Martha Answers One Reader’s Question — and Liz Answers the Rest

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Bill Cary first announced “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School” on the Small Bites blog last week, and invited readers to ask questions of Martha in the comments fields. Martha selected one question to answer: Brannon Conza of Hopewell Junction wins a copy of the companion cookbook.

(Martha Stewart demonstrating how to peel a head of garlic by tossing it between two tightly closed steel bowls. Photos by Mark Vergari.)

Here’s the winning Q&A:

Q: I’m all for the beauty of a simple meal — but simple shouldn’t necessarily be boring. What’s your favorite go-to meal that is nice enough to serve to guests, but simple enough that it’s ideal even for last minute company? Brannon Conza, Hopewell Junction

A: A tiered bamboo Chinese steamer allows you to steam more than one item at a time. It’s great for creating an entire meal especially on a busy weeknight when you’re looking for something quick. I love to steam Salmon with Peas. (Martha’s recipe for Salmon with Peas is after the jump.)

Congrats, Brannon, you win the “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School” cookbook! (I have it and it’s great. You’re going to love it.)

While we don’t have prizes for the runners-up, we do have what I hope you can consider a good consolation: I’ve answered your questions. Thank you all for submitting, and enjoy Martha’s show this weekend!

Whenever I try to cook a chicken breast in a skillet that has been marinating, the extra bit of marinade that drips off of the chicken starts to burn before the chicken cooks through, no matter how high or low I have the heat in the skillet. Am I doing something wrong, or does that happen to everyone?Laura

You can always pat your chicken breast dry, or use tongs and shake the extra marinade off before sauteeing it. But don’t worry too much about marinades browning in the bottom of a pan; the brown bits that form make up what’s called fond, and give your dish lots of flavor. To loosen the chicken, splash a bit of stock or wine into the pan. This is called deglazing. After you remove the chicken from the pan, allow the liquid to reduce and you’ll have a nice pan sauce.

When you can’t use eggs or mayonnaise due to allergy issues, what can you use when making things like cole slaw, potato salad and so on, so that all enjoy it, even the mayo heads?Ceili

Even “mayo heads” will enjoy a cole slaw or potato salad made with an oil-based dressing. Why not try a sesame-ginger dressing for cole slaw or a warm vinaigrette for potato salad? Here are two excellent recipes: Peanut Chicken with Cabbage Slaw and  Hot Potato Salad with Scallion Vinaigrette.

In making home made tomato sauce, most recipes require removing the seeds from the tomato. Does this really make a difference in terms of taste?Rebecca

The seeds can make it bitter, but it depends on your tolerance for that. An easy way to remove them for sauce, though, is to use a food mill. Score an X at the bottom of the tomato skins, then blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds or so. Plunge them into ice water to keep them from cooking. When they’re cool enough to handle, slip the skins off, then cut in half. Place in a food mill and the disc will keep the seeds and skins in while pushing the delicate tomato flesh through.

What kind of chicken do you prefer? I once bought chicken at a farmers’ market and it was so much better – both flavor and texture – than supermarket chicken. But, since I usually buy chicken at a store, what should I look for? Brooke

The reason you probably liked that chicken better is because it was fresh and local. The closest you can get at the store is to look for free-range chickens that are raised without antibiotics and hormones. Bell & Evans and Murray’s are two local brands you can find in some grocery stores.

I have been using all kinds of cooking oil, but i just can’t seem to get it right. Which would you prefer to use as to cooking and frying? I have been using different kinds of cooking oil for frying and baking. I just can’t seem to get it right. Which is the best oil to bake or fry food?Annmarie

There are lots of choice for oils. I usually stick with olive oil for sauteing vegetables, searing meat and frying eggs. When you need a high-heat oil, like for shallow or deep frying, I like grapessed oil, which has a higher smoke point.

When cooking beef, lamb or salmon (foods that are usually cooked to a temperature) for friends and family, do you ask their preferences or just do it the way you think it should be served? — Jill Wolder

You can usually accommodate especially picky eaters by cooking one large cut and slicing to order. Those who prefer their meat well done will like the pieces from the edges, and those who prefer medium or medium rare should be served pieces from the thicker middle portion.

Egg whites – from type and temperature of eggs to separating, to whipping, what is the best way and tips on making the whites stiff and proper uses. including a sponge cake and torched whites on baked Alaska. meringues and other uses.DMO

Sorry Donna, this one is beyond my expertise! Maybe one of our pastry chef readers can help?

I love discovering (easy) recipes for items, like making my own ricotta cheese, that after one taste you would never buy it in the store again. I’d like to know Martha’s favorite recipe of something that most people would never think they could make at home. Patrice Costa

I can’t answer for Martha, but I loving making pickles. You can make a batch of refrigerator pickles (I like slicing spears of fennel and carrots rather than using cucumbers) in about 15 minutes. (Taco Truck pickles recipe from Rancho Gordo here. Martha’s pickled fennel here.)  I also have been experimenting with fermenting: Sauerkraut doesn’t take long to prepare, but you have to wait about six weeks for it to fermet (a ceramic crock is a good idea). Vinegar is as easy as letting a bottle of wine sit out on the counter until a “mother” forms inside. Then slide it out the neck and follow these great instructions here on Sunset.com: How to Make Vinegar.

What is the best way to separate egg whites?Gail

I like to use my hands! Crack the egg into a small bowl, then cup your (clean) fingers into the white and pull out the yolk. Let the whites run through your fingers back into the bowl and then place the yolk into a separate bowl. Always put the separated whites into a different bowl so that if your yolk breaks you haven’t ruined the entire batch.

What is your favorite simple, yet delicious recipe for a salad dressing?Fred Jackson

My go-to balsamic vinegar: a dollop of mustard and a ratio of 3-1 olive oil to balsamic vinegar. I also like using sherry vinegar. Add soft herbs like basil, chervil or tarragon and you can really make it special.

How you you make the best Hard Boiled Eggs without the green around the yoke? Julie DeVito

I am a big believer in chef Suzanne Goin’s method: Bring a big pot of water to a boil and prepare a bowl with ice water. Once the water is boiling, gently slide the eggs in. Let them cook for 9 minutes exactly, then carefully remove them with a slotted spoon to the ice water. You will have gorgeous yolks every time, without a spot of green.

How do you cut onions… without crying?Barbara P.

There are lots of tricks people try (a potato on the end of your knife is one that I’ve heard), but the best way to avoid tears is to have a super-sharp knife and cut quickly. Do you know the best way to dice an onion? Here’s a step-by-step. Although here’s another tip not everyone knows: if you wear contacts, you won’t cry. I always make sure to have mine on before I start dicing onions!

Sometimes no matter how I cook and season my food it turns out bland. Is there a last minute secret to add to enhance the flavor?Susan

Acid does wonders: Try a squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of vinegar. It will bring out the best in your food. But also taste that you’re seasoning enough as you go. You should salt vegetables as you saute them, salt meat before you cook it. Give your food a taste before it’s finished and you’ll learn to tell when it needs a pinch of this or a dash of that.

What is your best suggestion for using leftovers from thanksgiving turkey?? Any great casserole recipes?Pat Van Wert

My favorite leftover turkey recipe is called Turkey Carcass Soup. You get to use the bones and all! Plus, after all that indulgence the day before, it’s nice to have a light but warming meal on Friday night. Here’s the recipe. Turkey Carcass Soup.

 

Steamed Salmon with Peas

Serves 1 (the recipe can be multiplied by using a larger basket or filling more baskets and stacking them up)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup water, plus more if needed

5 large lettuce leaves, for lining the basket

2 sprigs dill

1 salmon fillet, about 7 ounces and 1 inch thick

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small green-cabbage leaf, for “cup”

1/2 pound fresh English peas, shelled (to yield 1/2 cup)

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut in half

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Bring wine and water to a simmer in a large skillet or wok. Meanwhile, line the top of a small steamer basket with 2 lettuce leaves. Season both sides of salmon with salt and pepper and place on top of lettuce, then place a dill sprig over fish. Place remaining 3 lettuce leaves in the bottom basket and top with cabbage “cup.” Place peas in the cup. Dot peas evenly with butter and top with remaining dill sprig; season with salt and pepper.

When the liquid in the skillet is boiling, set the basket with peas in the skillet, rest the salmon basket on top, then secure the bamboo lid tightly in place. Steam until peas are just tender and bright green and fish is evenly opaque throughout, 7 to 9 minutes (you’ll have to remove the top basket to check). You may need to add more water to the skillet.

Whisk together yogurt, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve salmon, cabbage and peas immediately, with yogurt sauce on the side.

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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