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Cilantro-Lime Rice Like You’ve Never Made It Before

I have no idea why on the one hand I seriously DO NOT care for cilantro but on the other hand I’m crazy for Cilantro-Lime Rice as served by both Chipotle and Qdoba casual Mexican restaurants.

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How do they do that? How do they take rice, lime and cilantro for goodness’ sake, and turn it into such a delicious side dish?

I’ve been asking that question for a long time. Finally, I believe I have figured out how to make delicious, amazing Cilantro-Lime Rice that tastes for all the world just like the restaurants’—and for just pennies.

But before I get into the specifics for how to make Cilantro-Lime Rice, I want to tell you about something I have learned in this process—a super fast way to prepare plain rice from scratch in about 12 minutes give or take.

My rice cooker takes nearly 2 hours to do the same thing. More traditional methods include preparing rice on the stovetop or in the oven with proper liquid to rice measurements followed by covered cooking at low temperatures until all of the liquid is absorbed.

There is another way and I’m talking about the way we prepare pasta: Get a big pot of water boiling, add salt and pasta. Boil rapidly for 8 to 12 minutes. Drain, rinse. Done. Perfect every time. Yes, that defies every rule we’ve ever learned for how to prepare rice, but it just works!

The Art of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Who says a grilled cheese has to be boring? Enjoy one of our most popular posts of 2013 on how to spice up the American classic.

A surefire signal that I’m out of town is the big square burn mark in my best stainless skillet. That’s the telltale sign my husband has attempted to prepare the one and only item on his repertoire of home cooked meals: A grilled cheese sandwich.

The man doesn’t know how to cook.

His grilled cheese sandwiches are burned on the outside, solid on the inside. Poor guy. When it comes to this basic all-American favorite, Harold does just about everything wrong. He starts with a blazing hot skillet, uses cold butter and unevenly sliced cheese with the thickest parts of the cheese piled up in the middle of the sandwich. This man really needs his wife.

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There’s an art to preparing a perfect grilled cheese sandwich that is crispy, golden brown on the outside, soft on the inside with cheese that is evenly melted. 

What Would You Do with 35 Pounds of Lemons?

I kinda’ went nuts on my last trip to California. You’ll recall from a previous column we make that trip quite often for business but also to visit our son who has a Meyer lemon tree in his back yard. I have never seen such a prolific fruit tree in my life. It’s not on any kind of lemon steroids; it gets no preferential care like pruning or watering. Apparently, it thrives on on being left alone.

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I always load up my suitcase with lemons but for some reason, this last trip I went crazy. How crazy? I arrived home with 35 pounds of gorgeous, perfectly ripened Meyer lemons.

My friends got lemons. I squeezed lemon juice for the freezer. This past month, I’ve made Lemon Chicken, Lemon Bars and “Lemons in a Jar” for gifts.

While I haven’t come up with a way to share lemons with you, I can gladly share my favorite recipes. Enjoy!

Storing Onions, Making Beef Jerky

I recall the event as if it happened yesterday. I purchased a beautiful bag of sweet white onions (10 pounds for an economical $2.98). I stood the bag on the floor of the pantry. Within a few short weeks I expectantly reached in to pull out a perfect specimen only to find the entire lot had gone soft and were more black than white. I hate when that happens.

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A few days later I was reading one of my prized possessions, Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Right there on page 25 is Julia illustrating the way to store onions. She doesn’t come right out and describe the method, but careful inspection of that picture reveals one leg of a pair of pantyhose (impeccably clean, you can be sure) holding the onions and hanging from a hook. You can see where she dropped one into the toe and then carefully tied a knot then another onion and another knot until the tube if filled, tying it off again at the top.

Pretty ingenious if you ask me. By tying off between each one, the onions are not touching another and the hose material allows air to circulate. Doesn’t look too bad, either. I don’t hang mine right out there in full view, but it’s great hanging from a hook in the pantry.

Now I just cut off one onion at a time and feel quite culinarily chic in the process. Onions and garlic (I store them the same way) seem to last forever with this method.

Einstein in the Kitchen or Let Them Eat (Carrot) Cake

I have a special treat for you today. It’s a recipe. Normally I sell this recipe for $1,000 but it’s your lucky day. OK, I’m just kidding about that, but honestly it’s worth even more than that because in the world of cakes, this one is worth its weight in gold, which as I write is about $1,225 per ounce.

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You may already be aware of this, but I’ll say it anyway: In this world there is carrot cake and then there is scrumptious absolutely to-die-for carrot cake—the kind of cake you’ve only experienced with a $200-per-person meal at a fancy hotel (you do that all the time, right?).

It’s the kind of carrot cake that comes out grand champion in a competition at a fine culinary school like Le Cordon Bleu Baking and Pastry Arts Program. This is the cake that’s going to make your friends and family think you’re a genius! And don’t be surprised when it becomes your signature cake—the one they request for their birthdays. Imagine how beautiful this cake might look on your Easter brunch table this weekend.

As you peruse this recipe, you may be tempted to make a few adjustments. Please do not do that. You’ll think 1 1/2 cups oil is excessive. It’s not. And the pineapple. Seriously? Yes. Do not doubt me. This is the perfect recipe both in ingredients and proportions, so please follow it exactly. It’s the recipe you’ll be tempted to keep secret and that’s fine with me. 

Muffins and “Tulips” to Celebrate Spring

In just a bit I am going to give away all my secrets for how to make muffins that are so great your friends and family will call you a genius. But first, I want to show you what happened one Saturday morning as I was in the middle of making a fabulous—if I do say so myself—brunch.

I was all ready to fill the muffin cups with batter when I remembered that I’d used every last one of my cupcake paper liners. I was in no mood to go to the store. Muffin batter is not kind to those who do not move it quickly to the oven once the wet ingredients have been stirred in.

I wanted to kick myself because I’d planned to splurge and order these very nice Tulip Muffin Papers online …

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… but at the last minute felt myself choking at the price: $6.95 plus $6.00 shipping for 24 elegant muffin/cupcake papers—about $.54 each.

How dumb would that be to spend twice the cost of the muffin just to bake it in a very cool looking throw away “paper?” Don’t answer. And don’t hate me when I tell you how much I wished that I’d ordered them anyway because at that moment I really needed them.

Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month

The title, Once a Month Cooking, made me laugh. Cook once a month? I didn’t need a book to do that. I needed the motivation to cook the other 29 days of the month, too!

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I didn’t actually read that book until years later when I met up with co-author Mary Beth Lagerborg. I learned that “once-a-month cooking” is a method of preparing a month’s (or two weeks’) dinner entrees in one mega-cooking session, and then freezing them for use throughout the month.

While Mary Beth along with her co-author Mimi Wilson have developed a specific and thorough plan for preparing many meals at one time, any effort that results in preparing meals now to be used later has decided benefits:

1. Convenience. Having entrees in the freezer provides the convenience of take-out but with the aroma, appeal and taste of home cooking.

2. Simplification. Nothing unravels the seams of family time faster than having nothing on hand for dinner. Knowing dinner’s ready to go promotes household calm and peace. 

Cast Iron Skillets Making a Healthy Comeback

I must have been all of 8-years old the day I decided to surprise my mother by cleaning her old black cast iron skillet. It embarrassed me that over the years it had become so gross. Apparently, she’d fried just a few too many eggs and browned too many Sunday roasts in it without restoring it back to its clean, “shiny-ness” with a copper bottom—like the rest of our pots and pans.

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I started with household cleanser and steel wool. I scrubbed on a single spot for what seemed like hours. I couldn’t break through that burned on “crust” to save my soul. Finally, I just gave up.

What I wouldn’t realize until years later was that I was working on a fine piece of cast iron—a skillet on which I’m sure I managed to un-do years of coveted “seasoning” that makes a cast iron skillet virtually nonstick.

In the years since then I’ve had quite a relationship with cast iron— from all-out hate, moving into tolerance and finally to true love. And I’m not the only one. Cast iron skillets are making a big comeback among home cooks.

Many people shy away from cast iron because of the weight. Surprisingly, they find the muscles to handle the load once they realize how well cast iron conducts heat and goes from stovetop to oven with no problem.

Cast iron skillets never buckle, you don’t have to worry about the finish being scraped off; cast iron is virtually indestructible, lasting for generations—even at the hand of an 8-year-old wielding cleanser, steel wool and sharp scraping implements.

And did I mention the health benefits? Food cooked in cast iron is fortified with iron—up to 20 times more iron than when cooked in a steel or aluminum vessel. When you cook in cast iron you use less oil. Cast iron is a chemical-free alternative to nonstick pans.