Archives for April 2011

Questions for cooks: Baking for two and sharing extras with friends

Reader Ali submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I love to bake, but my husband and I don’t need to be eating 2 dozen cookies. I love to give them away to our friends and neighbors, but I don’t want them to have to bring dishes back. What can I do to take baked goods to our friends and keep them fresh and looking pretty without cluttering my house with disposable goods?

My first thought is, “Why are you making two dozen cookies at a time?” Sharing with friends and family is fun — it’s certainly one reason why I bake — but it’s not necessary every time you want to fire up the oven.

Make up the dough like you would normally. Scoop onto a cookie sheet or into a small baking pan the amount of dessert you and your husband plan to eat that day. Bake up those goodies (if necessary, adjusting the baking time as appropriate for the smaller baking pan). And, immediately freeze the rest of the dough.

If you’re freezing cookie dough, I scoop it out of the mixing bowl and make it into a tube shape. I wrap the tube in parchment paper like a piece of hard candy, and put it in my freezer for up to six months. Cut discs off the still-frozen dough log as you want them and bake up only the number of cookies you desire each time. Don’t forget to tightly roll the dough back up and return it to the freezer after cutting off the discs.

For other types of doughs, I line the container I plan to use for baking with a piece of parchment paper (do NOT substitute wax paper) and pour in the appropriate amount of dough. Then, I put the pan and the parchment paper in the freezer. When the dough is frozen solid, I remove the pan and put the formed dough and parchment in a reusable food storage container. Mini cakes and breads are wonderful this way. I just drop the parchment paper and frozen dough into the pan when I’m ready to bake the mini-cake or bread and adjust the baking time for the frozen contents (usually this involves cooking the dough at a slightly lower temperature with a longer baking time).

If you’re still interested in baking extras for your friends and family, I simply recommend wrapping things in parchment paper and delivering them like little packages. Sadly, the parchment can’t be recycled, but it will cut down on people having to return your containers. Or, show up at their door with a container of yours, and just ask to put the goodies in one of their containers before you leave. This method would certainly cut down on waste.

Thank you, Ali, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Check the comments for even more ideas from our readers.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Homemade ricotta on a Thursday night

When it comes to cooking, the use of homemade ingredients will consistently generate the tastiest results. Looking to make french toast? Bake your own brioche. Wondering which vegetables taste best in your salad? The ones you grew yourself. By extension, the most delicious stuffed manicotti starts with uncomplicated homemade ricotta cheese.

Look up the word “simple” in the dictionary and you may find a photo of ricotta cheese along side it. In the cheese making world, you can’t get much simpler, especially when you consider the time and effort put into creations like aged cheddar or bleu. This simplicity makes it great for preparation in your own home, requiring only a few ingredients and minimal attention.

To help understand the process of making your own ricotta, check out this handy visual guide by thehungrymouse.com and this super simple microwave method by seriouseats.com.

Think of all the wonderful things you’ll create from your own lovingly homemade ricotta. In addition to the base recipe, I’ve also listed a few simple creations that I’ve enjoyed while using up my last batch.

Whole Milk Ricotta

(this method makes roughly 2 cups)

  • 2 quarts whole milk (do not use ultra pasteurized or the cheese won’t form correctly)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • three layers of cheese cloth

Set a colander over a large bowl and line it with the cheese cloth.

Over a burner set to medium, heat the first three ingredients until simmering, stirring constantly. Add the lemon juice, then bring the heat down to low and stir gently for another two minutes, or until the milk has curdled.

Pour the curdled mixture into the cheese cloth lined colander. The cheese will gradually drain while cooling.

Five minutes of draining will give you a moist and easily spreadable cheese that’s a joy to be eaten while still warm.

Thirty minutes of draining will give you a denser cheese that still retains some moisture and body, increasing in richness.

Two or more hours of draining will produce the densest cheese, with a crumbly texture and even richer mouth feel.

After draining the cheese to your preferred consistency, seal the cheese in a container and refrigerate.

Baguette Topped with Warm Ricotta, Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper

pictured above

Slice a baguette (I used a loaf of ciabatta) into 1/4 inch slices and top with a hefty smear of still warm ricotta. Drizzle with a fruity extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle on it some chunky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Delicious!

Basil and Ricotta Stuffed Manicotti with Garlicy White Bean Cream Sauce

(serves four)

  • 1.5 cups homemade ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped basil leaves
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed white beans and garlic (recipe here)
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 3 Tbs water
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 7 or 8 manicotti shells, cooked until al dente
  • 3 large roasted tomatoes, chopped (recipe here)

Preheat an oven to 350ºF.

Combine the first six ingredients in a large bowl, then pack this mixture into a plastic freezer bag. Use scissors to cut off one corner of the bag, then pipe the ricotta cheese mixture into each of the cooked manicotti tubes. Reserve finished tubes.

Add the mashed beans to a sauce pan over medium heat, using a potato masher to further pulverize any lumps. Slowly whisk the cream and water into the beans, then sprinkle on the thyme. The consistency should be thin but still chunky.

Pour roughly 1/4 cup of the bean sauce into the bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking dish, then add in your finished manicotti tubes. Pour the rest of the bean sauce over the manicotti, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes.

While resting, dice the roasted tomatoes and microwave for one minute or until heated through.

Top each manicotti with the roasted tomatoes and extra basil. Enjoy with a table of smiling faces.

Cooking a whole, delicious chicken

Cooking an entire chicken, especially if you haven’t done it before, can be daunting. Even the buying process can be frightening. Once you’ve done it a few times, though, it stops being traumatic and becomes incredibly simple (and extremely cost effective).

Buying

If you’re going to have a dinner party and really wish to impress your guests, I recommend following Harold McGee’s advice and “choose dry-processed or kosher poultry, preferably not shrink-wrapped. Their skin is noticeably thinner and crisps faster because it hasn’t been plumped with water.” If you have been told by a doctor to cut back on sodium, these types of birds are also what you should buy. A chicken from a farm that was killed that day and not processed at all is also a wonderful way to go.

Dry-processed chicken you might get from an organic or kosher market is typically more expensive than other wet-processed chicken because it takes about three days longer to get ready for sale. When I’m making a chicken for the family on a weeknight, I usually just buy a free-range chicken from my grocery store that was fed a vegetarian diet and is antibiotic and hormone free. Mostly, I get these chickens because it assuages my guilt, but part of me feels like they do taste better than caged chicken. Get what you want and what meets your budget.

Preparing

I always start the preparation process by putting on a pair of disposable gloves. I highly recommend this step especially if you are not accustom to handling raw meat. With gloves on, you are usually more confident in your movements because there is less of an “ick” factor.

Next, I run the bird under water. This washes off extra salt and liquid (and sometimes stray feathers) that are on the skin of the bird. After rinsing, I pat the bird dry with paper towels and immediately dispose of the paper towels.

I prefer to remove the spine of the bird when I prepare a chicken so it can lay flat to cook for a more consistent heat. When you prepare a chicken this way, it is called a spatchcock. If you are unfamiliar with this preparation, I highly recommend watching this video.

I use a pair of poultry shears instead of a knife when cutting out the spine of the chicken. It makes getting through bones and joints easier for me, and I don’t ever worry about pieces of chicken flying up toward my face the way it sometimes works when I use a knife. After using them, I immediately put the shears into the dishwasher (that my husband has opened for me with his non-chicken cutting hands).

Cooking

Warning: If you’re looking for a healthy chicken recipe, this recipe is not it. This recipe is blissfully delicious.

  • 1 whole frying chicken
  • 1 Tbl canola oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 shot cognac or dry red wine
  • 1 Tbl salted butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbl dried tarragon (or fresh, if you have it)
  • 1 tsp crushed rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 Tbl canola oil over medium-high heat (do not allow oil to reach smoke point). Place spatchcock back-side down in heated oil for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip spatchcock over and heat for another 4 to 5 minutes until skin is brown.

Move bird to a French or Dutch oven and briefly set aside.

Pour fat out of frying pan (wipe up any fat that has dripped onto side or bottom of frying pan) and return the pan to the stove top over medium heat. Pour in a shot of cognac and deglaze the pan. Add butter, black pepper, tarragon, rosemary, and thyme. Saute the spices briefly as butter melts, and then pour in the cream. Heat the pan mixture for a minute or two until warm throughout, and then pour over the bird in the French or Dutch oven.

Roast in oven for 45 minutes, uncovered. When finished, the bird’s legs and wings should be very floppy when you poke them with a pair of tongs. Serve immediately. You may wish to lightly salt and pepper the chicken and sauce to finish on the plate.

This recipe works well with sauteed mushrooms and roasted vegetables. Based on the size of your bird, it can serve anywhere between 2 and 4 people. It might also be the best tasting chicken you’ve ever had.

Enter to win our Le Creuset French Oven giveaway

Today I am excited to announce that SimpliFried is giving away a Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5 1/2 Quart Round French Oven, which typically retails around $240. Plus, if you are the winner of our giveaway, you get to pick from the nine available colors.

You’ve read in the past about our love for enameled cast iron French ovens, and now you can register to win one of your own.

Here is some more information about the Le Creuset French oven from the product description:

  • 5-1/2-quart round-shaped French oven made of enameled cast iron
  • Cast-iron loop side handles; black, phenolic, stay-cool lid knob
  • Heavy, tight-fitting lid helps lock in heat, moisture, and flavor
  • Washing by hand recommended; oven-safe to 350ºF
  • Measures 10-1/5 by 10-1/5 by 4-1/2 inches; limited lifetime warranty
  • 10-1/2 pounds

How to enter to win: Entering to win is simple. All you need to do is follow us on Twitter. If you aren’t already on Twitter, create an account and then follow us @SimpliFried.

On Tuesday, May 3, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. EDT we will randomly select one winner from our Twitter followers. You only need to follow us once (and please, only once), to participate in the giveaway. If you already follow us on Twitter, then you are already participating and need not do anything more. The winner of the giveaway will have 24 hours to respond to a direct message from @SimpliFried to claim the new French oven. Failure to respond within 24 hours will disqualify you from the giveaway.

I am so exited about this giveaway and know someone will be very happy with the French oven. Remember, you have until 10:00 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, to follow us on Twitter for the Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5 1/2 Quart Round French Oven giveaway

Questions for cooks: Skin-on or skin-less chicken?

Reader Rhonda submitted the following to Questions for cooks about chicken:

Do I remove the skin prior to cooking or after? I know you get better flavor (I am told) cooking with the bone but the skin contributes fat as well as flavor. I want the best flavor but want to limit animal fats as well. As a new cook who is cooking my own food for better health I need to know when something is critical for flavor or authenticity — I want it to taste like it was meant to taste and when it can be eliminated. I don’t need to be stringent with fats, just be aware of my choices, cutting back on animal fats where it doesn’t matter so I can use it where it does.

For a more authentic and succulent chicken flavor, you would leave the skin on during cooking.

When you cook a chicken with the skin on it, always start with a high heat so the fat can “fry” the skin (this works with both roasting and frying). You’ll know the fat is working to fry the skin when the skin turns a golden brown. Once you have a nice browned skin and the fat is no longer in a solid form between the skin and the meat, you should turn the heat down and slowly roast the bird at a lower temperature (the lower temperature helps keep the meat from getting unbearably dry).

Initially cooking the meat at a high temperature keeps most of the animal fat in the skin, which you can then choose to eat or not. If you cook the meat at a lower temperature from the very beginning, the fat won’t fry the skin but rather liquefy and soak into the meat. Some of the fat will do this even at high temperatures, but considerably less so.

For a less authentic flavor, but a less-fat option, you can remove the skin before cooking. However, chicken cooked without skin is prone to getting rubbery and very dry, so you’re more limited in your cooking methods.

I like to use skinned chicken in soups because boiling (or poaching) the meat with liquid keeps it tender. Also, any fat that made it into the soup can be skimmed off the surface when the soup cools. Grilling is also good because the hardwood charcoal infuses a smokiness into the meat. Adding breading and/or sauces can also help to spice up the flavors of skinless chicken.

Buying ground chicken is an alternative, too. With the addition of spices (and a splash or two of hot sauce), you can form patties and make a nice chicken burger.

The one method I don’t recommend for you is making a confit. In this method, you literally pack the chicken in fat before cooking. It tastes incredibly yummy, but it isn’t going to help you on your fat-reduction quest.

If I were you, I’d switch up the routine and keep things in moderation. Some times, I’d keep the skin on and then choose not to eat the skin at the meal. (Actually, I’d probably sneak a couple bites of the skin, but mostly I would pick it off.) Then, other times, I would cook the chicken without the skin.

Next week, I’ll have a post explaining how I cook a whole chicken. This might also be of some help to you.

Thank you, Rhonda, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Please check the comments for even more chicken-related cooking suggestions from our readers.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Love the onions twice

Maybe Jim Morrison of The Doors was thinking of onions when he sang “Love Me Two Times.”

Love me one time
Yeah, my knees got weak
But love me two times, girl
Last me all through the week

If you treat onions well, they’ll return the favor. In this recipe, I let them first mellow out and develop sugars in some sizzling oil. Next, they are joined by some tomatoey friends in a relaxing hot tub to soften and find even more happiness. The onions are grinning ear to ear by the time they hit your plate.

I like this two-step cooking method, especially because all that onion goodness combines so well with the intensity of the roasted tomatoes. Finished with garlic butter, this dish packs a lot of flavor despite the simple ingredients.

Sauteed Garbanzos with Roasted Tomatoes over Whole Wheat Couscous

(makes three servings)

  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • 1 15 oz can organic garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, medium dice
  • 6 large roasted tomatoes, chopped (recipe here)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup whole wheat pearl couscous, cooked per package instructions (I like Riceselect)
  • 2 Tbs compound garlic butter (recipe here)

Heat canola oil over medium high heat, then add the drained garbanzo beans. Cook for two minutes, stirring frequently. Next, add the diced onion with a pinch of salt and pepper. Continue cooking for another three minutes, then add the tomatoes and water. Stir to combine, then cover and adjust heat to a simmer or around medium low. Cook for five minutes, then turn off heat, add in garlic butter, and stir to combine.

Serve over the cooked couscous, garnished with your favorite hot sauce or some fresh herbs.

Compound Garlic Butter

  • 1 stick salted organic butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat, then add the garlic with a pinch of salt and pepper. Adjust heat so the garlic is barely sizzling and cook until it becomes translucent, or roughly six minutes.

Let cool, then add to a food processor with the butter and puree until mostly homogeneous.

Transfer to a serving container and chill for later use.

Guide to frozen liquid desserts

Have you ever wondered what differentiates ice cream from gelato? Sorbet from sherbet? With this handy guide, you’ll wonder no longer.

Ice cream: By FDA regulation, ice cream sold in stores has to contain at least 10 percent milk fat and has to contain less than 1.4 percent eggs by weight of the finished product. (If it contains more, it is required to be called “frozen custard” or “french ice cream” or “french custard ice cream”.) Typically it is milk fat (cream, whole milk, condensed milk, etc.) and sugar, churned with a dasher to incorporate air into the mixture and frozen at a relatively quick speed to promote small crystal production. (This is why ice cream frozen with liquid nitrogen is so velvety, because the crystals are so small.) If you buy ice cream in the supermarket, it has to weigh at least 4.5 pounds per gallon because ice cream manufacturers used to inject so much air into their product that it should have been called ice air instead of ice cream.

The difference between soft serve and hard ice cream is that soft serve is served immediately after churning (never being stored in a freezer) and has a significant amount of air pumped into it (sometimes up to 50 or 60 percent of its total weight).

Frozen yogurt: As far as the FDA is concerned, “frozen yogurt” is ice cream (since yogurt is a milk fat). Yogurt is typically the primary type of milk fat used in frozen yogurt, but other milk fats can be legally included, and usually are. Because yogurt has a high level of lactic acid from its fermentation process, it tends to lend a more tart taste to the end product. This flavor difference is likely why “frozen yogurt” appears on the product label instead of “ice cream made with yogurt.”

Fat-free frozen yogurt and fat-free ice cream are usually made with corn syrup, which can mimic the presence of milk fat. Also, these fat-free products usually contain twice the amount of sugar to help with freezing (letting the product freeze at a higher temperature) and flavor (without the yumminess of fat, the desserts taste bland so manufacturers pump up the sugar content).

Frozen custard: As mentioned above, frozen custard is like ice cream but with more than 1.4 percent eggs by weight. When making custard at home, be sure to cook the egg mixture first before churning it or use pasteurized eggs. You don’t want to give you, your family, and friends salmonella poisoning.

Gelato: Similar to ice cream, but with less milk fat (usually between 5 and 10 percent by weight). Think of it like ice milk. It’s on the frozen dairy scale between sherbet and ice cream.

Sherbet: A product containing milk fat and churned like ice cream, but with 1 to 2 percent milk fat. It also is usually fruit- or alcohol-infused. Sherbet feels and looks creamy, though, because it either has eggs (like custard) or gelatin added to it.

Sorbet/Italian ice/Water ice: As far as I can tell, sorbet, Italian ice, and water ice are the same products in the U.S. They’re made with a simple sugar syrup and fruit juice, fruit puree, or alcohol (no milk). Think of them like a snow cone, but churned like ice cream instead of shaved.

Granita/Glaces/Shave ice/Snow cone/Slush: A frozen mixture of simple sugar syrup and fruit juice, fruit puree, alcohol, or other popular drinks (like coffee or soda) that is shaved before serving. Granitas typically don’t contain milk fat.

A couple other favorite frozen liquid desserts:

Wendy’s frosty: It is similar to a milk shake, but containing corn syrup as a main ingredient, and many other things not typically in a milk shake you might make at home. From Wendy’s website: “Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Cream, Whey, Nonfat Dry Milk, Cocoa (processed with alkali), Guar Gum, Mono and Diglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Calcium Sulfate, Disodium Phosphate, Artificial and Natural Flavoring, Vitamin A Palmitate.”

Tasti D-Lite: This popular New York chain’s product is similar to a soft-serve gelato, but containing water as its main ingredient with corn syrup as its fourth. Also contains a lot of ingredients we don’t typically use when making homemade gelato … like guar gum and locust bean gum. The ingredients for its vanilla product, from Tasti D-Lite’s website: “water, nonfat milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, guar gum, locust bean gum, carrageenan, vanilla, lactase.”

Bananas Foster ice cream

One of my favorite desserts is Bananas Foster. I love the flavors of bananas, vanilla, and caramel mixed together, so I decided to combine them into a truly decadent ice cream creation.

Bananas Foster Ice Cream

  • 3 bananas
  • 2 Tbl white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea or lake salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • Splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp clear, white rum (optional)
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon just before serving (optional)

Turn on your oven’s broiler.

Cut bananas in half lengthwise and distribute them in the bottom of an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle 2 Tbl of sugar evenly over the top of the cut bananas. Set under the broiler until the sugar is bubbly, melted, and slightly brown (this is 5 minutes in my oven).

Move the bananas to a plate to cool and wipe down the cookie sheet. Lay down a piece of Silpat on the cookie sheet, and evenly pour 1/2 cup of sugar onto it. Stick the sugar under the broiler, and heat until the vast majority of the sugar is melted and has a light caramel color (about 4 minutes in my oven). Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and turn off the broiler. Drag the back of a silicon spatula through the sugar while it is still a liquid to make sure all of the sugar has melted.

Evenly sprinkle the 1/2 tsp of coarse sea or lake salt onto the top of the caramel while it is still tacky and warm.

While the caramel finishes cooling, cut up the bananas into the size of quarters and squeeze them through a potato ricer. If you don’t have a potato ricer, use a potato masher. You don’t want to liquefy the bananas, rather you want for them to still have a somewhat recognizable consistency. (Sadly, the bananas do not look very appetizing at this point.)

Break up the sheet of caramel into large pieces and put it into a zip-top bag. Using a rolling pin, make the caramel shards the size of confetti. Gently fold the bananas and caramel bits together, and then put them in the refrigerator.

In your ice cream maker, combine 2 cups of heavy cream, 1 cup of sugar, and a splash of vanilla. Churn the liquid mixture until finished, making the base vanilla ice cream. At this point, add the banana and caramel mixture by the spoonful to the ice cream. Let the maker continue to churn the ice cream until well blended (about a minute in my machine).

At this point, if you choose, add the optional 1 tsp of clear, white rum until it is mixed into the ice cream (about 30 seconds) and then turn off your ice cream maker. Scoop the ice cream into an air-tight container and freeze until hard.

Very lightly sprinkle with cinnamon just before serving.

Banana cream pie ice cream

Follow the recipe above, except omit the steps relating to the creation of the caramel and, obviously, the rum. Instead, substitute two sheets of broken up graham crackers for the caramel.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

Like many teenagers, I worked in an ice cream shop a couple nights a week while I was in high school. The job taught me a great deal about the working world and an insane amount about ice cream.

At the first signs of spring, it can be easy to run to your grocery store and pick out a tub of mass produced ice cream from a freezer. What you get from the grocery store usually isn’t bad — but it’s also not very good. Even the premium brands can be gummy or watery or flaky (and really amazing ice cream shouldn’t be any of these things).

Stopping at your local ice cream shop is also a hit-or-miss endeavor. National chains have ice cream on par with the mediocre stuff you can get from the grocery store, and small mom and pop places might be serving up the exact stuff you buy by the tub. What they sell is cold, and that is often all you can say about it. Freshly made, small batch ice cream is difficult to find at an ice cream shop, and when you do find it you usually have to pay twice the price for it compared to other places.

Making ice cream at home is typically less expensive and far superior in quality and flavor than anything you can buy from a shop or in your grocery store. It’s also super easy to make up a batch if you have an automatic ice cream maker ($40) or an ice cream attachment ($65) for your stand mixer. If you have an ice cream maker that requires you to pack it in salt or crank it by hand, it’s time for an upgrade. Another benefit of making ice cream at home is that you tend to eat less of it in one sitting than you do the other stuff. I think this is because you want to make the ice cream last longer, and also because it is richer and fills you up faster.

In addition to having an ice cream maker that is simple to use, I also recommend having a few other items to help you through the ice cream making process:

  1. David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop ($12). His recipes are a wonderful place to start and become comfortable with making ice cream at home.
  2. A bookmark in your web browser to David’s ice cream recipes online.
  3. An air-tight ice cream storage container (with a lid) for your freezer. The last thing you want is for your amazing ice cream to get freezer burn.
  4. Quality cream. I buy the freshest cream I can from a local dairy when I make ice cream. If you don’t have a dairy close to you, get the best stuff you can from your grocery store. Talk to the person who stocks the shelves in the dairy department to get you the freshest of the fresh from the back coolers.

This week I’ll reveal a couple of my favorite ice cream recipes to get everyone geared up for summer. A few practice rounds now will make you ready for the ice cream rush in the coming months.

Questions for cooks: Egg substitutes

Reader M submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

My son is allergic to egg. I’m wondering if you know if any substitutions for eggs you can use in recipes such as meatloaf and meatballs that use egg as the binder. I’m also looking for substitutions for eggs in the standard breading procedure like you would find for breading chicken and other things. Thanks!

Since we talked about restricted diets earlier in the week, I thought it might be nice to continue this conversation into Friday’s column.

I don’t have any personal experience with an egg allergy, so I talked to a number of my vegan friends who abstain from eating eggs. They said that they use a number of alternatives for binding agents that will likely go over well with your son.

About 1/4 cup of blended tofu, combined with a few drops of soy sauce or barbecue sauce can be a nice replacement for an egg in meatloaf (my vegan friends weren’t hip on the meat part, but all confirmed it works with vegetableloaf). Mashed potatoes and tomato paste (also good for meatloaf) work well for savory dishes, and apple sauce is a great replacement in sweet baked goods. The consensus was that 1/4 cup of these items all work for one egg, but that you may need to tweak things a little for each recipe.

For breading on pork chops or chicken, I use buttermilk. I don’t actually like using eggs for breading, as I find the egg too heavy. I like a light, crispy texture and the buttermilk does this. I highly recommend the Crispy Pan-Fried Pork Chop recipe from Cook’s Illustrated as a primer on amazing breading.

Thank you, M, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Please check the comments for even more suggestions from our readers on alternatives to eggs.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Using science to go beyond simple cookie dough

Ah, the science of baking.

While Alton Brown does a great job incorporating science into all of his shows, my favorite chemical explanations happen on Good Eats: Chips for Sister Marsha. This is the episode where he alters the classic Nestle Toll House cookie recipe in three ways to create impressively different variations. I was won over with this episode, especially because he explains everything so thoroughly (with help from Cookie Monster’s brother). If you haven’t seen it, you can find the episode on YouTube: part one and part two.

At some point while watching the episode, it occurred to me that I could take these three recipes, order them by their ingredients, and highlight the scientific baking explanations within each grouping. Having the recipes in one place would also make it easy to try them all and contrast their differences. As a result, I made a chart to put in my recipe binder to help me in all my future cookie baking endeavors and I thought you might benefit from it, too:

If you’re interested in printing a copy of the cookie chart, you can download the PDF.

Reducing stress associated with restricted diets

Special diets can add an extra level of stress to meal planning and preparation. As the mother of a child with a deathly peanut allergy, I’ve certainly experienced some frustrations as I’ve navigated the peanut-free world.

Even if someone in your home doesn’t have a food allergy, you might invite a guest into your home who does. Or, you may have a roommate or child who is a vegetarian or you may invite a vegan to dinner. No matter the reason for the restriction, it can be frustrating when the diagnosis is new or you’re not accustom to making a meal without a specific ingredient.

The following are tips that can help you to relieve some of the stress associated with preparing a special diet or meal:

  • Ask questions about the diet restriction to learn as much as you can. Whether you’re asking a doctor or the person with the food restriction, it’s best to be as prepared as possible before setting a/the menu. You don’t want to accidentally make your guest or family member or roommate sick, or offend him.
  • Ask for cookbook recommendations or sites with recipes that work with the special diet. Doctors often have handouts prepared for restrictive diets and people with the special diet will know where to turn. Asking for recommendations can save you a lot of time and worry.
  • Unless the diet is somehow not recommended for others, have everyone eat the special diet. If one member of your household can’t eat gluten, have a gluten-free home. If someone can’t eat tree nuts, have a tree nut-free home. The same goes for reduced sodium diets. My husband and I have stopped eating peanuts and foods produced in plants where peanuts are present, and neither of us have faced any consequences. If you’re just cooking a meal for a guest with a limitation, make the entire meal safe or respectful for all your guests.
  • Have empathy. It’s very likely the person with the diet restriction doesn’t wish she had the diet restriction. She probably wishes she could eat chocolate or pine nuts or whatever food she can’t have. Think about how frustrating every meal must be for this person.
  • Imagine you’re on Iron Chef and instead of an ingredient you have to include, you’re given an ingredient you can’t include. Thinking of the meal like a challenge can keep things light and feel less like a burden.
  • If the diet restriction is for you or someone who lives in your home, know that the first three months of following the new diet will be the most difficult. After three months have passed, the restricted diet will be an old habit and you’ll barely experience any stress because of it.

I have a good friend who follows strict Orthodox Kosher laws, and when it’s our turn to host her family we have found it easiest to go out to eat at observant restaurants instead of trying to produce a meal in our kitchen (we only have one set of plates, one stove, etc.). It works well because the burden isn’t always on her to cook for us if we want to get together for dinner, and it’s simple for us to eat at a Kosher restaurant. It’s stress-free for everyone involved.

Do you live with someone who has a restricted diet? What do you do to reduce the stress of meal planning and preparation? Share your advice in the comments.

Beans and garlic, sitting in a tree

A few weeks ago, I watched a Rick Bayless cooking show where he mashed together a can of black beans with crushed garlic as a spread for a sandwich. This idea is so simple, yet I’d never thought to try it. I had to make some.

Sure enough, the garlicy flavor had made sweet aromatic love to the beans, creating a pungent spreadable base with plenty of uses.

Below are just two recipes for this delicious combination, but there are probably 46 million other uses as well. My guess is that mashed lentils would also work, and mashed garbanzo beans with garlic is pretty much half-way to hummus.

What’s important is to balance the richness of the garlic in the beans with fresh and bright sour flavors like tomato, hot sauce, or citrus.

Mashed Beans and Garlic

  • 1 or 2 minced large garlic cloves (I like to use a press for this so the garlic flavor really distributes)
  • 1 15 oz canned beans, or roughly 1 1/2 cups soaked dry beans and liquid
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Add oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt to a pan over medium heat. Cook for about 30 seconds to elicit a strong garlic flavor. For less intensity, adjust heat to medium low and cook until garlic becomes translucent, or about 3 minutes.

Dump in beans and liquid, then stir to combine. Use a potato masher to break up most of the beans, creating a thick chunky paste. Cook until heated through, or roughly 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust seasoning as desired, remove from heat, and reserve.

Black Bean and Garlic Breakfast Burrito with Cotijo Cheese and Lemon-Tomato Salsa

(makes 3 burritos)

  • 1 large tomato
  • 2 medium lemons
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3 burrito-size tortillas
  • 3/4 cup reserved mashed black beans and garlic
  • 1/2 cup crumbled cotijo cheese
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 3 large eggs, beaten until fully combined

Dice the tomato into small cubes and place in a small bowl. Using a sharp knife, cut away the peel from the lemon including all white parts, then cut out the fleshy wedges between each membrane. Dice these wedges then combine with the tomatoes and salt and pepper in the bowl. Mix well.

Keep the tortillas warm and pliable by wrapping them in foil and keeping them in a low temperature oven.

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a small non-stick pan, then scramble the eggs with a dash of salt and pepper.

Lay out the tortillas and spread each with the beans, then top with cojito cheese, scrambled eggs, and the salsa.

Add your favorite hot sauce to finish. Enjoy and follow up with some nice mint tea to improve your newly acquired garlic breath.

Cannellini Bean and Garlic Bruschetta

(makes roughly 3 cups)

  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 8 large leaves of basil
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 Italian baguette, sliced and toasted or grilled
  • reserved mashed Cannellini beans and garlic

Dice the tomato into small cubes and chiffonade the basil into thin strips, then combine in a bowl with the vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

Smear the baguette slices with the mashed beans and garlic, then top with the tomato mixture. Add extra basil and enjoy while discussing the finer points of Leguminosae and Allium Sativum.

Questions for cooks: Single-serving cooking

Reader Alice submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I’m single and not very brave or experienced in the kitchen. My staples are takeout food and frozen dinners. I’d like to eat at home a little more often, but I could use some tips on how to make that work for my situation.

One challenge I face in particular is if I cook a meal designed for four, then I end up with wasted food or having to eat the same meal four times in a row. I’d appreciate suggestions for things I can cook and then freeze in individual portions, and the best methods for storing/reheating (mini plastic containers? Ziplocs?).

My first recommendation is to avoid strict recipes for awhile and just start experimenting in your kitchen with single portions of proteins and vegetables. Walk through the produce area of your grocery store and only buy as much of a vegetable that you would eat in a single meal. Get one small zucchini or a handful of fresh green beans or one Russet potato. Then, head to the fish and meat counters and get just one steak or one pork chop or one fish fillet.

If don’t already own one, also get an instant read thermometer. When you cook the meat, you’ll want the thermometer to help you figure out when the food is done. Consult the Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures list if you are unfamiliar with these temperatures.

The next step is to pull out a skillet and give cooking a try. Wash the vegetables and skin them or cut them up, if necessary. A dollop of canola oil in the bottom of a medium-heated pan and a little bit of salt over the vegetables is usually all you need for cooking them. The exception to this would be a potato, which you might prefer to bake.

Once the vegetables are done to your liking, put them on your plate, give the pan a quick wiping, add another dollop of canola oil, warm the pan back up to a medium heat, and put your protein in the pan. When the meat is finished, put it on your plate and enjoy your meal.

After a few weeks of the single protein and vegetable method, you’ll likely become bored and want to move on to more interesting meals. With your new-found confidence, though, you can branch out to more exciting things. I’ve just started reading the book Ratio, and I think it would be a good match for you, too. The book gives you the tools to adapt recipes so you can make just the amount you need. You can look at a recipe for 10 people and figure out how to make it work for one or two.

As far as storing and reheating are concerned, the best method is the one you will use. In the first few months of exploring your kitchen, it might be easiest for you to store food in zip-top bags (don’t reheat in a zip-top bag, though, just put the food on a plate or in a pan). The more comfortable you become, the more interested you might be in buying something like the Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid storage set (which is BPA-free) or a glass storage set like the Anchor Hocking TrueSeal containers. Label all the containers (you can use a reusable label or a piece of masking tape) with what is inside the container and the date you put it into the freezer. Freezing is a perfect idea for things like casseroles and other items that are difficult to reduce to a single serving size.

Thank you, Alice, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Be sure to check out the comments for even more helpful advice from our readers.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Pantry staple: Spice Rub

A go-to meal in our home is what we call “spicy fish.” We’ll take a fillet of a mild fish (salmon, tilapia, mahi mahi), squeeze lemon juice over the top of it, rub in some Spice Rub (see below), wrap it up in a square of aluminum foil, and bake the fillets in the oven at 325ºF until their internal temperature reaches 145ºF (usually 20 to 35 minutes, based on the thickness and type of fish).

We serve the fillets alongside whatever vegetable is in season, and have a very simple and nutritious meal.

To make the meal even easier, we keep the Spice Rub on hand at all times in the house. It’s as much of a staple as salt and pepper for our family. A few times a year we mix up a batch, store it in a shaker, and use it regularly on meats and vegetables.

Our spices typically come from Penzeys, since their store is near where we live. But, we’ve started to find good flavors from Morton and Bassett spices, which are sold in many national chain grocery stores. I like making our own spice mix instead of buying one that is already mixed because we get to tweak the recipe to our specific preferences. Also, since we have most of the spices already in the cupboard, it’s less expensive to make than it is to buy.

Spice Rub

Based on Emeril’s “Rustic Rub” recipe, but with my family’s twist using Penzeys spices

  • 8 Tbl smoked Spanish paprika
  • 3-1/2 to 4 Tbl cayenne red pepper powder
  • 4 Tbl freshly ground Tellicherry Indian black pepper
  • 7 Tbl garlic powder
  • 3 Tbl California toasted onion powder
  • 7 Tbl Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbl dried (broken leaf) Mexican oregano
  • 3 Tbl dried French thyme

Mix ingredients well and store in a sealable shaker.

I recommend you play with the recipe to find exactly the combination that works best for you. Ours is hotter than Emeril’s version, but it isn’t so hot as to make anyone cry.

Establishing a kitchen routine

We have a saying in our home: “A meal isn’t finished until the kitchen is clean.”

Since all three members of our family typically eat three meals a day at home, keeping the kitchen clean is especially important. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have dishes to use the next day or any counter space to prepare our food.

We haven’t always been great at keeping the kitchen clean after a meal. Our first couple years of marriage my husband and I were downright awful with the chore. We weren’t dirty (food made it back into the refrigerator and dishes were rinsed), but we weren’t tidy. As a result, we ate out at restaurants a great deal.

Once we trained ourselves to clean up immediately after a meal, we started eating at home more often, and mealtime stress was reduced.

Not every family has the same needs, but this is how our family handles kitchen chores:

Breakfast

  • First adult to kitchen puts tea kettle on stove top to boil and unloads clean dishes from dishwasher.
  • Second adult to kitchen gets son booster seated and bibbed, makes son’s breakfast, and makes adults’ coffee.
  • Both adults make and eat their breakfasts while son continues to eat breakfast (our little man is a slow eater).
  • One adult loads breakfast dishes into the dishwasher and wipes down counters.
  • Other adult cleans son, table, son’s bib, wipes down son’s booster seat, and sweeps floor.

Lunch

  • One adult makes lunch for family and puts preparation materials in dishwasher as finishes with them (pots, pans, etc.).
  • Other adult gets son in booster seat and bibbed. Sets table.
  • Everyone eats.
  • Adult who set the table loads lunch dishes into the dishwasher and wipes down counters.
  • Other adult cleans son, table, son’s bib, wipes down son’s booster seat, and sweeps floor.

Dinner

  • One adult makes dinner for family (typically the adult who didn’t make lunch) and puts preparation materials in dishwasher as finishes with them (pots, pans, etc.).
  • Other adult gets son in booster seat and bibbed. Sets table.
  • Everyone eats.
  • Adult who set the table loads dinner dishes into the dishwasher, wipes down counters, and runs the dishwasher.
  • Other adult cleans son, table, son’s bib, wipes down son’s booster seat, and sweeps floor.

Because there are three of us eating three meals a day at home, we have to run the dishwasher every night. If you eat one meal a day at home, you and/or your family might not have to run the dishwasher as often.

If one of us needed a packed lunch every day, the lunch would be made at the same time dinner was being made. This responsibility could either belong to the person making the meal or it could belong to the person setting the table. If you have teenage children, they could easily make lunch while parents make dinner.

The idea is to get into a routine where everyone is participating in meal preparation and cleanup, and at the end of the meal the kitchen is ready for the next time someone wishes to cook.

What is your/your family’s kitchen routine? Are your responsibilities clearly defined so the process is efficient and helpful? If you don’t have a mealtime routine, could you/your family benefit from having one? Share your experience in the comments.

Can there be comfort in kitchen routines?

I love coffee.

But, even more than drinking coffee, I love the routine of making coffee.

Every morning I follow the exact same coffee routine. I heat water on the stove top in a tea kettle until the water boils. Then, I let the water sit briefly until it cools to 197ºF. The point at which the water is the perfect temperature, I pour it over freshly ground beans in my AeroPress:

I stir the water and grounds 10 times with a non-reactive stirrer, then depress the plunger at a steady pace to extract a beautiful cup of coffee.

I find great comfort in the daily making and drinking of my cup of coffee. It might seem ridiculous to you, especially if you aren’t a coffee drinker, but you likely have a food or drink or other routine in your life that has a similar effect on you.

Kitchen routines have both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, an after-meal clean up routine keeps the kitchen clean and clutter free. The routines of making your favorite meals or getting ready for a dinner party can be just as soothing as making that morning cup of coffee. On the negative side, routines can also imply that you’re in a cooking rut — you make the same things over and over again because you’re busy and the creativity isn’t flowing.

What are your favorite kitchen routines? Do you love making a morning cup of coffee like I do? Do you look forward to the time alone with your thoughts each night after dinner while you’re doing the dishes? Share your favorites (and your least favorite routines) with everyone in the comments.

Questions for cooks: What knives do I need?

Reader Jackie submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I’m getting married this summer (!!) and my future husband and I have plans to register for gifts April 16. We like to cook, but our equipment isn’t very good. We have already agreed we want to register for a good knife set, but neither of us know what makes a knife good or what we need. Can you help?

Jackie, I’ve actually dedicated a couple of this week’s posts to talking about knives because I knew I would be using your question for today’s column. It’s hard to give a good answer about knives in just one post. Knife buying can be confusing, even for those of us who have purchased them before.

I’m of the opinion that you only need three knives to work efficiently in your kitchen:

  1. A chef’s knife (I prefer a 10″ blade but you might like 8″ if you have smaller hands and 12″ or 14″ if you or your future hubby can palm a basketball) — A chef’s knife is the go-to knife in the kitchen with a straight-edge blade. It’s good for slicing and chopping meat and vegetables.
  2. A paring knife (anywhere between a 2″ and 4″ blade) — This short straight-edge blade knife is good for working with small foods and garnishes.
  3. A bread knife (anywhere between a 8″ and 12″ blade) — This serrated blade knife, as its name implies, is best for cutting bread and other items that tend to squish when applied with pressure. I also use mine on tomatoes.

I have more knives than this in my kitchen, though. I also keep:

  1. A boning knife (mine has a 6″ blade) — This straight-edge blade knife is flexible so you can move it along curved surfaces, like around bones (hence, its name). It’s also good for trimming fat and removing gristle and silver skin from meat.
  2. A slicer/carving knife (mine has an 8″ blade) — This straight edge blade knife looks like a large paring knife. It has a stiff blade and is for the purposes of carving cooked meats, like roasts. Some styles have rounded tips and a granton edge. A granton edge has varied thickness on the edge, which looks like a wave or scallop pattern. The waves help to keep what you’re slicing from sticking to the knife as you work.
  3. A ceramic vegetable knife (I use a 7″ blade) — As discussed Wednesday, this type of knife is perfect for cutting fibrous vegetables.
  4. Poultry shears — A good pair of shears will cut through animal joints, pizza crust, and pretty much every thing you throw their way.
  5. 8 serrated steak knives — Obviously, they’re great for using on steaks. They’re also wonderful utility knives around the kitchen when you’re not entertaining guests.
  6. A mandoline — If you slice a large number of items at a time and want perfect cuts each time, a mandoline can make fast work of it. Personally, I love waffle fries, and the waffle slicer attachment is the easiest way to make them.

Many people also have Santoku-Bocho knives in their kitchens. Santoku knives usually have a granton edge, like a carving knife might, to keep food from sticking to it. People use them in place of or in addition to a chef’s knife.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and I hope I was able to help you navigate the knife-buying process. Please check the comments for more advice from our readers. Thank you, Jackie, for submitting your question for our questions for cooks column.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

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