Dear Heloise: It's our custom to hold an open house on New Year's Day, when friends and family can just drop by to say "Happy New Year!" Every year I seem to serve the same old thing. Got any suggestions to make this year's BUFFET special? -- Kate M., Shawnee, Okla.

Kate, I sure do! It's from my book "In the Kitchen With Heloise":

Heloise's Hawaiian Curried Shrimp

6 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

6 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 to 3 teaspoons curry powder

2 cups whole dairy milk

1 cup coconut milk (you can used canned)

3 cups cooked shrimp

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and ginger, and cook slowly until transparent. Add the flour, salt and curry powder, and mix thoroughly. Add the milk and coconut milk, stirring constantly. Cook slowly until thick and smooth. Add the shrimp and heat thoroughly. -- Heloise

CUCUMBER QUESTIONS

Dear Readers: Lately, with the holidays ending, people have begun to think about spring planting in their gardens, and have asked a number of questions about various vegetables. Since many involved cucumbers, it seemed like the perfect place to start.

There are basically two types: slicing cucumbers, grown to be eaten fresh, and pickling cucumbers, grown for pickling.

Slicing cucumbers are the common supermarket variety, and are about 6 to 9 inches long, with a dark-green skin. After these cucumbers are harvested, a wax coating is applied to lengthen the shelf life. The wax is safe to eat.

Pickling cucumbers are not usually found in the supermarket, but instead can be found in specialty stores or farmers markets. These usually are much smaller than slicing cucumbers. An example is the gherkin.

Another cucumber is the English (hothouse) cucumber. It's about 1 to 2 feet long, thin-skinned, and the majority are seedless. -- Heloise

THE AGE OF RECYCLING

Dear Heloise: My 90-year-old "frugal" mother (who lived through the Depression) invented ways to recycle and reuse absolutely everything. Before throwing away a slightly used paper towel or napkin, Mom would always wipe the floor with it. I still do that. We both love your column! -- Sally M., Belle Fourche, S.D.

WATER IN BACON?

Dear Heloise: Can you tell me what's happened to bacon? When I cook a major brand of bacon, water comes out, but very little bacon grease is produced. What's going on? -- Susan P., via email

Susan, there are two primary methods of curing bacon: pumping is one, and dry curing is another.

Pumped bacon has ingredients added directly into the meat, which speeds up the curing process. If not correctly drained, the bacon can emit a white liquid substance during frying.

Dry-cured bacon requires a curing mixture be rubbed on the bacon. After the curing process, the meat usually is hung for up to two weeks until the moisture is drawn out. -- Heloise

P.S. Try changing brands, and closely read the contents listed on the label. If water is near the top of the ingredients list, that's a clue!

Too many gift cards?

Dear Heloise: Our family received a lot of GIFT CARDS for the holiday, but we can't use all of them. As a family, we decided to donate them to charity, and pass them on to someone in need.

Of course they can be sold, but it's for less than face value. However, it's still some extra cash. -- The "Smith" family, via email

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Very good point indeed, "Smith" family. Hint from Heloise: Call the number on the card to be sure it's valid, and note the expatriation date. -- Heloise

P.S. Hope my readers will follow this family's hint! There are millions of dollars' worth of gift cards just sitting around in a drawer somewhere!

CELEBRATE SAFELY

Dear Heloise: The New Year's celebrations are almost here. I urge your readers to be safe if using fireworks. Make sure it's legal to set off fireworks in your city. Don't use fireworks close to dry grass, dead trees or anything that is a fire hazard.

Also, supervise children when using sparklers, and always have a bucket of water nearby. -- Scott, via email

Please take heed, readers! I was burned by a sparkler as a very young child. Somehow it dropped down the back of my top! We children were running, and someone tripped. I was slightly burned, but I can tell you it was not fun, and I remember it to this day. -- Heloise

SUBSTITUTING

Dear Heloise: I've discovered a wonderful part-time job: substitute teaching!

The district has an automated system to call for jobs, but I get to know the office staff and the principal personally. It's better for the kids to have the same substitutes on campus as much as possible.

I'm always punctual, professional and prudent, so the kids see a good role model.

I've met terrific people, earned a few dollars and learned probably more than the kids! I encourage your readers to check out their school district's website to learn about being a substitute teacher! -- Mary H., Hammond, Ind.

WET PAPER TOWEL

Dear Heloise: When I reheat foods in the microwave, especially pizza and pasta, it helps to place a damp paper towel over the foods. This adds moisture and helps to not dry out the food. -- Sheila R., Hot Springs, Ark.

Read on for another paper towel hint:

"Dear Heloise: The top surface of the dryer can get dusty and full of lint quickly. When the paper-towel roll is down to one towel, I swipe it, still on the roll, over the dryer to pick up the lint." -- Susan H., Manchester, N.H.

Readers, what are your favorite uses for this cleaning staple? Do you buy a specific brand, or just whatever's on sale? When you use a paper towel merely to dry your hands, do you lay it flat to dry for reuse later? Chime in! -- Heloise

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