Tag Archives: Cooking Tips and Hints

Last Minute Budget Holiday Gift Ideas

20 Dec

Howdy!

It never fails: Five days until Christmas and one of two things always happened to me; I either ran out of money, time or both. I always forgot to give a gift to my dog walker, the neighbor who took in my mail if I forgot to, or to that customer that always remembered my birthday.  So, I  would always reach into my bag of tricks and produce a hand-made gift that always seemed to mean more to the recipient than anything I could buy. You can do the same thing without spending too much time, money or both!

1) Do you have a signature dish? Do you have a killer lasagna recipe? Do people salivate at the mere thought of your spinach dip?  Give a coupon that promises you will make the dish for them at a later time.

2) Another variation on this theme is to make your famous ( or infamous) BBQ sauce, Sugar cookies or other treats and creatively package them as gifts.

3) Instead of giving gift cards, give gift certificates toward your recipient’s favorite restaurant. Times are tough, and people are foregoing eating out in order to save money. They will appreciate the chance to get out of the house.

4) If your friend or family member loves  a good Bloody Mary, make your own mix. Package the mix in a mason jar and present it along with a small bottle of vodka for a homemade Bloody Mary kit. Here is a great recipe that I’ve had success with. I developed this recipe some 15 years ago when I worked at a funky little bistro in Federal Hill.

Bloody Mary Mix

1 32 oz. bottle of tomato juice

Juice of two limes

2 tsp celery salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

2 tbl. prepared horseradish

1 tbl. Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay (optional)

Mix together and package in either 12 oz. or 16 oz. mason jars and decorate with ribbon. Makes just about 3 – 12 0z. jars or 2 –  16 oz.

Here’s an easy sweet treat you can make for friends and family and the kids can help with this. I have loved chocolate covered pretzels since I was a kid and are cheaper to make than to buy. The sweet and salty treats can be made ahead and dressed up with colorful ribbons

Chocolate covered pretzel rods

I box pretzel rods

1 1/2 lbs.  good quality semi-sweet chocolate

1/4 cup heavy cream

2  to 3 cups of crushed candies such as peppermints, heath bars, mini peanut butter chips or  chopped nuts of your choice ( peanuts, pecans, walnuts).

Put together a double boiler by using a medium-sized pot and adding about 3 inches of water.  Using a metal mixing bowl; place the bowl inside the pot, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Set aside.

Chop up candies and/or nuts and place on separate plates. Take a sheet pan and cover  the bottom of the tray with either with parchment paper, foil or plastic wrap and set aside. Sort through the pretzel rods and remove the broken ones.

Chop up chocolate into uniform pieces and place in metal mixing bowl.  Add  the cream to the chocolate. place bowl back on the pot and turn on heat to medium and simmer. Stir chocolate mixture until chocolate and cream are melted .Turn heat to low.

Arrange an assembly line  as follows  pretzels, chocolate, candies or nuts and covered sheet pan.  Dip a pretzel into the warm chocolate and using a fork, coat completely. Remove coated pretzel with a fork and allow excess chocolate to drop off. When the dripping stops, roll pretzel in the candy or nuts and place on the covered sheet pan. Repeat until all of the pretzels are covered. Refrigerate until the coating sets.

Wrap 5 or 6 rods with  colorful plastic wrap and a decorative ribbon.

The point is to give from the heart, not from the wallet. Your homemade gifts will be greatly appreciated.

I will post more ideas tomorrow!

Tandoori-style marinade

20 May

Okay hipsters; I’ve worked on a marinade that will give you great results on the  Foreman-style grill, outdoor grill or oven  . I got the idea from my boss who wanted a recipe for tandoori chicken. I reminded her that although I love all things east Indian; I had no clue about how to make the famed dish. What I did know was this: Tandoori marinade involved yogurt, ginger and garlic and some spices. So I did some R&D over the last two weeks and came up with a recipe that was flavorful and easy.  It is a hybrid of a traditional tandoori marinade in that I added some ingredients that weren’t in any of the recipes I saw.

So, what is tandoori you may ask? Tandoori, like chowder is synonymous with  the cooking implement that its cooked in. Chowders and tandoori are named for the vessel they were traditionally cooked in. Traditional tandoori is cooked in a clay oven, or tandoor. Over time, the cooking implement and the dish became one. This is great for chicken, lamb, pork and beef.

Enough for 2 lbs. of meat

6 ounces of plain yogurt (fat-free is okay)

1 ½ Tbl. chopped fresh garlic

2 Tbl. grated fresh ginger

1 Tbl. fresh lime juice

2 Tbl. chopped cilantro

1 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. coarse grind pepper

2 Tbl.  mild red curry paste

1 Tbl. tandoori seasoning ( see note)

1 Tbl. seeded and chopped jalapeno (optional)

2 drops red food coloring (optional)

Chop and measure all ingredients before assembling. In a glass or other non-reactive bowl, mix all ingredients together and refrigerate before use.

For chicken (legs) and turkey: Remove skin from chicken and cut slashes on both sides. Rub marinade into meat, making sure the marinade enters the slashes. Marinate for at least four hours, no more than 12 hours. 

For lamb. pork and beef: Trim off excess fat around meat, leaving  1/4 inch of fat on the meat. cut deep slashes into meat and rub marinade in. Marinate for at least six hours, no more than 12 hours.

For  skinless chicken breasts: Follow directions for chicken legs and marinate no more than 3 or 4 hours maximum.

If using a Foreman-style grill: Preheat grill and place meat on grill, making sure not to crowd grill and cook according to the recommendations for your grill make and model.

Outdoor grill (gas ): Prepare grill to cook over indirect heat. Spray grill grates not over heat with cooking spray. Preheat grill with top closed. Drizzle meat with a bit of olive oil and cook  meat over indirect heat, turning only once or twice  until you’ve achieved desired doneness.

Charcoal grill: Prepare grill for indirect cooking method. When coals ash over, place grill grate over coals, spray grate surface not over heat with cooking spray. Cover grill until hot, then place meat on sprayed grill surface. and grill, turning once or twice until you’ve achieved desired doneness.

Oven: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Place chicken on cookie sheet and drizzle  lightly with olive oil. Cook in oven for 30 minutes, then check for doneness. Cook longer if necessary.

Note: You can purchase Tandoori seasoning  in your grocer’s spice section or online.

How to Roast Peppers at home

15 Apr

Part One of my Pepper Tutorial:

Part Two

Video Tutorials coming soon!

11 Apr

The Canon FS 100

Well gang, I’ve prepared a tutorial for you.

The issue is that I couldn’t be bothered with such nonsense as reading directions on how to upload said video tutorial to my computer.

I will say that I’m hot on the case, and I will have that puppy uploaded very soon!

The tutorial is how to roast peppers at home. If I’m successful, then I will post a video once a month or so demonstrating different cooking techniques that everyone should have in their culinary arsenal.

See you soon!

CC

Restaurant Week tips

21 Jan

Baltimore is currently celebrating its version of Restaurant Week from January 22, 2010 to February 7, 2010. Many restaurants are offering specials on menu items or prix-fixe offerings at reduced prices. If you have the time and money, this is the perfect time to try a new place out. Here are a few tips to remember when going out.

1). Make a reservation and arrive early– Most of these places are busy and making a reservation and arriving at least 15 minutes prior will ensure a pleasant dining experience.

2). Try something new– Now is not the time to order chicken. If scallops are available and you’ve never had them, try them. Don’t forget that glass of wine; ask the server for suggestions and he may find you a gem.

3). Try lunch as an alternative to dinner-Lunch is a great time to try something new. Portions are usually smaller and are great for the health conscious.

4). Be kind to your server– These people work hard, often with no benefits or other compensation. Tip them accordingly ( 15% good service, 18% great service, 20% for exceptional service). Remember that the discounted meal you enjoy during Restaurant Week would normally cost at least twice that amount other times.

5). If you like a place, go back– Restaurants are a business, and use this time to promote their businesses. If you enjoy a place, show them by giving them your return business.  Your dollars pay the salaries of cooks, dishwasher, porters and many vendors who supply everything from forks to the olives in your martini. This helps our economy and save jobs.

6). Say Thank You– You have no idea what this  simple gesture does for your server, especially if they are busy.

Many participating restaurants are offering a three-course lunch from $20.10 and three-course dinners from $35.10 ( excluding tax and gratuity).

Mangia Mangia!!

Adventures in Baking 3: My Sister’s bread photos

1 Apr

As you well know, I am making bread now because it has become too expensive for me to buy the multi-grained, healthy kind. I have to pinch pennies where I can, so I’ve set limits for  myself when purchasing groceries. I try to only buy fresh ingredients, only when it is profitable to do so.  As far as the bread is concerned, I’ve always wanted to experiment, so here ya go.

I think I have the Honey-oatmeal bread nailed:

oatmeal-breadI scraped together some change ( read couch cushions), and ordered tinned-steel loaf pans from Kaiserware.com.  They were a steal, and the best investment I’ve made in awhile. The oven spring for this recipe was magnificent! My sis wanted white bread, and I knew how to make oatmeal bread, but not white bread. I went to allrecipes.com for this recipe, and halved it. This is the result:

Amish White bread

Amish White bread

This recipe said this loaf was dense in texture, and it was. It didn’t have much oven spring, but my persnikety sister loved it. It has the texture of Pepperidge Farm bread, and was relatively easy to make (although I cut way back on the required sugar).  My brother-in-law loved his bread, and I think they appreciated the effort.

My goal this year is to continue to experiment with breadmaking, and to acquire additional knowlege about it. Besides, it’s relaxing!

Valentine’s day dessert ideas

14 Feb

So you’ve decided on what you are going to serve for you “impromptu” indoor picnic, but are lost for suggestions. What should a budding culinarian like you do, perchance? Well, let a girl guide you through the sea of complicated dessert items. You could always buy something, but what I would like to see you do is to combine purchasing basics with a home made touch.

Fun With Chocolate

Let’s start with a basic chocolate sauce; the foundation to any intitimate celebration requires at least a chocolate fondue or dipped strawberries.

4 0z. bitterweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

2-6 tbl. heavy cream

Break up chocolate by one of two methods: On a cutting board sith a damp towel underneath to stabilize the board, place the chocolate on the board. With a heavy knife, place the heel of your hand on top of the knife away from the blade towards the tip. Take the handle of the knife and with a rocking motion, chip away pieces of the chocolate.

Method Two: Double bag the chocolate in ziploc bags, one inside the other and with a skillet and on a sturdy surface, bash the hell out of it until in small pieces.

In a glass bowl, put the chocolate in along with the two tablespoons of chocolate and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Place in microwave and cook for 1 1/2 minutes and check to see if chocolate has melted. Whisk together with the cream, and if chocolate sauce is too thick for your liking, add two more tablespoons of cream and heat for an additional 30 seconds, and repeat until chocolate is  to the desired consistency

Chocolate Fondue:

Chocolate sauce (made with six tbl. cream)

Fresh Fuit of your choice, either whole ( strawberries0, or peeled and cut up ( bananas, apple, mango, ect)

Pound cake and/or brownies, cut into chunks

wooden skewers

The Chocolate sauce should be on the thinner side for this ( should slightly drip). The good thing about this is, is that the choice is yours what you want to serve. Just make sure that you cut and arrange the fruit on a plate, and prepeare the fruit that will turn brown last. Use the skewers to dip the fruit into the chocolate. Don’t even think about buying chocolate sauce; it’s not the same.

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Chocolate- dipped Strawbwrries

1 pint strawberries, blemish free

chocolate sauce (made with 2-4 tbl cream)

The chocolate sauce should be on the thicker side for this one ( it shouldn’t drip).  Wipe off each strawberry with a damp cloth; inspecting for blemishes, and discarding ( eating ) the blemished ones. Leave the tops on.

Cover a tray with plastic wrap. Grab the tops of the strawberries, and dip the bottoms into the warm chocolate sauce, placing on the tray as you go. Refrigerate until sauce is firm, about 2 hours. Arrainge strawberries in a decorative glass container and serve with whipped cream on the side.

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Fun with Macerated  Berries

1 pt berries of your choice

3 Tbl. or more of your favorite Liquer, or Liquor

-Grand Marnier

-Kirshwasser ( cherry brandy)

-Peach schnapps

-rum, brandy, ect. ( with 1 tbl sugar added to berries)

Inspect berries for blemishes, and discard old and moldy ones. Take liquer and pour over berries.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours;  if using liquor such as rum or brandy, add sigar to berries and follow directions for marinating. Serve over ice cream, on pound cake with whipped cream, with sweetened marscapone cheese, or alone.

There you go. I hope you tell the ones you love how you feel everyday; but if you don’t, here is a great start.

See you Monday!

The CC

Ideas for throwing a Superbowl Party on a Budget

30 Jan

Well, I’m poor and maybe so are you.

But, you want to watch the game with a few friends, and don’t mind having Cletus and the gang over.  Don’t fret; there are ways you can still entertain and do it on a budget. All it takes is some planning, and a bit of creativity.

Have a Pot-Luck Party

There is nothing wrong about pot-luck. Suggest to the masses if they want to watch the game on your brand, spanking-new plasma tv that you bought, they may wanna bring a dish or two. It just takes some coordination, never leave it up to the masses. You are supplying the venue, so provide the paperware and beverages. Guide your guests to what they should provide. Everybody you invite should be willing to bear some cost. Have the guest that can’t cook bring some chips, a dessert or a dip. Tell them to bring enough for the amount of guests you are having.  Tell them if they are briniging a guest, the guest should bring something as well. Nobody shows up empty handed.

Avoid some pre-packaged food

Ideally when you buy that bag , box or tray of prepared food,  you should look at the realistic serving size, not the one put on the package. Example: Frozen Buffalo wings from some of the leading companies cost between $8.99 and $9.49 a pound for a 2.5 lb. bag. That’s spending between $3.59 and $3.79  a pound for just over 3-4 servings, especially if you have a bunch of hungry guys over. It’s just cheaper to make your own, especially if chicken wings cost between &1.69 and $2.49 a pound.

But CC, I don’t want to spend time making food; I just want to order it or just pop it into the oven and be done with it.

Only you can be the judge between the cost of convenience versus time. If you want to order wings from your local wing joint, call them NOW and make your reservation. You aren’t the only one wanting wings of fire for the shindig.

Making your own cold cut tray has its advantages. First, you can use sale cold cuts and cheeses and choose the ones you like.  Second, it’s just cost effective.   For $28, you can have 2 meats and 2 cheeses and have enough to feed a hungry crowd. Why pay extra for the kale and the  pile of unidentifiable lunch meat that nobody ever eats?

B.Y.O.B.

Alcohol ain’t cheap, y’all. How many times you’ve had to empty half-full cans of beer? It is a proven fact that people are less wasteful of things if they had to pay for them, and alcohol is no exception.

A note, however: You should be diligent with your guests if you are serving drinks. Cut them off if they appear to be too inebriated, and never serve alcohol after the third quarter ( this always eliminates that guy who won’t leave until all of the alcohol is gone).  You may save yourself a headache later on, especially if your state is one who holds a homeowner responsible for how much his guests drink.

The idea is to have fun. If you need any ideas for something to either serve or bring, try one of the following recipes:

Beer-Battered Chicken Fingers

Warm Crab Dip

Chicken and Brown Rice Meatballs

Dirty Rice

My soon-to-be famous Sangria

Now go and root for your favorite team!!!

Pantry List 101

10 Jul

Okay kids!

If you are going to be following any of the recipes that I post in this website, you have got to have a proper pantry. It is imperative that you keep certain things handy so that you can readily prepare any and all of the dishes I will present to you. In the last couple of days, I’ve have compiled a working list of the essentials. This list isn’t exclusive; that is, if you have things that you like to cook with that I haven’t included, by all means have them. I didn’t include certain items like tuna, canned string beans and the like, I assumed one would already have these things in there. But, if you like chilies in adobo, or chipotle hot sauce, then have at it.

Pantry List : The Basics

Oils

Canola Oil
Olive oil 100%
Vegetable spray

These oils are good for all around cooking. Olive oil has a low smoke point, just get regular olive oil. Extra Virgin Olive oil isn’t necessary for our purposes here. Canola oil is best for all other purposes; it has a high smoke point, and is a good all purpose oil.

Seasonings

Regular salt
Sea salt/Kosher salt
Black Pepper
Coarse Black Pepper
white Pepper
Italian seasonings
dried basil
dried oregano
dried thyme
Bay leaves
Cinnamon
nutmeg
Paprika
Onion powder
garlic powder
dried parsley
dried tarragon
dried rosemary
cayenne pepper
red pepper flakes
chili powder
cumin

Pasta/ Rice/ Beans

Ribbon pasta ( ex. spaghetti, angel hair, ect,)
tubular pasta (ex. penne rigate, ziti, macaroni)
Flat pasta (ex. fettucine, linguine)

Different pastas lend themselves to different utilizations. For example, tubular pastas are great for baking, ribbon pastas are good for light to medium bodied sauces (marinara, white clam), and flat pastas can take more substantial sauces (meat, red clam, meatballs). A  good rule of thumb is: the thinner/ smaller the pasta, the lighter the sauce, and the thicker/larger or ribbed the pasta, the heavier the sauce.

egg noodles
canned or dried beans of your choice (canned beans are good for a quick addition to soups)
Arborio or short-grained rice
Rice of your choice
( i keep a jasmine rice and brown rice on hand)

Veggies

1  can Veg-All
1 ea.Tomato paste in a tube (keeps longer)
1 can tomato puree
1 can diced tomatoes in Juice
2 cans Whole tomatoes w/ seasonings  in juice ( Suns of Italy)
1 jar whole roasted peppers
1 jar artichokes hearts

Miscellaneous

Unsalted top saltines
unseasoned bread crumbs
parmesan cheese
cornmeal
fresh flour
baking powder
baking soda
red wine vinegar
white wine vinegar
balsamic vinegar
dijon/brown mustard
canned beef stock*
canned chicken stock*
canned vegetable stock*
( Or, you can make your own)
evaporated milk
Dry brown gravy mix ( for bootleg demi-glace)
1 bottle each (optional)*
red and white wine
marsala
brandy
*a lot of my recipes require alcohol. Now, it is a small amount, and is necessary for dishes like Chicken Marsala and Coq Au Vin; otherwise, it is a moot point to prepare these dishes without it. If you are squeamish about cooking with alcohol; cut the amount, but you must use it to get optimum flavor.

Now with these basic ingredients, you will be able to whip out any of my recipes anytime. In the upcoming weeks, I will have recipes for some basic spice blends that you can make that are lower in salt that commercial blends, a 20-minute marinara,  some soups, homemade dressings, even some meatless options for all you vegetarians out there.

This blog will also go through some changes as I decide the direction i want to go in. I will keep the commentary on all things food along with recipes and anything else that is food related.  I would love some feedback on what you all think, as any suggestions on improvements.

Shalom, Y’all