Saving time in the kitchen conserves a cook’s energy and saves money. Seasoned cooks know many of these tips and basics, but if you’re new to the culinary world, you’ll appreciate learning these bits and basics.
Cooking is a sort of chemistry experiment, after all. Mixing acids and bases and applying heat qualifies as science, so results should be consistent and predictable. So even if you flunked chemistry in high school, you can apply these principles with great success! Check out part-1 and part-2 tips and tricks columns on this blog, too.
Tips & Tricks (totally random)
Onions – Too strong and pungent? Learn how to slice them first: cutting down through the width into rings will give you a lot of exposure to ruptured onion cells thus lots of tears and smelly fumes. Cutting into the side of the onion will give you less cell rupture and more friendly slices. TIP: After slicing either way, rinse with hot water for 45 seconds. Trust me—the onions won’t wilt because the pectin that holds the plant cells together won’t melt till 185°, and tap water is usually around 140-150°. Onion slices will now be sweet and less pungent.
Beans – When cooking dried beans, always salt the soaking and cooking water. Salt helps the skin stay intact and tender, preventing beans from “blowing out.” And always add your fully cooked (softened) beans to chili or baked bean liquid. Cooking them in an acidic stew of molasses or tomatoes before they are soft will toughen them or blow them out.
Crème fraîche is easily made at home by mixing 2 Tbs. of buttermilk with 2 cups of heavy cream. Set aside on the counter covered with a tea towel 6-12 hours till thick. Afterward, store in a closed jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
How fresh are your eggs? Most cartons display a sell-by date and a packing date. The packing date is a 3-digit number above the sell-by date with 001 for January 1st to 365 for December 31. Always use this to determine freshness as eggs must be packed no later than 30 days after they are collected. Refrigerated eggs stay wholesome for 70 days.
Fresh farm eggs (not commercially distributed) need no refrigeration because they are laid with a built-in “cuticle,” a natural waxy coating that seals the eggs’ contents keeping bacteria out and moisture in. Commercial eggs are washed and lose that protection so they need refrigeration.
Test your eggs’ freshness by submerging them in water to cover. Older (but safe) eggs will stand up because a little air has gotten into the shell. Really old eggs will float and should be discarded.
Egg shell color has no effect on its quality or flavor. Color varies according to the breed of the chicken.
Skin is easily peeled from many fruits and vegetables (peaches, tomatoes, etc.) by placing them in boiling water for a few minutes then lifting them and plunging in ice water (this is called shocking). Skins will peel right off.
When beating egg whites for meringue or other uses, place egg whites in an immaculately clean metal or glass bowl, and be sure beaters are also completely clean. Any trace of grease or oil (or yolk) will prevent the whites from frothing properly.
When preparing strawberries for shortcake, hull and slice them, then sprinkle generously with sugar, toss, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours. This will bring out the juices in the fruit.
Muffin batter should sit for about 20-30 minutes before it is placed in tins. The extra time allows the baking powder to work its magic for higher, lighter muffins.
Always let meat rest after cooking. Juices excited by extended periods of heat need to settle before any meat is cut. This means steak, roasts, chicken—anything.
I failed to post this column on time as I became ill shortly before the holiday! Sorry to all my followers! Here it is, new and improved!
Valentine’s Day means expressing your love for your spouse, partner, family, and friends. What better way than to say it with food you lovingly prepare? Here are two suppers and two desserts to consider.
pasta with shrimp, tomatoes and feta cheese Who said you can’t serve seafood with cheese? Ever have a tuna melt? Crab and swiss? Here’s delicious exception perfect for a Valentine Day supper.
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb raw large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
1 Tbs each white wine and balsamic vinegar
½ to 1 lb pasta (I usually make only half a pound since I like a higher shrimp-to-pasta ratio using linguine or bowties.)
15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
½ can of petite diced tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
1 (6-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook shrimp, garlic and white wine for 4-5 minutes or until shrimp is pink. Do NOT overcook!
Remove shrimp with slotted spoon and set aside. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until al dente; drain and keep warm.
While pasta is cooking, place diced tomatoes and halved grape tomatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, and basil over medium heat into wine mixture in skillet until tender—10 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss hot pasta with shrimp, tomato mixture, and feta. Feta will melt slightly. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and a crusty bread.
greek chicken tenders with veggies Prefer chicken? This dish is packed with flavors sure to spark up any evening!
for the chicken
2 Tbs plus 1 tsp olive or avocado oil, divided
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 lb fresh green beans
1.5 lb chicken tenders
2 Tbs honey
3/4 Tbs balsamic vinegar (do not substitute)
1 cup grape/cherry tomatoes, halved
for the greek dressing
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 fresh squeezed lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt 1/2 tsp black pepper
Sauté mushrooms in large frying pan with 1 tsp of the oil, until just browning. Remove from pan, set aside.
Heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium-high, add green beans. Sauté until green beans are cooked, but still a bit crunchy. Remove from the pan, set aside.
Heat remaining 1 Tbs oil over medium-high, add chicken, salt, and pepper.
Cook chicken 3-4 minutes on both sides and remove once browned & cooked though. Remove from pan, set aside. Whisk all dressing ingredients together.
In the same skillet, lower heat to medium, add dressing, honey, and balsamic vinegar. Stir and heat until bubbling.
Toss in mushrooms, and green beans then the cooked chicken and tomatoes. Stir to heat through. Serve over rice or pasta.
easy chocolate bar fondue This takes on a romantic hue when served with champagne. If made ahead, keep the chocolate warm in a double boiler till ready to serve.
¾ cup heavy cream
1 pound milk or dark chocolate bars, broken into pieces
1 pint fresh strawberries
1 store-bought angel food cake, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces dried fruit, such as pineapple slices and figs
In a small saucepan, over low heat, warm the cream and chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts. Transfer the fondue to a warm serving bowl or fondue pot.
Serve immediately with forks for dipping strawberries, angel food cake, or whatever you like.
chocolate-cinnamon pudding with raspberries So easy to put this together ahead of time. Kids will especially love the flavors.
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup cornstarch
2/3 cup plus 1 Tbs packed brown sugar
2 ½ cups whole milk
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups fresh raspberries, or frozen raspberries, thawed
Combine the cocoa, cinnamon, cornstarch, and 2/3 cup of brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in milk and 1/2 cup of cream.
Bring to a boil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until pudding is thick and smooth.
Remove from heat and add vanilla.
Whip remaining cream in a separate bowl with the remaining sugar until soft peaks form.
Pour pudding into individual ramekins or a large bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Serve warm or chill for at least two hours. Top with raspberries and whipped cream.