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I’ve moved – check out my new site!

9 Aug

After creating Spice Woman Cooks, I decided to change the name and design. Please come visit my redesigned site. I have a whole passel of simple and delicious recipes that will help you show off your newfound skills as a confident home cook.   For example, you can make my own mom’s chicken cutlets  or try my basil sun-dried tomato and goat cheese appetizer . Lots of advice too – like how to find the best tomatoes and even how to use your cooking and baking skills to help your romantic life.

Hope to see you soon.

Regards, Laura a/k/a SpiceWoman a/k/a MotherWouldKnow

PS – Follow me on twitter at @MotherWouldKnow and like me on Facebook too.

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What’s the best way to reheat pie – microwave, toaster oven or regular oven?

10 Aug

Have a slice of leftover pie in the fridge, just begging to be warmed up and devoured?

strawberry rhubarb pie, waiting to be re-heated

strawberry rhubarb pie "fresh" out of the fridge

Summer is the best time for all kinds of luscious pies. Sure, it is difficult to leave a good slice of pie for tomorrow, but sometimes it does happen. Then, you have the quandary of how to recapture that “fresh out of the oven” warmth.

Learn from the sad lesson of my loyal taster and husband, Kevin, this past week. Last weekend, I experimented with rhubarb for the first time and ended up with a yummy strawberry rhubarb pie.  Kevin secreted one piece in the back of the fridge.  When he pulled the leftover pie out and popped it into the microwave two days later, guess what happened? He got rubber crust and mushy filling.  Tragedy!

Now you know – don’t microwave pie.

Sure you can find web sites that claim reheating pie in a microwave is fine – but if you don’t trust me, try it. Or check what the veritable microwave queen, Barbara Kafka said in her landmark book, Microwave Gourmet “…starches in wheat flour … absorb liquid in the microwave oven; they tend to turn gluey… The baking problem is compounded by the tendency of eggs to become rubbery quickly in the microwave oven.”

So be smart – use a toaster oven or regular oven preheated to 350 degrees (maybe 10 minutes– or a bit more if the pie is straight from the fridge, but be careful on timing) – for re-warming pie.

Then when the pie crust is crisp again and just warm enough, add a scoop of ice cream and you’ll be in heaven.

Using lemon skin to add flavor

4 Aug

lemon

add lemon skin, also known as rind, peel or zest, to add flavor

Adding lemon taste usually means adding lemon juice. But what if you don’t want to add liquid?  You can use the skin (also called the rind, peel or zest) of the lemon – a wonderful ingredient when baking or cooking seafood or veggies. You can add lemon zest by grating it (isn’t “zest” such a lovely term?) or by cutting it in thin strips.

To grate or cut – that is the question. The answer as to which to do depends on how you want to use the lemon zest. If you want the zest to disappear into the other ingredients, then grate it. If you prefer to see it as a visible component of the finished dish, then cut it in thin strips.

How to grate lemon zest?

  • First, choose the right gadget – a grater. There are several types. The most common types are shaped like a box, a flat rectangle, a cone type, and a barrel. For lemons, the easiest one to use is a flat rectangle made of metal.
  • Then, wash the lemon with running water and dry it.
  • Now the moment of truth. Hold the grater on a plate at about a 45 degree angle and (to catch the zest) move the lemon up-and-down the grater once or twice. Don’t grate past the yellow part – the white skin underneath (the “pith”) is rather bitter. Then turn the lemon slightly to a fresh spot and repeat until you’ve got the right amount of zest.
lemon skin or rind or peel or zest grated

how to grate lemon skin or rind or zest

How to cut lemon rind?

  • The gadget – a carrot peeler.
  • Clean the lemon. (Don’t skip this unless you like eating something that has been sitting unwashed on the grocery produce counter and then rolling around unwashed in your refrigerator.)
  • Make it happen. Shave the lemon rind off the lemon in strips.

    lemon skin or rind or peel or zest shaved

    using carrot peeler, take skin/rind/peel/zest off the lemon

Take the strips and cut them as thin as you would like. Usually you want very narrow strips (1/8 of an inch perhaps) so that the taste of lemon is not overwhelming when someone eats a piece.

lemon skin/rind/ peel/zest shaved and cut

after you shave off the skin/rind/peel/zest, cut it into very narrow sticks

And did I mention how elegant and delicious dark roast coffee or expresso is with a small piece of shaved lemon and just a tad of sugar?

lemon skin/rind/peel/zest with expresso

just the way I've enjoyed expresso in NY's famed Little Italy

Fixing mistakes: can this dish be saved?

28 Jul
cooking disaster in the making - or can food be salvaged

Is dinner ruined? Maybe you can salvage it. (photo: andydr)

Ever had a cooking disaster?  Food ruined  – or so you thought – and thrown out, leaving you with no dinner?  Don’t be shy about admitting disasters – it’s all in how you recover from them. Ever heard about the time Julia Childs dropped a potato pancake on TV? (Maybe you heard the apocryphal version and thought the story involved a turkey? It was only a potato pancake and it didn’t land on the floor, but I still love the image.)

Let’s talk about how to salvage a near disaster and enjoy the result.  If your first reaction is to throw it all in the trash and go out, think again. You may have other options.

Two questions to ask after you realize that a disaster is in the making determine whether you can move to plan B.

1) Did the food spoil in any way that would make it unsafe to eat? If you left the mayonnaise-based potato salad on the counter for two days, don’t even think about saving it, the dish is most likely so bacteria-laden at this point, it’s only good for weighing down your trash can.

2) Did the disaster so ruin the taste of the ingredients that anything you make with them will only make you and your guests grimace?

Here are a couple of alternative scenarios to the old heave ho that won’t get you in trouble with either food-safety or the taste police:

  • If you burn rice, scrape out the rice that wasn’t burned – all except the bottom of the pan – and make fried rice.
  • If you overcook a hamburger, chop it up and use it as a base for chili.
  • If you steam veggies too long and they go limp, then add them to a soup – either a vegetable broth or chicken soup like the kind sold in boxes  – maybe with cooked rice or noodles.

Should you take a cooking/baking short cut – or not?

28 Jul
pie recipe from aunt takes time if you do not take short cuts

Aunt Sylvia's recipe did not have short cuts - but maybe you can take a few

For those who don’t want to devote an entire evening – or weekend – to making dinner, consider whether there are shortcuts, and if so, whether they would be worth taking.

I’m not doctrinaire on this issue. I like some short cuts (and some recipes that use short cuts are among my favorites), while I find others to be not worthwhile.  Generally if I don’t like a short cut it is because the short cut is too expensive or I think it results in a dish that has “shortcut” written all over it.

Now mind you, if I’m eating alone and I’m desperately hungry, there are a few short cuts I’m willing to take that I’d like to keep strictly out of this discussion.  But we all have secrets, don’t we?

Imagine that you’ve invited your latest crush to dinner and plan to make Aunt Sylvia’s apple pie for dessert. You’ve never made a pie before, but you’re sure it can’t be that hard as Aunt Sylvia is sweet, but not too swift. You’re running late and realize the recipe requires refrigerating the crust multiple times. Should you skip the refrigerating steps or buy a store-bought crust?

  • You may have more college degrees than Aunt Sylvia, but she probably knew what she was doing when she told you to refrigerate the dough.
  • If you’ve never made the recipe before, you don’t know how the dough should work and won’t know if skipping those steps has made a difference until it’s too late.
  • There are several types of crusts you can buy. Some brands are refrigerated, and can be put in your own pie dish so you can make them look home-made.
  • If the pie filling is home made and fresh, there’s a great likelihood that the pie will be delicious even if you use a store-bought refrigerated crust.

Need I say more?

What are spices good for anyhow?

28 Jul
Spices used in cooking

Photo: Library of Congress

True confessions time.  Our family lore is that my father’s ancestors were spice merchants.  In fact my own father was in the spice business for a while. But I grew up in a spice-challenged household. When my mom set up housekeeping, she got spices but I never saw her use any of them except cinnamon.  She kept spices so long that when she moved after my own kids were born, I found her spice shelves filled with containers that she bought when I was a kid.

If you like well-spiced food – or just love a few foods that must use more than salt and pepper to give them that delicious oomph you crave, then let’s get down to business.  Not all spices give food a hot taste – some are delicate but when used properly, give recipes an unmistakable and delectable smell and taste.There are many spices to learn about and many types of cuisine for which spices are indispensable.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Learn how to use a few spices at a time.
  • Decide which ones to learn about based on what type of food you like. Find recipes for dishes you crave and see what spices they use.
  • Spices typically lose their “punch” over time, so don’t buy them in large quantities unless you know that you are going to use them in the next few months.
spices sold in bulk

Spices sold in bulk Photo: Adam Baker

Secrets of “in season” cooking

28 Jul

Have you noticed that locally produced food is all the rage?  Do you wonder whether you should use in season produce you see at farmers markets, but you’re not sure what to buy or how to use it? Keep in mind that locally produced fruit and vegetables are sold in grocery stores, too  – not just farmers markets.

Go ahead – try some of that luscious food you see in bushels or on tables at the farmer’s market or marked with a big sign in your grocery store. Using locally produced ingredients could make your food taste infinitely better and even save you money without any extra work.

If it sounds too good to be true, try two tests.

First – the taste test. Buy a tomato that is mass-produced, far away from wherever you live and looks ripe. Now buy a ripe tomato that is local, either at a grocery or farmer’s market. Take a bite from each. Can you tell the difference?  I’m betting that the local tomato tests a lot better than one that traveled thousands of miles.

Second – the price test. Go to a reasonably large grocery store and check out the price of a fruit that is out of season locally and is imported from a climate where the fruit can grow at this time of year. For example, now (mid-late summer) you may find Granny Smith apples in US stores that come from New Zealand or Australia.  A few months from now, when the fruit is in season in your area, price the same fruit grown locally. Usually, the imported, out-of-season produce (fruit or vegetable) will be more expensive than the locally grown version that is available only in season.

So, if you make an effort to eat fruits and vegetable that are in season and produced locally, you’ll probably enjoy their taste more and may well find them less expensive than out-of-season produce shipped from far away.