cooking tips

Here are a few little tips and tricks I’ve learnt over the years to share with you.

Eggs

  • Hard boiling. Using old eggs ensures their shells are easier to remove. However if you only have fresh eggs, if you crack their shells all over then peel them under running water, their shells come off really easily.
  • Poaching. Using fresh eggs will help to ensure the whites cling together when you poach. You can check the freshness by placing them in water – if they sink, they are fresh. Eggs that float up, are older. Placing a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar in the water when you poach will also help to keep the whites together.

Spices

  • Store spices in a cool, dark place, not above your stove. Humidity, light and heat will cause herbs and spices to lose their flavour.

Seasoning

  • Taste as you go! When adding seasoning like salt, chilli and sugar, add half the amount in the recipe, taste, then add more until you’re happy.
  • Keep your parmesan rinds in the fridge, and add them to vegetable soup for another dimension of flavour.

Onions

  • When making salsa, guacamole or anything using raw onions, rinse the diced/sliced onions under cold running water first, then blot dry. This will rid them of sulphurous gas that can ruin these dishes.

Kitchen utensils

  • Always use sharp knives. Not only is it safer but it will make your work much more efficient.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Find a really good extra-virgin olive oil brand that you love. Olive oil has a strong taste. Taste it on its own and make sure you’re happy with the taste (markets are really good for this as they often offer you tastings.) If it doesn’t taste good on its own, it won’t taste good in your cooking. A small drizzle over a cooked meal can really bring out the flavour of pizza, mozzarella, pasta, fish and meat.
  • Homemade vinaigrettes have fewer ingredients and taste better than bottled ones. No need to whisk them: Just put all the ingredients in a sealed container and shake. A good one I always use is good quality extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, mustard and a little honey (or rice bran syrup if you’re avoiding fructose / coconut sugar for low GI). You can store this in the pantry as all the ingredients are pantry items. (Olive oil solidifies in the fridge.)

Meat / Fish

  • When cooking meat, take it out of the refrigerator one hour ahead of time so it an come to room temperature before cooking.
  • Blot the skin/flesh dry with a paper towel then season the skin well with salt for the best crispy fish/chicken skin.
  • When you’re browning meat, or want to sear scallops or crisp up fish skin, blot the meat/fish dry with a paper towel so the meat doesn’t release moisture when it hits the hot oil. Too much moisture makes the meat/fish steam instead of sear, and you will lose that rich brown crust.
  • For any kind of roast —meat or poultry, let it rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes once you’ve taken it out of the oven. Two reasons. First, it will help the meat retain its juices. (During cooking, bundles of muscle cells in the meat contract, forcing out liquid from the spaces between them. As the meat cools, those cell bundles relax, reabsorbing the liquid.) Second, resting evens out the temperature and the doneness. The outside meat is much hotter than the inside. By letting the meat stand, you allow the outside and inside to come to equilibrium. If you’re cooking smaller portions like steaks, let them rest for five minutes before serving/eating.
  • If you need to cut very thin slices of raw meat, partially freeze it first to make it much easier to slice finely.
  • When you’re cooking a steak with a fatty rim (ribeye or sirloin), start by cooking it on its side, where there is a rim of fat on its narrow edge. Render it down so there’s good, flavourful fat in the pan for the rest of the cooking.
  • Instead of placing a chicken on a roasting rack, cut thick slices of onion, then place the chicken on top. The onion will absorb the chicken juices. After roasting, let the chicken rest while you make a sauce with the onions by adding a little stock or water and cooking it for about 3 minutes on high heat.
  • Take a little time to choose your fish. Fresh fish should smell salty – not fishy. If you’re buying whole fish, the freshest fish will have clear bulgy eyes (older fish have sunken eyes). Don’t be afraid to ask the fishmonger to see the products up close and to smell for freshness.
  • If you’re doing a simple roast chicken, save the oil/fat in a jar and use it next time you roast veges.

Baking

  • For best results when you’re baking, leave butter and eggs at room temperature overnight.
  • When baking cakes/slices in square baking tins, cut a square of baking paper then snip in the corners which will allow you to fold the snipped triangles over themselves neatly inside the corners of the tin.

Foil versus baking paper for non-stick baking

A lot of baking equipment these days are ‘non-stick’ however these most often contain weird toxic chemical concoctions that can leak into your food, or emit harmful gasses into the air or our foods. Ideally, ‘non stick’ should be achieved in cooking and greasing with healthy fats, but that’s not always a realistic option.

Aluminium Foil

  • Research by the International Journal of Electrochemical Science found that small amounts of aluminium may leak into your food during the cooking process.
  • Best use for foil is as an insulator (wrapping sandwiches or cooked meat to store in the fridge)
  • If you must use foil as a baking sheet, remember the dull side is more non-stick, but grease it before use.
  • Aluminium foil is recyclable in Australia. If it’s totally clean I usually fold it up and pop it in my drawer to use again. If it doesn’t have a lot of food waste stuck to it and it’s time to discard it, scrunch it into a ball and pop it into your recycle bin for collection.
  • An alternative use is to wrap gifts – yes, this is a thing! No need for sticky tape or mad wrapping skills – make sure you tell the receiver that it is recyclable! 🙂

Baking paper

  • The point of baking paper is that it’s non-stick which means it needs to be coated in something (preferably silicon which is a natural element and safe to use in cooking). It is also more often than not ‘bleached’ which means another chemical process which introduces the toxin ‘dioxin’ before it ends up on our baking trays.
  • For chlorine-free parchment baking paper, google ‘If You Care parchment baking paper’ which you can purchased on a few on line stores.
  • I also have a couple of silicon baking mats which I find really useful and easy to clean for continued baking use.

Pasta

  • Contrary to what might seem logical, avoid putting oil in the water when boiling pasta; it will keep the sauce from sticking to and coating the cooked pasta. If you are worried that the pasta will stick together during cooking, just make sure you give it a stir for the first 30 seconds it is submerged into boiling water.
  • If you’re cooking a pasta dish that goes with parmesan (in my mind ALL pasta dishes are improved with parmesan), after you drain the pasta, while it’s still hot, grate some fresh parmesan on top before tossing it with your sauce. This way, the sauce has more to stick to.
  • Cook pasta one minute less than the package instructions and cook it the rest of the way in the pan with the sauce.
  • Reserve a few tablespoons of the water you cooked the pasta in and add it to the sauce before serving. This helps the sauce to amalgamate and adds a nice shine to the sauce.

Fry pan

  • When sautéing in butter, add a little oil to the pan as well which will prevent the butter from burning.
  • Avoid overcrowd the pan when you’re sautéing — it’ll make your food steam instead.
  • When sautéing garlic, instead of mincing/crushing, slice it as it’s less likely to burn.
  • If you find you need more oil in the pan when sautéing, add it in a stream along the edges of the pan so that by the time the oil reaches the ingredient being cooked, it will be heated.
  • When frying eggs, if you don’t have a non-stick egg flipper, heat the egg flipper in the oil in the pan before you add the eggs. This way the eggs won’t stick to it when removing / flipping.
  • After frying eggs sunny-side up, deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar, then drizzle the sauce on the eggs to add another dimension to the dish.

Herbs

  • Most cut leafy herbs like coriander, parsley and mint will keep longer with there stems sitting in water, covered with a small plastic bag in the fridge.
  • Fresh basil keeps much better and longer at room temperature with the stems in water.
  • Woody herbs like oregano, thyme and rosemary keep on the bench – after a week or so they will dry out and can be stored in jars with your other dry herbs.

Veges

  • When blanching (boiling) green veges, straight after plunge them in icy cold water to halt the cooking process and ensure they keep their bright green colour and crunch.
  • When cooking cauliflower, add a bit of milk to the water with salt to keep the cauliflower bright white. Shock it in cold water to stop the cooking and then serve.
  • When making mashed potatoes, after you drain the potatoes, return them to the hot pan, cover tightly and let steam for 5 minutes. This allows the potatoes to dry out so they’ll mash to a beautiful texture and soak up the butter and cream more easily.
  • To get the most juice you get from a lemon or lime, roll it hard on the bench under your palm for a minute before juicing.

Deep frying

  • When you deep-fry, hold each piece of food with long tongs as you add it to the oil. Hold it just below the oil’s surface for five seconds before releasing it. This will seal the exterior and stop it from sticking to the pot or the other food.
  • As a general rule when deep frying, to test if your oil is hot enough for frying stick a wooden skewer or spoon in the oil. If bubbles form around the wood, then you’re good to go.

General

  • Take the time to actually read recipes from start to finish before you begin.
  • Remember recipes are only a guideline. Feel comfortable replacing ingredients with similar ingredients that you like. If you like oregano but not thyme, use oregano.
  • If a recipe calls for oil and something stick like honey, measure the oil in the measuring cup/spoon first, empty it into your mixing bowl, then measure the honey in the same cup/spoon. The oil lubricates the cup/spoon and the honey will just slip out.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself — mistakes make some of the best recipes!

Health

  • There are an abundance of compounds in raw onions (and other alliums -shallots, garlic, leek) that have really beneficial health qualities (cancer-fighting, boost antioxidants, ward-off liver damage). Heat breaks down these compounds which reduces their potential to deliver these benefits. Studies* have suggested that by slicing your alliums and letting them sit for at least 10 minutes before cooking them, this ensures the compounds more resilient to the heat when cooked.

*Source: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/3/1054S.long

 

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