Cooking Tips rss

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

Two Winning Ways with Mussels

This mussel prep with South East Asian flavors is popular among chowhounds. Saute ginger, lemongrass, and garlic; add white wine, coconut milk, and mussels; cover, and steam until mussels have opened. Add cilantro after mussels are done. You can also use the broiler or a large saute pan on an outdoor grill to cook your mussels, says Kitchen Queen.

Marge serves mussels Portuguese style: steamed, then chilled, served on the half shell, topped with a salsa of chopped fresh tomato, sweet onion, garlic, and cilantro. Perfect with some Champagne or vinho verde.

Board Links: New Zealand Green Mussels

Tender Stir-Fried Beef

The two keys to making tender stir-fried beef are 1) how you slice the meat and 2) how you cook it. Hounds’ favorite cut for stir-frying is flank steak, but they also like top round and sirloin. Here’s how to slice and cook for tender results.

-Slice the meat against the grain in even, very thin slices. Partial freezing makes it easier to cut thin and evenly.

-Make sure the oil is very hot. Stir-fry for just a minute or two. Once the pink is almost gone, it’s done.

TorontoJo offers these tips for making a great beef-and-vegetable stir-fry: 1) marinate the beef for 15-20 minutes before cooking in some soy sauce and sherry (add a couple teaspoons of cornstarch if you’d like for thickening); 2) fry garlic/ginger for a few seconds before adding beef; when beef is done, remove to a bowl; 3) add more oil to pan if needed, then stir-fry vegetables until almost done. Return beef to pan, along with whatever sauce ingredients you are using, and cook for a just a few seconds more to marry everything together.

mhoffman add this tip for those with electric stoves or who otherwise need help getting pans really hot: preheat your pan in a 500 or 550 degree oven. Just make sure to use a pot holder!

Board Links: Best Beef for Stir-Fry ?

Sprouts in Garlic: To Remove or Not to Remove?

Traditional wisdom, along with most cookbooks, says to remove the little green sprouts that grow in older cloves of garlic, which are supposedly indigestible. Chowhounds say there’s no evidence of that, but the sprouts can be bitter, especially when raw. So their removal is entirely up to you–but removing is advisable if you’ll be using the garlic uncooked.

Board Links: The sprout in the garlic clove

Baba Ghanouj

Baba ghanouj is a spread made from eggplant and tahini (sesame paste), spiked with lemon and garlic. An important component of its flavor is the smokiness of the eggplant, which is cooked until it collapses, preferably on a charcoal or wood grill.

Nyleve offers a traditional recipe (adjust tahini, lemon, and garlic to your taste).

1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
Olive oil (optional)

Prick eggplant all over with a fork, and either roast at 450F (230C) for about 1 hour or broil, until blackened and soft. Or, place eggplant on a grill and cook, turning once or twice, until charred and soft. (The grilling method will produce a smokier taste.)

Cut a slit down the length of the eggplant, scoop the insides into a bowl and mash with a fork. Add tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, mixing well with a fork. Drizzle olive oil over the top, if you’d like, and serve with pita bread.

sbp has a tip: scoop the cooked eggplant out of its skin and into a colander to let any bitter juices drain off before proceeding with the recipe.

Anne H adds a little cumin and a pinch of cayenne to her baba ghanouj.

Board Links: Sauces #3: baba ganoush/baba ghanouj

Peeling Hard-Boiled Eggs

There are a few tricks to cooking easy-peeling hard-boiled eggs, but chowhounds note that there’s no guarantee you won’t get a toughie once in a while. As fauchon puts it, “some eggs are just recalcitrant!”

Most important: DON’T use fresh eggs. Age them in the fridge for a couple of weeks before boiling (don’t worry, they’ll be just fine for eating; eggs last a long time uncooked). The whites will evaporate a little, leaving a bit of air between them and the shell when they’re boiled, so you can get the shell off easier.

Once you’ve cooked your eggs, drain off the hot water, fill the pot with ice cubes and cold water, put the lid on, and shake the pot around to crack the eggshells all over. Let the eggs sit in the ice water for 10 minutes or so, then peel under running water.

Board Links: Hard-Boiled Eggs… Getting On My Nerves!

Quick Ways With Sichuan Peppercorns

Here are a few simple, fast dishes making use of the tingly goodness of Sichuan peppercorns.

BJK prepares a salad of stir-fried chicken over spinach with a warm Sichuan peppercorn vinaigrette: Deglaze the pan you used for stir-frying with rice vinegar, soy and hoisin sauces, scallions, ginger, canola oil, and Sichuan peppercorns, and pour pan sauce over the salad.

alyssay shares her Sichuanese roommate’s family recipe for ma po tofu; Pan fry a bit of ground pork with 4-5 Sichuan peppercorns and set aside. Steam or boil soft or medium tofu; cut into cubes. Heat some oil in a pan, add a few Sichuan peppercorns and some chilis (if you like it extra spicy) and a few spoonfuls of Sichuan chili-bean paste (or substitute a combo of Chinese chili paste and miso) and fry for a couple minutes. Add tofu and then meat, mix. Serve topped with crushed Sichuan peppercorns and chopped green onions.

Grind Sichuan peppercorns and combine with salt, sugar, and garlic, then rub on meats for grilling or broiling (Claudette).

Crush Sichuan peppercorns and sprinkle on soups or use in salad dressings to bring an oomph that black pepper doesn’t deliver.

Board Links: Any recommendations for a quick, weeknight use of sichuan peppercorns?

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