One Hundred Cooking Secrets

  1. Peel ginger with a teaspoon. Just scrape with the concave part of the spoon facing the ginger.
  2. Don't confuse a knife steel with a knife sharpener. The sharpener sharpens; the steel only maintains the edge between sharpening. (The steel looks like a thick, rough skewer.) Does your knife need sharpening? Slash the edge of a sheet of paper. A sharp knife will cut cleanly; a duller one will tear.
  3. To get more juice from a lemon, heat it in the microwave for 10 seconds, roll it on your work surface, then squeeze.
  4. Use a vegetable peeler to make chocolate shavings. For firmer, larger shavings, warm the chocolate briefly in the microwave.
  5. Cut the mess when chopping canned tomatoes. Use scissors to cut them in the can or in a measuring cup.
  6. Shake buttermilk before using it.
  7. For smooth mashed potatoes, push them through a food ricer while hot, then blend in a mixture of hot milk and butter. A food mill or electric beater will also work. Do not use a food processor unless you enjoy eating glue.
  8. Eggs are easier to peel if you put them under cold running water right after taking them off the stove. Once they are cool, roll and crackle them on the counter. Strip the peel under cold running water. Start at the wide end where the air pocket is. The fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel neatly.
  9. To avoid clumping, freeze berries, meatballs and the like on a baking sheet. Then transfer them to zip-lock bags.
  10. Freeze tomato or tamarind paste by the tablespoon in ice cube trays. You can also do this with stock if you require small amounts. When the cubes are firm, put them into zip-lock bags.
  11. Measuring properly is crucial for successful baking. Use dry measures (stand-alone cups in specific sizes) for flour and sugar. Use standard measuring cups for liquids. Do not use dry measures as scoops. Scoop flour, for example, into the cup with a large spoon, then use a knife to level off the top.
  12. To chop leafy herbs such as basil or mint, stack the leaves, roll them into a cigar, then shred. Then mince if desired.
  13. Create a fountain to rinse rice. Put rice in a medium bowl. Set the bowl atop a small pan. Position and tilt the bowl so that water will run in one side and flow out the other. Run the water slowly. Rinse until the water in the bowl runs clear. Swish the rice occasionally.
  14. To peel a garlic clove, rap it sharply but lightly with the side of a knife. The papery peel will separate from the flesh.
  15. There's no need to laboriously strip the leaves from cilantro or parsley. Just mince the leaves with their tender stems. Before chopping, make sure the herbs are washed and dried.
  16. Here's a low-tech way to test the doneness of roast turkey or chicken. Poke a metal skewer into the flesh and carefully touch the tip to your hand or cheek. If it's very hot, the meat is done. (Just don't burn yourself.) This method always makes me laugh. It was passed on to me by my mother-in-law, who learned to cook without a lot of kitchen gadgets.
  17. Stash leftover vegetables in the freezer. Mixing and matching, add frozen veggies to stock, simmer until very tender, then purée for healthful soups.
  18. Use refrigerated or frozen leftover potatoes, boiled, baked or mashed, to make creamy soups without cream. Add the spuds to simmering vegetables in stock, then purée.
  19. Don't discard the leaves on a celery stalk. They add great flavor.
  20. Before adding toppings to a pizza crust, condition the dough with a light brushing of olive oil. This barrier helps prevent sogginess.
  21. Spray a spoon or measuring cup with oil before measuring honey, molasses or corn, cane and maple syrups. They will slip out easily. Running hot water over the spoon or cup also works, but not as well.
  22. Indent the center of a burger patty 1/4 to 1/2 inch. During grilling, ground beef tends to swell in the middle. The indent helps keep a burger level and promotes even cooking.
  23. Cream whips better when cold.
  24. Rinse your hands frequently in very cold water when rolling chocolate truffles or working hands-on with chocolate.
  25. Roll matzo balls with damp hands.
  26. Wet hands work for meatballs, too. So does oiling your palms.
  27. To trim asparagus, hold the spear in one hand with your thumb near the center, toward the base. With the fingers of the other hand, gently bend the base. The spear will snap at the spot where tender meets tough. You needn't peel asparagus stems, though some people prefer to peel thick ones. (By the way, thicker spears of asparagus are not inferior.)
  28. Preheat your skillet before drizzling in the oil. This makes meat or other foods less likely to stick.
  29. Don't have a juicer? Use sturdy tongs to extract juice from a halved lemon or lime.
  30. A deep, narrow asparagus pot with a removable steamer basket is good for boiling cans of sweetened, condensed milk for dulce de leche. It also works nicely for corn.
  31. To pit an olive, rap it sharply with the side of a heavy knife. Or roll a rolling pin over some olives with just enough pressure to make the pits pop out.
  32. Toss blueberries (especially frozen ones) lightly with flour before baking them in a loaf or cake. This helps prevent them from staining the surrounding dough. (Use some of the flour from the recipe instead of adding extra.)
  33. Line a baking pan with a parchment-paper sling that hangs over the sides to help you lift out sticky loaves, brownies or bars after they have cooled.
  34. How do you know when to stop adding dustings of flour to bread dough while kneading? It's good when it sticks to the counter yet pulls away cleanly when you tug on it.
  35. Cook's Illustrated magazine feeds tipoholics very well. For instance, to slice a tomato evenly, it suggests pricking one side with the tines of a fork, then using the prick marks as a cutting guide.
  36. To make chocolate chip cookies that look magazine picture-perfect, don't fold all your chips into the batter. Arrange some on top of the cookies before popping them in the oven.
  37. Mince garlic with salt. It will jump around less and be easier to chop into a paste if desired.
  38. Instead of cutting cold butter into bits for pastry dough, grate it in the large holes of a box grater.
  39. To keep shortening super-cold and firm for pastry dough, freeze it.
  40. To cut a cake into even layers, saw through it with dental floss or sewing thread held tautly in both hands.
  41. Help prevent meringue from weeping by spreading it on while the filling is hot. Spread it all the way to the edges to seal in the filling.
  42. Instead of messing around trying to oil the barbecue grate, lightly coat the outside of your meat or burger patty with oil.
  43. Egg whites whip better when at room temperature. For maximum fluff, start with a dry bowl without a speck of fat in it. Some people even wipe the bowl with vinegar.
  44. Cold eggs are easier to separate.
  45. Need to cut or shave meat thin? Firm it up in the freezer.
  46. Cook meat slightly underdone, then let it sit, tented with foil. The temperature will rise and it will continue to cook briefly.
  47. Some people slice the rounded dome off the bottom layer of a cake to make a level base. A better way: place the bottom layer upside down. This gives you a flat surface, plus you preserve more cake and don't have to brush away so many crumbs that otherwise get mixed in with the icing.
  48. Before frosting a cake, line your platter with two sheets of waxed paper that overlap in the middle, or with four strips arranged in a square. Put the cake on top. After frosting, pull out the paper and, voilà, clean platter.
  49. Meat will be moister if you let it sit before cutting. This allows the juices to redistribute and re-absorb.
  50. Oiling the holes of a grater makes semi-soft cheese less likely to stick and squash. So does putting the cheese in the freezer for 15 minutes before shredding.
  51. To grill onions, skewer thick slices like lollipops.
  52. Use a permanent marker to draw various widths at the edge of your cutting board. That way, you can assess the diameter of a rum ball or tomato slice or whatever without pulling out a tape measure.
  53. To catch the juices when cutting meat, use a board with a built-in "moat" around the edges. Or place a regular cutting board in a rimmed baking sheet.
  54. To prevent a soggy pie crust, brush dough with egg white, bake five minutes to set, then cool, fill and bake.
  55. To revive a crusty bun, wrap it in a damp paper towel and microwave about 30 seconds. Eat it warm. This works for hard baguettes, too.
  56. Clean your spice grinder by using a pastry brush as a broom.
  57. Citrus zest is not citrus rind. Zest is the thin, shiny, waxy coating on the rind. The white spongy material beneath it is bitter.
  58. Citrus flavor lies in the oils in the zest, while the tang is in the juice. If you don't like the texture of zest, strain it out of a mixture, but don't omit it.
  59. Has your yeast dough risen enough? Poke it with your finger. If the dent doesn't immediately spring back, it's good to go.
  60. It's hard to detect the ripeness of a pear. Press the top near the stem. It should have a bit of give.
  61. Keep a refrigerated roll of cookie dough round by storing it inside a cardboard tube from a roll of paper toweling or toilet paper.
  62. It's easier to peel an onion if you cut a light slit from top to bottom, then pull sideways.
  63. Cooking with wine is not an excuse to dump your swill. Don't cook with wine you wouldn't want to drink. I like to match the nationality of the wine to the dish. Example: try a barbera or sangiovese in Italian Ragu.
  64. Baking soda tenderizes chickpeas. For hummus, bring canned chickpeas to a boil in their liquid with a teaspoon of baking soda, then drain and rinse before proceeding with your recipe. You can also add a bit of baking soda to your falafel mixture.
  65. For a burst of flavor, chop and use cilantro roots instead of discarding them. They take the heat better than the leaves, so they're good in stews.
  66. Don't stock whole milk? Substitute skim milk, replacing three tablespoons per cup with the same amount of melted, unsalted butter.
  67. To kick-start a baked potato, prick holes in it, pop it in the microwave for three minutes on high power, then finish it in a 425F oven 25 to 30 minutes.
  68. Some books tell you to seed a tomato by cutting and squeezing it. But the tomato gets mangled. I prefer to cut along the equator, then use my thumbs to gouge out seed pockets.
  69. You need cold hands when working with dough for pie crusts or biscuits. Before you begin, run your hands under very cold water and dry them thoroughly.
  70. To cut chicken legs and other joints, first slice the flesh to expose the bone. That way, you can see where you're going.
  71. Are your stir-fries missing that Chinese restaurant texture? The Chinese use a technique called velveting to make their chicken, shrimp and pork shiny, slippery and tender. The meat sits about half an hour in a mixture of cornstarch, egg whites, seasonings and cooking wine or sherry. Then it is blanched in oil or, more healthfully, boiling water before being drained and used in stir-fries.
  72. Pushing puréed food through a fine-mesh strainer is my least favorite chore. Pushing and stirring with a heavy whisk makes the job go faster.
  73. Coconut cream is sold in Asian grocery stores. If you can't find any, get a can of non-premium coconut milk that has separated into liquid at the bottom and thick cream at the top. Scoop the cream.
  74. To discourage cheesecake from cracking as it cools, run a thin spatula around the edge.
  75. To thicken gravies and sauces without lumps, put cold water and flour in a jar or plastic tub with a tight lid, shake until smooth, then whisk in.
  76. After mixing pancake batter, let it sit for five minutes before cooking. This allows the flour to suck up moisture and makes the pancakes fluffier.
  77. To keep pancakes warm while cooking in batches, put them on a rack on a baking sheet and place them in a preheated 200F oven.
  78. Fish tends to fall apart when you turn it, especially when grilling. So why turn it? It's usually thin and cooks fast.
  79. Keep a toothbrush sink-side to scrub a garlic press, the small holes in a box grater or other kitchen tools with hard-to-reach crevices.
  80. Spray the paper liners of muffin cups with vegetable spray. Less of your muffin will stick to the paper.
  81. Use a disher to fill muffin cups. A disher is a scoop with a spring-loaded attachment that sweeps around the inside of the cup.
  82. You can liberate the arils, or fruity kernels, from a pomegranate without dyeing everything red. Working in a large bowl of water, strip the peel and break the fruit into sections. Push arils off with your fingers into the water. The arils sink to the bottom and most of the waxy white membranes float to the top.
  83. Clay clings stubbornly between the layers of a leek. Trim the leek, slit it lengthwise and wash between the layers with cold running water. Or chop the leeks and swish them vigorously in a sink full of cold water; the dirt will fall to the bottom.
  84. Rub a wooden cutting board with mineral oil rather than vegetable oil. The latter tends to go rancid.
  85. Nuts tend to sink in cakes and loaves. To help prevent this, toast them or toss them in a bit of flour from the recipe before adding them to the batter.
  86. Dip the back of a wooden spoon into your custard. It's ready when you can draw a thick line that holds its shape. If it's not cooked enough, the line will not hold. If it's overcooked, it will show small chunks.
  87. Here's the tidy way to cut a bell pepper: slice off the rounded ends, cut vertically along the middle piece from top to bottom, then roll out like a tube while running a knife along the interior to scrape away seeds and veins. You'll be left with a rectangular piece you can cut into neat strips or cubes. Save the rounded ends for chopping.
  88. The optimal temperature for a baked cake is 195F. For a yeast bread, it's about 210F.
  89. Sometimes you need to cool a cake or loaf upside down without squashing it. Balance the pan upside down on the rim of a large bowl.
  90. Hot oil in a skillet is ready when it starts to shimmer and the surface no longer looks smooth. Oil that smokes is too hot. At the "smoke point," oil breaks down and begins to release nasty compounds.
  91. Lots of sugar and a bit of alcohol keep ices and ice cream creamy rather than granular. (That's why Popsicles are so sweet.)
  92. Washing fruit in advance hastens decomposition. Wash it just before eating or cooking.
  93. For extra corny flavor, toss some husks in with the ears of corn in boiling water.
  94. When lining a strainer with cheesecloth, wet the cloth first so it sticks and holds its position.
  95. Blanching (a quick dip in boiling water, followed by a cold water bath) is the traditional way to loosen and peel the skins of tomatoes, peaches and the like. Buy a serrated vegetable peeler instead; it's faster and easier. You can even peel a bell pepper with this gadget.
  96. Allow 10 minutes of cooking time for every inch of a fish fillet or fish steak, measured at its thickest point. Salmon and tuna are exceptions; they should be cooked less to prevent dryness.
  97. To seed a cucumber, halve it lengthwise and scrape a teaspoon through the center.
  98. You don't need to cut the ends off green beans. Snap off the stems by hand and leave the cute little squiggle at the other end.
  99. Rub your fingers on stainless steel under running water to remove persistent onion and garlic odors. Bars of stainless-steel "soap" are even made for this purpose.
  100. You can disinfect wet, cellulose kitchen sponges in the microwave. Zap them on high power for two to four minutes.

Created on ... January 20, 2010