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May 17, 2007 07:44 PM

let's share a cooking "trick"

we all have many cooking tricks

here's one of mine:

for adding a deep, smoky taste to soups/stews/chilis etc. put in one teabag of twining's lapsang souchong tea (available in most supermarkets) while the dish cooks...don't forget to fish it out!

what's one of your tricks?

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  1. Whenever I made a salad that uses mayo, I use mayo, sourcream and yogurt in equal measure. When I boil my potatoes for salad, I throw a couple cloves of garlic as well. Depending, these can either be discarded or mashed into the dressing. Adds the garlic flavor without the fresh harshness.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Quine

      I do that same trick of mixing mayo, sour cream and yogurt. It really makes a difference.

      1. re: malenky

        Do you guys mix the three for better flavor or healthier alternative?

          1. re: Quine

            I have to try it! I assume it works with tuna salad too?


            1. re: JoLi

              works with anything calling for mayo ... but then I leave the mayo out altogether (I can't stand it!) But no one has ever questioned the ingredients ... well, except once when I used silken tofu and yogurt. Did I mention I can't stand mayo???

            2. re: Quine

              I use a mix of mayo and yoghurt and no sour cream for tuna, deviled eggs, salad dressings, dips for pakoras, etc. I even used it in place of creme fraiche in the Suzanne Goin's horseradish sauce served with the famous braised short ribs.

              If you get Greek yoghurt, even the non-fat is pretty great.

            3. re: JoLi

              I like the flavor of the 3 mixed then just using any one of them by themselves. And it does make it somewhat more healthy. it is really good with tuna salad and spreads for sandwiches

        1. I'm grateful for your suggestion. I'm always looking for a way to add a smoky flavor to soups and beans.

          My trick is handful of rather finely chopped cauliflower florets in all my vegetable soups including dried bean/pea soups. It dissolves, but gives the most wonderful depth of unidentifiably rich flavor.

          8 Replies
          1. re: PhoebeB

            That's a good one. And thanks for the tea bag idea. Bean soup is on this week's menu so I'll be giving these ideas a test drive.

            1. re: Louise

              Louise, it's surprising what it can do. Best I can describe it is that it makes a freshly-made soup taste like one that's had time for subtle flavors to fully develop.

              One morning 20 or so years ago our inn cook (best one we ever had; he had the "jeweler's tongue" for flavor and perfect seasoning) brought me a cup of a new soup recipe he'd just made a small test batch of. A very delicate pureed squash soup, as I recall--shallots, maybe a little mint.

              It was so incredibly good my eyes crossed, and I said, "Do it!", and he said he would be serving it that very night. All day I anticipated having a big bowl of it for dinner.

              But when dinnertime came and I went in to get some, he had a long face and told me it wasn't as good. I took a spoonful and had to agree. The difference was astounding. Compared to the first batch the soup had no character, tasted flat.

              He said, "It's the cauliflower. I didn't have any more, it only calls for a little of it and I didn't think it would matter much".

              From that time I've seldom made soup without cauliflower. The frozen is handy and works as well as fresh.

              1. re: PhoebeB

                Also, there is a product called liquid smoke, and a very little bit, infuses quite a bit of flavor.

                1. re: PhoebeB

                  Instead of cauliflower, I add parsnips to my chicken soup. Then I take out most of the veggies (carrots, onions, celery, parsnips), and puree them and put them back into the soup. I also roast a second chicken while I make the soup in order to have juicy, not worn out chicken to put in the soup. I find that the bird that's been sitting in the soup pot for hours is stringy and has given up all its flavor for the good of the soup. The soup is very rich and wonderful with the thickened broth and juicy chicken.

                  1. re: bards4

                    My mother does something similar that probably goes back to her Jewish relative's Russian roots - i.e. poverty. But a lot of good cooking comes out of making do - i.e. poverty.

                    She starts out her chicken soup typically with the bird in it. then after about 40 minutes when the soup is nice and brothy she removes the bird and roasts it. She claims the soup is not harmed and the roast bird comes out better than just roasting from the raw state. And you know, although I've never done it, it makes sense. When one roasts a raw bird, so much flavor leaks out and winds up as liquid under a bird that, lets face it, more often than not if one is an average cook - is rather dry any way. Her way, my mom gets a big pot of excellent soup - to which she can add all the leftover roast chicken after serving soup with veg. matzoh balls and noodles, and main course of stewed then roast bird. I believe her when she says it is the best way to do it.

                    BUT...I elimimated the dry chicken problem by making probably my best kitchen gadget purchase - the compact countertop rotisserie - so juicy, so perfect every time - all that crisp skin AND perfectly juicy bird. That is heaven!

                    1. re: niki rothman

                      I cut the breasts off my chicken before I put it in the soup pot, then dice them and add them after the soup is made and cook just long enough for the breast meat to cook through. A chicken carcass stripped of all useable meat will still produce delicious stock, so this doesn't hurt the flavor of the soup any.

                      1. re: niki rothman

                        Brining poultry before roasting makes them much more forgiving for the average cook, and it is hard to make them come out dry.

                2. re: PhoebeB

                  The cauliflower idea sounds really interesting- can you please tell me if there's a certain time that it should go in? It sounds like if it is going to dissolve over the cooking time, it may be one of the first things to go into the pot?

                3. Stole this tip from Mario Batali. When I make pasta, I stop boiling the pasta 5 minutes before it's supposed to be done and cook it in my sauce. The sauce gets infused in the pasta.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    I always do this too. It makes a huge difference. I learned it from a great, but very tempermental, Italian chef. But not with ravioli of any other stuffed pasta.

                    1. re: bryan

                      yup this one is a great tip..reduces the risk of soggy pasta too..

                      1. re: cherrylime

                        Sorry in advance if this is a stupid question--I'm a novice cook. How long do you cook the pasta in the sauce and at what temperature? Obviously you don't want the sauce to be boiling like the hot water the pasta came from, so wouldn't it require more time to finish cooking the pasta? Thanks!

                        1. re: garbanzobean

                          Not a stupid question at all. You cook the pasta as you normally would but drain it before it's al dente - about 2-3 minutes before you would take it out. Add to a large pan on medium-high heat (I use a big saute pan made for restaurant use) and ladle on your hot sauce. For a pound of pasta, about 3 cups of sauce is good. You can eyeball it. Stir well for a couple of minutes and taste the pasta to see if it's cooked to your liking. Finish with more sauce if you want. And then cheese.

                          This method works best on non-stuffed pasta.

                          1. re: bryan

                            Usually the Italian cooks will also add a knob of butter or a goodly squirt of evoo at this point also. It's the unctuousness.

                          2. re: garbanzobean

                            Also, (a Lydia teaching, and what they do at Babbo per Buford) add a few tablespoons of the pasta water to the sauce.

                      2. re: Miss Needle

                        Especially great for delicate stuff like spaghetti with clams, where you want the pasta to be infused with all the great wine/garlic, etc.

                        1. re: notmartha

                          Thanks, everyone! Very helpful. Next time I make pasta, I'll use this method.

                        2. re: Miss Needle

                          Does this technique work for fresh as well as dried pasta??

                          I know everyone confirms that it is best not to do this with stuffed pasta but I have tried a recipe that it does work with (it does create a more of a "pie" or casserole however):

                          This a recipe for a Tortellini Torta. It involves cooking tortellini's almost all the way in the sauce (with a bit of broth) until the sauce is almost absorbed. Add a bit of jack and parmesan cheese to thicken. You then pour 1/2 the mixture into a breadcrumb lined springform pan and layer with eggplant that has been boiled in chic broth until mashed. Bake for about 20 min.

                          This a wonderful dish for bringing to pot lucks, etc since you can make it ahead, remove it from the pan to display and serve it in slices like cheesecake.

                          That's the only other time I have seen cooking pasta in the sauce. I would love to know if it's best with dried pasta or works for both.

                          It's a great idea.

                        3. I wrap lean cuts of meat (tenderloins, breasts of fowl, some roasts) with caul fat prior to roasting...people wonder how the meat stays so moist...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: damadchef

                            You could try thinly sliced panchetta. I'm sure some people couldn't even get caul fat. Plus the panchetta gives the lean meat a great flavor.

                          2. thank you posters (and future posters)!

                            here's another trick:

                            to give a buttery flavor to your fried eggs (without much added fat) put a pat of real butter in your pan...when it melts swirl it around to coat and pour off any extra...much better than "butter flavored" sprays

                            29 Replies
                            1. re: kleinfortlee

                              An old caterer's trick my grandmother gave me is to put a little good mayo into scrambled eggs. Makes them creamy/glossy-looking instead of dried out, and they will stay that way on the steam table. (~ a scant tsp. per egg. )

                              Some people use sour cream to do the same thing, and I do it either way depending on what's on hand. Commercial sour cream wasn't commonly available in my grandmother's day.

                              And re: fat. Isn't it strange how many fewer overweight-to-obese people there were back in the days when no one worried about butter/cream/eggs/etc. ?

                              1. re: PhoebeB

                                We walked a lot, we worked harder and longer, we did more gardening and cut our own grass. We also did not sit around in front of the TV for hours scarfing Goldfish or popcorn and swilling beer. It's amazing what a difference a little activity can make: when we were in France we ate hugely and well, but we also walked several miles every day...and when we came back home we'd both lost about ten pounds each!

                                Back on topic: I've gotten into the habit of pre-seasoning every kind of flesh I cook, whether it's meat, fish or fowl, and usually letting it sit in a seasoned olive oil bath before cooking as well. This works particularly well for grilling or pan-grilling things like lean pork chops or skinless chicken. I grilled some chicken legs and thighs last night, bathed for about an hour in a highly seasoned mixture of olive oil, chile oil, salt, pepper and some cayenne, then put into the hinged grilling basket and deliberately overcooked slightly (a notion I got from some grilled Mexican stuff I've had lately). It came out a little chewy and very tasty.

                                And speaking of cayenne, I discovered a long time ago that a dash of that added to lots of different kinds of soups, stews, casseroles and pasta dishes has much the same flavor-enhancing qualities as MSG. You don't add enough to make the dish spicy, just enough to sort of slap the taste buds awake. Using sweet-but-hot peppers such as poblanos instead of bell pepper in cooked dishes has very much the same effect.

                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  Hear, hear! I used to spend a month every summer at my uncle's farm in western OK. Breakfast was huge-- eggs/biscuits/pancakes/gravy/grits/ham, honey, jams, preserves; noon "dinner" even huger: a 12' table filled with vegetables (and I mean creamed spinach, greens with lots of butter/bacon/salt pork, mounds of mashed potatoes made w/cream & butter, a squash casserole that was the best thing I ever tasted--I still have the recipe and make it often, corn on the cob drenched in butter), a big garden salad, Jello/fruit salads, sliced tomatoes, trimmed scallions, the remainder of yesterday's enormous cold ham , a hot beef roast and gravy, always a heaping platter of fried chicken and CREAM gravy, hot yeast rolls by the sheet full, 2 or 3 fresh rhubarb pies, 4 or 5 other pies/cakes leftover from the day before (all pastry & frying done with with home-rendered lard).

                                  Supper was generally leftovers but with fresh hot rolls, chilled watermelon and a freezer of hand-cranked ice cream. Once a week we'd meet at some neighboring farm (every farm family for several miles was related some way) for a fish fry (cornmeal-breaded crappie/perch/sunfish caught by the women & kids that day in the various stocked ponds), hushpuppies, more huge salads, more freezers of ice cream, more outrageous cakes.

                                  Not a person in the family with an ounce of fat on them. They worked it off, slept like babies at night, lived into their 90s.

                                  And I agree about cayenne. It's my 3rd favorite seasoning after S&P. And I keep a package of Penzey's dried Chipotles in the fridg and throw them either whole or crushed into just about everything.

                                  I also order whole flame-roasted, peel-on NM Big Jim & Sandia chiles from New Mexican Connection. They come frozen in 1 lb. heavy freezer bags, and an order of 10 lbs. lasts me about a year. I put them in everything I don't put the chipotles in (sometimes put both of them in :o).

                                  1. re: PhoebeB

                                    PhoebeB, would you be willing to share the squash casserole recipe? Thanks in advance!

                                    1. re: Tatania

                                      Sure. It's so easy and so good. My girls and I have tried several other squash casserole recipes through the years--twice the ingredients and steps, water chestnuts, white wine, etc.--and keep coming back to this old farm recipe.

                                      This fills an 8X8" sq. Pyrex baking dish.

                                      Parboil about 2 lbs. of yellow summer squash (sliced about 1/4" thick) til just tender. Drain & mash.

                                      1/2 stick (1/4 C.) melted butter
                                      1/4 C. minced onion
                                      1 beaten egg
                                      1/2 C. grated sharp cheddar
                                      1/2 C. sour cream
                                      S&P to taste (keep in mind the topping is salty)

                                      Mix and pour into buttered baking dish. Top with crushed buttery cracker crumbs (Ritz, Town House) or potato chips.

                                      Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

                                      1. re: PhoebeB

                                        I love that you use Ritz. I use Ritz in my meatloaf, and though I have tried other variations, the one with the Ritz is always the best!

                                        1. re: PhoebeB

                                          Bless you, Phoebe!
                                          I just called my husband to bring home the ingredients for the squash casserole!

                                          1. re: PhoebeB

                                            PhoebeB --- Thank you! Your summer squash recipe is such a delight. I couldn't wait to try it and by a stroke of luck, squash went on sale yesterday! I followed your recipe almost exactly - only change was I added in some zucchini with the summer squash. The casserole is divine - definitely add the Ritz on top. YUM. I know I will make this one again and again - easy and lovely, a great complement to my other dishes too (lemony scallops and garlic-roasted fingerlings!)

                                            Thanks again, Phoebe B. One request: I would love to see more of your vegetable side dish recipes on this idea - simple to make, divine to eat.

                                            1. re: foxy fairy

                                              I'll do that, Foxyfairy. Stay tuned.

                                              1. re: foxy fairy

                                                Oooh! lemony sea scallops! I cannot think of a better accompaniment to Phoebe's wonderful sounding recipe. I had to post becuae I obtained all the ingredients and am making it tonight! just let me ask - how much in the way of Ritz goes on top? Would you say a light sprinkling? Also, would I want to, say, use a olive oil spray to help crisp the top? You know, Boston Market sells a creamy squash custard casserole that is divine EXCEPT it is too salty for me, and therefore I'd say too salty for ANYONE, because I do love to use the salt shaker. Has anyone else tried this Boston Market version? But, back to the issue at hand:I will report back after I serve Phoebe's casserole!
                                                Phoebe - you should know your prose style in describing your incredible farm family feasts still linger pleasureably in my chow-centered mind! I printed that post and think it is classic. You should publish a memoir of those wonderful bygone rural American memories of a life we all wish we might have experienced.

                                                1. re: niki rothman

                                                  Niki, a good topping of the Ritz. Say 3/16-1/4 inch. It adds a nice little crunch. I don't know about the olive oil. Try it on half the casserole and see if it makes a difference.

                                                  Thank you for the kind words about my nostalgic meanderings. Whenever I start trying to put those memories into words I probably need someone by me to hit the "period" key.

                                                  And Foxy Fairy, I started a draft on the other simple veggie ideas you asked me for. I'll get it posted, I promise. It's short; I'm pretty basic in the way I cook vegetables.

                                                  1. re: PhoebeB

                                                    Phoebe -- I can't wait! :) I wonder how you do radishes, especially because I have a sweet little bag of them waiting to be transformed into rosy magic. I think I'm going to braise them with shallots. I like simple vegetable dishes and I can't wait to try more of yours!

                                                    1. re: PhoebeB

                                                      Hi Phoebe,
                                                      I made the yellow squash dee-lite and it was sooooo delicious - custardy, slightly sweet and rich - yet light enough to make you feel virtuous you were still getting a good serving of vegetables. I'd like to recommend a book to you that reminds me of your wonderful down on the farm food memories and that is an all time favorite, "The Egg and I" by Betty Macdonald. For some reason I've never seen it mentioned in the threads about favorite food writing here, but next time one inevitably comes up I will. If you do not have this wondeful food/farm memory book please trust me and get it - it is also hilarious - takes place in the 1950's I think. my best book bargains (food oriented and other) these days are obtained at

                                            2. re: PhoebeB


                                              Your uncle's farm sounds like my grandparents' farm in West Virginia. they had a dairy farm, hand milked 4 Jersey cows morning & evening. My grandmither cooked everything with cream & freshly churned butterr. Fresh eggs, home-cured ham or sausage for breakfast. The best hot rolls ever. Fresh fruites & veggies spring, summer & fall. Canned, frozen & preserved fruits & vegggies in the winter. I can't begin to list all the great pies, cakes, cookies and desserts my grandmother made. I would give a million dollars to go back & spend a summer week with them!!!

                                              1. re: corabeth

                                                You know, I think those farm visits were the highlight of my childhood. My mother was a good cook and we had our own two acres of chickens/goats/garden in a Dallas suburb, but preparing meals was just another chore to her and she didn't like us underfoot when she was cooking. All I knew how to cook, when I got married, was cookies.

                                                (The Girl Scouts used to make the cookies they sold. Did you know that? Each girl in a troop was given a recipe for "Sand Tarts": round rolled-and-cut sugar cookies with three almond halves arranged like the GS emblem, brushed w/egg white and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. We each had to make 12 dozen to sell.)

                                                It was the OK relatives who gave me my love for cooking. I still dream of that big farm kitchen with my Aunt Edith and 2-3 of the daughters/daughters-in-law bustling around making those incredible meals with such efficiency, such practiced & lavish hands, having so much fun with each other, never minding me hanging around tasting and asking questions.

                                                These were people who'd lived through the Depression years in the very heart of the Dust Bowl and survived through incredibly hard work, thrift, family, and faith. They had experienced hard times and they knew how to respect, rejoice in, and be grateful for an abundance of good food, and they communicated all that to me.

                                              2. re: PhoebeB

                                                Phoebe, your post deserves a love letter! Most delicious one I have read in a long time! Oooooh! Sounds so delicious. May I beg you to post that most delicous squash casserole recipe on home cooking? Please, please, please...
                                                And not being one with chile experience, could you expound a bit on foods that enhanced most by the cayenne, NM chiles, and chipotles?

                                            3. re: PhoebeB

                                              Cream cheese bits in your scrambled eggs is pretty awesome too, someone told me and it's true... a few bits in 2 large eggs gives the eggs a delicious taste...I'll bet neufchatel would work pretty nicely too, even less fat!

                                              1. re: Val

                                                Cream cheese is great in scrambled eggs and lots of other things. It will keep any number of casseroles from being either too dry or too watery--mac & cheese, tuna noodle (don't laugh; you've never tasted my famous tuna casseroles with sauteed onions/garlic, duxelles, sometimes Brie, sometimes green chile; Pennsyvania Dutch Homestyle Noodles, 3-4 cans of tuna. My grandkids time their visits to coincide with when I make one.)

                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                    Oh always sour cream AND cream cheese. I hope no one ever tells me how many calories in those delicious concoctions. I like to put in one can of chunk light to 2-3 cans of albacore for some tuna flavor. Albacore can taste almost like chicken by itself.

                                                  2. re: Val

                                                    I use sour cream, creme fraiche, or regular goat cheese in my scrambled eggs all the time. I stir a spoon or two in as soon the eggs are done.

                                                  3. re: PhoebeB

                                                    Along the same lines I add one or two tablespoons of cream to eggs before scrambling. In a pinch I will use milk. Makes them a little creamier, especially when cooked over a low low heat.

                                                    1. re: PhoebeB

                                                      True, but a lot of those thin folks also kicked the bucket early because their cholesterol was so high. Years ago, before cardiology became the science it is today, people ate higher fat diets and often "looked" healthy, i.e. thinner, but lived shorter lives. I wonder if the fact that now 2/3 of the US population is overweight will lead to the life spans becoming shorter again?

                                                      1. re: niki rothman

                                                        I read/heard from multiple major news sources several weeks ago that this is the first generation that is not expected to have longer life spans than their parents, and yes, it's associated with obesity and obesity-related health problems.

                                                        1. re: niki rothman

                                                          Niki, it's true that lots of factors contribute to a long life in good health. Genes might be the most crucial, but it's a wild card and out of our control.

                                                          I think the most important thing is contentment with your life. That's what lets you sleep at night and go about your business in peace.

                                                          Mental and emotional stress--frustration, anger, resentment, unresolved conflict, hyper-sensitivity (taking the slings & arrows of life too personally) & so forth--is a killer.

                                                          Next worst peril after unhappiness is not using our bodies enough. They're made to move and work, eat good food & burn it off before it can stick to us.

                                                          If those two factors are in place, I know about as surely as I know anything at 71 years old, that plenty of eggs/butter/cream/lard/bacon drippings/etc. in a balanced diet eaten with moderation never killed anyone.

                                                          My mom died last May at 97, her mother at 94. (Her mother, BTW, had 12 siblings. The only one who didn't live into his 90s was killed when he was kicked in the head by a horse at age 22.)

                                                          My husband's father, who--I swear to you--ate a giant slab of ham at every meal and scoffed at all veggies except corn & potatoes--died 6 weeks short of his 90th birthday, never sick a day in his life, felt like a million dollars up to a few weeks before he died.
                                                          (He was pretty chubby, but that's because he moved slow and didn't have much to do in his late years.)

                                                          These are people of three-four generations ago, of course; and not many of us have the physical demands on our bodies they had. But I think jettisoning one after another of the delicious, wholesome, natural foods we've been blessed with (and that make us happy :o) is not the solution and has often turned out to be part of the problem.

                                                          (I'm thinking of the "healthy" move to hydrogenated fats in place of butter and lard. Now they're calling lard "the new health food". When will we ever learn?)

                                                          1. re: PhoebeB

                                                            Fee Bee Bee, theres a lesson there: stay away from horses with unresolved issues.

                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              But the horse resolved HIS issue, apparently. Maybe there's a lesson there too.

                                                        2. re: PhoebeB

                                                          You're right, but nobody ever ate 5 Big Macs and fries and shakes a week...or pizza with pepperoni and tons of cheese all the time.

                                                          The latest thing to really make me sick is the fast food joints' ads touting their "meals" - pizza with a side of deep fried crust and cake for dessert; or fried chicken, fries or mashed spuds and a cake for dessert. Talk about BALANCED! Whooeeeee.

                                                        3. re: kleinfortlee

                                                          Similarly, my mother-in-law taught me to use mayo instead of milk or cram for the best texture in my quiche.