Tips & Tricks

Some help files, a bit of advice, a little nudge for the neophytes.

Here, in this article, I’m going to list some assorted tips, tricks, ideas & things that are too small to have a full article. From time to time, I’ll update this, as things come to mind that I would like to share. The newest stuff will be on the top, as it’s way faster to insert at the top. With the exception of the first few pieces.

 

 

Here I’ll put a check list for you

Brown Sugar
Creamy Mac-using the powdered stuff
Wash your produce
Salted butter vs Unsalted butter
Eggs- the incredible edible-Egg grades
Potato sizes
No cry onion cutting
Tommy toes how to evenly cut a tomato
Cooking with flame-torch
Sweating Onions
A good knife

 

Brown Sugar

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“The most common forms of molasses are made from either sugar cane or sugar beet juice which is boiled down to a syrup. Sugar crystals are extracted from the syrup, and the remaining dark liquid is molasses. Molasses can also be made from sorghum, pomegranate, carob, and dates.”

“Molasses, or black treacle, is a viscous product resulting from refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. Molasses varies by amount of sugar, method of extraction, and age of plant. Sugarcane molasses is agreeable in taste and aroma, and is primarily used for sweetening and flavoring foods in U.S., Canada and elsewhere, while sugar beet molasses is foul-smelling and unpalatable, so it is mainly used as an animal feed additive in Europe and Russia, where it is chiefly produced. Molasses is a defining component of fine commercial brown sugar.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molasses

Whew!

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So, just add some to your sugar :}).

1 Tbsp molasses
1 Cup of sugar

Put together in a blender or Cuisinart speed stick grinder & buzz away. Be sure to clear off the sides of any extra.

 

Sub notes: Be sure that your sugar is dry. Humidity will make it difficult for the molasses to mix & you’ll get large “spots”.

If you want it darker, add more than a tablespoon of molasses.

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You can put it in a vacuum bag, which will help boost the flavor some. It also helps it blend a little better. The first sugar blend was vacuum sealed first.

 

Creamy Mac & Cheese

I know how popular the boxed macaroni & cheese is, it’s the one I use. I usually don’t have the time to always delegate to shredding the cheese, baking & so on. But I like a creamy cheese as much as anyone else. So, I put my thinking cap on (years ago), on how to make it better.

Here are the secrets that you can do, using the products called for on the package. No, not adding (yucky) mayo or additional things; butter, milk & the dried cheese.

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While your water is boiling:

Here’s what you do. Use warmed milk, & melted butter. That’s right. The easiest way is to melt the butter first, then add the milk to that. To get a real creamy taste, heat the milk up before adding it to the melted butter. Don’t boil any of these, just enough to make it warm & melt the butter.

Mix those together. Now, sprinkle little bits of the cheese in this & mix together. Don’t dump it all in, just mix little amounts. You can use a spoon to mix. If you’d like, you can use your hand blender, of course. Drain the pasta, when it’s ready.
Now, pour the blended cheese mix into to pan, & spoon the pasta into your blending container. Pour that with the remaining pasta, into the pan & mix. Very creamy cheese from a powdered mix.

If you want some variances, this is what you can do.

1) Replace the milk with the pasta water. It will give a better depth,

2) Add dried milk (or buttermilk) to the pasta water of above-very creamy

3) Use (warmed) buttermilk or cream instead of milk

Cheating stuff:

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Double the cheese, milk & butter. You can buy the powdered cheese extra to do this, or use the packet from one of the boxes & use the pasta for something else.

Add Velveeta to or instead of the powdered cheese.
Use shredded cheddar cheese & add to the hot pasta. Keep the pan on low so the cheese melts. You can also use a double boiler to melt the cheese, but a quick 40 seconds in the microwave will tame your cheese.
A couple tablespoons of sour cream will really make your M&C come to life. Be sure to put it under the broiler, to get a nice browning (if you like it that way). You can add some bread crumbs to the top, but that’s really changing the taste.

Wash your produce

I have had a picture for some time, one that I have printed & posted on the cutting table at work, a few times.
It’s title “why we wash lettuce”. This picture was updated when I picked up some Romain lettuce at the store, & stored it, knowing I was going to start a blog.

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So here it is, you can see a dead fly next to the darker green piece. This lettuce came from the store, as anyone would buy it & put it in their cart. I don’t expect them (at the store) to wash it, but a little cleaning is nice from the farmers (that’s too expensive). So yeah, wash or at least rinse your lettuce.

You can go as far as some specialty produce washes & washers if you like. Usually washing means to rinse & make sure the bugs & sand is removed. You can mix a tablespoon of white vinegar to a pint spray bottle if you’d like. Open everything up & spray both sides. Let the food drip dry (air dry) or use a salad spinner to help fling the cleaner off. Pat dry with a towel (clean, sanitized) if need be, but air drying is the best.
Don’t use any chemicals or additives like that, & just as a note: You can’t run it through the dishwasher, the lye will ruin it (not to mention the sprayer).

Salted butter vs Unsalted butter

Firstly, not really. Well, that seems to be what people agree on. Certainly in baking there is a need, but stove top for the most part, no. For clarified butter, yes, well sure it’ll taste better with out the salt. Much French cooking is going to be unsalted.

Salt, adding it to the recipe via the butter. If your dish is that sensitive, you should also look into the butter being sweet butter, or creamy butter & if you need that.

Unsalted is usually “fresher”, but they make stuff every day, sometimes for three shifts, & stock it in the freezer for “awhile”. Don’t think it’s that fresh.

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Here’s a tip:

It’s best to use the type of butter called for in a recipe. But here’s a general rule: reduce or add 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup (1/4 lb; 115g; 1 stick) of butter.

See, kinda complicated, but it could be important to your recipe, your diet, your pie crust!

Eggs- the incredible edible

This actually came up a couple weeks ago. Grading eggs.

Grade AA isn’t more fresh or superior than grade A, & grade B can actually more fresh than all of them. It has nothing to do with size.

The grade rating is how pointy the/firm the yolks are. Well, how they should be. Most people have no idea, & many suppliers/stores will swap out eggs for size (age is below).

So, an egg that is AA is going to have a yolk that is perky (think witch caps), & a little more firm. So best for easy over, sunny side up & photo shoots. Grade A is just below that, & grade B is going to be the egg you want for sandwiches (fried flat), whipping, scrambled & so on.

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A sub note for you. Double & multiple yolks come from young hens that are starting out laying. Blood in an egg means she strained too hard usually. Brown eggs taste better, but the chickens are more apt to strut about, so not as “easy” to corral.
If your AA eggs, just won’t flip with out breaking, it’s an old egg. I’m not saying it’s a scam, but you do know that there are some places that will “slip in” an old egg or two. It’s about money, “fresh” eggs get the most, old eggs, become liquid eggs in a carton.
Eggs in America are washed before packing.

A little more direct

Eggs are typically graded based upon their internal and external qualities. The grading of all eggs produced in the US is done under the guidance of either federal or state officials that supervise the process based upon strict USDA standards. The grading process involves examining the shell, yolk, and whites of each egg as it passes over a strong white light. This process is known as candling.

The USDA has an optional shell egg grading program that provides and enforces standards, grades, and weight classes. Once the eggs are graded they are put into either 1 of 3 categories: Grade AA, Grade A, and Grade B.

Grade AA Eggs – Eggs in this category must be clean, unbroken, with a normal shape. Air cells can’t measure more than 1/8”. The egg white must be clear and firm and the yolk should be free from any flaws or blemishes.

Grade A Eggs – Eggs in this category must also be clean, unbroken, with a normal shape. Air cells can be larger, up to 3/16”. The egg white must be clear and “reasonably” firm and the yolk should be free from any flaws or blemishes.

Grade B Eggs – Eggs in this category are a little different. They still have to be unbroken but may have abnormal shapes or be stained in some smaller areas. Egg whites are often watery and the yolks will often be dark, flattened, or enlarged. Grade B eggs are not sold to the general public and are often used to create liquid or dried egg products.
——-
Potatoes one potato, two potato

There are quite a few versions of these bad boys. Baking potatoes to boiling potatoes. How you cook them is important, well somewhat. Russet (brown skin) is the number one potato. It’s used in baking as well as frying & every other recipe you can think of.

It’s a stout potato, & has a certain taste to it. It also produces the most starch, so keep that in mind when you’re peeling or cooking with them.

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For the best baked potato, you want what is called a baker (duh), but you aren’t going to get them at the grocery store (cash & karry is good). Bakers are number 1 potatoes. They are sized by numbers, with 1 being the biggest. I think the smallest of these in spec is 5 or 6 or so inches long & about 3-4 inches tall. This makes for one mean baked potato. Resist the urge to pierce the skin. Just bake them for an hour & half & do it right.

The smallest size you want for potato skins is going to be number 5 (bigger than what is in those 5lb bags). They are a good size, & have some “meat” to them (which you’ll scrape out & put in your soup anyhow), but mainly they have a thick skin, & a good wall for frying & stuffing.

Red potatoes, like red onions look photo cute in a stew. Actually, white & fingerling potatoes are better for stews & soups, except that. . . Russet has that starch, doesn’t it? So it’s a free thickening agent.

For more reading check Epicurious out: http://www.epicurious.com/archive/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/visual-guide-potatoes
Also The Idaho Potato Commission http://www.idahopotato.com has a cool pdf brochure

 

Onions:
Yellow, sweet, red. I won’t get into Spanish or any of the variance like that. Yellow is the most used & what recipes call for when it says onion. Red is a substitute that came out one day when I ran out of yellow onions & only had red onions in the salad bar. Red onions have a different taste to them, & will change the recipe. If you don’t taste the difference between the two onions, you probably have your steak cooked well done.

crying

If yellow is too bold for you, bring it down to red (which has a softer bite), or use a sweet onion. Cooking tip: Be sure to salt & pepper your onions when cooking them. Onions are on the “needs to be salted while cooking” list.

Take off the hard brown skin, to the first layer (boil that for a nice yellow food coloring). Take the first layer off & toss that in your soup. It’s hard, but makes great stock. Sub note: That thin layer that’s next “used to” be used for onion skin paper, then they went to just mashing the whole onion, & soon went away because everything was air mail.

Not crying. There are plenty of ways to cut an onion to cut down on the gas that comes out & causes you to tear. From cutting them in water to having someone else do it. Like anyone who has stood in a professional kitchen, I have cut my share of onions, & let me tell you, the dishwasher isn’t going to let you use his sinks, any more than the pantry chef will, & cutting them underwater just looks weird. Especially difficult are the scuba tanks on your back.

So here is what I do. I don’t know how “you” prep an onion, but seeing I’ve done a few bazillion pounds, this works for me. Cut the ends off (save those for the stock pot or compost). Cut onion in half lengthwise. Peel off the skin, toss. Peel off the first layer, toss.

Toss equals stock pot or compost, just NOT what you’re working on.

Dice or otherwise cut the onion. Now here, is where everyone gets lost. You don’t have to lean your face down into the onion to cut it. Let your arms block most of the gas as it races out, up towards your eyes. I guess it’s more of a feel for where you are cutting.

More often than not, my hands cover the onion, & I keep an “eye” out for where the onion stops & my holding hand starts. More often than not, I get it right ;}).
Another great way, especially if time is a factor & you’re dicing 300 pounds of onion for a recipe, is to get one of those metal ‘dicers’. You just pop the onion in whole after prepping, & done. I have found those to be the most helpful of all. I, like the weighted kind, that drops on the onion. I have seen plenty of people twist the handle kind, & ruin the blades. Not everyone wants one of those things, they sure are expensive if you cut one onion every month,

 

Tommy toes:
Slicing a tomato is an art, well it seems to be. I have seen the horrible knife skills some people have. Many I’ve tried to help with these tips.

Firstly, if you can’t slice evenly, I suggest you “pre slice” your tomatoes. Get your tomato. Start with a firm tomato. Not a mushy one, you want a bit of a resistance to it. Now with the tip of your knife, make little slice marks (or points). This way, when you cut the tomato, your slices will be more uniform. Also, grab a fine serrated bread knife. Seriously, if you can’t cut evenly, go ahead & ruin a bread knife for even cuts. Just keep that knife, for your cuts.

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A bread knife is quite a bit more forgiving, probably because it isn’t as daunting as say a chef’s knife? I don’t know, I just know that I have bought more than my share of bread knives for the bar to cut their citrus wedges.
You can practice this summer on a bag of lemons (or limes), then make an awesome lemon aid, or even tomatoes!

 

Cooking with flame, & the high cost of fuel:

Flame on! No, Phil, not that flame.

Perhaps you’re diving into the taste of flame cooking, perhaps you just want to touch a few dishes with fire? I have been using a torch in the kitchen (professional or personal), for about as long as I can remember. You can pick the tips & bottles up nearly anyplace. Some have lighters/strikers on the unit.

Way back, when I started, only rich chefs could afford those for the kitchen, so I went along a slightly cheaper route. I picked up a BernzOmatic torch kit (I have an automotive degree-honestly). Over the course of time, I have experimented with different types of bottled gas, & how they did in a kitchen setting, not just loosening a few nuts. BernzOmatic offers all kinds of torches, for all kinds of applications.
Acetylene, Mapp, Butane are the top gas choices. As you can see in the pics here, and a few articles, I took my old favorite torch head, & put it on a can of camping stove fuel. I was out of gas, & this was handy. Now Propane is a little “cooler” flame, than Mapp gas, & it doesn’t have a pretty blue a flame as butane, but it does the job very well.

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I also have found that in using this propane gas, the flame doesn’t blow out as quickly as other gas (on the torch). One of the things as maybe a con, is that the (or this) bottle is a bit large for those who have small hands. I like it, & have more control of how it fits in my mitts.

Whatever gas or torch type you use, keep in mind a few things. Where your flame is pointed is a great one. Be careful what your using your torch on. Flammable is flammable, & a torch will ignite it. The container your product is in is quite important. Don’t torch in a plastic container or near one. You may be surprised at how hot the flame is on a torch (or any flame really).
Also keep in mind about conductive or continued heating. That is, turn off your burner (under the pan) when you’re using the torch on the top. The pan will continue to heat.

Adding flame to something, will change the taste. Flame broiled vs pan fried (God forbid you use a frying pan to cook a steak). If you’ve ever had a steak that was cooked over (or under) an actual flame, you know what I’m talking about. I have added a few steaks to the Salamander

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to give them that little extra, especially when I’m making staff meals ;}).

 

Sweating onions:

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You are going to see this a bunch in recipes. It is also referred to as translucent. You’re not frying the onions, nor boiling the crap out of them, just warming them up enough to convince the flavors to leave & merge with everything else.
Sweating onions is easy enough. Start with a medium high heat, for your oil. Toss onions in, lower temp to simmer, season onions, put a lid on pan, come back in 15 odd minutes. You don’t have to stir them till about 15 minutes. It’ll take about 25 minutes on simmer. You can increase the temp to around medium, just be sure to keep your eye on them, & stir them up a bit.

 

Sharp knife or do I really need a real knife?

Yes. If you don’t buy anything else, put your budget in knife. It is the single most important tool that you will use, & you will be very happy that you have a knife that can hold an edge.

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Who’s knife you buy, is up to you? Yes, you can “get away” with having a lessor brand knife. Even the “real” knife companies make lower quality knives that are better than that chintzy crap. Actually my favorite Henckels is one of their “less than professional” grade knives. I’ll see if I can get a snap of it. It’s my second, as I had some scandalous crew steal my first Henckels a few year ago.

 

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