Over the years I have learned a few things about working in the kitchen, but more often than not, I've stumbled upon tricks or techniques. These techniques add to the pleasure of cooking, of course; they also make for a more efficient kitchen. In another feature, I gave you what I believed to be the essential elements of the pantry and the kitchen. There are items you can live without [a lemon reamer] others you can't [good knives and cookware]. Some of the techniques I'm sharing CAN replace those items you'd rather not spend money on. Most, however, are tricks of the trade, so to speak, and will make work in the kitchen more like play.
Do you open a can of tomato paste when a recipe calls for 1 or 2 tablespoons? Or do you buy the expensive tomato paste in a tube? Here's another one of my Saturday Morning Rituals: Open any size can of your favorite tomato paste. Scoop the tomato paste out using your tablespoon measure. Put the measured tomato paste on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet and place in the freezer. Once the tomato paste freezes, remove from the wax paper and place in a zipper-style baggie. The pre-measured tomato paste will pretty much last indefinitely in a zero degrees freezer [less time in a frost-free freezer] and will be ready for any recipe that calls for "1 Tablespoon tomato paste", and it's much less expensive than tomato paste in a tube.
Did you know that the fiber in broccoli is actually in the flowerets, and not in the stem? If you are eating the stems for the fiber content and not for the flavor, you may reconsider how much you put on your plate.
Peeling and seeding a tomato can result in a tomato sauce of unbelievable texture and taste, but peels can be tough and seeds can be bitter. Surprise! You don't need a foodmill. With a sharp paring knife, slice an X into the stem end of each tomato. Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a rolling boil. Carefully roll the tomatoes into the water. After 30 seconds, remove the tomatoes to an ice bath [a large bowl of cold water to which at least one tray of ice cubes has been added] and count to 10. Remove the tomatoes from the ice bath and, starting at the X, peel the skin away. To seed the tomatoes, cut them in half and squeeze or scoop the seeds out and throw them away.
If you've ever peeled pearl onions you know how labour intensive it can be. Follow the same technique for peeling tomatoes up to and including the ice bath. Remove the onions from the ice bath and squeeze the onion from the root end, forcing the onion to pop out of its skin. Voila! Add them to a skillet in which you've melted 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté over medium heat, stirring continually until the onions caramelize.
I am thisclose to being addicted to asparagus. For me there really is no better vegetable. Nevermind that you have to wait 3 to 4 years after planting asparagus before anything will actually grow! Forget that its growing season is so short! The delicate yet sturdy flavor needs nothing more than a pinch of salt and a touch of butter to enhance its spring-like flavor. The trick to tender asparagus is to cook only the most tender part of the stalk. I have a foolproof way of determining where the tender ends, and the woodiness begins. To begin, however, bring a small pan of salted water to a low boil. Grasp each end of a stalk of asparagus in both hands and bend it in half. The asparagus will snap at the exact point wherein the top half will be the most tender, and the bottom half will be the less flavorful and less tender
It may seem obvious, but many people I know [seasoned-cooks included] often complain about foods sticking to the foil lining their baking dishes and pans. Most think of aluminum foil as non-stick. Well it isn't. Surprised? Many people are. To prevent this from happening, and prevent the additional cost of Parchment Paper, lightly oil your aluminum foil. I find that using my Misto Sprayer works just fine to ensure a light coating. You could also use 1/2 tablespoon of butter but only if your oven isn't above 35o degrees less you want to run the risk of burning the butter.
There are a couple of secrets to keeping your burger juicy, or your chicken breast or pork or chop moist. Over cooking is not always the culprit when you end up with a dry shingle on your plate. The first secret is butter [or oil] Use it, somewhere, at some point in the cooking. Generally, coat the food with butter before baking, sautéing, or roasting [like chicken] In the case of something that will be broiled [like burgers or steaks] butter the broiling pan, and then place the food on top. Secondly, never use a fork to turn the food, or a knife to check for doneness. Both of these impale the meat and the juice comes pouring out. Use tongs to turn the meat, and a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Lastly, once the food is done remove it from the pan to a dish. DON'T touch it, don't cut it, don't do anything. The food will continue to cook and the juices will redistribute throughout the meat. After about 10 minutes [for single serving meats like burgers, chicken breasts, pork chops] you can prep and plate. For larger cuts of meat [whole chickens, steak, roasts] let the meat rest for 20 minutes; slice, plate, and serve.
Getting more Juice from your Lemons, Limes, Oranges. The firmest citrus fruits benefit from a good roll on the countertop. Place the fruit on the counter and, using the palm of your hand, roll the fruit from the heel of your hand to the finger tips back and forth several times, pressing down slightly. The pressure and motion will break up the membranes in the fruit and get the juices flowing. Another citrus technique requires a little more skill and time: With a chef's knife, slice the skin off of the fruit, including as much of the white pith as possible. Trim off any excess [the pith is bitter]. The fruit is actually located between tough and chewy membranes. Position your knife on one side of the membrane and slice down following the fruit, to the center. Slice down on the other side of the membrane, releasing the slice. Continue until all of the fruit is removed. You will end up with the membrane in one hand, and a plate of sliced fruit. Squeeze any remaining juice out of the membrane onto the fruit. The fruit will keep, on the plate, in its juice, covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
After chopping garlic or onions, run a lemon quarter over both the knife blade and the cutting board to remove the odor. To remove the smell of garlic or onions from your hands, rub a stainless teaspoon while holding it under comfortably warm running water. A chemical reaction will result and remove the oils from your hands with no soap.
Peel vegetables directly into the garbage disposal or trash can to simplify cleanup.
Butter the pouring lip of a measuring cup or pitcher to prevent dribbling. Or spray the lip with nonstick cooking spray. To prevent sticky ingredients from getting stuck in your measures, butter or spray the interior.