There are so many wonderful cooking tips out there that will help you become a better cook. Throughout the years, I have always looked for those words of wisdom that will help make the process a little easier. As a result, I have collected quite an array of culinary tidbits. I would like to share several with you and hope you find them useful.

1. When making a salad, you know you should always wash your vegetables. What is equally important, in my opinion, is to dry them. Yup. Dry them really well. No one likes a wet salad. 

2. Always dress a salad right before you serve it. Dressing it too early will make it soggy and unappetizing.

3. Many of you store your spices in a shelf near the stove. Don’t! Spices need to be stored in a cool, dark space. Light and heat will cause them to lose their flavor.

4. After boiling vegetables, always plunge them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. This will ensure you get crisp, beautiful vegetables every time.

5. Never put oil in pasta water. The oil will prevent the pasta sauce from sticking. Also, pasta with ridges or curves is the best to use with sauces because the sauce will stay in the curves. 

6. Remove your meat from the refrigerator one hour before cooking. It needs to come to room temperature in order to cook evenly.

7. And one from Ina Garten: For best results when baking, leave butter and eggs at room temperature overnight (yes, she said overnight) . I have always said, refrigeration is over-rated. You don’t need to refrigerate as much as the cookbooks suggest. The authors say it for their own safety reasons, just as they tell you to cook meat to a certain temperature.

8. Always cook your meat 10-15 degrees less than what your cookbook indicates. The meat will continue cooking after you take it out of the oven. If you don’t, you will have unpalatable, overcooked meat.

I will include many more cooking tips in future posts. I hope they help!

Today’s recipe provides an outstanding way to cook rice. It is so light and refreshing. The lemon zest, along with the orange zest, give the rice a bright, fresh citrus flavor that will titillate your taste buds, making them dance with happiness!

This is a must-try. It offers a wonderful start to summer with its natural citrus flavors. It is perfect as an accompaniment to any main dish or just as a snack. I did not use as many onions as the recipe called for, but it came out beautifully.

This recipe is courtesy of Giada DeLaurentis and will serve 4-6 people who will love it so much it may become a family favorite!

Ingredients for Citrus Rice

Rice Salad:

1/2 cup sliced almonds
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups basmati rice, rinsed
3/4 cup chopped fresh felt leaf parsley
1 medium orange, zested
1 lemon, zested
1 cup thinly sliced green onions

Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1/2 orange)
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. honey
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 350.

Place oven rack in the center of the oven.

Arrange the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes until golden brown.

Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock, salt and oil to a boil over medium-high heat.

Stir in the rice. Cover the sauce pan, reduce the  heat, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 40 minutes.

Citrus rice rice

Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

Using a fork, fluff the rice and place in a large serving bowl.

Add the parsley, orange zest, half the lemon zest, green onions, and 1/3 cup of the almonds

citrus rice rice parsley green onions lemon zest

Toss well.

In a blender, combine the olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice. soy sauce, honey and cumin.

Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

citrus rice food processor

Pour the vinaigrette over the rice mixture and stir well.

Garnish with the remaining lemon zest and almonds.

It’s that simple!

banana plant flower

As the years progress, I have somehow inherited the role of hosting most of the holidays at my home. Don’t misunderstand me; that is NOT a complaint. In fact, I enjoy hosting the holidays at my home despite the work. My own family is growing so quickly. Nieces and nephews are getting married and having children. Ten guests have easily grown into 20 over the past ten years. I love having every one of them.

There are some ways that you can make hosting the holidays at your home easier. The most important thing is to be very organized. Plan your meal ahead. Find your recipes and make copies of them. This will keep your cookbook pages nice and clean! Organize your shopping list (read and reread so you do not omit anything) by the location of items in your grocery store (i.e., produce, baking goods). Bring the copies of the recipes with you just in case you need to refer to it while you are in the store.

You can easily shop for your non-perishables a week ahead and your produce 2-3 days ahead. This gives you ample time to run back to the store as needed. (Don’t we always forget something?).

Make what you can in advance. For example, soups, many appetizers and baked goods freeze really well, as does brisket. If you work, you might want to plan your menu around recipes that you can freeze. There are also those recipes that can be prepared the night before, so all you have to do is place them in the oven the next day. Any free time for you is the chance to spend more time with your guests. 

Throwing any holiday or family get-together does not have to be stressful. Create place cards for your guests. Turn off the bright lights and light candles, which will give your room a warm glow. Use cloth napkins and fold them in a special way. Don’t forget to plan the music. This will really help set the mood for your holiday. Do as much as you can in advance (i.e., set the table) and you will find yourself stress-free and enjoying every minute.

Onto the recipe for today. I wasn’t sure about the pecans. Then I thought why not?  I love almost any kind of oatmeal cookie. I love the texture and the chewy inside. It was worth a try.

To my surprise, I loved these cookies. They were crunchy on the outside and chewy and soft in the middle. They are like eating soft, flavorful mounds bursting with all that crumbly goodness.

Again, Ina Garten’s recipe is spot on. This recipe made about 25-30 cookies. I would make the mounds a little larger than 2-inches, as the recipe calls for. But maybe that’s just me. I like my cookies big. However you make them I know you will love them. It made a pecan-raisin walnut cookie lover out of me!

Ingredients for Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature 
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool.  Chop coarsely.

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together in a medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

pecan oatmeal cookies butter, sugar eegs vanilla

Sift the flour . baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer n low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture.

pecan oatmeal flour sifted

Add the oats, raisins, and the pecans and mix until just combined.

pecan oatmeal oats rasins pecans combined 2

 

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper.

pecan oatmeal on baking sheet

Flatten slightly with a damp hand.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

It’s that simple!

Hearts-Vortex-Heart

Every cook, as we all know, makes mistakes. If you are a well-seasoned cook, you can probably creatively “fix” most kitchen errors. But if you are not, then I would like to take the time to post some common cooking blunders and their remedies.

Overcrowding the pan: If you are trying to brown the skin of a chicken, for example, you must not put to many pieces in the pan at the same time. Overcrowding will cause whatever you are cooking to steam and not brown. So try not to be in too much of a hurry.  Put a couple of pieces in the pan at a time, and you will get the brown, crispy skin you desire.

Overcooking vegetables: Do you remember eating vegetables as a child that were mushy and disgusting? That is probably because they were! When cooking vegetables, take them off the heat when they become bright and beautiful. They will continue to cook after you have removed them from the heat, so be sure to place them into a bowl filled with ice water to stop the cooking process.

Not reading the recipe before you start cooking: You should always read the entire recipe before you begin cooking. If you don’t, you may omit entire steps or ingredients. Read all the information given at the top of the recipe. And always get into the habit of gathering your “mise en place” (ingredients) before you begin to cook. Trust me, this will make the entire process go so much faster and smoother.

Not understanding the difference between a boil and a simmer: A simmer is when there are small bubbles that rise to the surface every few seconds. A boil is when the water is rapidly bubbling. The difference can ruin a dish. For example, meat that is going to cook a long time must be on a simmer. If you boil it to speed up the process, you will end up with meat that you will not be able to chew! It will be too dry and tough. Get started early and let the meat simmer. Your cooking skills will shine if you do.

Not waiting for the pan to heat: Heat your pan before you put in the oil, and let the oil heat before placing anything in it. A hot pan is essential to creating crusts on meat, fish or poultry. If you place any of these in the pan before it gets hot enough, it will result in food that has no sear and no sizzle. You will have sad, pale meats and seafood that is overcooked and dry.

Under-salting the water for pasta: This is so important. The salt flavors the pasta. If you do not salt the water, your pasta will taste bland, no matter what kind of sauce or how much sauce you dress it with. You should use about 2 tablespoons of salt for every pound of pasta.

Not tasting as you cook: I am sure all of us have a mother, grandmother or someone who has told us this! Tasting as you go makes a big difference in the outcome of your food. Recipes are not always perfect. Using your own judgment and taste can turn a mediocre meal into a delicious one.

Do any of you have your own cooking mistakes? If you do, I would love to hear from you. Please share!

I hope these help!

It’s that simple!

Garden friends

This is a lovely Mediterranean style side dish that can accompany any main course. I happened to come across it searching for “orzo” recipes. Orzo is a short cut pasta, and looks like a thick piece of rice. It is a very versatile pasta, as it can be used in soups, salads, casseroles, or simply alone.

The combination of spices caught my eye. Cumin and coriander are found in many Middle Eastern cuisines. You rarely see them in a pasta dish. I just learned that coriander is the seed of a cilantro plant.  I am just a wealth of information today! 

I loved this recipe. The spices blended perfectly and the result was a savory and delightful pasta. It is very simple to prepare. The orzo and spinach cook quickly. Just watch the spinach closely; you do not want to overcook it. Set your timer! I do not like cilantro, so I used parsley for this recipe. 

This recipe is courtesy of Cookstr.com and will serve 6 people who will be thrilled with the spices in this wonderful dish.

Today’s Hint: Place a wooden spoon over a pot to prevent the water from boiling over.

Ingredients for Spiced Orzo with Spinach

8 oz. orzo
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne 
6 oz. baby spinach leaves, washed, but not dried
4 tbsp. chopped cilantro or parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pan off salted water to a boil.

Add the orzo and cook until tender, according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Add the onion  and cook, about 3 minutes, until softened.

Stir in the garlic, coriander, cumin, and cayenne, if using, and cook for 1 minute more.

spicey orzo oinioons, garlic, coriander, cumin

Stir the spinach (with the water clinging to its leaves from washing) into the saucepan.

spicy orzo, spinach added

Drain the orzo well, shaking off any excess water. 

Add the orzo to the spinach mixture and mix well.

Stir in the cilantro (or parsley) and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve hot or cooled.

It’s that simple!

Zelda wisdom

Store- bought salad dressings are my biggest pet peeve!  Why make your own salad dressing when there are so many varieties sold in the supermarket? Well… because there is just nothing good about market bought dressings.

The dressings you find in stores use a lot of poor quality products that are cheap and unhealthy. They contain preservatives, artificial coloring and flavoring, gums and way too much sugar. The sugar translates into too many calories and bad fats. Way too scary for me!

It is easy to make salad dressing (and cheap!). The benefit of creating your own is that you will be using better quality ingredients that are fresh and good for your health. They taste much better too!

Every dressing should be made with a few basic ingredients:

  1. An oil- such as olive, walnut, hazelnut, flaxseed, or avocado.
  2. A vinegar- such as balsamic, white wine, champagne, apple cider or brown rice. Fresh lemon (you know that is my go to!) or lime juice can also be added in addition to your choice of vinegar, or used by itself.
  3. A thickener – such as mayonnaise, dijon mustard, brown seed mustard (delicious!) avocado or tahini. This acts as an emulsifier to help the oil and vinegar combine properly.

 

The basic rule for making your own vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. This is just a guide. I never follow it. I find that too much oil results in an oily residue, which I do not like. You can use a ratio of 1-1. I usually use more of the acid than the oil.

Don’t forget the salt and pepper. The salt brings out the best flavors in the dressing.

The possibilities are endless. You can use minced garlic or shallots. Any favorite fresh herb or poppy seeds will add another delightful dimension.

There are no rules. Just pick your favorite ingredients, combine, taste, season and taste again.

You will never go back to store-bought salad dressing again!

Here are three different salad dressings I would like to share with you.

DSCF0998

Ingredients for Dijon Vinaigrette Dressing

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil

Mix all ingredients except for the olive oil into a bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.

DSCF1040

Ingredients for Champagne Wine Dressing

1/4 cup of champagne wine vinegar
2 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 shallot, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup of good olive oil

Mix all ingredients except for the olive oil into a bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil.

DSCF1045

Ingredients for Italian Dressing

1/4 cup champagne wine vinegar
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup of good olive oil

Mix all ingredients except for the olive oil into a bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil.

DSCF1039

I hope you will make your own dressing! Give  it a try!

It’s that simple!