Cooking Tips rss

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

Better with Bacon Salt

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?

Juicy Pork Shoulder

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

How to Roast Chestnuts

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?

Five-Star Ways with Five-Spice Powder

Five-spice powder is great with pork, Chowhounds agree (and is traditionally used to cook Chinese pork belly, says kobetobiko), but they like it in a variety of preparations.

Val loves this Vietnamese grilled five-spice chicken. jeniyo braises chicken thighs and potato wedges in wine, soy sauce, and five-spice, and applemomma bakes salmon in parchment with five-spice, fennel, a slice of lemon or orange, and sesame oil.

“I have discovered that a touch of five spice powder is THE secret ingredient in Chinese fried rice,” says RGC1982. “Since I have been adding it, the family has been raving about the fried rice.” yayadave uses it in his most successful butternut squash soup.

Phoo_d has made five-spice ice cream, which uses whole spices, and says, “[I]t was really good, an interesting blend of sweet and heat.”

Board Link: Five Spice Powder—-What’s your favorite recipe?

Versatile Ginger Spread

Chowhounds are crazy about Ginger People Ginger Spread, and have dreamed up a bunch of tasty uses for it. It’s great with Brie, or warmed and stirred into goat cheese, and hungrydyke likes it on peanut butter sandwiches.

allyally likes ginger spread in chicken or pork panini, and IrishInTexas uses it as a glaze for baked salmon. violabratsche adds a couple of spoonfuls to a pan of cooked carrots or beets. godsfavdiva says that mixing it into a good spaghetti sauce “is truly an amazing combination” and adds that it’s fabulous in chicken chili.

MMRuth thinks it’s wonderful with hot water and a squeeze of lemon. litchick likes it mixed into hot oatmeal, and AppleSister combines it with Greek yogurt and chopped nuts.

HillJ says ginger spread is wonderful swirled into cheesecake batter before baking, or spread atop a cheesecake after it’s chilled. allyally uses it in place of traditional raspberry jam in linzer cookies, and Emme suggests mixing it into cream cheese frosting for carrot cake.

Board Link: Ginger Spread

Cooking with Chickpea Flour

Chickpea flour, called besan in Hindi, is common in Indian cuisine, but is also used in Mediterranean cooking. Pan-roasting it before using brings out its flavor, says luckyfatima. Simply put it in a pan over a medium flame and stir until the color changes. “You will smell the perfume. Careful not to burn.”

Joebob makes onion bhaji: Mix chickpea flour, water, salt and pepper, and thinly sliced onions, and drop clumps into hot oil to deep-fry. Channa recommends making chickpea flour dosa, as demonstrated in this Manjula’s Kitchen video.

Ora seasons it and uses it to coat fish before frying. BratleFoodie adds roasted chickpea flour to a tomato sauce for flavor and to thicken. greygarious has made tasty crêpes by substituting it for one-third the wheat flour. According to luckyfatima, it works as a binder in fritters, and stirring it into yogurt or cream before cooking will prevent curdling or separation.

Board Link: Experimenting with besan (chickpea flour)

On the Gravy Train

Here are some Chowhounds’ secrets for flavorful, foolproof gravy. Val simmers the turkey neck and giblets in water while the bird roasts. After it’s out of the pan, she pours off the juices and separates the fat. She places the roasting pan across two stove burners and makes a roux by cooking flour in some reserved turkey fat. Then she whisks in the simmering broth and adds the defatted pan juices and finely chopped giblets to the gravy.

swsidejim likes to deglaze the roasting pan with dry sherry before proceeding, and adds a bit of unsalted butter to the finished gravy. coll deglazes with dry vermouth or white wine, and adds a splash of milk.

Several hounds start ahead, and say the payoff is less work on Thanksgiving, and enough gravy for all the leftovers. pikawicca roasts turkey legs, carrots, onion, and celery and uses them to make turkey stock, which she freezes. After thawing the stock, she makes her gravy while the bird is roasting: Make a roux from 1 1/2 tablespoons each butter and flour per cup of stock, then slowly whisk in the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thick. Adjust seasoning. After the turkey comes out of the oven, pour off all the fat and deglaze the pan with a little bit of water, and pour the resulting “brown deliciousness” into the gravy.

gardencub uses a similar method, but saves and freezes the fat skimmed from her turkey stock and uses it to make the roux. JoanN makes her gravy completely ahead of time, and says it freezes well. Heat and add pan juices when your turkey’s done.

Board Link: How do you make your gravy?

Fresh Ideas for Brussels Sprouts

Hounds are bursting with ideas for what to do with Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving. girlwonder88 braises sprouts in heavy cream: “Simmer your sprouts in cream until they are tender all the way through. Add a little nutmeg. Eat. Die of ecstasy.”

scubadoo97 shreds them and sautées with butter and shallots. gailr42 sautées the shreds in bacon fat, then tops with crumbled bacon and chopped hazelnuts.

CocoaNut roasts them with olive oil, salt, and pepper until they’re crisp outside and tender inside, 35 to 40 minutes at 400°F. “These will come out almost blackened. That’s OK! They’re NOT burned. Eat and enjoy!” maisonbistro tosses them with olive oil, honey, and soy sauce, and roasts. These get nice and caramelized.

And rezpeni is willing to share a secret: Heat olive oil in a pan to near smoking, and add the sprouts, and leave them alone. Turn them once and when they are browned, add aromatics like garlic, pancetta, or shallots. Then a little stock until they are cooked through: “They will be caramelized nicely on the outside and cooked perfectly through on the inside. If you do it right you might end up with a lovely syrup at the bottom of the pan you can add a little butter to off the heat and spoon over the sprouts.”

Also check out these CHOW recipes:
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Fried Capers
Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Double-Smoked Bacon
Braised Brussels Sprouts

Board Links: Share Your Favorite Brussels Sprouts Recipe
ISO: Brussel Sprouts recipes

Sweet Potato Alternatives

Chowhounds have some great alternatives to the over-the-top sweetness of sweet potatoes with marshmallows or streusel. foodslut keeps it extra-simple, parboiling them, then roasting with a bit of butter and salt. itryalot makes a simple casserole by first roasting sweet potatoes skin-on, then scooping out the insides and mixing with an egg and heated milk in which she’s steeped garlic cloves, then baking in a casserole dish at 375°F until bubbly.

greenstate cubes them and tosses them with olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and cloves and roasts with maple syrup or brown sugar. btnfood likes this sweet potato casserole with ginger (link leads to a PDF file) and says “the slightly bitter molasses and spicy sharpness of the fresh ginger and cayenne really enhance the sweet potatoes without drowning them in sugar.”

Board Link: ISO Sweet Potato Casserole recipe: not too savory, not too sweet

Can I Buy a Mini Turkey?

A turkey is often too much to swallow for a small gathering, and not everyone hosts meals for a huge crowd.

MMRuth suggests Cornish game hens. Some hounds opt for whole or half turkey breasts; anni roasts turkey legs for dark meat lovers. gibson roasts a capon, saying it’s enough for two with plenty of leftovers. Others have duck or pheasant.

CHOW has a Thanksgiving menu for six that includes a turkey breast recipe. And while swsidejim is happy doing a “20+ pound turducken” for his six-person gathering, most people suggest one pound per person, plus extra for leftovers.

Board Links: How big a turkey for 6 people?
Thanksgiving for two?