Archive for March, 2010

No Flakin’ Garlic-Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

If your idea of homemade mashed potatoes entails grabbing a box and adding water, it’s time for a culinary reality check.

Sure, those instant potatoes that come from a cardboard container are passable when you’re craving the comfort that is a fluffy mound of spuds, but you may be surprised to know that making mashed from scratch isn’t a whole lot harder — and the results taste way better.

When extras such as herbs and aromatics — in this case rosemary and garlic — join the party, mashed potatoes rise to a whole new level.

In addition to offering some serious comfort and pairing with an array of dishes as a side-course superstar, one of the best qualities of mashed potatoes is that they are so cheap to make. I’m talking cents, not dollars.

I recently bought a 10-pound bag of big ‘ol russet potatoes from Food 4 Less for a buck. I don’t know of many other foods that you can buy in a 10-pound quantity for the same price as a pack of gum.

So forget that box of dehydrated flakes that tries to pass itself as mashed potatoes. Gather a few spuds and a little over half an hour of time: We are going to make a dish that would make Idaho proud.

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Perfecta Trifecta Pasta Salad

Spring has officially sprung, and in the cooking world that means out with warm and hearty soups and in with cool and fresh salads.

So go ahead, conjure up the image of a wonderful salad.

Did something with lettuce come to mind — a side of ranch, perhaps? Very likely so.

Yet a salad needn’t suffer from being the same old wilted field of greens slathered in heavy buttermilk dressing.

In fact, one of my favorite salads doesn’t involve even a shred of lettuce.

No, this salad’s base is pasta, the same stuff we often drown in marinara sauce. Well, it makes a wonderful partner for salad, too, and I find it much more filling for a lunch than those of the lettuce variety.

Of course, pasta alone a salad does not make, and I’d shutter at the thought of using plain old macaroni that is only a shade lighter than cardboard. Enter tri-colored pasta, a much more colorful affair, accompanied by wonderful additions such as tomatoes, cheese, olives and onions, all splashed lightly in the easiest herb vinaigrette you’ll ever make.

Get ready to wow your friends and be the star of the next picnic with a healthful, flavorful salad that only costs a few dollars to make. All it takes is half an hour and a little shaking and chopping. Let’s get to it.

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Does McCormick’s new product “inspire” you to cook?

One of my co-workers, Nancy Luna — aka, “Fast Food Maven” — tossed me a product sample she received recently in her mail that caused me to raise an eyebrow: a sample from McCormick’s new line of Recipe Inspirations spice packets.

What they are, essentially, are about a quarter of an ounce total of six pre-measured herbs and spices, with a detachable recipe card on the back of the package on how to incorporate them into a meal.

Among the offerings are Apple & Sage Pork Chops, Garlic-Lime Chicken Fajitas and Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Potatoes.

The Recipe Inspirations line launched in January, and each packet costs two bucks. According to the spice-maker’s head honcho, they are aimed at consumers short on time — and who apparently don’t keep a stock of spices or recipes on hand.

Now I’ve used McCormick spices for years, and one part of me likes the idea and convenience of this concept, especially the notion that it can get folks cooking,  introduce them to new flavors, and (hopefully) enable them to add that flavor with herbs and spices instead of, say, half a stick of lard.

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Poached eggs are perfectly approachable

Poached eggs are one of those items we often see on menus and appreciate when eating out, yet wouldn’t attempt at home because we think they are too challenging to make with the humble tools found in our own kitchens.

Truth is, making poached eggs yourself is totally easy and involves only a single pot and a slotted spoon when it comes to the required hardware. As for skills, well if you can boil water, you can make poached eggs.

Poaching is a process in which foods are gently cooked in a liquid solution that is simmering, which means it’s just under a boil. You know you’ve reached a simmer when small bubbles are just coming up to the surface of the liquid.

While water is the obvious choice as a poaching liquid, wine, broth and even heavy cream can work, too.

Poaching is one of my favorite ways to cook because it’s nearly fool-proof and can be incorporated into many recipes. It’s a great way to keep fish tender and does wonders with chicken. When using the application for eggs, it yields soft clouds of white and a yolk that is still gooey and delicious in the middle.

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Private, in-home cooking lessons

Ready to take your kitchen chops to the next level? I Want To Cook can be your personal trainer in the kitchen.

In addition to writing this blog and for The Orange County Register, I offer private cooking classes for individuals and small groups. We cook a dish or two, enjoy an amazing meal, and have a whole lotta fun doing it.

My approach is laid-back. The way I see it, the more you enjoy making the meal, the better it will taste.

In addition to tasting as good or better than what you’d get in a restaurant, home-cooked food will also save you a bundle of money. If you learn to cook just one new dish and make it once a week for the rest of your life, you’ll save thousands of dollars vs. eating out.

I currently help clients in the Orange County, California, area (though if you want to fly me to wherever you are, we can discuss that option). I come to you so you can best learn to use the tools in your own kitchen, and bring all food items necessary to prepare what we are making. You’re also welcome to come into my humble kitchen if that is more convenient.

Rates start at $150 for two people, and lessons last about an hour and a half. In addition to learning to cook the particular dish you’re interested in (examples below), you’ll get knife-handling skills, a laminated copy of the recipe we are making for future use, and a gift that is an essential tool in the kitchen.

Recipe examples include:

  • Pan-roasted chicken in a white-wine reduction with garlic-rosemary mashed potatoes
  • Poached salmon in court bouillon with roasted asparagus spears
  • Penne with homemade bolognese meat sauce
  • Egg, potato and cheese frittata (great for breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • Any recipe you’ve seen featured on I Want To Cook

If you are interested in a private cooking lesson, e-mail matt@iwanttocook or call me at 714-256-1312 and we’ll discuss a recipe, any dietary needs, and a time that is convenient for you to learn how to be a kitchen star

I look forward to cooking with you!


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Homemade salsa is seriously simple

After reading this, you may never buy a bottle of salsa again. That’s my hope, anyway.

Here’s the deal: Salsa is ridiculously easy to make. It’s also a lot cheaper to make yourself, and best of all tastes way better than that bottled stuff, even the ones not made in New York City.

By making your own salsa, you’ll also be able to tailor it exactly to your taste. Prefer it mild? It’s easy to tame. Rather have fire coming out of your ears? No problemo.

There are, of course, myriad varieties of salsas based on different peppers, but most of us know it as the tomato-based derivative that regularly battles ketchup as America’s most loved condiment, and that’s the type I’m going to show you how to make.

To make salsa in its most basic form, you’ll only need four main ingredients and a blender. Si, I’m serious.

Tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers and a squeeze of lime juice are the foundation, and once you start making your own salsa, you’ll have a taste-bud blast varying the quantities to your liking and then even adding a few extra herbs and spices. For now, let’s start with the basics.

Here’s how to make it happen.

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