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Tim's Cooking Blog

Opinions and thoughts about cooking and food and related subjects—and sometimes other stuff.

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31. Dogs In Grocery Stores

For a while, it seemed that dogs were welcome almost everywhere—particularly in grocery stores; and especially—but not exclusively—service dogs and therapy dogs were often to be seen in grocery stores. Lately, that seems to have changed in many places. Service dogs are still accepted everywhere—and the right to have them with you is protected by law. But neither therapy dogs nor companion dogs nor just regular dogs are allowed in many places. And why? Oh, I know that many people are afraid of dogs being unsanitary and that they do not want them around food for that reason. But, truly, the dogs do not bother me; it is people that I worry about.

30. Why Should I Buy A Cookbook When I Can Get Recipes For Free On The Internet?

Well, now, that is a good question for a cook to ask and an interesting question for a cookbook writer (also a cook) to answer. Why spend money when you can get what you want for free?

  1. In my own experience, good sounding recipes and clever seeming ideas and pretty pictures of food on the Internet do not always equal good tasting food. It is easier to post what seems to be good than to make what is good.
  2. You can read recipes and plan out meals more easily with a printed book in hand—you can have a better perspective of what to cook and what combinations may be good—whereas usually you can only search for one recipe at a time online.
  3. If the power goes out, you can still look up recipes in a cookbook without worrying about running the battery too low.
  4. Even if the power does not go out, you would not want to have your computer on or your phone charging during a thunderstorm. So, at these times—when you still can cook—it is good to have a cookbook handy.
  5. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, as revamped by Marion Cunningham; any cookbook by Alton Brown, who I think is the greatest cook living; Old And New Recipes, written by Tim Mills—you can get some of the recipes that are in these books for free; but if you like some of the recipes from a cookbook, it would be worthwhile to get the books and have all of the recipes.

29. How To Make Your Baking Better

Have you ever had a cookie—or frosting or icing—that tasted sort of like soap? I have; and you can find many more people on the Internet who have had the same experience. The ingredients that you use in your baking matter. The following list is of the most critical items—a quick guide to better baking:

28. A Warning To Vegetarians And Vegans And Other People

Carmine (or carmine red) is made from insects. It is often used to color the cherries in fruit cocktail. It is also used in some yogurt as coloring. Be aware and beware.

27. Hostess® Suzy Q's®

They are the best thing Hostess makes. Simple ingredients, simple construction—and chocolate.

26. A Recommendation For A Good Ice Cream Brand

The best ice cream is made simply—with half-and-half, cream, sugar, and vanilla. See my recipe for vanilla ice cream. But if you just do not have the time or the inclination to make your own—or you do not want to spend as much money as truly quality ice cream costs—then I recommend trying Walmart's Great Value® ice cream. It has good flavor and consistency—and any extra flavors, nuts, and other chunky stuff are amply included.

Oh, but do go and make your own ice cream.

25. Mayonnaise Recap

Variation and update on a previously discussed theme: There are two mayonnaise brands that I consider to be the best quality: Best Foods® and Kraft®. I have tried other brands and they almost all have the same problems in common with each other: they have a varyingly old oil taste and they simply do not keep as well, tastewise, as Best Foods and Kraft. So, save up and buy the good brands.

24. What Is The Deal With Soda Crackers?

Not crisp. Not quite done enough. Not quite salted enough. Crumbly. What happened? Whether name-brand or store-brand or generic—they are often not nearly as good as they used to be. I have been buying Ritz Crackers®. They do not seem to have changed like soda crackers have.

23. Remembering Bill Paxton

Bill Paxton

March 4, 2017

One week ago—as I write this—one of my favorite actors died; he was also one of my favorite people: Bill Paxton. I have not seen most of his movies and television appearances, but I have liked what I have seen.

In Titanic, he played a character who—I believe—did a great job of tying the present day to the past. He was exploring the wreck of the Titanic, looking for treasures—but ended up even more enriched by the experience of learning and feeling what it had been like to be on the Titanic. A self-assured, strong performance—the movie would not have been the same without him.

Also, I just saw the movie Twister for just the second time. Oh, how different it feels watching that movie now that Bill Paxton and Philip Seymour Hoffman are both gone. They did such a great job in that movie; it was sad—but also inspiring—to see them alive and to watch it again. I guess I am lucky that there are so many of Bill Paxton's movies and other performances that I have yet to see. I only wish that he were still here to make more of them. I just wish he were still here.

This posting is off the usual subject matter, but very personal and important to me.

**Photo by Gage Skidmore. Used by permission.**

22. Michael Angelo's® Gourmet Foods

For convenient and ready-made Italian food, Michael Angelo's is in a class by itself. Made with restaurant quality, homemade care, and top quality ingredients—you will not find better food ready-made. The vegetarian lasagna is particularly good—you do not have to be a vegetarian to appreciate it. It is all in the frozen food section of the grocery store. I highly recommend that you try it. (By the way, this is not a paid advertisement.)

21. Random Tips On Baking

20. How To Cook Squash

  1. Cut the squash into large pieces.
  2. Put the cut squash into a baking pan, cut-side down.
  3. Do not add water
  4. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Test with a fork for doneness. It should be soft when done.
  6. Add butter, brown sugar—or any other seasoning—after cooking.

Squash does not cook as well if it is cooked cut-side up; that is why I say to add the seasonings after cooking.

The differing types of squash vary widely in cooking times.

19. How To Make Pumpkin Pie From Fresh Pumpkin

The best pumpkin pie recipe is Libby's®. Go here to get it:

The Pumpkin

Cut the pumpkin into large pieces. Scrape out the seeds and most of the stringy stuff. Put it in a baking pan, cut-side down, and bake, uncovered, at 350° for 1 to 2 hours. (Small "pie pumpkin" takes about 1 hour; regular pumpkin—the type that is carved for Halloween—takes longer to cook; it is the type of pumpkin that makes the difference in cooking times, not the size.) Test with a fork; when done, it should be soft enough to make mashing it easy. Using a wire-type masher, mash the pumpkin and scrape it away from the skin and stringy stuff with the masher; place the mashed pumpkin in a bowl. If you let it cool down first, it is easier to just hold each pumpkin piece in one hand and mash and scrape it with the masher in the other hand. Then just measure out how much you need, or refrigerate it or freeze it for later use.

The Pie

Blend the pumpkin and the evaporated milk together in a blender (in small batches); set aside. Place all the other pie filling ingredients in a mixing bowl; blend well, so that the eggs are well blended with the sugar and spices (a wire whip works well). Stir in the pumpkin mixture.

If you do not have a blender—or if you just want to make it by hand the old-fashioned way—you can blend the pumpkin with a wire whip. At first put only enough of the evaporated milk together with the pumpkin to facilitate blending and to keep the pumpkin and the milk from separating, then gradually blend in the rest of the milk before stirring it into to the rest of the pie filling. (This method will result in the pie filling having a coarser texture than if you use a blender.)

18. Some Ideas For School Lunches

17. Best Foods Mayonnaise And Miracle Whip

Best Foods Mayonnaise® is the best mayonnaise. I have tried and tried other brands, but there is simply no acceptable substitute for Best Foods Mayonnaise; none match it in quality, taste, or versatility.

Miracle Whip® is a quandary for me. It is not quite mayonnaise and it is not quite salad dressing; I have historically not liked it all that much, liking Best Foods Mayonnaise better than Miracle Whip in all ways. But, I have recently found that it works well for deviled eggs and egg salad. So, there you go...Miracle Whip does have its uses.

16. Banana Splits

So...lately, it seems that many restaurant-made banana splits—and sundaes and other similar ice cream desserts—do not have enough toppings added to them. Various restaurants and fast food establishments, that used to put more toppings on, now put less. One place I have visited actually charges to put more toppings on its banana splits, when formerly it would all barely fit in the plastic dish that they put it in.

I do not see the wisdom in cutting back portion sizes when it can so obviously risk the loss of customers. In the case of banana splits, I know that from my own experience that just one tablespoon of each of three toppings is usually enough; so, in order to not have enough, the establishment that I have cited must be using even less than that. I will not go there anymore for banana splits or sundaes; a quick search on Google demonstrates that many other people feel the same as I do.

When we go to a restaurant—even a fast food restaurant—we ought to be able to expect that what we get there is not only convenient, but more fancy or higher-quality than we could easily make at home. To get a skimpy portion of what we have ordered, to see clearly that we are getting a corner-cut, barely-enough version of what we expected, makes the value of our restaurent experience questionable. If we can do better than they do—and, I estimate, for about one-third of the price—then I think it is time to think about staying at home and making our own food or desserts and avoiding the higher cost and aggravation.

Note: significant exceptions to the smaller quantity trend: Baskin-Robbins, who consistently serves full-sized scoops of ice cream with plenty of toppings; Denny's Restaurants, who does a great job on milk shakes and sundaes; and DK's Drive In, in Ephrata, Washington—if you are ever in Ephrata, they are worth a visit.

15. Rhubarb And Cranberries

I like rhubarb and cranberries. There are recipes for either of these that call for other ingredients: strawberry-rhubarb pie, cranberry relish, and cranberries in Jello®.... I think that rhubarb and cranberries are best when prepared without too many added ingredients. I would not mix strawberries and rhubarb together in a pie; rhubarb has a unique flavor—which, if you like it, strawberries do not enhance; strawberries are great all by themselves or with shortcake. Many cranberry relish recipes call for oranges—peel and all—to be ground or chopped in with the cranberries; now, in my experience, cranberries are tart—they do not really need what a little orange peel has to offer. And, as far as cranberries in Jello® are concerned, I do not think that either complements the other.

Cranberries are good in cranberry sauce, cranberry bread, juice, and dried and dipped in chocolate. I have heard of cranberry pie but have not tried it yet; I would imagine that it is good if, as with cranberry sauce, it is made with enough sugar. Rhubarb is good in sauce (like apple sauce, but made with rhubarb), bread, pie, and in rhubarb crisp and cobbler.

14. Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwiches

There are two ways to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: one way is to simply spread peanut butter on one piece of the bread and jelly on the other. But, if you would rather not have half the jelly soaking into the bread, then here is what you do: Spread peanut butter on both pieces of bread, creating an effective barrier between the jelly and the bread. There is always the chance that some of the jelly may squeeze out, but that is not nearly as annoying as having it soak into the bread.

13. Six Dish Towels

Flour sack towels are the best dish towels you can have. It seems that many types of dish towels do not absorb water well—they smear it; flour sack dish towels dry well and can do a good job of removing minor water spots with little effort.

It helps to have more than one flour sack dish towel on hand if you are doing many dishes or if you are cooking: Three is a good number, especially if you have a place to hang them in or near your kitchen: two of them can dry while you use one of them; and if you have six flour sack dish towels, then you will always be able to have three on hand while the other three are in the wash. Three in use, three in reserve.

12. Tomatoes And Sugar

Sliced tomatoes sprinkled with sugar—a lost art.

11. Reduced Quantities In Packaged Food

I try to avoid buying food that is packaged in smaller quantities than formerly customary, such as: mayonnaise in 30-ounce jars instead of full quart jars; ice cream in 48- to 56-ounce quantities instead of half gallons; spaghetti sauce in 24-ounce jars or cans instead of at least 26-ounce or larger sizes; tuna fish in 5-ounce cans instead of 6-ounce cans. (In fact, tuna fish used to be packed in 7-ounce cans.) The manufacturers of many of these products have changed the quantities without significantly changing the prices—if at all; and they have not, in my opinion, given adequately obvious notice of the changes. I look for, and buy, food packaged by companies that still use the former, larger sizes—or that at least have proportionally lowered the price of their downsized products.

10. Food Combinations

Food combinations that go well together.

9. Fast Food

I am a fan of fast food. I do not eat it all the time—I like to cook!—but I do not think that there is more wrong with fast food than there is with any other kind of food. Most regular hamburgers are made of some or most of the following: bread, hamburger, ketchup, mustard, pickles, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, salt, and pepper; none of these ingredients are unusual or unheard-of at home. French fries are just potatoes. Usually "special sauces" are predominantly mayonnaise. American cheese is a little more complicated but certainly something that many people eat at home. Most other fast food can be analyzed similarly.

Of those items in fast food restaurants that are not particularly good for you, soda pop is a major one; but it is not unique to them; and it is widely consumed almost everywhere. And about deep-fried food: If it is cooked properly and the oil is allowed to drain off sufficiently, it is often less greasy than surface-fried foods.

There are some relatively healthy menu items at fast food restaurants. Milk and orange juice and just plain water are usually available—you do not have to drink soda; and milk shakes are not completely lethal. Good salads are common.

For a very healthy, balanced diet you simply need to cook at home. Do not expect to get all you need in any fast food restaurant. But it is wrong to think that the food there is always unhealthy. You need to make good food choices overall, and stay away from food that you believe is bad for you—but be fair and correct about what is good or bad about the food you eat.

8. Bread

What bread is the best to buy? For everyday use, I usually buy one of the best cheaper breads. Once in a while I try the really good bread—and I have noticed that it is often not much different than the cheaper kind. One good thing that can be said about the cheaper bread is that it is likely to have the best combination of freshness and shelf life. Fresh French bread is great the day that you buy it, OK the second day, and hard as rock after that. Some bread never does taste good. And about that bread that contains whole grain, seeds, glass, and wood chunks—it is not hugely better, in my opinion, than regular bread; I still want to know how long it has been on the shelf and if it will still taste good in lunches a week from now. I would rather eat an "unhealthy" Twinkie® than a piece of old, 100% "natural" bread; certainly a few boxes of Twinkies® would be more useful on a deserted island than a few loaves of the "good" bread.

So here is my bread-buying advice: First buy bread that moves quickly off the store shelves. It is likely to be fresher and cheaper. Try some of the other bread, but do not be misled by higher price, "100% natural" ingredients, or famous name brands; those attributes do not necessarily make it better. Ignore brands and hype and just buy what you like.

7. How To Cook: For Those Who Do Not Cook: Part 1

Just take things step-by-step—and you too can cook!

6. Peas And Carrots

Peas and carrots: How to cook them: My first thought is how very awful they are together; they should always be cooked separately. And the idea that either of them should be just barely cooked? Wrong. Raw is just fine; but if they are to be cooked, then they should be well-cooked—until the carrots are soft and the peas are almost mushy. Long-cooking brings out the natural sweetness in these two vegetables that you just cannot get any other way. More about carrots: Buy them with the tops still on if you have a choice; they are sweeter that way—I think the tops draw bitterness out of them. And do not peel carrots—just clean them and cut off the ends.

Update: I have recently learned that some people do like peas and carrots cooked together.

5. Cocada Pudding

Cocada pudding is coconut pudding. I have only seen it in TV dinners. I created this recipe because I could not find a decent recipe for it. I put it here for free since it is one of my most searched-for (on Google) recipes; in fact, I have found my own (uncredited) recipe for cocada pudding in searches for it on the Internet . Maybe if people like it enough they will decide to buy my cookbook! Here is the link to the recipe:

Cocada Pudding

4. Essential Ingredients For Cooking For Kids

3. About Chocolate Milk

There is a way to make chocolate milk. First of all, use powdered chocolate milk mix if you plan to drink very much of it—chocolate syrup is usually much more expensive and it has relatively more sugar in it, which you will notice if you drink much of it. Mixing: If you put the chocolate in the bottom of a glass and add the milk—or if you put the milk in first and then add the chocolate—no matter how long you stir it, it will not be completely mixed. What you need to do is to put the milk and the chocolate in a blender and blend it. There is no better way to mix it. Put in the milk and then the chocolate and blend it briefly to get it mixed up; let it sit for about half a minute to allow the chocolate to begin to dissolve in the milk; then blend it for about 20 to 30 seconds. It will be as smooth and perfect as it can be.

And about the powdered chocolate milk mix: I buy the local store brand. Most of the major name-brands are vitamin-fortified—and I do not think we need all those vitamins when we are already drinking milk! I doubt that many people who drink chocolate milk are vitamin-deficient; you should rather expect that of those who drink soda pop all the time.

Update: It has been getting increasingly difficult to find plain powdered chocolate milk mix. However, my cookbook now has a well-tested and often-used (by me) recipe for chocolate syrup.

2. Chocolate Chip Cookies

Homemade chocolate chip cookies get crunchy after they cool down. Live with it.

Update: SOME chocolate chip cookie recipes turn out cookies that are NOT crunchy after they cool down. But do not try to undercook them just to make sure they turn out soft; the recipe should take care of that, without making you fuss with it. The Neiman Marcus recipes tend to produce crunchy cookies—but they are great cookies.

For a long time I did not have my own recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I have many times used the following Neiman Marcus recipes. And do not be deceived by the fake Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipes that you can find on the Internet; if you want to be sure to get the real thing, then either go to their website or get the recipes here. There are two almost-identical versions; here they are:

The Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe - 1999
The Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe - 2006

Update: My cookbook, Old And New Recipes, now has a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

1. My Qualifications To Write A Cookbook And A Cooking Blog

Well, since I have already written the cookbook, I guess I must have been qualified to do so—and you are reading the blog. Also, I am an expert at preparing food that kids like.

See My Cookbook:

Old And New Recipes