Cooking Tips Ever Home-cook Should Know

I don’t know how many times I have had to call my mother when I’m in the middle of cooking something to ask, “Mom what is that special thing you do to make (whatever I’m cooking) so perfect.” She usually laughs, then proceeds to explain her ticks of the trade.

I grew-up watching my Grandma Hart and mother in their kitchen and always loved the smells and conversations had over preparing a good meal.  I am very thankful to have a mother who has passed on our family’s cooking secrets to me, as now I can cook with my own little family and carry on our family traditions.

I found a special piece of notebook paper the other day among my recipe cards.  It was a list of “cooking tips” that I had written down early on in my marriage- things I had heard my mother say or my own tips.  Here are cooking tips that have helped me in my own kitchen and I know you will find these tips helpful as well.   If you have a special kitchen trick you would like to pass along….please post it here.

Drain Cleaner
To unclog a drain, mix a cup of salt with a cup of baking soda. Pour the dry solution into the drain, and then add a pot of boiling water.

Bread – How to get a light, soft crust
For a light, tender crust, use very hot water and stir only 20 times. Stirring the dough too much will make the crust tough.

Biscuits Tips
Biscuits will be crisp on the outside and flaky in the center if you roll the dough thin and fold it over once before cutting out biscuits. They’ll also split open easily when you’re ready to butter them. To re-freshen and heat biscuits, put them in a well-dampened paper bag, twist it closed and put in a 300 degree oven for several minutes or until warm. If you want soft-sided biscuits, bake them in a pan with sides and put the biscuits close together. If you want crusty biscuits, bake them on a cookie sheet and place them apart from each other.

Dinner Rolls – Freshening When Stale
Seal rolls in a brown paper bag, sprinkle the outside of the bag with water, then heat 10 to 15 minutes in a 350F (175C) oven.

Keeping Rolls Warm
Place aluminum foil under the napkin in your roll basket and the rolls will stay hot longer.

Lowering the Fat, Oil in Baking
When baking, use fruit purees, applesauce, or plain non-fat yogurt instead of oil.

Apples – For Pies
Which apples are good for pies? Excellent for pies: Cameo, Cortland, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Newton Pippin, Pink Lady, Rome Good for pies: Braeburn, Empire, Fuji, Gala, Ginger Gold, Jonagold

Freezing Pies
Custard and cream pies do not freeze well, which unfortunately means that the requisite Thanksgiving pumpkin pie cannot be made ahead of time. However, fruit pies, especially unbaked ones, freeze beautifully, as do baked pecan pies and cheesecakes. To prevent sogginess, brush the bottom crust of fruit pies with egg white before adding the filling. Before freezing, wrap pies and cheesecakes securely in several layers of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Allow already-baked items to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving. To bake a frozen fruit pie, leave it at room temperature for 20 minutes to allow the glass plate to warm up, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar if desired, then bake as usual, adding about 20 minutes to the baking time.

Green Peppers, Freezing
Green peppers may be frozen without blanching in an airtight container for later use in hot dishes or casseroles.

Cooking with Wine
When cooking with wine, leave the pan uncovered so the alcohol will burn off. The resulting liquid will have a rounder, firmer, fruiter flavor.

Grilling – Preventing Overcooking
To avoid burning vegetables before they’re done, push them to the side of grill where heat is moderate. Wrap the ends of bone in ribs with aluminum foil to prevent drying and burning.

Grilling Vegetables
For the best results, rub the vegetables with vegetable oil or toss them with a clear or light marinade prior to grilling. Although some cooks prepare corn for the grill by soaking it in its husk and grilling it cloaked, this method steams the vegetable rather than grilling it. For the smoky flavor typical of grilled foods, husk the ears and cook them directly on the grill rack.

Eggplant can be cut lengthwise or crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Red, purple, orange, white, yellow, and green peppers are tasty when grilled. Add them to appetizers, sandwiches, and home-baked breads and pizzas as well as salads. Potatoes can be cooked whole or cut into halves, thick slices, or wedges.

To reduce grilling time, blanch cut potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes before grilling.

Summer squash, including zucchini, yellow squash, and pattypan, can be cut into chunks and used for kabobs. You can also slice them lengthwise.

Select firm ripe tomatoes or plum tomatoes for grilling. Cherry tomatoes are easily cooked on skewers.

To prevent onion slices or wedges from falling through the grill rack, cut a large onion into 1/2-inch-thick slices or inch-wide wedges, then push a small metal or water-soaked bamboo skewer through the onion sections to secure them.

To roast peppers, put whole peppers on the grill over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally until skin is charred on all sides. Put the peppers in a brown bag, fold over the top to seal, and cool for about 15 minutes. Then cut peppers lengthwise in half and discard stems and seeds; place cut-side down on work surface and scrape off skin with a small knife.

To roast portabello mushrooms, brush with olive oil and grill 4 to 5 minutes each side. Asparagus: Break off and discard tough asparagus ends. Blanch tips in a large pot of boiling salted water for a minute or two (depending on size), just to remove the raw taste. Drain and transfer to ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again and pat dry. Roll in olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Cook directly over hot coals, turning the asparagus with tongs as they color, until they are lightly blistered by the grill and hot throughout, about 2 minutes.

Carrots: Leave skinny carrots whole. If carrots are thick at the top and thin on the bottom, cut them in sections and halve the thick ends. Roll carrots in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over indirect heat until softened, about 20 minutes, moving them progressively closer to the coals.

Potatoes: Roll whole red potatoes, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill over indirect heat until the potatoes can be pierced easily, 30 to 40 minutes, moving them progressively closer to the coals.

Sweet potatoes: Grill large, whole sweet potatoes directly on ash-covered coals (not on the grate). Mound some of the coals around the sweet potatoes. Give them a quarter-turn about every 15 minutes so the skin chars evenly. Keep vents partially closed and grill covered so fire does not get too hot. Sweet potatoes weighing about a pound will take 45 to 50 minutes. Split in half and serve with butter.

Grilling Fruits
Apples:
 Cut 2 large apples into quarters, then core and peel. Brush with melted butter. Grill over indirect heat (not directly over the coals) until softened, about 45 to 55 minutes, moving them progressively closer to the coals. Remove from grill, sprinkle with brandy or rum and top with vanilla ice cream.

Bananas: Put whole ripe bananas, unpeeled, directly over ash-covered coals and cook, turning occasionally, until they are soft, about 15 minutes. Peel carefully, slice and serve over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Melon: Halve a medium cantaloupe lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut each half into six wedges. Peel the wedges. Brush the melon with melted butter. Grill directly over coals until hot throughout and lightly marked, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve with grilled pork or ham steaks.

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