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VOL. 35 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 14, 2011

Cooking tips even seasoned chefs will love

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Today, I bring you a few cooking tips, followed by a great-tasting chicken and sausage stew with a slight Cajun flair!

Softening bananas: To soften bananas for banana bread/muffins, pierce unpeeled bananas with fork and microwave, uncovered, about one minute, turning over at half time. Cool and peel. Bury the peels in your rose bed for potassium.

Mushrooms: Sauté mushrooms on low to medium heat for the best flavor; on high heat or the best texture. A short cooking time yields a more delicate flavor.

Milk chocolate chips: Despite the expiration date, chocolate chips do not go bad in that they are unsafe to consume. If they have turned light brown, the discoloration, or “bloom” is nothing more than the cocoa butter, which has separated. Once melted, the cocoa butter will be re-incorporated.

Garlic: When a recipe calls for adding oil, garlic and onions to a pan, always add garlic last, which keeps it from burning and tasting bitter.

Pudding: Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of cooked pudding or pie filling immediately after pouring to prevent a skin from forming.

Boilovers: To prevent foods from boiling over, rub a thin coat of olive oil to the inside of pots. When cooking oatmeal, coat the pan with non-stick cooking spray. This keeps the oatmeal from boiling over and sticking to the pan.

Delicious spread: Mash about six garlic cloves into 1/2 cup softened butter. Add chopped chives or parsley, then form into logs, wrap in plastic and freeze. Slice as needed to melt onto meats, veggies or use as a spread.

Drink calories: Soda and other sweetened drinks add extra calories and get in the way of good nutrition. Water and milk are the best drinks for kids. Juice is fine if it is 100 percent, but kids don’t need much of it – four to six ounces a day is enough for preschoolers.

Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a parasite carried by cats, can also contaminate food. Most often, toxoplasmosis results from eating undercooked meat and poultry or unwashed fruits and vegetables, from cleaning a litter box, or from handling contaminated soil. Toxoplasmosis usually causes no symptoms or only mild flu-like conditions in pregnant women, but can be passed to a developing baby, resulting in miscarriage, disability and retardation.

Enough of that. Now for the recipe!

Chicken and Sausage Stew

10 tablespoons butter

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat, cut into bite-size chunks

Salt and pepper

8 ounces andouille sausage, sliced

1 yellow onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 carrots, peeled and cut into thick rounds

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

5 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup water or white wine

Melt half the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed stewpot. Add the chicken; season with salt and pepper. Cook until browned. Add sausage. Cook two to three minutes then remove meat to a large dish; set aside.

Melt remaining butter in the same pot. Add onion, garlic, carrot, fennel, thyme and bay leaves and cook over medium heat 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, warm the chicken broth in the microwave. Set aside. When the vegetables are tender, add the reserved meat and any juices to the pot. Mix well. Add the flour and stir to coat the vegetables and meat. Cook two minutes. Add the water (or wine) and stir. The mixture will thicken immediately. Add the warm chicken stock to the pot 1 cup at a time, stirring, until all stock has been added. Bring stew to a simmer for 20 minutes. Great served over hot rice.

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