Category Archives: Back to Basics Cooking

Braised Turkey Update

Braised turkey prep


I stashed away a frozen turkey just before Thanksgiving and when I had fully recovered from the family festivities, I decided I would try the braising method found here. I did not brine it first (I’ve made it no secret I do not understand brining – extra work and messy for not much reward IMHO).

This method is fairly easy to do. You need to have a sharp knife to separate the leg/thighs from the bird and I also removed the backbone and wings before cooking to use for soup stock.

I can’t say that it was any better or worse than the cooking in a bag method, but it did make the best gravy ever. So I might do it again.


Dinner Tastes Better with a Pretty Table

Mmm, Dinner FinalJust to whet your appetite. More later….

Dinner Menu: Linguine w/Peppers and Italian Asparagus

It’s the time of year that I begin to crave fresh, light dinners. I’ve tired of stews, hearty soups and the other staples of the mid-winter gloom. As I start to believe spring will arrive again, I want meals that reflect that belief. Lots of fresh veggies, fresh fruits, light sauces and simple, full flavors.

This menu includes items that are plentiful at my local grocery this week. All the peppers are on sale right now, so I use red, yellow. orange and green. Lots of fresh berries, too. And asparagus is everywhere.

On the board tonight:

  1. Linguine w/Garlic & Peppers
  2. Italian Asparagus
  3. Mixed berries & whipped cream

Linguine w/Garlic & Peppers

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • ¼ to ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes*
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 oz shredded Romano-Parmesan cheese
  • 9 oz pkg. fresh linguine

saucepan and skillet

In skillet heat oil, add garlic, red pepper flakes, green & red peppers and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add fresh basil, tomatoes, salt & pepper let simmer while pasta cooks. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain well. Toss with pepper mixture & cheese.

* you can use fresh tomatoes, probably 2 large, but I couldn’t find any decent ones this time of year.

Italian Asparagus

  • 1 bunch (approx. 16 oz) fresh asparagus spears
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano, crushed
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 oz shredded Romano/Parmesan

saucepan & steamer

Gently scrub asparagus, cut in half and place in steamer. Add enough water to saucepan to come in the bottom of the steamer. Steam for 5 to 8 minutes, until the stalks are tender. Remove and toss with oil, oregano, salt, pepper & cheese.

Shopping List:

  • 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes*
  • 4 oz shredded Romano-parmesan cheese**
  • 9 oz pkg. fresh linguine
  • 1 bunch (approx. 16 oz) fresh asparagus spears
  • 2 oz shredded Romano/Parmesan
  • 16 oz mixed berries
  • Whipped Cream

Also: oregano, olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed garlic, crushed red pepper flakes


Cream of Chicken Soup, Now with Recipe

Cream of Chicken Soup2

I have a pot of this simmering on the stove as I write this. I wanted to make it a second time to see if I could make the recipe a bit simpler. Really couldn’t, so I wrote it as I went, to make sure I didn’t miss a step. I really like this soup, it has a very rich flavor, like chicken and biscuits. Mmmm….

Because I have a vita-mix,  most of the soups I make start with a thick vegetable broth. It gives a great depth of flavor. It’s chocked full of nutrients and anyone who knows me well, knows I don’t eat enough vegetables, so I do what I can to up my daily veggies. But you may not want to go to that trouble, so you can substitute 4 cups of chicken broth for the vegetable broth in the recipe below.

Cream of Chicken Soup

  • 1/4 tsp rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 2 stalks celery (with leaves), rough chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, rough chopped
  • 1 cup cut green beans (I use frozen)
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 chicken breasts (bone-in or boneless, doesn’t matter it will be shredded)


  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk


  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

saucepan, dutch oven or large saucepan, blender

In the blender, add rough chopped carrots, celery and green beans, spices, 2 cups of water and blend until smooth. Add to dutch oven along with chicken breasts and 2 additional cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate to cool. Add diced carrots, celery, salt and pepper to the liquid and cover. Cook until vegetables are tender crisp.

While the chicken is cooking, melt butter in the saucepan, add onions and garlic, and sauté until the onions are translucent. Whisk in flour and cook about 2 minutes or more. Turn the heat up to medium-high, slowly stir in milk and bring to a low boil, whisking until thickened. Reduce heat to low. Cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally.

While the vegetables are cooking, shred the chicken. The easiest way to do this is to use two forks and pull across the grain of the meat in different directions. You can then use your fingers to break apart any large pieces.

Once the vegetables are tender crisp, whisk in the white sauce and then stir in the chicken. Cook an additional 10 minutes. Serve with parsley garnish.

Makes about 6 cups.


ATK: Glazed Spiral Ham

If you’re looking for foolproof ham this Christmas, America’s Test Kitchen can be counted on for coming up with the perfect recipe. Normally I’d just link to the site, but they put their stuff behind a firewall (it’s free, but you have to give them your credit card to access) after a certain amount of time. So here’s the entire recipe and I encourage you to go check out their other recipes and also Cook’s Illustrated, their sister site, which has a great magazine.

From America’s Test Kitchen


Our recipe for a moist ham with a glaze that complements but doesn’t overwhelm the meat includes avoiding labels that read “ham with water added” and heating the ham to an internal temperature of no higher than 120 degrees. Soaking the ham in warm water before heating it and placing it in an oven bag or wrapping it in aluminum foil are also part of our perfect glazed ham recipe.

Serves 12 to 14, with leftovers

You can bypass the 90-minute soaking time, but the heating time will increase to 18 to 20 minutes per pound for a cold ham. If there is a tear or hole in the ham’s inner covering, wrap it in several layers of plastic wrap before soaking it in hot water. Instead of using the plastic oven bag, the ham may be placed cut-side down in the roasting pan and covered tightly with foil, but you will need to add 3 to 4 minutes per pound to the heating time. If using an oven bag, be sure to cut slits in the bag so it does not burst. We’ve included two optional glazes.



  • 1 spiral-sliced, bone-in half ham (7 to 10 pounds)
  • 1 large oven bag (plastic)
  • Maple-Orange Glaze
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cherry-Port Glaze

  • 1/2 cup ruby port
  • 1/2 cup cherry preserves
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


1. Leaving ham’s inner plastic or foil covering intact, place ham in large container and cover with hot tap water; set aside for 45 minutes. Drain and cover again with hot tap water; set aside for another 45 minutes.

2. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Unwrap ham; remove and discard plastic disk covering bone. Place ham in oven bag. Gather top of bag tightly so bag fits snugly around ham, tie bag, and trim excess plastic. Set ham cut-side down in large roasting pan and cut 4 slits in top of bag with paring knife.

3. Bake ham until center registers 100 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 1 to 1 1/2 hours (about 10 minutes per pound).

4. Remove ham from oven and increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Cut open oven bag and roll back sides to expose ham. Brush ham with one-third of glaze and return to oven until glaze becomes sticky, about 10 minutes (if glaze is too thick to brush, return to heat to loosen).

5. Remove ham from oven, transfer to cutting board, and brush entire ham with another third of glaze. Let ham rest, loosely tented with foil, for 15 minutes. While ham rests, heat remaining third of glaze with 4 to 6 tablespoons of ham juices until it forms thick but fluid sauce. Carve and serve ham, passing sauce at table.

To Make Maple-Orange Glaze:Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick, syrupy, and reduced to 1 cup, 5 to 10 minutes; set aside.

To Make Cherry-Port Glaze:Simmer port in small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and mixture is thick, syrupy, and reduced to 1 cup, 5 to 10 minutes; set aside.

I like this recipe because it’s pretty simple (not always the case with ATK recipes) and it uses a cooking bag, which can make for a stress-free cooking experience, which is great when you’ve got a hungry crowd heading over the river and through the woods to your house for Christmas dinner.


Taking Advantage of Your Freezer to Make Meal Time Easier

This was a great article, so I thought I would share:

The Big Chill: Tips from a Freezer Convert


Frozen food doesn’t have to mean blocks of spinach or chicken nuggets. Instead, cooks in-the-know fill their freezer with stocks, farm-fresh produce, and ready-to-eat, healthy meals. Here, tips for making your freezer your grocery store.

1. Pace yourself: Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t overbuy the first time you head to the butcher. (A family can only eat so many grass-fed steaks.) Stock up on basics over time by buying two of something at the store. Plan to roast chicken? Buy an extra bird and tuck it away. Want to grill salmon? Purchase two pounds, cook one and freeze the other. You get the idea.

2. Cook for a crowd: I grew up in a large family and have always had trouble downsizing recipes. Now, though, I greedily look at a recipe to see if I can double it (this works well for baked goods, like cookies) or make two (think: lasagna).

3. Take stock: Create a freezer inventory….

(You know the drill, click on the link and read the whole thing, there are some nice additional book recommendations at the end.)

I’m an avid freezer user – mine is stocked full of frozen veggies, meats, meals, leftover – ice cube sized – tomato paste, wine, juices. I also freeze leftover lime and lemon zests – I never waste a fresh lemon or lime peel.  For more tips, head to the Meal Planning Page at the top of the blog.

Fresh vs. Frozen

DSC_4255 (1600x1060)

Garden Bounty from JeffreyW

We’ve had this discussion before, but as the summer growing season comes to an end and we’re faced in many regions with the long winter dilemma of fresh vs. frozen from the grocers, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the debate. I thought this article from ABC News summed it up pretty nicely. And it confirms what I had been told over the years:

They’re just as nutritious (or even more so) than fresh

The differences above may be why frozen produce has been shown to be just as nutrient-rich, or even superior to fresh, a fact supported by two new independent studies. Scientists from Leatherhead Food Research and University of Chester, carried out 40 tests to measure nutrient levels in produce that had been sitting in a fridge for three days, compared to frozen equivalents. They found more beneficial nutrients overall in the frozen samples, in everything from broccoli to blueberries. In fact, in two out of three cases, frozen fruits and veggies packed higher levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols, anthocyanins, lutein, and beta-carotene. This conclusion supports previous research, which found that freezing produce does not destroy its nutrients. In one report, the vitamin C content in fresh broccoli plummet by more than 50% with a week, but dipped by just 10% over an entire year when frozen.

They’re mature – in a good way!

The minute a fruit or veggie is picked, it begins to lose nutrients, so exactly when it’s plucked, and how long after harvesting you eat it impacts its nutritional value. Because most frozen fruits and veggies are frozen shortly after they’re harvested, they’re allowed to fully ripen, which means they’re chock full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and freezing “locks in” many of their nutrients. On the flip side, much of the fresh produce in your supermarket was reaped over 1,500 miles away, and had to travel by truck to get there. As a result, it may have been harvested before it reached its nutritional peak, then artificially ripened during transport.

They’re additive-free

Because freezing preserves food, no unwanted additives are needed in bags of frozen goodies, like spinach and strawberries. In addition, “naked” produce (e.g. no added salt or sugar) is the norm, so it’s incredibly easy to find fruits and veggies with single word ingredient lists–simply the fruit or veggie itself. To be sure, always check the ingredients, but I bet you’ll find at least a dozen varieties in the freezer aisle with absolutely nothing added.

And I think this is my favorite reason they’re better – less prep. I almost always choose frozen fruits for my smoothies because, hey, no washing, peeling or slicing, just open the freezer bag and toss a handful in:

They’re super healthy shortcuts

I frequently visit my local farmers markets, and I’m a huge fan of fresh, in-season produce. But to be honest, after a long day, I sometimes look at my bounty, sigh, and think, “Ugh, I wish it would magically prep itself.” One of my favorite things about keeping frozen options on hand is that they don’t require any washing, peeling, or chopping. And for many of my clients, that benefit is the sole reason veggies wind up on their plates. One study found that working women spend, on average, less than one hour a day preparing, serving, eating, and cleaning up after meals. That’s not under an hour for each meal – it’s less than one hour for all daily meals! Because frozen produce is prep-free, reaching for it can save you a ton of time, allowing you to make healthy dishes at home, rather than opting for takeout.

There’s more at the link if you’re interested:


Stop! Don’t Wash That Bird

Ok, put down the bird. I’ve been hearing this for a while, but didn’t think much of it. I generally don’t wash my chicken, though I do pat it dry after I thaw it. I do however, always wash my turkeys.  This seems to be the definitive word on washing your bird. Don’t.  Here from NPR’s THE SALT blog, is the explanation on why the change:


Julia Child Was Wrong: Don’t Wash Your Raw Chicken, Folks


August 23, 2013 8:48 AM
Julia Child poses with "the chicken sisters" before an episode of The French Chef in which she teaches us how to roast a bird. Courtesy of Paul Child/PBS

Julia Child poses with “the chicken sisters” before an episode of The French Chef in which she teaches us how to roast a bird.
Courtesy of Paul Child/PBS

It seems almost sacrilegious to question the wisdom of Julia Child.

First with her opus Mastering the Art of French Cooking and later with her PBS cooking show, the unflappably cheerful Child helped rescue home cookery from the clutches of convenience food. She taught us how to love — and take pride in — making something from scratch.

And yet, in at least one important kitchen skill, Child got it dead wrong: rinsing raw poultry.

“I just think it’s a safer thing to do,” Child tells viewers in one clip from The French Chef in which she shows us the ins and outs of roasting chicken.

Ms. Child got many, many things right. Washing her birds before cooking was apparently not one of them.

“Oh, no!” says Drexel University food safety researcher Jennifer Quinlan when I inform her that Child was in the pro-bird-washing camp. “I don’t want to take on that.”

Yet take on the doyenne of TV chefs she must. For Quinlan is on a mission to get America’s home cooks to drop this widespread habit of washing poultry before cooking.

“There’s no reason, from a scientific point of view, to think you’re making it any safer,” she says, “and in fact, you’re making it less safe.”

That’s because washing increases the chances that you’ll spread the foodborne pathogens that are almost certainly on your bird all over the rest of your kitchen too, food safety experts say. We’re talking nasty stuff like salmonella and Campylobacter, which together are estimated to cause nearly 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. each year.

Some studies suggest bacteria can fly up to 3 feet away from where your meat is rinsed — though you can’t necessarily see it. If that thought alone doesn’t give you pause, perhaps this slimy “germ vision” animation will do the trick:

But fear not: All you have to do to kill these unwanted bacteria is to cook your meat properly (a thermometer can help — chicken needs to reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit) and keep your utensils and cooking surfaces clean.

Quinlan and her collaborators at New Mexico State University’s Department of Media Productions have created a new public health campaign to get the word out about why washing poultry is a bad idea. Her focus-group surveys, conducted as part of a research project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, suggest as many as 90 percent of people rinse their raw birds — even though the USDA has advised against it for years. The practice is slightly more common among minorities, she says, but pretty much everyone does it.

And Quinlan expects some people will continue to cling to their bird-rinsing ways. Some people, she notes, just do it because they think their chicken is slimy. “If your chicken is so slimy that it needs washing, something is wrong,” she says. “Other people say, ‘That’s just how I was taught to do it.’ ”

It doesn’t help, she says, that many celebrity TV chefs (not just Child) and cookbooks call for this as a first step. But science, says Quinlan, is really giving the lazy a free pass — nay, animperative — to cut out this step.

And some people for whom raw-chicken-meat baths have been a source of marital strife may welcome Quinlan’s message wholeheartedly.

As my colleague Dan Charles told me (sorry, Dan, I’m outing you here): “I never did [wash my chickens], but then my wife* forced me to. So as soon as this thing is posted, I’m sending it straight to her.”

* Footnote: Dan insisted I note his wife is lovely.


So there you go. Don’t wash your bird, but do wash your hands thoroughly when working with poultry.  Head on over to THE SALT for more video and an audio clip of the entire piece.



Hasselback (Accordion) Potatoes

Accordian Potatoes Final

No, these aren’t a favorite of David Hasselback. Rumor has it they were named after a restaurant in Stockholm. Otherwise known as accordion potatoes. They are simple to prepare, but make an elegant presentation on any dinner plate.

I’ve been practicing for a few days because I wanted something special to make for a dinner party. These really fit the bill.  Once I got the hang of it I was able to slice 4 potatoes and prep them for baking in less than five minutes.

One trick I read really made the job easy: use a wooden spoon to keep the knife from slicing all the way through the potatoes. Worked like a charm.

Cutting Potato

But what if you slice all the way through a section? No worries, it bakes up just as well and if you set the cut end down on the baking sheet, it comes out extra crisp and a pretty shade of yummy…otherwise known as golden brown.

Here’s an easy recipe, you can add anything you like in the category of herbs and spices, add cheeses (at the very end only) or serve with herbed butter or sour cream. Add some parsley before serving to class it up. :-) Mine are seriously lacking, because when I pulled the parsley out of the vegetable keeper it was decidedly unphotogenic.

If you’re looking for something a bit special, but still quite simple, these are it. They are moist and fluffy on the inside and crisp and buttery on the outside. This recipe is a keeper:

Hasselback (Accordion) Potatoes

I used russet potatoes because that’s what I had on hand, but I think Yukon Gold or Reds would work well. I’m also thinking of trying it with sweet potatoes and using a little brown sugar and cinnamon in the butter.

  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic (more as desired, but for any garlic flavor at all, you’ll need a clove for each potato)
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 medium to large potatoes
  • shredded sharp cheddar or grated parmesan
  • minced parsley

baking sheet, wooden spoon, saucepan, pastry brush, foil or parchment

Melt butter and stir in garlic, onion, salt and pepper.

Using the wooden spoon as your guide (see photo above) slice potatoes 3/4 of the way through, in thin slices. Place on foil or parchment covered baking sheet and baste thoroughly with butter and bake at 425 degrees F for 1 hour, or until potatoes are tender and the outsides crisp.

Sprinkle cheese over potatoes and broil until cheese is melted and golden. Remove to platter and sprinkle with minced parsley.

Friday Recipe Exchange: Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned Beef Dinner

I have made corned beef and cabbage a total of one time before prepping for tonight’s recipe exchange. It was early in my marriage and I was having a ball trying out family favorites out on my own. I followed the recipe completely and what I got for my trouble was dry, stringy, tough meat. The veggies were ok if I remember correctly. I never tried it again.

But I love corned beef and cabbage and decided I needed to try to find a way to make it simple and foolproof. I’d been experimenting with my pressure cooker while reviewing a pressure cooker cookbook (which was horrible but that’s a whole other post) and had a realization – the pressure cooker was the perfect solution to my corned beef cooking fears.

But don’t worry. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, I included a slow cooker recipe, too.

Corned beef is really one of the perfect foods to do in a pressure cooker. You get a nice, tender beef and instead of mushy, colorless vegetables, you get perfectly cooked vegetables infused with that great corned beef broth flavor.

The recipe below uses a bit of dill pickle juice in place of some of the water and a touch of spicy brown mustard. But I saw recipes that used chicken broth, sherry or beer in place of some of the water. I think you should experiment and use what sounds good to you. Me, I like dill pickle juice.

A lot of recipes call for 3-4 lbs of corned beef. When I shopping , 4 lbs was the smallest piece I could find, most were 5-6 lbs. You may have to cut a piece in half, but since both the pressure cooker and slow-cooker recipes are easy, you don’t need to save corned beef and cabbage for a special occasion. Just freeze the other half and save for another day.

And the best part, making Reuben’s with the leftovers. My mom makes the best ones, but I one up her by grilling mine Panini-style. Yum.

Are you a corned beef and cabbage household? Reuben fans? What about cooking disasters? Have any good stories about your failures in the kitchen?

On to the recipes:

JeffreyW tackles corned beef dinners here and here

And he loves the leftovers – see his gallery of Corned Beef Sandwiches here.

(you know there’ll be pretty pictures at those links)

And my family weighs in on their favorite ways to fix corned beef. (click here)

Now the featured recipes:

Pressure Cooker Corned Beef Dinner:

  • 3 to 4 lbs corned beef, trim the fat to about 1/4 inch
  • Water
  • Spices included with corned beef or the following: 1 tbsp black peppercorns, 1 tbsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp fennel seeds,
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 – 6  medium to large potatoes, cut into four to eight pieces, peeling optional
  • 4-6 carrots, sliced in half and cut into 2” lengths
  • Cabbage, cut into 4 to 6 pieces

pressure cooker and cooking rack

Remove the corned beef from the brine (discarding the brine), rinse thoroughly and place in the bottom of the pressure cooker, fatty side up. [You don’t really want to brown this beef, because it’s been brined.] Sprinkle spices over the top of the beef. Add enough liquid (water or water and a combination of ONE of the following: pickle juice, chicken broth, beer or wine) to come to the top of beef, about 3-4 cups usually.  Cover and bring to pressure and let cook for 1 hour. I use the cold water method to depressurize.

The key to getting the perfect corned beef and vegetables with the pressure cooker is to cook them separately. Prep the vegetables during the last 15 or so minutes of beef cooking time. Once the beef is done, put it on a cutting board, cover loosely in foil and put a towel over the whole deal.

Remove all but enough liquid to come to the bottom of the cooking rack when placed in the pressure cooker. Place potatoes first on the tray, then carrots and then cabbage, cover and bring to pressure. Cook for about 12 minutes. The vegetables will be fork tender, not mushy and the beef will be fully rested. Slice, plate and serve.

For the slow-cooker:

Place rinsed beef in the bottom of the slow-cooker, sprinkle spices and add liquid to come to the top of the beef,  and cover. Cook on low for 4 hours. At the 4 hour mark, add in order: potatoes, carrots and cabbage. Cook additional 4 hours. With the exception of adding the vegetables, try to resist the temptation to open the lid. You need it to stay covered to properly cook.

There you go, some easy ways to put together a nice corned beef dinner.

Interestingly there seemed to be a green cabbage shortage last week. I went to three different grocery stores and they were completely sold out. I didn’t want to use red cabbage because I don’t really like it. I decided to use Nappa cabbage and really liked it, much more than green cabbage, it’s sweeter and has a more delicate flavor and I think it will be my cabbage of choice from this point forward.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 725 other followers