Cooking Tips rss

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

The Glories of Bacon Fat

Bacon fat is unparalleled as a cooking medium. “Bacon grease (in moderation) is a culinary weapon of interstellar magnitude,” extols Hungry Celeste. “Save it every time you cook bacon.” To strain bacon fat, pour it through a coffee filter set in a funnel. Store it in the fridge; it’ll last a long, long time.

Here are a few of Chowhounds’ favorite ways to cook with bacon fat:

Put a couple of tablespoons in a cast iron skillet and place in the oven to preheat to make cornbread, then pour the batter into the sizzling fat and bake; you’ll have a delicious crunchy crust.

Fry eggs in bacon fat; use melted bacon fat in place of butter in pancake batter.

Roast or fry cut-up potatoes in bacon fat, or rub a bit on potatoes before baking for delicious, crispy skins.

Sauté vegetables in bacon fat, or add a bit to the water when you blanch vegetables for flavor without added grease.

Use it as the base for your roux when making gumbo or to add a smoky dimension to a cheese sauce; brown meats or vegetables for soups or stews in it.

Use bacon fat in place of butter or shortening when making pastry for chicken pot pies and other savory pies.

Use it as the fat component in vinaigrettes: Melt it and mix it hot with vinegar and a bit of sugar or another sweetener if you want a wilted salad, or melt it and let it cool so it’s liquid but not hot and make a dressing with vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallots, and herbs—or whatever strikes your fancy.

Board Link: Bacon Fat–do you use it? How?

Mashed Potatoes Ahead of the Game

When you’re planning a major feast, you want to get as much prepared in advance as you can. If you’re making mashed potatoes, you can peel the spuds and keep them submerged in a bowl of water in the fridge, whole or cut up, for hours—even overnight—before boiling. Will Owen has kept peeled potatoes refrigerated in water-filled, zipper-lock bags for several days with no ill effects. Karl S says there’s a better way that avoids the whole issue: “[D]on’t chop, don’t peel. Steam them whole. Pop them into a potato ricer with the peel, and the peel stays in the hopper. This way you get way less moisture in the potato, and that makes for better mashed potatoes.”

Others take it a step further and mash their potatoes ahead of time, up to the day before, reheating them in the oven or microwave. danhole, who adds a bit of extra butter and reheats in the microwave, says hers come out nice and fluffy, and taste even better than freshly mashed. valerie makes hers supercreamy (with butter, half-and-half, and sour cream), and says they reheat beautifully in the oven. Diane in Bexley’s secret is to add cream cheese (around six ounces per five pounds of potatoes).

Here’s what not to do: Don’t boil your potatoes ahead and wait to mash them, even for half an hour, and don’t hold mashed potatoes in a slow cooker. Both result in a mash so gluey even a paste-eating kindergartener wouldn’t touch them.

Board Link: Prepping Mashed Potatoes

Brining Shrimp

Brining’s not just for poultry—it’s also a great technique for shrimp, say hounds. It does wonders for farmed shrimp in particular, giving them a firm “pop in the mouth” feel, says scubadoo97. Brine only if you’ll use a dry cooking method (e.g., sautéing or grilling). Shrimp should soak in the brine for no more than 20 to 30 minutes. Read instructions for brining shrimp here (scroll down). chowser likes Alton Brown’s recipe for shrimp cocktail, which involves brining, then broiling, the shrimp.

Board Link: Brining Shrimp before cooking?

Fresh Apple Cider, Autumn’s Ultimate Mixer

Fresh apple cider—especially the unpasteurized and unfiltered stuff you can find at farmers’ markets and orchards this time of year—combines wonderfully with all kinds of spirits. Try it with bourbon, spiced or golden rum, blended whiskey, or gin. A few dashes of added bitters are a nice contrast with the sweetness of the cider, and a float of hard cider gives an elegant touch. For a highball over ice, use about 2 parts liquor to 5 parts cider; for a cocktail, 1 part liquor to 2 parts cider.

skokefoe offers a recipe for the Devonia:

1 1/2 ounces gin
3 ounces apple cider
4 dashes orange bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Board Link: Apple cider cocktail?

Creative Ways with the Chicken

Chowhounds share some interesting ways to cook the most boring cut of chicken, boneless skinless breasts:

rworange poaches chicken breasts in coffee or tea enriched with assorted condiments. To a cup of brewed coffee or tea, she adds a bit of this and a bit of that—ketchup, garlic, chipotle, and brown sugar in coffee create a barbecue sauce–y flavor, and Lapsang Souchong tea with mustard, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and brown sugar gives a smoky Asian flavor. Play around with additions that seem complementary. Bring the tea or coffee and condiments to a boil, reduce to a simmer, add the chicken breasts, and simmer for around 15 minutes or until cooked through. You can further reduce the liquid to a sauce if you like, or simply serve it over rice. Result: supertender chicken and surprisingly complex sauce.

MMRuth recommends chicken breasts marinated in yogurt, garlic, and scallions, and other hounds find this simple treatment delicious as well (read the recipe here).

danhole coats boneless chicken breasts with teriyaki sauce and a bit of olive oil, then sprinkles them with Chinese five-spice powder and tarragon and lets them marinate in the fridge for an hour. Grill over coals or gas, in a grill pan, or pan-fry.

Board Link: Boneless chicken breast?

Wild Things

If you’re lucky enough to know a hunter who will share the season’s catch of elk or venison with you, then you get the glories of ultraflavorful game meat. You can adapt recipes for lamb or beef to cook the steaks, but it’s critical not to cook them beyond medium rare; the meat’s very lean and will become tough if cooked longer. Venison loin (called backstrap) is perfect cut into medallions and quickly seared in cast iron or on a hot grill. For tougher cuts such as shoulder, slow braises such as daubes are a good choice. captbob recommends marinating elk and venison in red wine and cider vinegar before cooking, saying the vinegar sweetens the meat and does away with any lingering funkiness.

Board Link: Help! I’m marrying a hunter…

Sling Those Brownies

The ultimate trick to getting brownies and bar cookies neatly out of the pan, say Chowhounds, is to build an aluminum foil “sling” before you pour in the batter or dough. Take a piece of foil the width of your pan and line the pan, allowing the foil to overhang both ends by a few inches. Grease the foil and pan sides, or spray them with a nonstick spray, and bake your brownies or bars as usual. After cooling, cut around the edges of the pan, then grasp the overhanging foil like handles and lift the entire panful of brownies or bars out in one piece. Place your baked good on a work surface, lay the foil flat, and cut it bakery-neat. The new nonstick foil makes this process even easier.

Board Link: removing brownies from the pan

Potatoes from Top to Bottom

A baked potato is a great blank canvas for a creative dinner, lunch, or snack. Toppings can span the globe.

Top a spud with:

• Crystal hot sauce and drizzled olive oil
• Well-cooked black beans and chopped cilantro
• Indian dal, channa masala, or saag paneer
• Caponata
• Balsamic vinegar and herb-infused oils
• Mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and blue cheese
• Shrimp with cream sauce or Creole sauce

Another creative option is removing some of the potato from the skin, mixing it with other ingredients, and restuffing. Mix potato flesh with crumbled strips of crisp bacon, sautéed cabbage, and garlic. Try a potato mix with smoked Gouda or smoked cheddar. And there is the always favorite spud stuffing: sour cream/crème fraîche, sharp cheddar, and chopped scallions.

And spuds for breakfast: Bake a large yam or sweet potato and top with granola and honey.

Board Link: Favorite Baked Potato Toppings?

Spätzle, Home Cooked

The cool weather arriving in many parts of the country brings an appetite for spätzle. With roasts or vegetables, in soups, or sauced, spätzle fills out a meal with handcrafted goodness.

“This is the recipe I use from a little German-American cookbook put together by the residents of Manning, Iowa. There’s no resting, no weirdness, no drama; and they come out perfect,” says revsharkie.

Ingredients:
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup water

Instructions:
Combine all ingredients well in a medium bowl. Press through a coarse colander or spätzle maker into boiling water or broth.

Stir and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until firm. Drain and add 1 to 2 tablespoons butter, if desired.

Cooking time is about as long as it takes to wash the bowl and spätzle maker.

Here is an Austrian spätzle recipe:

Ingredients:
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
4 cups all-purpose flour (1 pound)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Pommery mustard
1/8 cup chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Instructions:
Using a mixer fitted with a dough hook, work all ingredients into a smooth batter. Let rest 1 hour. Prepare boiling salted water with a little oil. Grate spätzle into water using a large-holed colander with a pastry card, or use a spätzle machine. Spätzle is done when it floats to the surface.

Sauté in butter with generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley; cheese is optional.

Board Link: Spaezle

Thanksgiving Before-Feast Nibbles

There are two distinct schools of thought on pre-Thanksgiving dinner nibbles: the “light and tasty” approach that leaves room for the big dinner, and the “more is more” system that features substantial bites for the three- to four-hour window before the bird is done.

Some “light and tasty” options:
• Spiced nuts
• Stuffed mushrooms
• Icy cold shrimp cocktail
• The relish tray—crudités, olives, and gherkins
• Veggie tray with blue cheese dip or homemade onion dip
• Fresh fruit

Some “more is more” options:
• Cheese straws
• Ham biscuits
• Meatballs or sausage in cheese crust
• Pigs in a blanket
• Hot queso/chili dip
• Seven-layer Tex-Mex dip
• Brie en croûte
• Caviar pie

Here’s a recipe for caviar pie:

Ingredients:
12 hard-cooked eggs
Mayonnaise
8 ounces softened cream cheese
16 ounces sour cream
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 large jar red caviar
2 large jars black caviar (or whatever you can afford)

Instructions:
Grease a 10-inch springform pan with a little mayo.

Mash eggs with enough mayo to hold the mixture together. Season with salt and pepper. Spread egg mixture in the bottom of the pan.

Mix cream cheese and sour cream together.

Spread onion on top of egg mixture and spread sour cream–cream cheese mixture on top of onion. Spread caviar on top in a cute design. Serve with plain crackers.

Board Link: What do you serve with drinks before Thanksgiving Dinner?