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Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks5,000 Ingenious Kitchen Hints, Secrets, Shortcuts, and Solutions
By David Joachim
Rodale PressCopyright © 2004 David Joachim
All right reserved.
Acidity in food imparts a sour (tart) taste on the tongue that is one of the four basic flavors. The most common forms are citrus juice, vinegar, wine, and tomatoes. Acidic ingredients (yogurt and buttermilk included) also affect the texture, color, and shelf life of foods. A bit of acid can make a pie crust more tender, stabilize whipped egg whites, and bring a shine to copper cookware.
To make acidulated water * For each quart (4 cups) of cold water, add 4 tablespoons lemon juice. Or add a different acidic ingredient, such as 2 teaspoons vinegar or 1/2 cup white wine.
To prevent discoloration of low-acid foods * Toss the cut food with lemon juice or vinegar. This method will keep cut apples, potatoes, bananas, and other low-acid foods from turning brown. Or place the cut food in acidulated water until needed.
To enhance flavors * A bit of citrus juice or vinegar enhances the flavors of fruits, vegetables, poultry, and seafood by complementing natural sweetness.
To decrease acidity * Add a sweet ingredient such as sugar, honey, or syrup.
Start with a ratio of 1 part sweetener to 3 parts acidic ingredient (say, 1 teaspoon sugar to 1 tablespoon lemon juice). Increase the ratio as desired. Equal amounts give a pleasant sweet-and-sour flavor.
Alcohol see also Beer; Flambe; Sherry; Wine
An important ingredient in many recipes, alcohol adds flavor to sauces, soups, marinades, and even ice cream. When heated, some but not all of the alcohol evaporates.
To select * Match the type of alcohol to the food. For instance, flavor a raspberry sorbet with raspberry liqueur. There is no reason to use very expensive spirits for cooking, but keep in mind that if it's not worth drinking, it's not worth cooking with either. Avoid products labeled "cooking wine." These often contain salt, are of poor quality, and taste awful.
To cook with alcohol * Be careful not to add too much. Many alcohol spirits have strong flavors that can easily overpower a dish. Begin by adding just a teaspoon or tablespoon, then taste the dish and add more if desired.
To safely add alcohol to a hot pan * Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the alcohol, swirling the pan to help keep the alcohol from heating too quickly. Return the pan to low heat and continue cooking as necessary.
To give frozen desserts a smooth, creamy texture * Add 1 to 2 teaspoons alcohol to the base. Alcohol prevents ice crystals from forming, which helps keep frozen desserts creamy. But be careful. Too much alcohol will prevent your dessert from freezing at all, and you may end up with something best enjoyed with a straw rather than with a spoon.
To boil off alcohol * Remove a hot skillet from the heat and add 1/2 to 1 cup liquor, wine, liqueur, or beer. Let the liquid in the pan boil until the vapors do not sting the inside of your nose when inhaled, about 1 minute for liquor, wine, or liqueur and 30 seconds for beer.
This Italian term translates to "to the tooth" and is used to describe the preferred texture for cooked pasta and some vegetables.
To check for al dente texture * Take a bite and look at the center of the food. Pasta should be completely cooked through with no white core but should still offer a bit of resistance. Vegetables should be tender yet crisp.
Anchovies; Anchovy Paste
These tiny, bold-flavored fish are most often available in their preserved form in tins. Anchovy paste is available in tubes.
To select * Go for whole anchovies packed in salt. They have the best flavor and are usually bigger and meatier than oil-packed anchovies. If you can't find salt-packed anchovies, glass jars of oil-packed fillets are the next best choice. Choose the jar with the meatiest fillets. Tins of oil-packed anchovies, which don't allow you to see what you're buying, are a poor third choice. Finally, buy anchovy paste only as a last resort for convenience. Anchovy paste is essentially the leftovers of the anchovy production plant packed into tubes.
To store * After opening, transfer any unused anchovies to a container, cover with at least 1" of olive oil, seal the container, and refrigerate for up to 1 year.
To fillet whole, salt-packed anchovies * Rinse off the salt with cold water. Working over a colander in the sink under slow running water, hold the fish belly-up and run a finger from the head down through the tail to separate the fillets and expose the backbone. Lift the backbone away from the fillet and discard. Soak the fillets in cold water for 20 to 30 minutes to reduce saltiness. Dry on paper towels before using or storing. Store as you would unfilleted anchovies.
To cook * Keep the heat low and cook anchovies slowly, so that they dissolve gradually. Avoid high heat, which hardens anchovies and gives them a harsh, bitter flavor.
To replace anchovies * For pure convenience, substitute anchovy paste for mashed anchovies. It saves mashing time and cleanup. Use 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste in place of each anchovy fillet. Refrigerate unused anchovy paste in its tube for up to 6 months. For a vegetarian substitute, use 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce or vegetarian Worcestershire sauce mixed with 1/2 teaspoon dried dulse sea vegetable flakes (see page 456) in place of each anchovy fillet.
QUICK ANCHOVY SAUCE Combine 2 ounces anchovy paste, 5 tablespoons olive oil, and 4 minced garlic cloves. Use as a sauce for 1 pound pasta, 2 pounds potatoes, or 3 cups cooked rice. Also adds a quick flavor shot to fish soups, salad dressings, and pan sauces. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Angel Food Cake
A type of sponge cake, angel food cake requires no other leavening than egg whites. It also contains no butter and no egg yolks, so it is extremely low in fat.
To invert the pan during cooling * Place the pan tube over the neck of a tall, sturdy bottle. Or prop the pan edges on 4 cans of equal height.
To slice easily * Freeze the cake, then thaw before cutting.
To use leftover egg yolks * Hard-cook the yolks in a microwave oven, then press through a sieve. Use in a salad or as a garnish. (To hard-cook 3 to 4 yolks, stir to blend, loosely cover in an oiled, microwaveable bowl, and cook on medium power for 60 seconds.) Or, if you're really ambitious, use leftover yolks to make Classic Hollandaise Sauce (see page 439).
Meant to stimulate the palate, appetizers differ from hors d'oeuvres in only one respect: They may be served with utensils, whereas hors d'oeuvres are usually served as finger food. (See page 6 for a party's worth of easy appetizers.)
Apples see also Pies
New York might be the Big Apple, but Washington State is the largest apple-producing state in America. The apple itself is native to central Asia.
To select * The flesh should be firm; the skin should be smooth, tight, and free of blemishes and bruises; and the scent should be full and fresh. Don't judge an apple by its looks alone; the best tasting are often not the most beautiful.
To tell when an apple is ready to eat * As an apple ripens, its texture, color, flavor, and aroma all change. The flesh softens slightly, the color deepens, the sweetness intensifies, and the acidity drops as the aroma becomes stronger.
To store * Store unripe apples at room temperature until they are ready to eat. Keep apples that are ready to eat in the refrigerator. To make apples last as long as possible, store them so that they aren't touching each other. Keep apples away from strong-smelling foods such as onions, as apples easily absorb odors.
To peel * Use a vegetable peeler (a knife takes too much of the fruit with the peel). Remove the stem. Hold the peeler at the stem end and begin turning the apple into the blade of the peeler. Angle the peeler at about 60 degrees so that each rotation moves you farther along the circumference of the apple, resulting in a spiral of apple peel. With practice, you should be able to peel an apple in about 20 seconds.
To core and keep whole * Use an apple corer made especially for the job. If you don't have a corer, carefully push a small paring knife down through the top of the apple just off-center from the core, and cut around the core.
To core for baked apples * Hollow out the core using a melon baller, without going all the way through the bottom.
To preserve * Peel, core, and cut the apples into wedges. Toss in lemon juice, then sugar. Spread on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Transfer to a zipper-lock freezer bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
To keep cut apples from turning brown * Drop the fruit into a bowl of acidulated water (see page 2).Or toss the fruit with lemon juice or orange juice. If the sliced apples are to be baked, such as in a crisp or a pie, the browning reaction will be reversed as the apples cook, so no such precautions are necessary.
To revive slightly overripe apples * Chop them, immerse them in apple cider or apple juice, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Or peel and cut the apple and add as is to muffin or pancake batter, where a softer texture is preferred.
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CARAMELIZED APPLE WEDGES Core 1 overripe apple (peel if desired), slice into very thin wedges, and place wedges on a foil-lined baking sheet. Brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter, or dot with butter pieces. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon brown sugar or maple syrup and a pinch of ground cinnamon. Broil until rich golden brown and caramelized, about 3 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream for a simple dessert. Makes 1/2 cup.
Fascinating Fact: A bruise on an apple is no different from the browning that occurs when a sliced apple is exposed to air. In both cases, phenolic compounds and enzymes in the apple's cells react with air, turning the apple brown. In the case of bruising, however, the skin is not broken. It is the air pockets within the apple itself that are reacting with the damaged cells. Either way, the browned part is safe to eat.
To core quickly * Slice the apple in half from top to bottom. Scoop out the core with a melon baller. Or, if the shape of the final apple slices is not important, use a paring knife to make two deep cuts angled inward--one along each side of the core on each apple half. This cuts out the core in a V shape.
To peel and core large amounts quickly * Use a peeling-coring-slicing machine. These nifty contraptions attach to the edge of a countertop and cut prep time almost in half.
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MICROWAVE BAKED APPLES Remove cores of 1 to 6 Rome Beauty apples through stem ends with an apple corer or melon baller, without going all the way through blossom ends. Cut a slice off bottom of each apple to help it sit stably. Remove a strip of peel from top of apple to keep skin from bursting. For each apple, mix 2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon apple juice or brandy. Brush hollowed core and all cut surfaces with this syrup. Stuff each hollowed core with 2 teaspoons each raisins, chopped walnuts, and brown sugar. (Or use 2 teaspoons chutney and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or fresh lemon balm). Place apples in an equidistant circle on a round microwaveable plate, cover loosely with plastic, and microwave on high power, 3 minutes for 1 or 2 apples, 5 minutes for 4 apples, or 9 minutes for 6 apples. Puncture plastic and allow apples to rest 5 minutes to finish cooking. Makes 1 to 6 servings.
To flavor * Cinnamon and nutmeg are perfect flavorings for apples, but try these other combinations: ground cardamom (which is strong, so use just a little); ground ginger (could be combined with cardamom); ground allspice; pumpkin pie spice; or grated lemon, lime, or orange zest.
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FRAGRANT STUFFED BAKED APPLES Working from the stem ends of 4 Rome Beauty apples, remove cores but don't cut all the way through to bottoms. Remove a strip of peel from top of each apple to keep skin from bursting. Mix together 1/3 cup each finely chopped walnuts and brown sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon flour, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Stuff into apples, mounding over tops. Place in an 8" x 8" baking pan, pour 1 cup apple cider around apples, and bake at 350°F, basting several times, until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Serve hot or cold. Creme Anglaise (page 446) makes a wonderful adornment. Makes 4 servings.
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CIDER-GLAZED BREAKFAST SAUSAGES Lightly brown 1/2 pound breakfast sausage links in a skillet. Discard fat, leaving sausages in the pan. Add 1 cup apple cider and simmer until cider reduces to a glaze and sausages are no longer pink inside, about 10 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
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EASY ICEBOX APPLE CAKE Slice 1 pound cake into 10 thick slices. Spread each slice with apple butter (about 3/4 cup total). Place a layer of coated cake slices in a loaf pan or terrine, buttered side up. Spoon on a layer of lightly sweetened whipped cream (about 1/2 cup) and sprinkle with a pinch or two of ground cinnamon. Repeat layering twice more with cake, whipped cream, and cinnamon. Chill for 20 minutes. Makes 10 servings.
If you've never made fresh applesauce at home, give it a try. It's really simple. Serve it alongside roast pork or as a dessert served warm with vanilla ice cream. Applesauce is also a key ingredient for great-tasting, low-fat quick breads and muffins (see "To reduce fat using fruit purees" on page 22).
To make smooth and creamy applesauce * Use a soft-textured apple, such as McIntosh. Add the sugar after the apples have softened, and pass the finished sauce through a food mill or sieve.
To make chunky applesauce * Use a firm apple, such as Northern Spy or Granny Smith. Add the sugar at the beginning of the cooking time, and mash the finished sauce with a wooden spoon or a potato masher.
To tint applesauce pink * Include apples with red skins, such as McIntosh or Cortland, and do not peel before cooking. Pass the cooked sauce through a food mill or a fine-mesh sieve to separate out the skins. The sauce will remain a lovely shade of pink. Or make apple-cranberry sauce by replacing some of the apples with cranberries (3 cups cranberries replaces 1 pound apples). Add 1/2 cup sugar to balance the tartness of the cranberries.
To flavor curried dishes * Add 1/2 cup applesauce to each 1 cup of curry sauce (or broth) when making a curried dish. Simmer as the recipe directs.
SPICY APPLESAUCE In a large saucepan, combine 1 cup apple cider, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 cinnamon stick, and 5 whole cloves. Add 3 pounds peeled, cored, and chopped McIntosh apples. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 20 minutes. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired. Simmer until desired thickness is reached. Makes about 8 cups.
Arrowroot see also Gravy; Sauces
You couldn't ask for a better thickener. This silky white powder is a pure starch derived from a tropical American plant. It's fat-free, easy to digest, and flavorless (so it won't interfere with delicate sauces); it thickens at low temperatures (perfect for heat-sensitive egg-based sauces and custards); it has twice the thickening power of wheat flour and doesn't get cloudy upon thickening (so it makes beautiful fruit sauces and gravies); and it has none of the chalky taste associated with cornstarch.
To store * Keep in an airtight container marked with the date that you bought it. Use within 2 months because its thickening properties diminish with age.
To use * Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot in 1 tablespoon cold liquid. Stir or whisk the cold mixture into 1 cup hot liquid at the end of cooking time. Stir until thickened, about 5 seconds. These proportions will make about 1 cup of medium-thick sauce, soup, or gravy. For a thinner sauce, use 1 teaspoon arrowroot. For a thicker sauce, use up to 1 tablespoon arrowroot.
To replace cornstarch * Use 1 tablespoon arrowroot in place of 2 teaspoons cornstarch.
To replace flour * Use half as much arrowroot as flour. If the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon flour, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot.
Fascinating Fact: The word arrowroot is believed to originate with Native Americans, who used the root to draw out poison from arrow wounds. Another possible origin is a Native American word for flour, araruta. Its scientific name is Maranta arundinacea.
To keep an arrowroot-thickened sauce thick * Stir until just combined. Overstirring can make it thin again.
Marinated artichoke hearts are one of the greatest convenience foods ever made.
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SIMPLE ARTICHOKE SALSA Combine 1 jar (6 ounces) finely chopped marinated artichoke hearts, drained; 1 finely chopped canned jalapeno chile pepper; 1 minced garlic clove; and the juice of 1 small lime. Serve with fish, grilled turkey, or chicken. Makes about 1/2 cup.
To use in potato salad * Drain a jar of marinated artichoke hearts; chop coarsely and fold into your favorite potato salad.
To flavor casseroles * Drain a can of water-packed artichoke hearts. Quarter them and fold into your favorite chicken or rice casserole.
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BOLD SANDWICH RELISH Drain 1 jar (6 ounces) marinated artichoke hearts and 1 can (6 ounces) pitted black olives. Place in a food processor with 1/2 cup sliced stuffed green olives, 8 anchovy fillets, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon capers, 1 garlic clove (optional), and a pinch each dried oregano, ground red pepper, and ground black pepper. Process to a coarse puree. Refrigerate for up to 1 week. Makes about 1 cup.
Originally from the Mediterranean but now cultivated mainly in California, artichokes are the buds of a large thistle in the sunflower family. The edible portions include the base of the green leaves, the tender inner heart, and the base of the choke itself. Artichoke season is at its peak from March to May.
To select * Rub an artichoke with your fingers and listen carefully. If it's tender, the leaves will squeak. A hollow and dry sound indicates a tough, overdeveloped heart. Hold the artichoke in the palm of your hand. Tender ones have a heavy, solid feel. Those with more mature and tougher chokes will feel light and less substantial because they have begun to dehydrate. Keep in mind that size doesn't matter. Size is an indication of where an artichoke grew on the plant, not its age or tenderness. Large ones grow at the top of the plant; smaller ones sprout from the sides of the stalk. And look kindly on artichokes with brown streaks or scars. These marks are known as the "kiss of the frost" and often indicate a delectable nutty flavor.
To store * Keep raw artichokes in a plastic bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator. They should last for at least 1 week.
To wash * Plunge artichokes up and down in a sink full of cold water to dislodge any debris trapped between the leaves.
To steam * Put artichokes, stem end up, in a steamer basket set over 3" of boiling salted water. (This method gets steam to the leaves faster.) Cover and cook until tender, about 15 minutes for baby artichokes and up to 45 minutes for large ones. To test for doneness, tug on one of the leaves. If it comes off easily, the artichoke is ready to eat. Drain by setting the artichokes upside down on a rack; let stand for several minutes before serving.
To cook artichoke stems * Peel and cook in salted, acidulated water. Though often discarded, artichoke stems can be as tender and delicious as the heart.
To serve with wine * Wine enthusiasts agree that artichokes can ruin the flavor of a fine wine because artichokes make other foods taste sweeter (see "Fascinating Fact" on page 13). Experts recommend skipping wine when eating a healthy dose of artichokes. If, however, you have your heart set on it, select a white wine with high acidity, such as Chenin Blanc or dry Riesling, to counteract the sweetening effect.
Excerpted from Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks by David Joachim Copyright © 2004 by David Joachim. Excerpted by permission.
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