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Come join the fun!

You may have noticed my lack of posting this summer and it’s all because I’ve been working hard on building a new website that I hope will serve as a useful resource for people interested in cooking. It’s all about making cooking accessible to cooks of all skill levels. I’ll share tips, tools and techniques in 150-word posts daily, as well as videos and lots of other fun things I’ll be adding in the coming weeks.

I hope you’ll join the party at www.cookingclarified.com!

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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 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 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 Bake a Cupcake to Impress

Holiday How To — Day 14 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

Cupcakes are all the rage these days and creating a miniature version of a favorite cake is a great way to bring the trend to your table. This recipe gives you the same great flavor you’ll remember and these perfectly portioned treats will be a gift to your taste buds.

You’ll want to skip the cupcake liners for this one. The brown sugar-butter-pineapple mixture that you’ll line your cupcake tin with will create a deliciously sticky mess that will stick to the liners. The beauty of these little cakes is the golden brown, caramelized pineapple pieces that are revealed when they’re inverted.

Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes

For Topping:

2 tablespoons butter, softened

½ cup brown sugar

1 20-oz can crushed pineapple or pineapple chunks, drained with juice reserved

 For Cupcakes:

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup reserved pineapple juice

For Topping:

With a pastry brush, brush butter evenly on the bottom and sides of a 12-cup muffin tin. Sprinkle brown sugar over butter and top with drained pineapple.

For Cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture and pineapple juice alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Mix until just combined. 

Divide batter evenly among muffin tin, covering the fruit. Bake 15 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 5 minutes. Place a wire cooling rack on top of the muffin tin and invert the cupcakes onto the rack. Cool cupcakes completely. 

Makes 12 cupcakes.

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How to Choose the Right Flour for the Job

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

As the holiday baking season gets underway, it’s important to stock your pantry with the right flour for the right job. Most recipes will specify what type of flour you should use, but just in case here’s a quick primer on three popular flours to make sure your cakes, cookies, breads and whatever else you’re baking turn out just right.

Let’s start at the beginning. Flour is made by grinding wheat. The different sections of the wheat kernel produce flours of different textures when they’re ground. The harder parts of the wheat kernel have a higher protein content and produce a harder, coarser flour. Softer parts of the wheat kernel, which have lower protein content, produce softer, finer flour.

All-Purpose Flour (APF) is a mix of both hard and soft flours. Consider this the workhouse of flours since it’s produced to work in a variety of foods.

Bread Flour is a hard flour. It has a coarser texture and more protein than APF. The extra protein makes it ideal for making, you guessed it, breads.

Cake Flour is a soft flour. Its fine texture makes it perfect for producing tender cakes and cookies. You can make your own cake flour by measuring one cup of APF. Remove two tablespoons of the flour from the cup and replace it with two tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift and voila, cake flour.

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