Cooking Tips rss

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

Foraging in the Garden

Can you harvest your weeds for your dining pleasure? How about your flowers? Sure! Some of them, anyway, as long as you’re 100 percent positive no herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals have been used on them or on surrounding plants (including lawns).

Young dandelion leaves are cherished by those who love bitter greens, whether in salads or simply steamed. Harvest them soon after they come up and while the buds are small, or they will be too bitter. dibob817 gives these instructions for harvesting the plant: Use a short, stiff, bladed knife to dig at an angle next to the dandelion, cutting its root completely through, three to six inches below the ground surface. You will end up with a rosette of leaves (the whole plant). But if you cut it too high and the leaves separate, they’re still fine. Dandelion buds also are a nice addition to salads. They have a sweet, honeylike flavor, and the younger and more tender they are, the better they taste, according to Gio, who says they are best eaten when tightly bunched in the center and about the size of a gumball.

Lots of flowers are edible, such as daylilies (not to be confused with true lilies, which are not edible), which can be prepared in the same manner as squash blossoms, or their petals can be cut off and used in desserts; and nasturtiums, which have a distinctive peppery flavor. This chart provides a roundup of edible flowers and describes their flavors.

Board Link: dandelion

Ginger … to Peel or Not to Peel?

Conventional wisdom says that if fresh ginger is to remain in a finished dish in any form (grated, minced, chopped, etc.), then it ought to be peeled—some find the peel bitter—whereas if slices are to be thrown in a stock or sauce and removed before serving, they needn’t be peeled.

Chowhounds take varied stances on the ginger-peeling issue. Some don’t bother peeling at all, ever, and just scrub well. Some don’t peel when they can buy fresh, young ginger that has thinner, more tender skin. And some offer tips for making peeling easier, or a nonissue. The easiest way to peel, say several, is using the tip of a spoon, which maneuvers around the knobs more easily than a grater and sacrifices much less flesh than a paring knife. When grating ginger, some find that using a fine Microplane allows the flesh through but keeps the peel back. Some simply store their ginger in the freezer and say they can grate it frozen with none of the peel coming through.

Board Link: Must I Peel the Ginger?

It’s a Squash-O-Rama

Spaghetti squash is a winter squash that behaves curiously: Once cooked, it pulls apart in long strands that resemble pasta. Some like to use it just as they would pasta, topping it with any typical pasta sauce. It’s also delicious simply tossed with butter, grated Parmesan, and plenty of salt and pepper. Here are some more creative ways to use it.

rebs cuts a spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, scoops out the seeds and gunk inside, and puts honey, grated fresh ginger, butter, salt, and pepper into the cavities of both halves, then bakes them directly on the oven rack at 400°F for 20 to 30 minutes, until the flesh yields easily to a fork. Let the squash rest until the exterior is cool enough to handle, then scoop it all out into a bowl with a fork and toss together; adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve.

foxy fairy makes a casserole from baked spaghetti squash, based on a recipe in the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. While the squash bakes, sauté chopped onion, leek, or shallot, 2 or 3 minced garlic cloves, some sliced mushrooms, and some fresh herbs (sage is nice, or basil and parsley). If you like, add a few chopped plum tomatoes and let them cook down so their juices evaporate. Mix the sautéed vegetables with the spaghetti squash strands, 1 cup each of shredded mozzarella and ricotta cheese, and 1/2 to 1 cup breadcrumbs. Spread the mixture in a casserole dish and top with grated Parmesan. Bake at 375°F until heated through and toasty on top, about 35 minutes.

Amy_C makes a cold spaghetti squash salad dressed with green onions and sesame oil: Steam halved and seeded spaghetti squash until a knife inserted still meets a bit of resistance (you don’t want the squash too soft). Scoop the flesh out, keeping the strands as long as possible, and drop it into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and crisp it up a little. Break any chunks into individual strands, then take the squash by handfuls and squeeze all the water out. Set it aside in a bowl. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté some chopped green onions in a bit of vegetable oil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the squash, and toss with the oil. Add a pinch or two of sugar, sesame oil, and salt to taste, and toss again. Chill and serve cold.

thursday says that, surprisingly, spaghetti squash makes a good low-fat, low-carb sub for shredded coconut in baked goods. You make an almost complete swap in batter-based recipes, adding a teaspoon or so of coconut extract, and can barely tell the difference because they have similar consistencies, she asserts.

Board Link: What are some ways to cook spaghetti squash? savory or sweet

Celery’s Nine Lives

Celery gets limp. But you don’t have to let it go to an early grave. Celery will last a good long time in the fridge if you wrap the entire bunch in foil, from tip to leaves, and keep it in your vegetable drawer. If it’s on its last legs, cut it up and freeze it. Thawed, it’ll be fine in soups, stews, or stock. And it’s a worthy addition to any long-stewed dish, say Chowhounds; it will add lots of nuance to the sauce. Or dice it, along with onion and carrots, and have a mirepoix—the mixture that’s the classic beginning of so many stews and soups—at the ready (this freezes well, too). fayehess takes this same mixture (2 onions, a bunch of celery, a pound of carrots, plus 2 uncut cloves of garlic) to make an Italian soffritto, by simmering it all over low heat in olive oil with a little salt and a sprig of Italian parsley and stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes, until it has all collapsed and smells wonderful. Spoon it on seared fish, eat with osso bucco, or stir into lentils or cannellini beans.

Keeping cleaned, cut celery at the ready for snacks makes it easy for hounds to grab from the fridge. Storing cut pieces in a container with some cold water keeps them fresh and crisp, says lekkercraft. Sliced celery makes a crunchy addition to a green salad, or a nice little salad all on its own with a mustardy vinaigrette. mmuch recommends this mushroom and pecorino salad, which includes plenty of celery.

Cooked celery is a wonderful winter vegetable option. Simply chop and sauté it in butter. Or try braising it in a little chicken stock until it’s tender, and adding a nob of butter right at the end; add a dash of nutmeg and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Or top it with grated Parmesan, dot with butter, and brown under the broiler. Another method is to cook celery in simmering water with a sprig of thyme, a clove of garlic, and a glug of good olive oil, then serve with more olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Or add a clove of garlic and sprig of thyme to a cup of cream and reduce by a third, then pour over celery in a baking dish and bake at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes.

Steamed celery is delicious dressed with lemon and dill, or brown butter and slivered almonds, or blue cheese and walnuts. A simple stir-fry of celery sliced 1/4 inch thick on the bias, cooked over high heat with snow peas, garlic, salt, and pepper, is surprisingly delicious, says moh.

quelle4 uses extra celery to make this curried celery soup with apple, which gets an endorsement from amela.

Board Link: Leftover celery…how do you use it up?

Cook Up Your Extra Saltines

What to do with a boatload of saltines if you don’t want to use them as a vehicle for cheese, spreads, etc.? Cook with them, of course!

On the sweet side, Chowhounds are crazy for a confection of saltines layered with a butterscotch concoction and covered with melted chocolate (most also sprinkle it with chopped nuts). scuzzo says the “sweet, salty, butter, crunchy goodness is quite mind blowing.” Here’s a basic recipe. missfunkysoul also says that saltine and peanut butter sandwiches dipped in chocolate make a fine snack indeed.

For savory uses, make cracker crumbs using a food processor or a resealable plastic bag and rolling pin. Use the crumbs for breading chicken, fish fillets, pork chops, or cutlets, or as a binder in meatloaf or meatballs. Freeze extras in airtight containers. The best fried shrimp alliedawn_98’s ever had were rolled in fine cracker crumbs, then dipped in a wash of egg and milk, then rolled in cracker crumbs again before frying. Gio tops fillets of whitefish with crumbled saltines mixed with minced garlic, parsley, and freshly ground pepper, then drizzles with lemon juice, sprinkles with paprika, and bakes at 375°F for 15 to 20 minutes.

Board Link: What to do with a bunch of saltine crackers….

Scrumptious Pumpkin Scones

chef chicklet worked hard to perfect her scone recipe. Chowhounds in search of the elusive perfect pumpkin scone are sold, calling these outstanding, fantastic, and amazingly tender. Cut back on the cinnamon if you want the pumpkin flavor to play a more prominent role.

chef chicklet begins by making a purée of three roasted sweet potatoes, or the equivalent amount of roasted pumpkin or sweet winter squash with 1 cup of cream. She freezes the remaining purée so she’ll have it on hand for making more scones.


1/2 cup cold butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup cold pumpkin or sweet potato purée with cream

1 egg

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup golden raisins


1 beaten egg

1 tablespoon cream

Raw sugar


Chopped pecans

Heat oven to 375°F, with a rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut butter into small pieces and refrigerate until needed. Sift flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add butter to dry ingredients and cut it in with a pastry cutter until it’s the texture of coarse meal. In a separate bowl, whisk together cold purée, egg, and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and stir together with a fork, just until combined (do not overmix). Gently stir in pecans and raisins. Pour dough onto a lightly floured board and pat into a 7-inch circle, 1 to 1 1/2 inches high. Cut the circle into 8 even wedges and place them on the prepared baking sheet. For the topping, stir together egg and cream, and brush mixture over the tops of the scones. Sprinkle with raw sugar, cinnamon, and chopped pecans, and bake for 17 minutes.

Board Link: Looking for a surefire pumpkin scone recipe

School Cafeteria Coffee Cake

The coffee cake sold by the Los Angeles Unified School District a couple of decades back was so good, its alumni long to re-create its crumb-topped, nutmeg-scented goodness. Now they can, and you can share their Proustian moment, too; the LAUSD has posted the recipe.

Board Link: LAUSD Coffee Cake

A Tin of Bivalves Will Do

If you have a craving for clam chowder or spaghetti and clams, but you can’t get your hands on a bucket of fresh bivalves, hounds say canned clams do just fine in these dishes—as long as they’re high-quality brands. jayt90 recommends Clearwater Arctic Surf Clams; he likes the chowder recipe on the back of the can. These clams have a subtle flavor, better for New England chowder than Manhattan.

Some Chowhounds enjoy smoked oysters as a snack on crackers but say their flavor’s too strong for cooking. Plain canned oysters aren’t endorsed.

Board Link: Canned mussels/clams/oysters

A French Way with Fries

It goes against conventional wisdom and everything home fryers are taught: Start fries in room-temperature oil, put the pan on the heat, and cook the fries until they’re crisp. The method is attributed to French master chef Joël Robuchon, and it has produced excellent results for a couple of hounds: nongreasy fries and no mess. It’s important to keep your potatoes cut in 3/8-inch-square sticks for the method to work.

scubadoo97 cut, washed, and dried potatoes and put them in a cast iron skillet in peanut oil, then turned the burner on high and watched carefully. The potatoes turned translucent, then browned very evenly; scubadoo97 removed them when they were golden brown, drained them on paper towels, and tossed them with salt. Verdict? Great fries, and a clean process with no splattering or other hazards of deep-frying.

Sunday Cook emphasizes that drying your potatoes well is key to the success of this method: Damp potatoes fell apart in the oil and became inedible and caused lots of splattering. Jeffrey Steingarten discusses this french fry method in greater depth in an essay in his book The Man Who Ate Everything (Vintage, 1998).

Board Link: Fries–Robuchon method

Rice Pudding, No Fuss

Creamy, delicious rice pudding doesn’t have to be labor-intensive. Here are some Chowhounds’ standby recipes that don’t take constant stirring or finicky ingredients but always win raves.

Euonymous swears that, though the liquid-to-rice ratio looks improbable, this long-baked pudding turns out wonderfully.

4 cups whole milk

1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (use 1/4 cup if you prefer a less sweet rice pudding)

3 tablespoons rice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 300°F and butter a baking dish. Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl and pour into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 3 1/2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes for the first hour to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, or melted chocolate to the mixture if you like.

Neta says this rich, not-too-sweet stovetop version is best warm, but it’s also good out of the fridge. Add raisins at the beginning of the cooking time if you want.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine 4 cups half-and-half, 2 cups water, 2/3 cup long-grain rice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a slow rolling simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes, then remove from the heat. Stir in 2/3 cup granulated sugar. Beat 2 egg yolks in a measuring cup and add enough heavy cream or evaporated milk to the yolks to measure 2/3 cup total. Slowly add this mixture to the cooked rice, stirring constantly. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and mix well, then pour into a serving bowl and dust the top with cinnamon.

This creamy rice pudding is the best Liana Krissoff has ever had; it cooks for a long time on the stovetop and needs only an occasional stir.

Board Link: Fool-proof rice pudding