I have been cooking and baking yummy food for so long now, and there are so many tips I have learned through the years that can help make your cooking and kitchen tasks much easier. I thought that sharing some of my tips would make for an interesting column. There are many books out there that have “pro-tips” on cooking and baking; these are the ones that I have found most useful for the everyday cook. In Sayulita, we love to live and play outdoors as much as possible, so any tips that can help make our food easier to prepare is welcome! As Martha Stewart says, “it’s a good thing!”
TIPS FOR BAKING SWEETS:
- Are you a nut burner? It is so easy to get distracted by answering your phone, going to the bathroom, etc. Baking nuts in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes will bring out the oils and therefore the flavors. Watch them carefully to ensure you do not burn them!
- If your recipe calls for cake flour and you don’t have any in your pantry, you can substitute with 1 & 3/4 cups of regular flour + 1/3 cup of cornstarch. This will make 2 cups of cake flour.
- When measuring any type of flour, baking powder, or baking soda, lighten the dry ingredients by fluffing with a fork and then ALWAYS use the scoop or measuring spoon method, then level with a straight edged utensil.
- Always zest a lemon, lime, or orange before squeezing out the juice.
- To get the most juice out of your citrus, microwave it for just 20 seconds or drop it whole into warm water until the citrus feels warm. Then, juice it.
- When baking cookies- for consistent cookie size, use an ice cream scoop when measuring the dough.
- Cracking an egg one at a time into a small bowl ensures that no shell gets into the bowl.
- When separating eggs, it is easiest when the eggs are cold. Pour each white and yolk into individual bowls after separating. If a yolk breaks, and you have broken it over the bowl full of egg whites, yolk could drip into the whites, therefore ruining the whites from beating to full volume.
- Chocolate chips and chopped chocolate from a chocolate bar are not interchangeable. Chocolate chips are designed to hold their shape and harden when cooled. Thus, they are perfect for chocolate-chip cookies. Melted chocolate from a bar is what you want to use when your recipe calls for melted chocolate.
- To make homemade buttermilk: add 1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, or 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to 1 cup of milk. Stir and let sit for 5-15 minutes, until the milk is slightly thickened and curdles.
- Always dissolve cornstarch in a cold liquid before adding to your mixture. If you add the cornstarch directly to a hot liquid it will not dissolve, resulting in a lumpy sauce.
- To incorporate delicate beaten egg whites into a batter, mix a small amount of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten it up first. This makes it much easier to fold in the remaining whites without them deflating.
- The culinary icon Ina Garten says: “I’m always terrified it’s not going to come out!” Give yourself permission to worry until you try your finished product! Sometimes the best sweets take trial and error to make. I must say that I always feel like Ina until I taste my results. 9 times out of 10, all is good!
- Butter works best for baking when it is at room temperature, unless your recipe specifically calls for cold or frozen grated butter. In Sayulita, I find that for anything that results in a flaky crust, using frozen, grated butter gives the best results.
- When you need candied nuts for a recipe, I suggest using pecans. The candy coating sinks into the pecan’s crevices, making them crispy and flavorful.
- Always gather all your ingredients before beginning. This is called “Mise en Place” and helps you to stay organized.
TIPS FOR SAVORY COOKING:
- Always use gloves when handling spicy hot chilies, such as jalapeños, serrano peppers, or habaneros. Otherwise, the chili oil will stick to your fingers and can make your skin very hot or irritated. NEVER rub your eyes; they will be on fire for hours!
- Most of the heat in a jalapeño is in the seeds and ribs. If spicy is what you want – keep them in! The smaller the chili, the hotter it usually is.
- Do you know why a margarita glass is rimmed in salt? The salt tames the bitterness of the alcohol and makes all the flavors burst!
- Fresh lemon or lime juice can bring out the flavor of sauces, meats, and vegetables. For example, I add lemon juice to a fresh fruit sauce, such as blueberry. Also, lemon or lime juice squeezed onto steamed green beans makes them very tasty.
- When cooking pasta, salt the water. The pasta absorbs the salt while cooking, resulting in a more flavorful dish.
- When you want to cook chicken kabobs, I prefer to use thighs over breasts. The thighs have more flavor and tenderness because of their fat content.
- To heat corn tortillas, place them on a dry pan on medium heat for approximately 30 seconds on each side, or wrap them in foil and warm in a 350 degree oven until warmed, or for about 5-10 minutes.
- When using a meat thermometer, insert the probe HORIZONTALLY into the thickest part of the meat. If meat has the bone in, be certain that the probe is not touching the bone, as it will give a false reading.
- If a dish that you cooked is too greasy, wrap ice cubes in a paper towel and pat it directly on the food. The ice will attract the excess fat and it will stick to the paper towel. When de-fatting chicken soup, I always use a sheet of folded paper towel, and I drag it over the top of the soup. The excess fat will stick to the paper towel. You may need to do this a few times to remove all the fat.
- My daughter Janna taught me to cook bacon slices on a parchment-lined baking pan in a 350 degree oven. This way there is no stove-top mess, and the strips will not curl up as they do in a stove-top pan.
- To remove the sharp taste from raw onions, soak the slices in cold water for about 10 minutes and then drain well before cooking.
- Rather than using a rotisserie chicken for any chicken salad, home-cook your own breasts. Flatten them until they are approximately an even thickness, and then marinate them in ¼ cup olive oil, 3 crushed garlic cloves, ¾ teaspoon salt and pepper, ¼ teaspoon crushed oregano leaves, and 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon or lime zest. Marinate for 6 hours or overnight. Then, sauté in olive oil for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on how thick the breasts are.
- If you want to thinly slice raw meat, put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. This makes it much easier to slice. I always do this for chicken, beef, or pork satay.
- If using wooden skewers for satay or shish-kebabs, soak them for at least 30 minutes in water, weighing down the skewers with a heavy plate or bowl. This prevents the skewers from burning or splitting while grilling.
- Did you know that fine table salt and flaky sea salt are not interchangeable? 1 teaspoon of fine salt is more salt than 1 teaspoon of kosher or flaky sea salt.
- When roasting vegetables in the oven, line the baking pan with parchment paper or foil for easy cleanup.
- For delicate, creamy scrambled eggs, dissolve 2 teaspoons of cornstarch into 3 tablespoons of milk or cream, and then add this to your eggs before scrambling. I like my eggs very rich, so I always use cream!
- To deglaze a pan is to add liquid to the pan, such as water, stock, or wine. Heat and scrape up the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Then, use as part of your sauce or gravy. A stainless steel pan is best for this, as the bits stick to the bottom.
- For a fluffy lump-free deviled egg filling, pass the cooked yolks through a mesh sieve before adding the mayonnaise.
- When making shrimp cakes, chop shrimp finely. Also, put the prepared cakes in the refrigerator for an hour; this really helps them hold together.
- When making a grilled cheese sandwich, the cheese melts better and faster if the cheese is shredded.
That’s it for now folks! I hope that some of my tips really make it easier for you when cooking, so you have more time to get out to the beach!
I will be available for catering in Sayulita starting November 5th. Fancy cakes and appetizers are my favorite specialties. Please go to my Sayulita Life Page, LIVE, LOVE, & EAT in SAYULITA, to contact me. If you have any comments or questions, as always I would LOVE to hear from you!
My next column? I have always wanted to make Martha Stewart’s Butter Ring Cookies.
Having a friend over for a glass of iced tea, or a glass of bubbly prosecco? This is a perfect cookie to serve at the pool with your favorite drink; it is great for a lazy-dazy Sayulita afternoon.
*Written by: Karina Shecter