Archive for the 'Cooking Tips' Category

Sandwich-less, Nut-less Lunch Ideas

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Corduroy– My pseudo-granddaughter’s school lunch options consist of less-than appetizing processed foods.  She’s not a big sandwich eater.  One sandwich she does like is peanut butter and jelly–but nuts and nut butters are banned from the class due to allergy concerns.  Any ideas for what a 5-year old might enjoy at lunch that would travel well? –CLS

Depends on the five-year-old, I suppose.  Here’s a list of ten ideas.  Anyone else can free to leave a comment and start at number 11.  I bet we can come up with at least 25 ideas all told.

1) Hard boiled eggs.  Perhaps with a little packet of salt and a little packet of pepper.  Aurora would say forget the salt and pepper and give her a packet of mustard.  Greg would say a jar of hot sauce and a beer, but you’ll probably want to ignore his advice.  I’d say it’s fun to crack ‘em on your head.  Ramona would say watch out, your mom might have gotten distracted and put a raw egg in your lunch instead.

2) Whole Fruit.  such as grapes, apples, plums, peaches (in a small plastic container to reduce bruising), etc.  Bananas also tend to bruise.  Cut fruit tends not to travel well.

3) Vegetables.  Carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber sticks are some of the more obvious ones.  Depending on the kid, you might want to try broccoli florettes, leftover corn on the cob, cherry tomatoes, leftover roasted sweet potatoes, and so on.

4) Yogurt.  Hold on a second while I climb up onto a soap box. And please, please, please, buy your children real yogurt, and if they want flavors in it, mix it up with actual fruit, or even jams containing actual fruit, or real maple syrup or something like that.  I look around the grocery store at the crap that is marketed to kids and I think it’s (pardon me while I curse for added emphasis to show how strongly I feel) fornicatingly wrong to sell artificial colors and flavors to children who are too young and inexperienced to know what it is that they’re actually eating.  Kids get poisoned every year because they drink the green or the blue or the yellow dish detergent hat has a picture of fruit on the outside of it because they’re used to being fed food that has those shockingly false colors included in them. Beautiful, interesting, and flavorful natural colors can be added with inclusions such as blueberries, cherries, strawberries, peaches, and so on. Encourage and guide your children to eating food that is actually food.

5) Muffins. And think beyond blueberry, banana, etc. How about carrot; zucchini; bacon and cheddar; or ham, scallion, and goat cheese?

6) Bagels. I like cream cheese on mine. I’ve seen people eat them with peanut butter. You can’t do that. How about sunflower seed butter? I’ve also seen hemp seed butter, which I understand is actually nutrient-dense and a legitimate food, as opposed to something you’d spread on one of Alice’s brownies.

7) Lunch meat rolls. Spread a piece of ham or turkey with mustard. Top with a slice or two of real cheese (not that individually-wrapped plastic crap), roll, and hold in place with a toothpick. Also tasty is mortadella wrapped with cheese and a spear of dill pickle.

8 ) Cheese and crackers. See above rant on using real, actual cheese as opposed to something called ‘pasteurized process cheese food product.’ You might also use small pieces of lunch meat. You could portion each up in its own small tupperware and house those in a larger tupperware for a ‘lunchables’ style lunch that would actually be worth eating. (do you catch my drift on the level of absolute feces that gets slung toward our children by large corporations?)

9) Sardines. I know, it depends on the kid. And the kid’s classmates. But I totally take sardines in to work for my lunch and I think it’s grand. A tin of fish, a sleeve of crackers, sume mustard and/or hot sauce. Okay, so this is probably more a tip for moms and dads who take their lunches to work than grade schoolers who compare lunches and trade things and ridicule each other mercilessly.

10) Cookies. Preferably homemade so that you can control what goes in them. And can even do things like add oatmeal into the chocolate chip cookies in place of the forbidden walnuts. And spice them with a touch of cinnamon and some allspice. And use real butter instead of hydrogenated vegetable oils. That’s a good cookie. And because it’s made with real ingredients instead of false ones it’s the kind of sweet treat that kids ought to eat.

How I Grill Potatoes

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Many take pride in their grilling skills.  They point to their ribs or their steaks as evidence of their prowess.  I do well with these items, but where I take particular pride is in my ability to grill a perfect potato.  The proper attention can elevate this ‘aristocrat in burlap’ to its proper relevance on the final plate. Follow these tips to craft perfect potatoes every time:


King Cake Question

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011


I’ve tried making your king cake twice now and it just doesn’t work.  The dough never rises.  You say it’s easy to work with but I disagree.  Someone else had the same problem and you advised using a bench scraper to transfer the dough to the baking sheet.  I don’t think you understood their question.  It was the recipe not working, not an equipment failure.



I feel your pain and I know the solution.  Last year when I tried following my own recipe it came out poorly.  This year, it was a joy.  the difference?  the yeast.  This recipe requires instant yeast–not just active dry.  Exactly why, I don’t know–but I can vouch for the difference.  Sorry for the confusion, and happy Mardi Gras!

Time Saving Cookie Tip

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I recently discovered that one can make perfectly legitimate drop cookies without creaming the butter and the sugar in an electric mixer.  Simply melt the butter and allow it to cool while you combine the eggs and sugar by hand.  Then, stir the butter into the egg/sugar mixture.  Once this is done, mix your wet ingredients with your (already combined together) dry ingredients.  Stir in any inclusions (raisins, chocolate chips, etc.) last.

Biscuits N Gravy

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

I like to make square biscuits because there’s no waste, no scrap, no re-rolling and re-cutting (especially because the re-rolled and re-cut round biscuits inevitably wind up tougher than the ones that were cut on the first go round).  I use butter, not shortening, and leave the chunks rather large to help yield a flakier biscuit.  Don’t over-knead the dough or they wind up chewy (like re-rolled biscuits) because the gluten has been over-developed.

For the gravy, I browned links of spicy sausage, then cut them into small chunks and finished cooking them.  Stirred flour into their fat to make a slack roux and whisked in skim milk (no need for anything fattier with so much sausage fat already in the mix) until it reached the right consistency.  Simmered a full 30 minutes to cook the starchy, pasty flour texture out, adding additional milk as necessary.  I probably used about a quart of milk all told, but that ratio has to do with how much roux I made.  If you want to make less gravy, pour off some of the fat before stirring in the flour—or use a lower-fat sausage.  I finished the gravy with a touch of fresh thyme.

The gravy would go equally well on French toast, if you don’t feel like making biscuits.

To reheat leftover gravy, heat a small amount of milk in the bottom of a saucepan and whisk the cold gravy into the hot milk in small portions, waiting for one addition to combine and heat before adding the next.  This method should allow you to get the gravy hot without breaking the emulsion, which would lead to pools of fat rising to the top and makes for an unsightly sauce.

What I’ve Been Up to

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Introducing the superlatively adorable Angstrom Sharrard:

He’s already lending a hand in the kitchen:

I’ll likely be updating even more semi-regularly than I have been, but please check in for new content (the goal being at least once per week), and email me any cooking questions I might be able to help you with!

Cooking hint of the day: Replace vanilla extract with rum and add ground cinnamon, allspice, and ginger to your favorite blueberry muffin recipe for a fantastic jolt of extra flavor!

Stock Tips

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Buy low, sell high.

No, not that kind of stock—the culinary kind, created by simmering bones and vegetables in water to create a flavorful liquid that can serve as the basis for your soups and sauces.  Homemade stock correctly made is almost guaranteed to be a higher quality than the canned/boxed alternative you can buy at the store.  Though it takes a bit of effort to start/ finish the process, the middle is effortless.  The act of making stock is its own bit of pre-planning that makes your future culinary endeavors (soups, sauces, braised meats, pilafs, couscous, etc.) easier to execute and higher quality in their results.

These tips can help you to make a better stock more easily:


Mmm… Short Ribs

Friday, April 9th, 2010

So, yesterday, I did in fact use the accidental tomato soup as braising liquid to finish my ‘boiling beef’ short ribs.

One of the big pains of serving short ribs on the bone is that the diner is then forced to navigate massive amounts of fat and bone to discover the tender and flavorful meat encased therein.  That’s part of why I went for a 2-day cooking process on these particular ribs.  Day 1, I seasoned, seared, and then put the ribs, covered,  into a cool (250F) oven for about 4 hours so that they could slowly steam and their connective tissues could start to loosen up and melt.  I refrigerated the ribs overnight.

Day 2,  I began by picking the meat off of the bones so that I could serve the good parts unencumbered by the scraps.  This is a long process, about an hour to get the meat from four ribs.  But it’s worth it, because while the ribs are cold, they can be handled easily and as a result, I could get a higher yield from each as opposed to searching for morsels with a fork and knife at the dinner table.

It’s also a messy process: a combination of tearing meat from fat with both hands and using a sharp knife to cut through thick chunks of fat to get at the meat encased therein.  Therefore, it’s absolutely essential to the overall success of the mission that the chef in charge of the operation maintains a healthy fear of the knife blade as s/he is using it: greasy hands on the knife handle have a tendency to slip.  The other option would be to wear a path in the floor between the sink and the work surface washing your hands before each time you pick up the knife blade.  Come to think of it, that may be the safer way to go about this operation.

Anyhoo, meat stripped from the bones, I put it into an oven-safe stockpot and added the quart of accidental soup that remained from the night before.  As it came to a boil, I added potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, and a bit more of my coffee steak rub.  Then, seeing that the vegetables weren’t quite immersed in the cooking liquid, I added red wine to make up the difference.

I put the lid on the container and slotted it into a 250F oven for a couple of hours.  No need to look after it while it’s in the oven simmering.  the low heat surrounding the pan makes certain that there aren’t any hot spots and the food won’t scorch.  It just does its thing—and assuming you’ve put proper care into the initial steps leading up to that simmer time, you can take care of whatever else you might need to get done and know that you’ve got a gourmet dinner awaiting you.

Accidental Tomato Soup

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Sometimes the best results in the kitchen come when, like a jazz musician, you are willing to improvise along familiar themes and discover new interpretations while the notes are being played.

Yesterday, I started a 2-day cooking process on some beef short ribs.  I seasoned the meat with some of my coffee steak rub, and seared it in a large cast iron pan.  Meanwhile, I put a quart of chicken/ham stock, a pint of applesauce (both pulled from my freezer), and a cup or so of red wine into a saucepan to heat up, intending to use them as braising liquid for the beef.

Once the meat had browned, I transferred it to a roasting pan with a rack in it (like I already mentioned, there’s a lot of fat in these ribs, and I didn’t want them frying in it) and slotted them into a 200F oven for a long, slow, low cook.  Then, I deglazed the cast iron pan with the stock/sauce/wine mix.  I decided I wanted a little more kick to the braising liquid so I sliced a jalapeno pepper and a habanero pepper into thin strips while the liquid reduced out and sauteed them in the fat that remained in the pan once the liquid was gone.

In the meantime, i decided that a brown stock (stock that contains caramelized tomato product) would be preferable as a braising liquid, so i opened up a small can of tomato paste and caramelized it in with the hot peppers, adding a little bit of water into the mix to keep the paste from scorching (this is a fairly standard procedure known as making a pincage–it helps to remove the tinny taste of canned tomato paste and develops a fuller flavor).

Pincage having been developed around the hot peppers, I combined the stock/wine/ applesauce mixture with the pincage and realized that I had a tomato soup staring me in the face.  Thick, rich, and hearty–this soup was good!  Aurora and I finished off about half of it for dinner last night, accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches.  I’m planning on using the other half as braising liquid when I finish off the boiling beef for dinner tonight.

Mongoose Meat?

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

I’m looking for mongoose cooking recipies, & cooking history, please let me know if you can find anything.

—Cobra’s Revenge

Dear Cobra Commander:

After a brief bit of research, I can understand why you’d want revenge on a mongoose.  Most of the references I’ve been able to find to the species is in terms of their skill at fighting cobras (e.g. Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki Tikki Tavi).

In terms of eating Mongeese, though, it was tough to find reliable sources.  As Mongeese live throughout Africa and Asia, I checked all cookbooks I could find that describe cuisine from those continents, and found zero reference to Mongoosophagy. The internets provided little additional information.  The first reference I came across to butchering/ eating mongoose was guidelines for some sort of a role-playing game; hence, I’m hesitant to describe it as a credible resource.

After a bit more digging, though, I came across a reference from the scholarly journal Mammalia.  In #73, published March 2009, there is an article titled “Mongoose species in southern Benin: Preliminary ecological survey and local community perceptions.” Among the more interesting purposes the article describes mongooses being used for is “the marsh mongoose… whose head [8% of interviewees recognized as being] used to consult the oracle.”

As far as food purposes go, 60% of interviewees recognized the mongoose as being edible, with some species “considered food delicacies because of their rarity,” though it is worth noting that “11% of interviewees did not appreciate the mongoose meat because of its unpleasant musky odor coming from their scent glands.”

Therefore, should you trap a mongoose and butcher it for meat purposes, I would recommend that you identify and remove said scent glands as quickly as possible upon dispensing with the animal so as to reduce their influence on the character of the meat.  From there, unfortunately, you are on your own as the article provided no culinary guidance in terms of whether the Beninese tend to roast or stew their mongoose.

I figure the safest bet would be to stew all but the tenderloins: it is safe to assume that the tenderloins will respond well to roasting as they are little-used muscles.  Otherwise, though, a meat that can be roasted will come out fine when braised, but a meat that should only be braised would be destroyed by the roasting process.

Hope this helps.  if you actually eat a mongoose, please write up the experience for me and i’d be glad to post it as a guest post on this site.