Category Archives: Holiday How To

How to Pop Corn

Anybody else remember Jiffy Pop Popcorn and the excitement that came with watching that foil tin nearly burst at the seams as the popcorn popped and popped and popped on the stovetop? Jiffy Pop was all but replaced by microwave popcorn and what could be easier than that? Toss the small envelope in, press start and wait for all those additives, preservatives and faux butter to pop.

You can make your own microwave popcorn quickly and easily without all the extras. All you need is corn, a little oil and a brown paper sack. Here’s how.

Microwave Popcorn

1/3 cup unpopped popcorn

½ teaspoon olive oil

Pinch of salt

Pour popcorn into a brown paper lunch sack. (The kernels should cover the bottom of the bag in one layer.)

Drizzle oil over the kernels, then sprinkle with the salt. Fold the top of the bag over twice and place upright in microwave.

Cook at 100% power for two minutes. (Microwave power levels may vary. Cook until pops are about 5 seconds apart.)

Makes about 7 ½ cups of popcorn.

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How to Have a Wonderful Holiday

Holiday How To — Day 24 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

My last post is the simplest, but most important. As you rush about buying gifts, cooking, baking and merriment-making, remember to take a breather and enjoy the simple pleasures of the season – family, friends and, of course, great food.  

Have a wonderful holiday season. See you next year!

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How to Make a Great Cookie for Santa

Holiday How To — Day 23 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

Molasses. Spice. White chocolate. A delicious trifecta that combine to create a cookie that’ll make Santa’s mouth water. Slightly crisp on the outside with a soft, chewy center, more than a hint of spice and a finishing drizzle of melted white chocolate (the real stuff, not the bagged white morsels), these are not to be confused with a traditional molasses cookie.

Be sure to make some for Santa and yourself!

Molasses Spice Cookies

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon clove
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, for rolling
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, melted for drizzling

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine flour, salt, baking soda and spices in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add molasses and the egg and mix until well incorporated. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture and mix until well incorporated and a thick dough is formed.  

Roll dough into 1½ -inch balls and roll in 2 tablespoons sugar. Place two inches apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. 

Once cookies are completely cooled, drizzle cookies with melted white chocolate. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until white chocolate is set.

Note: For chewier cookies, remove cookies from baking sheet as soon as they come out of the oven. You can transfer the cookies easily to a cooling rack by sliding the entire sheet of parchment lining the pan onto the rack. For crunchier cookies allow cookies to cool on baking sheets.

 Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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How to Give the Gift of Great Taste to Kids

Holiday How To — Day 22 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

Looking for a last minute gift for the kid-cook in your life? Tiana’s Cookbook: Recipes for Kids from Disney Press will give tiny chefs a taste of New Orelans. Inspired by The Princess and the Frog movie, the book is chock full of traditional Cajun cuisine – from Tiana’s Famous Beignets to Jammin’ Jambalaya and Yumbo Gumbo. All of the recipes are written for kids to make with lots of help from an adult, the perfect activity for a long, holiday vacation. You can find Tiana’s Cookbook at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Frog-Tianas-Cookbook-Recipes/dp/1423125401/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263489246&sr=8-1.

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How to Make (and use) a Slurry

Holiday How To — Day 21 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

Lumps and bumps and clumps better scurry, when I whisk them up in my slurry. Forgive me. I couldn’t resist, but knowing how to make a slurry may come in handy as you cook soups and sauces for your holiday meals.

A slurry is a mixture of a starch and a liquid stirred together until the starch dissolves. Slurries are added to sauces, soups, stews or any cooking liquid that you want to thicken up. Starches tend to form lumps when added to liquids. So combining them with a small amount of liquid to form a thin paste makes them easier to incorporate.

Water is the most commonly used liquid, though you can certainly substitute stock or any liquid that will complement your sauce. A slurry made with flour requires a longer cooking time to activate its thickening power and allow the raw flour taste to cook out.  Cornstarch has twice the thickening power as flour and works almost immediately after heating.

Once your slurry is added to your food, you’ll need to heat your sauce or soup up in order to release your slurry’s thickening power. As soon as it’s reached the consistency you’re looking for, remove it from the heat. Overcooking your slurry can cause your sauce to lose its thickness and thin out.

If you make your slurry ahead of time, be sure to give it a whisk or stir before adding it to your food. If left unattended the starch will settle in lumps at the bottom of your bowl.

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How to Cook with a Water Bath

Holiday How To — Day 20 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

Creamy cheesecakes. Silky crème caramel. Crème brulée that melts in your mouth. What do they have in common? They owe their smooth textures to a water bath or bain marie.

A water bath is used to gently cook delicate foods, especially egg-based dishes, to keep them from overcooking, which is what causes cheesecakes to crack. To prepare a water bath, simply place your baking dish (or ramekins or springform pan) inside a larger dish or pan. Carefully pour warm water into the larger dish until it comes about half way up the sides of the smaller baking dish or ramekins, making sure no water splashes or spills into the smaller baking dish holding your custard or batter.

I find it easier to place the pans on the oven rack before filling them with water. This way, you don’t have to try carrying a pan full of batter in a pan half-full of water to the oven without spilling.

This slow, gentle cooking helps food cook evenly and is what gives dishes their creamy texture. It’s important to remove your baked goods from the water bath as soon as they’re done. Extra time in the water can also lead to overcooking.

In restaurants, water baths are often used to keep food or sauces warm without overcooking them.

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How to Choose Between Wax Paper & Parchment Paper

Holiday How To — Day 19 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

I’m not sure I knew what parchment paper was before I went to culinary school. (I’m excluding my middle school history projects that involved soaking paper in watered down coffee to mimic the stuff our nation’s forefathers wrote on.) And even if I had seen it listed as ‘special equipment’ for a recipe in Martha Stewart Living, I’m certain I had no idea how parchment differed from wax paper. In an effort to save you thousands of dollars in culinary school tuition, here are a few of the differences between parchment and wax paper.

Wax paper, as its name implies, is coated with a super thin layer of food grade wax. (Food grade means it’s been declared safe for use on food.) The wax helps prevent sticky items from sticking (think taffy or caramels). You can use wax paper to line pans, so long as the paper is covered COMPLETELY by the food. If left exposed, the wax will melt and the paper will smoke and burn. So it’s fine to use for lining cake pans, where the batter will cover it, but not so much for your cookie sheets where the spaces between the cookies will still be exposed.

Parchment paper is like wax paper on steroids. Its thin silicone coating makes it impervious to both water and grease. It’s nonstick, which makes it perfect for lining pans and cookie sheets. It costs more than wax paper, but is much more versatile. It can withstand higher cooking temperatures and you can use it to cook foods en papillote (fancy French term for cooking food in paper), but that’s another post for another day.

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