Cooking Tips rss

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

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

Something Different in the Slow Cooker

Slow cookers aren’t just about stew, chili, and keeping meatballs warm till halftime—they’re great for cooking lots of different dishes.

Make pulled pork by pouring a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce on a pork shoulder, coating it in a thin layer of brown sugar, and cooking on high for six hours; pull apart with two forks. Or make shredded pork, beef, or chicken for tacos or burritos by pouring a jar of good salsa over the meat (add cumin, oregano, chili powder, beer, or tequila if you want to get fancy) and cooking on low until the meat falls apart and the liquid cooks into a nice sauce.

heatherkay makes her own version of carnitas using a slow cooker: Cook a pork shoulder with a large onion, coriander, cumin seed, oregano, bay leaf, juniper berries, garlic, and a cup or two of water on low until the meat falls apart. To finish, pull it apart and bake uncovered in a roasting pan with its liquid at 450°F until sizzling and brown.

Slow cookers also make fabulously moist faux roast chicken. Rest the chicken, breast side down, on a metal steamer rack or crumpled balls of aluminum foil. Stick some onion quarters or garlic cloves in the cavity, if you like. Cook on low for 6 to 10 hours (depending on the age of your slow cooker) until the meat is fully cooked. Strip the meat off the bones and use or store (freezing in the accumulated juices helps keep the meat extra-moist).

Caramelize some onions to get a head start on soup or add deliciousness to almost any savory dish—pizza, frittata, buttered toast. Simply fill your slow cooker at least halfway with thinly sliced onions; add 4 ounces or more of butter, salt, and pepper; and cook on low, stirring occasionally, until they’ve cooked down a bunch and smell divine. Then remove the lid and turn to high to reduce the liquid. They freeze beautifully, too.

Make a deep-dish lasagne by coating the slow cooker very liberally with vegetable oil spray and layering ingredients in the usual manner. chowser uses no-boil lasagna noodles, soaked briefly in hot water before layering.

Overnight oatmeal is a cinch if you use steel-cut oats. Use a 4-to-1 water-to-oats ratio; add dried fruit if you like. It’ll all be creamy in the morning.

Board Link: Crock pots for something other than stew?

Lots of Heat and a Touch of Velvet

A great homemade beef stir-fry is all about technique, from prepping the ingredients to finishing the dish in the pan. Flank steak and sirloin are good cuts for stir-frying. They should be sliced against the grain diagonally; slice thinly, so they’ll cook fairly quickly (don’t aim for razor thin, though, or you’re likely to overcook). Freezing the meat for 20 to 30 minutes makes slicing easier.

Next comes velveting, a key step in achieving tender results: Toss the sliced beef with a mixture of cornstarch, xiaoxing rice wine or dry sherry, and soy sauce (scoopG suggests a ratio of 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 teaspoons rice wine or sherry, and 1/2 teaspoon soy per 1/2 pound of meat), and marinate for 10 to 30 minutes. Alternately, simply toss the beef with some cornstarch, shaking off the excess before cooking. The cornstarch coating prevents the meat from cooking up tough when it hits a very hot pan. This method works wonderfully with pork and chicken, as well.

When it’s time to cook, get your pan as hot as possible. Most home stoves can heat a cast iron or stainless steel skillet hotter than a wok, say some hounds, so they prefer these for stir-fries. Add some oil and your meat; do not try to cook too much at once, or you’ll bring down the heat in your pan substantially.

Stir-fry and remove the beef before it is fully cooked through. Wipe out your pan, add more oil, stir-fry aromatics and vegetables, then return the beef to the pan at the last minute, right before you add any sauce ingredients for a final toss. This last minute or two of cooking will pull the whole thing together and give you beef that’s tender and not overdone.

Board Link: Any tips for stir-frying beef (and other meats)?

Royal Fungus

King oyster mushrooms are almost all stem, with very little cap. They’ve got excellent flavor and texture, similar to oyster mushrooms but meatier. Use them anywhere you’d use oyster mushrooms or fresh porcini, advises Nyleve. They’re great in pastas, stir-fries, and risotto, or roasted with other vegetables. Or slice them thick on the bias and sauté in butter (with a bit of onion and garlic if you like) to really bring out their meatiness.

Board Link: What kind of mushroom is this??

A Square Cake in a Round Hole

If you want to bake your cake in a different configuration or don’t have the particular pan a recipe calls for, this handy chart provides cake pan size conversions, listing comparable pans by size and shape that will hold the same volume of batter. Keep in mind that pan size and depth changes will affect baking times and that finicky cakes, such as angel food, will bake correctly only in certain pan types.

Board Link: Baking Pan Conversion Chart

Behold the Buddha’s Hand

Buddha’s hand citron is a strange citrus fruit that “looks like a lemon that was adopted by a family of carrots,” says Cheese Boy. It’s a funky mass of long, pointed fingers. The fruit is extremely fragrant, with a distinct floral aroma, and a flavor that’s floral and sweetly spicy. Buddha’s hand is mostly peel, with very little flesh or juice, but unlike most citrus its pith isn’t bitter, so the whole fruit can be used in cooking. Store in the refrigerator, loose or in a paper bag.

Non Cognomina has made Buddha’s hand marmalade using a standard orange marmalade recipe; quarter the fruit and grate it coarsely. Because the Buddha’s hand doesn’t have any juice, you must add juice from other citrus fruits.

taqsim loves it in crème brûlée and uses it where he wants the brightness of citrus without the overt character of lemon. ozhead puts slices of Buddha’s hand peel in granulated sugar for a week, then removes them and dries the sugar in a low-temperature oven. He sprinkles this fragrant sugar over tart fruit and waffles.

jlafler adapted a limoncello recipe to make a delicious “Buddhacello.”

About 1/4 cup grated Buddha’s hand citron zest
1 750-milliliter bottle 100-proof vodka
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water

Put zest and vodka in a glass container, cover tightly, and let steep for about two weeks. After the mixture has steeped, combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool. While sugar syrup is cooling, strain solids out of vodka using a fine mesh strainer, then strain again through a dampened square of cloth placed in a strainer. (Note: Do not use cheesecloth, as it is too open; use muslin tea towels or clean pieces of old cotton sheets or T-shirts.) Add about half the sugar syrup to infused vodka, taste, and keep adding until it is sweetened to your liking. Pour into bottles and age for another two weeks.

Board Link: Has anyone used the buddha’s hand fruit?

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