This post might be elementary to a lot of you, but there was a time when I wasn’t entirely sure how to make a baked potato to achieve the results I wanted (crispy skins). I love a good baked potato, and while my favorite is a twice baked all loaded up with cheese, bacon, chives and sour cream, I rarely eat it that way merely because of all the calories. But, I will indulge from time to time. So, normally, I just add a little butter, salt & pepper. Listed below are three ways to make them.
Regardless of which method you choose, it’s essential to remember to wash the potatoes and prick them many times with a fork. If you forget, you may have a little explosion in your oven or microwave.
Oven-Baked Potatoes: Pre-heat the oven to 425°F. Rub the potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and prick them with the tines of a fork. Lay them directly on the oven rack or place them on a baking sheet, and cook for 45-60 minutes, until their skin is crispy and sticking one with a fork meets no resistance. End Result – crispy potato skins.
Potatoes Wrapped in Foil: Follow the same directions as for oven-roasted potatoes, but wrap the potatoes in foil before cooking. End Result – a softer skin and the potatoes stay warm in their foil if you’re not eating right away.
Microwaved Potatoes: Follow the same direction as for oven-roasted potatoes, but place all the potatoes on a microwave-safe dish and microwave at full power for five minutes. Turn them over and microwave for another 3-5 minutes. If still hard in the middle, microwave in additional 1-minute bursts until cooked through. End Result – super-fast cooking time with soft skins.
I came across this article from Whole Foods and thought it contained some useful information that would come in handy for the holidays.
For superior flavor, use the freshest ingredients available. Flour, eggs, butter and spices can all pick up flavors from other things on the shelf, so buy fresh for the best results.
If your fruit isn’t as ripe as you’d like it, speed up the process by putting it in a small paper bag with a ripe or overripe banana. The excess natural gas from the banana helps accelerate the ripening process.
Dried spices lose their potency and freshness within six months to a year from the date they are first opened, so spices you used last year may need to be replaced.
If you want homemade goodies but are short on time or skill, purchase some of the ingredients pre-made, like pie crusts, tart shells, lady fingers and freshly whipped cream.
Cakes & Pies
If your cake doesn’t look done in the time allotted by the recipe, see if it’s springy to the touch and insert a toothpick. If it’s got a spring to it and the toothpick comes out clean—you should be good.
Undercooked cakes tend to sink in the middle and may be unusually heavy.
Overcooked cakes are dry and have thick crusts.
For flaky pie crust, keep all of your ingredients super cold to keep the butter from melting. Chill the bowl, freeze small pieces of butter, use ice water and a machine (not your warm hands) to blend ingredients and work in the coolest corner of your kitchen.
For a great apple pie, variety is the secret ingredient. Each type of apple has its own unique qualities. Combine them for a complex flavor and pleasing texture.
To help lessen cracking in your loaves of holiday bread, let the batter sit in the loaf pan for 20 minutes prior to baking.
To keep crisp cookies crisp, store them, when cooled, in a tin or can with a loose cover.
To keep soft cookies soft, store them in an airtight container with apple or bread slices, changing frequently. They help mellow and moisten the cookies.
Pay careful attention to pan size. Bars baked in a pan that’s too small result in a cake-like treat—not a toothy, chewy one. Bars baked in a pan that’s too large tend to be dry and crumbly.
Resist the temptation to check on your creation while it’s baking. Opening and closing the oven door affects the outcome.
The ABCs of Flour
What makes a certain flour good for one recipe and bad for another? Gluten! When flour is moistened and mixed for dough or batter, gluten forms from the protein in the flour. Some flours have more protein, some less, forming more or less gluten, which is key to making breads expand and cakes stick together. For the best baking results, learn about these three basic types of flour:
All-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat. The balance of gluten from these creates the texture you want for quick breads, pie crust, cookies and most everyday uses.
Bread flour has a higher gluten-forming protein content, creating dough that is nice and elastic. This makes it ideal for making kneaded breads.
Cake flour is made with soft wheat, producing less gluten, so your cake will have that perfect delicate and slightly crumbly texture. Note that self-rising cake flour is different.
Always the top choice for the best baking, studies confirm that butter is also a better choice than commonly-used vegetable shortenings and margarines when it comes to nutrition. Though it contains saturated fats and cholesterol, butter does not raise cholesterol levels in the blood in the same way as do the trans-fats found in hydrogenated oils.
Flakier pastries, higher cakes, chewier cookies and better flavor are some of the results you will get from European-style butters. Their higher proportion of butterfat to water is one reason. Another is that they start with the best quality cream. You can truly taste the difference!
The best chocolate contains only cocoa butter, and no other fats. Read the label, and if the chocolate contains vegetable oils, it isn’t the best quality chocolate you can buy. Here’s a quick primer on the types of chocolate:
Milk Chocolate contains milk solids along with cocoa solids and cocoa. Though it is great for eating, it isn’t the best for baking.
Semi-sweet chocolate is good for all-purpose baking.
Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than semi-sweet, so it has a more assertive chocolate flavor.
Unsweetened baking chocolate should contain only cocoa butter and cocoa solids. It has an intense chocolate flavor and only used for baking.
Unsweetened cocoa powder can provide the most intense chocolate flavor of all, without the fat. It should contain only cocoa solids separated from the cocoa butter.
White chocolate contains cocoa butter without the cocoa solids, so it lacks the flavor of chocolate.
Remember that chocolate easily absorbs odors — never store it alongside strong-smelling foods. Otherwise, your crowd-pleasing chocolate cake may smell like onions or cheese.
It’s best to melt chocolate over indirect heat, so as not to burn it. One proven method is to chop your chocolate into small, bite-size pieces before placing them into a stainless-steel bowl and then setting the bowl over a saucepan or pot of hot, gently simmering (not rapidly boiling) water. As the chocolate melts, it should be stirred constantly.
Updating your recipes to healthier alternatives can be a fun and creative process. Experiment with your recipes, trying out a variety of alternative ingredients to discover new tastes that appeal to you and your family. The Guide to Substitutions for Cooking & Baking provides tips for altering sweeteners, flours, eggs, and more.
Looking to make some substitutions in a recipe? Updating your recipes to healthier alternatives can be a fun and creative process. Experiment with your recipes, trying out a variety of alternative ingredients to discover new tastes that appeal to you and your family.
Reduce or Replace
unbleached white flour
whole wheat flour
equal or 1/8 less
whole wheat pastry flour
use more liquid or less flour
use less liquid or more flour
use up to 1/4 cup of any of these per cup of flour to vary the flavor
1/2 butter blended with 1/2 canola oil
expeller pressed oils
2/3 cup for one cup
1/2–1 tsp per cup of cool liquid; heat slowly
1/2–3/4 tsp per cup of liquid
eggsUsed in recipes to bind or leaven. Not all substitutions will work equally well for both purposes.
Egg Replacer; binds and leavens
11/2 tsp + 2 TB water = 1 egg
baking powder; leavening
in cake and cookie recipes that require 1 egg, substitute 2 TB water and 1/2 tsp baking powder
Buttermilk and diluted yogurt;
replaces the liquid in the recipe
replace baking powder with equivalent amount of baking soda to a maximum of 1 tsp per cup of flour
1/4 cup mashed tofu (firm or regular)
applesauce, fruit puree, cooked starchy vegetable puree
3 TB equals 1 egg
1/4 cup warm water, 1 tsp arrowroot powder, 1 tsp soy flour, pinch of lecithin
equals 1 egg
Kefir; cultured milk drink
7/8 to 1; reduce sweetener
7/8 to 1: reduce sweetener
equal: reduce sweetener
Amazake is a cultured rice-based liquid that varies in viscosity from thick, malt-like to the consistency of skim milk, depending on the brand and intended use.
Nut milks are available ready-made or you can make your own. For home-made, mix 2–3 TB nuts with 2 cups water and blend until water turns white; strain. Use plain or add a sweetener of your choice, and a dash of flavor extract.
1 tsp powder per cup of cool liquid; heat slowly, stirring until thickened. Strain and add to recipe.
3/4 to 1
2/3 to 1
2/3 to 1
2/3 to 1
2/3 to 1
1/2 to 1
1/2 to 1
fruit juice concentrate
1/2 to 1
Experiment with sweeteners to suit your taste. To increase sweetness with powdered or granulated sweeteners, add the sweetener and reduce the flour proportionally. Reverse to decrease sweetness.If substituting a liquid for a dry sweetener, either decrease other liquids by ¼ cup per cup of sweetener, or add one quarter cup of flour. Add one half tsp of baking soda per cup of liquid to counteract the increased acidity; decrease baking powder by 2 tsp or eliminate it altogether.
I just purchased a magazine that I’ve never heard of before, Clean Eating, and am thrilled that I did. It has me more inspired about eating and cooking even healthier than I currently do now. The following is an excerpt from the magazine, which basically explains the rule(s) of thumb for clean eating.
The soul of clean eating is consuming food in its most natural state, or as close to it as possible. It is not a diet; it’s a lifestyle approach to food and its preparation, leading to an improved life – one meal at a time.
Eat five to six times a day – three meals and two to three small snacks. Include a lean protein, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a complex carbohydrate with each meal. This keeps your body energized and burning calories efficiently all day long.
Drink at least two liters of water a day – preferably from a reusable canteen or container, not plastic; being friends with the environment is important!
Get label savvy – clean foods contain just one or two ingredients. Any product with a long ingredient list is human-made and not considered clean.
Avoid processed and refined foods – such as white flour, sugar, bread and pasta. Enjoy complex carbs such as whole grains instead.
Know thy enemies – steer clear of anything high in saturated and trans-fats, anything fried or anything high in sugar.
Shop with a conscience – consume humanely raised and local meats.
Consume healthy fats – essential fatty acids or EFAs, every day.
Learn about portion sizes – and work toward eating within them.
Reduce your carbon footprint – eat produce that is seasonal and local. It is less taxing on your wallet and our environment.
Drink water with a lemon wedge – a glass of red for a special occasion is OK, but it should be a rare indulgence. The health benefits of red wine are reversed after more than one glass a day.
Slow down and savor – never rush through a meal. Food tastes better when savored. Enjoy every bite.
Take it to go – pack a cooler for work or outings so you always have clean eats on the go.
Make it a family affair – food is a social glue that should be shared with loved ones. Improve the quality of your family’s life along with your own.
Note: So, while I think these are all excellent tips and I actually do most of them already, I do have some recipes that use sugar, white flour, bread and pasta. My thoughts… eats those things in moderation as best as you can.
Summer is quickly approaching, which means more face time with the grill. And, I don’t know about you, but I love a good ol’ hot dog, hot off the BBQ with all of the fixin’s. It should be noted, that not all hot dogs are created equal, so I wanted to share with you my two favorites… one, which is beef and the other one, vegetarian. Both are delicious.
Beef: My absolute favorite “real” hot dog is Hebrew National’s 97% Fat Free Beef Franks. There are NO fillers, by-products, artificial flavors or color. Score! And with only 40 calories and 1 gram of fat, how can you go wrong with this top dog?
These veggie hot dogs should receive awards because they’re so amazingly good. They’re Smart Dogs by LIFELIGHT and have a mere 45 calories and 0 fat, plus provide you with 8 grams of protein. With those numbers, why would you just have one, right?
Finally, I want to talk buns 😉 I realize that a lot of you are concerned about carbs, etc., which is why I favor (and love) these… Orowheat Sandwich Thins. They are only 100 calories and are fantastic to use with your hot dogs!
There are tons of different ways to cook corn on the cob… here are my two favorites.
On the Grill
Peel back the husks from the corn & remove the silk. Butter the kernels and sprinkle with salt & pepper and any other seasoning of your choice. Fold the husks back over the corn and grill over low heat for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally.
In the Oven
Remove the husk and silk from the corn. Get a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and add 2 tbsp of melted butter to the middle of the foil. Place corn on the foil, add salt, pepper and garlic and roll the corn so it spreads the spices. Fold in half to keep all of the butter in the foil and for it to cook evenly. Cook for 25 minutes at 425F.
The very nature of a skewer—lean meat or fish interspersed with a variety of fresh vegetables and maybe brushed with a simple low-calorie, high-flavor sauce—all but guarantees healthy eating. Best of all, kebabs take just a few minutes to assemble and the potential for deliciousness is limited only by your imagination. Try one of our suggested kebab perfections (at left), or thread your own lean-and-mean masterpiece (at right). Now stop drooling and go fire up the grill!
Rules of the Skewers
Step 1: Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 20 minutes before loading them up. The moisture will prevent the wood from catching fire and scorching your dinner.
Step 2: The protein you’re cooking will determine the size of the produce on your skewers. Shrimp and scallops cook quickly, so fruits and veggies should be cut smaller. Chicken and pork take time to cook, so pair them with larger chunks.
Step 3: You can marinate the loaded skewers in sauce before grilling—up to two hours for meat, but no more than 30 minutes for seafood. Or simply brush the sauce onto the food before grilling and at least once during cooking. Whether the food has been marinated or not, it’s always great to finish the kebabs with a light sheen of fresh sauce just before bringing them to the table.
Step 4: You want a medium-hot grill—not so hot that it chars the food’s outside before cooking the inside, but hot enough that the food’s surface will fully caramelize.
article from Women’s Health Mag (David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding)