Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Cooking Tips

I'm going to try to make this a weekly installment - there are lots of good 'tricks of the trade' that have been passed down to me.  Here are some to start with:

When cooking mushrooms, never get them wet prior to cooking, and don't add salt to them until they release their liquids while sautéing.  You'll notice that when you add mushrooms to a pan with melted butter (yes, this is the best way to sauté them), that they will almost instantly absorb all of the moisture in the pan.  You don't need to add more, just keep stirring them and after a few minutes, they will almost magically start to release the moisture back into the pan.  Now it's okay to add the salt.  Wetting or salting too early will result in tough, chewy, rubbery mushrooms, and no one likes those.

Don't overcook your veggies!  Lots of people think they hate a certain type of vegetable, because they have only had it overcooked.  For my husband, this was asparagus.  He grew up eating overly boiled or steamed asparagus, and he thought it was the grossest thing. And who can blame him? Asparagus cooked that way does not taste good.  The first time I made asparagus for him, I grilled it very simply with just some EVOO and S&P, just until it turned bright green and got tender.  Surprise, surprise, he loved it, and now he's an asparagus convert. The two of us can easily but down a bunch of it in one meal.  This idea goes for other vegetables, too.  Overly cooking your veggies destroys their texture, ruins the flavor, and from a health perspective, it depletes the healthy mineral and vitamin content.  So don't do it!

Your stove top has temperature knobs for a reason!  So many people try to cook everything very quickly over very high heat. This can result in scorched flavors, and with some things, an overly cooked exterior with an undercooked interior.  Do yourself a favor, and experiment with different temperatures, and remember this mantra - low & slow is the way to go.  There's no way to quickly caramelize onions... sometimes the amazingly delicious changes that food goes through take time, and the time is always worth it.

Grandma & Great Grandma with
veggies fresh from her garden
FRESH, FRESHER, FRESHEST.  Whenever you can, use fresh ingredients.  The only time I open cans in my house is for things like tomato paste, tuna fish, or beans (sometimes I use dried beans, but often I don't have the time).  Food always tastes better when it's fresh. And in season.  Who likes a mealy tomato in February? Not me.  Who likes a red-ripe fresh tomato in the middle of July? Almost everyone!  Foods taste best, and are the best for you, when they're in season.  If you don't know what the different seasons are for foods, follow this rule of thumb that almost always works: If they're very cheap, there are lots of them, they smell good and are vibrant in color, they're in season (think zucchini & summer squash right now).  If they're expensive, there are few of them, are small and shrively and have no smell and a dull color, they're probably not in season and have been shipped across the world (carbon footprints, anyone?) to satisfy us "we want it NOW" Americans.  If you can, visit your local farmer's markets, or sign up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  Both of these  are excellent ways to eat the freshest of the fresh, and your taste buds will thank you!

When boiling potatoes, always start them in cold water on the stove top.  The potatoes will heat up along with the water which results in them being perfectly evenly cooked through. If you've ever had crunchy potato salad, then you know how important this is!

That's it for now.  More to come next week!

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