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Five reader tips for saving money on cooking and grocery shopping

Five reader tips for saving money on cooking and grocery shopping

Grocery trips these days often end with an eye-popping moment when the total flashes onto the register screen. While nearly everything costs more because of higher-than-normal inflation, food is one thing we can’t cut from our budget. Recently, I wrote about ideas, many from budget-shopping experts, for saving money at the grocery store. My colleague Ann Maloney reported a companion story about how to pinch pennies in the kitchen.

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A&E >  Food

Pot of love: Stir up a cozy risotto for a new year’s party

Ten years ago, I drove upstate with my friends to go apple picking. We roasted the apples alongside root vegetables and showered it all with fresh dill, and I made a big pot of risotto for everyone. After dinner, we sat on the dock by a lake, drinking red wine out of Solo cups and watching the sun go down.
A&E >  Food

This easy breakfast strata is the ultimate way to start the year

I didn’t grow up eating many casseroles, and the main event at my family’s holiday brunch was bagels and lox. So, the first time I encountered a breakfast casserole at a New Year’s Day shindig, I was dubious. Where was the Nova and whitefish salad? Or at least the coffee cake and French toast I associated with parties held before noon?
A&E >  Food

In the Kitchen With Ricky: Cinnamon-sugar cookies a taste of a New Mexico holiday

Every Christmas my Grandma Lela would make a cookie called biscochito. Biscochitos are the traditional cookie of New Mexico and have has Spanish roots (bizcocho). These are a shortbreadlike sugar cookie that are spiced with cinnamon and anise. They’re usually made with lard or shortening, but I am using unsalted butter for the recipe today.

A&E >  Food

Say cheese: Tips for properly storing everything from Cheddar to Stilton

Putting out a cheese board is one of the easiest, most fun ways to entertain (or, in my case, have lunch). If you’re going to the effort of choosing and buying the good stuff, you want to make sure you keep it at peak quality before you serve it, as well as after if you happen to have any leftovers.
A&E >  Food

Creamy white beans with sausage make a hearty one-pan meal

A scarpetta, in Italian, is a small shoe. But it has another definition, which I prefer: The scrap of bread you drag over the bottom of a dish, to clean up any lingering swipes of sauce or soup. It’s a useful and delicious thing, a last bite that sings. And you’re going to want a scarpetta when you serve this recipe, a dish of creamy cannellini beans in a sage-infused tomato sauce.
A&E >  Food

Four homemade gifts from your home to theirs

Of all the holiday gifts I’ve been lucky enough to receive, it’s the tasty homemade ones that stay in my memory. There were the shelf-stable bottles of batched cocktails ready for a quick stir with ice, the cookie boxes with gingerbread galore, the pleasingly sticky brittles and toffees, and all the festive chocolate bark.
A&E >  Food

How to conquer your fear of holiday baking

My holiday baking is best summed up by my attempt at fulfilling a boyfriend's request for a gingerbread house. It cracked, it sagged, and it finally gave up and collapsed - much like the relationship. I tried my best, but ultimately, neither the baked goods nor the romance could be saved.The truth is, I want to be someone who bakes for the holidays, but I feel stymied. How can I bake when life is chaos? How can I bake when vanilla beans are so expensive? And how can I bake when no one will like what I've made anyway?So, instead, I'm that person who guiltily contributes a box of Trader Joe's best and hopes to sneak by unnoticed. Each year, I resolve that this season will be different, but this year I decided to make it happen. For inspiration, I gathered wisdom from several baking wizards.Cookie shirkers of the world, unite: Together, we can face unafraid the plans that we've made. Here are three common obstacles and how to get beyond them.- - -Obstacle No. 1: DisorganizationHowever full your calendar, it probably overflows during the holidays. Baking can feel like an unwelcome extra bit of insanity, but it doesn't have to. Sarah Jampel, recipe developer and test kitchen manager for King Arthur Baking, says that pre-measuring dry ingredients for your recipes cuts prep time significantly: "Just be sure to label the containers with contents and amounts so you don't mix them up."She also advises printing recipes and noting bake temperatures, times and pan sizes (or other required equipment, like cutters, sifters, mixers and thermometers) at the top of the page. "You'll avoid accidentally baking your cookies at too high of a temperature, you'll make sure you have all of the equipment you need, and you can make a list of [baking order], starting with the lower temperature bakes and working your way up," she said.Working ahead also can relieve holiday gridlock. "You can even start holiday baking [early] and freeze things," said Dorothy Kern, who blogs at Crazy for Crust. If you have storage space, you can make most cookie doughs and refrigerate or even freeze them. If you want to actually bake ahead and freeze, brownies and bar cookies are particularly good choices, Kern said.- - -Obstacle No. 2: ExpenseSugar and chocolate are pricey enough, but add in specialty ingredients and it could break your budget. That's why Dan Pelosi, food and lifestyle creator of GrossyPelosi, encourages the inexperienced to start with simple, well-tested recipes. "My Peanut Butter Blossoms use normal pantry ingredients, even for non-bakers," he said. "The hardest part is peeling the wrappers off the chocolate Kisses, and they are always the most popular cookies on the table."If you must have a pricey ingredient, Pelosi tries friends and family first, then encourages buying just the minimum. "Go to a bulk store and see if you can buy just the exact amount you need," he said. If you belong to a neighborhood Buy Nothing group or have friends to ask (the women in my local She Runs This Town are so helpful), see if someone has what you need and wouldn't mind offering up a bit - obviously, in exchange for some cookies.Paul Arguin and Chris Taylor, authors of the new "Fabulous Modern Cookies," support a well-placed swap of like for like, saving money and frazzle. "For example, macadamia nuts are delicious, but also very pricey. Substituting another type of nut, like cashews, is smart," Arguin said. "Will the cookie taste exactly the same? No, but if you're saving $10 per pound, it might be good enough."While essential ingredients, such as almond paste, are absolutes, Jampel pointed out that some ingredients can be skipped completely, if not subbed. "Check out the recipe's reviews for successful substitutions," she added.- - -Obstacle No. 3: Fear of failureUltimately, people like cookies and they're not going to blast you for your efforts (forgetting a dear friend who called the chocolate chip cookies I made for his birthday "a little dry"). "We see baking as a form of love," Taylor said. "If you are baking with love, it doesn't matter if your cookies end up a little misshapen or darker at the edges."They also mentioned that cookies are much easier to make the second time around, once you've done a trial batch. "If you have the time, budget and patience, you can remake anything you're not happy with."But if you're still feeling less than confident, Kern has the solution: Employ sweet camouflage. "Slap on some frosting and a generous amount of colorful sprinkles and no one will notice," she said."Release expectations of perfection," Pelosi said. "Let a mess happen. People can taste the energy that goes into what you are baking, so make sure it's delicious."If the mood stays light and sweet, the cookies will be the same.
A&E >  Food

In France, a ham sandwich is more than a ham sandwich

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 19, 2022

Jambon beurre, meaning ham-butter, or just ham on buttered baguette, might be the quintessential French sandwich. It’s a staple for a picnic or a quick lunch with a tot of Beaujolais. And it sounds easy enough.
A&E >  Cooking

5 cookie baking tips for better batches every time

No matter how many cookie recipes I test, I always learn something, either from the recipe developers or from my own kitchen adventures. This year, I picked up even more from some of the new cookbooks that crossed my desk, including several very good ones devoted to cookies.
A&E >  Food

How to freeze pie and pie crust

Making pie from scratch is no easy feat. It can be a time-consuming, messy affair, leaving both the kitchen and the cook dusted with flour. It’s an especially tough task if you’re also preparing the rest of the meal. And for those who find themselves with leftover dessert after a dinner party, the danger of food waste creeps in. Thankfully, I have good news: Many pies – baked or unbaked – freeze beautifully.
A&E >  Food

One person’s fruit cup becomes an elegant start to a holiday meal

Americans often wax poetic about the traditional dishes found on their Thanksgiving tables - casseroles of sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallow topping, collard greens swimming in pot likker, tamales stuffed with green chiles and roasted pork. However, my memories of sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother's house in northern New Jersey center on a teacup placed in the middle of a plate filled with . . . fruit salad.
A&E >  Cooking

A lentil and pasta soup that serves as a respite in this hectic season

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 21, 2022

Between Thanksgiving with its overflowing table, the cookie shipments I start packing for friends in a few weeks and the endless punch bowls of New Year’s Eve celebrations to come, these are the days of food and drink abundance. So why am I sharing a recipe based on an opposite tradition, one of fasting?
A&E >  Food

Test your food safety smarts before the holidays

Generous buffets, treasured covered dishes, golden turkeys stuffed with dressing. Each is a staple of holiday entertaining, and each brings its own challenges when it comes to safely feeding ourselves and others.That's why when this festive winter season rolls around we're encouraged to pay special attention to food safety."We would love for people to be careful with their food all year-round, not just during the holidays," said Meghan Lassiter, family and consumer sciences agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension serving Brunswick County. "But there is definitely something about the holiday season that gets people thinking about being more safe and being more careful."That is probably because we're eating away from home more, at restaurants, parties and the houses of family and friends, or we're playing host ourselves, she said. "We don't want to be the one who gets people sick," Lassiter said, adding that we can eliminate most of the risk for food-borne illness by following simple rules.Think you know just what to do to keep your family and friends safe? Let's find out! Take the quick quiz below, and if you get stymied, we've got all of the facts, so you can channel your inner food safety expert as you prepare delicious meals in the weeks to come.- - -Q: Is it safe to store perishable foods however you like as long as they are in the refrigerator and freezer?A: NoFirst, clean your refrigerator and freezer and make sure there is enough room for storing foods before you go shopping. Then, store fruits and vegetables separately from meats or seafood and avoid crowding, leaving space for air to circulate. If storing or thawing meats or fish in the refrigerator, place them inside another container to catch any juices and store them on a lowest shelf to avoid cross contamination.An inexpensive appliance thermometer can help ensure your refrigerator is at a safe 32 to 40 degrees and your freezer is at 0 degrees. Interior shelves maintain more consistent temperatures. If possible, reserve refrigerator shelf doors for condiments, butter, hard cheeses and freezer doors for nuts, whole grains, butter or bread/rolls.- - -Q: We all know we should wash our hands with soap and running water, but for at least how long?A: 20 secondsWash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Rinse them under running water and dry them thoroughly. Do this before touching food, containers or utensils. (In a pinch, if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, rubbing it in for at least 20 seconds.)Also, remember to wash surfaces, containers and utensils with hot soapy water or, if possible, use the dishwasher, between each food preparation. If you want to make your own sanitizer, add 1 tablespoon bleach in a gallon of water and use that solution to clean cutting boards and countertops.- - -Q: What's the best way to thaw frozen foods, including a turkey?A: In the refrigeratorNever thaw food on the counter. The safest way to thaw frozen foods is in their original packaging in the refrigerator.If the item, such as a turkey, contains juices, place it inside a rimmed baking sheet or bowl to catch any released liquid. Remember, you'll need about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds, so a 16-pound, frozen turkey, for example, will need at least 4 days to thaw. (The only time you should not thaw food in its original packaging is vacuum-packed fish because of the potential of botulism. It should be moved to a clean container with a cover.)If you're in a hurry, other safe ways to thaw food include: Place the food in a zip-top bag or airtight container and submerge it in cold tap water; changing the water every 30 minutes and allowing about 30 minutes per pound. Also, you can safely thaw food in a microwave. Food thawed in water or in the microwave, however, MUST be cooked immediately. If you have to cook your turkey from frozen, you can do that. Check out our Desperation Turkey (From Frozen).- - -Q: What is the best indicator that food is cooked or reheated to a safe temperature?A: Take its temperatureThe temperature is the ONLY way to be sure cooked food is safe to eat. Invest in a calibrated digital instant read thermometer. America's Test Kitchen recommends Thermoworks Thermapen Mark 4 for $99 and the more reasonably priced Thermopop for $29. Both work well. For example, a turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees, with the legs cooked to 175. If the turkey is stuffed, the stuffing also should be at 165 degrees. To test foods, measure it at its thickest spot, avoiding any bone, if present. If testing a stew or other dish with a sauce, stir it before taking its temperature. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil.- - -Q: How long can you leave perishable food at room temperature?A: 2 hoursFoods that require refrigeration can be left at room temperature for up to 2 hours, 1 hour if the room or space is 90 degrees or hotter. This includes cooked and uncooked foods.Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees - considered the "danger zone." The amount can double in as little as 20 minutes.Some foodborne bacteria produce poisons or toxins that are not destroyed by high cooking temperatures, so if food is left out beyond the recommended times, it should not be reheated and should be discarded. Anything that looks or smells off or suspicious should be thrown out.- - -Q: Leftovers are the best part of holiday meals. How long do I have to eat them?A: 4 daysProperly stored leftovers - those that have not been at room temperature for more than 2 hours - should be eaten or frozen within 4 days. This rule doesn't apply to all foods - some, like cranberry sauce, can be eaten for up to 5 days, while others, like gravies and sauces, will taste best if eaten in 2 days. If you know you have more leftovers than you can finish in a couple of days, food safety experts say go ahead and freeze it rather than wait. It will taste better and that is the safer way to handle leftovers.Don't wait. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as you finish your meal. Chill them quickly by placing them in shallow containers and cutting larger foods, like that turkey, into smaller pieces. Wrap them tightly or put them in an airtight container to keep bacteria at bay. If a large quantity of food is piping hot, transfer it to smaller containers and place it over ice to cool it down for 20 minutes to avoid heating up your refrigerator.When reheating, it is best to reheat only the portion you plan to consume rather than reheating the whole amount. Before serving, reheat casseroles to 165 degrees and bring sauces and gravies to a rolling boil.Refrigeration slows but does not stop bacterial growth, so there is some risk of snacking on any cold leftovers, especially for infants, the elderly, and those who are pregnant or immunocompromised.- - -Q: Which of these foods should not be prepared in advance before cooking?Pie crustStuffing/dressingMac and cheeseGreen beansA: Stuffing/dressingNever refrigerate uncooked stuffing. This is because it is at a high risk for bacterial growth. If not freezing or cooking, the dry and wet ingredients can be mixed separately and refrigerated, but should not be mixed together until just before cooking. If stuffing a whole bird, spoon the stuffing in loosely, about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound. It should be moist because heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. The stuffed bird or casserole dish should immediately be placed in an oven set no lower than 325 degrees. When finished baking, use a food thermometer to ensure the stuffing is at least 165 degrees. If the stuffing is baked inside the whole bird, take the poultry out of the oven and let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing. Refrigerate cooked poultry and stuffing within 2 hours.If freezing cooked stuffing, place in a shallow container and freeze immediately. To use it safely, do not thaw it before cooking. Cook the frozen stuffing until it reaches 165 degrees. Premade store-bought stuff should also be cooked to 165 degrees.- - -Q: How long can I leave my homemade fruit and nut pies on the counter?A: 2 daysThe USDA says fruit pies made with sugar are food-safe at room temperatures for up to 2 days because the sugar and acid slow bacterial growth. After that, they can be refrigerated for up to 2 more days. If the house is warm, however, experts recommend storing all the pies in the refrigerator.Any pies or pastries containing eggs or dairy - even in a topping - must be covered and refrigerated. They should stand at room temperature for only up to 2 hours. This includes pecan, pumpkin and custard pies, according to the USDA. Commercially produced pies, such as pumpkin, are typically made with preservatives to keep them shelf-stable for longer, but, if they contain egg, the USDA advises that leftovers be refrigerated as well.Use foil, plastic wrap or an overturned bowl to cover pies unless you have a pie keeper. If using a bowl, allow the pie to chill first to avoid condensation.And remember when baking that you should not eat raw dough or filling containing eggs or flour. Both are raw and can cause illness. If you are not cooking the eggs, such as for meringues, use pasteurized eggs.- - -Q: What do I need to know before I bring food to a potluck?How long will I travel?When will my food be served?Will the host have space for my food in the refrigerator/freezer/oven or on the stove?A: All of the aboveRemember the two-hour rule as you consider both travel time and the time between your arrival and when the food will be eaten. Don't assume you'll be able to slip your dish into the refrigerator or oven. Check with the host to find out what's possible before offering to bring a certain dish. If you are hosting, be sure to share these details with attendees.It is easier to bring something cold or something that is room temperature than something hot. For short distances, say within 30 minutes, the best way to travel with a hot casserole is to keep it in the pan it was cooked in, double wrap it in foil, then wrap it in tea towels and place it in an insulated box or bag large enough to store it flat so that it won't spill.For longer distances, consider making the dish the day before and then refrigerating or freezing it properly. Transport the cold food in a cooler with freezer gels or ice. Reheat it to 165 degrees once you arrive. (If foods are frozen, pack them directly from the freezer into a cooler.) A full cooler maintains its cold temperature better, so pack empty space with ice or frozen gel packs. Open the cooler only when essential.Keep snacks or drinks in a separate cooler. Be sure to keep cooked foods separate from fresh vegetables or breads.Upon arrival, put cold foods in the refrigerator or over ice. Place hot foods in a 200-degree oven or in a chafing dish, slow cooker or warming tray capable of holding foods at 140 degrees or warmer.

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