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RA Kitchen Tips Draining Pasta

Today’s Tip is in response to a request from a reader asking for ways for a Mom with limitations in her hands to have an easier and safer way of lifting and draining pasta. Great question. Pasta can be the starting point for an endless variety of easy meals. Lifting, carrying and draining hot liquid can be extremely difficult for some and there can also be a safety concern.

Here are some ways to approach the task of draining pasta to limit the strain and heavy lifting:

• If using short pasta (penne, rotini, maccaroni) use a Spider (see below) or a Large Slotted spoon. Remove pasta directly from the water to the pan with the sauce or bowl or however you wish to use it.

• If using long pasta (spaghetti, linguini) remove pasta strands from water using tongs and put directly into sauce or bowl. I use lightweight spring loaded aluminum tongs as shown below.

  •  After using one of these removal methods leave the water in the pot on the stove.  You can then ask for someone to help at a later time or, wait until water has cooled down so you can more readily handle without an immediate sense of urgency or risk of burns.

• Lighten the load – if not wanting to use one of the removal methods above you can scoop out some of the water from the pot before lifting so it won’t be so heavy. Using a 2 cup plastic measuring cup and wearing oven mitts makes short work of this task. Once you have removed most of the water, take the now much lighter pot to the sink to drain.

• I do not recommend the metal inserts that can be lifted out of a pot to drain pasta. I find these still to be awkward to deal with and dangerous with the hot water and steam.

Spider Kitchen Utensil – a spider is one of my more frequently used kitchen tools. It is a light weight large shallow wire-mesh basket with a long handle, usually made of wood. The wire basket is woven in a loose pattern that resembles a spider’s web, hence the name. Unlike a strainer the design and open weave of a spider allows it to be used with one hand to lift items out of hot liquid or oil instantly and with little effort. It’s low shallow shape allows you to get right to the bottom of a deep pot and remove all of the pasta. I always use this method for scooping out pasta, or perogies etc.

kitchen spider


Kitchen Tongs – a must have. I have a few pair so that If one is in the dishwasher I’ve got another pair on the ready. I use this style of lightweight aluminum with the closed tips. Easily picks up anything and holds it in a firm grip. Ideal for lifting strands of pasta out of a pot.  I find this style preferable to a pasta fork as you can get a better grip and have more control.

kitchen tongs

More like this?  If you liked this tip, check back often for more RA Kitchen Tips, an ongoing series.  Read more about RA Kitchen Tips here –


French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup 011Onions 003I love a good French Onion Soup.  It’s a hearty, satisfying meal on its own.  Making it from scratch, starting with a homemade beef broth makes this a two day labor of love.  The secret to an excellent onion soup is time.  You need to sauté the onions low and slow until they are very well caramelized.  This can take up to an hour so be patient.  This time I used 3 types of onions, red, yellow and white.  When serving for the first night I always do the traditional crouton and Swiss cheese topping.  It is a terrific hearty yet light meal.

French Onion Soup

  • 6 cups onions sliced very thin
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry wine – red or white
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 – 2 Tbs flour
  • 4 – 8 cups beef stock
  • 2 – 3 Tbs brandy (optional)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Slices of stale baquette or other      French bread.
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup gruyere or other swiss      cheese – grated

Saute onions in butter and oil on med high heat until beginning to soften, about 6-8 min.  Add ½ of the wine, reduce heat, cover and cook low and slow stirring occasionally until onions have reduced in volume and are golden, about 20 min or up to 45 minutes depending on amount of onions.

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Take off the lid, raise heat and add 1 tsp of sugar.  Cook for about 10 min or more until the onions are a deep golden brown.  Add the thyme and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle 1 – 2 tablespoons of flour over the onions, cook 2 -3 minutes.   Deglaze with remaining wine and add warm beef stock.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Simmer soup for 10-15 min.  If using brandy, add just at the end of cooking before assembly.

Meanwhile, prepare the croutons.  Slice bread, toast under broiler until lightly toasted on both sides.  Rub each slice with the cut side of the raw garlic.  Set aside.

Ladle soup into bowls, float a piece or pieces of the toasted bread into the bowl, top generously with the grated cheese.  Broil until cheese begins to brown and is bubbly.

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Chicken Stock

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I make a lot of my own stocks or broths and use them frequently when preparing meals.  A delicious stock or broth, can be the base for a never ending possibility of soups which is what I often use mine for.  Stock is also as a prized ingredient when preparing stir-fry’s and pasta and can be turned into a terrific sauce without, or with less dairy or fat than traditionally used.  A luxurious stock is also the star ingredient for making a very fine risotto which in my opinion, must be made using a quality stock – no tetra packs on risotto day in my kitchen.

Benefits for your Health & Budget:

Making your own stock is a super easy cooking project that will have  you reaping the rewards for future meals.  Stocks made from bones, vegetables and aromatics are not only a tastier, healthier, more nutritious option than store bought but also a lot more budget friendly.

Whether you are saving your vegetable scraps or starting with fresh veggies from the grocery store, the resulting broth that is made is packed with both flavor and vitamins.  While just about any firm vegetables can be used, I always start with the traditional mix of onion, celery and carrots.  Be sure to remember to add aromatics like bay leaf and peppercorns.

Did you know?  When you make stock from carcasses or bones the slow cooking process melts the cartilage and is what makes your stock become gelatinous when refrigerated.  This liquid is said to be helpful for maintaining ease of movement in our own joints.  So eat your soup, it’s good for you.

Preparing to make chicken stock:

It seems like I’m always getting ready to make my next batch of stock.  Chicken stock that is.  For beef stock I always buy ingredients fresh and make it the same day.  I usually only make a beef stock about twice a year.  Chicken stock however is always an ongoing project.  I store chicken bones from whole roasted chickens and any raw trimmings from other chicken prep (wing tips, backs) in Ziploc bags in the freezer sorted by cooked or raw.  When I get enough of them, I make a big batch of chicken stock.  On stock making day, any uncooked portions are first roasted on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven until browned, sizzling and having rendered some of their fat.  Bones that are already cooked can go directly into your stock pot. Not necessary to thaw first.

Chicken Stock 009Building a basic stock:

In a very large pot put in all chicken pieces or bones

Add rough chopped pieces of 2 onions, 2 carrots, 3 stalks celery.  Vegetables should be washed but not peeled.  These are used for flavor only.

Add a couple of garlic cloves, about 8 peppercorns, 2-3 bay leaves

Cover with cold water to 3 inches above items in pot

Bring to a boil then turn to a gentle simmer, skim a couple of times if necessary

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Simmer at a very low heat, partially covered for 4 – 6 hours

Remove large pieces with spider utensil, let cool slightly, strain

Cool completely.

Reap your rewards!!

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An apple a day….?

yard shots july 004Look at theses beautiful apples growing in my yard.  They are part of a very unique variegated tree.  Three kinds of apples all on one tree.  The beauties shown here are the only real producers this year.  They are the Chehalis variety which originates from Washington state and is said to be similar to a Golden Delicious only crisper and with honeyed juicy qualities making them terrific for eating.   I can’t wait to see how they taste.  We will also have a bounty of cooking apples in the fall from a tree on the property and I’m looking forward to using them in all sorts of ways.

An apple a day?  It’s not hard to do if that’s your goal.  And why not?  We all know that apples are good for us, high in vitamin C, a source of fiber and they provide the body with an excellent source of healthy energy.  Apples are also a very versatile fruit and can be added to many styles of cooking both sweet and savory.  The entire fruit including skin, and seeds can be eaten which if doing so, greatly increases their nutritional profile.

If possible buy local when available and choose fruit that has not been sprayed or waxed.

You can easily add to your daily fruit and veg intake by adding apples to a variety of your recipes.  While of course apples are great in anything baked – from muffins, cakes and pies apples are also a nice addition to cold salads such as grated in a coleslaw or diced or sliced for a green salad.  When you pair apples into a dish along with toasted nuts you can really turn it into something special.

Adding apples to a savory dish can add a good balance of sweet and/or acid to the dish depending on the type of apple and how you use it.  Below was a spectacular meal featuring pork chops with sautéed apples and onions with just a hint of cinnamon.  Served with smashed new potatoes and green beans with lemon zest.


Pork Chops with Apples, Onions and Cinnamon

2 bone pork loin chops

1 medium onion

1 -2 apples

1/4 cup stock, white wine or apple juice

pinches of cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste


Thinly slice apples and onions.  Using a small amount of butter, brown onions first until translucent.  Add apple slices and turn over gently trying to get a bit of a sear on the apple slices.  When sautéed, remove to a plate and keep warm.

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Season pork on both sides with salt and pepper.  Sear well on all sides, including any exposed bone.  Use the same pan used for the apples.  A cast iron skillet works great for this.

When chops are almost done, remove from pan and keep warm.  Deglaze pan with stock, wine or apple juice (I use chicken stock) and using a wooden spoon, scrape up all browned bits.  When liquid has reduced to 1 Tbs, return chops to the pan and top with the apples and onions.  Gently sprinkle cinnamon on top, cover and simmer for 5 – 8 min until pork is your desired doneness.  Remove chops to a plate to rest keeping apple/onion topping in place.  Reduce remaining liquid to a sauce and spoon over chops when serving.