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Cooking 101
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Cooking 101: Medium Sized Tips

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Look for plump anchovies sold in glass. Don't fry anchovies in hot oil as they seize and harden and can become bitter. Cook them gently, stirring, until they dissolve into a paste.

To prevent berries from going soft and squishy, transfer them to a tray lined with absorbent kitchen paper (make one layer only), and drape another piece of kitchen paper over the top. Refrigerate and use as soon as possible.

A feathery herb with an oily, grassy, citrus taste, it is used extensively in Asia, the Middle East and South America. It is often referred to as Chinese parsley and is known as cilantro in Mexico, North America and South America. Coriander grows easily in the garden and if picked with its long roots intact, the roots put in a container of water, and the leaves covered with a plastic bag, and kept refrigerated, it will continue to grow for some time.

Eggs deteriorate quickly if kept at room temperature. Store them refrigerated in the carton they come in to protect them from picking up other aromas in the fridge (don't transfer to an egg tray unless it is closed). Anything that is warm will hold more air, so bring eggs to room temperature before using in baking. Old eggs are bad eggs. If in doubt, carry out the following quick test: Immerse the egg in a bowl of cold water. If it sinks, or lies on its side, it is fresh&eat it! If it stands on the pointed end, it is beginning to go off - use it fast! If it floats, don't even offer it to the dog ... it's dead!

To make eggs last longer, store them with the pointed end facing down (as they come in the carton, usual). This prevents the air cell from breaking, which helps maintain the quality and freshness of the egg.

Never throw egg whites away. Store them, covered with a lid, in a grease-free container in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for a few months. It is helpful to know that the contents of an average egg measure 60ml and half of it is made up of egg white. Therefore, if a recipe calls for 4 egg whites you will need approximately 120ml of egg white.

Filleting citrus fruit
Filleting means to remove and discard membranes in between each segment of fruit. Carefully remove the peel with a serrated knife using a gentle sawing movement, removing all the pith with the peel. Then make a cut on both sides of each piece of membrane and the segments will come away easily. Don't waste the juice in the membrane. Squeeze it into a glass and drink it if it is not needed in the recipe. After peeling, the fruit may be cut into thin rounds instead of segments.

Don't overcook fish. The old trick of cooking until the flesh is white to the bone is outmoded. Cook until it is pink and still juicy around the bone; the fish will continue cooking as it stands thanks to residual heat.

Flan rings
A flan ring on a baking tray produces a crisper pastry bottom, as any moisture can freely run out from underneath the flan ring and evaporate. In a flan dish, the moisture is trapped in the dish, underneath the pastry, and it can cause the pastry to become soggy.

I loathe, I mean LOATHE frittata impostors - you know, those ruddy great door-stopper wodges of soggy vegetables encased in too much firm dry egg. A frittata should be thin, really just a few seasonings flavouring the eggs, or slightly more substantial, with a few vegetables held together with eggs. It should never be made in a cake tin or roasting dish, nor should it be a home for last week's leftovers. If you're nervous about the flipping business, lightly brown the top of the frittata under a hot grill. The best result is achieved by cooking both sides in hot oil in the pan because the oil flavours the frittata and makes it crisp; grilling can make the frittata dry and too firm.

Fresh ginger softens and rots quickly when stored in the refrigerator, particularly when it is stored in plastic. The trick is to store it in absorbent paper, such as soft kitchen paper, loosely wrapped, and in the least-cold part of the fridge, like the vegetable crisper or shelves on the door. The paper absorbs any moisture (a plastic bag would lock it in, causing rotting), keeping the ginger cool and dry. It can last many weeks this way. Fresh ginger can also be frozen, just as it is, in a container or plastic bag. Grate it while still frozen and use in stirfrys, etc. Another idea is to store a "clump" of peeled ginger in a bottle of sherry. Use it to give a boost to Chinese-style dishes.

If herbs like parsley are chopped in a food processor or blender with other ingredients they will turn the mixture green. Sometimes this can enhance the food, as in the case of avocado dips or mixtures, green pea or green vegetable soups, green sauces, etc. But sometimes it can look unappetizing, as is the case when meatballs are tinged with a greenish hue (it look as if the meat is off). In the latter case, it is better to add the chopped herbs to the mixture after processing; the herbs will then colour the mixture attractively with little flecks of green. Learn more about herbs.
Olive Oil
Olive oil is sensitive to light and warmth. Exposure to light quickly turns it rancid, giving it an unpleasant buttery quality. Bottles of oil may look pretty on the bench, but if the oil is for consumption, it should be kept in the pantry. Dark glass bottles offer more protection than clear glass ones; oil in plastic bottles is to be avoided. Don't refrigerate olive oil because condensation which forms on the inside of the top can fall back into the oil.

Have meat at room temperature before cooking - it can take 20-30 minutes for heat to penetrate the centre and start cooking a solid joint of chilled meat. Salt meat immediately after cooking (not before), then let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing so it can firm and the juices settle.
To make minestrone more substantial, small pasta shapes can be added along with any greens, but (and this is a BIG but) the pasta will not improve in the soup; it will turn flabby and, eventually, slimy. Therefore, only add pasta to the whole pot of soup if you intend all the soup to be served, or, if it is for a smaller group, to the amount of soup you are reheating and serving.

Mortadella is a spiced pork sausage of varying size, and probably Bologna’s most famous pork product. It’s revered by Italians. Out of Italy the English and Americans have made a play on the name Bologna and often refer to any pork sausage from Bologna as baloney.

Mortadella can be traced back at least 500 years, but probably further. It’s believed to take its name from the word ‘mortaio’, (mortar in English) because the sausage mixture was pounded by hand with a pestle in a giant mortar. Meats from animals other than pigs were in the original mix – boar, donkey and pig.
If you want the flavour of an onion to come out (for soups and sauces), soften it gently in butter or oil. If you want the flavour to stay in the onion (crispy fried onions and many Indian dishes), sauté the onion in butter or oil until a rich golden brown. If you want onion flavour, and some sweetness (most dishes), soften the onion first then let it brown gently.

No matter how much salt is in the sauce, if the pasta water is not salted, the pasta will taste bland and will not meld with the sauce. Add salt to the water once it comes to the boil then taste it - it should taste salty (use a very large spoon for this and blow on the water until it is cool enough). Don't over-drain the pasta or the surface will dry and the sauce will not flow over. Don't cut back on the oil or butter called for in authentic Italian pasta sauces - it is the body of the sauce and without it the sauces will be wishy-washy.

Roasted Peppers (Capsicums)
If you have barbecue facilities, peppers can be roasted on the barbecue grill rack and will take on a wonderfully smoky flavour. Alternatively, put the peppers on a rack in an oven preheated to 200°C and cook, turning occasionally with tongs, for about 20 minutes, or until they are blistered and charred. The peppers may also be grilled under a hot grill. Transfer to a board when done and peel off the skins when cool, slip out the cores and seeds and save any juices.

The amount of salt required in an oil-based dressing is often not stated. The recipe will probably read "salt to taste" and that's because it depends on the type and quality of oil used. The heavier oils, like olive oil, peanut oil and walnut oil, require more salt than light oils such as safflower oil and canola oil. Oils also differ from brand to brand.

Although an oil-based dressing may "taste" of the oil used (for example, olivey or fruity if made from olive oil, or nutty if made from a nut oil) it should never be oily or greasy. Salt with its slight abrasiveness, has the effect of cutting through the oil texture in a dressing (as well as flavouring the food, of course). To illustrate this, smear a little oil on your palms, then rub them together. They will feel smooth and slippery. Now sprinkle on a little salt and rub them together again. You'll notice the salt's abrasiveness and how it gets rid of the slippery feeling. Imagine this on your palate. Add salt to the dressing by degrees, say 2-3 pinches. Whisk it in, let it settle a few minutes, then whisk again. Dip a small teaspoon into the dressing and taste. It should be smooth, but it shouldn't leave your mouth coated in oil. If you have over-salted the dressing, dilute with more oil and readjust the acid content.

Croutons nicely complement creamy soups, as their crispness offsets the smooth, creamy texture (they add extra calories, however!). If you are serving a soup in a tureen, don't sprinkle over the croutons until the tureen is on the table, and your guests or family are ready to at, as the croutons quickly loose their crunch. Some people say seasoning a soup to perfection is the most difficult part of soup-making. I'm inclined to agree. When clear, flavourless liquids, like water and milk, or bland, starch ingredients, like potatoes or rice, or vegetables with a high water content, like courgettes and leafy greens, are used, more salt is required. Add the salt in stages, stirring it in well, then wait a few minutes, stir again and taste. No soup should taste bland or be tasteless; continue seasoning and tasting until the flavour is more pronounced or drawn out.

Leafy vegetables, like spinach, can be cooked with just the water left clinging to them after washing. Put them in a saucepan, set it over a medium heat and stir the spinach often until it has wilted, or until it is cooked to your liking. Salt added to spinach as it cooks will minimize any chalkiness.

A member of the daisy family (Artemisia dracunculus).
There are two varieties : French and Russian. Russian tarragon has little aroma or taste. Used in Hollandaise and béarnaise sauces. French mustard often includes tarragon. Tarragon mixed with chervil and chives is a classic combination in French cooking. It is one of those herbs which dries well and holds its pungency. It can be hard to grow - it likes warm dry soils, so don’t over-water it. You can grow tarragon in a glass house in cold wet climates, and indoors.

The classic dish of chicken roasted with tarragon is hard to beat. Slip a sprig in the cavity and mix some with chopped butter and slip it between the chicken skin and breast meat before roasting the chicken. Tarragon works well with fish, especially seafood dishes containing mayonnaise. Mix chopped tarragon with butter and serve on top of sizzled pork or beef steaks. Tarragon vinegar is easily made by steeping fresh washed stems of tarragon in white wine vinegar for two weeks (strain and discard tarragon).

The word sausage can be traced to Latin, salsus, which means salted. Basically, it was a way of preserving meat, especially all the unmentionable bits after a pig was slaughtered. Some were air-dried, others were smoked. We’ve been eating them since time immemorial. Germany has over 1,000 types of sausage but Italy produces the biggest. Baby mortadella sausages (mortadella is an aromatic and spicy pork sausage) weigh as little as half a kilo, but the big mammas can weigh over 100kilos.

To thicken yoghurt
To make yoghurt thick and velvety, like Greek yoghurt, it is necessary to drain off the whey. Line a small sieve with a piece of kitchen paper or, if straining it for longer than 4 hours, with clean muslin, and rest it over a bowl. Pour in the yoghurt, cover with a plate and leave to drain for at least an hour, but up to 36 hours. Carefully turn the yoghurt into a clean bowl and use as desired. After one hour the yoghurt is thick and sauce-like. After 36 hours it is very dense and creamy and can be shaped into little blobs, dusted with chopped herbs, paprika or ground pepper, and served as a fresh cheese, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, or fresh walnut oil. Serve with pita pockets of pumpernickel bread. The thickened yoghurt can also be mixed with capers, spices, lemon zest, garlic, green peppercorns, gherkins, olives, etc., and used as a dip or a sauce. The whey, which contains worthwhile nutrients, can be used in baking bread, muffins etc.

Sam Twining, the tea expert, told me never, and he means NEVER, reboil water to make tea - always start with freshly drawn cold water. Use cold water because hot water will pick up traces of copper. The water should be brought to the boil and poured onto the tea immediately. Boiling drives off the oxygen and this can result in the tea tasting flat. It doesn't seem to affect my herbal teas.


There are a zillion things you can do with tomatoes, but just a few rules about storing, preparing and serving them.

  • Always store tomatoes at room temperature; chilling interferes with the maturing process and can turn them flabby, and don't cut them too far in advance or they will loose texture.
  • Salt draws the juice out of tomatoes, which can dilute a dressing or make the tomatoes appear watery, so add salt just before serving.
  • My Italian mother-in-law Rosa never used vinegar with tomatoes, explaining there’s an affinity with tomatoes and lemons – she’s right. Lemon enhances the flavour of tomatoes, making them taste sweeter. Lemon-infused olive oil is delicious drizzled over sliced tomatoes for a quick salad – just add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Fleshy tomatoes ripened by the sun make the best pasta sauce, but canned tomatoes come a close second, producing a more deeply-colored pulpy sauce.

And those green tomatoes...
Certain varieties of tomatoes are grown to use as green tomatoes, but most types of tomatoes can be picked green from the plant and eaten as green tomatoes. Green tomatoes have a crisp texture and are tangier than sweet ripe tomatoes. Crumb and fry them for the classic 'green fried tomatoes', or use in salads when an acidic presence is wanted.

Good for you...
Canned and cooked tomatoes contain more licopene - an antioxidant phytochemical, which is effective in preventing cancers and heart disease - than fresh ones, so try and introduce tomato juice into your diet and use tomato concentrate and canned tomatoes in sauces, soups and casseroles. They also contain plenty of Vitamin C.

Peeling tomatoes
When tomatoes are eaten fresh, as in a salad, there is usually no need to remove the peel unless they are tough. But if the tomatoes are to be used in soups, sauces or vegetable stews, it's wise to do so because the peel tends to separate from the flesh during cooking and float to the surface. It's easy to do – simply immerse the tomatoes into a saucepan of boiling water and leave for 12–20 seconds, depending on the ripeness of the tomatoes. Lift out the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of cold water. If a tomato is difficult to peel, repeat the process. If the tomato looks fluffy or furry, it was in the water for too long and has started to cook; reduce the time for any further tomatoes.

The Three Sisters

Along with green beans, corn and zucchini (courgette) or other members of the squash family, form the trinity known as 'The Three Sisters' in southern American gardening lore. When beans and corn are grown together, the beans draw nitrogen from the soil, which the corn thrives on. Squash and pumpkin, with their prickly vines, are planted around the beans and corn to stop pesky wild animals destroying the plants. It's a combination you might like to try in your own garden.
Verjuice is the juice of unripe green grapes used as an acidulant in the same way you would use lemon juice or vinegar, but it's milder than both of these, with a sweetish fruity presence. It was probably developed in frugal times as a way of using up unripe sour grapes, or grape thinnings taken off the vines during grape growing, or made from other tart and sour fruit such as gooseberries and crabapples which could not be used up in any other way. It was also made from sorrel, a very lemony-tasting green leafy herb, and this may have given the condiment its name which translates as 'green juice'.

While it can be used in place of lemon or vinegar in dressings such as vinaigrette, its greatest role is in deglazing a pan after cooking chicken, game or fish. Splash it into the pan the same way you would wine or stock, dislodging any flavour-filled crusty pieces in the pan, then let it reduce down until it is syrupy. Either pour the syrupy juices over the cooked food, or return the cooked food to the pan and turn it to coat in the juices. The slight caramelly fruitiness adds another dimension to the finished dish.

   © 2010 Julie Biuso
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