Cooking Tips rss

Ideas, advice, and what to make now from Chowhound editors.

BLTs with a Twist

There’s nothing that satisfies quite like a BLT, and while some prefer the path of purity—adding only bread and mayonnaise to the eponymous trio of ingredients—others play with the formula to great effect. Most like their bacon nice and crispy, and everyone agrees that fresh, high-quality produce is essential. A tomato-centric sandwich is best in high tomato season, but if you just can’t wait until July, try halved grape tomatoes.

Many like to use herb-flavored mayo or aioli, and avocado is a favorite add-on. Some hounds make a chopped salad of the bacon, lettuce, and tomato, dress it with mayo, and stuff it in a bun or pita.

Dispensing with lettuce altogether, ETRIXIE uses thinly sliced cucumbers and fresh basil leaves for a nice, cool crunch.

macca also leaves out the lettuce and makes a hot open-face sandwich by layering bacon and tomatoes on toasted bread, topping with a favorite cheese, and broiling it until the cheese is bubbly.

thatgirl153 sprinkles brown sugar and ground chile on the bacon as it cooks, caramelizing it and giving the sandwich a spicy kick.

For some extra B in your BLT, lightly toast your bread and fry it in the bacon grease, then sprinkle with salt before building your sandwich on it, suggests Cinnamon.

Board Links: Your favorite BLT recipes

What Else Can You Cook in a Waffle Iron, Anyway?

If you think that the waffle iron is a one-use kitchen appliance, you are wrong. Open your mind, young Jedi.

maria lorraine says the waffle iron’s great for making low-fat hash browns: “Crispy on the outside, creamy potato goodness on the inside … I’d have a waffle iron just for making hash browns.” Grate Yukon gold potatoes into a double thickness of paper towels, and squeeze all the water out. Preheat your waffle iron, and spray with olive oil or Pam, or brush with oil. Place the shredded potatoes in the iron, and sprinkle with salt before closing the lid. You may have to experiment with temperature settings (medium high or high) and timing on your iron to get the potatoes to cook through by the time they crisp up on the outsides.

chowdear offers this recipe for waffle iron brownies, saying they’re great for the summer, when you don’t want to heat up the house with the oven:

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, well beaten
1 tablespoon water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. When melted, remove from heat and mix cocoa into butter thoroughly. Stir in sugar, beaten eggs, and water. Add flour and salt; beat well. Stir in nuts, if using. Preheat waffle iron to medium setting. Into each section of the heated waffle iron, drop one well-rounded teaspoon of batter. Close lid and bake about 1 1/2 minutes. The brownies are done if they do not stick to the top of the waffle iron. Use the tip of a wooden skewer or toothpick to remove brownies easily. Let cool on racks. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar if you like. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Board Links: Alternate uses for a waffle iron?

Flour Tortillas That’ll Put Your Grocer’s to Shame

Her very first time ever making tortillas, megek found that from-scratch flour tortillas are very simple to make, delicious, tender, and leave your mouth watering for more. And they beat the pants off anything from your standard grocery store.

The recipe, for eight 8-inch tortillas:

1/4 cup shortening
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup warm water

Cut shortening into flour. Dissolve salt in warm water, then add gradually to flour mixture. Mix until dough begins to form. Turn onto floured surface and knead about 3 minutes. Divide dough into 8 balls. Cover balls with plastic wrap and rest at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven on low setting (about 200°F). Heat heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high to high heat. Roll a ball of dough out to an approximate 8-inch round and cook in dry skillet about 30 seconds per side. Place finished tortillas inside folded towel on pizza stone or baking sheet in oven to keep warm until all are done.

Board Links: Who knew homemade tortillas were so easy (and addictive)?
Just Made My First Homemade Flour Tortillas

Cream of Wheat Beyond the Breakfast Bowl

Cream of Wheat, a.k.a. farina, a.k.a. semolina, has plenty of uses beyond the bowl of hot cereal we associate with childhood.

Upma, or upama, is a South Indian dish that’s typically eaten for breakfast, but it’s made like a pilaf, toasting the farina first, and incorporates enough aromatics, spices, and vegetables that it might as well be dinner to most of us. Check out this recipe from Indian Food Forever.

Ora offers this recipe for farina bread (amyzan makes the same thing as an alternative to cornbread):

3/4 cup farina

3/4 cup unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 large egg
2 tablespoons melted butter or canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon bacon drippings or butter

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Combine farina, flour, and baking powder in a bowl, making a well in the center. In another bowl, whisk the egg and butter or oil, then whisk in the buttermilk. Pour bacon drippings or place 1 tablespoon butter in an 8-inch cast iron skillet. Place the skillet in the preheated oven. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring just until moistened. Pour into the hot skillet and bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden. Don’t overbake; it should still be somewhat moist and springy in the center, though the edges may draw from the pan. Serve hot in wedges.

heatherkay uses farina to bread chops, fish, and chicken breasts, saying it adheres to the meat better than cornmeal does. Emme uses it as a binder in meatballs and meatloaf.

Board Links: cream of wheat–non-cereal uses?

Spring Salad as Beautiful as It Is Delicious

Carb Lover created a chilled composed salad she calls “an ode to early spring,” with its last-of-season navel oranges and first-of-season asparagus. xena made it, too, and says it’s delicious and fresh tasting. Carb Lover’s photo would whet any hound’s appetite.

Here’s how it’s done: Prepare and chill all the components of the salad before assembling. Blanch asparagus spears; slice navel oranges into rounds; slice French radishes thinly; slice ripe avocados and spritz with a bit of lemon juice to keep them green. Make a vinaigrette (Carb Lover uses her blender) from fresh orange juice, champagne vinegar, half a shallot, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a tiny pinch of sugar. Arrange it all nicely on a platter or plates, drizzle some vinaigrette over, and garnish with chopped fresh mint. Pass more vinaigrette at the table.

Board Links: Spring Salad so good it deserves its own post

The Peanut Butteriest Ice Cream

For real peanut-butter-lovers, the ultimate in frozen treats: peanut butter–flavored ice cream studded with chunks of peanut butter cups. Non Cognomina makes a standard vanilla custard base using whole milk, strains it, then adds 2 tablespoons of peanut butter per cup of custard and emulsifies it with a hand blender. Chill thoroughly and freeze in your ice cream maker per manufacturer’s instructions. To add peanut butter cups, freeze them, then break them up by hand. Add to the ice cream right as it finishes churning. Pack the ice cream in a container and freeze it for a few hours or overnight for best results.

Board Links: Peanut Butter Ice Cream Recipe

Thou Shalt Salt Thy Pasta Cooking Water Liberally!

Adding salt to the water you cook your pasta in makes a huge difference in the flavor of the finished dish. Salt brings out the flavor of dry pasta, which is generally made from only flour and water. Since pasta absorbs water as it cooks, it absorbs the salt from salted water and is seasoned throughout in a way that can’t be replicated by salting after cooking. Compared side by side, pasta cooked in unsalted water tastes flat. In order to taste a difference, though, you must use plenty of salt; allegedly there’s an Italian saying that your pasta water should be “salty like the sea,” meaning that you can taste the salt in the water.

You can add salt to the water at the beginning or when it comes to a boil. Salted water boils at a higher temperature than unsalted water, but the difference is so small as to be unnoticeable. The only real issue with adding salt before you heat the water is that it may pit some cookware. Adding salt after the water comes to a boil avoids this potential problem, but the water will take longer to return to a rolling boil, since it must rise to a higher temperature.

Board Links: Adding salt to the water you cook spaghetti in: does it really make any difference?

Making Fruit Salad Sing

Chowhounds have many ways of adding extra zing to fruit salad.

Add a splash of liqueur (especially something fruity) or a teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract. Lime juice is a universal favorite.

Toasted coconut, candied ginger, or pomegranate seeds make nice mix-ins. Finely grated lime, lemon, or orange zest makes a world of difference, says missclaudy.

Fresh mint is a natural complement to fruit, but other herbs, like basil, lemon balm, and lemon thyme, are also unexpected and delicious with fruit.

hypertomatoes likes to add a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a splash of lime juice. Brandon Nelson uses a little vinegar and a pinch of sugar, especially if the fruit isn’t quite fabulous on its own.

Many like to add a spicy element to their fruit salads, from the barest sprinkle of chile powder to a very finely chopped jalapeño. taryn adds a bit of cumin, salt, red onion, and cilantro to fruit salads, and says it’s a nice play of flavors against the sweet and bright quality of fruits, and is especially good with pineapple, honeydew, and peaches.

Board Links: Enhancing Fruit Salad

Meaty Polish Comfort Food

Bigos is a hearty, meaty stew replete with beef, pork, sausage, and sauerkraut—Polish comfort food. “Bigos is to Poles what madeleines were to Proust,” explains ballulah. “In fact in Polish literature there is a similarly effusive Proustian passage about bigos in Adam Mickiewicz’s famous 19th Century epic poem Pan Tadeusz.” And bigos isn’t a stable dish, either—it’s one of those “a little of this, a little of that” dishes that morph between each making and between each generation.

It took ages for ballulah to convince her mother to give up her recipe for bigos, but when she finally did, Chowhounds rejoiced. Ballulah cautions that you must use a truly fermented German-style sauerkraut, not one that gets its sourness from vinegar, which will make the dish taste awful. She recommends using German or Austrian wine with a soft good body and soft tannins in the dish, and avoiding very fruit-forward wines with lots of acidity.

Ballulah’s Mother’s Bigos:

1/2 pound veal stew meat

1/2 pound pork shoulder, cubed

1/2 pound beef stew meat

3 onions, coarsely chopped

2 pounds sauerkraut

Good handful dried Polish mushrooms (soaked, reserving the strained soaking liquid)

Small piece Boczek (Polish pork belly, like salt pork or slab bacon), chopped

About 1-foot length of Polish sausage, chopped

Stock cubes (bouillon)


Bay leaf

Caraway seeds

1 cup or so red wine

Brown veal, pork, and beef in batches (do not cook through) in a very large pot over high heat, then set aside. Add onion and sauerkraut to the pot and just barely cover with water. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat way down, and add browned meats, mushrooms and their soaking liquid, boczek, sausage, bouillon, and seasonings. Simmer on very low heat for 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine and continue to simmer for 2 to 3 hours more. At this point, you can eat the bigos, but it’s much better if you allow it to cool, cover the pot, and refrigerate overnight, then cook at a low simmer for 2 to 3 hours more.

Board Links: My mother’s BIGOS recipe

Soup to Heal What Ails You

In addition to the universal curative brothy chicken soup, Chowhounds offer a few simple go-to soup recipes that set them right when they’re feeling under the weather.

VirgoBlue likes to make lentil soup when she’s sick: Sauté a chopped onion, two chopped carrots, and a chopped green bell pepper until soft. Add 2 1-quart boxes of chicken stock and two cans of diced tomatoes, a bay leaf, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, salt and pepper, and 3/4 cup green lentils. Cook for about an hour.

daily_unadventures makes tomato soup, which has, she notes, plenty of vitamin C: Sauté some diced onions in olive oil until soft; add 3 cloves of minced garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, then add a large can of whole tomatoes, dried oregano and basil, a bay leaf, salt and pepper, and chicken stock, and simmer for 20 minutes. If you want to make it heartier, add spinach and lemon zest at the end of cooking, and some noodles or tortellini, if you like.

Keramel’s sinus-clearing take on chicken soup for a cold is a spicy Mexican tortilla soup: Poach 2 sliced cloves of garlic and 2 chicken breasts in 8 cups chicken stock until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to a cutting board to cool, keeping the stock warm. When the chicken is cooled, shred it into small pieces with a fork. Meanwhile, blend a can of chopped tomatoes and their juices with 3 cloves of garlic and a roughly chopped small onion until smooth. Add to the chicken stock, along with cumin, chili powder, coriander, and oregano to taste, and cook for 10 minutes, adding whatever vegetables strike your fancy (chopped carrots/celery, cooked or canned black beans, corn, etc.). Near the end of cooking, add pickled jalapeño peppers and the chicken. Serve over fried tortilla strips or crushed tortilla chips.

Board Links: Best Soup Recipe when you’re sick