novice/intermediate cook, just recently started trying to improvise instead of following recipes to the letter. currently investigating making my own bread, because nothing beats toast made from homebaked bread...

  • Location: amandae
  • Favorite foods: watermelon, tomatoes, goat cheese, mushrooms....
  • Last bite on earth: my husband's chicken marsala....mmmmmmmmm.....

Why is my cake dry?

if it was a handwritten recipe it could be as simple as a typo or a mis-read.

Who is hosting Thanksgiving?

the actual day we do a big thing with the husband's extended family, generally bringing one dish to add to the table. not sure yet what we'll be bringing. then later that weekend we do a smaller thing with my side of the family, which is just my parents, brother, and sister-in-law. that one rotates among our three houses, and this year is at my parents'. so we'll probably bring a dish or two. but next year it's here, and we'll be in charge of the turkey, stuffing, bread, and any other new sides we want to try.

Stuffing or Dressing

my mom grew up saying dressing. don't know about my dad. i heard it enough from my mom's family to know what they meant, but we always said stuffing in our house, and i've never called it dressing.

Seafood and Dairy: Way or No Way?

if someone tried to take my NE clam chowder away, there would be blood tonight...

frozen soup tastes different

i'm inclined to agree that it's because of the noodles...since they weren't part of what you originally cooked and froze, they definitely would have soaked up some of the flavor and left the broth seeming a little bland. next time you freeze some leftover broth like this, give it a taste before you add other ingredients to it, so you'll know for sure.

I am a Snickering Kit Kat what are you?

we don't get enough kids by our house to make it worthwhile (since we'll just end up eating all the candy at once and get sick) but it would be reese's peanut butter cups for us.

my mom (still) gives out goody bags rather than candy...always has and probably always will. they usually include stickers, little fun-shaped erasers, pencils, party favor-type toys, etc. it embarrassed me when i was little, because i personally didn't want that stuff, but kids always seemed to like it.

What IS The Best Tip, Trick, Recipe etc You've Gotten At SE?

@janaatwg - well said! i love the exchange of ideas and hearing people's opinions on current food issues, but there are some threads that get out of hand.

i don't think i've actually USED anything from SE that i would consider life-changin, mostly because i haven't been able to do much cooking lately, but i have lots of things bookmarked to be tried when circumstances permit. i mostly like being able to come here and pose a question and have people who know what they're talking about answer!

Food for thought, Food not Lawns, your vote is it viable or not?

i don't think my husband would ever go for not having any lawn...we currently have no grass at all in our sizable backyard due to many trees and years of compaction, and he's constantly trying to convince me to spend a few thousands (that we can't afford) so we can end up with a nice lawn. me, i find grass overrated. i wouldn't mind in the least if my entire lawn was clover or violets, like my parents' yard (which my dad constantly tries to get rid of). they're pretty, they're green, they don't grow very high, and they feel good underfoot. i've yet to find anyone who agrees with me.

i tried the first two summers in this house to have a veggie garden, but we don't have enough sun because of the trees. my main requirement for our next home will be a large section that gets full sun for most of the day, so i can see whether or not my thumb is actually green. ;)

Online Cookbooks?

i don't keep recipes online, but i would sure love to be able to afford joining this:


if you do the pureed style you probably won't even notice the skins. if you do the chunky style you might, but even then it probably won't bother you.

Is there a cure for Pine Mouth?

this is making me not want to try pine nuts! what causes this??

How to pomegranate?

that's what i've been trying for, but i still don't seem to have much luck!

Work or play?

it's work when i'm tired from a long day and still have to get food on the table, play when i've been able to relax a bit before getting started. it was easier before i had the little one underfoot! but i do love to try new recipes, new flavors, and i'm dying to try making my own bread. and christmas cookies have become a new big thing with me the last few years, ever since i participated in a cookie swap at work. i'm looking forward to getting the little one involved, though this year might still be a bit too early for that.

Autumn is here! What is your favorite apple?

ooo, thanks for the tip! i'll have to check out my good apples and learn how to apply that.

my criteria would be hard to quantify without being able to point at a good one vs a bad one for you...they have to do with color of skin, tautness of skin, patterning on the skin (some of them have lighter freckle-like spots), occasionally the overall shape of the apple and its size, but the deciding factor is almost always the smell. i figured out that a certain nuance of the smell almost always indicated a mealy apple, so even if all the other factors look great i won't buy an apple that smells wrong. this is 20+ years worth of only eating Granny Smiths, so i definitely figured out what i liked!

interestingly, the store where my mom buys her apples has a handy poster that puts all their apple varieties on a scale of sweetness and crispness, so you can choose new varieties to try based on your preferences. i think that's how she got on to the Honeycrisps, but it's certainly useful for people like me who are super picky about apples.

Autumn is here! What is your favorite apple?

for me it was Granny Smith, all the way, up until last year when the Honeycrisps came out. my mom gave me one and it was awesome. in all the bunches i've bought since i've never had one that wasn't delicious...and i can't say that about my Grannys! but i've honed my Granny senses to the point where i know exactly what to look for (and smell for!) so i don't get too many bad ones anymore. i just won't buy them if they don't fit the criteria.

i've tried some of these other varieties mentioned, but i really can't stand a soft apple. probably why i like the two varieties i do! and Red Delicious apples are the epitome of why i don't like soft apples. blech.

How to pomegranate?

i'd love to hear some advice on how to PICK a good pomegranate...i seem to have the worst luck and always get ones that are under-ripe or past their prime or have been battered and bruised.

ipad apps for cooking

if you ask me, the iPad itself is the best thing for cooking from online recipes/directions, video or no. you can prop it up easily, don't have to plug it in, the battery doesn't run down, and it's easy to scroll and turn pages. i steal my husband's now whenever i'm cooking something new...much much better than my laptop.

Liquid Smoke

i've only ever used it in a recipe for slow cooker pulled pork, which called for 1/2 cup of the stuff. i wasn't able to stand being in the house all day, the smell was so strong! it ended up tasting great, but next time i will definitely dial the amount down. i don't think i would use it in anything else.

i read somewhere, i think America's Test Kitchen?, that you should not get smoke that has any sugars in it. can't remember why, but if you're buying smoke you should just get smoke.

I know it's an old wive's tale, but I _____ anyway.

ah, i had it backwards. that explains a lot! thanks.

i had never heard the knife thing, but i did find it entertaining when at a couple of weddings the newleyweds received knife sets...from exes. :D

I know it's an old wive's tale, but I _____ anyway.

i'm confused about the whole high-altitude boiling thing. my understanding is that it takes longer to come to a boil (bubbling energetically), so by the time it actually boils it's at a higher temperature than it would be at sea level. if that's the case, couldn't you set a thermometer to the sea-level temp and start your cooking at that point? i mean, i guess with pasta you actually need the energetic-ness to keep it from sticking together, but it's the temperature that cooks the food, right? sorry if this is a dumb question, but since it came up here i hope you don't mind the tangent.

i always salt my pasta water, no oil. and if you plate the pasta immediately upon draining, it shouldn't stick! my husband doesn't seem to get that concept, so our spaghetti noodles are hard to portion out from the sticky mass he lets them get into! :)

Homemade sauces as gifts

@SconnieGirl - that sounds yummy! Would you be willing to share the recipe? I'm pretty sure my mom would love that one!

Why "Keen-Wah"?

@dbcurrie - you just made me spit out my soda laughing. :D

Homemade sauces as gifts

That sounds great! Thanks!

How do you Polenta?

i made "instant" polenta from a box once, and once i just used the cornmeal i had on hand. i think flavor-wise i preferred the cornmeal, but the texture wasn't very good on either of them. but then, i have no idea what i'm doing when it comes to polenta! :)

The Crock Pot Broke

you should come to my town! always four or five crockpots in each of the various thrift shops i go to. breadmakers, toasters, coffee makers, gadgets and gizmos galore! that's too bad that they don't have much where you are, though.

Birthday cake for a 2 year old

I'd like to make a cake for my son's 2nd birthday (tomorrow! where does the time go???). He didn't eat any of his cake at his first birthday, and we don't really have cake in the house very often so I don't think he has any preferences. He does have a fondness for blueberry muffins, though. The only ingredient exclusions are things that are chewy or stick-in-the-teeth, because he doesn't have enough! I wanted to avoid chocolate cake but it's not completely out of the question if someone has a great tried-and-true recipe that's kid friendly.

Homemade sauces as gifts

Last night we had some friends over, and I tried to make a Blackberry Port reduction to pour over our pork chops. It was very tasty, although nothing like I was hoping for (I imagine the quality of the port has a lot to do with that, and I'll be experimenting!). It seemed like something that would be right up my FIL's alley, and it got me thinking that maybe I could make up a batch to give him as a gift this year for the holidays. Does anyone else make sauces/condiments as presents? I've never home-preserved food before, other than in the freezer of course, so I don't know if I could try canning this or if it would have to be frozen. I'd prefer to make this kind of thing now, before there stops being fresh produce in the markets, so I'm not breaking the bank on ingredients. Any thoughts or suggestions welcome! Here's the recipe I used, found in several different places online so I have no idea whose it actually is:

Beef Tenderloin with Blackberry Port Wine Sauce
Serves 4

4 beef tenderloin steaks, 4-6 ounces each, 1-inch thick
1 large shallot or small onion, finely diced
1 cup fresh or frozen blackberries, divided
2 cups port wine
1 tsp. sugar
2 cups beef stock
1 Tbsp. butter, softened

In a saucepan bring diced shallot, 3/4-cup blackberries, wine and sugar to a boil. Boil gently to reduce wine to 1/2-cup. Strain and set liquid aside. Boil beef stock in a separate pan to reduce by half. This will take approximately 15 minutes. Grill steaks or pan broil in skillet 6 minutes per side. Whisk blackberry and port wine reduction into reduced beef stock. If sauce is too thin, dissolve 1 tsp. cornstarch in water, then stir into sauce and bring to a boil.
Whisk in 1 Tbsp. softened butter. Serve steaks with sauce and garnish with remaining blackberries.

Strength of Iced Tea

I'm trying to limit my daily caffeine intake, but I love drinking iced tea. Obviously if I'm making it at home I can control the strength of the tea and thereby have an idea what the caffeine content is, but I have no control when I'm eating out. I'm talking run of the mill restaurant black iced tea (most likely Lipton or Nestea or Luzianne or generic) brewed fresh, not bottled or from a soda fountain. Does anyone know of a way of judging tea strength by color or some other method? I know that darker=stronger and lighter=weaker, but some sort of scale would be nice since tea can apparently be anywhere between 40-120 mg per 8 oz serving.

Ethical eating

Long before I was aware of the factory-farming reality of most supermarket meats and poultry, I read an article about how veal was produced. The article in question painted a very grim picture, and as I was still in elementary school it made an impact on me. Fast forward 20 years, and I still won't eat veal because of it. This recently came up with my brother, who questioned whether I eat lamb, because the same treatment issues would theoretically apply. I had never made the connection, so I've been looking into it. Wikipedia was helpful in finding out more about veal, but the lamb entry did not shed much light on the treatment aspect, so I'm left unsure. I know there are worse practices out there (foie gras comes to mind as a vivid example), and that even the chicken and beef and pork that we take for granted is raised in outrageous conditions...but how do you know where to draw the line? Where can you find the information you need to make these decisions? And what do you do when your situation doesn't really allow you to "vote with your wallet?"

Richmond, VA

So looking back through old Talk threads (and adding some of my own) I've come up with a list of recommended restaurants in good ol' Richmond, VA. Most of these I've never been to, some of them I have, and some of them I've never even heard of. Can anyone add to this list, and/or let me know if a restaurant has ceased to be? I know there's been casualties lately. We like to go to new places with our friends and lately have been running out of ideas. We're looking for sit-down places, and any Asian cuisine has probably already been discovered and devoured. ;)

Edo's Squid
Mama Zu's
Ma Musu's
Gutenberg Cafe
Kuba Kuba
6 Burner
Acacia Midtown
The Hard Shell
Cafe Europa
The Hill Cafe
Milepost 5
1 North Belmont
3 Monkeys
Buzz & Ned's
Strawberry Street Cafe
Northside Grill
Kitchen 64

Coconut milk

I can't stand coconuts. Not at all. Can't stand the flavor, can't stand the smell, none of it. This makes me very sad, because I keep seeing all these delicious looking recipes that call for coconut milk, and I just know I'd end up throwing it away if I tried to make it. So tell me, am I justified in thinking I wouldn't like things that include coconut milk? Or does it not actually taste like coconut? And if my hopes are in vain, could I substitute cream (or something else) in these recipes and have a (obviously inferior) version that's more to my taste?

Storing fresh potatoes/onions/garlic

I cannot for the life of me figure out how to store potatoes. My mom used to store them in the fridge, but somewhere along the line I heard that that was too cold, so it causes some sort of change in the texture/starch/sugars/whatever. But no matter where I put them, my potatoes go bad within a week. Either they turn to mush (which smells really, really bad) or they turn into trees. Is it just that my kitchen isn't cool enough? Isn't dark enough? Needs a magic potato charm?

I have a similar problem with onions and garlic...onions get soft spots and go bad, garlic sends up sprouts and gets all rubbery.

I'd really like to be able to keep these staples on hand...any advice?

New Recipe feature in Talk

They rolled out a new feature for posting recipes in Talk here, and yet I haven't seen many recipes posted. Going back through posts I only found 2 recipe postings, one of which was CJ McD testing it out. Is that a reflection of the fact that people come here to ask questions more than to share recipes, or is there a bug in the new system? I know that hotnpopin tried to post a recipe for me and it hasn't shown up yet.

RSS Feed overload!

I love having the feed reader to put all the posts where I can easily see them all, but if I miss even just a couple days I find myself drowning in posts. Is there any way to limit which columns or post types show up in my feed? For instance, I'll never be interested in the hot dog posts, and restaurant reviews for cities I don't live in aren't useful unless I'm planning to visit there.

Turning shortcut recipes into from-scratch recipes

Anybody know where i can go for help turning those 'back of convenience food box' recipes (prime example: green bean casserole from the cream of mushroom can) into from-scratch? I have several recipes that call for canned soup, even one using "instant" scalloped potatoes, and while I like the flavor it would be great to make them healthier. Short of posting each recipe here and asking for help, are there any resources online for this kind of thing?

Frozen fish pocket?

I'm the only one in my house who eats fish, and I've been trying to come up with ways that I can prepare it quickly and easily. One of the easiest ways to cook fish is to wrap it in aluminum with flavorings and bake it. My question is, I have frozen filets, and remembering to take them out in advance to thaw has been the biggest problem I have in ever actually eating them...could I make up some of those packets while the fish is still frozen and cook them from there? Has anyone ever done that? I'd love to eat fish more often, but I am VERY forgetful. :) Other cooking fish from frozen ideas also welcome!


I love quinoa, but I'm really tired of using it for a salad. What are some more creative ways of using it?

Also, I prefer to cook it in my electric steamer. The ratio of quinoa to water has been pretty hit or miss so far. Anybody have a tried and true method for steaming?

Quiche in puff pastry

I've seen lots of posts about regular quiche here, but I can't seem to find any that use puff pastry instead of a crust. Ruby Tuesdays has a quiche with puff pastry that I thought was just awesome, and I'd love to try making it at home. Anybody out there have something like this?

Dinner Tonight: Roger Ebert's Chicken with Fragrant Rice

A food writer at the Austin American-Statesman called this recipe "the most delicious chicken and rice dish in memory." It comes from Roger Ebert's new cookbook The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker, a strange departure not only for a film critic but for someone who has lost the ability to eat or speak. No matter, this is the kind of comfort-food dish that everyone should have in their repertoire. More

Dinner Tonight: Greek Pasta with Sausage and Cheese

Most of the time, Greek food is off my radar. Not by any conscious choice—I'm always on the lookout for new dishes and new ideas—but it became especially clear while flipping through the recent Greece issue of Saveur. As usual, their selected recipes were authentic, varied, and uniformly delicious-sounding. Though some were more involved than others, I was drawn in particular to this simple pasta and sausage dish and its intriguing use of blue cheese as the basis for the sauce. More

Healthy & Delicious: Raw Tomatillo Salsa

Rick Bayless's raw tomatillo salsa makes a great chip dip or condiment, and is just about the easiest recipe in the world. Fat-free and calorically inconsequential, it possesses quite a heated kick, but can be tailored to your spice preferences. Serve it with a mango and/or tomato and avocado concoction for a highly healthy, highly palatable salsa bar. More

Grilling: Beef Satay

I love peanut butter, I love meat, but for some reason if the two were put together, it's not going in my mouth. It came time to crush this peanut sauce aversion into oblivion, and these beef satay skewers did just the trick. More

Meat Lite: Chicken Divan Hand Pies

Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by the book coauthored by the two, Almost Meatless, due out in spring... More