Cooking Tips Blog

I have been cooking and baking since I was quite little. I was making complete family dinners by the time I was 7. I have been a gourmet cook for many years, and have learned an amazing amount of tricks and tips to help you in the kitchen, as well. Below are my tips, tricks, and recipes (quick ones, favorite ones, worthwhile gourmet ones). Read on! Newest & Previous Blogs Below.
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Work in Healthy Options 05-25-09

Use Olive and Canola Oil 05-30-08

Need a Double Boiler? 03-29-08

Turkey Croquettes 11-23-07

Cabinet/Drawer Storage Solutions 10-24-07

What to do with Old Sweet Bread 10-12-07

Tasty Substitutions 09-19-07

Don't Use Old Pancake Mix

Coriander/Cilantro 09-04-07

Don't Rinse Fruits & Veggies Until Ready to Use 08-29-07

Do You Like Rachael Ray 08-24-07

Baked Brie with Puff Pastry 08-16-07

Freezing Fresh Green Beans 08-09-07

Great Baked Fish 07-10-07

Pauliina's Trout Almondine 06-07-07

Steaming Fish and Seafood 05-28-07

Easy Hard Boiled Eggs 05-09-07

How to Select Seafood 05-08-07

Spaghetti Sauce From Scratch 04-09-07

Garlic 03-27-07

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables 03-21-07

How to Tell When Fish is Ready 03-13-07

Storing Brown Sugar 02-20-07

Spice Lessons, Bay Leaf 02-10-07

Freeze to Use Later 02-01-07

Gourmet Bagels 01-25-07

Keeping Lettuce Fresh 01-12-07

Good Coffee 01-09-07

Getting Food at the Right Ripeness 01-08-07

Clean up As You Go 01-04-07

New Year's Cooking Traditions 12-28-06

Baking Tip - Parchment Paper 12-18-06

Hot Taco Dip 12-13-06

Orange or Lemon Zest 12-05-06

Easy Sweet Potatoes 11-26-06

Using Dry Spices 11-14-06

Get a Good Knife 11-10-06

Sink Stains 11-04-06

Clean the Stove Top 10-31-06

Keeping Brown Sugar Fresh 10-14-06

Cutting Onions 10-12-06

Wooden Cutting Boards 10-3-06

Freezer Tips 9-26-06

Freezing Fish 9-21-06

High Altitude 9-19-06

Sauce Breaking up? 9-13-06

Over-Ripe Bananas? 9-11-06

Great Cookbooks 9-8-06

Stretching Leftovers 9-6-06

Great BBQ Ribs 8-29-06

Marinades 8-23-06

Mashed Potatoes 8-18-06

Too Much Salt? 8-11-06

Careful in the Kitchen - Cake's Baking! 8-9-06

Test Cakes With a Flat Toothpick 8-6-06

Use Real Vanilla 8-4-06

Leftover Fajitas 8-1-06

Easy Fajitas 7-29-06

Pre-heating Your Oven 7-17-06

Measuring Dry & Liquid Ingredients 7-11-06

Don't Use Aluminum or Teflon to Cook 7-8-06

Don't Microwave in Plastic 7-7-06

Cooking With Kids 5-30-06

Quick Quesadillas 5-28-06

Perfect Rice 5-20-06

Use Grains 5-16-06

Rotate Your Canned Goods 5-9-06

Season Your Cast Iron Cookware 5-4-06

Store in Air-Tight Containers 4-28-06

Making Waffles Last 4-18-06

Freeze Extras 4-12-06

Use Butter 4-5-06

Dry Ingredients 3-31-06

Not to Worry - It'll Turn Out OK 3-31-06

Folding in Egg Whites 3-31-06

How to Make Gravy 3-30-06

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Work in Healthy Options 05-25-09

When you serve food - try to make it more healthy. Work in foods that are good for you, and enhance the nutritionin your foods.

When using butter to flavor - use olive oil instead, or a half & half mix. I eat whole grain bread and spread it with olive oil instead of butter. It tastes great. Or just dip it in as you do in a restaurant. Add spices and herbs to the olive oil to give it different flavors.

When serving breads, bagels, smoothies, or anything you can work it into, add flax seed (ground, not whole as you will not digest the whole seed and it will be wasted). I sprinkle it on the bagel spread before I eat a bagel. I add it into smoothies as I make them in the blender. It's easy to add to many things.

Use more spices - there are so many that are good for you. Mix it up and try different spices every day. So good for your health and heart.

Use spinach in more salads, in sandwiches, in smoothies and baked goods (grind it up well and add - it's unlikely anyone can taste it if you don't put an overwhelming amount!). Leafy greens are very good for helping you get the good cholesterol level up.

More hints on how to make meals more healthy will continue...


Use Olive and Canola Oil 05-30-08

Cook healthy - when you need oil, use Canola or Olive oil - these are much more healthy options and aren't heart-cloggers. You can add olive oil to many foods just to get more into your diet - just watch the calories at that point. Canola is a good all-purpose oil which is more affordable and less flavored than olive oil. Either oil is great for use in the kitchen - cooking or frying, or in your salads. Use instead of other oils or butter - be more aware of the good substitutions you can make in your diets.


Need a Double Boiler? 03-29-08

Often a recipe will call for use of a double boiler - but what if you don't have one? A double boiler is a set of pans - one of which sits firmly in place on top of a bottom one. The bottom one will have water in it to boil, while the food is in the pot on top. It allows even heating, away from the direct source of heat, to allow a less intense effect, slowing down the process of melting or warming, etc..

With certain stoves, it's easy enough to get a double boiler effect by just keeping the temperature lower and sneak up on the melting process. Just keep stirring, and don't expect to boil it - milk will scald easily, baking chocolate can mutate into a hard clump separated from its fat, butter can burn - if you aren't careful. This is why a double boiler is a better option, but if you slowly bring up the temperature and keep stirring - don't neglect it for a moment - you can accomplish the same effect of melting or melding, or warming up, etc. - as using a double boiler.

You can also find a stovetop sized "spacer" with a handle - which you place on the stove and then the pot with your ingredients on top of the spacer - it gives a space between the heat source and the ingredients - same effect as a double boiler. It can get pretty hot, and may scald onto your stove, so watch how it does to know if it will work for you.


Turkey Croquettes 11-23-07

What to do with the left-over turkey? Turkey croquettes are great! Serve them with cranberry sauce, jelly, or eat plain!

Chop up the cooked, leftover turkey meat very finely and start making a white sauce - thick (heat butter and flour mixed in a pot on stove - good amount of it, then add water or milk to smooth out and thin out to a creamy thick sauce while still heating on the stove). Chop up onions, celery, and if you want to add anything else like spinach or what you might have to throw in. Add these, plus poultry seasoning, salt, white pepper to taste. Add beaten egg (or two if you make a lot). Mix it all up in pot with the white sauce - stir up and let thicken. Get a frying pan and melt butter in it and fry up small amounts of the turkey mixture (about 2 tablesppons' worth). That's it! It just has to be thick enough to hold together and not too thick to be dried up muck before frying.


Cabinet/Drawer Storage Solutions 10-24-07

I put my spices in a drawer. One glance at the alphabetically arranged spices and it's easy to find anything in there! Lay the bottles or cans down so you can easily read what is in them.

Don't let your canned foods sit for very long - cycle them out so nothing goes bad. Over time, the cans build up pressure and can explode, but before that, the flavor of the metal can gets into the food and it is bad. Use canned goods and buy new cans - don't keep anything for years, because in most cases, it just doesn't last.

See how I arranged my cabinet above? This cabinet was pretty thin, and the shelves were split in the middle - so I took out the moveable shelf and placed it higher, so I could vertically place my baking pans and my cutting boards, plus long foil wrapper boxes. We keep mugs on the top - rarely used ones in the back of the shelf, since it's far to dig for them, and you cannot lift anything over front mugs. My daughter keeps her own mugs right there - easy for her to grab them.

Keep certain foods around that you can easily make a meal with - keep these in your kitchen pretty much all the time, with variations according to what foods you normally eat (you might prefer certain pasta types to rice, etc.).
canola and olive oil
fresh onion, garlic
salt, pepper
spices (dry - buy fresh right before you use them) - powdered garlic, cinnamon, thyme, bay leaves, oregano, poultry seasoning, dry parsley, rosemary, sage, paprika, nutmeg, dill weed, cilantro, chives, chili powder, Cajun seasoning. Add more of your favorites, but with the prior list you can create so many dishes.
eggs
butter, milk
lemon juice, lime juice
baking soda and baking powder
white or brown rice, pasta
canned tomato sauce and paste
chicken and beef broth
sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, flour (some unbleached white - also whole wheat and others you would use)

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What to do with Old Sweet Bread 10-12-07

When you realize you have old coffee bread, or old raisin bread, or some other sweet bread (or even a bland bread), and you are thinking of throwing it away, try this. Slice it if it's not already sliced, into 1/2 inch or less thickness. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle generously with cinnamon-sugar (or sprinkle a thin layer of cinnamon and then sugar on top), and bake slowly in a low temperature oven, at 200-250 degrees. Bake for usually at least an hour, but could be longer, depending on how dry the bread was when you laid it out - the more moist, the longer it must bake. When it is done, it will be crunchy, like toast, but become a whole new snack that is delicious!


Tasty Substitutions 09-19-07

When cooking you can substitute ingredients to make the dish more healthy, less fatty or sugary. We'll keep adding to the following list so come back and see the additions.
Sour cream - use low-fat or no-fat sour cream, or low-fat cottage cheese blended until smooth (or add low or no-fat yogurt for part of this).
Chocolate - cocoa powder blended with butter or butter substitute - a one ounce square of chocolate is equal to 3 tablespoons cocoa and 1 tablespoon butter or substitute. Or carob chips or powder, though it won't taste just like chocolate.
Sugar - fruit juice, mashed fruit.
Flour - whole grain flour, or half flour with half whole grain flour.


Coriander/Cilantro 09-04-07

I love cooking with coriander. I began growing cilantro for use in my Mexican dishes, and then after picking the leaves all summer long, the plant goes to seed. These seeds, when ripe - reddish or brown and plump, starting to dry - can be picked off and dried, even slightly roasted, and then stored in an air-tight jar. Crush them in a mortar and pestle as you need. I never measure coriander - I just throw it in until the food tastes right.


Don't Rinse Fruits & Veggies Until Ready to Use 08-29-07

Don't rinse off fruits and vegetables until you are ready to use them - they start going bad right away. Let them stay in their fresh state if you want them to last a few days. Store them the way they should be - in the fridge or in the cupboard, and then rinse immediately prior to use. If you wash off grapes or tomatoes or green beans or cherries, etc. - you had better plan to eat or cook them that day. You also start to lose nutrients from the fruits and vegetables after rinsing.


Do You Like Rachael Ray 08-24-07

Like Rachael Ray? People usually love her or "hate" her. She does know how to throw together quick and easy meals. She doesn't bake sweets or make coffee. She comes up with great cooking tips - actually, so far I've figured out how to deal with most of the situations already - but most people haven't. In any case, she does have a very nice line of cooking products that people absolutely love - functional and nice looking.

The Good Cook: Rachael Ray 2, 4, 6, 8

You might learn some great tips from her cookbooks.


Baked Brie with Puff Pastry 08-16-07

Baked Brie as an appetizer - so elegant and so easy. Make a beautiful baked brie with puff pastry and you'll always be a hit! Serve with a preserve or jam or chutney on top, with crackers on the side and a couple small knives for people to cut the cheese with, and you are set. Raspberry chipotle, or pepper jelly are favorites to top with, but use whatever you like best - even putting two types of toppings - one on each half of the brie!

You'll need a wheel of brie (full circle), puff pastry thawed, an egg, walnuts, butter and cinnamon. If you have a large sheet of pastry compared to a smaller sheet, you can surround the brie up to the top and tie a string around the gathered-up pastry. Or you can use two smaller sheets of pastry, and fit the brie on one, cover with the other, and pinch them together around the sides.

In any case, you can first add a brie topping - I use a handful of crushed walnuts, browned in butter for about 5 minutes, then toss in a couple shakes of cinnamon, then swirl the pan around to coat the walnuts. You can use other toppings as well - almonds or pecans, cinnamon and nutmeg, brown sugar - think of the flavors you'd like in it, and you should do fine.

Put the brie on the puff pastry sheet (you can cut off the rind on the side of the cheese if you like - it isn't necessary), then top the brie with the walnut mixture, and spread it around. Now either bring the puff pastry up over the top of the brie and tie off, or place another sheet on top and pinch the sheets together (I use a fork to get a nice pattern, and toss out the excess pastry dough). Beat the egg and brush the top and sides of the pastry with it. Place the brie into the oven at 350 for 20 minutes. It'll be great!

Find Brie here.
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Freezing Fresh Green Beans 08-09-07

I have been on vacation so forgive me for not being able to update my blog. I'm back now.

I have a garden and while we were on vacation, parts of it went wild, some plants didn't do so well. We did manage to pick quite a few green beans, though about half of them were drying or yellowed. We opened the dry and yellow ones and took the actual beans out from inside the shell, and then cooked them in slightly salted water for about 10-15 minutes, then served those (my daughter put some butter on hers). The rest of the green beans we sliced in half the long way, not on the line but on the smooth sides. Then we got water boiling and threw the beans in, letting them parboil for 7 minutes. After that we dumped them into a colander and gave a slight rinse. Once they were cooled off, we placed in a freezer bag, sealed and put into the freezer. It will make a very delicious bean side dish for a future dinner - nothing like fresh beans just picked, but next to that, the frozen fresh beans are sooooo good - much better than store-bought! You can also do this with store bought beans (in case you find a sale and want to save beans for later use) - they just won't have as good a flavor as fresh grown from the garden beans, but many people have no access to freshly picked produce, so you must do what you can.


Great Baked Fish 07-10-07

For a great fish dish that most will love, get a casserole dish, put olive oil on the bottom and place fish fillets on the dish. Heat oven to 375 degrees. While it's heating, mix up a sauce to put on top of the fish. Use the ingredients you like, and mix it up. Use either butter or olive oil, about 2-3 T., then add 1/2 cup of sour cream or mayonnaise, or a mixture of both, depending on which flavors you like. Add 1 T. or more of diced onion. To this add 1/2-1 tsp. of dill weed, garlic, lemon juice. Also add a handful of grated cheese (cheddar or parmesan or muenster - pick your favorite). Mix this all up and spread over your fish, then bake uncovered for about 15-20 minutes, until the fish flakes - longer for thick cuts, shorter time for thin cuts. At the end you can toss some more cheese on top to melt over it. Yummm!

Cheese Supply: Cheese, Cheese Boards, Cheese Knives, Cheese Kits, Cheddar to Roquefort, French to Spanish Cheeses and Cheese Accessories!


Pauliina's Trout Almondine 06-07-07

A dish my husband loves - I start out by flouring (slightly salt and pepper the fish first) the trout (already cleaned, no head attached for me). Then I use olive oil in a pan (butter will also work), and start to sauté the fish at medium temperature. Throw in some sliced or cut (blanched or raw) almonds, about 1/2-1 teaspoon of almond extract, a few drops of lemon juice, and about 1 1/2 - 1 tablespoon of honey. Cook each side for about 2-4 minutes per side, until browned. Toss some almonds into the trout and serve, scooping up some sauce with it. You can garnish with some parsley.


Steaming Fish and Seafood 05-28-07

For proper steaming of your fish and seafood, follow the below guidelines and you should have the perfect meal. e a large pot in which you can fit a perforated steamer of a shape that your fish requires. Steam needs to circulate throughout the entire system. Fill the pot about 1/3 full of water (or keep the level just below the steamer level), and bring to a full rolling boil. Place the meat onto the steamer and then cover tightly, steaming for the recommended amount of time.
Fish of a 1/4 - 1/2 inch thickness - 5 minutes
Fish of a 3/4 - 1 inch thickness - 8-10 minutes
Shrimp, small - 2 minutes
Shrimp, medium - 2 - 3 minutes
Shrimp, large - 3 - 5 minutes
Frozen Crab Legs, 1 pound - 5-8 minutes
Fresh Crab Legs, 1 pound - 2-4 minutes
Live Lobsters - 1 pound to 1 1/4 - 5-8 minutes
Live Lobsters - 1 1/2 to 2 pounds - 8-10 minutes
Frozen Lobster Tails, thawed - 6-8 ounces - 4-5 minutes
Mussels, 3 minutes


Easy Hard Boiled Eggs 05-09-07

Since Easter just came and went, and my daughter wanted to decorate eggs, I should write down the easy method of making hard boiled eggs. I put cold water into a pot, then drop some eggs in gently so they are covered over (though some may pop up and float - don't worry about them). Put the burner on, start with low to medium heat setting until the water gets hot (you want to slowly heat up the eggs so they don't break by expanding too fast within the shell). When the water is hot, crank up the heat to high for a good boil. Watch it because as soon as it boils, turn it off and let the eggs sit for 10 minutes - don't let them bounce around and crash into each other or they can break. When they are done, take them out of the hot water - if using right away, run under cold water when peeling off the shell - it should come off fairly easily, unless the eggs were cooked too long.


How to Select Seafood 05-08-07

When choosing seafood, or fresh water fish, etc., make sure you get the best available and not something that goes bad. Fish that is old is very disgusting and you don't even want to go there. Make sure to use fresh fish and seafood within a day or two of getting it, unless you freeze it - but if you freeze it, be sure to clean the fish - no innards, and clean them out - then put in a container with enough water to "submerge the fish" so that it doesn't get freezer burn. I prefer not to freeze (or cook) with heads on - I never trust a frozen fish with the head attached.

Fish should be firm, with shiny, translucent flesh. If the fish head is still on, make sure the gill area is red, and that the eyes are clear and bulging, not old looking. And of course, make sure the fish smells only "fishy" and not offensive or too strong.

Crabs should be lively and active if you buy them fresh. If cooked, they should be chilled and they should be a reddish/orange color. Make sure the meat is chilled or frozen and not having excess shell or cartilage on it. The odor should be mild. Cooked claws should be chilled and have an orange shell color.

Shrimp should have the heads securely attached if you get them whole, and fresh shrimp looks somewhat grayish. If frozen, they should not have any odd discoloration or freezer burn. If cooked, they are pinkish/orange. No shrimp should have an offensive odor - just fresh and shrimpy.

Oysters should have a clean odor not any ammonia smell to them. They should have thin, clear liquid. The body should be plump and not have extra shells or other "stuff" on it. If alive, the shell should be tightly closed.


Spaghetti Sauce From Scratch 04-09-07

It's easy to make spaghetti sauce for a quick meal - in the time you cook the spaghetti, you can make a great sauce for the pasta - and much better tasting than those store bought sauces, and often for less. Keep some canned tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, or even paste. To use any, it's just a matter of thinning - add liquids to the thick products.

What you need or prefer: spaghetti noodles or other pasta, canned tomato product, olive oil, fresh onion, fresh garlic, and your preference of can of black olives (or jar of green, if you prefer), fresh chopped spinach, green or red chopped bell peppers, fresh chopped tomato, and/or any other great ingredients you like. Use these spices: oregano, maybe Italian spice, coriander.

Open your can of tomato product and start heating it in a pot. If needed, thin it with some red wine, or even water - or what is very good and adds flavor is to add the liquid from the olives. Add 1/4 tsp. or more of oregano, or if using Italian spice, use 1/2 tsp. or more of that, and 1 teaspoon or more of coriander (the flavor of the coriander is to die for!). Heat this and then add chopped up olives, spinach, tomatoes, and any other product you like in spaghetti.

At the same time, in a frying pan, heat up some olive oil and throw in some chopped onions and minced garlic (or add garlic powder or other form of garlic to the tomato product). Don't worry about an exact measure - you'll figure out how much you like after making it a couple times - maybe start out with one clove garlic and 1/2 of an onion. Also heat up any bell pepper in the pan. Sauté until the garlic and onions are somewhat translucent. Now add this to the tomato sauce pot and let it all simmer until the spaghetti is done. The longer it simmers the better, but it can come off in about 10 minutes.

Add sauce to spaghetti and grate some fresh parmesan (or pre-grated - but fresh is much better in flavor) cheese over it and serve.

If you like, make some quick garlic bread - take slices of your sandwich bread and spread a bit of butter or olive oil over the surface. Then sprinkle with garlic powder and broil until brown. If you have time, you can also add some oregano, some cayenne, and some grated parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese. Delicious!

The secret ingredients in this special sauce are the coriander and the olives with the olive liquid.

Cheese Supply: Cheese, Cheese Boards, Cheese Knives, Cheese Kits, Cheddar to Roquefort, French to Spanish Cheeses and Cheese Accessories!


Garlic 03-27-07

Use fresh garlic when you can. Garlic is great for your health - your heart, cancer prevention and more. Garlic contains allinase which helps fight cancer and builds up immunity in your system. To make the best use of cooked garlic - let it sit for about 10 or so minutes after chopping up, before heating them. High temperatures destroy the allinase - but letting the garlic set for awhile helps fight the damage in heating them.

Rub sliced garlic on meats or on bread. Crush fresh garlic and mix in butter - then spread on bread and broil - wonderful. Sauté some in olive oil (after letting set for 10 minutes) and drizzle over any foods you like. Add sliced garlic to marinades, to sauces, to potato dishes - it's easy to add the flavor to so many dishes. If you don't like the pungent flavor you might like roasted garlic - it becomes a bit sweeter and tasty. You can slowly roast them for an hour or so at a lower temperature or you can try to roast them a bit faster in a slightly higher temperature. When done, just squeeze them cloves out of the husky shells. It's fun to cook with garlic - and it's so good for you (but never give garlic to your dog!).


Fresh Fruits and Vegetables 03-21-07

When buying frsh fruits and vegetables, put them in proper storage - in the refrigerator or a fruit basket or a pantry - and in proper storage containers (lettuce and spinach in a lettuce container) so they stay fresh. Do not wash any of them until you are ready to use them. They will start to go bad shortly after washing - so keep them unwashed until ready to use or serve. When buying bananas or mangoes or avocados, etc. - get them under-ripened so they can last longer until time for use (if using same day, get ripened fruits and vegetables). Bananas, for example, ripen more each day, and you can pick them off the bunch every day and eat them before they get too ripe - buy them either green or greenish-yellow and they'll ripen to your liking. When buying berries - they should be eaten the same day as purchased - they do not last long.


How to Tell When Fish is Ready 03-13-07

When cooking fish - frying baking, grilling, or however - make sure it's done before serving. Put a fork into the fish at its fattest portion and prick at it a bit - if it flakes apart, it is ready. If it's too done, it can get quite rubbery and tough. If not done enough, it can be somewhat rubbery as well, but will be more of a translucent looking meaty section. Don't serve undercooked fish - it can potentially make people ill, or at least gross out your guests. Don't let it overcook, either - if it's close to being done, sneak up on it by testing it every minute until done. Fish isn't good if overcooked. Also - try to serve up all your fish at the same sitting as you make it - re-heated cooked fish is usually not good to eat again. If you do have leftover fish - heat it, place it between two slices of bread and add lettuce or mayonnaise (or tartar sauce) or cheese, etc. and make a fish sandwich. That has proven to be the best way for us to eat leftover fish.


Storing Brown Sugar 02-20-07

When you buy a bag of brown sugar - store it right away in an airtight container. It will stay fresh and soft, rather than getting hard and clumpy. If you leave it in the bag, air will find a way into the bag - bag might get a hole in it or there will be a slow leak in the bag - after a few weeks you'll find it's awfully hard and you might be tempted to buy a new bag for your recipe. Also - when measuring brown sugar - you need to put it in a dry measure cup, and pack it down. This is very difficult to do when it's dry and clumpy. With it stored in an airtight container, you can always have a good amount of easy to use brown sugar. Anytime you do buy a bag, add the rest into the container to keep fresh. Click here to find out how to soften the already-hardened brown sugar.

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Spice Lessons, Bay Leaf 02-10-07

I'll start talking about spices here and there - what they are, how to use them, and any tricks they possess. Today, I'll start with the bay leaf.

Bay Leaf - keep some around so they are easy to grab when you need them. They come from a Laurel tree - an evergreen tree that keeps its leaves and stays green. These leaves are dried for our use. They have a strong, spicy flavor. Usually you will use them whole, to give off flavors as it cooks with your foods, then remove prior to serving (only because it remains hard and isn't good to eat whole). You can crush them if you want the full flavor in something - it's fresher to buy them whole and crush as needed. California bay leaves are more intense than Mediterranean leaves. Ancient Romans used the leaves to make wreaths for "crowns" for the victors in competitions, or for poets and scholars. Ever heard of the "Laurel Wreath"?

I always drop a leaf or two into my soups and stews - you can also use them in marinades, meat and tomato sauces, pickles, and more - many foods of France, Turkey and Morocco use the bay leaf for flavor.

Bay Leaves in the spice section.

DEAN & DELUCA Gourmet Food - more spices at Fine Foods, then Herbs & Spices


Freeze to Use Later 02-01-07

If you use certain ingredients often, you can keep an emergency supply in the freezer. I make fajitas a lot, so I often need bell peppers for htem, and have to run to the store. I now buy them when they are on sale, and then simply rinse them, slice them as I would use them in my recipes, and place in a freezer bag and freeze. When I need them, I pull out the amount I need. Same with mushrooms - I use them a lot. I can't keep them long in the refrigerator without them going bad, so I rinse them, slice them and freeze them in a bag. I also buy them when on sale so I can use later as needed. If you have tomatoes that are getting old, but only have a couple spots or less to cut off, slice what is decent and freeze in a bag. You can use these for sauces and such, that calls for cooked tomatoes.


Gourmet Bagels 01-25-07

With the popularity of bagels these days - try making and serving gourmet bagels at home. Make or buy fresh bagels (I like whole wheat bagels) and cut in half. Have ready while toasting: cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon, crushed walnuts, and raisins. After toasting, spread cream cheese on one half, slightly thick. Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon on top, then drop some walnuts and raisins on top and close with the other bagel half. It's delicious!

Gourmet teas, cocoas, chai latte, and gourmet foods


Keeping Lettuce Fresh 01-12-07

If you use lettuce, keep it fresh in the refrigerator for quite some time, and use as needed. I keep mine in an air-tight container for the refrigerator. Keep the bottom of the lettuce off of the bottom of the container so more airflow around it, and not soggy bottom that will wilt and go rotten. For a quick trick, or for lettuce you will use in a day or two, take the leaves apart and rinse, then wrap each leaf in a layer of paper towel. It will keep the lettuce crisp for a short time, and this is a good option for travel with the lettuce (keeping in a cooler for camping or car trips, etc.).

Also - don't send sandwiches with lettuce inside - wrap them separately in a paper towel and put in another sandwich bag so the lettuce can be added at the last minute to a sandwich - no more soggy lettuce!


Good Coffee 01-09-07

The best cup of coffee you can make (ok, maybe you think there is nothing better than Starbucks® but you can save money by making your own) - use the following guidelines and you should have a great cup of coffee!

Use a nice drip-type system, like Chemex, which allows the water to drip through the coffee grounds slowly, one time and for best result, without bitterness. Some automatic drip systems may be able to make decent coffee - but maintain them regularly and clean out the system plus water reservoir often. Use fresh filters each time you make coffee - or risk bitterness.

Gourmet Coffee. Roasted-to-Order. Just for You!

Use water that has just begun to boil, not boiling for awhile. Best to boil in a glass pot and over heat, not in a microwave (you can get by with heating your water this way if you are not concerned with the fullness of flavor).

Grind coffee beans right before use so the flavor is released right before brewing. The beans - buy whole beans and store in the freezer, if you are storing for some time - if using within the next month or two, keep them at room temperature in an airtight container - preferable glass or pottery canister so not to pull in the taste of plastic into your beans. When you are ready to use the beans, keep them at room temperature for some time, so that you will pull out the best flavor, newly released. Grind for the best type of coffee you are making - for a strong or espresso coffee - grind more finely. Grind less finely for a drip system, or automatic system.

Make sure you use good tasting water - if it is bitter, that will follow into the coffee. You might prefer to use filtered water (which tastes better after pulling out the toxins and chemicals) or even bottled water (use a good quality one - many are simply bottled tap water).

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Experiment with the strength of coffee you like - strong coffee needs slightly more grounds, but not too much as the coffee will become bitter (unfortunately this is how my husband likes his coffee - beyond the good flavor - he thinks bitter means strong - ugh!), for weak coffee you may use a bit less. Use about 1 1/2 or 2 T. of grounds per regular size coffee mug for best strength in most cases - it will depend on your type of coffee blend (dark or light roast and strong or light tasting bean), your type of drip system, and the strength of flavor you prefer.

To bring a hint of Starbucks to your home, keep near your coffee-making area: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, high quality chocolate to shave into your cup (or perhaps a good quality cocoa powder), and perhaps any other flavors you are accustomed to. Flavored coffees may also be a choice you like - grind up almonds with your beans, or perhaps get beans which are sprayed with flavored oils.

For even more variety - get a system which froths milk and makes espresso.

Espresso Machines

The first few times might seem tedious, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be making exquisite coffee regularly for you and for your friends!


Getting Food at the Right Ripeness 01-08-07

Come back here often - we'll add on more and more foods and how to check them before you buy them.

Avocado - if you need them in a few days, get them quite hard and let them sit on your counter or in a cupboard to ripen. If you need it right away, get it slightly soft, still firm (too soft and the inside will be black and may even taste bad). Always keep away from those with black spots - they'll continue to be black on the inside.


Clean up As You Go 01-04-07

When cooking, or baking, keep up with the kitchen - clean up as you go. When you take out flour and use it, put it back away when done and wipe up the spills. Rinse or wash, or place in dishwasher, the dishes you used. For flour - try to wipe it first with a dry cloth or paper towel - once wet, it gets mucky and harder to clean.

When you spill something, wipe it up immediately - don't let it sit and get other things mixed into it, or perhaps stain the surface, or dry up and be tougher to clean.

Clean up dishes as you go - when you have loads of dishes, measuring cups and spoons, etc., the kitchen feels overwhelming and it gets hard to find things or to focus. Plus looking at the mess doesn't motivate you to want to clean a big mess later.


New Year's Cooking Traditions 12-28-06

New Year's has some traditional foods - black-eyed peas for the Southern folks, good luck foods and to find the hidden nut or other clue for the lucky person - see more at New Year's Day.


Baking Tip - Parchment Paper 12-18-06

A great aide in baking is to use parchment paper. If you are tired of cleaning pans after baking, or your pans are really gross and you're scared to bake on them with perhaps rust - place parched paper on top of the pan and set your goods on the paper to bake - no more scrubbing pans or throwing them away. Throw away the parchment paper instead.

Use parchment paper to roll your cookies on - no need to keep adding more and more flour, which will make your cookies harder. Place parchment paper on the bottom, your cookie dough on it, flattened out somewhat. If the dough is at all sticky, do add flour to the top and bottom of the dough. Then place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough and then roll with your rolling pin - no more counter mess to clean up! Plus, for cookie cutter cookies, cut the cookies on the sheet, leaving proper amount of space between cookies. Pull the excess dough off, leaving the cookies on the paper. Lift the paper and place on a baking pan, then pop into the oven. You can continue to roll more cookies this way, and when you pull the pans out of the oven, lift the parchment paper out of the pan, then replace with the next sheet of cookies and pop back in. No more waiting for pan to cool before removing cookies. No more need for the cooling trays to place the cookies on.

You can normally find parchment paper in the plastic and foil wrap aisle of your grocery or super-shopping store. If you have trouble finding it, try a gourmet type store.


Hot Taco Dip 12-13-06

Great holiday or anytime dip - keep tortilla chips around - it's pretty good, especially on a chilly day!

Prep time: 5 minutes Bake time: 50 minutes Serves : 20
2 cups sour cream
2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
2 cups (8 oz) shredded four cheese Mexican blend
1 package taco seasoning mix
1 can (2 or 4.5 oz) sliced black olives, drained
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (4 or 6 oz) diced green chilies
1/2 cup chopped green pepper, optional
Mix well the sour cream, softened cream cheese and shredded cheese. Stir in the remaining ingredients and pour into a baking dish (9 X 13 works well) that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake in preheated 325 oven for 50 minutes until bubbly. Serve warm with tortilla chips. Enjoy!
Deb V

Cheese Supply: Cheese, Cheese Boards, Cheese Knives, Cheese Kits, Cheddar to Roquefort, French to Spanish Cheeses and Cheese Accessories!


Orange or Lemon Zest 12-05-06

If you run across a recipe that calls for lemon or orange zest, get a fresh lemon or orange and scrape off enough of the colored portion of the skin. I use a zester tool, but you can also use a grater - push it gently so you don't get much of the white part - it should just contain the skin color. The white part can be bitter and ruin the delicate flavor you are trying to get with the zest. I make Christmas cookies that call for orange zest, but it can't be used as fresh - it will need to dry a bit an harden so I can grind it up a bit. If you buy if dried form the store, you'll need to add more as the flavor will be weaker. If you use a fresh fruit and dry it for a few days, it will taste better.


Easy Sweet Potatoes 11-26-06

Don't use canned sweet potatoes during the holidays! It's so easy to make great sweet potatoes from the real thing. Buy your yams or sweet potatoes and just boil them whole, after rinsing, and without peeling. It should take around 1/2 hour, give or take, to boil them. Push a fork into the potatoes and see if it pushes in easily and pretty far, or if it hits a hard spot. When it is soft all the way, they should be ready. Drain the water and then rinse the potato, one at a time, under cool water while pulling the peel off by hand - it's very easy to peel sweet potatoes after boiling them - much easier than trying to peel before boiling.

Then slice the potatoes into perhaps 1/4 inch thick rounds and layer a casserole dish with a layer of these slices. Then spritz a bit of lemon juice over the layer, sprinkle brown sugar over it, and slice little pats of butter to put here & there over the layer. Take more slices and layer on top of that, adding the brown sugar, lemon juice and butter between each layer. On the top layer do the same. Then put it in the oven at about 350-400 degrees, depending on what else you are baking with it. After about 45 minutes, give or take, when you can see boiling going on, you can either take it out of the oven, or sprinkle marshmallows over the top (if you add marshmallows - place back in oven about 10 minutes to let the marshmallows melt a bit - don't let them burn on top).

Almost no effort, and sure to please everyone who likes sweet potatoes!


Using Dry Spices 11-14-06

When needing spices, and all you have to use are dried spices, like oregano leaves, etc., you may not get the full flavor effect. Fresh spices are best if you can get them, but often you cannot. Use less than what is called for in a recipe when using fresh herbs and spices. When using dried spices, put the amount in your hand and slightly crush them further as you sprinkle them into your recipe mix. This will unlock some more flavor - you can even smell it better after it's crushed. You may have to add extra amounts in order to attain the flavor you want.

If you still get little to no flavor from the spice, it's time to replace it. Spices do get old after awhile, so you do need to replace the dried ones to get the best effect from them. Some spices last longer than others, but sometimes that is a factor of the company that makes them in addition to how well you store them. Keep them in air-tight storage bottles. The big plastic and metal cans aren't air-tight and let the flavors get old and escape.


Get a Good Knife 11-10-06

When setting up your kitchen, spend the money to get a good quality knife. Don't get the cheaper knives - they dull easily, and can chip or break. My favorites are Wusthof Trident knives. They cut well, very well, and I can keep them sharpened by sliding the blade across a sharpening stick, always away from me and at the proper angle. The knives have never snapped or broken, or chipped. Don't put the good knives in the dishwasher, or let them clunk around other flatware or knives. Wash by hand and dry immediately, then put safely away in an area away from other things banging in them. I store my knives on a magnetic knife storage unit which keeps them away from everything else, and holds them tightly, without any damage.
Henckels Knives
Kyocera Ceramic Knives
Japanese Knives


Sink Stains 11-04-06

If you tend to get stains in your sink, perhaps from coffee grounds, or tomato products, or some other type of staining, or if you have to clean brass or bronze-type faucet fixtures that get water spot staining on them, there is hope. I have never had a stain I couldn't clean up in a sink or on a counter. Of course you can try a product such as Comet or Ajax which contains abrasive powders and perhaps some bleaching action. These work pretty well in most cases (or you may even use a scouring pad, such as Brillo, but don't try these if it scratches the porcelain or sink finish). If you have tried everything you can think of, then here is a hint - try "Barkeeper's Friend" - which really does a great job with getting the stains cleaned up. It is also perfect for the brass type sink - doesn't scratch it, and cleans off all those water spot stains - just be diligent to wipe the sink dry after cleaning it, so not to leave water spots back on it. You may even have sink with specific cleaning instructions (or perhaps that day isn't very far away - many stoves & counters need to be cleaned in specific ways) - if so, follow those instructions.


Clean the Stove Top 10-31-06

When cooking on the stove, clean it daily. Even a quick wipe will help so food doesn't pile up and cook into the stove, which will make it tougher to clean later. Make sure to wait until the stove cools down before you clean it.

If you have a flat top stove, make sure to clean off the area that heats up before you cook on it again. The grease or food left on the burner area will only "set" onto the burner and coat up, making clean-up more difficult. Don't use an abrasive product - use a special cleaner made for the cook top - look in the cleaning section at the store. Be very careful not to let sugars drip onto the stove top - the sugar burns in and is very difficult to clean off - do not cook on that burner area again until you remove the sugar burn.

If you have a stove with burner pans, take them out regularly and scrub with a scouring pad, then throw it in the dishwasher. Don't cook on it until you clean out any crud or you'll have to scrub much harder. Once it gets too hard to clean, throw it away and get new burner pans.

If you have a gas stove, pick up any food and wipe up spills that drip below. Every week or so, get in with a scouring pad and clean it more thoroughly (you might nee to do this more often, depending on your cooking situation and schedule). Make sure not to get any soap or cleanser into the tip of the gas area. Water will evaporate eventually, but cleaning products or food pushed into it can plug it up. If the stove won't light, you'll have to try to unplug the gunk from the tip, or wait until water evaporates.


Keeping Brown Sugar Fresh 10-14-06

As soon as you come home with a bag or box of brown sugar, place it in an air-tight container and keep it closed. If you leave it in the bag or box, it's sure to get punctured, and it can attract bugs, as well. If your brown sugar does get hard, it's tough to measure. You can usually get it to soften enough to measure by microwaving some (in a microwave-safe bowl - not in a plastic bag or box or other non-microwaveable container) on high for about 15-30 seconds - check it for softness and put in a little longer if needed, but don't let it melt into a liquid, or burn.

Tupperware always has a great selection of air-tight kitchen storage solutions!


Cutting Onions 10-12-06

Do your eyes get irritated when cutting onions? To minimize the vapors that onions release, you can refrigerate your onion for awhile before cutting it. You can also rinse it with water while cutting, or cut off the root end and rinse that end of the onion with cold water, throwing away the piece you cut - cut enough off and you'll get rid of most of the source of irritation. You can also try breathing with your mouth instead of nose, though that doesn't help with the stinging in the eyes. Old onions aren't as irritating as fresher onions.


Wooden Cutting Boards 10-3-06

If you have a wooden cutting board, you should take care of it. The same goes for your wooden spoons and such. When you first get it, clean it and dry it, then put a layer of mineral oil on it (use a rag and dab it on), or several layers, let it dry, and wipe up the excess. Do this at least every month, or more. You need a good barrier for the moisture that will come in contact with the board.

If it's a really nice one and you don't want to get it scratched up (some are more ornamental and may be nicer to display, rather than use), just place it in a display area and keep it oiled routinely so the wood won't dry out - make sure it's kept where no one else will mistakenly use it. You can perhaps use it to knead bread on, rather than cutting on it.

If you use your wooden cutting board a lot, don't use it for cutting raw meat on - the blood can get into the wood and then seep up into your fruits or vegetables later - and you may spread e. coli to anyone who eats what you were cutting on the board. If you prefer a wooden cutting board for meats (although a rubber cutting board may be better), make sure you have one for the meats, and another for other foods. Don't use the same one for both. The blood from the meat can soak into the wood and expand the wood, making it soft (think of how driftwood from a lake or ocean feels) and weak (also for paneled boards, the glue may be compromised).

Keep liquids from standing on the wood, as well. Scrape all the muck off the board when done - don't let it sit. Dry it off completely, and never wash in a dishwasher. Wood is hard to sterilize. You can use mild dish detergent and warm or hot water. Or you can generously sprinkle salt on the board and scrub with a rag or sponge and hot water (to kill the germs and get the coloring cleaned off). Never soak the wood in water, and keep it dry at all times when not in use. Stand it on end to store, rather than flat (may warp). Don't let it get too hot or too cold. With proper care, you can enjoy your wooden cutting board for years.


Freezer Tips 9-26-06

When freezing foods, make sure meats are completely sealed, with no air space. If you throw them into the freezer straight from the store packaging that has air space, try to use it within a month or two at the most, or risk freezer burn, or lose the flavor in the meat. If it's prepped for the freezer so that it is tightly wrapped with a minimum of air space, you can keep it for several months longer. Nuts freeze well - in room temperatures, the oil separates from the nuts and they can go rancid. They don't keep well unless frozen or never opened (even unopened nuts have a shelf life). If you freeze fruits or vegetables, do the same - minimize the air space. Pack tightly and in portions of size that you will use them in (avoid defrosting to get the amount you want and then re-freezing).


Freezing Fish 9-21-06

If you catch fish and want to save them for later, or if you buy fish at the store and want to use them later (maybe you ran into a special price and need to use them another day), you should prepare them for freezing, rather than just toss them into the freezer. If the fish has scales, try to get them off if you can - they'll be tougher to deal with later, and likely flake off when you cook them - yuck. Make sure to rinse the fish thoroughly, and get off all signs of blood, of intestines or other "innards", cut the head off unless you are into them. Then get a container to freeze the fish in - an airtight, leak-proof container (or plastic bag - not freezer paper which can let air in, causing freezer burn). Put the fish in, then fill with water - enough to completely cover the fish. Then get the air out (suck the excess air out if in a bag, or perhaps you have a little air pump for your containers. If you can't suck the air out, fill the container to the top with water. Put this in the freezer. Your fish should last for quite awhile if you freeze it in this manner, without losing flavor and without freezer burn.


High Altitude 9-19-06

When cooking in higher altitudes, follow the instructions given on cake packages. It does make a difference - there are pressure and temperature differences. It takes longer to boil vegetables or eggs in the mountains than down in the flats. Cakes are more sensitive, and fruits don't ripen as quickly (an under-ripe mango may just go rotten in the mountains rather than ripen). Even in altitudes that aren't in the mountains, you should use high altitude instructions - Denver, for example, is about a mile high (fluctuates all over the city, but at any time one of the steps at the government buildings is at a mile high). You will need to bake cakes using high altitude instructions in Denver, as well as in the mountains. If you need to ripen fruit in the mountains, you can try to put it in a brown paper bag and into a cupboard, away from the light. Fruit kept together tends to held each other ripen. Check on them daily so not to go beyond the point of ripe. Sometimes nothing you do can ripen some fruit in the mountains - in that case, buy them already ripe.


Sauce Breaking up? 9-13-06

When making sauces, sometimes they separate and the mixing doesn't hold, or even start. Make sure to add fat or oil more slowly while whipping it. You can add drops of warm water to whip into the mix, and try to get it to mix. For an egg-based sauce, you might try adding yet another yolk, and then again adjust the rest of the ingredients. If none of this works, perhaps you should just start over, or use it as is, just stirring up before dropping on your food.


Over-Ripe Bananas? 9-11-06

When your bananas go bad, overly ripe, and can't be eaten anymore, think about banana bread. Even if you don't like banana bread, make it to give away at work or to friends - most people will appreciate it. If you can't start it right away, or only have one banana, just start a zip-lock bag and peel the banana. Put the banana(s) in the bag, seal it, and toss into the freezer. Add more bananas to the bag as they pile up in your kitchen, and pull out the bag when you are ready to bake. Then just defrost, and use. When defrosting, you will get more liquid from the bananas - you might need to add less liquid to the recipe, or perhaps add a little more flour so the banana bread batter isn't too runny.


Great Cookbooks, September 8, 2006

There are so many cookbooks available, but I'll list some of my all time favorites here in case you are looking for one. The Joy Of Cooking (Hardcover) is a great all purpose book that has something for nearly any idea or major ingredient you have available. Learn proper techniques, fine the basic recipes, and also specialized ones. I'll list more here and update.

Many of my "old standy-by" cookbooks are now out of print, or were made for an appliance and never was available in a store. This makes it difficult to recommend then to you. As I find comparable cookbooks, I'll add them here.


Stretching Leftovers, September 6, 2006
Make leftovers stretch by using these tips. If you don't have enough leftovers for your family to make a meal, you can leave them for another day, making another full meal and adding those leftovers to the previous ones - also giving more choices for your family. If you don't want to leave them for yet another day, make some rice or a vegetable to go along with the leftover meal. If have a friend who has a sealed freezer tub, and after every meal she puts the leftovers into the tub and closes it up. Once it gets full, she pours everything into a stock pot and adds some water, letting it simmer for an hour or so. If needed she'll also add some spices. She then serves it for dinner with bread and calls it leftover stew. The family always loves it.


Great BBQ Ribs, August 29, 2006
When you feel like having ribs for dinner or lunch, try this: Prepare the meat by sprinkling some garlic powder on the meat surfaces. Then drench it in teriyaki sauce, and let sit in the sauce, turning it over occasionally, for an hour or several hours. Then put the meat on the grill and baste with any leftover sauce. Turn the meat over as it cooks so not to burn either side. Make sure to check for pink meat inside (take a knife and cut into it) and then baste the meat with BBQ sauce. Let the BBQ sauce cook onto the meat, then turn over after basting the top, and let it cook onto the meat. This should only take 2-4 minutes to set the BBQ sauce onto the meat. Remove and enjoy!


Marinades, August 23, 2006
You can make great marinades if you use spices or ingredients that compliment the meat or food you are marinating. For marinade to work, you'll need to use some sort of acidic fluid - usually wine or vinegar or soy or lemon juice. You'll also need oil - more oil than acidic fluid. The acid gets the meat ready to accept the flavors. The oil keeps the meat moist. Add flavors, such as garlic, minced onion, tarragon, thyme, and any other spices or minced foods that will go well with the food you are marinating. Mix the marinade with the food you are preparing, and let it sit in the mixture for several hours, or even overnight. Keep it refrigerated so not to spoil. Make sure to turn it every hour or two so all sides are coated and have a chance to pick up the flavor of the marinade. When ready to cook, whether by broiling, or grilling, or other method, keep basting the meat with the leftover marinade, or dip it in when you turn it over. Make sure to cook the last of the marinade on the meat - don't dip or baste and then remove the meat - cook it further (the marinade has raw meat blood which isn't safe for you to ingest).


Mashed Potatoes, August 18, 2006
It's pretty easy to make great mashed potatoes. Just cut up potatoes and boil them about 1/2 hour give or take. You can peel or leave the peels on. If you leave the peels on, scrub the dirt off pretty well first. Put some salt to taste into the water with the potatoes, about 1 teaspoon per 5 medium potatoes. Poke at the potatoes after about 20 or 25 minutes and if they poke easily,, and are tender, then drain the water. Start mashing with a potato masher (or you can use a mixer if you like whipped potatoes. First add butter, so it will melt as you mash - about 2 tablespoons for 5 potato's worth, adjusting to your taste. Once the butter has melted, add some milk - you'll have to add a bit at a time to "sneak up" on the right amount - you want the potatoes to be slightly firm in a spoon, but not dry, and not runny. The potatoes will absorb the milk pretty quickly, up to a point. You'll notice it can get runny fast, after that point, so add a bit at a time until you like the consistency. Test taste it, and add more salt or butter if you wish. Also, you can now add other types of ingredients if you like. You can try adding shredded cheese, garlic powder, chopped onion, or anything else you have a taste for. Make them your own "signature piece" that you have a specialty for.


Too Much Salt? August 11, 2006
If you put too much salt in your beans, or soup, or something else that this can work in - just toss a potato into the boiling water or other concoction you are cooking, and the potato will suck up the extra salt. Just take the potato out when things taste right again, and do what you want with it.


Careful in the Kitchen - Cake's Baking!, August 9, 2006
When baking a cake, treat it as a sleeping infant - try not to disturb it. If you jump or slam things in the kitchen, or open the over door, or disturb it, the cake falls flat and you won't get what you want. Set the timer for about 5 minutes short of the time the recipe gives - look at it, preferably through a see-through over door with a light on. If it is rising in the middle, and looks slightly browned (assuming you can tell - harder on a dark cake), then test for doneness and see if it needs more baking. If it looks unsettled, not yet risen, or not browning, leave it in for another 5-10 minutes and look at it again. Don't test with a toothpick until the top starts "crusting" a bit, meaning it's closer to done and can handle disruption. If you test too early, you lose the heat from opening the over door, and you may poke the cake and make it fall.


Test Cakes With a Flat Toothpick, August 6, 2006
When baking cakes, test for doneness with the pointy end of a flat toothpick. Place into center of cake, where it bulges out the most. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. If it comes out with some wet crumbles, or gooey stuff, the cake is not done.


Use Real Vanilla, August 4, 2006
When cooking with vanilla, try to refrain from using imitation vanilla - the imitation usually does not taste right (unless you don't have good taste buds - if you do, you will likely notice). It can cause problems in consistency, as well - real vanilla has an amount of alcohol in it, and can react with other ingredients in the way one expects, where the imitation may not. It's worth it to spend a few pennies more on the real thing, and then get a quality cooked item.

Real Madagascar Vanilla Extract


Leftover Fajitas, August 1, 2006
If you have leftover fajitas, you can make another great meal by making some Spanish-style rice and then adding the fajitas to the rice. Get some rice, and brown it in some oil or butter. Then steam it as normal, but add some chicken broth or bullion for flavor, and some onion, chili powder, garlic powder, and other spices you might like. When you add the fajitas. stir it up and serve.

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Authentic Mexican kitchen items
Authentic Mexican food items at MexGrocer


Easy Fajitas, July 29, 2006
Cut strips of meat - beef, chicken, steak, game, or whatever you wish to use in the fajitas. Cut up strips of onions and green peppers and toss them around. Now add minced fresh garlic or garlic powder, plus some salt, pepper, cilantro, perhaps a bit of chili powder, and whatever other spices you might like to add. Add some oil (olive oil or canola oil) and also some lime juice. (Some people like to add tequila, but it's not necessary.) Toss it all up and let marinate for a day, or at least 4-6 hours. Then get a cast iron pan very hot, and quick fry the meat mixture, stirring it up to keep from burning. When the onions are slightly translucent but still firm, with the meat cooked, take off the grill. Serve with tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, diced tomatoes, strips of lettuce, black olives, shredded cheese, and whatever else you might like. Easy, fast and delicious!

Cheese Supply: Cheese, Cheese Boards, Cheese Knives, Cheese Kits, Cheddar to Roquefort, French to Spanish Cheeses and Cheese Accessories!


Pre-heating Your Oven, July 17, 2006
These days, with newer ovens, it is usually not necessary to pre-heat the oven when baking simple items. Do pre-heat when baking cakes because the timing will be "off" by some minutes - unless you depend on the "toothpick method" (use a flat toothpick to insert into your cake - if it comes out clean, cake's ready, or if it comes out with gooey crumbs, bake longer). In most cases the oven heats up so fast that there is no issue.


Measuring Dry & Liquid Ingredients, July 11, 2006
Measure dry ingredients in cup-type measuring cups, not the same type of measuring cup for liquid measures. The liquids need to be measured so that if you are eye-level with the line, fill the liquid to that level. Dry measures are done in the cups, with a flat knife or spatula to scrape the excess top off with - it is a flat, level measure off the top. Some dry ingredients require hard packing, as in brown sugar. Flour is often sifted into the cup - not packed. Sifting adds air into the flour and makes it correct for use - sifted amounts are less than packed amounts. Read the recipe to know. Both dry and liquid ingredients are measured in measuring spoons - these are the same.


Don't Use Aluminum or Teflon to Cook, July 8, 2006
Don't cook with aluminum dishes or those coated with Teflon - aluminum seeps into the food, and Teflon breaks apart and gets into your food. It is not safe to ingest Teflon, not is it safe for the environment, or for you, to get the fumes from Teflon. Birds die when breathing Teflon fumes - isn't that a clue for you? Miners have historically carried birds in cages into the mines to test the air - when the bird has trouble or dies, then miners need to evacuate immediately. And aluminum is linked to Alzheimer's Disease - stay away from aluminum as much as possible.


Don't Microwave in Plastic, July 7, 2006
Plastic dishes, plastic wrap, etc., give off fumes and toxins into the food you eat. Don't use anything but microwave-approved dishes - these can be of glass, crockery, clay, etc.


Cooking With Kids, May 30, 2006
Cook with your kids, and let them truly help you. They love to create, especially when it tastes good - don't just make cookies, but teach him how to make some of his favorite dinner dishes. It's not only a useful skill to have later in adult life, but it can be a big help to you. She can whip up dinner when you're running late, or when you're sick, or when you're wiped out. He can take care of his own food needs when he becomes a teenager with a bottom-less pit for a stomach. She can even learn to become a gourmet cook and decide to make a profession of it.


Quick Quesadillas, May 28, 2006
Make a quick lunch or dinner - make quesadillas - easily. Just have your favorite ingredients ready - this could include leftover chicken or beef, black olives, chopped onions, fresh spinach, bell peppers, even refried beans. Get two tortillas and place one in a buttered fry pan or on a plate or pan (if baking in oven or microwave), then start loading it with a layer of cheese, and then the other ingredients. Sprinkle with garlic powder and perhaps some cilantro, and cover with the other tortilla. Fry or bake until the cheese melts. Turn it over if frying. It makes it easier to flip if you put a layer of cheese or refried beans between the loose ingredients, to "glue" them to the tortilla shells.


Perfect Rice, May 20, 2006
When making rice, many people have trouble getting it just right. You can use a rice steamer and follow the instructions, but it's pretty easy to make your own. For white rice, take an amount, any amount (rice normally doubles in amount once cooked, so figure how much you want to make) - just use a measure, like a coffee mug, or a measuring cup. Then take the same measure and add exactly twice the amount of water as the rice. With 1 cup of rice, add 2 cups of water. You can add bouillon for flavor, if you wish. Then bring it to a boil, and after a couple minutes, turn the stove off and once the boiling dissipates, place a cover over the pot (one that fits the pot so it's fairly air-tight). Then just let it sit and work on the rest of your meal. The rice should be ready in about 20 minutes, ready to fluff up, not sticky, not crunchy. If you see any excess water, turn the heat up on the stove for a few moments and cover the rice for a little longer.

For brown or wild rice, you can add a little more than double the water, and you need not cover it, letting it simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add bouillon for flavor, if you wish. Wild rice may take longer. Add more water if needed - you can look at the rice and if it's still looking uncooked, and water is running down, then add a bit - not much. When the rice is starting to puff up, then it's ready, or close to ready, but at that time you should not have much or any water left. If you do, cover the rice and turn off the heat to let the steaming effect happen where the rice picks up the water content. If you have a lot of water, you should probably drain it and then cover the pot and let the rice sit for a bit.

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Use Grains, May 16, 2006
Try to use more grain flour and grains than white flour - white flour, bleached or unbleached, is not a healthy option - it's basically empty calories that take the place of something good for you. You should phase out white bread, cookies made from white four, pancakes and waffles made from white four, etc. Start using or making foods with grain four - you can still mix white flour with the grains if the flavor is too heavy at times, especially at first. Grain flour is heavier so you may have to adjust recipes a bit, or if you use something like buckwheat flour, it is quite a strong flavor and you'll need to adjust the rest of the recipe. You can also toss in wheat germ, or other type of grains, into the foods you eat or make. It will be a healthy habit to get into.


Rotate Your Canned Goods, May 9, 2006
If you buy canned food (and be aware that most of the nutrition is gone from canned foods - so don't rely on them for every day foods), make sure you use the cans within 6 months (sometimes up to a year). You need to rotate them and use them regularly because they can still go bad. The taste of the metal can gets infused into the food, and sometimes a gas builds up from food going bad, and then the can starts to "explode." If you see a can that is bulging out from either end, or a bit of leakage or black sticky stuff on the ends, throw the can away - it has gone bad.


Season Your Cast Iron Cookware, May 4, 2006
If you cook with un-coated cast iron (some have enamel coating and this won't apply), you will need to season the cast iron so it won't rust. After you cook with it, and wash & dry it, rub a bit of cooking oil on it, on all surfaces. Then place in oven at a low temperature for 20 minutes or so, or even if you just coat it and don't heat it, it's better than no coating, but you will need to store it more carefully because it will be oily, and will attract dust, or make anything underneath oily.


Store in Air-Tight Containers, April 28, 2006
Make sure to seal up in air-tight containers all your flour, rice, grains, cereals, etc. Bugs can easily get into them, or mold can grow, and by the time you want to use it, you will be disgusted. Be wary of expiration dates. Some dry items go bad - for example, pancake mixes have been known to grow a mold that you cannot see, but can be quite harmful if eaten - making one ill, and can even be fatal.


Making Waffles Last, April 18, 2006
If you have a waffle iron, make enough batter to make extra waffles to warm up for future breakfasts. The best way to warm them up and get them crisp is to reheat them back in the waffle iron. You can try a toaster but this doesn't always work best. Don't re-warm them in the microwave - they'll get too soggy to enjoy.


Freeze Extras, April 12, 2006
You can buy ingredients in bulk and either store them in air-tight containers, or freeze them. Some foods do very well when frozen. If you plan to keep flour for awhile, I would seal it in an air-tight container and then freeze it. Air-tight is normally good enough for several months, but freezing can make it last longer. Other foods that freeze well include cheese (but the cheese isn't usually good for eating after it's frozen, though it is good enough to use for cooking) and butter (butter can keep much longer in the freezer than in the refrigerator - just take it out and place into the fridge a day or two prior to using it). Bread keeps well in the freezer - if you buy in bulk or don't use bread daily, you might want to freeze it. Separate the slices if you think you'll pull the bread out a slice or two at a time (the entire loaf will freeze together, with the bread slices stuck to each other), or if you will use the loaf within a week, pull out the whole loaf a day or two prior to using it, and it should be fresh to use (as long as you haven't stored it in the freezer for more than a couple weeks - if you need to do this, place first in an air-tight wrapper). Also - freeze your left-overs for future meals. You can pull several meals out and offer a variety in meal choice, or you can even mix it all together for a new meal (I have a friend who does this - every week she takes the frozen left-overs and mixes them all in a pot, adds water, and makes a left-over soup).


Use Butter, April 5, 2006
If you are making cookies, or perhaps a nice sauce, or something special, don't skimp and use margarine, or a butter substitute - use real butter because your dish will turn out so much better. There is water content, or other ingredients, in butter substitutes, that will change the way the recipe reacts - your cookies will not be light and crisp in the same way. It is a learned art to use these substitutes well - and the best cooks don't bother to try. Use butter when it counts, but don't eat or make too many buttery dishes - no one needs the calories or the fat that much!


Not to Worry - it'll turn out ok, March 31, 2006
In all truth, when you are cooking (other than more critical items such as cakes that rise or fall), you need not stress out over measuring too accurately. You can feel free to add your own food ideas to a recipe for better flavor. When a recipe calls for 1/2 teasoon of salt, you may like it more or less salty. You don't have to worry about exactly 1 cup of frozen peas in a casserole - you can even substitute some other vegetable, if you like. Perhpas you love the taste or oregano - add a bit extra in your sauce. Onions - there are large onions and small onions - if it says to use an onion, there is no exact measure - use the amount you like. For most recipes, you can get by with quite a bit of leeway in the recipe measurements, and it'll still turn out ok.


Dry Ingredients, March 31, 2006
Make sure you mix your dry ingredients separately from your wet ones when you have some sort of rising take place. If you are using baking soda or powder (particularly baking powder), the rising reaction begins as soon as you mix the wet ingredients in. At that point you want to bake immediately, not wait an hour or so.


Folding in Egg Whites, March 31, 2006
When a recipe calls for folding in egg whites - you need to whip the egg whites until they are stiff - holding a pointy peak when you lift the beater out of them. At this point, take a flat spatula or some flat tool and place the egg whites into the mixture you are folding into. Then use your flat tool to cut the egg whites into and through the mixture - slowly. Get it cut in fairly uniformly, but do not mix completely - leave some egg whites so they are not mixed in - small to medium "chunks" that are dispersed through-out the mixture.


How to Make Gravy, March 30, 2006
Melt butter, or have hot meat drippings ready - then mix some flour into it, and stir to mix well, keeping it on low heat. Don't add more flour than you have drippings or butter, and don't add so much it becomes a solid mass. Once it's started to mix and thicken, start to add water or milk or cream a little at a time, and stir it in. Every time it starts to thicken, add more of the liquid, until it gets to the thickness you like. Then add some salt and pepper to taste (if any is needed), and serve.

Some people like to use corn starch and water (mix the two together), and add it to any type of liquid (the drippings) to thicken with heat. Make sure you keep stirring while you add it - and add more to make it thicker. I use this process when making turkey gravy or some type of gravy that needs to be completely smooth and translucent.

You'll need a nice whisk for making good gravy (a fork or wooden spoon can work, but a whisk is good for whipping it - get all the lumps out).


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