Tips & Tricks
It started out innocently, in the kitchen. The more time I spent cooking and baking, the more I wondered: How do I make it easier, faster, cheaper, prettier, better? The answers ended up in a book crammed with 12,167 kitchen secrets. Now I just can’t stop. I come across new tips, tricks and techniques every day, and collecting them is an addiction. So here we go – 12,167 and counting . . . .
D.I.Y. Pumpkin Purée: Forget the canned stuff. Homemade pumpkin purée tastes pleasantly fresher and lighter. Use a halved pie pumpkin (for best results) or large chunks from a jack-o’-lantern pumpkin. Roast the pumpkin pieces until tender. Scrape the flesh from the skin and purée it. Recipe: D.I.Y. Pumpkin Purée. Dishes to try it in: Seasonal Pumpkin Soup and Pumpkin Hummus. A 1 lb (500 g) chunk of pumpkin yields 1 cup (250 mL) purée when you use a food processor or 1-1/4 cups (300 mL) when mashed by hand. You can also purée using a potato ricer or food mill. Make a big batch and freeze it in zip-lock bags. How to microwave, steam, boil or grill pumpkin, pg. 296 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Top Seeds: Yes, papaya seeds are edible. Peppery, sharp and somewhat astringent, these glistening black orbs are an acquired taste. They may be used as a substitute for black pepper, sprinkled on food as a garnish or added to fruit salad for zip. (Check out the Fruit Peacock recipe; it calls for two measly seeds, so you’ll have lots left for other uses.) Rinse the seeds, let them dry, then use them raw or toasted. Papaya seeds are also useful in quick marinades because the papaya plant contains an enzyme called papain, a powerful meat tenderizer. (Don’t marinate overnight if using papain – you don’t want your meat to turn to mush.) Papaya seeds are perhaps best known in the world of folk medicine. They are considered a digestive aid, anti-parasitic agent and rash remedy. How to toast papaya seeds, pg. 229 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Magic Formula: When preparing lemon curd, remember that one is the magic number. For every 1 egg yolk, use 1 tbsp (15 mL) each of sugar, lemon juice and butter. Plus you add 1 tbsp (15 mL) of zest and 1 pinch of salt to the mixture. More tips and recipe links: Luscious Lemon Curd. All about custards, pg. 599 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Successful Eggsperiment: I just learned a bizarre, clever way to separate an egg: Crack a cold egg into a bowl. Squeeze a small plastic water bottle, centre the neck over the yolk, then release your grip very slowly, just until the yolk is sucked into the bottle. If a bit of egg white clings to the bottle, release it with your finger or rub the neck lightly against the bowl. To liberate the yolk from the bottle, invert and squeeze gently. The yolk will come out whole. Careful: You need a gentle touch to use this method. I got it right on the second try. Efficient ways to separate eggs, pg. 188 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Wet Ears: Soaking an ear of corn before grilling it helps the kernels cook through evenly before becoming too charred. Pull back the husks or discard them, clean off the corn silk, then soak the corn in a large container of water for 30 to 60 minutes. Alternatively, soak the corn right in the husks. Try a recipe: Mexican-Style Grilled Corn. Other ways to grill corn, pg. 252 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Saving Your Bacon: Everything tastes better with bacon, so why waste it? After all, we are paying for the fat as well as the lean. What’s old is new again, and like my mother did years ago, I started saving bacon drippings for cooking. Unlike my mom, I don’t leave the drippings languishing beside the stove. I pour the fat into an ice cube tray or tiny plastic storage tubs, then freeze it. I strain the drippings first (bacon particles can burn), but you don’t have to. An alternative is to wait until the bacon solidifies at room temperature, dollop spoonfuls onto a plate, freeze, then transfer to zip-lock bags. Ways to make bacon crispier, pg. 342 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Bacon Bonus: Don't toss that tasty bacon fat. Cook with it. Three ideas: For a bacon and egg experience without all the bacon calories, fry some eggs in a non-stick pan brushed lightly with drippings. Fry stale bread cubes in bacon fat to make croutons that are perfect for caesar salad. Brush bacon drippings on potato skins before filling them. More bacon tricks, pg. 342 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Tart Math: When I want to transform my favourite pies into tarts, I start with this helpful arithmetic: 1 lb (500 g) of pastry dough is enough for 16 tarts (3-inch/8 cm diameter). For each tart, use 1 oz (30 g) of dough, cut or roll it into a 4-inch (10 cm) circle, place it into the cup of a standard muffin tin and ruffle the edges. (Note: measurements were tested in Imperial.) Ways to make tarts, pg. 579 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Waste Not, Wilt Not: I hate to see salad go to waste, but leftover dressed salad is fit only for the compost bin. I also hate to serve dressing on the side – it never tastes just right when it’s simply dribbled over the salad. Solution: Keep a medium tossing bowl beside the main salad so diners can take the amount they want, add dressing to taste, mix and self-serve. Afterwards, I transfer the leftover undressed salad to a storage tub or zip-lock bag. If the salad includes tomatoes, however, I discard them before I refrigerate the leftovers. The cold is disastrous for tomatoes. Salad dressing tips, pg. 462 in 12, 167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Water Works: One of the best bits of advice from celebrated chef Ferran Adrià (formerly of elBulli) is to never take basic ingredients for granted. And what could be more basic than water? H2O is not tasteless. For cooking, use water that you would enjoy drinking. The taste of the water will especially affect the taste of dishes as simple as rice or potatoes, as well as more elaborate creations. Bottled water tips, pg. 387 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Better Butter: When making pie dough, I often shred the cold butter instead of mixing chunks into the flour. I shred the butter using the large holes of a box grater. Refrigerated butter works fine, but for best results, freeze the butter first. Instead of mixing with a pastry blender or food processor, simply toss the shredded butter with the flour before adding ice cold water. This cuts down on the mixing. The less the dough is handled, the more tender the pastry. Pie crust mythstakes, pg. 575 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Coconut Cubes: Be ready for a heat wave: Freeze coconut water into ice cubes, to add nuance to summer cocktails and coolers. It also makes refreshing, low-cal ice pops. Coconut water is much subtler than coconut milk. The differences, pg. 226 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Healthier Eater: Potato perogies can get stodgy. Put them over the top and grab some extra vitamin C by scattering drained sauerkraut over them. Or go cross-cultural and dollop salsa over them instead of smothering them with calorie-laden sour cream. Other ideas for salsa, pg. 149 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Perfecting Pancakes: You’ll make a mess and end up with clumps if you stir fresh fruit such as blueberries into pancake batter. (Blueberries will also dye the batter an unappetizing colour.) Instead, pour the batter onto the griddle and sprinkle bits of fruit evenly over the top of each pancake. Do the same with chocolate chips, for even distribution. Fun with pancakes, pg. 455 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Extra Insurance: Lightly grease and flour the surface of a muffin pan, as well as the cups. This reduces sticking at the crowns of muffins or cupcakes. It also makes them more salvageable if the batter overflows and spreads. Greasing pans, pg. 515 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Better Cookies: Conventional ovens have hot spots, a hazard for cookies. A convection oven is better for cookies, as it prevents scorched spots by evenly blowing around hot air. If you don’t have convection, move cookie baking sheets around at half-time. Reverse the top and bottom sheets, and rotate them from front to back. In fact, rotating pans for all baked goods is effective. Cookie no-nos, pg. 549 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Waste Not: You can use stale flour tortillas to make your own tortilla chips for snacks, dips and soups. Brush oil lightly on both sides of each tortilla. Stack the tortillas, then cut them into small wedges. Place the wedges in a single layer on a rack set over a baking sheet. Bake them at 350F (180C) until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Let them cool and crisp before using. Fried tortilla chips, pg. 511 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Healthier Eater: Coconut water is all the rage nowadays. You can use it to prepare coconut rice without the added fat of coconut milk. Per 1 cup (250 mL) of raw rice, use a 12 oz (330 mL) can of natural coconut water plus enough cold water to equal 2 cups (500 mL). The resulting rice has a mild coconut flavor and is slightly sweet. To complement it, try adding toasted nuts and cranberries. Coconut water is sold in supermarkets; check labels and opt for a brand with no added sugar, preservatives or artificial flavoring. Another easy way to make coconutty rice without adding coconut milk calories is to use bottled extract. For nuanced flavour and fragrance, add about 1/2 tsp (2 mL) of coconut extract per 1 cup (250 mL) of raw rice. Use restraint, as the extract can be overpowering. Ways to gussy up rice, pg. 116 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Hard Nut to Crack: Don’t break a tooth trying to crack a barely open pistachio. It’s not ripe, anyway. However, if you feel compelled to eat it, you can pop it open with the help of a used shell. Pry the pointed end of the used shell into the slight opening in the pistachio, and twist. How pistachios ripen, pg. 134 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Kitchen Drama: Cook with the flourish of a seasoned chef: raise your arm to sprinkle salt and other seasonings from higher up. This not only looks deliciously dramatic, it actually distributes seasoning more evenly over your dish. Other ways to use salt like a chef, pg. 157 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
G is for Gochugaru: Koreans know a thing or two about chili powder. They call theirs gochugaru. Gochu means chili, garu means powder. However, Korean dried chili comes in both powder and flakes. The medium-fine powder is most versatile, but I love, love, love the small but coarse flakes. They are a bit smoky and, with red flakes that sparkle like crystals, so gorgeous. The spiciness of gochugaru can vary. “Maewoon” is hot, “deol maewoon” is less so. Try gochugaru in my Korean Tofu recipe. A close relative of gochugaru is gochujang, or Korean chili paste. Storing spices, pg. 151 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Chinese Five-Spice vs. Bengali Five-Spice? Both are blends, but otherwise quite different. The Indian five-spice is better known as panch phoron. Read on . . . .
F is for Five-Spice: Chinese five-spice powder typically includes ground star anise, fennel, Chinese cinnamon (cassia), cloves and Szechuan peppercorns, not necessarily in equal amounts, plus spices such as ginger and black pepper. The blend depends on who’s mixing it up. But hey, that’s more than five. The name refers not to the number of spices, but to what the Chinese consider to be five principal tastes. They aim to balance the yin and yang in food – warm and sweet vs. cool and pungent. Chinese five-spice powder is not just for Chinese food. Try it in spice cookies, desserts or drinks. (Check out this hot chocolate recipe.) Use it to make seasoned kosher salt for your next barbecue. Five-spice works best with assertive or fatty meats, such as pork, beef and duck. It holds up in braises, roasts, stir-fries and marinades. It overwhelms lean chicken, seafood and vegetables. Grinding spices, pg. 151 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
P is for Panch Phoron: Panch means five and phoron means flavour or spice. This Indian blend, a.k.a. Bengali five-spice, may include, in equal parts, whole fenugreek (methi) seeds, nigella seeds, cumin seeds, anise or fennel seeds, and radhuni or black mustard seeds. Radhuni are aromatic dried fruits that look like seeds; they are related to ajwain and best in small doses. Called wild celery in English, radhuni may be confused with celery seeds, as well as ajwain seeds or even caraway. Panch phoron gives Bengali cuisine a distinctive scent. It is used in vegetarian dishes, pickles, fish and some meat curries. You should first fry it in oil or ghee until the spices start to pop – a technique called tempering. About nigella, pg. 153 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Waste Not: Lemons past their prime? Toss them whole into a freezer bag. They’ll be mushy when defrosted, but great for juicing. For best results, thaw to room temperature. This works for limes, oranges and grapefruits, too. Other ways to get more juice, pg. 224 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Handling Fennel: Trim, slice and dice fennel efficiently. Slice off the top with the tough stalks and fronds. Trim a thin slice off the base of the bulb. Cut the bulb in half, top to bottom. Cut out the pyramid-shaped core in each section. Discard any outer layers that are turning brown. Slice or dice the bulb halves. P.S. Don’t throw away the tender, leafy fronds; you can use them as you would an herb. The tough stalks can be saved to flavour soups or stews. Tenderizing fennel, pg. 257 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Buttercream Doctor: Two factors whip up widespread fear of real buttercream. One: it seems to “break” if you so much as look askance at it. Two: you have to toss out broken buttercream and start over. That’s a myth. You can repair it. Real buttercream is not an achingly sweet blend of icing sugar and butter. It starts as a meringue beaten with hot syrup until cooled. Then butter, at room temperature or slightly above, is beaten in slowly, piece by piece. (You need a stand mixer.) If the mixture suddenly breaks, or appears curdled, don’t panic. Turn off the beaters, dip a kitchen towel in the hottest tap water you can stand and wrap it around the base of the bowl. Start beating again. At first, the buttercream will look a bit soupy at the bottom and edges. Then it will magically come together, smooth out and fluff up.
Foiled Again: Ribs can get leathery on the grill unless you tenderize them first or cook them very slow and low. Utilize the power of steam to tenderize and speed up the process. Double-wrap each seasoned rack in heavy foil and grill, lid down, over direct medium heat for an hour, turning once. Unwrap the ribs and discard the foil, fat and juices. Finish the ribs by grilling them bone side down on direct medium heat, basting with barbecue sauce, until they are slightly charred, 10 to 15 minutes. Ways to give ribs a head start, pg. 340 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Pleasing to the Ear: Soak ears of corn 30 to 60 minutes before grilling. This prevents excessive charring before the kernels become tender, and keeps them moister and plumper. Ways to cook corn, pg. 251 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Runny vs. Firm? The butter tart debate is as Canadian as the tarts themselves: Should they be oozy, or firm enough to hold their own once you take a bite? You can adjust a tart recipe. For runnier, silkier tarts, reduce baking time by about 5 minutes and enjoy them slightly warm. For firmer, chewier filling, switch from corn syrup to cane or maple syrup, increase baking time by about 5 minutes, fully cool or refrigerate the tarts, or set them aside for a day. Try a recipe. Tart shell tips, pg. 579 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
G is for Green Garlic: A garlic plant starts out as a wee bulb with a green shoot. This is green garlic a.k.a. young garlic, spring garlic or baby garlic. A farmer may pull it out when thinning a garlic patch, or harvest it on purpose as a delicacy. Green garlic has yet to form cloves. It resembles the green onion, but the leaves on the stalks are flat, and the white bulbs may show a purple tinge. The flavour is definitely garlicky, but more mild-mannered than that of mature garlic. Green garlic can even be eaten raw, but is better lightly cooked. First, trim the hairy root ends and tough sections of the leafy stalk. Try a recipe: Farmers' Market Pasta. Green garlic is not to be confused with garlic scapes . . . .
S is for Scapes: The flower stalks of garlic bulbs are called scapes. They look like chives on steroids. Scapes are sometimes called garlic flowers (although they have no actual flowers) or garlic whips (because they are curly). Scapes are milder then green garlic and far milder than garlic cloves. Enjoy them cooked, raw (in salads) or pickled. Unlike standard garlic, green garlic and scapes should be refrigerated; neither keep for more than a week. Try a recipe: Scape Vichyssoise. Playing with garlic flavours, pg. 258 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Feeling Groovy: Make psychedelic cupcakes. I borrowed this idea from Betty Crocker: Divide white frosting among three bowls. Dye one blue, one yellow, one red. Alternating colours, dollop heaping teaspoonfuls into a piping bag fitted with a large starburst tip. Pipe frosting onto each cupcake in circles, starting at rim and working inwards. You can pipe psychedelic frosting on cakes, too. Even easier psychedelic frosting for lazier cake decorators, pg. 564 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Rolls vs. Buns? There is a difference, if you care. Generally, rolls are cylindrical, buns round. Rolls are yeast breads, buns sometimes sweet. Speaking of rolls and buns, why do eateries persist in stashing veal parmesan into round ones? Given the shape of scaloppini, using a roll seems more reasonable. (Recipe to try: Veal Parmesan.) How to shape bread dough, pg. 534 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Staying Green: Avocados inevitably turn rusty brown. Stave off the damage by mashing a ripe avocado with a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise. Then cover the surface of the mixture with plastic wrap. More ways to limit discoloration, pg. 241 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Thick of Things: For the thickest shakes and smoothies, freeze the fruit in chunks, including the bananas. Beverage basics, pg. 386 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Clean Rice is Nice: Rinse rice in a tilted pot. Put the rice in the pot, then lean the handle against one side of the sink. Adjust the faucet so that the water flows slowly into the pot near the handle, then gently spills out the other side. Swish the rice occasionally. More ways to rinse rice, pg. 113 in 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.
Paperback, 704 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose
In thousands of entries on every aspect of cooking and baking, Susan Sampson provides expert information that is indispensable in any kitchen, including: keeping produce safe from spoilage, protecting equipment from nasty bacteria, shortcuts, embellishments, restaurant tricks, presentation tips, party planning and recipe development.
Whether just browsing or desperately trying to solve a vexing emergency, every home cook will treasure this book.
Susan Sampson (a.k.a. The Fare Lady) is an award-winning food writer and recipe developer who lives in Toronto.
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