• Always cook with a sink of hot soapy water at the ready. It makes cleanup easier.
• Write the date and your opinion along with any adjustments on your recipes. Make a note in the index, i.e., VG (very good), etc. for future reference.
• My daughter Dru came up with a great money and germ saver. Sponges are a manmade cleaning treasure that is a breeding ground for bacteria. Discard your used sponge, no matter how clean it looks, monthly.
• No one needs a whole sponge to do dishes. Cut the sponge into halves or quarters. Use one now and save the remainder for the following months.
• Do not flour roasts before you brown them. All you are browning is the flour and the meat is not sealed to hold in its juices.
• Always allow roasts, steaks, etc. to sit on a cutting board 10 minutes, with a foil tent over, before you carve it. This allows the juices to sink back into the meat.
• When frying bacon toss in 6 – 8 celery leaves. For some reason, they stop grease from splattering all over your stove.
• Often a recipe calls for chopped bacon. That’s a pain to do after the meat is cooked and worse when it’s raw. Use your kitchen scissors to snip the uncooked bacon into the size your recipe requires. Separate the pieces as they cook.
• Do not toss the pits when you make guacamole or another dip that uses avocados. Save them to plunge into the serving dish. The dip will stay green and fresh at least two days.
• The easiest method to peel a stubborn banana is from the bottom up. That’s right, flip it end over end and strip away.
• Once your bananas ripen to your satisfaction store them in the fridge. The skins will turn black, but the fruit inside is just as you like it.
• For the sweetest fruit, skip the smooth rinds, and look for rinds that have cellulite-looking wrinkles.
• Look for the greenest stems. They are the freshest grapes in the bin and will last longer in your fridge.
Lemons and Limes
• Roll these fruits on the counter while pressing down a bit before you squeeze them. Softens the skin and releases more juice.
• Roll oranges on the counter while pressing down a little firm before you squeeze them. Softens the skin and releases more juice.
• The day prior to serving cut off the top. Turn the pineapple upside down on a plate and allow it to sit on your counter. All the beautiful juices return to the cut end and make the entire pineapple more flavorful.
• What you see is what you get. Strawberries are the only fruit that does not ripen more once it is picked. Those big white sections you see in the plastic container are with you forever.
• You can store fresh strawberries in the refrigerator up to four days. Do not wash them. Lay a paper towel on a plate or low dish, then add the strawberries, but do not mound them. Wash when ready to use.
• Place unripe tomatoes in a brown paper bag. Store in a cool dark spot. This is also great for all the green tomatoes you rescue from your garden at the end of summer.
• Do not store tomatoes in the refrigerator. They lose their flavor.
• Steam fresh vegetables to retain bright color and crispness. Place a metal steamer in your saucepan. Add chicken stock, white wine, and water to just below the bottom steamer holes. The stock and wine add a little extra flavor and the alcohol cooks away.
Dried and Canned Beans
• When cooking beans for soup, stews, and the like, add a teaspoon or so of baking soda to the mixture. This cuts the negative intestinal reactions to beans and does not affect the flavor or cooking.
Fresh Green Beans
• Add a paper towel to the plastic bag when you store green beans in the refrigerator. It absorbs the excess moisture so the beans stay fresh for a longer period of time.
• What to do with those extra stalks that you don’t need, but don’t want to throw out at today’s prices? Chop and sauté in a mix of olive oil and butter. Store in small containers, and freeze until needed for soups, stews, and the like.
• If you have too much to cook up, still chop the stalks and then freeze them raw in a plastic bag. Simply grab your required amount for your recipe and cook away!
• Wrap cukes individually in a paper towel. Make sure it’s enveloped tightly. Slip them into a plastic bag and keep the bag loose. Store in the fridge. Use as needed but continue to wrap well. This method keeps the veggie fresh for several weeks.
Garlic – Fresh
• Use a garlic press instead of chopping. The press brings out more flavor and you’ll use less garlic.
• Another easy method, courtesy of my friend Chef Paul Kutka, is to lightly spray one side of a grater with cooking spray and then rub the peeled garlic against it.
• All types need moisture to stay fresh. When buying head lettuce, look for the longest stem. Scratch the nub with your nail, sprinkle with water, and place in an open plastic bag. Store in the fridge, preferably the crisper drawer.
• Leaf lettuces should be rinsed in cool water, wrapped in a dish towel or other cloth, and stored in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
• Remoisten the lettuce after each use to retain freshness.
• Clean mushrooms just before using. Wipe with a dry paper towel to remove the growing soil.
• Loose mushrooms keep reasonably well in a paper bag and stored in the refrigerator.
• After you use a portion of mushrooms that come in a plastic container, cover the remainder with cling wrap and store in the refrigerator.
• Cut the root end off onions first. This allows the gas that makes your eyes water to escape.
• What to do with the rest of an onion when the recipe calls for a small amount? Sauté the remainder. Freeze in small containers for your next recipe.
• OR chop and freeze raw in a plastic bag. When you need a little onion for any cooked recipe, simply scoop out the required amount and toss it into the pot.
• After you cut the roots off a green onion, use a piece of paper towel to pull off the slippery end. Stops your fingers from smelling and being sticky.
• Make your salad early in the day and never worry about it turning brown or mushy. Add your salad ingredients, without the dressing, to a large bowl. Gently toss until well mixed. Cover with a damp paper towel and store in fridge until you’re ready to add dressing and serve.
• Chop fresh herb leaves easily. Place the leaves, without stems, into a cup and snip with scissors.
• Spray your cheese grater with a little non-stick cooking spray. The cheese won’t stick and cleanup is a breeze.
• Feta cheese should be covered in brine while it sits in your fridge. Here’s the easy recipe to keep your feta fresh and flavorful.
Feta Cheese Brine
1 tsp. (5ml) kosher or sea salt
1 cup (250ml) water
Combine salt and water in an airtight container just large enough for your block of feta. Add cheese and more brine if necessary. Store in fridge until needed. Best to use up the cheese in 4 – 6 weeks.
So, what do you do with the leftover brine? How about a brine for chicken? Or add 1 or 2 tablespoons (15 – 30ml) to season sauces.
• Grate your own Parmesan, Asiago, Swiss, etc. fresh when you need it. The remainder of the block will keep in your fridge for months if you cover tightly with cling wrap or aluminum foil, then store in a plastic bag. Should a little mold appear simply scrape it off with a knife. Surprisingly the cheese is still good.
• Whipping Cream Substitute
5 tbsp. (71g) butter, softened
¾ cup (200ml) milk
1 tbsp. (15ml) flour
Combine butter and milk in a small bowl. Use an electric mixer to blend well. Slowly add in flour and beat until desired consistency. The recipe makes 1 cup (250ml) so scale back for the amount you need.
• Make hardboiled eggs easily. Eggs should be in your refrigerator no less than 5 days otherwise they are devils to peel. Set eggs in a saucepan and then fill with cold water to cover. Be sure to add the lid so the pan boils faster. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the burner and keep the pan on the burner 8 – 9 minutes.
• Peeling hard-boiled eggs is easy. After the eggs are boiled, pour out the hot water. Add cold to the pot. Crack the end of each egg against your sink gently, then place them back in the cold water while you do the others. Roll the eggs along the counter or the middle part of your sink with a little pressure. This takes a little practice to master so you don’t mush the egg. The shell peels off easily.
• Store peeled hard-boiled eggs up to five days in a glass container. Cover the eggs with water. Change the water every other day.
• Children of any age should not drink expired milk.
• Pour expired milk around any of your inground yard plants. Even though we can’t drink it the plants love it.
• Don’t store bread in the refrigerator. This dries it out.
• Bread and rolls freeze well up to one month.
• Place light or dark brown sugar into a plastic bag when it hardens. Add a slice of white bread and seal. Within hours the sugar is back to a usable state.
• Always heat the frying pan before adding oil. This stops the oil from disintegrating while the pan gets hot.
• Test if the oil is hot enough for frying by adding a small piece of white bread to the heated pan. When the bread toasts golden quickly the oil is ready.
• The following recipe is simple and adds a festive look to any punch bowl.
1 orange, peeled and sliced thin
10 maraschino cherries, halved
15 seedless red grapes, halved
10 strawberries, halved
Arrange thin citrus slices and another fruit of your choice, or any combination of fruits omitting the orange, in an attractive design in a Bundt pan. Pour water into mold to partially cover fruit. Freeze.
When frozen, add water to fill mold ¾ full. Another option is to use orange juice, another juice, or ginger ale, whichever works best with your recipe in place of water. This keeps the punch cold without diluting it. Refreeze.
At serving time, unmold by dipping the pan in hot water to loosen the ice. Float the ring fruit side up in punch bowl.
• Don’t add oil or salt to the cooking water. Those additions make it difficult for the sauce to cling to the pasta.
• My friend Bonnie taught me this trick. She learned it from her father Frank. After pasta is cooked al dente and drained, return it to the pot. Stir in a few ladles of hot sauce. Allow to sit a few minutes before serving. This stops the watery ring that forms on your dinner plate or bowl.