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What's Best for Cutting Pizza?

I've used a Chinese vegetable cleaver for years. It's handle is high enough to keep your knuckles off the pizza and the blade has enough curve that it rocks nicely. You can probably find them fairly cheap if you have access to a Chinatown.

Oct 17, 2014
Rich102 in Cookware

Rendered fat - does it last forever? (Storage)

If you want to avoid the layer of gunk at the bottom, let the fat solidify in an upside-down jar. (Be careful upending it if it's still warm-- it may leak a little.) Once it has solidified, open the container and skim off the gunk. Remelt if you'd rather have the clean fat at the bottom of the jar.

May 07, 2013
Rich102 in General Topics

What's the best basmati rice?

We've bought several different basmatis, but I don't have the name of the one we're currently using. I usually ask someone at the Indian store what they recommend. Two that we've bought that I still have bags from are Zafrani and Reserve (although the "Reserve" has no indication that it is Zafrani Reserve). Both have the name of Dashaka, from Houston TX (presumably the importer), on the bags. I remember the Zafrani as being good, but whatever we're using now is also good-- actually neither my wife nor I notice a lot of difference among the various brands we've had.

Lately I've been eating Trader Joe's brown basmati, which is supposedly from India, and like it. It's not quite as long of grain as some of the white basmatis, but it has a slightly more pronounced aroma.

Dec 15, 2012
Rich102 in General Topics

I Want to Make Apple Cider

Rather than a press, you might want to consider a hand-crank food strainer (see, for example, I'm not sure whether with a hard fruit like an apple that it would do the job of crushing, though-- you might need to do some pre-crushing with something else.

Many years ago I bought a press at a yard sale, but needed something to crush apples for cider. I found a book, Woodwork for Winemakers by Colin John Dart and D. A. Smith (see Amazon), that had plans for a wooden crusher/grinder for fruit. I built it (really, something sorta like it, based on available materials and tools {G}) and it works fine for apples. If you (or someone you know) have some basic woodworking skills and tools, it's not a terribly difficult project.

As I was looking up the Woodwork for Winemakers book, I also checked Amazon for "fruit press" and they have lots of options. (The "Sponsored Links" section after the search results had some interesting-sounding links, too.) One thing they listed among the results is a "Fox Run Ricer" ("Fox Run" is the brand name-- apparently they make some similar devices in both plastic and stainless steel). I've got a very similar plastic ricer which I've used as a press for small amounts of pureed ginger (ginger juice is a great marinade component), and it works well. The press holds about a cup of material, so it would be possible to do a quart of juice, although it might take a while. And of course there'd still be the crush problem to deal with.

Yet another idea is to look around for an old lard press/sausage stuffer-- there should be some on eBay. They typically held about one or two gallons, so they might be overkill for a one-quart batch, and crushing would still be required, but with the use of a press cloth they should work okay for cider (although they might not develop as much pressure as you'd like).

Aug 12, 2012
Rich102 in Cookware

What's your best pork tenderloin recipe you can share with me?

Our favorite is "Pork Medallions With Mustard-Caper Sauce", which appeared in the Dec '97 Bon Appetit, and which I first noticed in a 1999 message in the CompuServe Cooks Online forum. It's still available on the Epicurious web site ( The ingredients are simple:

1 8- to 10-ounce pork tenderloin, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup sliced shallots
1 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons drained capers
1 tablespoon coarse-grained Dijon mustard

(See the Epicurious site for the copyrighted prep instructions, etc.)

For two of us we halve the recipe (except use 2 tsp each of butter and mustard), and we often use pork stock instead of chicken broth. We don't usually have shallots around, so use onions and garlic instead.

Jul 20, 2012
Rich102 in Home Cooking

Thick cut Pork Chops recipe

Another variation is to rub them with some Morton's Tenderquick (or equivalent cure), let them sit for 3-4 hours, then rinse them off and hot smoke them. I found this suggestion on a barbecue blog (Cowgirl's Country Life) and it works like a charm. You only need to get them up to an acceptable internal temperature-- too hot too long will dry them out. Basting with some lard or oil helps keep them moist, too. Two to four hours in the smoker is enough. They come out tasting (and looking) something like ham-- very good stuff.

I've been doing these with boneless rather than bone-in, but bone-in wound probably work, although they do tend to shrink a little. Or you could bone them out and smoke the bones (uncured) for soup-- should make a good starting point for bean soup. The chops freeze well, so I do several at one time-- makes for some quick meals at a later date.

Jun 23, 2012
Rich102 in Home Cooking

Homemade vs Canned Refried Beans

I make my own, using black beans and cooking them with epazote and onion, then finishing them with more onion, bacon fat, and olive oil, salt to taste. An immersion blender does a nice job, but I usually stop before they're too smooth. Two pounds at a time, stock the freezer. They take a while, but there's not all that much work altogether, and they're rock-bottom cheap when homemade. In any event, my wife and I like the result. We use them mostly as a component, particularly for nachos. But I eat them as a side with tamales, too.

We used to do an annual "cold weather relief break" in the Yucatan area, and got used to the black bean version there; I now like refried black beans better than the more typical pinto bean version.

Jun 22, 2012
Rich102 in General Topics

Dry large lima beans - going the way of the dodo?

Gigantes are a fairly standard Greek meze, and vary widely in style and quality. But done well, they're a nice appetizer, along with a bunch of other stuff.

A year or two ago I was looking at this question and found some information that let me to believe that limas and butter beans were two different varieties, or maybe even two different species, of whatever genus they're in. I couldn't tell from what I read whether butter beans and gigantes were really different or not. I do need to try some canned butter beans and see how they compare. Currently there are a couple of places in the northwest suburbs of Chicago where I can get dry gigantes, but they're not cheap. (And I don't have a great recipe for preparing them.) At Fresh Farms in Wheeling, I can get dry, canned or deli versions, but I haven't been impressed with the prepared versions, and they're pricey also.

But you're right-- a can of butter beans won't break the bank. Time to start checking the bean aisle when I'm shopping.

Jun 17, 2012
Rich102 in General Topics

Dry large lima beans - going the way of the dodo?

Does anyone know if these large limas or butter beans are the same as Greek "giant beans" (gigantes)? Or are they at least a good substitute?

Jun 16, 2012
Rich102 in General Topics

Yams vs. Sweet potatoes

Thank goodness somebody understands the problem-- it's a language issue!

Different things go by the name "yam" in different parts of the English-speaking world. People who call some type of sweet potato a yam (in areas where this is the custom) are not mistaken, just using the language the way it is spoken in their area.

For even more confusion, in India (and possibly other areas) there is a big veg which is round-- about the size of a large dinner plate-- and several inches thick, which is called a "yam". Do a Google image search on "elephant foot yam" to see what they look like.

Jun 08, 2012
Rich102 in General Topics


Much better than Grandma's IMO is Wholesome Sweeteners blackstrap, which is available at health food stores and some supermarkets, including Whole Foods. It lacks the bitterness of some blackstraps. And it's Fair Trade Certified and Organic.

Note that it's very high in potassium, which is great if you need more (it's great dissolved in hot tea), but to be avoided if you need less.

May 12, 2012
Rich102 in Home Cooking

Nine Cuisines, One Dish Each

1. Italian: Pizza Napalitano

2. Indian: masala dosa. No, wait, chicken tikka. Or biryani. Too many to choose.

3. Mexican: cochinita pibil or fish tikinchik

4. Chinese: shrimp in black bean and garlic sauce, made spicy

5. Thai: chicken Panang curry on steamed broccoli

6. French: cassoulet

7. American: pulled pork, well-smoked, with a Memphis-style bbq sauce

8. Middle Eastern: lamb couscous (agree with OP on the "lots of harissa")

9. Eastern European/Russian: pork goulash on fresh spatzle

Apr 13, 2012
Rich102 in General Topics

Is there such a thing as a "bad" banana; or to put it another way, is there such a thing as a "really good" banana?

//Am I missing something?//

Yes, like most of us with limited selections to choose from. I was in Hawaii recently and sort of pigged out on the local apple bananas. They were about 2/3 the size of the typical supermarket bananas (at least the biggest ones were-- there was a considerable range of sizes), perhaps just a bit thicker for their length, and very tasty. Similar flavor, just more intense, although if I let them get ripe enough there was a little of the apple flavor that gives them their name. (The stores also had big yellow bananas from Ecuador. Seems silly when they can grow bananas locally.)

Locally here in the Chicago area I can occasionally score some red bananas at Indian markets, and the little yellow ones at Mexican markets. The little yellow ones (niƱos) can be pretty good, but you have to eat half a dozen to get as much banana as one of the large yellow ones.

For more than you want to know about bananas (and several other types of tropical and subtropical fruits) you should visit, a web site run my Ken Love, who has been studying fruit that will grow there for many years. For bananas, go to and page down to the "Going Bananas!" section. He's put together some posters of various fruit, one of which is "Big Island Bananas with new images" (use your browser to increase the image size). Several of the other clicks in Going Bananas! have pictures, too.

The mango and avocado sections are also very interesting.

Too bad the powers that be make it so difficult for Hawaiian produce to be shipped to the mainland. I had a locally grown mango there that was the best I've ever had.

Feb 03, 2012
Rich102 in General Topics

Salad Pizza - WTF!!

There used to be a pizza place in Puerto Morelos (Q. Roo, Mexico) that served a "pizza nucho", which was a pizza place's response to the Yucatecan snack panuchos. I don't recall the construction exactly, but IIRC the pizza dough was slathered with refried beans (in a panucho, a tortilla is puffed and split, then filled with a small quantity of refried beans), and topped with the chicken and maybe the pickled onions. I think there may have been a little cheese (not typical of a panucho, but, hey, this is pizza) and maybe some of the tomato-based red sauce often served with panuchos. After baking, the avocado slices and salad went on top. They used the Yucatecan version of spinach (Mayan spinach, chaya) for the salad. I think they served it with some appropriate habenero salsa. It was a tasty version of Italian-American/Mexican fusion. I miss it.

Oct 14, 2011
Rich102 in General Topics

What to cook with cast iron skillet in oven?

You might want to try subbing some quick oats or Quaker/Mothers Oat Bran Cereal. I've used the latter in some recipes; it has quite a bit of floury content, so should work pretty well, perhaps as a complete substitution.

Jul 26, 2011
Rich102 in Home Cooking

Using Up That Jar of Capers

There was a recipe in Bon Appetit back in 1998 that has become a favorite in our house, "Pork Medallions with Mustard-Caper Sauce" (recipe at Excellent way to use up capers.

An interesting alternative to capers in some dishes is pickled green peppercorns. They look pretty much the same (a little smaller), but of course have quite a different flavor.

Sometimes I'll take a can of cannellini beans and make a sort of Italian tapa from them, adding olive oil, crushed fennel seed, garlic, capers (or green peppercorns), a small tomato, some green herbs (usually either oregano or basil, dried or fresh), white wine, and some grated cheese (or some combination of most of those ingredients, cooks whim). Sometimes a little smoked Italian sausage.

Not difficult to use up a jar of capers. :)

Jun 12, 2011
Rich102 in Features


My wife got some prepared coconut shrimp a while back, Trader Joe's I think, and it wasn't terrible, just too sweet a coating. But starting with uncooked shrimp and a good recipe the dish should be a lot better. (We're starting to do shrimp at home again-- for a while it seemed that every time we bought shrimp, even at supposedly reliable places, that either the whole batch would be too old or a few shrimp in the batch would be over the hill. Of course, we're far from where the stuff is caught here in a Chicago suburb, so it's probably always going to be a gamble.) It is the sort of thing to do in a wok set up for deep frying, though. Let us know if you find a good recipe.

One of the nice things about using a rack in the wok is that things stay warm, unless you're doing more than a rack full.

Jun 12, 2011
Rich102 in Home Cooking


We use our wok for deep frying. You can get a semicircular rack that fits inside the wok (search Amazon for "tempura rack" for a picture) that allows the oil from stuff just fried to drain back into the wok. Ours is a 12-inch, so it doesn't take much oil (but you can't fry much stuff at one time) unless you fill it fairly deep. And deep-frying helps keep a good cure on the wok surface.

Jun 10, 2011
Rich102 in Home Cooking

Ginormous Jar of salsa

I don't know if the Costco salsa is a fresh salsa or not, but when I have leftover pico de gallo I cook it briefly, then freeze it for later use as a sauce for tamales.

May 05, 2011
Rich102 in Home Cooking

What to cook with cast iron skillet in oven?

I've used a cast iron skillet upside-down in a very hot oven with the broiler on to bake Indian naan. Next best thing to a tandoor.

Preheat the oven and pan to the highest heat, then turn on the broiler (assuming you have the sort of oven with the broiler element/burner in the main oven chamber) and let it heat some more. Form an oval of naan dough, moisten one side, pull out the rack with the pan on it, and slap the dough, moist side down, onto the pan bottom. Push the rack back in, wait 45 seconds or so, pull it out again momentarily to brush the naan with a little butter, then give it another 30 seconds or so under the broiler. (Give the process your complete attention-- at the high temperatures involved the bread can burn in a few seconds.) When the bread is done, separate it from the pan with a spatula (the long skinny ones work well for this), and pull the bread out with tongs or a fork. Push the pan back under the broiler and close the oven while you form the next piece.

Just be careful not to burn your hands...

My favorite cornbread is basically the Crescent Dragonwagon Dairy Hollow House Skillet-Sizzled Cornbread recipe with a bit more cornmeal and less flour than in the original recipe, made with stone ground whole grain cornmeal.

May 05, 2011
Rich102 in Home Cooking

Chefs choice

Years ago, I used to have lunch at a Chinese place pretty often. It was small, with the husband the chef and the wife waiting tables. Fairly often, I think usually when they weren't too busy, she'd ask me, "Chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp?" I'd name a protein and she'd go off to the kitchen to put in the order and get my soup. Then later I'd get a plate of something, usually not on the menu, and often the sort of thing they'd cook at home. It was always fun to see what they would come up with, and I was never disappointed.

Apr 01, 2011
Rich102 in General Topics

Made pomegranate molasses now what do I do with it?

There are many versions of muhammara, with a wide variety of ingredients. My first experience with the stuff and the one I still like best is made with red bell peppers (skins removed) and includes many of the same ingredients as this recipe (although in different proportion). The bread is separately turned into bread crumbs and added as necessary to achieve a reasonable consistency for a dip. I think the pomegranate molasses is essential and contributes to the great flavor of the dip.

2 large red bell peppers
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 T hot pepper paste (or finely chopped chili, or 1/4 tsp cayenne)
3/4 C toasted breadcrumbs
3/4 C walnuts, ground
3 T lemon juice
2 tsp pomegranate syrup
1 T yogurt
1 to 2 tsp ground cumin seed
salt to taste
1/4 C olive oil

Dec 17, 2010
Rich102 in Home Cooking

Harissa - should it be so bitter?

I've been using "Dea" brand Harissa paste (made in France) as a base for the sauce, using a recipe from The New Vegetarian by Colin Spencer, and I've never noticed a bitter taste. The recipe calls for 4 tsp of the paste to be mixed with over three cups of tomatoes, lemon juice, and lime juice (plus several spices and some sambal oelek) and comes out nicely hot and very flavorful. The other ingredients could mute any bitterness in the paste.

Unfortunately, when I Googled "Dea harissa", I found a UK item from their Food Standards Agency stating that containers with a best by date up thru 21/1/2006 are "contaminated with the illegal dye, Sudan I." So I guess I'd better get some fresher stuff.

Oct 22, 2010
Rich102 in General Topics

What is the Best Condiment You Ever Had?

There are so many. Some of my favs are North African Harissa, Indian Coconut Chutney (the Indian stores have a type frozen in small containers that's excellent), and Greek skordalia. Bufalo brand chipotle sauce is pretty good, too.

Oct 09, 2010
Rich102 in General Topics

Chocolate and Sea Salt Recipes

//Who knew that Chocolate and salt would taste so good together.//

Ah..., anybody who's ever had a chocolate-dipped pretzel? Of course, they're not in the same league with the things discussed in this thread, but they a r e good.

Aug 27, 2010
Rich102 in Home Cooking

A Skilletful of Fried Apples

My mother, who had spent some time in Kentucky, made fried apples every fall when a particular one of our trees was in season. It was a seedling of unknown ancestry which resembled a Jonathan, and the apples fried up soft, but without falling apart into a mush. She fried 1/4-inch thick slices in butter, and sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on them as they were getting done.

I do mine the same way (except I usually include some ground cloves with the cinnamon when mixing the sugar). Sugar to taste; it doesn't take a lot with most apples. I'm not too fussy about what kind of apples I use-- if they get a little mushy, that's okay. They keep well in the refrigerator and freeze well, too. They go nicely with pork. It's a good dish to do if you have a bunch of apples you need to use up.

May 20, 2010
Rich102 in Features

what to do with a big bunch of basil, not pesto!

That approach works with dill and epazote, too. Since those come in big bunches and get used sparingly, I lay them. stems all to one side on a strip of wrap 12 to 18 inches long. Then I cover that with another sheet of wrap before rolling tightly. That way when I want to use a little, I don't have to defrost the whole roll.

With dill, especially, if I take time to separate out the coarse stems, I'll sometimes just freeze it in a single roll with all the dill together in the center, then shave off some from the end when I need a little. That works for things that are going to get shredded finely. (It's even easier to shred when it's frozen.)

May 07, 2010
Rich102 in Home Cooking


I like it as a dip, with chunks of pita. I think you could do a more elaborate dip with a layer of some soft white cheese (cream cheese, goat cheese, soft feta) spread with ajvar, perhaps with some toasted pine nuts sprinkled over it. You could probably also use it as a base for something resembling muhammara-- it would be easier than preparing the peppers yourself. But just by itself as a dip it's good, at least IMO.

BTW, in some brands it comes in both hot and mild versions.

Sep 25, 2009
Rich102 in Home Cooking