Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tis the season.........for a list of cooking tips!

Lists, lists and more lists.  This girl loves lists.  From my little list of errands each day all the way to my massive monthly grocery shopping list.  I wouldn't get very far without them.  And, now we are at the time of year when we make up our Christmas lists and let Santa check them twice.  It's also when most of us will be doing even more cooking than usual, whether it be for various holiday parties or the big Christmas dinner.  Which means that a list of cooking tips should be perfect right about now.

Actually, I have been putting a cooking tip of the day on my Facebook page for a couple of weeks, and it was as I was posting yesterday's tip, that I decided to gather 10 of the best ones for here.  I figured that everybody loves helpful pointers - we try them, we share them and it's all good.

Let's get started with #10 -

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

I was lucky enough to have my dad make a spice cabinet for me many years ago.  It is perfect for keeping my herbs and spices cool and dark.

# 9 -

Cook pasta 1 minute less than the package instructions and cook it the rest of the way in the pan with sauce.

I actually go 2 - 3 minutes less, and cook the rest of the time in the sauce.  I find the pasta picks up more of the flavor from the sauce that way, and the extra time helps to thicken the sauce.

# 8 -

Recipes are only a guideline, not the Bible. Feel comfortable replacing ingredients with similar ingredients that you like. If you like oregano but not thyme, use oregano.

Boy, oh, boy, I could NOT agree more!!  I am all about looking at a recipe simply to get an idea, then putting my  preferences all through it.  Don't be afraid to change things up.

# 7 -

A cast-iron pan is a valuable kitchen ally. It offers an even cooking surface and is a breeze to clean.

I am a big proponent of the cast-iron skillet.  You can see from my pictures, I use mine all the time and would be lost without it.  One thing that I swear doesn't taste as good cooked in any other kind of skillet is country gravy.  My grandpa taught me how to make country gravy, and that was one of his best tips, make it in a cast-iron skillet.

# 6 -  Rest, rest, rest! Always let your meat rest — especially off a hot grill!

This is so important.  It gives the juices time to redistribute, and keeps the meat moister.  Even just 5 minutes makes a difference, but 15 is best.

# 5 -

Plunge vegetables in ice water after blanching (boiling) them so they maintain a bright color.

It also stops the cooking immediately.  This is key if you want to keep your veggies crisp-tender, as opposed to mushy.

# 4 -

Invest in parchment paper for lining pans. It makes all of your baked goods super easy to remove, and it makes cleanup a dream (no butter-flour mixture or errant batter to scrape off).

I have only recently started keeping parchment paper on hand all the time, and am very glad that I do.  The last couple of weekends I have done some cookie baking, and nothing sticks.  It's awesome!

# 3 -

To optimize the juice you get from a lemon or lime, roll it hard under your palm for a minute before juicing.

I have tried this many times and found it works very well.  It also brings out the oils in the peel, if you need to zest it.

# 2 -

 Prolong the lifespan of greens by wrapping them loosely in a damp paper towel and placing in a resealable plastic bag.

I found this out with my garden lettuces and spinach.  I washed them in water with a little vinegar, patted them dry and placed them in between to damp paper towels in a clean ice cream pail.  They were crisp and good for a week or better.

# 1 -

When making a homemade pasta sauce, reserve 1 cup of the generously salted pasta water right before you drain it.  Add it to the pasta sauce along with the pasta.  It will thicken your sauce plus season it a little.  Finish with a pat of butter.  It pulls everything together. (This and # 9 go hand in hand.)

And, here's a bonus - my favorite tip given to me by my best friend -

Try roasting vegetables in the oven, especially the ones that you might have tried another way and didn't like.  My friend, Michelle, talked me into giving brussel sprouts another try with this method and I am so glad she did!  They are now one of my favorite veggies.  Roasting brings out the natural sugars, as well as a nutty flavor in most.

What's your favorite tip that you use all the time?  Is it something you read or did someone share it with you?  Please let us know in the comments - maybe it will become one of our new favorites.

P.S.

Here's a picture of the spice cabinet my dad made for me 17 years ago.  He decided if I was moving to a farm that I needed a barn cabinet.  I love it as much today as I did then!  I know my dad won't see this, as he's a bit technologically impaired, but I'll say it anyway - Thanks again, Dad!  I love it!