Cooking Tips rss

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

Superior Shrimp Cocktail

The two commandments of the superior shrimp cocktail are:

1. Excellent shrimp
2. Do not overcook

The best shrimp cocktails begin, naturally, with the best shrimp. Look for American white or pink, and avoid imported farm-raised tiger shrimp, which just don’t taste good. Buy frozen if you can–the ones you see in your fishmonger’s case were frozen and defrosted, so you’ll get fresher results if you do the defrosting yourself right before you cook.

For the best flavor, cook shrimp in their shells. If you cut a slit down the back (through the shell) before cooking, shelling will be much easier. Bring a large pot of water to boil, adding seasonings if you wish (JudiAU puts in lots of salt plus four times the amount of crab boil seasoning suggested on the seasoning package). Add shrimp, and remove as soon as they’re opaque (just 2-3 minutes for medium-sized ones). Dump them in a bowl of ice water to chill, then shell.

Everyone has different sauce preferences, but hounds agree that homemade beats off-the-shelf cocktail sauce. Homemade includes, however, doctored-up treatments of store-bought ingredients. For example, fix up Heinz Chili Sauce with some added horseradish and fresh lemon juice (ChinoWayne).

Dommy offers her family’s recipe for a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail (a.k.a. coctel de gambas):

To cooled, drained shrimp, add the following, all chopped: cucumber, red onion, cilantro, firm avocado, and serrano chiles. Stir in a mixture of ketchup and lemon juice. Serve with saltines.

Board Links: What makes a “good” shrimp cocktail (or is that a misnomer)?

Simple Dressing Formulas

Here are some simple formulas for combining condiments (along with salt and pepper) to create common dressings, which you can amp up with herbs, spices, and other flavorings of your choice to taste.

Ketchup + mayonnaise = Russian dressing

Ketchup + mayonnaise + relish (+ capers) = Thousand Island dressing

Mayonnaise + lemon juice + relish (+ capers) = tartar sauce

Board Links: Salad Dressings

Cajun Seasoning Mix

This recipe for Cajun-style seasoning (courtesy of Fleur), can be used in many ways: as a rub, in flour for dredging, in salad dressing, mixed with olive oil as a marinade for grilled meat, fish, chicken, and vegetables.

2 1/2 T sweet paprika
2 T kosher salt
2 T garlic powder
1 T black pepper
1 T onion powder
1 T cayenne pepper
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme

Combine all ingredients, mix well. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 2/3 cup. Keeps a long time, until you use it all up.

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Cajun seasoning???

Bounce Miracle Cure for Burnt Pots

Who knew? Bounce dryer sheets are a miracle cure for pots with bottoms burnt out and blackened when they’re forgotten on the stove and nothing else will do the trick.

Hot water and a couple of fabric softener sheets left to soak for a few days loosen up all that burnt-on gunk like a charm, swears Cynthia, who says the method even saved a pot from an impossibly crusted layer of would-be peach preserves turned to carbon.

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The Bounce Miracle Cure saved my stockpot!

Pepper Vinegar

Pepper vinegar is a snappy condiment for barbecue and barbecue-related foods. What couldn’t you dress up with a bottle of vinegar flavored with hot chiles?

It’s easy to make your own. Use a sterilized narrow-necked bottle; fill with any combination of small chiles (birds eye, tabasco, and cayenne are common). Heat white or cider vinegar and pour over the peppers. Close tightly and let sit in a cool place for a couple of weeks before using. Just replenish the vinegar in the bottle as you use it up. If you want to increase the heat, make slits in the chiles before you put them in the bottle, or follow Hungry Celeste“s recipe, and puree 2 T kosher salt and a small handful of chiles, and put the puree in the bottle with the whole peppers and vinegar.

Vinegar is a preservative, so you needn’t worry about the peppers going bad.

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Pepper vinegar?

The Magic of Celery Leaves

Don’t discard those celery leaves, or only save them for making stock! They’ve got a lovely light, clean taste that’s perfect as a garnish for pureed soup (cauliflower is a nice match), tossed into green salads, blended into chimichurri or salsa verde, or folded into tuna salad.

And celery leaves are the cilantro-hater’s best friend. If a dish tastes like soap with cilantro but as if it’s missing something without it, celery leaves give a similar bright flavor without the offense.

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Hate cilantro? Try celery leaves!

Homemade “Fudgcicles”

With a set of ice pop molds, you can whip up your own version of the classic chocolaty summer treat, with or without dairy.

Pat Hammond simply stirs enough Ovaltine into whole milk to get a dark chocolate mixture and freezes in molds. These are a little more icy than storebought, but still creamy tasting. For a non-dairy (and rather adult) version, lynn makes sorbet-like pops by cooking 1 part cocoa, 1 part sugar, 2 parts water, and a pinch of salt over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture is smooth. Add in some vanilla. Cool, and freeze in popsicle molds. Make them richer by adding chopped bittersweet chocolate while the mixture is still hot, if you like.

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Simple-minded

Fruit and Pepper

Pepper adds an unexpected note to fruit. It works especially well with strawberries, currently at peak season. Pureed strawberries with black pepper stirred in is ambrosia to lil mikey, and strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar and black pepper is an Italian classic that’s just killer served over a simple panna cotta, swoons pinstripeprincess.

Pineapple and pepper also pair well, but don’t be afraid to try it with melons and tropical fruits. babette feasts notes that pink pepper can be nice with fruit, too.

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black pepper and fruit
Strawberries and Pepper

Carnitas in Your Kitchen

A taqueria lives or dies on its carnitas. They must be nice and crispy outside, moist inside, sufficiently fatty, and full of flavor. The intrepid hound asks: can I make incredible carnitas at home? You bet!

adamclyde suggests a simple method. He uses pork shoulder (cut in 3-inch chunks), the peel of an orange, and lots of fresh lard (enough to barely cover the pork). He cooks on a very low simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until very tender, then cranks up the heat, watching closely. As soon the meat browns, remove to paper towels, salt, and break into chunks to serve.

gordon wing riffs on various carnitas recipes using boneless country-style pork ribs: he cooks them down with water, orange juice, salt and pepper, cumin, a bit of paprika, and some chipotle hot sauce (they give up enough fat that he doesn’t feel need for lard). Once very tender, he browns in a hot wok.

Several chowhounds swear by an Epicurious recipe using boneless country-style pork ribs and orange juice…plus, of all things, brandy. “I thought this sounded odd, but they were by far the best carnitas I’ve ever eaten,” raves FlyerFan.

Board Links: carnitas–thanks for the inspiration! (pic)
Carnitas…anybody have a good recipe?

Summery Cocktails

One requires cooling cocktails to to take on summer’s heat. Here are a few delicious ideas.

For those seeking cocktails that are truly refreshing (rather than fruity/sweet), gin or vodka and and tonic are ideal; try adding a muddled sprig of mint for a summery twist, says Candy. Campari and soda with orange, and salty dogs (gin and grapefruit juice) are also great for those prefering a drier, tarter quaff.

Bellini-inspired cocktails are fun and beautiful. Make fresh fruit puree (or cheat by using frozen), and mix 2 parts puree to 1 part vodka. Chill. Put 1 to 2 oz puree mixture in a flute and top with prosecco, Champagne, or other sparkling white wine (Aaron).

If you’re a fan of slushy drinks, daiquiris are a great choice. Here’s dragonfly’s recipe for a luscious banana daiquiri: Fill your blender with ice, add a banana, half a small can of frozen pineapple juice concentrate, and half the same can’s worth of white rum. Blend everything up, and garnish as desired (e.g., with mint, fruit, slice of lime). Try adding some ginger!

For a great party drink, Ellen offers this recipe:
1 basket fresh raspberries
16 oz fresh grapefruit juice
16 oz vodka 4 oz raspberry liqueur (e.g., chambord) or cassis
1 750 ml bottle sparkling wine

Place raspberries in bottom of a very large pitcher or a punch bowl and muddle. Fill with ice and add grapefruit juice, vodka, and raspberry liqueur. Add sparkling wine, stir, and strain into martini glasses garnished with a fresh raspberry.

Board Links: Taking this out for a Spin -- Summer Cocktails