Tips and Tricks

This page is in no particular order but added to as I learn something or remember a good idea. Page down and see if anything is of use to you.

FRESH HERBS

There are lots of tips on how to save fresh herbs. Trouble is none of them work, or they merely extend the viability for a couple of extra days. But you buy this huge swag of cilantro, and use one-third and don’t need it again for a week. It’s a mucky mess when you see it next, and you throw it out.

This NEVER fails, and preserves a decent look and fresh taste as well.

And if you think dried? No. Fresh are almost always superior (rosemary is one exception where things are equal) and some are worthless as dried (basil).

  • Shave off, pull off, the leaves from the stems
  • Using a large chef’s knife, mince into the size that you will normally use.
  • Place the chopped herb into a bowl. Drizzle good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) just to coat the herbs. Seldom more than a tablespoon is necessary.
  • Line a pie plate, or other small pan with Saran wrap. Do NOT use wax paper or foil.
  • Dump the herbs into the lined container and gently, with the back of a spoon spread out the herbs to about 1/4 inch thickness.
  • Place in the freezer as is, until stiff.
  • Pull the Saran Wrap around to cover and slip into a plastic freezer bag.
  • Break off what you need as you need it. Never waste a bit of those expensive herbs again.

SCALLIONS

Scallions are great garnishes and additions in small quantities to many dishes. Trouble is, often you only use a couple, and in a week, they are starting to rot. How to keep them for their maximum duration?

This method works fairly well. The green parts will start to dry out and brown, but they can be cut off with no problem. At least it’s better than slimy rot!

  • Remove all damaged stems and remove the root ends.
  • It’s better not to wash them, since water that gets down inside the stems is the enemy.
  • Take a nice 80z glass. Take a paper towel and wet it and wring it out, so it is only damp.
  • Stick the towelling into the glass, spread out, and place the root end of your scallions down into the glass.
  • Use a piece of Saran wrap to cover the top loosely (air tight means any water will just start the rot). Place in fridge.
  • I find I can keep scallions this way for a good week and a half with no rotting at all.

TOMATO PASTE

Most recipes don’t call for a full can of tomato paste. The next time you need, it, the forlorn can is sitting in the fridge covered with its plastic wrap and when you open it, you are met with furry stuff growing on your dried out paste.

Yes, I know, you can buy paste in a tube. But when you compare the price? You are paying too much. So stop wasting all that paste!

This works perfectly. So when you open that next can of paste and use a tablespoon, here’s how to handle the rest so it’s ready to go next time.

  • Tear off a piece of Saran wrap and cut it with a knife or scissors into maybe 3 inch squares. Nothing serious here, just trying to not waste big hunks of wrap.
  • Take a Tablespoon measuring spoon and scoop out approximately 1 tablespoon.  Place it on the wrap. Do this until the can is empty. I get usually 4 more if I’ve used one already. I don’t measure very carefully, since most recipes need not be followed that exactly.
  • Gently fold over your wrap and fold in the ends. Gently, gently. It’s squishy.
  • Place in a LABELED plastic freezer bag and toss in the freezer. (Labeled because there are tons of things you can do this way, like chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, and pepperoni. They tend to look alike when frozen in bags.
  • Most times, you can add your frozen little package to the dish, and let it defrost, and melt in. If you prefer to let it defrost, just take it out an hour or so before you need it.

CHEESES

Love cheese?

Doesn’t everyone?

Some of it is rather expensive. And you use some, and wrap it up, and in a week, well, it’s dried out, or worse, has blue yuck all over it. So you throw your money in the garbage once again.

I learned this little trick from Alton Brown, which I actually improved. It works well, and for most cheese, (the harder the better) you can keep cheese about three weeks.

Of course you can freeze cheese (hard cheeses) but they then crumble awfully when you defrost them.

Try this method and see if it helps you use all your expensive cheese.

Once you open a cheese:

  • Wrap the remainder in wax paper (no other substitute).
  • Place in a plastic bag. Seal.

That’s it. It works.

BUTTERMILK

Okay, substitution time.

Most recipes that call for buttermilk call for a cup. Problem is, in most supermarkets you can only get buttermilk by the quart.

And it’s a month later before you need buttermilk again. By then, well, it’s pour it down the sink time.

So, this substitution works just fine for MOST recipes.

  • To one cup of regular milk
  • Add 1 Tbsp vinegar, and stir.
  • Let sit for five minutes or so

This will not work for recipes that call for a a buttermilk marinade for chicken to tenderize it. The enzymes in the real buttermilk are different than those in the vinegar so it won’t work. Otherwise it works great for cakes and pancakes, and all the usual things that buttermilk is called for.

ROUXS AND WHITE SAUCE

Sauces scare the bejesus out of some folks and so they retreat to good old Campbells soup and ungodly stuff like velveeta. There is nothing hard about sauces or gravies, such as bechamel and cheese sauce.

It all comes down to a simple ratio: 1 : 1 : 1

See? That’s easy enough.

Let’s say you want a cheese sauce to pour over your cooked macaroni for some real mac and cheese. It goes like this.

  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • 1 c of milk
  • 1 cup of cheese

Melt the butter, whisk in the flour, cook for a minute, add the milk, bring to a boil, when it’s thickened, throw in the cheese and stir until melted.

Same for a gravy. Want a beef gravy?

  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 2 c beef stock

Couldn’t be easier. Just remember the ration of 1 : 1 : 1

CELERY

I don’t pay others to cut and peel my veggies. So i don’t buy celery in little containers all cut up.

However, celery is sometimes not a veggie you use a lot of every week, so what to do with the rest of the stalk when you’ve used the two you need for a soup? Leave it in the sleeve only to find it limp? Or shove it in a plastic bag to find it browned and rotted?

This practice will extend the life of a useable celery stalk for about three weeks.

First, remove the plastic bag. Cut off the end. Cut off each rib at the joint ( you can chop up good leaves if you wish, and do them the same as we do other herbs for storage in the freezer. Celery leaves are great in soups!)

Wash any ribs that obviously dirty. Cut off bad  or bruised parts. Cut outer ribs in half. Lay out a cotton kitchen towel and drain. Place another on top and dry reasonably well.

Take a large plastic bag and line with about 4 sheets of paper towel, doubled and placed in a sling in the bottom. Place all your ribs in between the two pieces, fold the towel over and seal the bag. The paper towel will continue to absorb and water, the bag will keep the ribs nice and crisp.

If there is any browning on the ends, just cut them off and use the rest. If the towel is obviously wet, then take everything out and replace with dry toweling.

SELF-RISING FLOUR

Did I mention that I don’t pay folks to peel food for me, mix two things together, and other silly stuff like that?

So I don’t buy self-rising flour.

So occasionally I find an otherwise good recipe that calls for it.

So what to do?

There is some variance, so being exact is not essential but basically you substitute 1 cup of SRF for:

  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp – 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

THE MATTER OF SPACE

Not everyone has a dream kitchen with all the space needed. So here are some tricks to find more space. The reason? The better stocked your pantry is the happier you will be. Being able to fix something you suddenly get a taste for is really nice when you don’t have to run to the store first to stock up on things you can easily keep for long periods at home. (A page of pantry necessities is in the works)

  • If at all possible, invest in a USED fridge. Keep in the basement or a garage or a laundry room. Believe me, at holiday time these are so helpful for storing that turkey or beautiful special cake, or for extra sodas and wines. In addition a extra old fridge can be used to force bulbs and harden off seeds for planting. You will find it useful for storing flours long term and nuts. Used ones don’t cost that much. The simpler the better, you don’t need lots of compartments, just space.
  • If you don’t have a good pantry with lots of shelves, consider putting up cheap (and I do mean cheap) metal storage shelves in the basement, or garage if it is kept above freezing year round. It’s not as convenient but it works fine for canned goods of all kinds and anything else that is properly packaged against nosy rodents.
  • Consider whether your laundry room can support some extra shelving. And of course if you keep a spare bedroom, while not particularly convenient, it can still serve the purpose. Your occasional guest will think you quirky and hey, who doesn’t want to be thought of as slightly off?
  • A small or large deep freezer is invaluable if you have the space. I would suggest smaller rather than larger, since you end up saving stuff in big ones that get forgotten and thrown out anyway in the yearly purge. Big families are of course an exception.

As with all things concerning food, packaging is critical. Food that is kept in basements or garages should be removed from paper or plastic and boxes and placed in reusable hard plastic. Sometimes you can place plastic bags of say different pastas into a larger tub with a good lid. Bugs get into flours in some locations, so it’s important to remove them and put them in plastic too. A magic marker can name the tubs that contain multiple types of one food item. Sugar needs to be placed in a hard plastic especially if you live in a high-humidity area.

DRIED HERBS AND SPICES

While I prefer to use fresh herbs as much as possible, for some things it’s not convenient, namely when you are dealing with mixes such as Mexican, Cajun, or Italian seasoning mixes.

These require dried herbs, and of course, most spices are in a dried form being the end result of seeds and nuts, or drying and crushing of a vegetable such as hot chiles.

So the next step is buying. First of all, buy the best you can afford. There is a huge difference between cinnamons for instance. The cheap stuff has no where near the flavor of other types.

Spices and herbs depending on variety can get quite expensive, so don’t waste money on junk, and moreover, if at all possible, buy in bulk. One of my supermarkets has big containers with each type, you pour what you want into a plastic bag, weigh it, and enter the code, and it prints out your label and price. The savings are simply huge. I get a couple of ounces of oregano for instance for less than a buck.

Blend your own mixes. First, it’s hugely cheaper. Second, you control the salt content, which in most mixes is too high, and you can also regulate the ingredients themselves, leaving out, or adding more to what you like or don’t. Mixes that have “heat” are controllable when you decide how much.

Secondly, some spices and herbs don’t last well. It’s easier to replace one ingredient which has gotten old rather than an entire container of pumpkin pie spice, or poultry seasoning. And since you use the ingredients in many different dishes, separately, in the long run you will save money.

As to storage, air and light are your enemy. Most spice racks use glass containers and hang on walls. This is awful. Throw them away or hang it in a closet on the door. Get rid of the glass. The best containers are made of  aluminum and are square shapes and come in varying sizes. You can put a label on the top or front, and your stuff will stay fresh longer. Shop online to locate.

Nutmeg is much better bought by the “nut” rather than the grated variety. It’s much fresher. Just grate with a micro-plane or similar small grating utensil.

Buy whole pepper corns and get a pepper mill. The ground pepper has lost most of its taste, and the peppercorns in their own grinder wastes money. (You cannot refill them).

Garam Marsala, an Indian spice mix, is just that a mix. Get a recipe and make your own. It will be hugely better tasting.

CAKE FLOUR

A number of pastry recipes call for the use of cake flour. Sometimes gravy recipes do as well.

Well, you can go out and spend premium prices for the stuff, or you can realize that they are charging you an arm and leg just to do what you can do yourself, with ingredients you always have on hand.

So when your recipe calls for cake flour simply do this:

  • Measure out a cup of APF (all-purpose flour)
  • Remove 2 tablespoons
  • Replace with 2 tables of cornstarch
  • Sift through a sieve or real honest to goodness sifter several times to mix well (or whisk a lot)

That’s it.

CUSTARDSCustard

 

Custards are easy to make, and useful as pies, as pudding like fillers, and of course in such things as quiche and breakfast casseroles.

Especially useful for making quiche, there is a mathematical formula for making a custard that should help you when you wish to wing it without a recipe.

The ratio for eggs to milk is 2:1. In other words use 2 eggs for every one cup of milk.

To make a quiche without a recipe, add 1-2 cups cooked veggies of choice, and 1-2 cups of cheese. Place in a baked crust, and bake at 350° until edges are set, and center is still wiggly.

Quiches are great to take care of veggies that need using up or a few slices of  leftover bacon or sausage.

powderedsugar  If you run out of powdered sugar, you can make your own quite easily.

Just mix 1 1/2 c granulated sugar with 1 tbsp cornstarch.

In principle you can probably use a zero calorie sugar like Swerve and 1 tbsp arrowroot but I haven’t tried that.

 

 

 

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