Showing posts with label Ask Mary-. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ask Mary-. Show all posts

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dear Mary, I’ve heard a lot about phytochemicals. What are these? And are they just another trendy fad?

Phytochemicals are chemical compounds found in plants. These chemical compounds are what the plants use to protect themselves from bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Providing further evidence in the health benefits of diets that include fruits and vegetables.

However phytochemicals are more than just a fad. For over millennia, doctors have prescribed various herbs and other plants to treat any ailments. Now with modern medicine, researchers are discovering the new ways phytochemicals improve a person’s health. In fact, according to Stanford Medicine’s Cancer Center phytochemicals reduces the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases that might also be prevented by eating more fruits and vegetables.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ask Mary: Loving the Peppers, Not the Spice!

Ask Mary: Loving the Peppers, Not the Spice!

Dear Mary,
My husband loves all different kinds of chilies and peppers, so I try and cook with them often. Unfortunately, because they are spicy, the meals often come out unbearably hot. Is there anything I can do to tone down the heat?
Thanks, Virginia from Milwaukee

Hi Virginia,
When I was in culinary school we had a chili contest, and being from the south I jumped in really quick with my knowledge of chili, utilizing my new culinary skills. I made the chili ahead of everyone else, and decided to add a thickening agent of butter and flour (almost like dough) to improve the consistency.

Although the thickening technique worked, the heat of the dish disappeared completely. I didn’t win the contest, but I learned an invaluable lesson. Adding fat to your dish will decrease some of the heat of the chilies. Just be careful to use it in moderation as your husband, like most chili lovers, probably enjoys a little kick in the meal.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ask Mary: Veggie Steaming

Dear Mary,
I don’t have a vegetable steamer. Can I still steam vegetables?

Without a vegetable steamer, the best option for your veggies would be to blanch them quickly by boiling them for a few minutes. However, if steaming is your preferred cooking method, run over to a place like Bed, Bath and Beyond and pick up a steam basket. They’re fairly inexpensive and really get the job done. I prefer to steam my veggies because steaming helps maintain the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that you need in your daily diet during the cooking process.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ask Mary: Lunch Meat

How long can lunch meat stay in my refrigerator?

Lunch meats are loaded with salts and preservatives, helping them to stay safe and tasty longer. However, the best rule of thumb is still to buy deli meats fresh after just a few days. If the meat is bought from the deli counter, it will typically last about three to four days in the refrigerator. If you buy it at the grocery store prepackaged it will last around 1½ weeks, sometimes longer. Always check the label if you’re uncertain. Some unsliced meats can be kept for about three weeks, but to be honest, I wouldn’t eat any type of lunch meats after a couple of days. Better to be safe and eat fresh!

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ask Mary: Washing Spinach?

Mary, Should I wash spinach before I cook it?
Thanks, Dirty Greens

If you are buying market spinach or any green for that matter, you should definitely wash it. The trick is to not bruise it while you wash it. I usually fill up a bowl of water and then pour in my spinach. After it has soaked for about 4 to 5 minutes, I take it out and do it again. You are waiting for the dirt and grime to fall to the bottom of the bowl and then you can remove the leaves off the top. Make sure that you don’t pour the water out with the leaves in the bowl because you could put the dirt back into the leaves. For pre-washed spinach, you do not need to re-wash.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ask Mary: Thanksgiving Leftovers!

Dear Mary,
First of all, what do I do with all of this leftover turkey? Second of all, how long will it keep? Because I do not feel like eating it the very next day…

Good question. Turkey in between white bread could be my staple for a month. I could eat it rain or shine, in a box or with a fox… I love turkey – oh my! Actually, you can keep turkey fresh for up to four days in the frig, and you can freeze it for up to a month.

Here’s a good plan for using your leftovers. Take a break from the bird on Friday. On Saturday, make turkey sandwiches. On Sunday, cook up some turkey chili, and if you still have leftovers, make turkey curry. The chili and the curry can also be frozen if you just can’t eat another bite. Save it for when you don’t feel like cooking!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ask Mary: Time Crunch Cooking with Kids

My kids love to cook, but when I get home I am tired and all I want to do is get dinner on the table as fast as I can. This usually doesn’t allow time for my four-year-old to help out. How can we both win?
Thanks, Judy

Dear Judy,
I was a private chef and a nanny for a long time, and trust me, I understand about children wanting to help out. I think the best thing for you to do is find something easy that they can do every night for themselves, like making carrots and dipping sauce. That way they can help without stressing you out too much. Then, when you have more time, like on a Sunday, plan for them to help you do some more complicated tasks. For example, separating broccoli, or peeling carrots, etc., can be really fun tasks for kids to try. Good luck Judy!

Happy Cooking! Mary

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ask Mary: The Smell of Garlic

What is the best way to get the garlic smell out of your hands and fingers?

Some websites suggest trying things like rubbing your fingers on the flat side of a stainless steel knife under water, salt tricks and lemon washes. As far as I am concerned, however, nothing really works. The best remedy for garlic hands is a little bit of time and patience. There is one other trick that you can try, though. I have found that after working in a kitchen all day with tons of different smells, it helps to soak my hands in a solution of 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 3 parts water. This combination reduces the smell and kills the bacteria that has gotten into my nail beds or deep in my skin. It’s worth a shot.

Good Luck! Mary

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ask Mary: Soap Scum and Silverware

This isn’t really a cooking question but I thought you might know the answer. How do you get soap scum residue or hardwater stains off of your glasses and silverware?

A great way to get that nasty film off is to soak your utensils and glasses in vinegar and water. I use about ½ cup vinegar to a gallon of water. DO NOT LEAVE IT IN FOR TOO LONG. If you do, the solution will eat away the silver. It only takes about ten minutes for it to remove the film, so no need to keep in longer. After you finish soaking it, wash it again with soap and water. If that doesn’t take care of the problem, repeat the process.

Good Luck!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ask Mary: Reducing Fruits in Cooking

Dear Mary,
Why do you reduce acidic fruits like lemons, limes, oranges in cooking?
Fruity Girl

Hi Fruity Girl,
The reason that you reduce acidic citrus is because you want to bring out the natural sweetness in the fruit. By reducing and cooking it out, you are actually allowing the natural juices to flow freely.
Enjoy! Mary

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ask Mary: Corn on the Cob

Dear Mary,

I really love this time of year. One of my favorite things is eating corn on the cob. But I hate dealing with hot scalding water - it's dangerous and messy! What can I do?

Dear Corn Lover,

I actually never boil corn. I either grill it or bake it in the oven. Wrap the cobs in foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. The foil retains the juices, keeping the corn as tender as if you'd boiled it. Grilling is also fun - leave on the husk, and areas of the cob will turn brown and crispy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Ask Mary: Scallop Cooking

Dear Mary,
How do I cook scallops properly? I love to eat them in restaurants, but whenever I try to make them at home, they come out as chewy as a rubber band.
Frustrated Scallop Lover

Dear Frustrated Scallop Lover,

When I was in culinary school, I went home for the holidays and announced that I would be cooking dinner for my family. Among all of the dishes that I could have chosen to impress them with my new-found culinary skills, I chose to make them scallops. What a mistake! The scallops arrived at the table clear and completely under-cooked. I was so embarrassed and quickly boiled up some pasta.

Since then, I've practiced and found some tips to making great restaurant-like scallops:

Use a cast iron skillet. Put a little oil in it first so that the scallops won't stick. Get the pan really hot. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. And then sear. Sear 5 minutes on one side (more time if scallops are bigger, less if they are smaller), and then turn them over and sear 3 minutes the other side. When you are finished, throw some butter in the pan and gloss them a bit before serving.

No more chew - just buttery and delicious! Your friends and family will be totally impressed!

Happy Cooking!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ask Mary: Should I Give Heirlooms a Try?

Ask Mary: Should I Give Heirlooms a Try?

Hi Mary,
I am not really a fan of tomatoes but everyone keeps saying that heirlooms are worth trying. My main concern? Their price. What do you think?

Sometimes at farmers markets they will give you a taste to encourage you to buy what they are selling, so that’s one way to find out if you like these incredible fruits. I think that heirloom tomatoes are the magnum of tomatoes. They are indeed a little pricey, but if you buy one and toss it with a little salt, pepper, good olive oil and a delicious fresh mozzarella, you will find yourself extremely satisfied with the flavor and forget all about the price. Let me know how it goes!

Happy Cooking!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ask Mary: Storing Pecans

Dear Mary,
What is the best way to store pecans? When I buy them they seem to go bad so quickly.
Thanks, Faye

Great question. Even though nuts are a dried good, it is best if you keep them in the refrigerator. They are very perishable. This actually goes for all nuts. The heat is really tough on them and you will find that if you keep them on your shelf you will be throwing them out sooner than you have to.

Happy Cooking!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ask Mary: Asparagus Types

Dear Mary,
Which do you like better? Fat or skinny asparagus?

I actually like them both equally. It really depends on what I am cooking. For instance, if I am grilling them, I like buying the fatter ones. If I am sautéing them, I usually like the thinner ones. For salads and pastas, I prefer the fat ones so I can chop them up. But they all taste great!

Enjoy! Mary

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ask Mary: Steak Cuts

What is the best cut of steak? I am always unsure of what I should buy.
Thanks, Dana

I prefer a T-bone. It contains parts of the filet (the smaller side) and the strip loin (the larger side). And, of course, it has the bone still attached, which allows the meat to stay tender while cooking. It also contains a lot of delicious flavor.

The only problem with T-bone steaks, however, is that you will have to spend a little bit more money. Buy it for the weekend and make a celebration of it if you choose to go for it.

Also, when buying a steak, make sure you do the following: press down on the meat and make sure you can see your nail imprint. I learned about this tip in Italy when shopping for a Florentine cut. Hope this helps!

Happy Cooking!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ask Mary: To Add or Not to Add (Dressing), That is the Question!

Dear Mary,
I never know whether or not to add salad dressing to other people’s salads or to let them do it themselves. What do you think?

I like to offer my guests a simple homemade vinegar and oil mixture that they can add to their salad themselves. To me this is very acceptable. What isn’t acceptable at your fancy dinner party is putting out a variety of mediocre salad dressings and having everyone choose their favorite one. That being said, if you want to use something like a pre-made Kraft or Wishbone dressing, go ahead and just lightly dress the salad before you serve it. The bottles really take away from a nicely set table.

On the flip side, for a truly casual dinner with your immediate family (mom, dad, children), go ahead and put out the bottles. They won’t judge you for it, and believe me, we’ve all done it!

Happy Cooking!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ask Mary: Missing Ingredients

Ask Mary: Missing Ingredients

Dear Mary,

I store recipes that I want to cook in a box in my kitchen, and try to remember to take them with me to the store, but sometimes, when I am in a hurry, I forget. That means I may also forget to buy certain ingredients. If I forget an ingredient or two, can I still make the recipe? And what happens if I can’t find a certain ingredient at the store in the first place?

Thanks, Kit

If only I had a dime for every time someone asked me this question. This actually happens to me quite a bit, especially when I’m in a rush. The reality is that it really depends on what you forget.

For instance, if you forget to buy fresh parsley you can sub dried parsley, or you can leave it out. If you forget to buy shallots, you can always sub it for something similar like garlic, or leave it out all together.

But if you are looking for hominy, and come back with chickpeas, you’ll find yourself in a bind. In some cases there are no good substitutes, and you’ll have to figure that out through trial and error. If your store is missing a certain item, ask the store manager to help you find an alternative ingredient.

Hope this helps,

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ask Mary: Garlic Press

Dear Mary,
How do you use a garlic press? I received a heavy duty garlic press as a joke from a friend. I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to use it. I found a great recipe and read that it needed three cloves of garlic. (Is that three big bulbs, or is it the individual pieces?). I got out my press and realized that I had no clue what to do with it. I ended up just chopping it. 


Sometimes I forget that we have to start with the basics. First of all, it made me laugh to think that you used three heads (the bulb part) instead of three cloves (the individual pieces). I am sure you will keep the vampires away with that much garlic in your system.

Even though it looks difficult, pressing garlic is simple once you learn how to do it. To begin, you put a clove or two into the whole of the garlic press. Then, you use the flat end to push the garlic through the holes, by squeezing the handle. The result is perfectly pressed garlic.

Whatever you do, don’t worry! You will get the hang of it with a little practice.

Happy Cooking.

For answers to your most alarming kitchen questions please email me at

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ask Mary: Cooking Fears

Hi Mary,
What was your biggest fear when you first started cooking?
Best, Greg

When I was in culinary school, I was really afraid of cooking without looking at a recipe. I always felt that cooking had to be by the book, and that you had to follow every recipe exactly as it was written. I found that as I got more comfortable with cooking, recipes are really just ideas and guidelines. They help you to feel comfortable and help match up ingredients you might never think to combine on your own.

For instance, here’s a dish I love: Saffron Cupcakes with Almond Buttercream Icing. Sounds strange at first, right? But it’s actually delicious. Now, take this combination idea, that almonds and saffron blend well together, and try creating something entirely new, like saffron rice with toasted almonds. Yum! In cooking, you don’t have to always follow the rules.

Have fun,