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How to Whip up a No-Bake Dessert

No-bake desserts are a lifesaver, especially during hot summer months. They can also be quick to put together, making them perfect for entertaining or pot-lucks.

You can make a super quick and easy classic dessert with your favorite cookies and ice cream. Leave the ice cream on your counter for about 15 minutes to soften it. Place one scoop in the center of one cookie. Top with a second cookie, pressing gently to spread the ice cream evenly between the two cookies. Roll the edges in cookie crumbs, chopped nuts, toasted coconuts or mini chocolate chips. Pop your sandwiches back in the freezer for 30 minutes before serving.

Check out No Bake Desserts to Die For for more cool ideas.


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How to Grill with Flavor

There’s more to grilling great food than cooking over an open flame. Turn up the heat on your next grilled meal by adding one of the three basic ways to flavor grilled foods — marinades, rubs or sauces.

Marinades are usually a mix of oil and an acid like citrus juice or vinegar. Soaking food in a marinade, which can also contain herbs and spices, allows food to absorb all the delicious flavors in the marinade. Make sure that any marinade that comes into contact with raw meat or poultry not come into contact with cooked foods.

Rubs are mixtures of herbs and spices that are literally rubbed onto raw meat to add flavor. Some rubs are made with a little oil or liquid, just enough to make a paste that’s applied the same way as a dry rub.

Sauces are brushed on in the last few minutes of cooking. Applying them early on in cooking will cause them to burn before your meat is cooked.

For more tips on how to get your grill on this summer, check out Five Tips for Grilling Greatness.

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How to Poach an Egg

For me, a poached egg is all about the yolk. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll eat the egg whites, but even at their perfectly plump and supple best they can’t hold a candle to my precious yolks. There’s not much better – where food’s concerned – than a warm, buttery poached egg yolk oozing like a river of creamy, golden lava over baby greens or a toasted English muffin with bacon or a pile of roasted asparagus sprinkled with crispy, crumbled prosciutto. Perfection on a plate.

Here’s how to make it happen:

1. Fill a skillet or sauté pan with enough water to cover the egg, about two to three inches.

2. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, about 200° F (tiny bubbles instead of the big, rolling bubbles that come with a boil).

3. Stir in a teaspoon or so of white vinegar to help the white set faster. (Darker vinegars will also work, but you’ll be left with a darker colored egg that tastes like your vinegar.)

4. Crack your egg (make sure it’s still cold) into a small bowl or ramekin and gently slide it into the simmering water.

5. Leave the egg alone to cook for three minutes.

6. Carefully lift the egg from the water with a slotted spoon, draining any excess water onto a paper towel.

7. Enjoy!

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How to Serve Prettier Plates

According to my 6-year-old daughter, I am now famous. Pick up the June 14th issue of Woman’s World magazine and you’ll find my name on page four offering a few simple plating tips to make your home cooked meals look they were prepared and plated by the latest celebrity über-chef.

Why bother? Someone smart once said we eat with our eyes long before we eat with our mouths. And they were right. Creating a beautiful plate can make an ordinary dinner feel like a special occasion.

You can read my Woman’s World plating tips below, but here are a couple more to help you create prettier plates.

1. Plan Colorful Menus

Rice. Chicken breasts. Cauliflower. Tasty? Perhaps, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more boring or beige plate of food. Plan your menus to include foods in a variety of colors. You’ll not only have a more appetizing plate, you’ll likely have a healthier plate, as well. Colorful foods – think carrots, broccoli, tomatoes – are chock full of vitamins and antioxidants. Consider your plate a canvas. Fill it with delicious color.

2. Choose Plates Wisely.

You can never go wrong with a nice, white plate. A bright, white background will make your food the star of the show. If you do use colorful or patterned plates, choose colors that will complement whatever you’re serving.

Now I’m off to take full advantage of the fact that my daughter thinks I’m cool. As we left the grocery store with our copy of Woman’s World in tow, she turned to me and asked, “Mommy, do you think people are going to recognize you now that your name’s in that magazine?”

Any minute now, kid.

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How to Make a Soufflé

Photo Courtesy fabulousfoods.comMy first experience with soufflés came during my very first hours working as an extern (code name for person who knows nothing and makes even less) in the kitchen at the now defunct La Colline. I’d watched the soufflé demonstration in cooking school, but weaseled my way out of actually making one by volunteering to work on another (less scary)  of the afternoon’s required recipes. I had no interest in tackling the terrifying mix of egg whites and custard. (And what was up with all that folding?)

Well, wouldn’t you know that my first assignment in a restaurant kitchen was to make three different soufflés? For about 200 people over two dinner seatings…on NEW YEAR’S EVE!  Um, ok.

So, here’s how it went down:

Chef: Get me 10 pounds of sugar. (pointing at two large bins of white stuff)

Me:  Ok.

Chef: Mix this with this. Set it aside, then mix that with that. The waiter will ask if guests want soufflés when he takes the initial order. He’ll tell you. You mix the base, but don’t put it in the oven until … (At this point, I am so completely overwhelmed with the task before me that I swear all I can hear is the sound the adults in Charlie Brown’s world make when they talk — wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk.)

In a nutshell, I was supposed to have three different bases ready to mix soufflés to order. No big deal, except that I had to mix and bake them in a shared oven (so much for keeping the oven door closed) and time them perfectly so that they were baked, plated, garnished and ready for waiters to whisk them to the guest’s table at just the right time, after the dinner dishes were cleared, but not too soon so that after-dinner drinks could be offered and delivered, and before they fell.

This is where my irrationally confident mojo kicks in. Instead of having a total and complete nervous breakdown, I am ready to go, cool as a cucumber. I got this.

As I’m standing there armed with a million whisks and my bases and meringue ready to go, Naughty Waiter walks past and violates every sanitation law in the books by dipping his pinky into my enormous bowl of fluffy meringue (this is why I call him Naughty Waiter) for a taste.

Naughty Waiter: Wow, that is REALLY salty!

ME: What the–(pushing rage aside) wait, what?

So much for I got this. What I got was 10 pounds of salt that Chef unknowingly whipped into the egg whites. It was ten minutes to service and I had to start all over. Confidence blown. Mojo had left the building.

In the end, I pulled it off. I lost count of how many soufflés I made that evening, but they all made it to the tables on time and delicious. Not one fell prematurely. I got nauseous just thinking about soufflés for about six months after that night and I still get nervous around large quantities of sugar and salt positioned too closely together, but I can make a soufflé with my eyes closed.

I am tough (you should see me with my knife). Soufflés are not and here’s the proof — 10 Tips for Making a Perfect Soufflé, as written by yours truly for

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How to Break Out of Your Culinary Comfort Zone

Six ways to bring life back to your table

It happens to the best of us. Despite the stacks of dog-eared cooking magazines piled high on our coffee tables, the eclectic cookbook collections that fill our bookshelves, or even our best intentions of whipping up delicious fare for our families, dinnertime can turn into an uninspiring rotation of the same handful of reliable recipes, week after week, month after month.

As a personal chef, I make my living preparing meals for individuals and families alike, but professional experience aside; I’m still a busy working mom who’s often stymied by the age-old question – “What’s for dinner?”

When I get caught in a dinnertime dead zone, I rely on six sure-fire tips that always help get my creative cooking juices flowing.

1. Cabinet Foraging

Remember the electric pasta machine you absolutely had to have? The meat grinder you picked up on a whim? Or the sorbet maker that was so on sale it would’ve been a sin not to buy? If you’re like me, many of these items are lucky to have been used once before assuming their position in the Cabinet of Forgotten Gadgetry, where instead of inspiring your culinary endeavors, they now sit gathering dust. There’s no better way to dig yourself out of a rut and make the most of money already spent than to find the dustiest piece of equipment in your kitchen and put it to use. Odds are the new gear will force you to pull out a new recipe or revisit an old, forgotten favorite.

2. Travel the Globe

No passports or long airport security lines required! Choose a city or country that you love or that you’re curious about and scour your cookbooks or the internet for a recipe or dish that flavorfully represents that locale. Take a stroll through your grocery store’s international food aisle for further inspiration. You’ll be doing double duty as you savor new ingredients and learn about foods from far way (or close at hand) lands.

3. Buy Something You’ve Never Seen Before

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is simple. On your next visit to the produce section, spend a few extra minutes taking in the scene, keeping your eye out for your next great ingredient. You’ll know it when you see it, because you won’t know what it is when you see. Walk right up to that mystery vegetable or other-worldly-looking fruit and pop it right into your reusable shopping bag. Most produce sections have a kiosk or recipe rack featuring info and recipes on how to use various fruits and vegetables. Armed with a free recipe and your mystery produce, your plated adventure can’t be far behind.

4. Face Your Biggest Food Fear

Just the mere mention of the word soufflé can cause fear in the hearts of many home cooks. For others, it’s roasting a whole chicken, making pie crust from scratch or deep-frying anything. I am deathly terrified at the prospect of making Turducken (a deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck that’s stuffed with a deboned chicken. Seriously.) However simple or complex, identify the one thing that makes you afraid to step into the kitchen, find a recipe for it and make it. That’s it. Just make it. You’ll likely conquer your food fear and add a new recipe to your repertoire to boot.

5. Take a Cooking Class

One quick internet search or browse of the phone book (remember those?) and no matter where you live, you’re likely to find several places where you can learn to chop, braise and sauté from a pro. Taking a recreational cooking class will give you an opportunity to learn a new skill or two and you’ll go home with several new recipes in hand. Besides the recipes, you’ll also have a chance to bounce your cooking questions off a trained professional. Most cooking schools offer a choice of classes that are hands-on, where you’ll actually get to cook; or demonstration, where you get to sit back and watch the instructor in action. Either way, you’ll leave with some level of familiarity with the recipes, making it more likely that you’ll give them a go at home.

6. Become a Locavore for a Day

Jumpstart your cooking and help save the environment by becoming a locavore for a day. You’ll only be eating foods that are grown or harvested within a 100-mile radius of your hometown, but not to worry, you’ll still have plenty to choose from at your local farmers’ markets and at some higher end grocery stores that make a point of offering locally grown foods. These different, fresher selections may give you a new pool of foods to choose from and fresher food can only breed fresh ideas for how to prepare them.

Keep these tips handy and you’ll be ready to face your next dinner dilemma with ease.

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How to Clean Leeks

Leeks play dirty. I mean seriously dirty. Like their cousin the onion, leeks are made up of many, many flavorful layers and nestled between each one you’re likely to find, well, dirt. So learning how to clean leeks properly is just as important as knowing what to do with them once they’re clean.

But first things first, leeks are, as I hinted earlier, part of the onion family. They have the onion’s flavor, though not as sharp, and they get their good looks from the green onion or scallion. At first glance, leeks look like green onions on steroids as they’re much larger (and more flavorful ) than their tiny counterparts. Unlike the green onion, which except for the fuzzy root is completely edible, you’ll only want to eat the leek’s white and light green portion. Their crowning dark green leaves are too tough and woody to enjoy. My pet peeve about leeks—actually it’s my pet peeve about grocery stores—is that they typically sell leeks by the pound so you’re forced to pay for the weight of all the greenery that you’re not going to use, but I digress.

To make sure the dirt between the leek’s leaves doesn’t end up on your plate – that’ll be the mystery crunch in your dish – a simple rinse won’t do. If your recipe calls for your leeks in large pieces, cut away the root and the dark green leaves. Slice the white portion in half lengthwise and run the leaves under cold, running water, being careful to separate the layers with your fingers so the water can get to any trapped sand.

Place leeks in a bowl of cold water to separate the dirt.

If your leeks are going to be sliced or chopped, go ahead and cut them while they’re still dirty. Fill a bowl with cold water and place your sliced/chopped leeks in the bowl. Use your hand to agitate the leeks in the water. Give them a good shake to help separate the dirt from the leek. Let them sit in the water for a couple of minutes then use a slotted spoon to remove the leeks from the water. All the dirt and soil should have settled at the bottom of your bowl and your leeks should be squeaky clean.

Be sure to dry leeks thoroughly after removing them from the water.

Once they’re out of the water, be sure to dry your leeks thoroughly so they don’t become soggy or lose their crispness.

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