Last year The New York Times and other news outlets reported a scary statistic: Americans throw out approximately 40 percent of all the food we purchase. Let’s say you spend $100 a week on groceries — that’s like taking $40 and just tossing it in the trash. If you’re one of the many of us who are resolving to spend money more wisely in the new year, then taking a look at your grocery shopping and food storage habits and making some improvements will help stretch your food dollar even further. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing helpful tips to make the most of the food you buy and help you avoid having to throw anything away.
1. Don’t let oil or nuts go rancid. Whenever I cook in a friend’s home, rancid olive and vegetable oil is the number one food sin that I see committed. Many people don’t realize that oil goes bad, so it’s very important to keep it (especially pricey olive oil) in a cool, dark place. Take the sniff test to determine if yours has gone bad: if it smells musty and off, it’s time to say goodbye. (And here’s an important food disposal tip: if you must throw it away, don’t pour oil down the drain; it’s terrible for waste-water treatment plants.) If you don’t use a lot of oil, avoid buying giant bottles so it won’t go bad before you use it up.
The worst offense you could commit »
Several thousand years ago, people discovered that exposing fish to intense amounts of salt and smoke was a great of preserving the catch for later.
Today, our smoking techniques are considerably more refined, and we do it more for flavor than as a means of preservation.
Which makes it a shame that more people don’t think to reach for smoked fish as an effortless way to add gobs of flavor to the foods they love.
But first, a primer on smoked fish. There are two ways to smoke: cold and hot. Salmon, trout, haddock and mackerel are the most common choices.
In cold smoking, the fish are brined in a heavy salt solution, then exposed to cool smoke (85 degrees F max) for up to several days, then frozen to kill parasites.
Get the recipe for Smoked Trout Noodle Soup »
I don’t know about you, but I love to make people happy. I strive for that moment in presentation when you hear an audible gasp of delight and surprise.
If I could, I would spend hours in the kitchen slaving away over a special dessert, but I can’t. And I am betting your time is valuable as well.
So that is why I could not be more excited to share this cake with you. It takes less than an hour to assemble, including prep. This stunning cake is so easy to make, but it can make a huge impact on your family and friends. They will be talking about it for years to come.
Let’s put it this way, if you can play with Play-Doh, you can make this cake.
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Hominy is one of those foods you might think you’ve never tried, yet almost certainly have. Or at least a close relative of it.
That’s because the ingredient that starts as hominy can end as many different dishes across many cultures, from Mexican pozole to Southern grits to the corn nuts down at your neighborhood bar.
But first, the basics.
Hominy is the name given to whole corn kernels, usually white, that have been cooked in a lye or lime solution to remove their thick hulls. The result is a tender, somewhat bulbous kernel with a chewy texture and a clean, corn flavor.
In Latin America, these kernels are used most often in soups and stews such as pozole, a highly seasoned stew of hominy, pork and chili peppers.
The Southern staple known as grits follows a similar path. In this case, the hominy is dried after processing, then coarsely ground. The resulting meal then is cooked with water or milk to a porridge-like consistency similar to polenta.
Get the recipe for Pulled Chicken and Hominy Stew »
If you’ve ever had a California roll, you’ve had nori.
Now it’s time to learn what else you can do with this ubiquitous yet always overlooked paper-like ingredient made from seaweed.
Nori — also called laver — is a somewhat generic name for a variety of seaweeds cultivated for use mostly in Japanese cooking. I say mostly because the same varieties are added to oatmeal in Ireland. But Americans know nori best as the paper-thin black wrapping used in sushi.
It is produced by washing and chopping fresh seaweed to create a slurry. That mixture then is spread thin, dried, cut into sheets and lightly toasted. The result is a crunchy, dark paper with just a hint of ocean flavor.
Get the recipe for a Nori Omelet »
Most people consider polenta a restaurant food. Because as good as this creamy, cheesy Italian staple is, few of us have the hour needed to crank it out.
But hidden on the grocer’s shelves is a shortcut that can help get polenta on your dinner table any day of the week in minutes: prepared polenta. Which is different — and far better than — a related product known as instant polenta.
But first, some polenta basics.
Polenta is a traditional starch in Italian cooking, an alternative to pasta, rice and potatoes that pairs deliciously well with robust sauces and meats.
Polenta is made by slowly simmering and stirring cornmeal with chicken broth or water. It’s usually also seasoned with Parmesan cheese and butter.
Get the recipe for Spicy Pork With Polenta »
First lesson of Indian cooking: Not all brown powders are curry powder.
Second lesson: Don’t confuse heat and warmth, especially in Indian cuisine, as they are wildly different concepts.
Third lesson: Indian cooking is a deliciously inexact science. Embrace its freewheeling approach and all of your cooking, Indian and otherwise, will be better.
And all of that is why I want to introduce you to garam masala, a widely available yet little used (in the U.S.) seasoning blend from northern India. Like so many Indian spice blends, there is no set recipe for garam masala. The ingredients can vary tremendously by region and cook. But in general, it usually contains a mix of spices that are at once sweet and warming — coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and black pepper.
Get the recipe for Smashed Garam Masala Potatoes »
Leftovers are practically guaranteed after a meal as large as Thanksgiving dinner. In my house, we ensure them by making a small, extra turkey and several batches of stuffing, so that everyone can take some home. But beyond making turkey sandwiches and soup, what can you do with all of that extra meat and how should you use up those spare potatoes and vegetables? We have the answers, plus helpful tips on how to safely store leftovers and inventive recipes for next-day dishes.
Shelf Life: Though there’s no reason to rush through Thanksgiving dinner in order to get the leftovers in the fridge, it is best to start packaging them within two hours of the meal. In general, most leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for up to four days. Frozen leftovers, however, are best within 2-3 months, though they’ll remain safe to eat forever, so long as they are kept at 0 degrees F.
Unstuff the Stuffing: If you chose to stuff your turkey, remember to unstuff it before storing. Scoop it out of the cavity of the bird and keep it in one container, and put the carved meat and each of your side dishes in their own separate containers.
Follow these easy food safety tips »
Any food that can make your tongue tingle has got to be worth a taste.
I’m not talking a seltzer-like zippiness or even a searing chili heat. I mean literally tingling because your tongue is at once numb and buzzingly alive.
That is the power of the Sichuan pepper (also called Sichuan peppercorn). But why would you want to (albeit mildly) numb your mouth? Because aside from the basic coolness of a tingling tongue, that sensation also changes the way you taste food seasoned with the pepper, adding a wonderful punchy vibrancy and warmth unlike anything else.
First, the basics. Despite appearances, Sichuan pepper is not a true peppercorn. It is the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the prickly ash tree. And chances are, you’ve had it before. Sichuan pepper is a basic component of Chinese five-spice powder. As its name suggests, the spice has left a serious thumbprint on the cuisine of China’s Sichuan province. It also is used in Japan, where it is called sansho.
Get the recipe for Sichuan Pepper Meatballs »
Less than a week to go to Turkey Day and it’s time to hammer out the details. If your family vetoed your idea for an innovative reimagining of pumpkin pie, channel your creativity into designing a table centerpiece to set the mood. Also, consider four days ahead as a good time for a freezer exchange — frozen turkey (if you bought it that way) should come out, homemade pie crusts go in.
• Setting the Stage: While the food and the company always make Thanksgiving memorable, it doesn’t hurt to have a beautifully set table to sit around. Consider mixing flowers in with some artful edibles or even scout your backyard for inspiration. We like gourds, mini pumpkins, acorns, pine-cones and Indian corn to give the table a real fall feel. Gather everything you’ll need for the table (except the flowers), and stock up on candles for an extra-special touch.
From freezer to table »