Couscous, which is often mistaken for a grain, is actually a type of pasta made from semolina and wheat flour. Like most pastas, couscous by itself doesn’t have a lot of inherent flavor, but it’s fantastic at absorbing and enhancing the flavors of whatever it is prepared with (and you can literally prepare it in minutes without heating up the kitchen!). In this recipe, the couscous is made with low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth) instead of water and is then tossed in a dijon-orange vinaigrette with spinach, green onions, almonds, orange slices and garbanzo beans to make a great, light and refreshing summery main course salad.
Now that you know the best way to sharpen your knives (see previous post for the Accusharp Knife and Tool Sharpener)…here is the best and cheapest way to keep them sharp. Every time you put an unprotected knife in a drawer you run the risk of ruining the edge. It just takes a little bump to bend or roll the delicate edge of a sharp knife, and although honing with a good sharpening steel is something you should be doing, as it will straighten out the blade’s edge, it doesn’t actually sharpen the knife. Over time the knife will start to dull, until one beautiful summer day while you’re futilely attempting to slice a tomato for a BLT, the knife slips off the fruit (yes, the tomato is a fruit…look it up) and lops off your entire thumb (ok…that’s a little dramatic, but I’m trying to make a point here). Of course, you can buy knife guards, but it’s exceptionally easy to make them at home. All you do is take some cardboard (the thin kind from a gift box works best, but any cardboard will do), cut a long strip that’s the length of the knife’s blade and a little more then twice as wide as the blade, fold it in half length-wise to fit the knife, and just staple evenly down the open edge. Slip this on whenever you store your knives, and they’ll stay sharp no matter how much they rattle around in that overstuffed drawer.
I love my knives and, as incongruous as it might sound, a sharp knife is a safe knife. When a knife is dull, more pressure is needed when using it and that increases the chance that the knife will slip and do some damage…a sharp knife is not only much easier to control, but it really adds to the joy of food preparation.
Sharpening a knife using a sharpening stone is best left to professionals. It’s a great skill to learn, but it takes a lot of practice as it’s tough to get the proper angles. The Accusharp Knife and Tool Sharpener is an inexpensive, safe and easy to use tool that makes knife sharpening a pleasure. It has diamond honed tungsten carbide sharpening blades set at the proper angle so you can’t make a mistake, and in about 10 seconds, you have a nice, sharp edge.
The are a lot of myths and facts about knife sharpening, but if you use the right knife for the job and you keep it sharp, you’ll find food prep to be a pleasure.
Don’t you just hate it when you open a package of bacon and it’s hard to separate the strips? I admit, it’s not a problem as dire as global warming or the economy, but at least there’s any easy remedy for this annoying situation. Just roll the package of bacon into a tight cylinder shape before opening it, and the bacon strips will be easy to separate. And don’t forget to use the classic Cast Iron Bacon Press when cooking…it helps the bacon cook evenly and actually prevents it from curling up…it’s great for BLTs.
A few months ago I posted my favorite oven baked french fry recipe…that one was great (it was for steak-cut fries), but I’ve been experimenting with oven baked fries since then and this recipe is even better…it turns out thinner, crunchier, crisper fries with way more flavor. The secret is par baking the potatoes in the microwave for a couple of minutes in a garlicky oil and then coating them with a spicy cornstarch mixture before baking them in the oven. It sounds a lot more involved then it is…it’s actually simple, fast and definitely worth trying. It is also very forgiving, so feel free to experiment with different spices and quantities…as long as you dry the potatoes well after soaking, and keep an eye on them as they cook, they’ll come out great. Pair the fries with a super-melty cheeseburger topped with caramelized onions and you’ll never want to go out for burgers and fries again, ’cause it doesn’t get an better than this.
It’s finally summer, so it’s time once again for the best breakfast ever…Healthy Fruit Smoothies. The great thing about the following technique is that you can substitute just about any fruits and juices that you like…it’s all good. For this Hawaiian smoothie, I took fresh picked papayas and bananas, cut them into chunks and froze them overnight. To make the smoothie, put about a cup of frozen papaya chunks, a cup of frozen banana pieces, 6 oz. of your favorite blueberry yogurt (I use Dannon) into a blender and add about 3/4 cup of V8 Splash (available everywhere…I use Tropical Blend, but any flavor you prefer will do). Pulse the blender for about 30 seconds, and if necessary, give it a quick stir (make sure the blades have stopped!), and repeat a few times. If it appears too thick at this point you can take the top off the blender while it’s running (make sure all the fruit has been pureed before you do this or you may end up wearing some smoothie) and slowly pour in a little more Splash until you see a vortex begin to form in the center-you’ll know what I mean when you see it happen-and the Smoothie will have a perfect consistency. If you love peanut butter like I do, you can add a heaping tablespoon (I prefer chunky) and blend for a couple of seconds more…it’s incredible! For convenience, you can buy bags of chunked frozen fruit just about anywhere. I love the Costco brand..it has peaches, strawberries, pineapple and honeydew and comes in a 6 lb. bag. The secret, though, to a really great smoothie is the frozen bananas (I always keep a baggie full of frozen banana chunks in the freezer)…that’s what gives it the amazingly creamy consistency.
After you’ve grated your block of Parmesan right down to the hard rind, don’t you dare throw it out. Place it in a plastic bag and stick it in the freezer. Next time you make stew, soup or spaghetti sauce, just toss in a big chunk of rind as it’s cooking, and that great intense, salty unique Parmesan flavor will infuse the sauce…just don’t forget to remove it before serving! If you do forget, please click here immediately. 🙂
A sharp, well balanced knife that feels good in your hand is a pleasure to work with and makes cooking that much more enjoyable…when the right knife is used properly, it really makes you feel very “cheffy”. I’ve already posted how to sharpen knives and keep them sharp, and the amazing chart below (which I totally copied from Kitchen Kapers) really helps you figure out exactly what knife to use (or buy) for the job at hand.
Quinoa (keen-wah). If you haven’t tried it, you really should give it shot. It’s a pseudocereal with a slightly nutty flavor, which makes it a great alternative to rice. Quinoa is extremely nutritious and has a very high protein content (12%–18%), making it a healthy choice for vegetarians, vegans and athletes. Unlike wheat or rice, which is low in lysine, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids, making it an unusually complete protein source. And the best part about it is…it tastes great! For this recipe, we prepared it like you would rice and mixed it with sautéed vegetables and caramelized onions for a quick, delicious healthy meal. You can use any vegetables you like in this dish…everything seems to go well with quinoa and you can find it just about anywhere these days…Nature’s Earthly Choice is a great brand.
It’s that time of year again…Girl Scout Cookies are on sale! For those of you that are still bummed out over the news last year that the Girl Scouts cut back on the varieties (it was huge national news…just check out The Wall Street Journal), there is help online. One of my favorite blogs, Baking Bites, has a great post on how to make your own. And if your favorite cookie isn’t covered in that post, check out Chow. Fijis, Slim Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Samoas, Tagalongs…they’re all there for the making. Even if your favorite wasn’t scratched from the line-up, you should give these recipes a shot. Not only do they taste better when you make them yourself, but you also get a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that helps negate that horrible feeling you get when you look in the mirror after gorging yourself on them. And after you’ve had your fill of Girl Scout cookies, check these out, the Best Chocolate Chip cookies ever invented!