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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Have Freshly Baked Cookies Anytime

If you freeze your homemade cookie dough, it's easy to bake up a batch—or just a few—anytime the fancy strikes.

Icebox cookies, in which the dough is formed into a log and sliced before baking (such as CHOW's Icebox Sugar Cookies), are a natural for freezing. Most doughs can be sliced fairly easily after half an hour out of the freezer, says TorontoJo. Cutting the dough with a hot knife (dip the knife in hot water, then wipe dry) works well. bushwickgirl slices the dough while frozen, using a serrated bread knife or a hot slicing knife.

You can bake the cookies from frozen dough, adding a minute or two to their normal baking time, or allow the dough to thaw before baking. "If you do decide to thaw before baking, I recommend slicing while still partially frozen—it's much easier than slicing a fully thawed log," says TorontoJo. "Then you can place on your cookie sheets and let them thaw out before baking (it won't take long once they are sliced)."

For drop cookies (such as chocolate chip), portion the dough into balls just as you would to bake them, place the balls on a baking sheet, and freeze until firm. Then store the frozen dough in a zip-top bag. Roll and cut out cookie-cutter types, freeze flat on a baking sheet, and store in a zip-top bag. Bake either type from frozen dough, or lay out on pans and let thaw first.

If you only want to bake a few cookies for an impromptu dessert, bake them in your toaster oven. Or bake drop cookies in a panini press, suggests chowser, who says they're "nice and crispy on the outside with a chew on the inside. The hardest part is the timing and temperature at first, but when you get it right, it's amazing. "

Discuss: Freezing Cookie Dough

Make Those Chiles Last and Last

When you have a bumper crop of jalapeños, or simply luck into a great price, you can freeze them for later use, make terrific condiments, or make appetizers like jalapeño poppers or halved jalapeños stuffed with seasoned cream cheese, wrapped in a half slice of bacon, and baked until the bacon is crisp.

critter101 makes cowboy candy: sliced jalapeños cooked in sugar syrup. willdupre makes jalapeño relish by simmering 2 pounds seeded and diced jalapeños, a diced carrot, a diced red pepper, 4 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 1 tablespoon each mustard seeds and dill for 20 minutes; cool and refrigerate. It's "awesome on anything from chili to enchiladas to hot dogs and hamburgers," he says.

Breezychow washes and dries jalapeños and freezes them whole in zip-top freezer bags. Use as needed in cooking. "They're very easy to seed and chop/mince in the frozen state," says Breezychow. "Needless to say, the texture won't be crisp, but it's absolutely fine for chili, enchiladas, and other Mexican dishes." Analisas mom blends the chiles, seeds and all, with a bit of olive oil in a blender, and freezes the mixture. "When I want to spice up a soup or something I just scoop a spoon out," she says.

Discuss: jalapeno peppers....what to do with a couple extra pounds

Warming Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup is a warming fall favorite that can have flavors from pure to exotic. boyzoma uses this basic recipe, adding celery (sauté it with the onion) and some brown sugar. todao likes this butternut squash and bourbon bisque.

"This is just delicious," kleine mocha says of Thai-spiced winter squash soup, made with Thai red curry paste. biondanonima makes a very savory version from butternut squash, shallot, onion, garlic, chicken stock, salt, cumin, cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg, and a bit of chile pequin (which she loves for its slightly fruity bite), and tops with crumbled crisped bacon or pancetta.

Discuss: Butternut Squash soup

Overheard on the Home Cooking Board

"If you are just looking to have nice, big baked potatoes after work, my husband likes to nuke big russets till they're about halfway done, then finish them for about half an hour in the oven, frequently thwarting my 'baked potatoes take too long so just step away from the sour cream mister' argument." – Krislady

"Easy hot sauce: Whiz habaneros with vinegar in a blender. Belizean style: sauté onion/garlic, add water, some carrots, cook until soft. Whiz in blender with habaneros, vinegar, lime juice, and salt (for less fiery version, remove seeds and ribs from peppers)." – porker

"You can use caraway to make mockquavit. You take vodka and various spices including caraway (and things like anise seed, fennel seed, black peppercorns...) and you put them in the vodka and let them infuse into the vodka over several weeks and then strain it out. The predominant ingredient is the caraway seed." – Sal Vanilla

The Perfect Salad

The Perfect Salad with Kim Severson New York Times writer Kim Severson has chosen her perfect thing in San Francisco—drumroll please—the goat cheese salad at Chez Panisse. READ MORE

Peat, Barley, Water: What Gives Whisky Terroir?

Paul Blow

Does whisky show terroir? Terroir, of course, is that signature on a product of the place where it was grown, based on the effects of climate, soil, water, and so on. With wine it's all about the grapes, which are traditionally the sole ingredient—every layer of intervention in the process (adding acid or yeast, too much oak) is seen as potentially obscuring terroir. But to talk about terroir with whisky is to court much more uncertainty. In fact, most experts like to deny that terroir can exist in whisky.


Australian Muesli Bars Bore to Tears

Australian Muesli Bars Bore to Tears Here are four reasons why Carman's Muesli Bars look better than they actually taste: 1. Choice of font. The old-timey handwriting-style typography on the box conveys honesty … READ MORE

Queen of the Microwave

Chowish options for workplace lunch are typically limited by equipment—most office kitchens don't have much more than a refrigerator and a microwave. What can you do? "I have become the self-proclaimed queen of the microwave," says hyacinthgirl. "I most often will make myself an egg sandwich. I scramble eggs, microwave them in a bowl, toast some bread, cut up some tomatoes and basil, and voilà. On some days, I include a side of vegetarian sausage, microwaved, or, when I want to torture my coworkers, I microwave some bacon. I also will keep a can of black beans on hand, microwave those, and add some taco seasoning. Add salsa, lettuce, sour cream, and you either have a taco salad or a veggie burrito. Works wonderfully, especially on my whole wheat high fiber tortilla."

"Keep potatoes in your drawer and frozen Birds Eye veggies in cheese sauce in the freezer," says cgarner. "Bake the potato in the microwave ... split open the potato, top with the veggies and cheese sauce, and VIOLA (lol) you have a healthy hot lunch." Much better than instant ramen! "Couscous is also easy to do at work," says Emme. "Heat water, pour over couscous, and let sit for 5 minutes. Add frozen veggies if on hand, some dressing, or oil and vinegar."

"If you can invest the time to make a batch of Asian peanut sauce at home (or you know a good jarred brand), you can soak rice noodles in hot water, then stir in peanut sauce for—tada!—peanut noodles!" says 4Snisl. "There are shelf-stable tofu blocks you can dice in, plus you can stir in coleslaw mix, which wilts down pretty quickly in hot noodles (or you can nuke them a little to give them a jump start)." Or "open a can of chickpeas, drain, open a jar of Patak's simmer sauce, stir it into the chickpeas, and microwave easily. I'll often throw handfuls of spinach into this mix to wilt. Serve over precooked rice," says 4Snisl.

And how about an instant shepherd's pie? "I used to make instant mashed potatoes (one of the 'just add hot water' varieties, like Idahoan), and use it to top off a warmed-up bowl of Campbell's Chunky Soup," says 4Snisl. "My favorite kind was the one with the mini 'sirloin burger' patties."

Discuss: Hot Lunch at your Desk

English Beans on Toast

"I like to read British mysteries," says DonShirer. "Strangely, the food most often mentioned in this genre is 'beans on toast,' evidently an everyday item used for breakfast lunch or dinner (at least according to the authors)." But good old American Boston baked beans on wheat toast leaves a lot to be desired. What's special about the English dish?

The key is to use English canned beans, like the widely available Heinz beans in tomato sauce in the blue can, says Kagey. "They're not the same as the brown-sugary ones that Americans often associate with baked beans," says Kagey. Branston beans are also popular. And the dish is "much improved through adding a little curry powder or hot paprika and eating on thick white toast," says LBJR09. "If having with English breakfast I like to cook in frying pan until the sauce thickens and you have to shake off the spoon." Top with a fried egg or grated cheddar to make the dish more substantial.

"We love everything on toast—eggs, tinned spaghetti, Heinz tinned macaroni cheese, beans, sardines, cheese, Marmite, jams, pâtés," says smartie of his British brethren.

Discuss: English beans on toast?

Is There a Reason for Pre-Grated Cheese to Exist?

Pre-grated, bagged cheese can be kind of depressing. For one thing, it's coated with a dusting of cornstarch to prevent the shreds from sticking to each other, which subtly changes the experience, says beachmouse. For another, it's usually poor-quality cheese. "All you'll find pre-grated are the lowest quality, most boring cheeses out there—an exception being the quality in-store-grated Parmigiano and such that you can find at places like Whole Foods, but even then that's only a good thing if you're going to use it all right away," says BobB. "Which brings up the freshness factor—all that extra surface area allows the cheese to dry out and lose flavor quickly. Grate your own as you need it, and you control the quality AND the freshness."

But is there ever a time for pre-grated cheese? "I wouldn't use it in a cheese sauce," says onceadaylily, "but I have noticed that the pre-shred melts and browns more quickly in an oven dish. I suppose that is because it is drier (that is the downside of the surface area exposed), which doesn't make it taste better, to me, but can give a nice ... chewiness. If you're in the mood for that. I've had such occasions." Just check the stuff carefully for mold, says chef chicklet, as "sometimes you'll find small little green flecks in the pre-shredded stuff and it ain't parsley."

Discuss: Grated cheese