Sorry, your homemade pizza sucks. It's best that we acknowledge it and just move forward. For what it's worth, my pizza used to suck, too. But I made it better and now you can too!Read More
Making perfect cross-hatch grill marks was one of the things we were tested on in culinary school. After a potentially humiliating incident at school, I never forgot how to make hatch marks.Read More
I have lots of friends who lament about their cooking abilities. "All I can make is eggs," they say, ashamedly. But cooking eggs is a lot harder than most people realize. Let's take a closer look at eggs, why we eat them and what the heck the difference is between brown and white ones.Read More
When I first heard about flaxseed I thought the same thing I normally do about healthy food -- "yeah, yeah, it's good for you. But does it taste good?" And so, I shied away from it for some time before finally trying it out. As it turns out, this seedy super food can either be tasty... or can go virtually unnoticed in your dishes. If you're wary about flax seeds, try sneaking them into some of your already-existing recipes. I like to blend it smooth in my daily breakfast green smoothie, and I like adding it to baked recipes, like banana bread and dark chocolate biscotti. But first, you may wonder, what's so healthy about flaxseed? WebMD breaks it down:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These "good fats" are good for your heart. 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
- Fiber: It offers both the soluble and insoluble types, so it's good for digestive health.
- Antioxidants: The seeds contain lignans, which have estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Lignans help fight free radicals, which can damage tissue.
Aside from the obvious health benefits, adding flaxseed to your food gives it an added texture. So what else can you add it to? Try these:
- Breakfast: Add a tablespoon of ground (or whole) flaxseed to your morning cereal or to yogurt.
- Lunch: Add a teaspoon of it to your sandwich spread, like mayonnaise or mustard.
- Baked goods: Add two tablespoons to any bread or muffin recipe. Aside form texture, the flaxseeds add an extra richness or thickness to your finished treat.
Flaxseed photo by Flickr user Alisha Vargas.
I've been yammering on and on about Brie en croute and Elephant Ears, offering recommendations for both store-bought puff pastry and homemade. Naturally, the store-bought variety hardly stacks up against the homemade real deal, but that doesn't mean you can't cut corners once in a while. If you're hosting a party with little time to prepare for it, by all means, buy the dough. It isn't expensive, anyway. But if you would like to make your own or perhaps even just have an understanding for how puff pastry dough is made, read on.
Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 1/2 cup (or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed (about 1/2″ cubes) Pinch of kosher salt 1/2 cup cold water 1 egg, beaten (for eggwash)
1. Sift the flour. Add to standing mixer with hook attachment, mixing on low. Slowly add the cubed unsalted butter. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Add the cold water. Let mix until most of the dough is clumped onto the hook. There should be visible chunks of butter in the dough.
2. Sprinkle your wooden board (or clean counter top) with flour. Gently roll out the dough into a rectangle, to about 1/4″ thickness.
3. Arrange the dough long-ways (like a placemat). Fold up the left and right sides to the center (like window shutters). Then fold it in half like a book.
4. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to rest, about 1 hour or even overnight.
5. Roll it out into a rectangle again. Repeat Step 3. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to rest, about 30 minutes to an hour. Repeat once more.
6. It’s done! After you have rolled and folded your dough 2-3 times, it’s done. Allow it to chill and rest another 30 minutes to an hour before starting the Brie en croute.
The thing about poaching eggs is that it sounds more complicated than it actually is. When you do a quick Google search, you get links to various how-tos and videos that involve separate tiny dishes, taking the temperature of the water, whirpools -- all things that make the process seem daunting. But all you really need is a small saucepan, a dash of white vinegar, an egg, and a slotted spoon.
1.Heat water in a saucepan. Either wait for tons and tons of tiny bubbles form in the water (with no rapid agitation at the surface) and lower the heat. Or, even simpler, bring your water to a boil and when that happens, turn the heat down to very low and wait a few seconds until the water stops bubbling rapidly.
2.Add a dash of white vinegar. There's no need to measure this out, though if you really wanted to, about 2 teaspoons is fine. The vinegar helps bind the yolk together, keeping the egg from falling apart.
3.Break the egg into the water. Crack the egg on a hard, flat surface and crack it open just above the water, releasing it into the lightly simmering pan. It's important to do this just over the water's surface so it doesn't splash back up at you.
4. Wait 3 minutes. Set your oven timer to three minutes and gently take out the egg with the slotted spoon. You'll know the egg is done because it'll turn opaque. Plus, three is the magic number; you'll get a slightly thick, runny yolk.
It's that simple. You don't need to crack the egg into a small dish and then pour it into the water -- it won't result in a neater egg, and you'll end up with an extra dish to wash. You don't need to create a "whirlpool" -- it won't result in a neater egg, and you'll end up stressing over when to pour in the egg ad the opportune moment.
If you like to bake, you've probably had to deal with rock-hard brown sugar that's been kept in the pantry for too long. I like baking as much as the next foodie, so I do it whenever I have the time. But that's just the problem: I don't have enough time. As a result, I find myself reaching for the brown sugar once every several weeks, only to discover the consistency is more like a small boulder.
What causes this problem? Brown sugar is a mixture of white sugar and molasses. And over time, the moisture from the molasses will evaporate. As a result, you get stuck with a hardened mound of brown sugar.
How can I prevent my brown sugar from hardening? There are several things you can do, but I prefer putting the brown sugar in an airtight container and storing it in the back of my refrigerator. It's quick, easy and requires little to no thinking or extra purchasing. But there are other alternatives:
- Terracotta clay discs: Costing anywhere from $5 to $10, these clay discs keep brown sugar from drying out. Just add it with the brown sugar to a resealable bag.
- Apple, bread or marshmallows: You can also add a slice of bread, slice of apple or a few marshmallows to your bag of brown sugar. The sugar will draw out the moisture from any of these ingredients and remain soft. The food doesn't get moldy or rancid; instead, they just dry up.
How can I soften brown sugar? Already dealing with a rock-hard mass and need to revive it? Place the brown sugar in a bowl and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 30 seconds, remove the towel and break up the sugar with a fork. If it's still too hard, re-cover with the towel and microwave another 30 seconds, until the sugar has softened.
Don't buy too much brown sugar: Unless you know you're going to bake several batches of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, don't buy much more brown sugar than you need. This way, you won't have to worry about storage, and you'll save space in your pantry or fridge.
It's easy to grab a bottle of your favorite dressing or vinaigrette at the grocery but here's my problem: I so rarely make my own salad that the bottle goes bad before I finish it. A better solution? Try making your own vinaigrette. No doubt it's fresher and healthier (no added sugars and preservatives), but having a good recipe in your mental Rolodex of cooking knowledge is a must. My favorite 5-minute vinaigrette uses red wine vinegar, garlic and parsley. It's savory, salty and has just the right kick.
Ingredients 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or less, if desired) 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1-2 teaspoons fresh parsley, finely chopped 1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped About 1/4 cup olive oil (or less, if desired) Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Finely chop the parsley and garlic cloves. Whisk in with red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard. Slowly stream in the olive oil, whisking throughout. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
2. Add the vinaigrette to some mixed baby greens, your favorite salad, or use it in lieu of mustard or butter on your sandwich.
"Why go out of your way to make syrup when you can just buy it at the store?" I asked my roommate when she insisted we make syrup from scratch. But seeing as how she agreed to make the pancakes, I deemed it reasonable that we do the syrup her way.
After sifting through a few Google search results, I came across an easy vanilla syrup recipe from Food.com; all you need is water, sugar, vanilla extract, and about five minutes. Although it's high in sugar, the result is purer than the store-bought alternative. Here, you don't have to worry about preservatives and high fructose corn syrup.
Serves: Enough syrup for 4-6 servings of pancakes/waffles
Cook time: About 5 minutes
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract OR 2 teaspoons maple extract
1. Heat the water and sugar in a small, uncovered saucepan at medium-high heat, until it boils, about 4-5 minutes. Make sure to stir occasionally. Once the mixture is smooth and the sugar is melted, turn off the heat.
2. When the mixture starts to cool, stir in either the vanilla or maple extract.
Vanilla or maple extract? While I appreciate the earthy, molasses-like flavor of maple extract, I prefer the lighter, more floral sweetness of vanilla extract in my syrup.
What I did differently from Food.com: Because I wanted to ensure a thick-enough syrup, I used more sugar.
Bottled dried parsley, fresh flat-leaf parsley. Tomato, tom-ah-to? Not quite. It can be difficult to determine when to appropriately substitute fresh herbs for dried herbs and vice versa. Here are two important questions to ask yourself before you make that choice: How much of the herb do you need? If you're making a dish that spotlights a particular herb, you'll want to use a fresh one. Take pesto, for instance. You'd never pour 2 cups of dried basil into a food processor and hope for a luscious green pesto sauce -- you'd use fresh basil leaves, no doubt. For something robust and savory like pesto, it's important to use fresh herbs for that earthy bite. But, if you're making chicken ratatouille, a dish that requires several ingredients, it's safe to use dried herbs. After all, you'd only use a few tablespoons of dried marjoram.
How many kinds of ingredients are needed? A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is, the fewer ingredients a recipe calls for, the fresher and finer they should be. When you're whipping up something like frico, a crunchy treat that needs only parmesan cheese, lemon zest and basil, fresh leaves are an absolute must. This way, you taste the sharp saltiness of the cheese, the fragrant lemon and of course, the basil, that initial peppery flavor that ultimately dissolves into minty sweetness.
So now that you've decided on either fresh herbs or dried herbs, how much should you use? It all depends on what you like best, but generally, you should use one-third the amount of a dried herb as you would a fresh one. So instead of 1 cup of fresh parsley, you should use 1/3 cup. Also, it sometimes helps to lightly grind or chop dried herbs to re-release some of the flavors and oils.
One last thing to keep in mind is that sometimes dried herbs have a stronger bite than fresh ones do. However, they tend to go stale quickly. Just be sure you keep your dried herbs in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Yeah, yeah, you could just as easily run over to the market and by a can of Cool Whip, but what's the fun in that? When you have a few moments to spare, making your own whipped cream is worth that bit of extra effort. Pour heavy whipping cream into a mixer and 10 minutes later you've got delicious dollops of cream. Here's what you need:
Ingredients: 1 cup heavy whipping cream 3 tbsp powdered sugar 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract (optional)
1. Pour the whipping cream into a mixer and beat until it starts to thicken and form bubbles on the sides, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla (if desired) and slowly add in the sugar. Beat faster until you get stiff peaks, or until the mixture looks like, well, whipped cream, about 5-7 minutes.
Once you get stiff peaks, be sure to stop beating. If you don't, the overwhipped cream will start to turn into butter.
Although it's a simple component of dessert, you can always tell when it's homemade. Your friends are bound to notice the difference and they'll be amazed that you took that extra step. Plus, you can add a bit less or a bit more sugar depending on how sweet you like cream. Remember, you can't substitute powdered sugar for granulated; otherwise, you'll get the wrong consistency and you'll be stuck with tiny crystals of sugar. If you want a slightly milkier, richer flavor, add that dash of pure vanilla extract.