Cooking Tips rss

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

Marvelous Preserves

Sherri makes little batches of marmalade in moments using her microwave, varying the flavors according to her whim and available citrus. Here’s how: Choose one large piece of citrus fruit or two small ones (orange, mandarin, lemon, lime, etc.). Wash well and cut into chunks (skin and all), remove seeds, then coarsely chop. Place equal measures of fruit and sugar in a deep, 2-quart, microwave-safe bowl. Stir to blend. Microwave on full power approximately 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened (timing may vary depending on your microwave). Pour into a jar, cover, and refrigerate.

If using grapefruit, discard its pith, as it can be extremely bitter. Remove the colored zest with a vegetable peeler, then peel away the thick white pith. Mince the zest, chop and seed the fruit, and combine them. The extra step is worthwhile, Sherri believes, because grapefruit marmalade is quite delicious.

Board Link: Microwave Marmalade

Can’t Beat Beet Greens

Beet greens taste a lot like chard; you can treat them exactly the same way in the kitchen. Steaming or blanching quickly, then sautéing in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes or in bacon fat, are popular preps. The stems take longer to cook than the leaves, so chop them up and let them cook for a few minutes before you add the leaves. Or save them to add to a vegetable soup, suggests violabratsche. Many like to combine beet greens with the beets they came with for a dish of striking color and flavor contrasts. Some even recommend salads of raw, tender beet greens and roasted or steamed beets dressed with a vinaigrette.

Board Link: Ideas for Beet Greens, Please?

’Tis the Season for Salads

Salads needn’t be dull when good tomatoes are the stuff of dreams. Hardy winter veggies, in-season fruits, and tasty add-ins bring depth to a plate of greens this time of year. Peppery or sturdy greens such as watercress, arugula, mizuna, and spinach are good choices as a base for toppings of fruits, nuts, and cheeses. Fennel, either roasted and chilled or sliced superthin and served raw, is another great winter salad veggie.

Fresh Fuyu persimmons, apples, and pears are seasonal fruits that marry well with savory salad ingredients. Dried fruits add intense bursts of flavor, as do pomegranate seeds. Toasted or candied nuts, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts all add crunch and texture. Cheeses of all kinds mix and match with these ingredients.

Try making unconventional croutons, from cornbread or fruit-and-nut breads, and using them with complementary flavors.

Board Link: Winter Salads

Where to Put the Ham

A holiday ham often yields plenty of leftovers. Here are some delicious uses for all that meat:

Add ham to quiche, use it to make eggs Benedict, or bake up some ham and cheese scones. A ham and potato gratin is cold-weather comfort food. Ham is fantastic in split pea soup and bean dishes.

Try it with pasta—in mac ’n’ cheese, in an Alfredo sauce with peas, and in baked rigatoni with ham, tomatoes, and feta cheese.

Make ham en croûte by spreading puff pastry with mustard, layering with ham and cheese, wrapping the dough over the top, and baking. It’s like a fancy hot ham sandwich, says thursday.

If you’ve got a ham bone, you can make a great broth, or a terrific lentil, split pea, or bean soup. Chowhounds warn, however, that HoneyBaked hams have lots of sugar on their bones and in their marrow, so you should plan on cooking something where the sweetness will work with the flavors of the dish. danhole uses hers to make a Cajun bean soup with some heat.

Board Link: How Should I Use Extra Ham?

Not Your Everyday Lentil Soup

How good can lentil soup be? sophia519 has made this French creamy lentil soup three times, and she still can’t believe how good it is. It might just be the little bit of balsamic vinegar added at the end that makes a difference. For Val, it’s the ham bone and cinnamon stick that make this hearty lentil and ham soup extra-special.

Board Link: Incredible lentil soup

Home Cooking 2007 Top 10 Roundup

1. Effortless Chicken Stock in Your Slow Cooker

2. Oreo and Cream Cheese “Truffles”

3. Homemade Dulce de Leche

4. Thou Shalt Salt Thy Pasta Cooking Water Liberally!

5. The Best Cake Ever, Thanks to Elvis

6. Scrumptious “Waffled” Eggplant

7. “The Universal Condiment”

8. Super Recipe Search Engine

9. Really Thick, Really Fudgy Brownies

10. Salted Coffee, You Say?

Distinctive Beer Bread

Beer bread is an endlessly adaptable quick bread that you can flavor with whatever strikes your fancy, or whatever you have on hand. It’s simple to make and takes very few ingredients. In fact, you don’t even need beer—club soda or seltzer supplies the necessary carbon dioxide just as well. But beer’s malty and yeasty flavors add dimension to the finished bread, and interesting beers impart their distinctive characters to each loaf.

To the basic recipe, hounds add for flavoring: chopped fresh basil or dill, Italian seasoning, mustard seed, dill seed, chopped or dried onion, and grated cheeses of all kinds. Some like to dot the top with butter; others mix melted butter into the batter. You can make a sweet version by increasing the sugar and including warm spices, nuts, or dried fruits; try using a spiced or fruit-flavored beer or a lambic here to complement the sweeter flavors.

Basic Beer Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
12 ounces beer

Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and turn into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a tester inserted comes out clean.

Board Link: Fallen in love with 3-ingredient beer bread. What’s your twist?

Curing Your Own Gravlax

Gravlax is very impressive, and certainly the easiest cured fish to make at home. It helps to have a surefire recipe and some key pointers at hand. Several hounds endorse as flawless the Café des Artistes recipe, paraphrased here, and its accompanying mustard sauce. Use center-cut fillets of extremely fresh, firm wild salmon. If your pieces are thinner on the ends than at the center, trim off the thinner sections and use them for something else. Make sure all the pin bones are pulled from the fish before you begin (needle-nose pliers are excellent for removing these). jfood offers a good tip for weighting the fish as it cures: Placing a large bag of rice between the covered fish and the weights helps distribute the weight more evenly over the fish.

Board Links: Gravlax at home
Making my own gravlax?

Creamy, Cheesy, Starchy Potato Gratin

Potato gratins are creamy, rich, and comforting—in other words, perfect cold-weather fare. There are two schools of gratin methodology: roux-based cheese sauce layered with potatoes, and potatoes simply bathed in cream and gilded with cheese. In both cases the potatoes (russets or Yukon Golds) should be sliced as thinly as possible, preferably with a mandoline if you’ve got one. Gruyère is classic, but any cheese that melts well, or a combination, will work in a potato gratin.

monavano, who is of the cheese sauce school, shares a basic recipe for the sauce:

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Melt butter and add flour. Cook for a minute. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Increase heat and allow to thicken. Lower heat to medium and add cheese, thyme, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Layer potatoes, then sauce, potatoes, sauce, etc. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 minutes more. If you wish, add more cheese at the end and place under broiler to brown.

purple goddess adds crispy bacon bits to the cheese sauce and, after uncovering her gratin, tops it with a combo of seasoned breadcrumbs and cheese, dotted with butter; chef chicklet layers her potatoes with onions and grated cheese and pours cheese sauce over all.

linguafood offers a straightforward recipe from the cream-and-cheese-only camp:

1 pound potatoes, very thinly sliced
Chopped garlic
Salt and pepper
Pinch nutmeg (optional)
1 cup light cream
Grated cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Layer potatoes evenly in a buttered baking dish. Mix garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and nutmeg (if using) into cream and pour over potatoes. Top potatoes generously with cheese and dot with butter. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

Hounds recommend this Simple Two-Potato Gratin, and BRB points blue-cheese-lovers to a recipe for Roquefort Potato Gratin, in which he ups the cheese by about 50 percent.

Board Link: Au Gratin Potatoes---Your Best, Please

Granola Your Way

Making your own granola is much less expensive than buying it. Choose your favorite nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, and combine them in any way that strikes your fancy. Chowhounds add cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, dried blueberries, persimmons, apples, pears, and apricots, among other things.

Granola is pretty straightforward to make: Mix up the dry ingredients (oats, nuts, seeds, etc.), and the wet (liquid sweeteners like honey or maple syrup, oil if called for, etc.), combine them, and bake until everything’s toasty, being careful so the nuts and seeds do not overbrown. It’s best to add dried fruit after the granola’s been baked, or it will become leatherlike.

Although granola is generally made with old-fashioned (not quick-cooking) rolled oats, goodhealthgourmet says if you favor granola that stays crunchy after sitting in milk for a while, you might try making it with steel-cut oats, which get a really crunchy and roasted texture when baked—just bake your granola at a very low temperature for a long time, around 250°F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

This is a good blueprint recipe, explaining technique and giving amounts, while leaving the choice of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits up to you. oakjoan, who has been making this granola and eating it almost daily for a year, says, “With or without bananas and yoghurt or milk, this is really good stuff.”

ArikaDawn recommends this Cherry, Almond, and Cinnamon Granola, though she doubles the cinnamon and increases the almonds.

Katie Nell loves her grandmother’s recipe:

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Toss together in a large bowl:
8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups coconut
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup peanuts
1 cup shelled sunflower seeds

1 cup pecan or walnut pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar

Heat together in a saucepan, stirring until well combined:
1 1/2 cups honey
1 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons vanilla
Dash cinnamon
Dash nutmeg

Pour honey mixture over dry ingredients and stir to coat well. Oil rimmed baking pans and fill 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Cool in pans and store in an airtight container.

Board Link: Granola