Archive for Tips

Like sriracha? Then you gotta try gochujang

Like many of you out there, I’ve long been a fan of sriracha. The bright red sauce made of ground chilies and garlic is a staple in Asian cuisine, yet like so many other condiments it’s a multicultural star that enlivens everything from eggs to hamburgers.

On a recent trip to South Korea, I found something even better: gochujang. Like sriracha, gochujang is a condiment made from red chilies. And as with sriracha, it pairs well with a variety of foods. It’s also absolutely addicting. Gochujang is a regular at the tables in Korea (it goes great with barbecue, as seen below in Seoul), but like sriracha it deserves a place at yours.

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Last-minute Thanksgiving 2013 survival guide

The countdown is on. We’re just days away from Thanksgiving 2013, and you’re probably busy planning your holiday feast.

By now you have hopefully purchased your turkey. And if you bought it frozen like most home cooks, remember to thaw it in the refrigerator.

Things can move pretty fast this time of year, and I’m not just talking about the onward rush of the holidays. Now more than ever is the time to take a deep breath and enjoy the moments rather than stress about them. This advice is also relevant in the kitchen.

As the holiday cooking season moves into high gear, it’s good to slow down and remember to enjoy the process. If you can think of what you are doing as an expression of love instead of a bunch of work, it will make the day that much more enjoyable.

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Last-minute Thanksgiving survival guide

The countdown is on. We’re just days away from Thanksgiving 2012.

By now you have hopefully bought and are thawing your turkey — in the refrigerator, remember — and are finalizing the last small details of your Thanksgiving feast.

Things can move pretty fast this time of year, and I’m not just talking about the onward rush of the holidays. Now more than ever is the time to be take a deep breath and enjoy the moments rather than stress about them. This advice is also relevant in the kitchen.

As the holiday cooking move into high gear, it’s good to slow down and remember to enjoy the process. If you can think of what you are doing as an expression of love instead of a load of work, it will make the day that much more enjoyable.

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Make the mortar and pestle work for you

In this age of induction ranges and sous vide cooking apparatuses, there remains a kitchen tool whose simplicity belies its utility. Meet the mortar and pestle.

This bowl and elongated stick that’s rounded at the end — the mortar and the pestle, respectively — have been around since man had to make his own fire before making a meal. Yet thousands of years later, cooks the world over still use this simple duo.

These culinary tools are made from a variety of materials, from stainless steel to glass and porcelain to the volcanic rock popular in Mexican versions that are called molcajete. Mortars and pestles can be found under $15, and are available at discount stores and of course kitchen stores and online shops. During a recent trip to Cost Plus, I was impressed with the variety of these tools that they offered.

So what, exactly, is a mortar and pestle used for? So glad you asked.

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Take the sizzle out of summer with homemade smoothies

It’s hot. You don’t want to cook. The kids and/or you want something sweet in your mouth, pronto, and the temptation to pull into a convenience store, grab the biggest reservoir you can find and fill it with semi-frozen sugar water churned from a machine is running at a 99.9 percent chance.

Hang on.

It’s times like these where a little planning can save you and the family from catastrophe, not to mention the crazed state of mind resulting from sugar rush. You can easily make a better-tasting and better-for-you summer treat in less time than it takes to run to the corner quickie mart.

Homemade smoothies require only a blender, juice, fruit and your imagination. There are, of course, many juice shops eager to sell you their version, but more often than not those drinks are overpriced and over-iced. You can make your own for much less money, and you’ll know exactly what went into the thing.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s literally throwing ingredients into a blender and turning it on. If there’s one tricky part, it’s getting the right consistency and enough “frozen-ness” instead of liquid.

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How to pan-steam like a pro

You probably already know that steaming is a great way to cook vegetables because it helps them retain nutrients and adds no fat. It’s also fast and super easy.

If steaming has one transgression, though, it’s that it doesn’t add flavor.  When you’re depending on steam from boiling water to cook food held aloft in a basket, the flavor is ultimately dependent on the item being cooked. Begin with a rather plain veggie like cauliflower, for example, and you’ll end with up with a vegetable that is indeed softer and easier to chew, but whose flavor isn’t greatly enhanced.

Luckily, there’s a special method of steaming that is just as easy as the traditional one, yet offers much more flexibility when it comes to resulting flavor and what ends up on the plate. It’s even got a cool name that will make you sound like a kitchen rock star: pan steaming.

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How to make homemade hash browns

Shredded hash browns can be confidence killers in the kitchen. In restaurants they look and taste so darn good, we often think: “How hard can they be to make? Just shred potatoes and throw them in a pan, right?” And then we end up with mushy spuds that are overly browned on the outside but gray on the inside. To our chagrin, they’re anything but the crispy, delicious patties we get when dining out.

Some of us seek solace by making the easier, chunky style hash browns with diced potatoes, telling ourselves they’re just as good. Others never even try again.

Well, friends, buy a bag of Russets, ‘cause we’re about to change that.

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What is a potato ricer?

Here is a kitchen device whose name may belie its purpose. A potato ricer doesn’t really have anything to do with rice, but at least the “potato” in its name is correct.

A potato ricer consists mainly of a cylinder with holes in the bottom and two handles. They are made out of plastic, metal or both, and can be found online, at a well-stocked general merchandise store, or at stores like Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma that specialize in kitchen goodies. Potato ricers are most often used when making mashed potatoes. The way it works is super simple: Put cooked potatoes in the cylinder and squeeze. By forcing the potatoes through the small holes, you get a nice, creamy consistency that can be the basis for dynamite homemade mashed potatoes. In this respect, a potato ricer is like the world’s largest garlic press, as it works in the same manner.

But potato ricers can do more than just process spuds for mashed applications. If you happen to make shredded hash browns with any frequency, a potato is an invaluable tool to have.

For this application, you put raw, shredded potatoes into the canister and press to extract the liquid, which is the enemy to crispy, perfectly browned hash browns. When doing this, the object isn’t to push the potatoes through the holes, as with mashed, but rather wringing out as much liquid as possible.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, don’t attempt to put a raw potato in one of these things and try to make it come out the other side. You’ll probably end up with a bent or busted ricer. Yes, I know from experience.

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How to make tortillas terrific

I’m an unabashed lover of Mexican food, and in my house, burritos, tacos and quesadillas are among my favorite things to make when I’m short on time and meal ideas. I know I’m not alone. Aside from the sheer variety of stuff you can wrap inside a tortilla – from the ubiquitous beans and cheese to grilled shrimp in a cilantro-lime dressing – these Mexican-food staples are popular far beyond our border because they are inexpensive and a cinch to make.

But while many of us focus on the innards of our tacos, burritos and quesadillas, too often the tortilla itself – that all-important culinary housing – is an afterthought. If you’re prone to wrapping your favored ingredients in a flour or corn tortilla that’s simply been microwaved or not even heated at all, know that there is one more step you can take that works miracles in moments. It all begins with the wrapping.

For the best flavor, texture and pliability, tortillas need to be heated properly before being used and eaten. And that really isn’t in a microwave, which can make them rubbery. If you skip heating altogether, tortillas tend to be stiff and fall apart in your hands. And no one wants a lapful of burrito filling.

For the solution, look to your stove, which can heat tortillas one of two ways: in a pan or directly over a flame.

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How to roast vegetables

When it comes to roasting, meaty dishes usually steal the show. Almost all of us have enjoyed a hot-out-of-the-oven Thanksgiving turkey, juicy prime rib or flavorful and flaky salmon fillet.

But roasting needn’t be relegated to meat, poultry and fish. The same properties of roasting that impart so much flavor to those protein-rich dishes work wonders for vegetables, too.

The easiest way to roast is in an oven, which uses hot air as the main vehicle to cook food. (You could also call this “baking,” though that term is often used in reference to breads, pastries and meat without bones. For our purpose here, either word is safe, but “roasting” sounds more appetizing, no?) Roasting yields vegetables that are firm yet not hard, browned and visually interesting, and that taste so much more potent than when steamed or simmered.

When you roast, you actually concentrate flavors inward, vs. leeching them out. For example, when you simmer meat or vegetables in water, many of the flavors and nutrients go into that water. That’s great if you’re making broth or stock, but it’s wasted if you don’t use the liquid.

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