Cooking Tips rss

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

Fresh Tomatoes on Pizza Sans Sog

How to use fresh tomatoes on pizza without turning out a soggy pie? The key, say Chowhounds, is to use plum tomatoes, which are meatier and less juicy than other varieties. Halve the tomatoes and remove the seeds, which will get rid of a lot of the liquid. Some hounds like to roast plum tomatoes before using them as a pizza topping, as this dries them out and concentrates their flavor, but others feel roasting negates the freshness factor. They advocate slicing seeded tomatoes very thinly and allowing them to drain on paper towels before adding them to your pie.

Board Link: Fresh tomatoes on pizza

With Pork Shoulder, It’s All in the Timing

A well-seasoned pork shoulder, roasted at superlow heat for a superlong time until its meat falls from the bone, is delicious. And since a pork shoulder is a big hunk of meat, you’ll have plenty to feed a crowd, or to freeze and enjoy later.

Nyleve’s method is to trim the skin off the shoulder, leaving a thin layer of fat on the surface, then rub generously with her favorite dry rub (adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe), and refrigerate overnight. Roast at 250°F for 10 to 12 hours, until the meat is “falling apart tender.” Leftovers can be used in pulled-pork sandwiches. Norm Man suggests leaving the skin on, for “tasty crunchy cracklings.”

Other hounds offer additional ideas for seasoning pork shoulder for roasting: adobo sauce; rubbing with a paste made of garlic, ginger, crushed chiles, oil, and rice vinegar; and covering and surrounding the pork with halved large green chiles, halved onions, and whole garlic cloves (then serving the pulled pork with corn tortillas and condiments).

Board Link: Totally killer slow-roasted pork shoulder

Easy Vanilla Extract

Making vanilla extract is simple: Split vanilla beans lengthwise, toss them into a bottle or jar of vodka, and stick the jar in a dark cupboard for a couple of months, shaking it up on occasion if you think about it. Use around eight vanilla beans for one liter of vodka; adding a small amount of sugar helps extract more vanilla flavor, says JMF. Eighty-proof vodka is fine, but 100 proof is better, and pure grain spirits (Everclear) are ideal.

alanbarnes likes 80-proof Moskovskaya vodka for infusions, saying it has a clean, neutral flavor and is supercheap (around $7 a liter at Trader Joe’s). don515 points to Vanilla, Saffron Imports for great deals on vanilla beans (as low as $19.95 per pound). A CHOW Tip video on homemade vanilla extract notes that rum works just as well.

Board Link: making vanilla extract with vodka

Dealing with Tough Cookies

When you’ve got cookies that are a little too hard, whether from overbaking or age, lmoy suggests that you soften them by wrapping a slice of soft bread loosely in a paper towel and placing it in an airtight container with the cookies. Within 24 hours, you’ll have soft cookies, hard bread.

The other alternative is to repurpose your cookies. Chowhounds suggest breaking them in pieces and using them as mix-ins for ice cream or in place of ladyfingers or cake in a trifle; or folding them into lightly sweetened whipped cream. Chill overnight to make a kind of cookie mousse. Or crush them and use them to make a crumb crust for a pie or cheesecake.

Board Link: Leftover chocolate chip cookies (slightly overbaked)

A Gumbo for Lent

Gumbo z’herbes, a traditional New Orleans Lenten meal, is a whole different pot o’ soup than the rich, roux-thickened, andouille-laden gumbos that are cooked year-round. speyerer explains that the name is a contraction of gumbo aux herbes. The dish is made with greens, and the more types used the better. Tradition holds that an odd number will bring good luck, and the number you use will be the number of friends you’ll make in the coming year.

Because it’s a Lenten dish, gumbo z’herbes traditionally is made without meat, though MakingSense says it is usually cooked with meat broth. It’s a light dish, made without roux, and unlike other gumbos it’s not served over rice. speyerer’s family recipe, which serves 20, doesn’t use meat broth. Here it is:

1 bunch mustard greens

1 bunch collard greens

1 bunch turnip greens

1 bunch spinach

1 bunch scallions

1 bunch Italian parsley

1 bunch watercress

1 bunch beet tops

1 bunch carrot tops

1 bunch radish tops

1 bunch dandelion greens

1/2 head green leaf lettuce (not iceberg)

1/2 head cabbage

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (enough to just cover the bottom of the pot)

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 small turnips, peeled and cubed

2 cups dry white wine

Water to cover

3 teaspoons Creole seasoning

Wash greens and drain well. Cut out stems and center ribs and tear greens into small pieces. In a cast iron pot, add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pot and heat oil until it is hot. Sauté onion and garlic until soft. Add greens and cubed turnip. Add wine, water to cover, and Creole seasoning and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until greens are tender, about 2 hours. Serve greens hot with their cooking liquid or “pot likker.”

Board Link: Lenten Treat? --- Gumbo Z’herbes

How Green Is Your Garlic?

Green garlic is a great find in early spring farmers’ markets; you can also occasionally find it in season in some Chinese produce markets. It resembles scallions but has a distinctly garlicky scent and subtle garlic flavor. It’s delicious sliced and added to a sauté, or stir-fried over high heat with beef or lamb and finished simply with soy sauce and sesame oil. LNG212 minces green garlic along with fresh herbs and mixes them into soft, fresh goat cheese to make a tasty spread (with a little milk to loosen if necessary). torty uses green garlic to make salsa in a food processor with well-drained canned tomatoes, cilantro, chipotles en adobo, lime juice, and a touch of sugar.

Board Link: Green Garlic

Haddock, the Other White Fish

Haddock is a firm-fleshed, mild white fish; it can be used interchangeably with cod and can sometimes stand in for halibut. It’s a traditional choice for frying in fish and chips, but it cooks up well in plenty of other ways.

When baking haddock, flavoring can be as simple as salt and pepper with a splash of white wine and a squeeze of lemon, or a sprinkle of minced garlic and a slick of olive oil. For a homey dish, put salted-and-peppered fillets in a greased baking dish, coat them with mayo, and press on a mixture of crushed Ritz crackers and just enough melted butter to wet the crumbs slightly. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. For a Mediterranean twist, bake with a bit of olive oil, marinara sauce, broth (not enough to completely cover the fish), artichokes, olives, capers, and cherry or plum tomatoes at 400°F for around 20 minutes, uncovered.

Sautéed haddock can also take on many guises. Turn it into fish tacos by seasoning appropriately (e.g., with chili powder, garlic, and cumin) and sautéing in a bit of oil, breaking it into pieces as it cooks. When it’s done, squeeze on fresh lime juice and serve in tortillas with shredded cabbage and Mexican crema or sour cream, etc. jayt90 likes haddock in cheese sauce: Sauté scallions in butter, add the fillets, and sear briefly, then remove to a plate. Prepare the sauce in the pan, making a roux with flour and the butter you’ve used for sautéing, whisking in white wine and cream and some herbs, and melting in some cheese. Return the fish to the pan and gently spoon the sauce over it until it’s cooked, three to five minutes.

Poaching is another fast, simple way to prepare haddock. Bring water or broth and some white wine to a bare simmer (add some herbs if you like), poach the fillets for a few minutes, and then turn and poach a few minutes more—not more than 10 minutes per inch of thickness, and less will probably do it. Remove the fish to a warm plate. If you like, you can boil down the poaching liquid, add a pat of butter, and use it as a sauce. Poach chunks of haddock in any saucy base you might prepare: a Thai curry with coconut milk, a tomato-fennel fish stew, or any kind of soup.

Board Link: ISO–Haddock ideas

Smoky, Delicious … Salt

Smoked salt is delicious as a condiment or ingredient. The level of smokiness varies in intensity, with the most pungent varieties evoking the qualities of smoked meats; litchick describes hers as smelling “wonderfully of a blazing campfire full of bacon.”

It works very well in vegetable dishes, where it adds a somewhat meaty dimension, and in soups or chilis where bacon would be a complementary flavor. But its flavor is perhaps best appreciated—and most revelatory—when it is used as a condiment. Try it sprinkled on good bread spread with sweet butter; on baguette slices spread with mashed avocado spiked with lemon juice and topped with sliced radishes; or on a simple risotto. Smoked salt also makes a surprisingly good pairing with chocolate.

It tends to come in very coarse crystals, which you will need to grind in a salt grinder. KRS recommends Danish Viking-Smoked Sea Salt. Whole Foods also sells its own packaged smoked salt, which is often stocked near the cheese and olive bar.

Board Link: Smoked Salt

Roasted Red Peppers to Start a Meal

Chowhounds love home-roasted red peppers, especially in appetizers. Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best: Pile a few strips of pepper on some good bread, then dress with sea salt, cracked black pepper, and good olive oil. Or some simple variations on this include peppers and tapenade on a slice of toasted baguette; peppers, thinly sliced garlic, chopped garlic, and olive oil on bread; and blending roasted red peppers into hummus.

polish_girl slices them in long, thin strips and stirs them together with a couple of thinly sliced garlic cloves, some sherry vinegar, a bit of smoked Spanish paprika, and some olive oil; let it sit for a couple of hours before eating.

chloe103 uses roasted red peppers to make the Syrian dip muhammara, which she eats with pita. Here’s her recipe:

1 (7-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained (this works out to 2 to 3 whole roasted peppers)
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I use whole wheat)

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted lightly and chopped
1 garlic clove, mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In the bowl of a food processor, blitz everything except the oil. With the motor running, gradually add oil and continue blending until everything is nicely mushed up together. Taste, and adjust as necessary. (Sometimes more oil, sometimes more cumin, etc.)

Board Link: How do you use roasted red peppers?

Electric Skillets Are Real Multitaskers

Electric skillets may seem like throwbacks, but they’re plenty useful for a variety of applications, say Chowhounds. They’re usually wide, and are deeper than stovetop frying pans, plus they’ve got controls that let you set their exact temperature. Many come with vented lids that allow steam to escape while food cooks, if you wish.

They’re great when you need an extra cooking surface for big meals and family breakfasts—and nothing’s better for producing perfectly cooked pancakes. The high sides and temperature controls make electric skillets excellent vessels for frying chicken and fish, since it’s easy to monitor the heat of your oil. They’re also perfect for tabletop, communal cooking, such as shabu-shabu and sukiyaki.

Board Link: Whether/why use electric skillet