Cooking Tips rss

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

Smokiness Without Fire

There are several ways to go when you want to impart a smoky flavor to food without actually, you know, smoking it. Many folks complain about liquid smoke; they think it tastes grossly artificial. In fact, most brands of liquid smoke are completely natural: They’re the condensed liquid from the actual smoking process. If you find liquid smoke gives an off-flavor, you’re probably using too much, says Will Owen—this stuff is to be dealt out in drops, not spoonfuls. Two recommended brands are Colgin and Wright’s.

If you want to add some heat along with a smoky flavor, chipotle chiles (dried and smoked jalapeños) do a great job, whether you use them whole and dry, in powder form, or canned in vinegary adobo sauce. Another option is Spanish smoked paprika, which is available in sweet, bittersweet, and hot varieties (order online from La Tienda). magnolia uses Lapsang Souchong tea, which has an assertively smoky flavor, in cooking. She grinds the tea leaves as fine as possible in a spice grinder, then forces them through a fine mesh sieve and stores them in a salt shaker. You can also submerge Lapsang Souchong tea bags in liquid dishes like soup or chili when you want to add a smoky note.

Board Links: Liquid smoke…or not?

Cooking Flavor into Artichokes

A simple steamed artichoke is the perfect vehicle for your dip of choice, but grilling and braising artichokes gives them new layers of flavor before you dunk the leaves.

To grill, steam artichokes for about 15 minutes, then cut in half, scoop out the choke, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, or marinate in your favorite vinaigrette. Start leaf-side down on a hot grill; they’ll take 7 to 10 minutes per side. Grilling mutes artichokes’ bitter flavors and makes them easier to drink wine with, says maria lorraine.

To braise, quarter the artichokes and remove the choke. Sauté in olive oil with garlic for 5 minutes, then add water and braise until tender, around 20 minutes more. The artichokes soak up the flavor of the garlic and taste amazing, says ctscorp.

Board Links: Your favourite thing to do with artichokes…?

Lightning-Fast Roasted Vegetables

JenMarie66 shares a great tip for roasting veggies like asparagus, green beans, and sliced zucchini: Preheat a baking sheet in your oven at 500°F, and toss your vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Put the vegetables on the preheated pan, and they’ll roast in about 5 minutes (shake the pan once or twice while they’re roasting). The vegetables come out crisp and blistered on the outside, but pleasantly firm inside.

Board Links: Vegetable Roasting Revelation

Grilled Pineapple

There’s nothing so delicious as fresh pineapple cooked on a grill, say chowhounds. Cut a pineapple in 1/2-inch-thick slices and core, and grill over high heat until it’s light brown. You can get a similar effect using a very hot grill pan or cast iron skillet on the stovetop.

For dessert, you can sprinkle the pineapple with brown sugar and let it caramelize, or serve it with vanilla ice cream, Nutella, or a drizzle of dark chocolate.

On the savory side, use it as a side dish for grilled chicken or fish, dressed with lime juice and a bit of chile powder, or tossed with chopped cilantro and jalapeños. Old Spice makes a salsa from grilled pineapple and avocados cut into chunks, minced jalapeño, and lime juice that goes well with many things, but is especially good paired with scallops.

Board Links: grilling fresh pineapple, who knew?

Lentil Soup with Ham Bones

Ham bones make a great base for lentil soup. Gin and It starts by simmering the ham bone with canned tomatoes, water, and herbs, for several hours, then skimming and removing the bone; this makes a nice, rich stock for cooking the lentils and vegetables without turning them to mush.

Adding greens to a lentil soup gives color and texture. Chard, kale, and spinach are all great complements to the flavors of the lentils and porky broth. For longer-cooking greens, slice the leaves crosswise in ribbons and stir them into the soup toward the end of cooking, or add them when you begin reheating cold soup. Stir spinach in right before you’re ready to serve it, as it will wilt in hot soup in just a couple of minutes.

Val recommends this recipe for Hearty Lentil and Ham Soup, saying the cinammon stick it includes lends unusual and great flavor; she recommends cutting the stated amount of water by about half, though.

Board Links: ideas for a ham bone

Stock Options

If you want to make gingery, garlicky chicken stock for Asian cooking, but also need to have a neutral stock on hand, there’s no need to make two separate batches. Cook up a pot of stock with standard aromatics and light seasoning. Once it’s done, separate the amount you want for Asian recipes, and add ginger and garlic; let it simmer for about 15 minutes. The aromatics will release their flavor, and the stock will taste fresh. soupkitten notes that if your ginger is well scrubbed, you can use only the peelings in your stock (they give fine flavor), and save the ginger itself for cooking with.

Board Links: Ginger in chicken stock?

BLTs with a Twist

There’s nothing that satisfies quite like a BLT, and while some prefer the path of purity—adding only bread and mayonnaise to the eponymous trio of ingredients—others play with the formula to great effect. Most like their bacon nice and crispy, and everyone agrees that fresh, high-quality produce is essential. A tomato-centric sandwich is best in high tomato season, but if you just can’t wait until July, try halved grape tomatoes.

Many like to use herb-flavored mayo or aioli, and avocado is a favorite add-on. Some hounds make a chopped salad of the bacon, lettuce, and tomato, dress it with mayo, and stuff it in a bun or pita.

Dispensing with lettuce altogether, ETRIXIE uses thinly sliced cucumbers and fresh basil leaves for a nice, cool crunch.

macca also leaves out the lettuce and makes a hot open-face sandwich by layering bacon and tomatoes on toasted bread, topping with a favorite cheese, and broiling it until the cheese is bubbly.

thatgirl153 sprinkles brown sugar and ground chile on the bacon as it cooks, caramelizing it and giving the sandwich a spicy kick.

For some extra B in your BLT, lightly toast your bread and fry it in the bacon grease, then sprinkle with salt before building your sandwich on it, suggests Cinnamon.

Board Links: Your favorite BLT recipes

What Else Can You Cook in a Waffle Iron, Anyway?

If you think that the waffle iron is a one-use kitchen appliance, you are wrong. Open your mind, young Jedi.

maria lorraine says the waffle iron’s great for making low-fat hash browns: “Crispy on the outside, creamy potato goodness on the inside … I’d have a waffle iron just for making hash browns.” Grate Yukon gold potatoes into a double thickness of paper towels, and squeeze all the water out. Preheat your waffle iron, and spray with olive oil or Pam, or brush with oil. Place the shredded potatoes in the iron, and sprinkle with salt before closing the lid. You may have to experiment with temperature settings (medium high or high) and timing on your iron to get the potatoes to cook through by the time they crisp up on the outsides.

chowdear offers this recipe for waffle iron brownies, saying they’re great for the summer, when you don’t want to heat up the house with the oven:

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, well beaten
1 tablespoon water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. When melted, remove from heat and mix cocoa into butter thoroughly. Stir in sugar, beaten eggs, and water. Add flour and salt; beat well. Stir in nuts, if using. Preheat waffle iron to medium setting. Into each section of the heated waffle iron, drop one well-rounded teaspoon of batter. Close lid and bake about 1 1/2 minutes. The brownies are done if they do not stick to the top of the waffle iron. Use the tip of a wooden skewer or toothpick to remove brownies easily. Let cool on racks. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar if you like. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Board Links: Alternate uses for a waffle iron?

Flour Tortillas That’ll Put Your Grocer’s to Shame

Her very first time ever making tortillas, megek found that from-scratch flour tortillas are very simple to make, delicious, tender, and leave your mouth watering for more. And they beat the pants off anything from your standard grocery store.

The recipe, for eight 8-inch tortillas:

1/4 cup shortening
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup warm water

Cut shortening into flour. Dissolve salt in warm water, then add gradually to flour mixture. Mix until dough begins to form. Turn onto floured surface and knead about 3 minutes. Divide dough into 8 balls. Cover balls with plastic wrap and rest at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven on low setting (about 200°F). Heat heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high to high heat. Roll a ball of dough out to an approximate 8-inch round and cook in dry skillet about 30 seconds per side. Place finished tortillas inside folded towel on pizza stone or baking sheet in oven to keep warm until all are done.

Board Links: Who knew homemade tortillas were so easy (and addictive)?
Just Made My First Homemade Flour Tortillas

Cream of Wheat Beyond the Breakfast Bowl

Cream of Wheat, a.k.a. farina, a.k.a. semolina, has plenty of uses beyond the bowl of hot cereal we associate with childhood.

Upma, or upama, is a South Indian dish that’s typically eaten for breakfast, but it’s made like a pilaf, toasting the farina first, and incorporates enough aromatics, spices, and vegetables that it might as well be dinner to most of us. Check out this recipe from Indian Food Forever.

Ora offers this recipe for farina bread (amyzan makes the same thing as an alternative to cornbread):

3/4 cup farina

3/4 cup unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 large egg
2 tablespoons melted butter or canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon bacon drippings or butter

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Combine farina, flour, and baking powder in a bowl, making a well in the center. In another bowl, whisk the egg and butter or oil, then whisk in the buttermilk. Pour bacon drippings or place 1 tablespoon butter in an 8-inch cast iron skillet. Place the skillet in the preheated oven. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring just until moistened. Pour into the hot skillet and bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden. Don’t overbake; it should still be somewhat moist and springy in the center, though the edges may draw from the pan. Serve hot in wedges.

heatherkay uses farina to bread chops, fish, and chicken breasts, saying it adheres to the meat better than cornmeal does. Emme uses it as a binder in meatballs and meatloaf.

Board Links: cream of wheat–non-cereal uses?