s.” But a couple of hounds recommend this latke recipe, which includes soaking and wringing out the grated potatoes. It’s “basic and great,” says Ellen, who adds that it “never fails.” ChrisVR says it was responsible for “hands down the best latkes I’ve ever made,” though she grates her potatoes fine.
Regardless of the recipe, most hounds agree that great latkes are all about technique. Several use the same old-fashioned wire mesh potato grater their grandmothers favored. Most remove as much water as possible from the potatoes before adding onion, egg, and flour or matzo meal if using, though Ruth Lafler believes squeezing them breaks them down and makes for gummy latkes. another_adam wrings them out in a dish cloth over a strainer set over a large bowl, then allows the collected liquid to sit for five minutes or so to allow the starch to settle. He then pours the water off and adds the separated potato starch to the latke batter. And ola notes that if you use a slotted spoon to form the latkes, you can remove even more liquid.
Ruth Lafler prefers to fry latkes in schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), olive oil, or a combination of olive and neutral oil. Ellen says, “if you can cook them in duck fat, you will die happy.” Ruth Lafler also offers this tip: don’t drain latkes on paper towels, or they will become sodden. Instead, put them in a single layer on a cooling rack over paper towels; if you need to delay serving them, put the rack on a baking sheet in a warm oven.
And, if your latkes still aren’t working out after all that advice, then take a look at our video to find out why You’re Doing It All Wrong.
Board Link: best recipe for latkes
Chowhounds are wild about food cooked in duck fat. The best french fries mrsfury ever had were fried in duck fat. pitu cuts potatoes into wedges, tosses them in duck fat and roasts them. “It’s like Thanksgiving in one bite,” he says. And, according to pikawicca, “Potatoes fried in duck fat are truly sublime, as is a really fresh egg from a free-range hen.”
carswell uses duck fat in place of butter in savory pastries, rubs it on poultry before roasting for a crisp, brown skin, and uses it to pop popcorn (sprinkle with sea salt; no need to drizzle with melted butter). Other hounds sautée cabbage and onions, poultry, peppers, or Brussels sprouts in the rendered fat.
If you save enough duck fat, you can make confit. RPMcMurphy thinks the rendered fat from one duck is just enough to confit two duck legs, especially if you make them a tight fit in the pan. Check out CHOW’s recipe for Slow Cooker Duck Confit.
Board Link: rendered duck fat -- what do you use it for
When a recipe calls for buttermilk, do you really need it? What do you do when you’re caught without it? And how do you use up any leftovers?
Davwud notes that buttermilk freezes well, so it’s easy to portion and store the remainder of a quart for future use. If your main use for buttermilk is in baking, paulj recommends keeping powdered buttermilk on hand (add the appropriate amount of powder with the dry ingredients and water with the wet ingredients).
Cooks can also substitute plain milk with some acid added to replicate buttermilk’s acidity; use 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar per cup of milk. Let it sit a few minutes and it will thicken up like buttermilk. In many recipes, other acidic dairy products, such as yogurt or sour cream, can replace buttermilk, says soupkitten, and Bryn suggests thinning yogurt with plain milk.
Board Link: How to make Buttermilk
If you think everything’s better with bacon, then Bacon Salt might be for you. It’s actually bacon-free, vegetarian, and kosher, and, according to rockycat, relatively low in sodium. But how does it taste?
danhole thinks Original flavor tastes most like bacon, while Hickory tastes more like liquid smoke. danhole’s favorite is the Peppered flavor, in soups, sprinkled on steak (especially Hickory or Peppered), on mac ’n’ cheese, in cheese grits, and in beans. “I’m a big fan, but just a dab will do you,” says danhole. “You can use too much, so you have to beware.”
Some other ways to use it: leanneabe sprinkles it over deviled eggs and adds it to scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and buttered popcorn. Clarkafella recommends using it in a turkey sandwich with mayo on white bread, a “truly outstanding” combo, agrees alkapal.
Not everyone’s a fan, though. oldbaycupcake finds it very smoky, with a chemical aftertaste rather than a solid bacon flavor. And pikawicca recommends getting your hands on artisanal Japanese smoked sea salt, which has a deep, complex smoke flavor.
Board Link: bacon salt: how do you use it?
Pork shoulder is a cut with enough fat to keep it juicy and give lots of flavor. Here are some favorite ways hounds use it.
Several recommend the cut for pulled pork, either roasted at low heat or cooked in a slow cooker. malibumike suggests serving it with North or South Carolina–style barbecue sauce and coleslaw on buns. alanbarnes prefers pork shoulder in chile verde.
esstrink likes pernil al horno, Puerto Rican garlic-marinated roast pork shoulder. “Super easy to make. And oh, so sabroso! Just make sure to let it slow roast until the meat is falling off the bone.”
upstate girl uses pork shoulder in pasta sauce, where she says the fat adds excellent flavor. Cut the meat into chunks, brown it in olive oil, and let it finish cooking in your homemade pasta sauce.
Board Link: Non-Carnitas Ideas For Pork Shoulder
Roasted chestnuts, that quintessential wintertime snack, are simple to make once you know the key tricks. The most important one is to score them to allow steam to escape as they roast, or they can explode. goodhealthgourmet instructs would-be roasters to cut an X in the round end of chestnuts with a paring knife and roast, scored side up, in a baking pan in a 425°F oven. You’ll know they’re done when they burst open and are soft inside, about 20 to 25 minutes.
pemma recommends using a chestnut knife, especially made for the job, and says it’s easier and safer to use than a kitchen knife. Instead of scoring with a knife, ipsedixit gives them a gentle squeeze with a nutcracker—just enough so small fissures show, but not enough to crack the nut. The nutcracker also makes the chestnuts easier to peel after roasting, a bonus.
goodhealthgourmet notes that it’s essential to peel them while still warm, or the shells won’t come off. Let them cool just until you can handle them. itryalot adds that wrapping them in a dishcloth for a few minutes helps, too.
Board Link: Roasting Chestnuts–How to?