Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Blanching Vegetables

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

Blanching vegetables means to plunge them quickly into boiling water – for just a minute or two – then immediately stick the vegetables into a bowl of ice water (often referred to as an ice bath). If you are serving cooked vegetables cold, this technique will ensure that they will maintain their beautiful colors.

I am going to demonstrate how to do this using asparagus. The same method would work for green beans, yellow beans, broccoli, carrots, and many other vegetables as well.

Wash and trim the asparagus. (This link will also show you how to wash, trim and How to Cook Asparagus.)

I always blanch (and cook) asparagus in a frying pan. The spears fit better and they cook more evenly in a frying pan. Start by boiling a kettle of cold water and then pouring it into the frying pan.

Bring the water in the frying pan to a boil and add about one Tablespoon of salt to the water.

Using a pair of tongs, carefully add the asparagus to the pan.

Set the timer for 2 minutes. It may take a bit more or less time depending on the thickness of your asparagus. After 2 minutes, run one spear under cold water and then taste it to see if it is cooked to your liking. If you cook green vegetable too long they will turn a very “muddy’ green color (YUK!).

Have your “ice bath” (which is just a bowl of icy cold water) and a clean dish towel ready for when the timer goes off.

Using a pair of tongs, lift the asparagus out of the boiling water and put it directly into the ice bath.

This totally stops the cooking process, and the color stays that nice bright green. After a minute or two, lift the asparagus out of the icy water and onto a clean dish towel to drain.

If you are cooking more green vegetables, you can use the same boiling water that you cooked the asparagus in to cook the other vegetables.

Green beans will only take about 1 minute and 30 seconds to blanch.

For a change of pace try blanching some vegetables when you serve your next Vegetable and Dip Platter (video).


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The Easiest Way to Make Pie

posted in Sweets by Kathy Maister


No-Bake Chocolate Cheese Cake Pie

All beginner cooks are terrified of making a pie. If you have zero experience at pie making, a frozen or “no-bake” pie recipe (using a pre-made crust) is a good place to start. (The ten no-bake pies listed below are all perfect recipes for a beginner cook!)

Buying or Making The Crust

Many ice cream pies or no-bake pies call for a graham cracker crust. You can buy a graham cracker pie shell in the baking section of the grocery store or try making a graham cracker crust yourself. (These cracker crusts can also be made with many other sweet cracker/cookies like oreo cookies, ginger snaps, vanilla wafers, etc.)


Or you can buy a ready-made pie shell, usually found in the freezer section of the grocery store.


When making an un-cooked pie (like an ice cream pie), these pie shells will have to get baked and cooled before filling them.

For those of you ready to tackle the pie dough making challenge, our friend Heidi at the Ward Street Bistro has a wonderful pie crust recipe that does not require “rolling out” the dough.


This “Press in the Pan” pie dough recipe looks great for anyone intimated by a rolling pin!

Easy Pie Recipes:

Ice Cream Pie
You can concoct a very simple pie without a recipe. Buy a ready-made pie crust (or make a graham cracker one) and a tub of ice cream or frozen yogurt. Set the ice cream out to soften. Once you can scoop it easily, fill the pie crust, smooth the top and add any toppings you want (nuts, whipped cream, chocolate sauce). Then put it back into the freezer until serving time.

Pudding Pies
Similarly, you can make a custom pie with pudding and fruit. Just buy a box of pudding mix – chocolate, vanilla, or another flavor – follow the directions, and pour it into a ready-made pie crust. Top it with sliced bananas, strawberries, or whatever you like. Refrigerate the pie until you are ready to serve it.

Frozen Lemonade Pie
The folks over at Baked Perfection tried this recipe (from the Food Network show Down Home With the Neely’s) for a Fourth of July party and fell in love with it. Set in a graham cracker crust, its sweet, lemony filling calls for frozen lemonade concentrate, whipped cream and sweetened condensed milk. An easy alternative to a baked lemon meringue pie!

Nutter Butter Frozen Pie
Hello, peanut butter fans? It’s your dream pie calling. This one has a crust made of crushed Nutter Butter cookies (but feel free to substitute a pre-made one) and a frosty peanut butter and cream cheese filling.

Frozen Oreo Pie
The name says it all!

Frozen Blueberry Pie
This pie is not frozen in the sense that it sits in the freezer; it’s a baked blueberry pie that calls for frozen blueberries and a frozen pie crust. I’m including it because summer is the time for blueberries (even frozen) and this is a very easy version of your typical fruit pie that calls for crust made from scratch.

Chocolate Fudge Pie
One bite of this decadent pie and you’ll never look at silken tofu the same way again. It’s one of the keys to this pie’s creamy fudginess.


No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Banana Tofu Pie
Here’s another recipe that involves tofu. This pie uses either a homemade or store-bought graham cracker crust to hold an intense filling. It takes about 15 minutes to make, then goes in the fridge or freezer for a couple of hours.

No-Bake Mango Pie
Anything mango is great in the summer. This one contains mango puree which you can buy in a can or make your own.


How to Peel a Mango

No-Bake Key Lime Pie
A can of frozen limeade concentrate is what gives this simple pie its lime flavor.

Easy Coconut Banana Cream Pie takes just 20 minutes to make! This pie will need 4 hours in the refrigerator to set. It’s worth the wait!

My No-Bake Chocolate Cheese Cake Pie (shown above) is a rich chocolaty cheese cake pie that will quickly become a family favorite. It does involves whipping your own heavy cream. (For a quick review on whipping cream, check out my post on How to Make Whipped Cream)

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Make Ahead Layered Salad

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces by Kathy Maister

When you are just learning how to cook, one of the hardest things to manage is getting all the food prepared and served at the same time. Anything that can be done ahead of time, particularly if you are entertaining guests, is a huge time saver!

This salad can be served either immediately after making it, or covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours before serving it. The trick is not to mix in the dressing (or salt) until just before you serve it. (Otherwise it will wilt.)

As is true with most salads, you can vary the ingredients to your taste.

This recipe includes: iceberg lettuce, celery, green onion, hard-cooked eggs, bacon, peas, and Swiss cheese.

(I based this recipe on one given to me by my friend Jean Williams of Salisbury, North Carolina. She does not include the hard-cooked eggs in her version.)

STEP ONE: Preparing the Salad Ingredients

1) Frozen Peas:

Remove a 10-ounce bag (or box) of frozen peas from the freezer. Let them defrost while you prepare the salad. There is no need to cook the peas.

2) Iceberg Lettuce:

Iceberg lettuce is crispy and fresh and great in salads (or shredded and added to Tacos). It is generally the least “sandy” lettuce to buy. To wash iceberg lettuce, remove the core with a paring knife.

Break it apart with your hands. (Some heads of iceberg are much firmer than others!)

I like to put the lettuce in my salad spinner then set the base of it in the sink.

Cover the lettuce with water and swish it around a bit. Lift out the colander portion of the spinner out of the water and drain the lettuce.

Put the lid on the salad spinner and let it whirl! The centrifugal force will pull all the water away from the lettuce leaves. The iceberg lettuce should end up bone dry.

If you do not have a salad spinner, wash the lettuce in a colander and shake out as much water as possible. Let it dry on paper towels or a clean dish cloth while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Or just buy a bag of pre-washed, ready to use lettuce. The “Lettuce Trio” pictured below includes iceberg, romaine, and green leaf lettuce and would be perfect for this salad!

3) Celery:

Wash and trim the ends off from 3-to-4 stalks of celery. Cut each stalk in half and then each half into strips. Line up the strips and start chopping away.

4) Green Onions:

Wash and trim the ends off 3-to-4 green onions. (The word “scallion” is often used interchangeably with green onion.) Cut them in half and then line them up and start slicing. The white ends have a much stronger flavor than the green part.

5) Bacon:

6 strips of bacon will cook up in less than 6 minutes in the microwave. Once cooked, cut the bacon into very small bits with a large kitchen knife.

6) Hard-Cooked Eggs:

Start by checking out my video for a quick review on How to Boil an Egg. I was having a heck of a time peeling my eggs so I cracked the shell and put them in a bowl of ice water. Once the water seeped in under the shell, peeling them was so much easier! Now just chop up the two cooked eggs.

7) Swiss Cheese:

Shred 3 ounces of Swiss cheese. (Monterey Jack or cheddar would also taste great with this recipe!)

STEP TWO: Layering the Salad:

Now that all the ingredients are prepared, it’s time to start layering!

Tear the lettuce with your hands or cut it into bite size pieces. Put one half of the head of lettuce on the bottom of a salad bowl. Sprinkle on (in turn) one half of the peas, celery, green onion, eggs, bacon, and shredded cheese.

Repeat layering all the ingredients in that order: lettuce, peas, celery, green onion, eggs, bacon, and shredded cheese.

STEP THREE: The Dressing:

In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and 1/2 cup of sour cream. Either “light” or regular full-fat mayonnaise and sour cream will work for this recipe. It’s up to you which one you would prefer.

Cover the entire top of the salad with the mayonnaise-sour cream dressing.

The salad is now ready to serve. Or you can cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to 24 hours.

Wait until just before serving the salad to toss the dressing into the salad with salad spoons or two large kitchen spoons.

Add a bit of salt and pepper to your taste, and…


P.S. Even “salad-haters” love this salad!

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