We’re going low-key and into the kitchen for this one. It’s a “food hack” that I came across the other day that sounded great (for my purposes), so I tried it – and it worked absolutely wonderfully, solving a problem I've dealt with for far too long.
I love pasta, and eat it 3-4 times a week. Though I do have a tomato sauce recipe I like, I tend to get jarred sauce because…well, it’s so much easier. And I've found a few that I like which are very low in fat, an important issue for me. The one downside of tomato sauce is that it can go bad semi-quickly. Not quickly, but if you don’t finish the jar in 2-3 weeks (and usually it’s closer to 3), you risk having to throw it out.
Because I have pasta so often, that’s not usually a problem. And it's probably not a problem for big families. However, it is a problem for me (and I'm sure for others) because sometimes I like a change of pace and want to make a lot of different sauces -- lemon-garlic-red pepper-anchovy is a big fave, but there are others. And so, usually I wait until a jar of tomato sauce is finished because I go off the beaten "tomato sauce path" for a while. That's fine, but I’d much prefer to mix-and-match throughout the week for more variety, not wait until a jar is finished.
Hence the “problem.”
One thing I do know is that tomato sauce freezes well. I make low-fat pizza every other week (“every other” because I eat half “fresh,” and freeze the rest for the next week) and get little jars of pizza sauce. And being little jars, the fit easily in the freezer. So, I just defrost it the night before Pizza-Making Day. But a tomato sauce jar takes up too much room in the freezer.
Which brings us to the hack.
It said to get silicon cupcake holders. Fill each one with tomato sauce. Freeze them. And then, being silicon, the frozen sauce pops out easily. And you can put the little hockey pucks in a freezer bag and simply defrost whatever portion you need.
It sounded good, so I tried it out. I bought a packet of 12 Amazon Basics cupcake holders for a little over $5. (If interested, you can get them here.)
Since portion size will be different to people’s needs, my own use won't matter for everyone, but I happen to use about 130 grams of tomato sauce for a meal (and yes, I do portion it out, in order to balance a full jar) -- and augment it with diced tomatoes and tomato paste to make it even richer, because I love a rich, thick tomato sauce, and additional spices for my taste. And as it happens, if you fill one of the cupcake holders near the brim, it holds around 65 grams. So, two holders works out (for me) to one portion. Perfect.
Since a jar of tomato sauce holds five portions (for me…) and because I did this on a day when I was making pasta that night, I had four portions left over in the jar That meant needing eight filled-cupcake holders to freeze.
I put them on a tray, carried them in the freezer, and the next day checked it out…
And as promised – they just simply popped out.
Lovely little, tomato sauce hockey pucks! I put them all in two quart-sized freezer bags. And now can have mix-and-match pasta all the time without being concerned about having to use the jar of tomato sauce up before it goes bad.
I defrost them overnight when planning my next-day's meal, though popping them in the microwave for a minute or so does the trick.
And so, the long-hold Great Tomato Sauce Problem has at last been solved!
Today, we take another of those well-needed breaks from writing about politics. Every once in a while (and it's getting more often than that), it's good to decompress so that your head doesn't implode. In its place, we have a cooking tip. After all, I know that’s one of the main reasons so many people read this page...
I should add that this is a really good cooking tip. One of the best I’ve come across. It scrolled by on my news feed, and I almost didn’t pay it any attention. There always are cooking tips on news feeds, often some truly miraculous way to make, for instance, the Best-Ever chocolate layer cake in only one pot and on the stove top. But the steps to accomplish these treats are so lengthy and convoluted, it’s not worth the effort, no matter how miraculous the miracle. But I was intrigued by what this tip was, and it seemed like it should be easy, so I decided to check it out. It’s how to make a baked potato in half the time. Yes, really.
(And this is for baked potatoes. Not microwaved ones. That said, I suspect it would work for microwaved potatoes. But I like baked potatoes, in part because of how the skins turn out. And this tip also benefits from baking.)
And it was incredibly easy -- so easy that it's in the “Why on earth didn’t I think of that years ago???” category of easy. I’ve used the tip a few times, and it’s worked perfectly each time. Last week for instance, I made a meal where the main dish was a Very Big baked potato, very big as in just a touch smaller than one of those toy footballs. Cooking it at 450-degrees, it normally would have taken at least an hour-and-a-half, probably longer. With this tip, it only took about 40-45 minutes.
The really easy tip? Cut the potato in half lengthwise, and place it cut-side down on the tray.
Baked potatoes take so long because they’re thick, and the center had to get enough heat to be fully cooked. When you cut the potato in half lengthwise, it obviously cuts the size in half, and so it will (obviously) cook in half the time.
Now, some people probably like their potato “whole” and then slit it open in the center and squeeze it open to put on the fixings. But cutting the potato in half lengthwise essentially does the same thing, just ahead of time. When both halves are cooked, you just flip them over, put them side-by-side, and it’ll be almost like baking the potato and then making the center cut. You’ve just made the center cut all the way through.
The one thing that is different is actually something I especially like – and why this technique benefits from baking, rather than microwave. It’s that the cut-side develops a thin crust, becoming crispy, not fluffy. Once you break through this crust, it will of course be fluffy underneath. But rather than a negative, I love it – I find the thin crust delicious. I’m not quite sure why, but my guess would be the browning brings out the sugars.
(This is the main difference if you tried the technique using a microwave: it wouldn’t create a crust – though some people might prefer that. However, what I’m not sure of is if the time-saved would be halved in a microwave, as it is baked in an oven. Although the potato would be thinner which would cook faster, the overall mass of the potato would be the same. And my understanding is that mass affects microwave time. I’m not expert enough in microwave cookology to know.)
One additional suggestion. It might be a good idea to put a small amount of oil on cut-side of the potato, otherwise it might stick to the pan or foil. (Thus far, I haven’t done this, since I like the dry, crispy crust. But I might try it next time to see the result.)
All this is a long way to say – cut a potato in half lengthwise, and it will bake in half the time.
Since we're nearing Thanksgiving, I figured it was a good time to bring back my Thanksgiving-related piece from last year that starts with one of the fun "50 people try to make..." videos from Epicurious. It was perfect for a few reasons -- and one of those reasons mean, too, that this will be a bit different than the others we post here. This is for making cranberry sauce.
The main reason this is perfect is because making cranberry sauce seems to scare people off and instead they buy it from a can. Usually the one that's gelatin-style, which is a very unfair thing to do to a cranberry. And the thing is, making cranberry sauce is SO mind-numbingly easy -- I mean truly brain-dead easy, literally not much more difficult than opening a can, though it takes just a little more time -- and it is SO much better than canned that it's almost like eating a different food. Indeed, it tastes like the fruit it is. In fact, cranberry sauce is even easier to make than the professional Epicurious chef describes it at the end, since he says you should keep stirring it all the time, and I've never done that. I stir it a few times at the beginning and a couple times as it cooks, but I don't stand over the pot stirring.
Also, this was perfect because it allows me to present a recipe to show how easy it is. And it's perfect too since it lets me present my own twist on the easy recipe that is almost as easy, and (I believe) soooooooo much better. I love making cranberry sauce not only because it's so easy and people are impressed that "You actually made it?!", but also because the end result is so much better than people think it will be. And they don't realize how easy it was.
First, here's the video. It's a lot of fun, especially when knowing ahead how bizarrely and ridiculously easy it is -- and delicious.
Okay, first, here's how actually easy it is to make.
I package of washed cranberries
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
Yes, that's it. Pour the water and sugar in the pot, stir and bring the mixture to a slow simmer. Then, dump in the bag of cranberries, stir, cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
And that's all. Really. As I said, that truly isn't much more difficult than opening a can. And it's delicious, and tastes like a real fruit, because it is. You could probably eat it hot, but I refrigerate it until its cool and gels on its own from the sugar.
But here's my recipe to make it even better. You can adapt the amounts according to your taste. You'll note that it uses apple -- I got that trick from my Grandma Rose. I'll explain more about that in a moment.
I package of cranberries
3/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of dry sherry
3/4 cup of sugar
1 apple, cut to cranberry-sized pieces. (I use Red Delicious)
You make the dish almost the same way. Bring the water, sherry and sugar to a slow simmer. (Let it boil enough to cook the alcohol out.) Mix in the bag of cranberries and the chopped up apples. Stir, cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
And that's it. Ideally, let it cool. And taste it -- if you feel that the apples didn't sweeten it enough for your taste, just mix in some more sugar until it's how you like it.
Why apple rather than orange peel and orange juice like many recipes suggest (including the Epicurious chef)? A few reasons. First, orange peel is bitter and orange juice is acidic, and since cranberries are bitter to begin with, I think the sweetness of apples are a better complimentary mix. Second, Grandma Rose knew that because apples are so sweet, you can use less sugar (which also brings the calories down). Third, she also knew that the blended flavor of apples and cranberry was especially delicious, almost like strawberry (or strawberry-rhubarb). And finally, the main reason Grandma Rose liked to use apples is because they have natural pectin, so it creates it's own "gel." So, way to go, Grandma Rose!
And to those concerned about the alcohol from the sherry, know that boiling the sherry cooks the alcohol out of it. But if you don't want the sherry, fine, leave it out and just use a cup of water. But I think it adds a rich flavor.
But that's how easy it is to make cranberry sauce. And to make it even better.
We haven't had a "50 People Try to..." video from Epicurious for a while, so let's head back into the kitchen. Today, we'll watch 50 people try to toss pizza dough.
I was particularly interested in this one because for the past couple years I made pizza from scratch every other week. ("Every other" because I make enough for two meals, and freeze half.) A big reason that I make it myself is because much as I absolutely love pizza, it's so high in fat -- not just from the cheese, but oil in the dough -- that it's too much for me (as I try to cut down on my fat intake). So, I've come up with a recipe that's extremely low in fat. I keep experimenting with it, though I've stuck pretty close to the current recipe for a while. No oil in the dough, no oil in the sauce (or next to none) light on the cheese, and a very low-fat cheese.
To be clear, though tasty, this is not "good pizza," by any professional pizzeria comparison, nor even alongside most well-crafted homemade pizza. But, I think, it's extremely good, very low-fat pizza. And that's the whole point. Until I started making it, I'd have pizza 2-3 times a year -- and I love pizza. Now, I have it every week, which is a joy. And it's very good -- it's just not very good compared to going to a pizzeria. But I rarely go to a pizzeria, and when I do those are 60-80 grams of fat, and mine is just about 8 grams of fat. And I only eat half.
What's helped my recipe is that Trader Joe's fairly recently introduced a very low-fat mozzarella. Before, I'd been using their shredded soy cheese or almond cheese -- they were fine, and exceedingly low-fat, though not much flavor and didn't really melt well. The low-fat mozzarella is a touch higher in saturated fat, but still very low, is actual mozzarella, has an okay flavor and melts fairly well, even getting stringy. And with the toppings I put on, those are the bulk of the flavor, along with sauce and nice fresh, yeasty dough taste.
The one thing I haven't been able to get right is tossing pizza dough. Which is why I wanted to watch this. It turns out that the Epicurious chef at the end of the video mainly stretches the dough with only a very slight toss. As it happens, I use some of the technique he shows, though not all. I've tried that "other" part but don't do it well. Watching the guy here, I'll give it another go. Since I made pizza last night, though, it won't be for a couple weeks.
We haven’t had a “50 People Try to…” video from the folks at Epicurious for a while, so let’s rectify that. Today, it’s 50 people trying to make scrambled eggs. And you’d think making a dish which at hear is mushing everything up would be pretty close to fool-proof. But it turns out, no, it’s not.
One of my regular treats during the pandemic is that I bought a waffle maker and make waffles every weekend. I don't make them "officially" -- that would require keeping stocked with a variety of perishable ingredients that I not only didn't always have around, but was too problematic to always have around during a pandemic. So, I've made my basic version...and find them very tasty, especially with the toppings and syrup I add.
All this is a way of saying that here's another of those "50 People Who Try to..." videos from the kitchens of Epicurious.com -- this time on....well, I'm guessing you figured it out by now...waffles.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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