Cooking Tips rss

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

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

Killer Masa Cornbread

One day the_MU ran out of cornmeal and made an awesome discovery: Cornbread made with masa harina (tortilla flour) tastes like freshly made corn tortillas—slightly sweet, complex, and full of deep corn flavor. It would make a great base for shortcake; split and buttered, with some mild cheese melted on top, it would resemble an arepa, says the_MU. The batter takes a bit more liquid than a cornmeal batter, but otherwise she followed her normal procedure. Here’s her recipe.

Board Link: Masa instead of cornmeal in cornbread

Warming Lentil Soup with Lamb

Chowhounds are loving mirage’s lentil soup with lamb, perfect for winter weather. It’s best made a day ahead, but it improves even more after a couple of days.

Here’s the recipe:

2 pounds lamb shoulder chops
Olive oil
1 pound potatoes, diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery rib, diced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound lentils, rinsed
10 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Large handful of parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and ground pepper

In a large pot, brown lamb in oil on both sides, then transfer to a plate. Add potatoes, garlic, peppers, carrots, onion, and celery to the pot and cook about 6 minutes. Add tomatoes, lentils, broth, and parsley. Return lamb to the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about an hour. Refrigerate the soup overnight. Discard most of the fat, remove lamb from the pot, dice, and return diced meat to the soup. Serve hot.

Board Link: Mirage–your recipe for Lentil and Lamb Soup, please!

Israeli Couscous

Israeli couscous is much larger than its more familiar counterpart—more like tiny pearls of pasta when cooked. It can be cooked in plenty of water and drained, like pasta, or cooked in a lesser amount of water or stock until that’s absorbed and the couscous is tender, as you would cook a grain. Eat Israeli couscous hot, as a side, with toasted nuts, herbs, or sautéed aromatics added; or at room temperature as the base for a salad.

NYchowcook sautés onions in a bit of oil, then adds Israeli couscous and stirs it in the oil, letting it toast a bit before adding chicken stock diluted with water. beetlebug likes this recipe, and often uses it as a base for her own creations.

atheorist swears by this method for determining the correct water-to-couscous ratio: Put your measured amount of dry couscous in a dry pot. Pour enough boiling water over it to cover it. Measure the exact same amount of boiling water as dry couscous and add that. Bring to a boil, then reduce to the lowest possible simmer and cook, covered, until all the water is absorbed.

Board Link: Israeli couscous…I bought it, now how do I cook it?

Belgian Endive

Belgian endive has a pleasantly bitter flavor and leaves with a nifty shape that creates an edible spoon to hold a single bite of something complementary, like seafood salad or Parmesan Walnut Salad. Endive is a wonderful salad ingredient in its own right. Try it with apples, walnuts, and blue cheese, or with beets and a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing. linguafood makes a salad of Belgian endive and mandarin orange segments, with a dressing of walnut oil, lemon juice, sour cream, fresh dill or parsley, and salt and pepper. foxy fairy brushes it with olive oil and grills it. For a mellower endive dish perfect for the season, brown it gently in butter, then braise in lots of lemon juice and black pepper for 25 minutes or so, until very soft and somewhat caramelized.

Board Link: Belgian Endive ideas?

Goody-Filled Persimmon Cookies

Blessed with an overabundance of persimmons, Diana created a cookie she dubbed the Persimmonnibby, a soft, cakey confection full of dried cranberries, walnuts, and cacao nibs.

Here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup persimmon pulp
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup cacao nibs (NOT CHOCOLATE CHIPS!)
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Stir flour mixture into creamed sugar mixture. Add persimmon pulp and mix well. Stir in cranberries, cacao nibs, and nuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until puffy but slightly firm to the touch. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Board Link: I have tons of ripe persimmons and no clue what to do.

Rice Krispies Treats’ Better Brethren

Chowhounds don’t stop at just marshmallows when they’re making Rice Krispies Treats—there are so many other dimensions of sticky deliciousness to explore!

Add peanut butter to the marshmallows. Raise the marshmallow-to-cereal ratio to increase the goo factor. Melt some caramels into the marshmallows for a richer flavor. For a grown-up, buttery take on the classic, try Caramelized Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats.

Mix in chocolate chips or chunks, dried cranberries, toasted nuts, etc. Stick a Popsicle stick in a square, dip it in chocolate, and roll in nuts; or decorate in a seasonal theme.

kkak97 makes a Rice Krispies cake, adding peanuts, M&Ms, and raisins to the basic recipe and molding it in a tube pan.

Honey Bee’s mom invented a marshmallow-free winner: Mix melted butter, warm peanut butter, and melted butterscotch chips with the cereal, and spread half in the pan. Cover with a layer of melted chocolate chips mixed with powdered sugar, and top with the rest of the cereal mixture.

Ruth Lafler has used Golden Grahams cereal to make s’more treats.

Here are 84 recipes for Rice Krispies goodies.

Board Link: your twist on Krispie Treats, please

Fresh Takes on Salad Dressing

Why buy salad dressing when it’s so easy to whip up something fresh on the spot? Here are some Chowhound favorites.

Wahooty mixes up a simple, tangy dressing of lime juice, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, lots of cumin, and lots of cilantro.

JoyM makes a dry herb mixture she calls “salad spice” by finely crumbling dried oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, dill, and cumin. To make dressing, she combines a few pinches of this mixture with a teaspoon each of Dijon mustard and soy sauce, and several tablespoons each of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

pikawicca makes an indulgent blue cheese dressing by combining equal parts (by weight) blue cheese, mayo, and sour cream in a food processor, along with a squeeze of lemon juice and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Several hounds recommend this miso vinaigrette, though Val doubles the ginger and alex8alot reduces the amount of oil.

Board Link: What’s your favorite salad dressing (homemade)?