Cooking Tips rss

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

Getting the Sour Back in Your Cherry Pie

If you’re in one of the many parts of the country where it’s not possible to get fresh or even frozen sour cherries but you crave sour cherry pie, there’s a solution. You can get a lot of real sour cherry flavor into a pie made with sweet cherries by using pure sour cherry juice. Between the juice and the fresh fruit you’ll get a nice balance of chunky and juicy, sweet and tart. Look for jarred Knudsen and Trader Joe’s house brand sour cherry juices.

Bride of the Juggler cooks sour cherry juice with cornstarch and sugar until it’s thick, then pours it over a cookie crumb crust heaped full of pitted cherries and bakes.

Becca Porter makes a conventional cherry pie filling, tossing the fruit with lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt, adding sour cherry juice reduced to syrup consistency.

Board Links: Easy great fruit pies with TJ’s sour cherry juice

Roast Beets Make Great Salads

Roasting beets concentrates their earthy sweetness, transforming them into intense mouthfuls of deliciousness that play well with lots of other tastes and textures. And all kinds of great salads are possible.

To roast beets, cut off any greens (good eating in their own right) and scrub bulbs clean. Wrap them tightly in foil (or put them in a covered roasting pan or casserole) and roast until tender when pierced with a knife (around an hour at 350F, depending on size). When cool, skins will peel off very easily (wear powder-free latex or vinyl gloves, or hold them with a paper towel, to avoid staining your hands).

A range of fruits and vegetables complement roast beets in various ways. Some match their soft texture and/or sweetness (avocado, oranges, mangoes) and others lend textural contrast (endive, raw fennel). Other popular additions to beets salads are nuts and soft, salty cheeses (goat, blue, feta). Most suggest using light dressings on beet salads; walnut and olive oils are good bases.

For something a bit different, mix beets with yogurt, a little garlic, and fresh dill (oaklandfoodie).

Board Links: Really good beets at home [topic digression moved from SF board]

Coffee Ice, Meet Iced Coffee

Chowhounds who like their iced coffee strong have learned that the trick to avoid dilution is to make their iced coffee ice from coffee! As it melts, it won’t add water to your cold cuppa, just more coffee goodness. Some hounds simply brew coffee, freeze in ice cube trays, and store the cubes in freezer bags, but others get more elaborate.

Nyleve has nailed down her perfect methodology: She makes a strong brew with her drip coffee machine, and makes coffee ice cubes from that. For her iced coffee, she pulls a long shot from her espresso machine and puts it in the blender with an equal amount of milk, and sweetening to taste; with the machine running at high speed, she adds four coffee ice cubes (one at a time) until they’re all blended in, then pours it over (plain) ice.

mic9ael makes espresso ice cubes and blends them up with cold coffee, cream, and sugar. For a Colombian version, add a little pinch of cinnamon and sprinkle cocoa powder on top (Fleur).

Board Links: Best iced coffee ever

Duck, Duck … Soup!

Phoo D shares his recipe for a delicious duck soup making use of every last scrap of leftovers from a Chinese roast duck. It serves 4 to 8 as a first course.

Leftovers from 1 Chinese roast duck (skin, juice, meat, and bones)
Pinch of salt
Star anise
1” length of peeled ginger root, cut into thin matchsticks
3-5 mushrooms, sliced
2 bunches green onions. sliced
1/2-3/4 package of firm tofu, diced
6-10 leaves napa cabbage, sliced
White pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro leaves

Stock Preparation:

Place leftover duck meat, skin, fat, juice, and bones (making sure all large bones are cut) in a pan and cover with water. Add pinch of salt and several whole star anise. Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 2 hours (3 or 4 hours is even better). Add extra water as needed to keep scraps covered.

After letting the mixture cool slightly, strain to separate liquid from solids. After liquid has cooled some, store covered in the refrigerator.

Soup Making (about 30-45 minutes):

Scrape fat off of stock. Heat stock and add mushrooms, ginger, and the white parts of the green onions. After 20-25 minutes, taste stock and add white pepper to taste; then add napa cabbage. After a few more minutes, add some of the green parts of the green onion. When cabbage is tender, add tofu, cut into pieces, and return to a boil. At this point, the soup is ready. Serve with chopped cilantro as a garnish.

Board Links: Duck Soup Easy

Warm Caprese “Salad”

Caprese salad is a classic–and minimalist–Italian tomato-season dish of sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh whole-milk mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. You can intensify the flavors of this summer staple by using a toasty bread base and warming it all up.

There are two simple methods for prep: oven or grill. In the oven, bake baguette slices brushed with extra virgin olive oil at 450F for 5 minutes. Add a slice of tomato to each slice of bread, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add a slice of mozzarella. Bake again for another 5 minutes or so, just until cheese begins to get a bit melty. Top each with a basil leaf; drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a little more salt. “Eat and swoon” (wyf4lyf).

On the grill, follow the same procedure, first toasting the bread, then returning it to melt the cheese a bit. Some hounds prefer to hide the basil leaf under the cheese so its flavor really permeates. HWiley puts all ingredients inside halved pita breads and tosses on the grill; the pita crisps up while the insides gets the same warm melting effect.

Board Links: Baked Caprese “Salad” —FABULOUS!!!

Freezing Rice

Freezing cooked rice in serving-size portions is an easy way to have an almost-instant side dish, and is nearly as good as freshly cooked. It’s an especially handy do-ahead for brown rice, which takes around 45 minutes to cook. Portion cooked rice (either plain or simple pilafs work equally well) into single serving-size Ziploc-type freezer bags and freeze. The rice can go straight from freezer to microwave and be ready in a few minutes, or thawed in the refrigerator and incorporated into other dishes.

Board Links: freezing rice

Sweet Tea

Sweet tea is a southern staple, and there’s a good reason it’s called sweet tea, not iced tea. It’s real sweet; not just sweet, but sweeeet. It’s not all about sugar, though. Proper preparation and the right kind of tea are even more important, say chowhounds.

While the best hot brewed tea is made with loose leaves, southern sweet tea always begins with tea bags. Any good black tea will do, but there are specific brands hounds recommend. Luzianne tea, a New Orleans product, is blended especially for making iced tea, and will stay clear, says Candy, who warns that Assam teas make for cloudy iced tea. The ultimate tea for iced tea is from Charleston Tea Plantation (available as <a href=”http://www.bigelowtea.com/shop/details.cfm?si=1&sc=1&pi=00353
”>American Classic Tea from Bigelow). This, says Danna, is the only tea grown in the United States. “It smells sooooo good!”

Here’s how to make sweet tea:

Boil 4 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar. Add 10 regular-size tea bags, remove from heat and cover. Let sit until cool, then pluck out the the bags (don’t squeeze them, or you’ll make the tea cloudy). Pour into a gallon-size pitcher and fill with water or refrigerate the concentrate to make one glass at a time. It will only keep for a couple of days (LisaAZ).

Interesting tip: oc climber adds a pinch of baking soda to the boiling water to smooth out the tannins.

Becca Porter offers an alternate method: Put 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Add three tea bags, and turn the heat to medium. When bubbles form on the edge, pour the solution into a pitcher, and discard the tea bags. Stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar. Add two quarts cold water, and stir. Serve over ice. Becca prefers Lipton tea bags.

Board Links: sweet tea

Spicy Popcorn

Chowhounds like a spicy spin on their popcorn. Here are some favorite methods.

Use chili oil instead of vegetable vegetable oil for stove-top popping, plus add Parmesan cheese and salt (chowmeow).

Pop on stovetop in olive oil, then top with melted butter, kosher salt, and smoked Spanish Paprika (JaneRI).

Make “homemade” microwave popcorn in a plain paper bag: use 1/3 cup popcorn, a few drops water (around 1/4 tsp), around 1/2 tsp of chili oil, and a few shakes of coarse salt. Shake to distribute everything, fold top of bag over a few times, and microwave about 3 minutes (you’ll have to play with the time to see what works for your microwave (cheryl h).

Or, toss garlic powder, cayenne and Parmesan with standard unflavored microwave popcorn (MeowMixx).

Board Links: Spicy popcorn

The Secret to Light and Crispy Beer Batter

If you prefer fried fish, onion rings, etc., with a light, crispy crust (vs. a denser, crunchy one), Pei has discovered the secret: incorporate beaten egg white into a typical beer batter. Here’s her recipe:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 T cornstarch
1 T baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 bottle of beer
2 egg whites

Mix all the dry ingredients together, add the beer, and stir to mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Mix a little of the batter into the whites, then mix that all back into the batter. The mixture of dry ingredients and beer can sit as long as an hour–but beat the egg whites just before frying.

Board Links: Egg Whites for Beer Batter

Reduced-Sugar Fruit Sorbet

Good, dead-ripe fruit is sweet enough that it doesn’t require lots of extra sugar when making desserts. But sugar plays a larger role than just sweetening in making sorbet–it also affects texture and freezability. Too little sugar will produce a sorbet that freezes rock hard when stored, and will be full of ice crystals even when fresh. Here are some strategies for reducing sugar without compromising quality.

Instead of adding simple syrup to your fruit puree, try stirring sugar directly in (superfine sugar dissolves best). The taste will be cleanest, and you won’t be adding unnecessary water, which could help produce ice crystals. A pinch of salt helps bring out the fruit’s flavor.

Add a bit of alcohol (about 2 T of vodka for a neutral taste, or use a liqueur with a complementary flavor) toward the end of your ice cream machine’s freezing cycle. Alcohol inhibits overfreezing.

Remember that if your mixture has the perfect sweetness before freezing, it will be less sweet after, as freezing mutes sweetness. So adjust accordingly!

Board Links: Sorbet with a Reduced Sugar Simple Syrup–Will it work?