The Carefree Gourmet
by Joyce McCombs
It’s time once again for our semi annual Carefree Clearance Special, where I dig through all the tips, tricks, tidbits, quotable quotes, and otherwise odd information that I can’t seem to work into a column.
As you all know, I constantly and shamelessly eavesdrop everywhere I go, hoping to snag some fabulous idea I can write about. If I’m very fortunate, someone may stop me at the store with a tip or recipe and I can take off with a topic from there. My reaction to these kind and generous folks is usually strong and swift. I thank them profusely and my eyes get a little dreamy as I think of a nice, easy column that will practically write itself. I have been known to drop everything and scribble down a few notes (I recommend the big orange block of Tillamook cheese as a handy writing surface, should you ever suddenly need to scribble something down at IGA), and then I cram the paper into my purse. These notes slowly sift downward, where they get wrinkled and mashed while cavorting with rubber bands, stray coins and pens I swear I do NOT intentionally steal from the Delta Library. These notes continue ripen for a few weeks until I get serious about cleaning out my purse, and that’s when I discover them - a bunch of torn and neglected bits of paper, some of which are charmingly decorated with breath mint crumbs.
Not once in all the years I have been writing this column have I gained enough inspiration from these notes to pull together any kind of coherent theme. So in my own defense and cursed with a severe case of “Nothing Comes To Mind and I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Write Again Syndrome”, I have created this No Theme column where I hope you’ll find something you can use.
“Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged and well-provisioned breakfast table.” Nathaniel Hawthorne
You can use a wide mouthed pitcher to make and pour those breakfast pancakes. It’s an easier and splatter free way to get the batter to the skillet, and it keeps well in the refrigerator for several days. To make gingerbread pancakes, substitute 2 tablespoons molasses for an equal amount of milk, and add half a teaspoon of ground ginger and a quarter teaspoon each of cinnamon and allspice to the dry ingredients.
“Beef is the soul of cooking” - Marie Antoine Careme
For extra crunchy meatballs, roll them lightly in cornmeal or crushed corn flakes before frying or baking.
Here are three clever meatloaf ideas: grate a peeled, raw potato into the meat mixture for extra flavor and juiciness. Try mixing the meat and seasonings in a large zip top bag and then turn it inside out and use the bag to pat it into shape in the loaf pan. If you need dinner faster than the hour it usually takes for the usual loaf shape to bake, try spreading the mixture in a pie plate or round cake pan. It will cook in half the time and you can serve meatloaf “pie” wedges for a change.
“You don’t get tired of muffins, but you don’t find inspiration in them.” – George Bernard Shaw
If you like your corn muffins extra crispy and brown on the bottom, swirl the bottom of your muffin tins with a teaspoon of vegetable oil and place in a preheated 400 oven for ten minutes. Remove and add the muffin batter – it should sizzle a bit, then bake as usual. The bottom crusts and sides will be extra crusty and brown and will release from the tins easily. And don’t forget to use an ice cream scoop to fill muffin cups neatly with batter.
“Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold” -Judith Onley
Invest in a vanilla bean, split it in half and keep the halves buried in a separate canister just for baking. Stir it around now and then when you think of it, and use it often. It deepens the flavor of vanilla extract most sweet recipes call for and it’s a tasty addition to morning coffee, too.
“Burgundy makes you think of silly things: Bordeaux makes you talk about them, and Champagne makes you do them.” - Brillat-Savarin
If you ever find two cocktail glasses left overnight are hopelessly stuck together, fill the inner one with cold water and stand them both in a saucepan of the hottest tap water. Wait just a few minutes, then use a kitchen towel around your hands and gently loosen them. The science of expansion and contraction from the temperature difference will help them separate.
“Only the pure of heart can make good soup.” Ludwig Van Beethoven
Place a leaf of lettuce in the soup pot for a couple minutes to absorb any grease from the top of your homemade soup, then discard.
“Salt is born of the purest parents: the sun and the sea.” Pythagorous
The usual ratio of salt to pepper is six to one. Try measuring six teaspoons of salt to one of pepper and placing the mix in a shaker to use at the stove.
“Coffee is a fleeting moment and a fragrance.” -Claudia Roden
Use half a cup of strong coffee when making stew. It complements the deep flavor of the beef and makes the meat juices dark and rich. There are about 80 tablespoons of ground coffee per pound, which makes 40 to 50 five-ounce cups, depending on strength.
“Catsup and butter on cooked noodles… mmm!” -Janine Todd
There are 1 2/3 cups of catsup in a sixteen-ounce bottle. Add a quarter cup of tomato catsup during the last twenty minutes of cooking to beef stew – it’s the secret ingredient in many fine restaurants, according to a retired Alaskan chef I met.
“You cannot feed the hungry on statistics.” David Lloyd George
A quarter measures one-inch in diameter and a penny is 3/4 of an inch and it’s handy to know these things. You’re more likely to have change in your pocket than a measuring tape. A raisin weighs a gram. There are 60 drops of water in a teaspoon. It’s also handy to know the length of one of your own personal fingers, or the length from elbow to wrist, or the length of your stride.
A quarter cup of dry popcorn will produce 5 cups of popped corn. It takes 15 gingersnaps OR 28 vanilla wafers OR 28 soda crackers OR 15 graham cracker squares OR 24 Ritz crackers OR 16 chocolate wafer cookies to equal one cup crushed crumbs. One cup of macaroni will make two cups cooked, but one cup of rice will make three cups cooked.
Water weights one pound for every two cups. One ounce of liquid is usually two tablespoons. A magnum of champagne is 2 quarts.
Four cups of ingredients will bake just fine in a 9 inch pie pan, but six cups work better in a 9 x 12 cake pan. Eight cups of ingredients will work just fine an 8 x 8 square baking dish.
There are 85 mini marshmallows in one cup. Store marshmallows in zip lock bags in the freezer and they won’t dry out. They are easier to cut with kitchen scissors when frozen, too. Place a whole marshmallow on top of cupcakes about three minutes before removing from the oven. It will melt and form just the right amount of frosting.
“A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.” - Samuel Butler
Eight large egg whites equal 4 cups beaten.
“Without Bread, all is misery.” - William Cobbett
One package of yeast will leaven four to five cups of flour. Four cups of white flour equal one pound.
“Life is a difficult thing in the country and it requires a good deal of forethought to steer the ship, when you live twelve miles from a lemon.” -Sydney Smith
One fresh lemon usually yields about three tablespoons juice. Be sure it’s at room temperature and roll it on the counter with the palm of your hand to release the juice before squeezing. Limes usually yield about two tablespoons per fruit, since they’re smaller. If you need just a drop of fresh lemon or lime juice, use a toothpick and prick the skin and squeeze out just what you need. Refrigerate the fruit in a plastic bag for up to ten days – be sure to puncture in a different place for more juice. The average orange yields about 4 teaspoons grated zest, a lemon, about 3 teaspoons, and most limes barely 1 teaspoon.
“Garlic is the catsup of intellectuals” - Anonymous
Eating lime sherbet after a meal featuring garlic will sweeten your breath, so say the experts at the Gilroy, California Garlic Festival.
“Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.” - Shirley Conran
Keep mushrooms fresh longer by storing them in a paper bag, rather than plastic. Rinse and shake under cool water in a colander right before use, and blot dry with paper towels. To slice them quickly, use an egg slicer. Make your own marinated mushrooms by placing whole mushrooms in bottled vinaigrette salad dressing. Let them sit a couple days in the refrigerator before slicing into salads.
“Life is too short to not stuff a mushroom” - Joyce McCombs
Separate caps and stems. Dice stems only and saute over medium heat in equal parts olive oil and butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Add seasoned Italian style breadcrumbs to equal the quantity of cooked stems and mix well, cooking for a couple more minutes. Remove from heat and add a teaspoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of parsley and a dash of Worcestershire and mix again. Let cool a bit, then fill mushroom caps with mixture and top with a light dusting of Parmesan. Broil until caps are lightly browned. Served with anything or nothing, for any meal, under any circumstances, all will seem right with the world.
“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” Jane Austen
Add interest to pie crust by sprinkling very finely chopped nuts over the bottom crust before adding filling. Use a spoon to gently press the nuts into the pastry, then fill or bake as usual. Try finely chopped pecans with pecan pie, or walnuts with apple pie. To keep a pie with juicy filling from boiling over, stick three or four pieces of raw tubular macaroni through the top crust in a circle about an inch from the center. The tubes will allow the steam to vent. Be sure to remove them before serving the pie!
If the recipe calls for dotting the surface of your apple pie with butter, you’ll get better coverage if you use a very cold stick of butter and a the coarse side of a grater for sprinkling.
If your pie crust edges tend to brown too quickly, try cutting out the middle of a disposable pie pan, and inverting the shield over the edges, leaving the center to continue browning.
Try using cornstarch on the work surface when rolling a piecrust. It doesn’t give a starchy aftertaste, and is easier to clean up than flour. And see what you think about using a pizza cutter to cut strips for a lattice piecrust.
If you need a crust for a pie in a hurry, try refrigerated cookie dough. Just slice the log into quarter inch pieces and press into the pan. Chocolate chip cookie crust baked and filled with any flavor ice cream is delicious.
22 Oreo cookies plus three tablespoons melted butter pressed into a pie pan makes one bottom crust. Wrap your hand in plastic wrap or a small bag and press the crumbs firmly into place and bake for ten minutes at 350. Cool completely before filling.
“Good friends, good food, good wine and good weather, doth a good picnic make” -Anonymous
If you don’t have ice packs for your picnic basket, try freezing small sponges in zip lock bags. They’ll last about three hours and when you’re done with the picnic, you have a handy way to wipe up sticky fingers.
Or you can fill well-washed empty milk cartons with water, seal with duct tape and freeze until solid. They fit well in the corners of the cooler, and you’ll have fresh cool water to drink as they melt.
A Styrofoam egg carton makes a handy and sturdy transport for small items like apricots, plums, or cherry tomatoes, and of course, hard-boiled eggs.
To keep flies away from the picnic table, try studding several lemons with whole cloves. And to keep yellow jackets or other pests out of drinking cups, cover with foil, pressed down well, then poke a straw through the foil.
“Give me the provisions and the whole apparatus of a kitchen and I would starve.” Michel de Montaigne
Remove berry or beet stains from your fingers by rubbing them with full strength lemon juice and a sprinkle of sugar or salt. The acid and the abrasion will clean your hands without the harshness of chemical cleansers.
A new toothbrush is the perfect tool to clean pepper mill grinders, nutmeg graters and garlic presses.
To eliminate bits of shell in freshly hulled nuts, turn the nuts into a large bowl of cool water. The shells will float and can be skimmed off. Drain and dry the nuts well before using.
For crisper pizza crust, place a thin layer of grated cheese directly on the crust before adding the sauce.
If you have a lot of potatoes to bake at one time, stand them on end in a muffin tin. It makes them easier to remove from the oven, too. The higher the temperature you bake them, the crispier the skin.
It also adds lots of flavor to sprinkle each freshly washed potato with a bit of salt before baking.
Dip the measuring spoon in hot water before measuring honey, shortening or butter and it will slip out easily. Use non-stick spray on your grater and measuring cups, and sticky things like cheese or honey will release quickly and cleanly.
If you need to dry a bottle with a narrow neck in a hurry, use a hairdryer.
“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” Calvin Trillin
Here’s some uses for wax paper besides covering those leftovers! Use a sheet under your measuring cup and it will make it easier to return any spilled flour, sugar or cocoa to the canister. Use it also under the grater when you are making lemon zest or grated cheese for quick clean up. Sprinkle a couple drops of water on the counter and lay down wax paper to roll out a pie crust – it will stay put while you roll and if you use another sheet between the pin and the dough, it won’t stick. Place strips of wax paper around the edges of the cake platter before positioning the cake on top. Once the cake is frosted, carefully pull out the strips (which should have caught any drips) and discard. You can also wrap corn on the cob in wax paper, twist the ends to seal and microwave a couple minutes until steaming. Be sure to wait and salt it after cooking, or it will get tough.
And finally, my favorite culinary quote:
“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” Sophia Loren
If you have a hint or tip that you rely on that’s particularly wacky, I’d love to share it with the CG readers. Please feel free to send it along to me care of the Delta Wind (Box 986) or drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll be more than happy to feature your ideas and any stories you have to go along with them in the next Tips and Tricks column in a few months. Thanks in advance!
Index to Carefree Gourmet Articles
Sensations June 29, 2007
Kitty Treats June
Dog Treats April 20,
Sandwich Plan March
Wacky Ingredients March 8, 2007
January 25, 2007
Carefree Cooking 101
January 11, 2007
December 23, 2006
December 12, 2006
November 20, 2006
October 16, 2006
Apples September 22, 2006
Kids Cook July 6, 2006
Wacky Tips June 8,
Graduation May 11,
April 13, 2006
A Bit of Irish March
Crazy for Carrots
March 9, 2006
February 23, 2006
Easy Budget January
December 22, 2005
December 8, 2005
November 22, 2005
- Part 2 - October 13, 2005
September 22, 2005
September 5, 2005
Halibut and Zukes July 28, 2005
Orange Juice July 14, 2005
Happy Birthday June
Honey June 9, 2005
Picnic Dishes May 26, 2005
Celebration Salads May 12,
Kraft Foods April 21, 2005
Shrimp April 7, 2005
Carry on Airline snacks March 25,
Sandwiches March 10, 2005
Back from Vacation February 24,
Super Bowl Snack Attack
January 14, 2005
Ginger Snaps December 29, 2004
Christmas Memories -
December 12, 2004
Thanksgiving November 23, 2004
Glen and Meat October 29,
Blueberry Pie Champion
September 30, 2004
Fair Winners September 2,
Glen's Knives June 11, 2004
Aunt Aggie Tells All... May 13,
Crazy About Catsup April 29,
Carefree Clearance Special
April 8, 2004
Seattle Adventure March 26, 2004
Vegas, part 2 March 12, 2004
Vegas Wind February 12, 2004
Casserole Bonanza January 11, 2004
No Fuss Dishes
December 19, 2003
Fake and Bake Christmas
December 11, 2003