Thrifty/nifty hints for holiday baking and beyond

pie crust

Build up the edge of the pie crust to help keep the uncooked filling (pecan pie here) from spilling as you maneuver it into the oven. Photo by Laura Groch

We’re coming up on prime holiday cooking season, so I wanted to share a couple of thrifty-nifty hints today.

• The first one is about baking, and more specifically, pie crusts. I have made my share of pies, and while they usually turn out pretty well, getting custard-type pies, like, well, custard, or pumpkin, or pecan into the oven without spilling the filling can be a bit fraught.

It dawned on me one day that things didn’t have to be that precarious. I’m not a huge fan Continue reading

Save your green with easy-to-mix salad dressing

Inexpensive ingredients for a delicious salad dressing are already in your pantry. Photo by Laura Groch

Inexpensive ingredients for a delicious salad dressing are already in your pantry. All you need is a simple recipe like this one. Photo by Laura Groch

If you’ve been checking out my posts, you know I keep returning to certain themes: Thrift in the kitchen. Eating real food. Preparing food yourself so you know what’s in it.

So in this season of salads and cold dishes — and especially for the picnic-happy holiday that is July 4 — I wanted to bring you a recipe that hits all those notes.

It’s a simple recipe for an oil- and vinegar-based salad dressing (not the kind of white Continue reading

Will you like lychees? You’ll have to find them first

lychees

Lychees are a delicious fruit, hidden behind a nubbly reddish-brown shell. Photo by Laura Groch

If you’re a fan of the Honeymooners (and I hope you are), you might remember the phrase, “sweet and sour leechee nuts.”

That was the treat Ralph Kramden offered his long-suffering wife, Alice, as the finale of dinner at her favorite Chinese restaurant, Hong Kong Gardens.
I thought “leechee nuts” were a figment of someone’s imagination until I ran into

Continue reading

Pancakes: Squaring the circle

baked pancakes

Who says pancakes have to be round? Baking them on a cookie sheet makes the job go twice as fast, too. (Photo by Laura Groch)

Oooh, pancakes! What a fun breakfast treat! And yet what a pain in the neck they can be for us cooks, who have to keep working while everyone is eating, and while trying to eat our own pancakes, which invariably grow cold while we are tending the griddle.

Even for the two of us, making pancakes seems always to be a major production. So I tested a different way of making them that lets everyone eat together: Bake them in a flat Continue reading

Thrifty/Nifty: Five easy tips for food shopping

Marking dates on cans and bottles as they come into the pantry helps you keep rotating the older items to the front. Photo by Laura Groch

Marking dates on cans and bottles as they come into the pantry helps you keep rotating the older items to the front. Photo by Laura Groch

We’re well past the holiday hangover, but perhaps still paying the bills for it. I’m thinking we’re overdue for some Thrifty/Nifty tips to help make shopping and managing a kitchen a little easier:

— Look high when you choose  produce, especially when it’s piled high and deep. The stuff at the front, which is within everyone’s reach, is what’s been handled most. Reach farther back, or higher, in the pile to choose a pear or tomato or head of lettuce that hasn’t been bruised and battered by everyone else.

— Remember to look low on store shelves. We naturally scan shelves at eye level, Continue reading

Enjoy your holiday, but don’t forget to look around

I wouldn’t leave you high and dry for Thanksgiving Day without pointing you to a few trusted recipes.

First up, the sweet potato-and-apple dish that brought me back to the sweet potato fold: You can find it here.

Nor would I leave you without a peek at our Italian family’s stuffing recipe, which you’ll find here.

And, in case you’d like to be reassured that even seasoned cooks can make kitchen blunders, check out the tale of my 2014 turkey here.

I do hope you can relax and enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, whether it’s a Continue reading

Here’s a scoop — make your own chocolate syrup

So. Hot. Need. Ice. Cream.

You can easily make your own chocolate syrup with just five ingredients. Photo by Laura Groch

You can easily make your own chocolate syrup with just five ingredients. Photo by Laura Groch

With chocolate syrup, of course.
Here’s how to make chocolate syrup on the cheap, and without any artificial ingredients.
One of the things I like to do in this blog is to offer easier, cheaper ways to make food. We used to call them helpful hints; today they’re called “kitchen hacks.” (Whatevs.) It’s all still about saving money and time, and sometimes making things a bit more healthful.
I know: What’s so healthy about chocolate syrup? It’s full of sugar. Well, OK — too much sugar is bad for you, so please don’t eat the entire potful of chocolate syrup I’m going to show you how to make. (One pot is not 1 serving.)

Continue reading

What’s red, and red, and red … 3 ideas to use tomatoes

Fans of farmers markets are enjoying the bounty of fresh, flavorful tomatoes, but if you’ve run out of ideas, I have a few standbys from the kitchen files.

tomatoes

Nothing is so tasty as a glorious ripe tomato. Or two, or three … dozen … try these ideas to use some of the crop.  (Photo copyright Laura Groch 2015)

First up is my favorite, panzanella, the Italian bread salad. The juices from chopped tomatoes moisten day-old Italian bread (or other sturdy bread, like country white or wheat bread).

I keep it simple, using day-old Italian bread and toasting about half a loaf’s slices to dry them further. I let them cool before tearing them into bite-sized pieces, then add two good-sized juicy tomatoes, cut into chunks, unpeeled.

Next into the bowl goes half a peeled cucumber, chunked; two thinly sliced green Continue reading

Three ideas to “uncook” during summer heat

sandwich

The old sandwich will keep things cool when temperatures become intemperate, but what about dinners? (c) 2015 Laura Groch

We’ll be hitting the 100s this weekend and probably beyond, so I’m ready for some cool cooking.

The kitchen can stay pretty temperate for breakfasts (cereal, toast, yogurt) and lunches (sandwiches, wraps). But sometimes dinner is another story. (No, ice cream is not sufficient. Keep thinking.) Grilling keeps the heat outside, but if you can’t stand to be outdoors that long, here are Continue reading

Thrifty AND nifty — finding those perfect odds and ends

Revere Ware pot lids

Two Revere Ware lids are among the potential finds at this local thrift store. Photo by Laura Groch

It’s frustrating to break the glass lid of a Corningware or Calphalon pot, or lose a kitchen utensil to the chaos of the office potluck. But you might not have to lay out big money to buy replacement pieces.

If you’ve got some thrift stores in your city or town, you’d be surprised at the kitchen items you can find there for pennies. Caveat emptor (oh, look it up): The pieces might have some small chips or dings or dents in them that don’t affect Continue reading