Cooking Tips rss

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

Ranch Dressing

All agree: the base of ranch dressing is buttermilk and mayo. Recipes mostly deviate re: use of fresh or dried herbs. And then there’s an issue currently giving chowhounds night sweats: whether the real key to the ranch flavor we know and love is (shudder) MSG. Several hounds swear it’s true!

dano, who says of MSG in ranch dressing, “this WILL make it, believe it or not,” shares the ingredients he used in a restaurant’s recipe: Equal parts buttermilk and mayo; plus salt, MSG, onion power, garlic powder, black pepper, and dried dill.

Several hounds recommend Penzey’s Buttermilk Ranch dressing mix, which is handy to have on hand and make up whenever you’re in the mood.

Here’s MollyGee’s recipe:

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3-1/2 cup buttermilk (depending on how thick you like it)
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 or 2 cloves minced garlic
2 T chopped parsley or dill
2 T snipped chives
2 green onions, thinly sliced
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Whisk together mayonnaise, buttermilk, and vinegar, then add and mix in remaining ingredients. Will keep 3 or 4 days in refrigerator.

Board Links: ISO Ranch Dressing Recipe

Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are the green shoots that grow from developing bulbs of certain strains of garlic. They usually curl at the top, and may have little white blossoms which sometimes contain what looks like a tiny garlic clove. Garlic growers have to lop them off to keep the bulb developing underground, so scapes are a fleeting seasonal crop most likely found at farmers’ markets.

Scapes are delectable, with a gentle flavor that’s much less pungent than mature garlic. They can be used to lend a garlic perfume (e.g., put a half a scape in a pot of cooking rice for a subtle garlic note), as an herb, or cooked and eaten like a vegetable.

Scapes are perfect pureed with butter to prepare herb butter for vegetables, fish, etc., or made into pesto with basil or another herb. Used as a vegetable, they work well paired with other green veggies (e.g., asparagus, peas) in frittatas or stir-fries.

Nyleve just lets scapes fly solo. Here’s how: cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, toss in a large skillet with olive oil for a couple of minutes over high heat, add some chicken broth and salt, cover and let cook until tender over medium heat.

Board Links: Garlic Scapes

Spicy Mexican Pickled Veggies

Cynsa shares her recipe for Mexican restaurant-style spicy pickled carrots and jalapenos.

Hot Pickled Carrots and Jalapeno Peppers
8 large carrots
12 fresh green jalapeno peppers
1 medium onion

Brine:
3 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
1 T salt
1 tsp dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
24 whole black peppercorns

Scrub and peel carrots, slice on diagonal 1/4” thick. Wash jalapenos and slice 1/4” thick (remove stem, but leave seeds and white membrane). Cut onion in quarters, then cut slices 1/2” thick.

Bring brine ingredients to a gentle boil. Add carrots, resume boil; lower heat, simmer 10 minutes. Add onion slices and continue cooking for another 10 minutes on low heat, or until carrots are just fork tender (tender-crisp). Add jalapenos to pot; return to gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes, just until chiles are no longer bright green (do not overcook, or chiles will be mushy).

Remove from heat; let sit covered for 5 minutes. When cooled, place in covered glass container. Refrigerate overnight before using. Will last a couple of weeks in refrigerator.

Board Links: Mexican pickled veggies?

Trader Joe’s Chocolate for Baking

Chowhounds generally agree that Trader Joe’s “Pound Plus” (500g) 70% Belgian bittersweet chocolate bars work very well for baking (not to mention nibbling!). And they cost a mere pittance compared to high-end brands. Because this chocolate tends to have a slightly grainy texture when melted, it’s not well suited for preps like ice cream or mousse, which call for a lusciously smooth mouthfeel. But baked into brownies, cakes, or chocolate chunk cookies, you’ll discern no graininess whatsoever, assures adamclyde.

Board Links: Trader Joe’s Chocolate

Candied Salami

Diane in Bexley has invented a unique sweet-and-sour candied salami appetizer, which she reports has been a great hit with guests. Here, for the daring, are instructions:

1 lb. whole kosher salami, peeled
12 oz. bottle chili sauce (Diane likes Bennett’s)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 T butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Using a sharp knife, make vertical cuts along the entire salami three-quarters of the way through, leaving the bottom quarter intact. Heat all remaining ingredients in glass measuring cup in microwave until melted and hot. Place salami in narrow, shallow baking dish. If there’s a lot of room around the salami, ball up aluminum foil to fill in space (this will keep sauce from burning). Pour sauce over salami. Bake for 45-60 minutes until all sauce is absorbed and salami looks candied. To serve, place on cutting board or serving tray with knives, along with some rye or pumpernickel bread.

Board Links: Your Most Requested Dish Recipe

Ceviche Basics

Ceviche, originating in Peru but now popular in many Latin American countries, is a dish made from raw fish that’s “cooked” via marination in citrus juice. Properly speaking, the acidity in the citrus pickles the fish so it’s no longer technically raw. Ceviche is fairly simple to make at home using firm white fish (like snapper), or scallops.

carswell guides us through the process:

1. Slice fish or scallops across the grain into thin slices (1/4 inch or less) or bite-size cubes.

2. Place slices in a glass or porcelain bowl and add citrus juice (lime is classic but lemon, grapefruit, and sour orange are also delicious). Carswell typically uses three limes per half pound of seafood.

3. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1/2 to 1 hour, stirring from time to time. When the seafood turns opaque white, it’s “cooked.”

4. Season with salt and pepper and add flavorings like sliced or chopped onions, scallions, or shallots; chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or oregano; chopped serrano, jalapeno, or other chiles; chopped tomato; and olive oil.

Ecuadoran sandrina loves her mom’s ceviche, made with shrimp and firm white fish, lemon or lime, sliced red onions, cilantro, a pinch of sugar, and enough tomato juice to give the sauce a pinkish tinge.

Board Links: Ceviche Recipe Please!

Self-Rising Flour

Self-rising flour (all-purpose flour with salt and baking powder mixed in) is fairly rare outside the South, and most American cookbooks don’t include recipes calling for it. Southerners swear by it for biscuits, shortcake, and other quick baked goods. (Find recipes here.)

If you have some on your hands, it works great for pancakes (just omit the baking powder). fauchon puts some in crab cakes, saying it makes them niftily puff up a bit.

Self-rising flour makes for a super-simple beer bread. Here’s MaggieB’s recipe:

3 cups self-rising flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 12-ounce bottle or can of beer

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Lightly grease or spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.

Variations: add chopped minced garlic, grated cheese, chopped jalapenos, chopped herbs, etc.

Board Links: What to do with Self-rising flour?

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