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Cooking Tips


Cooks fall into a variety of categories – from experienced and experimental to timid and unsure. Most of us fall somewhere in between the extremes. Cooking can be fun and even pretty easy if you know a few basics.

The first thing to remember is “Don’t Be Afraid.” After all – the absolute worse thing that can happen is you have to throw it all out and call for pizza!

Helpful Hints

Oven Temperatures:

  • very low: 250-275 F
  • low: 300-325 F
  • medium: 350-375 F
  • hot or high: 400-425
  • very hot: 450-475 F
  • Substitute 2 egg whites for each egg you wish to replace in recipes, or use 1/4 cup egg substitute for each egg.
  • Use your thumb as a guide for measuring: A thumb-tip equals 1 teaspoon, three thumb-tips (or half a thumb) equal 1 tbsp., and a whole thumb equals 1 ounce.
  • A 3-ounce serving of chicken, fish or meat is about the size of the palm of your hand, or a deck of cards. Your fist equals 1 cup
  • If a soup or stew is too salty, add raw cut potatoes. Discard them after they have cooked – they absorb the salt.
  • If a soup or stew is too sweet, add salt. If a main dish or vegetable is too sweet, add a teaspoon of cider vinegar.
  • Can’t remember if an egg is fresh or hard boiled? Just spin the egg. If it wobbles, it’s raw. If it spins easily, it’s hard boiled.
  • A fresh egg will sink in water, a stale one will float. An egg white is easiest to beat at room temperature. Take the egg out of the fridge about 1/2 hour before using.
  • For light, fluffy scrambled eggs, add a little water while beating the eggs.
  • Add vinegar to the water when boiling eggs. The vinegar helps seal the egg.
  • Acids help proteins coagulate, so adding either vinegar or lemon juice to water used for poaching eggs helps keep the eggs from spreading out.
  • To avoid ‘onion eyes’ peel under cold water or refrigerate before chopping.
  • To perk up soggy lettuce, add lemon juice to a bowl of cold water and soak lettuce for an hour in the fridge.
  • When cooking carrots, peas, beets or corn, add a small amount of sugar to the water to keep the flavor.
  • To keep sweet corn yellow, add one teaspoon of lemon juice to the cooking water just about a minute before taking off the stove.
  • Never salt the water you cook corn in. It will only toughen the corn.
  • Store celery and lettuce in paper bags, not plastic. And leave the outside leaves and stalks alone until ready to use.
  • Don’t refrigerate tomatoes!  Store them at room temperature.
  • To soften rock-hard brown sugar, simply add a slice of soft bread to the package and close the bag tightly. In a few hours the sugar will be soft again.
  • Place green fruits in a perforated plastic bag. The holes will allow air to circulate while retaining the ethylene gas that fruits produce during ripening.
  • Remove fat from soups and stews by dropping ice cubes into the pot. The fat will cling to the cubes as you stir. Take out the cubes before they melt. Or you can also wrap the ice cubes in cheesecloth or paper towel and skim over the top of the pot. Fat also cling to lettuce leaves.
  • Poke a hole in the middle of the hamburger patties while shaping them. The burgers will cook faster and the holes will disappear when done.
  • For fluffier, whiter rice, add one teaspoon of lemon juice per quart of water.
  • To add extra flavor and nutrition to rice, cook it in liquid reserved from cooking vegetables.
  • Marshmallows won’t dry out when frozen.
  • If your stew is slightly burnt, milk will take the burnt taste out.
  • The best way to thaw fish is in milk. The milk draws out the frozen taste and gives the fish a fresh flavor.
  • If bananas ripen before they are picked, they lose their taste and texture.
  • To ripen green tip bananas quickly, keep them at 70 degrees F, with very high humidity and no air circulation for 2 or 3 days.
  • Best storage for ripe bananas is 65 degrees F with 80% humidity, and very good air circulation. They should keep for a week or so like that.
  • Do not hold green bananas much below 59 degrees F. The skin will turn a dark brownish color and they will develop an off taste.
  • Unripe bananas have about 25% starch and only 1% sugar. Natural enzyme action converts this high starch content to sugar, so ripe bananas have a 20% sugar content.
  • If you have no confectioner’s sugar, you can put some granulated (regular) sugar in a blender with a pinch of cornstarch and process it

Know Your Ingredients

The color of chicken eggs are determined by the breed. Breeds with white feathers and ear lobes lay white eggs; breeds with red feathers and ear lobes lay brown eggs.

The CDC reports that something less than 0.5% of all food-borne illness is related to eggs. According to the USDA, only one egg in 20,000 might be contaminated with Salmonella. Based on the USDA statistics, that means that the average person might eat a contaminated egg once in 84 years.

  • 4 jumbo eggs = 1 cup
  • 6 jumbo whites = 1 cup
  • 12 jumbo yolks = 1 cup
  • 4 XL eggs = 1 cup
  • 6 XL whites = 1 cup
  • 12 XL yolks = 1 cup
  • 5 Lg eggs = 1 cup
  • 7 Lg whites = 1 cup
  • 14 Lg yolks = 1 cup
  • 5 Med eggs = 1 cup
  • 8 Med whites = 1 cup
  • 16 Med yolks = 1 cup
  • 6 Sm eggs = 1 cup
  • 9 Sm whites = 1 cup
  • 18 Sm yolks = 1 cup

When beef is purchased in vacuum packages it appears a dark reddish purple. When the package is opened the exposure to oxygen causes the meat to turn bright red, and after a few days the surface will change to brown.

The classic bouquet garni consists of a few bay leaves, a parsley sprig and a thyme sprig tied in cheesecloth. Other herbs are frequently added, such as rosemary, savory, sage, basil, celery leaves, chervil, and tarragon.

Chocolate:

  • 1 square baking chocolate = 1 oz
  • Substitute: 1 square = 4 TB cocoa and 1/2 TB fat
  • 1 pound grated chocolate = about 3 1/2 cups

White chocolate originates from the cocoa (cacao) plant, but it is not ‘chocolate.’ According to the FDA, to be called ‘chocolate’ a product must contain chocolate liquor, which is what gives it the biter intense chocolate flavor.

White chocolate contains cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, lecithin and flavorings (usually including vanilla).

Cocoa butter is the fat from cocoa beans, extracted during the process of making chocolate and cocoa powder. Cocoa butter has very little ‘chocolate’ flavor.

Cocoa butter is one of the ingredients used to make real chocolate, it is gives chocolate the ability to remain solid at room temperature, yet melt easily in the mouth.

Cocoa butter is one of the most stable fats known, containing natural antioxidants that prevent rancidity and give it a storage life of 2 to 5 years.  It is used for its smooth texture in foods (including chocolate) and in cosmetics and soaps.

Kiwifruits have more than twice the vitamin C of oranges, as much potassium as bananas, and are good sources of magnesium, fiber and vitamin E. They also have only 45 calories each.

The difference in fat content between dry-roasted nuts and oil-roasted nuts is really very small. Oil roasted nuts are roasted so fast that they absorb very little of the oil, and then the excess oil is drained off.

Green, sweet bell pepper have 2 times as much vitamin C as oranges; red and yellow bell peppers have 4 times as much.

RELISH OR SALSA?

The only difference is that the word ‘relish’ is of French origin, and the word ‘salsa’ is of Spanish origin. They are both condiments intended to add flavor to other foods, and both can be either raw or cooked.

Confectioner’s sugar is also called powdered sugar, and icing sugar in the United Kingdom. White granulated sugar is very finely ground, sifted and mixed with about 1% to 3% starch, cornstarch,  or calcium phosphate to keep it dry and to prevent caking.  10X (ultrafine or superfine) is the finest powder and what you will find on your supermarket shelves. .

  • One pound brown sugar = 3 cups loose
  • 1 cup = 5 1/4 ounces
  • One pound brown sugar = 2 cups packed 1 cup = 8 ounces
  • One pound granulated sugar = 2 1/8 cups 1 cup = 7 1/2 ounces
  • One pound xxxx powdered = 3 1/2 cups 1 cup = 7 ounces
  • Honey contains 18 more calories per tablespoon than refined sugar.

Despite a physical similarity and a frequent confusion with their names, yams and sweet potatoes are not even distantly related.  They are in two different botanical families. Yams are actually related to grasses and lilies

Sweet potatoes are a Native American plant . These tuberous roots are among the most nutritious foods in the vegetable kingdom. They are packed with calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and C.  Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams, but yams are large, starchy roots grown in Africa and Asia

Tools of the Trade

Here’s a helpful conversion tool to help you figure out pounds to ounces, tablespoons to cups, and how to figure out those pesky metric equivalents!

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Here is a helpful list of items the well-equipped kitchen and cook should have. Your own cooking style and needs will determine which of the items you should have on hand, but it’s always better to have an item and use it occasionally, than to need it for a special meal or recipe and not have it!

KNIVES:

  • Paring (3- and 4-inch)
  • Chef’s (8-inch)
  • Slicing (10-inch)
  • Bread (serrated 8-inch)
  • Tomato (5-inch)
  • Cake
  • Cheese
  • Sharpening steel (10-inch)
  • Carving

MIXING AND CHOPPING:

  • Wood chopping board
  • Mixing bowls (3 sizes)

TOOLS:

  • Vegetable peeler
  • Can opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Thermometers: meat, candy, and fry

UTENSILS:

  • Wooden spoons
  • Stainless steel cook’s spoons
  • Strainer and colander
  • Mesh skimmer
  • Whisk
  • Rubber spatula
  • Lifting spatula
  • Pastry scraper
  • Ladle
  • Cook’s fork
  • Grater

MEASURES:

  • Measuring spoons
  • Liquid 2-cup measure
  • Set of dry measure cups

BAKING:

  • Rolling pin
  • Springform pan
  • Loose-bottom tart tin
  • Half-sheet pan
  • Muffin tins
  • Bread pan
  • Layer-cake pans

POTS AND PANS:

  • Sauté pan (12-inch)
  • Skillet (8-inch)
  • Saucepans (1- and 2 1/2-quart)
  • Casseroles (4- and 6-quart)
  • Gratin baking dish
  • Roast pan and rack
  • Stock/pasta pot (8-quart)
  • Double boiler

MACHINES:

  • Food processor
  • Mixer
  • Pasta machine
  • Juicer
  • Coffee/spice grinder
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