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SIR BRANCH - 128

SAN RAMON VALLEY

John Noll's Cooking Tips

Tips are listed from most recent to oldest!

May 2022
 
Skinless, boneless chicken breasts.  Seems like this is all chicken lovers favorite.  Ever notice they are often tough, dry and not all that pleasant to eat.  Main reason is they are overcooked. 
 
Cooked properly and not a minute more they are moist, tender and juicy.  Here’s how:
·       A chicken breast is uneven in thickness, so it cooks unevenly.  It is thick at the top and tapers to the end.  To even out the thickness, simply pound the thick end with a meat mallet or heavy pan.  Cover the breast[s] with cellophane wrap and gently pound until it is almost uniform thickness. 
·       Roast, broil, grill on high heat until the inside registers 145°.  Remember the meat will continue to cook after removing from the heat source.  Let rest at least 5 minutes before serving. 
·       Set the oven temperature to 450° and roast for 15+/- minutes.    Or, grill on medium heat turning often.  Check doneness with a meat thermometer.  You want it to feel slightly soft.  If it’s hard, it is overdone. 
·       Marinate or season at least a half hour before cooking.  Longer if you prefer a more pronounced seasoned flavor.  Be sure to serve additional sauce on the side.
·       You can use the marinade as a sauce at the table, but it must be brought to a boil on the stove before serving.  Remember, it was used with uncooked meat and any bacteria present must be removed by boiling. 
·       There are hundreds of recipes with skin/boneless breasts because they easily take on the flavors they are cooked in.  Be creative, be bold.  We’ve done a few marinades in Cooking Class, so you can find the recipes in the Recipe Archive.


April 2022
Spring Vegetables
This is the beginning of the great bounty of our long growing season and we are blessed in Northern California to have a considerable bounty to choose from.  Visit your favorite farmer’s market and pick up: 
·       Fava beans.  These are a lot of work, but eaten fresh they are worth every minute.  Look for long green pods with the least amount of darkening.  Google How To Prepare Fava Beans.  That’s the easiest way to learn.
 
·       Spring peas/English peas.  Buy them in the pod and harvest the peas.  Just try it once to savor the taste of FRESH peas.  Lots of work, but lots of taste rewards.
 
·       Snow or Sugar Peas.  These you wash and eat the whole pod.  Store in the fridge and snack, use as an appetizer or cut up in salads. 
 
·       Pea Shoots/Pea Tendrils.  These are harvested from young plants before the pea pods are formed.  They are packed with fresh flavor and goodness.  Eat raw in salads or flash sauté as a side dish. 
 
·       Spring Garlic.  These look like a mix between scallions (long, thin, green onions) and onions.  A sweet garlic flavor that can be fixed raw in salads or cooked with other vegetables just like garlic.  Only available for a short time and a definite spring treat.
 
·       Spring Onions.  Also look like scallions with a bulb at the end.  Sweeter and less oniony.  You can use like any onion, or grill after a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper as a great side.  Like spring garlic, only available for a short time and again, a definite spring treat. 
 
·       Asparagus.   Although widely available year-round, spring is the season for the youngest, freshest of the lot.  Look for green stems with the stalk-heads tightly bunched.  As soon as home from the market, cut off ½” from the bottom and store in water, upright, covered with a plastic bag.  Thicker stalks are great grilled.  You may want to peel with a vegetable peeler.  Add olive oil, salt & pepper and mix till covered.  Grill for 3-4 minutes per side until grill marks form.  Moisten with lemon on the serving dish.  That’s all.
 
·       Fiddleheads.  Huh?  Yes, these are edible baby ferns, available for a very short time, usually only at farmer’s markets (and Berkeley Bowl).  Taste a bit like asparagus with a hit of spinach and nuttiness.  Think earthy.  Blanch, then sauté in garlic butter.  Serve with a bit of lemon and Pecorino or Parmesan cheese.  A unique spring treat. 
 


March 2022
 
It’s always best to get a good start in anything you do.  Cooking especially. 
Get the pan hot.  Before searing meats, sautéing vegetables, starting a soup or sauce get the pan hot – shimmering-oil hot (NOT smoking).  The only time I start with a cold pan is frying bacon and shrimp, toasting seeds & spices, and hard-boiling eggs. 
 
Pre-heat the oven.  Crucial to cooking your food evenly and correctly.  Remember, convection oven cooking (or, the ‘new term’ air-fry) is always hotter.  Consider lowering the temp 15-20 degrees for convection or air-fry roasting. 
 
Prepare your ingredients before starting to cook.  You don’t want to overcook your first ingredients before you slice/dice and add the next ingredients.  And, typically the order you add vegetables or ingredients is important to proper cooking – some need more, some less cooking time. 
 
Be sure the similar ingredients are the same size.  When preparing a mirepoix (more on that later) or basis for soups and dishes, cut the items in relatively the same size.  Carrots, onions and celery are the classic mirepoix; cut them approximately the same size so they cook up together.  Sliced, diced, chopped, quartered or halved – keep the size about the same.  You want them to cook at the same pace.  
 
Don’t add the garlic right away.  Cooking this magic ingredient too long or too hot can burn and ruin it.  When adding to a mirepoix, for example, before the mixture is ready, create a space in the bottom of the pan and add the minced, chopped or sliced garlic.  Allow it to get hot for 10-15 seconds to release the flavor, then stir it into the mixture. 
 
Let long slow cooking do its magic.  Soups, pasta sauces, braised dishes develop their flavors over time.  Long and slow does the trick. Do you know the best restaurants make their soups a day or two before serving?  The flavors develop over time.  That’s why leftover homemade pasta sauce and soups taste better the next day. 
 


February 2022
Potatoes.  
The humble spud offers so much to daily eating hab-its.  Where would we be without French Fries or Potato Chips!  Sunday breakfast or brunch without Potato Fries?  Or, mashed potatoes and gravy with Thanksgiving turkey or Grandma’s beef stew?   Some hints:
 
• Baked Potatoes – use russets (oblong shaped) or Idaho.  If you wrap in foil they will steam-cook.  Unwrapped they will be light and flaky.  Pierce the skin with a fork and bake at 425-450° for 45-60 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork.
 
• Boiled Potatoes – use Yukon Gold or Red Potatoes.  LEAVE THE SKIN ON, unless the recipe prefers peeled. That’s where a lot of flavor & nutrients lie.  Either whole or cut up, but adjust cooking times.  • Fried Potatoes – cut Reds, skins on, into your preferred size, microwave for 2-3 minutes, then sauté.  Add some onion and ba-con bits for flavor.  They will brown and cook thru faster.  
 
• Roasted Potatoes – get Baby Reds or Yukons, or Finger-lings.  Lightly toss in olive oil, rosemary, salt & pepper and roast at 425-450° for about 15-20 minutes, until tender and browned.  • Steamed Potatoes – never heard of them?  I hardly did.  Keep the skins on Yukon Golds, slice to your preferred size and steam to preserve the flavor.  Instead of boiling.    
 
Oils.  
We’ve talked about different oils for different purposes:  
High smoke point for sautéing (avocado, safflower, soybean,  grapeseed) and others for flavor (extra-virgin olive oil, sesame). You should have at least two in your kitchen for everyday use.  How do I tell if my oil is good?Nothing will ruin a dish right from the beginning like spoiled or rancid oil.  
• Oil quality is affected by time, heat, light and storage.  Keep oils in a dark, cool area, covered tightly and use relatively quickly.  
• Look for the Harvest, Best by or Use By date on the label.  Buy the freshest.  Typically oils are good up to two years after pro-duction, stored properly.  
• Once open, olive oils last  3 months, vegetable oils about 4.  
 
• What is rancid oil? And How do I know mine is rancid?
 Oxidized, decomposed, spoiled oil is rancid
 Use your nose – if it has an “off-smell” – like crayons, metal, or sour – discard
 Taste – if anything seems off, discard
 Feel – rancid oils are sticky, so check around the bottle opening.  If it feels sticky, discard.  
 
 
December 2021
The holidays are always a time to share family, memories and food.  And, some of our fondest memories are about the food – what grandma baked, or what side dish aunt brought.  Some helpful hints for cooking and baking over the holidays:
 
Parchment Paper – My newest, favorite constant companion in the kitchen.  Line cookie sheets for easy, slide-off removal.  Line your baking sheets for baking, roasting, broiling almost anything.  Won’t burn (up to 450°), nothing sticks, makes clean up a breeze.  Also, use on the countertop to ease in preparation – bread crumb management, flour coatings, dusting powdered sugar, keeping the countertop clean, drying lasagna noodles for assembly.  The list goes on and on.  In short, to keep counters and pans clean and to keep prep time down. 
 
Room Temperature – Remember to get eggs, butter, dairy and other ingredients at room temperature before adding to your creation.  Forgot?  Don’t despair.  Drop a stick of butter in a glass of hot water – it won’t melt but will become soft in a few minutes.  Or, microwave the butter stick for 20-25 seconds.  Ditto for milk & cream.  Don’t put eggs in the microwave – the explosion is not fun to clean up!   Drop them in warm water to bring to room temperature.
 
Chopping prep – Remember this:  no one ever congratulated or dissed you on how your prep chopped veggies looked.  This is the chance to get your grandkids or family small fries involved.  And you can do it in advance. 
 
Cookies – Holiday oftentimes seem all about the traditional cookies the family loved.  Ever thought of having a group cookie decorating party?  Or, getting your friends, grandkids, or little ones into decorating simple sugar or shortbread cookies?  Simple shapes – bells, angels, canes, Santas, trees and reindeer – can be decorated with simple colored frosting and a few sprinkles and beads.  Their creativity and fun will astound you.  Plus, the final product tastes good!
 
Do NOT get stressed – Half the fun of Christmas gatherings is the preparation and fun putting it all on.  No one complains about mismatched napkins, a place setting out of whack or blown side dish (if they do, don’t invite them back!).  Go with the flow.  That’s easy for us guys to say, but mention it to your spouse/special friend and mean it.  The perfect meal has yet to happen – never will.  But, every meal can be warm, inviting, tasty and fun.  Goal – make lasting memories with loved ones and friends. 
 
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. 
 
November 2021
Quick tips for Thanksgiving:
 
·       Brine the Bird – get a recipe on line ( I like the Chez Panisse one) and brine the bird on Tuesday.  Roast it normally.  You will have a tastier, more moist turkey.  You won’t taste all the salt, as you might think, but the drippings for gravy will be salty.
 
·       Make Gravy the easy way – Don’t be intimidated by gravy making.  Offer to do it for your wife.  Here’s how:  Take the drippings from the cooked turkey, remove as much fat as you can.  Add to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile take a cup of chicken broth or water, add a ¼ cup of flour and shake well.  Add it in one swift pour into the boiling drippings and stir with a wisk.  Keep it boiling and you stirring until the gravy consistency is what you want.  Salt & pepper, if necessary.  Then, serve.  That’s it. Fool proof. Easy. If it boils down too much, add water; if it’s too watery, continue to boil to evaporate the water. 
 
·       Cranberry sauce is always a hit – Make some.  Dump the cranberries in a saucepan, add some orange juice/red wine, sugar and bring to a boil.  It’s that simple.  You can add some spices to jazz it up:  cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg – not all, but one.  Maybe add some nice red cherries.  Let it cool in the fridge and it magically solidifies into cranberry sauce! 
 
·       Side dishes – I think these are what make Thanksgiving so special.  Yes, the bird is the centerpiece, but the sides make the meal hum.  Here’s an easy, tasty one:  Cut 6-8 slices of bacon into ¼ inch strips.  While sautéing, add cut up wild mushrooms (shiitake, baby bells, chanterelles – be creative, any varieties you wish) and cook till done – 8-10 minutes.  Separately, prepare fresh cut green beans.  When finished – careful not to overcook, add the bacon-mushroom mix to the beans and serve.  Maybe a little salt and pepper for taste.
 
  Fall Squash:
 
This is the time of the year that fresh autumn squash is plentiful.  These are so tasty and simple to prepare.
·       Butter Nut – These long, bulbous, tan squash bake up like candy, they are so sweet.  Cut in half lengthwise, remove seeds and peel.  Then carefully cut into cubes.  Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper and bake at 400° for about 30 minutes or until edges are beginning to brown.  Toss with butter and enjoy. 
 
·       Acorn – These dark-skinned treats look like gargantuan acorns.  Cut in half, remove seeds, spread a little olive oil in the cavity, add salt & pepper and bake at 400°, cut side down for 20 minutes.  Turn over and finish for 20 minutes more or until they start browning.  Serve with a pad of butter in the cavity and maybe a pinch of nutmeg.
 
·       Delicata -  These are harder to find, but when you do they are a treat.  About 6-8” long, brightly colored – pale yellow with light green stripes – and delicious.  Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and crosscut into 1/3” half coins.  Throw in a mixing bowl, add olive oil, salt & pepper, place pieces on a parchment paper-covered baking pan and bake at 400° for 18-20 minutes, until they are browning.  Then enjoy, skin and all.  Yes, no need to peel, the skin is edible and quite tasty.  Our favorite. 
 
·       Spaghetti – Just as the name implies, this yellow oblong squash cooks into strand-like pieces that look like spaghetti and can be treated the same way.  Split the squash lengthwise, remove seeds and bake at 400° for 20+/- minutes until soft.  Use a fork to loosen and remove the strands (if too difficult to remove, cook longer).  Use as a side dish with salt, pepper & butter, or as a grain spaghetti substitute (yes, with pasta sauce, or veggies, meatballs & with cheese). 
 
 
October 2021
SALT   You can’t cook without it.  Food tastes better with it. Too much is unpleasant, not enough and the food is bland.  So, what do you do?  Let’s look at some guidelines.
 
·       History - Salt was so valuable in earlier times that it was used for barter, was a currency of sort, and was craved and in demand worldwide. It was used to store meats and fish (salted fish, jerky/hardtack), preserve vegetables (pickling) and flavor foods.  
 
·       Kinds – Table Salt:  very fine, iodized (iodine added because of an deficiency in the early 1900’s), with somewhat a metallic taste.  Consider tossing it. Kosher Salt:  a larger grain, easy for finger-tip spreading and you end up using less than table salt because of the size. Sea Salt:  simply from evaporated seawater.  Naturally contains minerals, neutral to distinct flavor (depends on the seawater) and great for brining.  Flaky sea salt:  Labor intensive and somewhat expensive, examples include fleur de sel, sel gris, Maldon.  Typically flat or pyramid shaped [from the evaporation process] and best used as a finishing salt.  You could typically have two salts in house:  Kosher for cooking and Flaky Sea Salt to finish.  
 
·       When to Salt and Why – it’s not so much the amount but when you salt that makes a difference, especially in big, dense bone-in meats.  It needs time to penetrate to the interior and work its magic.  For a turkey, rib roast or pork shoulder you’ll want to salt days in advance; steaks and whole chickens, a day will do; seafood, just before cooking or it will become rubbery.  If you forget, a couple of hours before cooking is okay.  While cooking, layer your seasonings.  For example, when sautéing onions or leeks, season them; then add the other veggies and season them.  Taste while cooking and adjust.   
 
·       The Why – It makes the food taste more intense and more balanced [it unlocks the inherent aromas & complex flavors and enhances sweetness, while cutting thru the fat]. It changes the texture of the food and actually can make some meat cuts more tender (think of your favorite marinade).
 
·       How to salt – Use your fingers.  Period.  Forget the salt shaker.  You can control the amount easily and stop when you feel you’d used enough.  You can always add more.  Oh, yes, be sure to add lots to pasta water – the pasta will taste ‘flat’ without it. 
·       Be Creative.  Add a pinch! – add a pinch (what you grab  between your thumb and finger; and then you can easily control how much) to chocolate ice cream, a morning smoothie, buttered toast, pancakes and syrup, sliced melon, pineapple or mango, sliced tomatoes, orange & grapefruit wedges, tops of pies and loaf cakes.  It brings out the flavor, cuts thru the richness and tempers sweetness.  Be creative. 
 
·       Caution – If you are on a doctor-ordered salt-restricted diet, be wise.  Use a little or none at all.  However, don’t suffer from bland and unexciting food.  Enjoying food is all about the taste.  Eating out will definitely increase your salt intake [chef’s rule:  added salt and/or butter makes everything better].  Just be smart and moderate. 
 
·       Flavored salts – There are as many flavored salts as the creators can think of.  Buy what you like.  It’s a short cut to a variety of spices in one container.  I have a Mediterranean variety, a lemon-garlic combo and some smoked salts. My favorite brand is Borsari, available at Whole Foods or online.  If you see a flavored salt and like the combination, buy it and try it.  If it works, great; if not, toss it.  You didn’t break the bank. Remember, it’s always about the taste.  And, if it works for you, it’s a winner!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
 
 
September 2021
A potpourri of ideas, hints and shortcuts
 
·       Serrated knives – only three uses for these handy tools:  cutting tomatoes, serving cake and slicing bread.  Otherwise, stick with a sharp, flat-edge knife. 
 
·       Ripen stone fruit – most all store- & farmers market-bought stone fruits are hard as rocks.  Soften & ripen them by storing in a paper bag along with a banana for 3-5 days after purchase.  The ripening gasses are concentrated in the paper bag. 
 
·       Cut stone fruit – find the ‘seam’, a slight indentation on one side of the fruit.  Cut on the seam all around the fruit.  Then twist the halves and pull apart.  Toss the seed and enjoy.
 
·       Grill marks – on veggies, meats, whatever.  Be sure there is some oil on the piece to be cooked.  Place in a hot pan, on a hot grill and leave alone.  Don’t move it.  Once seared properly it will loosen and you can turn.  Grill marks intact. Same goes for a skillet. 
 
·       Bacon – the ‘hot pan’ exception.  Place the strips in a cold pan, start the heat at med-low and they will cook perfectly.  Won’t stick.  Turn after 5+/- minutes. Do Not Overcook because it will really affect the taste and texture of the bacon.
 
·       Dried vs. Fresh Herbs – When you must substitute one for the other, use the 3:1 ratio.  Three times more fresh than dried or vice versa.  Use fresh when you can.
 
·       Plate presentation – ever notice occasionally your server will rotate your plate in front of you.  They want to properly get the protein in the 5 o’clock position, lower right. “Protein at 5:00” is a restaurant mantra.  Do it and you’ll see what I mean. 
 
·       Plate presentation 2 – use color.  We enjoy food with our eyes first before taste.  Grilled chicken breasts with mashed potatoes looks blah because there is no color.  Substitute grilled veggies for the potatoes and you brighten the plate.  Why do you think restaurants put a garnish on the plate? 
 
·       To Hard boil eggs – put in a pan of cold water enough to cover the eggs.  Bring to a boil.  Then turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.  Longer if you like harder eggs. Peel and eat.  They even peel easier.  And, fresh eggs are harder to peel after boiling then older eggs (I don’t know why either).  Use the oldest in the fridge for hard boiling.  
 
 
August 2021
We are at the height of the bountiful summer harvest season.  Fresh vegetables abound, especially at the local Farmer’s Markets – every Tri-Valley city has one.  Check local listings.
 
So much to choose from, so you can be creative in fresh salads, on the grill or freshly eaten. Let’s look at tomatoes, one of the most versatile and one with so many varieties.
 
Believe it or not, tomatoes were not indigenous to Italy; they were imported to Europe from the New World, early in the trans-Atlantic voyages.  It does seem the Italians made good use of them and have some of the best in the world, next to our own back yard.  Raw or cooked; diced, sliced or cubed; squeezed, crushed or juiced; ingredient or side dish – tomatoes are versatile, tasty and add a burst of color to any meal. 
 
Background:  Tomatoes require sunlight to grow, so they are best and tastiest in late summer, t left longer in the sun – endless, hot summer afternoons.  Geneticists have “improved” the tomato by modifying the look, feel, shape, color, shelf life – everything to make it more appealing to the consumer, but somehow overlooking the taste.  The best looking is not necessarily the best tasting tomato.  But, do look for deep red color, blemish free, a bit soft, preferably still “on the vine.”  Do Not Refrigerate.  This will transform the fruit into a less tasty, mealy, hardened sphere (yes, it is actually a ‘fruit,’ but declared by the government as a ‘vegetable’-1893).  Hardly any tomato flavor at all.  Store unwashed at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, stem down to prolong shelf life.  Serve freshly sliced, preferably with fresh basil.  Or, freshly cut or diced for salsa or cooking.  Best to use a serrated knife for cutting – tomato skin is pretty tough. 
 
Let’s look at some types: 
 
Plum (Roma).  Widely used, a bit misunderstood.  These are sturdier, pulp-filled, with fewer seeds and less juicy.  Best for cooking – sauces, soups, baked or sauteed dishes.  Or, maybe fresh in a salad you will transport to a picnic.  Most likely what you buy in a can, in any form.  
 
Hot House.  These varieties are grown in a greenhouse, never to see fresh sunlight.  Most often labeled as Hot House or “house grown.”  Tend to be harder, almost perfect in color and shape [genetically modified], but sorely lacking in real tomato taste.  Best to buy only in the winter with fewer choices and definitely “on the vine.” 
 
Cherry (Compari), Grape.  These are small tomatoes and come in a variety of colors. A cherry tomato is a miniature tomato with the same characteristics as its larger cousins.  A grape tomato is a bit oblong shaped, slightly tougher than a cherry and stands up well to being tossed in a salad (especially for transport) and in cooked or roasted dishes.  Think a mini plum tomato. Both are good cut up and tossed in salads. Or, eat fresh as snacks. 
 
On the Vine.  A recent innovation (20-25 years ago) to leave the vine attached to the picked fruit, usually in clumps of 3-5.  Prolongs shelf life.  I find it adds a bit to the flavor and prefer it to the stemless variety.  Just aesthetics?  Your choice.  But I like the idea and it does look good! 
 
Heirloom.  The best taste of all.  More distinctive flavors, juicier & sweeter.  Oddly shaped (not genetically modified), multi-colored (different varieties), a bit more expensive (lower yield per plant; less grown vs. commercial varieties) and not widely available, although that is changing.  Buy them; taste test vs. a commercial one and you will immediately know this is A TOMATO bursting with flavor!  Serve sliced or cubed, lightly salted and add fresh basil. 
 
San Marzano.  Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe not?  Widely regarded as one of the best tomatoes in the world.  From San Marzano, Italy.  Unique in that they are only grown in that region of the world, however the seeds have been transported and planted elsewhere.  Why unique?  They are grown at the base of Mt Vesuvius where the lava-infused soil has modified the plant to create an oblong-shaped, two-chambered tomato that breaks apart when cooked. Rarely found fresh in the US, although Berkeley Bowl does have them in season.  Taste is quintessential tomato.  So revered and guarded that every can from the region must have a DOP stamp and serial number to be called San Marzano Tomatoes.  There has to be a cost involved to that.   You can find tomatoes designated as San Marzano, but without the DOP there is no guarantee to their authenticity.  They could be the seeds only, grown elsewhere; from the region, but not actually in San Marzano; just called San Marzano with “style” or “region” or “grown in the US” designated.  Ironically, there is a company in New Jersey that is named “The San Marzano Tomato Company,” using local tomatoes.  Go figure.  What’s in a name?  
 
July 2021
Know Your Grill:  It’s summer and it’s grilling season.  Get to know your grill for best results.  Most likely you have a covered grill – good.  It heats up faster, contains the heat for quicker cooking and you can more easily control your heat.  Gas or charcoal? – your choice:  gas is convenient, quicker and more easily controlled; charcoal is for purists and many claim to be far superior to gas.  You be the judge. 
 
You can spread or pile the coals in a charcoal grill for heat control, so this will mainly be about gas grills.  Your grill will have up to four gas elements, either side-by-side or front-back.  So, controlling the heat is often using some or all elements.  For indirect grilling, your meat will be in an area of the grill without flames below – hot, but not searing. 
 
Always start with a hot grill.  Turn the burners on high for 10+/- minutes to prepare the grill.  This will preheat the grill but also burn off all residue from the last use.  Scrape/clean well before using again.  Then, with tongs dip a paper towel in vegetable oil (with a high smoke point) and spread on the grill top just before placing the meat or fish on the grill.  Helps keep the food from sticking to the hot grill top. 
 
Guaranteed the grill will have uneven heat.  You need to know hot spots and not-so-hot ones.  Easy to test.  Heat up the grill with all elements on and spread veggies all over the grill top.  After 3-5 minutes turn them all over and you will see those that are browned more than others.  Now you know your Hot Spots. That’s good because you can put thicker cuts there or rotate on and off that area for even cooking.  Or, use it to sear your meat, then move to a less hot area. 
 
Mixed Grill:   I was at an outdoor BBQ party where the host served several kinds of meats to meet everyone’s taste buds.  Great idea.  He served two cuts of beef (sirloin tips and loin), marinated chicken breasts and thighs (in two different marinades), and two types of sausages.  Everything was cut into serving size pieces and served on a large platter.   He knew his grill and was able to cook everything in relatively the same time.  Great serving idea, better execution.  Try it.  You can accommodate all the preferences of your guests. 
 
June 2021
Sauces
Ever thought who the second most important person is in an upscale restaurant kitchen (I know, a burning question)? After the Head Chef it is the Saucier, or sauce chef. S/he makes the dishes soar. A perfectly grilled steak is just that, but with a red-wine reduction sauce it is transformed into an elegant dish. So, consider why A-1 Steak Sauce is so popular – not to mask, but to elevate. What about pasta? It’s the sauces that differentiate so many dishes.
 
Why is restaurant food so tasty? Often, so elegant? They use the same vegetables, meat and ingredients as we can in our kitchens, but they flavor, spice and sauce the preparations so they are definitely not commonplace. The flavors explode because of the sauces.
 
Simple Trick: Pour liquid (wine, stock, water) into the hot skillet after cooking meats or veggies, reduce by half, add butter and voila! a simple, but tasty sauce. Simply put: de-glaze the pan. Restaurants do it all the time.
 
What makes Piccata so special: the sauce mix of shallots, wine/stock, lemon juice, capers, reduced & butter added. So easy and versatile that it spikes a chicken breast to new heights, as it does for veal, fish, salmon.
 
Check recipes. Note that most have a sauce connected with the dish. Then think, what else could this be used for. Most sauces are easily useful on other items, like Piccata above.
 
What about prepared sauces? So useful to elevate a simple dish. But what to buy? Be creative. Try one, then another. You are not going to like them all, but some will stand out.
 
Me? We have over 15+ sauces in the refrigerator in various states of use. Asian: Soy, Teriyaki, X-O, Black Bean Garlic, Hoisin, and Mae Ploy Thai Sweet Chili sauce (one you definitely ought to try). Mediterranean: Tzatziki [Greek cucumber-yogurt], Pesto, Garlic Cream, Aioli (mayo-based garlic & lemon). Meat: Steak Sauce, A-1, Chimichurri (parsley-based Argentinian). Also, a couple of hot sauces [McIlhenny, Cholula, the Pepper Plant], Remoulade (for seafood) and of course a Pasta Sauce. Step it up, like a saucier.
 
April 2021
There is nothing like a good sandwich.  It can be noble (thank the Earl of Sandwich for that), messy (what good burger isn’t) and huge, but the essence of a good sandwich is taste.  It is that wonderful mix of flavors in your mouth from the layers, condiments and bread that give the sandwich its popularity.  Think about tartar sauce on a fish sandwich.  Russian dressing and sauerkraut on a Ruben.  Or the mayo with lettuce and tomato on almost any sandwich.  Here are some ideas.
 
The Burger.  There is no more universal American food than the hamburger.  It is revered, sought after, maligned and put on a pedestal.  How many times have you heard “the best burger” whether referring to local tastes, national or in the world!  And, it’s all in the mouth of the beholder.  Whether it’s rare, medium or well done, beef up your burger with (not everything all at once but, maybe, why not?):
 
·       Toast/grill your favorite bun to add another layer of taste and crispness.
·       Lettuce – shredded to add crunch; bib, red & green for structure and tenderness
·       Tomato – just a bit of salt here really brings out the flavor
·       Onion – briefly soak it in ice water to mellow the bite (be sure to dry completely)
·       Cheese – add a good melting cheese (yes, good old American is one of the best) just before the burger is finished.  Close the grill lid or cover to get a good melt.
·       Fried onions – adds a great crunch
·       Red pepper relish – not green, that goes with hot dogs.
·       Ketchup, of course (mustard should be reserved for hot dogs); Add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce for a welcome zing!
·       Bacon – aah, everything’s better with bacon; adds a smoky flavor
·       “Special sauce” – mix mayo, ketchup, sweet pickle relish, bit of sugar and vinegar.  
 
The Sandwich.  Thank that clever Earl to think of putting his meat, cheese and bread together, although he did it for convenience, not necessarily for taste.  We helped perfect that.  Once you choose your bread (white, wheat, whole grain, rye, pumpernickel, sour; bun, sliced or roll), the meat and cheese, it’s the condiments that make the whole package sing in your mouth.  Try
 
·       Flavored mayo – sriracha is popular; also lemon flavored, or an aioli (Dijon mustard, garlic & lemon mixed into mayo); or, with sweet pepper relish mixed in. 
·       Mustard types – Dijon, French’s yellow, honey, whole grain, stout flavored, hot, horseradish – each adds a special dimension. 
·       “Sandwich Pal” or other prepared sandwich condiments on grocery shelves
·       Flavor the meat with one condiment and the bread with another. 
·       Lettuce and tomato (see above) for flavor, texture and crunch; or, fresh spinach
·       For tuna salad, add a splash of lemon for a flavor burst
·       Californians love to add avocado – why not?
·       Pickles:  dill, bread & butter, sweet & sour, gherkins, whatever your favorite
·       Grilled cheese – mix up the cheese and add sliced tomatoes and/or a thin slice of ham.  
·       Panini:  Grill your bread and filling in a panini press or on the grill
 
The Unusual
·       Go to Ike’s Sandwich Shop (in Crow Canyon Commons – Sprout’s & Total Wine locale, or downtown Danville) and check out his wide assortment.  Note the mix and condiments.
·       A trip to a Jewish deli is worth several visits.  Corned beef, Pastrami, and Tongue (yes, beef tongue and you will thank me forever for suggesting it)
·       Leftover baked beans on toast with ketchup (yes, my wife grew up with it in New England)
·       My favorite:  olive spread on toast, a slice of feta cheese, layer of roasted red peppers and a bit of arugula.  That mix in your mouth will be remembered forever. 
·       Shrimp on pumpernickel, with red onion slices and flavored mayo.  WOW. 
·       Relive your childhood favorite with a modern condiment twist (fried bologna anyone?)
 
The Regionals (not an all-inclusive listing)
·       New England (Maine) – an Italian:  meats & cheese on a roll with oil, vinegar, coarsely chopped green pepper and kalamata olives
·       Philadelphia – a Philly Cheesesteak: warm sliced sirloin with melted cheese & mayo
·       Carolina – Pulled Pork:  shredded BBQ pork with mustard BBQ sauce and cole slaw
·       New Orleans – Po’ Boy:  any sub, especially fried seafood on a bun with Remoulade sauce (Google it).  Go to Clementine’s in San Ramon for their fried oyster Po’ Boy – outstanding!
·       Buffalo NY – Beef on Weck:  warm, sliced beef & juice on a kummelweck roll with horseradish.  This and Buffalo Wings were invented here. 
·       Florida – Cuban:  ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickle & mustard
·       LA/All Over – French Dip: warm shaved beef on a roll dipped in juice; regionally, it’s on weck in Buffalo, with giardiniera in Chicago, char-grilled beef with horseradish in Baltimore; either dipped in au jus or au jus on the side for dipping. 
·       All Over – deli sandwiches are known as a hoagie (Philly area), grinder (New England), hero (NYC), torpedoes (NY, NJ area) subs (widespread).  Also, variations such as Dagwood (large one), Blimpie (Hoboken NJ & the chain of stores), wedge (Upstate NY) bomber (Western NY).  It’s not in the name, but in the taste.
 
Mar 2021
Veggies.  They are wonderful fresh, canned or frozen.  Let’s take a look at what’s tasty, nutritional and good for you in each style.  Some surprises, some common sense.  
 
Fresh.  Generally said, fresh is always better than canned or frozen.  For taste and nutritional value.  Use fresh whenever you can, but not always.  Definite fresh choices:  Lemons (for juice, zest, garnish or rind), Tomatoes (in season; see below), Lettuce & salad ingredients (goes without saying), most all side dish choices (broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, kale, chard, etc.).  And, Fruits should be fresh whenever possible. 
 
Frozen.  Generally speaking, all frozen vegetables are frozen at their prime, so you will be getting the best of the lot with little loss of nutrients.  Minimally processed – slight blanching is all.   However, frozen trumps fresh for Peas and Spinach.  Keep a bag of each in your freezer to add to dishes or soups, jazz up a smoothie, or for an instant side dish.  Note I said “bag” of spinach, not that iced block.  Fresh peas and Fava Beans require so much preparation, a frozen bag not only saves time, but it just as nutritious.  Also, all frozen veggies are pre-cut and convenient, so it’s not all bad to have a bag or two on hand.  Ditto for fruits – blueberries, strawberries, cherries, mango.   Personally, I think you cannot beat fresh fruits. 
 
Canned.  A bit more processing here with possibly salt, sugar or spices added.  A good rinse eliminates a lot of that.  But, here is where Beans reign supreme.  It takes a lot of time and work to make beans useable from their dried state.  Now, just open a can, rinse and use.  Out of the can (rinsed) for Garbanzos (Chic Peas) – or to make them even softer, soak in hot water and remove the outer skin, Cannellini, Navy (White), Pinto, Kidney Beans can all be conveniently added to recipes.  Tomatoes are also wonderful and convenient out of the can.  They are picked at their freshest, and come in whole (skinless), stewed, chopped, diced, crushed, pureed, sauced; in paste (canned or tube); in styles like San Marzano, Plum, Cherry; prepared Roasted, Stewed.  Try doing all that with fresh tomatoes!  Bottom line on tomatoes:  Use both, canned and fresh.  Stay tuned:  More on tomatoes next month. 
 
Feb 2021
We are going to cover two:  Soups and Crab.  There is no better time than the heart of winter season to enjoy soups.  Warm and hearty, they are easy to make; you make a lot; you end up with leftovers that taste better the second time around.  What’s not to like. 
 
If you feel up to it, go back in the SIR 128 Cooking archives for some of the recipes we fixed in our get-togethers.   Items like Tuscan Chicken Bean Stew (some SIRs go-to, favorite meal), Minestrone, Greek Lemon Chicken Soup, Bouillabaisse (French Cioppino), Bean and Sausage Stew, Chicken Vegetable Soup, Tuscan White Bean Soup with Greens.  Really, none of these are difficult and you cannot go wrong with a small slip up here or there. 
 
Here are some Soup basics: 
·       You don’t have to make your own stock.  Purchase and use prepared Chicken stock (Kitchen Basics, Pacific, Kirkland)
·       Start with onions, carrots and celery (some call it Mirepoix, others The Holy Trinity; it’s just basic), add stock and whatever you want in your soup.  Beans. Chicken. Greens.
·       If you want to add pasta (noodles, for chicken noodle; ditalini or elbows for Minestrone; or whatever shape you please) add at the end and cook to the desired doneness. 
·       Throw in old Parmesan cheese rinds that you saved and froze (you did do that, right?).
·       You can’t overcook soup.  Let it simmer for as long as you want.
·       Freeze some in individual containers for later.  Just enough for one or two per container.
·       Make your soups creamy without adding milk/cream.  Use an immersion blender.
·       Consider stepping up your finished product:  Add toppings.  Try a drizzle of olive oil.  Garnish with breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, caramelized onions, dill, a dollop of sour cream, or fresh herbs. 
·       Remember that good restaurants fix soup days before serving.  Wednesday’s soup was prepared on Monday.  Friday’s on Wednesday.  And so on.  It’s better the longer it sits.
·       What better way to serve guests?  My mother often said that when someone unexpected shows up for dinner, you can always add another cup of water to the soup!
 
Crab.  Buy some.  The season was delayed until just a few weeks ago so we are in prime time.  It has been too long since we enjoyed fresh crab, the Bay Area’s singular annual treat.  It’s more expensive than former years (what isn’t), but it’s fresh, local and delicious. 
 
 
Jan 2021
To sear or not to sear? 
 
Maybe, the question is better phrased When to sear or when not to sear?   Common wisdom says sear first, lock in the juices and roast in the oven to finish.  Well, not necessarily true when oven roasting.  On the grill – yes.  But, there – again, against common wisdom – turn often; not once. 
 
Back to roasting/searing meat.  Science came up with this foolproof method:  Liberally salt about 4 hours before cooking.  Slow bake your roast till it reaches the desired internal temp using a thermometer, then remove it. [120° - Rare; 130° - Medium Rare; 140° - Medium; 150° - Medium Well; 160°+ Well Done].   Sear in a hot skillet with 50% oil (not olive) and 50% butter.  Let rest, then serve.  Goes right along with what Jim Quon told us about the Sous Vide method of cooking meat:  cook slowly in water set to the proper finishing temp.  Then sear.  Same principle:  Get the meat cooked properly, then sear to finish.  The Beef Tenderloin at our house was delicious and a huge hit this Christmas!  
 
Butter.  Don’t avoid it completely.  Use it wisely.  Butter imparts a silky, heightened flavor to almost all heated dishes.  It’s versatile, easy to use and as any good restaurant cook knows, you can always add butter & salt to make any dish delicious.  You can sauté with it – for hotter applications, use it 50/50 with other vegetable oils (canola, avocado, sunflower, grapeseed, etc.; not olive).  Sauté veggies in olive oil and finish with a dollop of butter. Top off potatoes – roasted, fried, boiled or mashed.  Cook eggs or omelets in butter for heavenly flavor.  After cooking meat or veggies in a pan, deglaze with white wine, broth or even water.  Scrape all the bits and flavor pieces off the pan; boil it down 50% and add a pad of butter.  Pour over your dish.  You’ve finished it off just like a restaurant would and your family & friends will marvel at your skill level. 
 
Need it softened?  Try these methods.  Draw a half glass of warm water.  Insert the butter stick and it will soften in 10 minutes.  Slice into several pieces, place in single layer on a plate and set out.  It will be soft in 20 minutes.  Or, a quicker option is to put those sliced pieces in a sealed sandwich bag and place in the glass of warm water.  5 minutes.  You can always microwave but use the Defrost setting or 50% power.  Careful, you want it soft, not melted.    If melted is your choice, use the microwave, lower power, and watch closely.  When it’s 75-80% melted, take it out and the internal temp will finish the job. 
 
Lastly, don’t buy cheap butter.  We are not talking about a lot of money here, so go with the best.  Challenge brand or Kerrygold Irish (our favorite) are the best.  And, there is a difference! 
 
 
Dec 2020
Cooking Tips – Gift Ideas
 
Gift ideas:  Instead of purchasing bottled sparkling water, consider a handy Soda Stream system for making your own.  You can even add flavoring, if you like.  It’s a simple system using refillable CO2 canisters that, with the touch of a button or push of a lever, delivers fresh, sparkling water for your consumption.  We got one last year for Christmas and have enjoyed it immensely.  Available at most consumer stores (Target, BB&B, Home Depot) or online at Amazon or sodastream.com.  There are other brands [we have aarke], so pick one that suits you. 
 
In addition to the cookware and knives we discussed last month – all great gift ideas – consider a kitchen workhorse, a food processor.  There are lots out there, many from companies you know [Kitchenaid, Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach], but one stands out, head & shoulders, as the best – Cuisinart.  Easy to use, versatile, dishwasher safe, reliable, sturdy – and, believe it or not, not the most expensive!  Just the best.  You can use it to chop, puree, mix, whip, blend, grind – you name it in the kitchen, it will do the job. 
 
How about a few gadgets you can buy for inexpensive gifts and then show your partner you can use them [we’ve used all of them in Cooking Class]:   
 
·       Cheese grater – for grated cheese on Italian dishes, pizza or to jazz up most any dish.
·       Lemon zester – another simple tool to get some rind (no pith) in your dishes.
·       Lemon/lime juicer – get the kind where you put a half in the squeeze compartment and squeeze!  
·       Tongs – get the spring-loaded type; great for grilling or sautéing to turn without piercing the meat. 
·       Prep Bowls – get 3-4 of two sizes, small [for garlic, shallots, ginger, spices] or medium [for onions, diced veggies, liquids].
·       Silicone spatula & scraper – has to be silicone; rubber may melt or flavor the food. 
·       Salad spinner – spin dries wet lettuce in a flash.  Can’t be without one.  We use ours every day.
·       Whisk – mix, whip, combine; dry or wet.  Beats any fork or spoon for mixing hands down. 
·       Single Measuring Cup – gradations for ¼. ½, 1 cup, 2-3 cups.  Pyrex [glass] or Oxo plastic. 
 
All this and a safe Merry Christmas to you. 
 
 

Nov 2020
 
Equipment Time.  Holidays are approaching and you need gift giving ideas?  Consider adding to or upgrading your household cooking equipment.  Question One:  What do I really need?
 
First consideration is quality.  Don’t skimp; buy the best.  This isn’t a toss away item, but something that will be used, reused & reused, and passed down.  And the quality will make a difference in ease of use, durability, and time saving.  Don’t think the food will taste better, but prep and cooking will be easier, quicker and the finished product will look better. 
 
Cookware.  Tests upon tests have been run by magazines (Cooking mags, Consumer Reports), TV shows (America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country) and chefs.  Hands down, the consistent winner is All-Clad.  It is cookware made from bonded metals – stainless steel & aluminum – to give the evenness and heat conduction of both metals, with a metal handle that can withstand the oven’s heat.  If you can find other less-expensive brands that have these bonded, clad qualities, go for it [consider Tramontina from Brazil]; but you cannot go wrong with All-Clad. 
 
What do I need?  Let’s start with basics – must haves.  You should have 1) a large 4-quart saucepan with lid {“you can always cook a small amount in a large pan, but can’t cook a large amount in a small pan”], 2) a 12-inch skillet with lid, 3) a 12-inch cast iron skillet [once it’s seasoned it will be your favorite] and 4) a Dutch Oven [high-sided, 7-quart size with lid].  For this last item consider a beefy, durable cast iron or enameled cast iron item, like Le Creuset. 
 
Now for the nice to haves.  A 2-quart saucepan, an 8 to 12-quart stock pot, a 10-inch skillet and an 8-in skillet.  You may consider non-stick here for the skillets but realize non-stick coating does wear out – eventually. 
 
Knives.  Absolute basic to every kitchen.  Not Cutco.  Not the cheapest, but the best.  Your knives should have a solid feel, with a blade that goes thru the handle, and feel comfortable in your hands.  Two brands stand out:  Wusthof and J.A. Henckels.  There are several Japanese brands that are excellent, but they don’t offer the complete line these German brands do. 
 
What do I need?  1) an 8” or 10” Chef’s Knife [your ‘work horse’ for 70-80% of your needs], 2) a 3” Paring Knife [for fruits and veggies, trimming, coring, etc.), 3) a long serrated Bread Knife, and 4) a 8”-10” Slicing/Carving Knife.  The others you may see are good for fewer tasks that could be done with one of the above but may round out a set.  Consider a thin, flexible blade for boning & filleting and a 10”-12” Carbon Sharpening Steel to keep your knives sharp.  Also, you can’t beat a professional sharpening occasionally – see your local supermarket. 
 
Serrated vs. Straight edge.  Serrated sets (like Cutco) are more gimmicky than useful.  They say they remain sharp (why do they sell serrated sharpeners?), and ease of use (there is a slight tear in the slicing).  There are only three uses for a serrated edge cutting:  tomatoes, bread & cakes.  Your Bread Knife takes care of two and you can use it for tomatoes or buy a small serrated knife for that chore.  
 
Now prepare the household for Christmas giving! 
 
Oct 2020
 
Ah, fall cooking.  Time to take advantage of all that is harvested at this bountiful time, especially squashes and root vegetables.  Those include acorn, butternut, delicata, and kabocha squashes, and carrots, potatoes, yams, beets, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips.  Just begging to be roasted and enjoyed.  Cut them in bite-size pieces with chopped onion, mix with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven at 400-450° till some browning occurs.  Then enjoy. 
 
Try this easy, tasty combination:  Butternut squash with bacon and leeks.  Peel a butternut squash, then cut into small ½” pieces.  Cut a leek in half longways and then cut into ½” slices (be sure to wash the cut pieces well to eliminate any grit).  Or, chop up an onion, if you prefer.  Take 3-4 slices of bacon, cut longways in half and again into ½” pieces.  Put all into a large bowl and add a small bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Mix well and spread on a large roasting sheet or pan, so that everything is in a single layer.  Roast in a hot (425°) oven till brown, turning and mixing up once, about 25 minutes total.  It’s a meal itself, served with a crisp salad.  Or, as a delicious side with sauteed tilapia or salmon. 
 
Speaking of bacon, everything’s better with bacon.  Cooking a lot – use the oven.  Put slices on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 400° for about 15 minutes.  Rotate pan halfway through to even the cooking.  Don’t overcrowd; you can use two pans on different racks and rotate racks halfway through.  Also, don’t overcook.  Either in the oven or on the stove top.  Overcooked bacon loses its flavor and tastes burned.  Once the fat is rendered and the bacon appears golden brown, it’s perfect.  Drain on paper towels. 
 
Greek salad.  Seems like everyone’s favorite.  Here are some hints to make it even better.  Soak the cut red onion slices in ice water for 10 minutes (removes that harsh ‘oniony’ bite).  Use Greek feta cheese – made from sheep’s milk; avoid the crumbled kind, usually from cow’s milk.  Use green peppers which contrast well with the other ingredients (OK, red are fine).  Cut the tomatoes into chunks (ripe, sweet tomatoes are the best; splurge with heirlooms) and salt beforehand.  Drain in a colander for 20+ minutes.  The tomato water drains so it doesn’t dilute the dressing and the salt penetrates deeply and evenly for added flavor.  Don’t forget lots of cucumber chunks.  And, pitted kalamata olives.  Dressing:  use bottled (Girard’s), or make your own with red wine vinegar and/or lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt & pepper.   A touch of Dijon mustard will help emulsify.  It’s a treat. 
 
Sep 2020
This is the time to share in nature’s summer bounty.  Oh, the options . . .
 
Heirloom Tomatoes – we are in prime time for enjoying these marvelous summer treats.  Buy heirlooms instead of regular tomatoes and taste the huge difference.  Use as you would any tomato.  Try slicing them, spread on a platter, sprinkled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Throw on some fresh basil.  Maybe some cheese.  What a treat!
 
Fresh Onions – this is also sweet onion season.  Many to choose from – Walla Walla, 1014, Maui, Texas Sweet, Vidalia.   They don’t keep as long as regular onion, so enjoy quickly.  They have a slightly less onion-y taste.  You can use as any onion.  Add to a salad.  Take away the strong onion taste by simply placing the cut onions in ice water for 10+ minutes.  Drain and enjoy.  Try slicing these gems, marinate in Italian dressing and grill until char and grill marks appear.  Serve on a burger or as a side. 
 
Foil Packets on the grill – an easy, simple way to prepare a full meal in one packet.  You can even cook different meals for picky guests.  Just put cut-up fresh seasonal veggies (yes, onions!), sausage/boneless chicken/pork cubes on an oiled aluminum foil sheet.  Season to your fancy.  Be creative.  Fold sheet to lock.  Put on a hot grill, turning every 5-6 minutes, for about 20 minutes.  I like to make summer potatoes that way.  Cut into ¾ - 1” cubes, add diced onion and a little garlic, salt & pepper and rosemary, if you like.  Close the packet and grill for 20+/- minutes, turning a few times.  They will come out browned, tender and delicious.  You end up steaming and grilling at the same time.  Like making hash browns/home fries with a lid on the skillet. 
 
Grilled fruit in salad – I’ve talked about grilling seasonal stone fruit and pineapple as a dessert treat.  Try grilled fruit cut up in a salad!  Make it simple: add some goat cheese, chopped walnuts, grilled fruit pieces to lettuce/greens flavored with your favorite dressing (stick with sweeter dressings for this, like poppyseed, balsamic or honey mustard).  Add some grilled chicken breast and you have a meal. 
 
Fresh Cheeses – summer is a great time to take advantage of fresh cheeses.  Try
 
Ricotta – a mild, sheep’s milk cheese that is great over bruschetta (made with heirlooms), served over pasta, or as the mainstay in lasagna (a seasonal, summer veggie lasagna would be perfect).
 
Feta – the best is sheep’s milk (not cow’s milk), think imported like French (milder), Greek, Israeli or Bulgarian (stronger – my favorite).  Cream feta in a processor with garlic & olive oil.  Serve with sliced veggies as a dip for appetizers.  Crumble feta over any grilled veggies.  Use with kalamata olives for a Greek salad flare.  Serve in chunks with an olive medley – drizzle with olive oil and oregano. 
 
Fresh Mozzarella – you can get fresh mozzarella in blocks - some are already sliced - or in balls.  Layer slices with heirloom tomatoes for a caprese salad – sprinkle with olive oil and torn fresh basil leaves.  How about a grilled cheese sandwich with fresh mozzarella and an olive tapenade.  Serve mozzarella balls with halved cherry tomatoes, tossed with garlic, parsley, dried oregano, fresh basil and olive oil.  Skewer them for finger appetizers. 
 
Summer Grilling
 
‘Tis the season for grilling.  Especially in Covid time.  Cooking out and eating out are probably the healthiest way to enjoy a meal with friends – keeping social distance and eating freshly grilled food.  Try these: 
 
  • Always get the grill hot – very hot.  It burns off yesterday’s residue and prepares the grill for a new round.  A hot grill sears the meat (chicken, fish) and makes turning easier. Then adjust the heat. 
  • Wipe the grill with oil just before grilling.  Use a high-smoke-point oil like grape seed, avocado, sunflower, safflower, canola.  Not olive – it burns at high temps.  Secure a paper towel with grill tongs, wet with oil, wipe and use. 
  • Grilling chicken:  If you prefer skin on, it will char leaving the meat inside juicer.   Skinless, boneless – turn often and don’t overcook breasts.  They become dry and cardboard-like.  Test for doneness with your finger or tongs.  If spongy it needs more time.  If it offers little/no resistance, it’s overdone.  Still not sure, use a thermometer.  Grilling thighs is a no-brainer.  They are tasty, a fit fatty for flavor and it’s hard to overcook them.  Just marinate and grill.  Caution:  All bone-in chicken takes much longer to grill.  Rule of thumb:  grill till no pink liquid leaks. 
  • Grilling meats:  Get marbled cuts – the fat renders, drips into the fire and creates that wonderful smoky flavor.  Plus the meat is more tender and tasty.  Grill on medium-high heat.  Again, use the touch test for doneness.  Spongy:  leave on, unless you like very rare steaks.  A bit soft:  medium rare.  Slightly resistant: medium to done.  No give:  Trump style – well done!  Marinate leaner cuts.  To me the best steak is salted (early, about 2-3 hours before cooking) and peppered, then grilled.  Use sauces at the table. 
  • Grilling seafoods:  The single best grilling fish is salmon.  I prefer Chef Paul’s Salmon Magic seasoning – its finished flavor cannot be beat.  Sprinkle, pat and grill.  Skin side down over medium heat for 6-7 minutes, turn and finish for 1-2 minutes depending on thickness.  Scallops and shrimp – get the grill HOT and sear scallops for 3-4 minutes, turn and remove after one minute.  Ditto for shrimp (great marinated) but adjust time for thickness.  Try on twin skewers for easy turning.  Less cooked seafood is better than over cooked.  Remember, it continues to cook after removing from the grill. 
  • Marinades:  You can marinate meats up to 4 hours before cooking.  Chicken – no more than one hour.  Seafood – 15+/- minutes. Longer marinating tend to break down the fibers and cause toughening.  If you use a liquid marinade, use a plastic bag.  Seal tightly and turn occasionally.  If you use a dry rub, cover and refrigerate.  Always bring the grilling items out of refrigeration 30-60 minutes before grilling to return it to room temp.  Cooking time is cut down and the food cooks more evenly.
  • Vegetables: A great tasting, visual-pleasing presentation.  Grill whole, sliced, or chopped.  Grill thickly sliced red, yellow, & orange peppers for color and taste.  Thickly slice a sweet onion, marinade in Italian dressing for 15+ minutes and grill.  Put cut up veggies in a basket and grill till charred – use broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, zucchini, onion, peppers, eggplant – any combination of these or other cut up veggies.  Mix with olive oil, salt and pepper before grilling.  After grilling, sprinkle on fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, chives, oregano, rosemary) and toss. 
  • Salad on the Grill?  Cut small heads of romaine lettuce or radicchio in half.  Place cut side down on grill for 2-3 minutes covered, till leaf edges char.  Serve cut side up and flavor lightly with Caesar or Cheesy Italian dressing.  Serve immediately.  Delicious!
  • Desert on the Grill?  Boy, what a treat and what a way to impress your guests!  Take stone fruit (peach, plum, apricot; not nectarine – sticky seed!), cut in half (twist 90° to separate and remove stone).   Lightly brush cut-side with melted butter (promotes browning and tasty caramelization) and place cut-side down on a medium-high grill.  Check after 5+/- minutes for grill marks; turn, lower heat and leave on until bubbles appear.  Serve immediately with a scoop of ice cream. 
 
How about some literature re-writes:  These are the times that try men’s cooking skills.  Or, these are the best of times and the worst of times to try some new cooking ideas.  Maybe, to be or not to be . . .  a cook.  Shelter-in-place has its demands.  
 
Regardless, we have to eat and most of us can’t or won’t have carry out every night.  So, that leaves us to cooking ourselves, helping our wives, or just prepping.  So, remember...
  • Keep your knives sharp. Run the blade through a hand-held sharpener, or hone on the sharpening rod in your knife set.
  • Try to keep the veggies you prepare about the same size – they cook evenly that way.
  • Using a mirepoix (fr.) or the Holy Trinity/soffritto (ital.), which is diced onions, carrots and celery of equal amounts – more onions are better – is a good way to start almost any dish, definitely any soups or stews.
  • Grilling any combination of veggies is a great way to impart flavor (smokiness).  Use a basket, turn/stir after a bit of char.  Total of maybe 7 – 10 minutes.  Toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and bit of herbs or spices.
  • Don’t overcook skinless, boneless chicken breasts on the stove or grill (or anything, for that matter).  Makes them like cardboard – both taste and texture.  Cook till almost done and remove.  They continue to cook after removed from the heat.
  • Simple is better than complicated.  Salt and pepper on your veggies, meat or seafood and cook.  Serve sauces on the side.  Deglaze the pan with white wine, cook down, add a butter pat and pour over.  Simple, elegant, tasty
  • Go on the Internet for recipes.  Google “5 Ingredients” and you’ll be taken to Jamie Oliver’s simple 5 Ingredient recipes.  Quick, easy, tasty. 
  • This may be the time to splurge.  Take out that recipe book, saved recipe pages, or recall something you’ve always wanted.  You’ve got the time for sure.  Hey, if you get stuck, in trouble, or want ideas, give me a call. 
But, most of all, enjoy this time to do whatever you want to do.  If you want to share your fun or successes, send to me and we’ll publish it next month.  

 
Not the usual cooking tips, but then these are not normal times.  All of us have to do more cooking at home now (unless you are picking up or having Door Dash deliver all meals), let’s get some simple, easy things to do:
 
1.     Check out the Cooking Archives for several of our past recipes.  January and February featured 5 Ingredients of easy, tasty, simple recipes.  Try one or all.
2.     Soups and one-pot meals are not only tasty, but end up being two or three nights’ meals.  In the archives are recipes for Minestrone, Tuscan Chicken Bean Soup, Greek Lemon Chicken Rice Soup, Chicken Vegetable Soup, Tuscan While Bean Soup with Greens.  Try one or all.
3.     How about these quick, easy, tasty meals:
a.     Microwave broccoli (or asparagus, cauliflower, green beans, etc.), mix with cooked shaped pasta and a healthy spoonful or two of prepared basil pesto (Costco has a terrific one).  Separately, mix warmed roasted chicken strips with more pesto.  Combine all three together for a truly tasty dish. 
b.     Sauté onions or leeks with diced zucchini.  Add basil pesto to taste.  Separately, combine pesto with warmed roasted chicken strips.  Combine.  Terrific.
c.      Buy a rotisserie chicken (again, Costco’s are great, but you can buy anywhere).  Break into pieces and serve as is with a salad and veggies.  Try a little mango chutney with the chicken.
d.     Take a rotisserie chicken and de-bone and de-skin.  Now you have a supply of really tasty chicken for:  Chicken Divan, Chicken salad, stir-fry with veggies, and a myriad of easy recipes on the internet for roasted/rotisserie chicken.
4.     Beans are a simple, low fat, tasty protein source.  Try these (courtesy of SF Chronicle):
a.     Canned white beans, coarsely smashed with a can of tuna, salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Add parsley or basil, if you have it.  Add olives or capers, if you want.  Serve with greens or warmed with a side of veggies.   Go Mediterranean!
b.     Sauté a diced onion and a minced clove of garlic in olive oil.  Add a bit of cumin.  Stir in a can (undrained) of black or pinto beans.  Simmer until hot, and mash a few of the beans with the back of a fork, if you want it creamy.  Serve over rice or with tortillas or tortilla chips.  Maybe add some diced tomato.  Go Mexican!
c.      Combine a few cans of garbanzo beans, a few crushed garlic cloves and a few cups of chicken broth.  Bring to a summer and serve in bowls with generous portions of shaved Parmesan cheese and season with ground pepper.  Add a poached egg, if desired.  Extremely easy bean soup.   

 
Everyone’s favorite is Pasta.  But, preparing it properly can make a huge difference in taste.  Here’s how:
 
Water plenty of it (dry pasta expands, taking on water in the cooking process) and Salt, plenty of it.  Your pasta water should be the saltiness of sea water (don’t worry about ‘too much salt’ as a very small portion of it is assimilated by the pasta). And no oil.  The result is a savory, delicious pasta. 
 
Bring the water to a rolling boil.  Add the salt, then the pasta.  Immediately stir the pasta to keep from sticking to the bottom and itself.  Then, stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking together. 
 
How long to cook?  Use the package instructions as a guideline.  You want your pasta to be done al dente – or, ‘to the tooth’, a ‘toothsome texture’, just a slight bite to it.  Check it as the time is close to the directions.  Bite into a piece (be sure to cool it first!) and feel the texture.  Then look at the bitten piece.  If there is still white in the center, it needs more time; If there is no white, it’s overdone.  A slight white is perfect.  Remember, the pasta continues to cook after removed from the water. 
 
Don’t rinse.  You will remove flavorful starches.  Use immediately.  If you can’t use right away, add some of the sauce you are using and stir.  Or, add a few drops of olive oil and stir.  Otherwise it will be a sticky, starchy clump of pasta. 
 
Always preserve a cup or so of pasta water.  You can use some of that starchy magic to adjust the consistency of the sauce, revive clumpy pasta, or flavor another side dish. 
 


 
Deglaze the pan.  Whenever you sauté meat, fish or veggies in a pan, you want to have the food caramelize, i.e., form that tasty browning on the food.  Just don’t constantly stir or move the food.  Then, always take the next step to use that residue to flavor your dish.  Either take the food out of the pan and deglaze or leave it in, depending on what you are cooking.  To deglaze use white or red wine, chicken or vegetable broth, orange or lemon juice, or just plain water.  Pour into the hot pan and swirl, scraping up all the residue and tasty bits.  Reduce by 50% or until a bit syrupy – just a few minutes – add a lump or two of butter and, Voila!  You have the magic elixir of the restaurants – a sauce that perfectly complements the dish. 
 
Winter cooking.  This is the time for root vegetables (think yams & sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips, squashes, etc.).  Roast them in a hot oven and serve simply with butter and salt & pepper.  Time for soups and stews – cook long and slow over the stove or in a slow cooker (Crockpot or InstaPot).  Use less expensive cuts (chuck or sirloin steak, pork loin, chicken thighs), they withstand the long cooking process and become tender and flavorful.  How about red tomato sauce pasta dishes, or one-pot wonders?  Risotto?   Dig into recipes that take time to cook and that warm the body and soul.  Your mate and friends will love you for it. 

 
Cooking Entertainment Tips
 
For the holidays we will all be entertaining, being entertained and enjoying family with food playing a major role.  Keep it simple, exciting and tasty.  You don’t need involved recipes or long prep time to make it delicious.  Here are some easy ideas:
 
·      Make the simple extraordinary:  Serve Shrimp Cocktail but instead of putting the shrimp in a pile, shape them into a fish; toothpick them to a Styrofoam cone to look like a Christmas tree; serve in several small bowls with different dips – aioli, cocktail sauce, horseradish, or remoulade.     
·      Dress up your salsa dip – drain a can of baby clams, add to a jar of salsa with the juice of one lime.  Mix and refrigerate, then serve with tortilla chips.
·      Visit Whole Foods, Lunardi’s, Draeger’s or Cost Plus Foods for some unique sauces, dips or sides.  Ask a clerk for a few ideas – they are glad to help.
·      Consider some of the appetizer variety packs from Costco – meats and cheeses.
·      Purchase several types of olives – always a hit.  Add in some caperberries (large capers with stems – have not heard of anyone not liking them).
·      Get away from the usual cheeses – try Manchego (Spanish), or Asiago (Italian); Greek or Bulgarian Feta (not US), Irish Cheddar, etc.  Ask the cheese clerk for ideas and a taste.
·      Serve crackers that have creative ingredients – Raincoast Crisps, or 32 Degrees to name a few; look/ask for Artisan crackers.  The choices are overwhelming. 
·      Look in the prepared section for grilled artichokes, grilled peppers, grilled asparagus – any grilled veggies for that matter.  Serve mixed on a platter.  For a side or appetizer. 
·      Try an olive tapenade as a cracker spread; different types of bruschetta on toast points. 
·      Serve cheese tortellini with a basil pesto for dipping.
·      Pick up Frozen appetizers from Costco and dress them up, e.g., Spanakopita and serve with Tzatziki sauce, or Mini Crab Cakes and serve with an aioli.      
    


 
FALL is the harvest season, so enjoy the bounty.  This is the time for roasting and baking vegetables.  Here’s a simple preparation:  Get a Butternut squash and peel it.  Cut in half and clean out the seeds.  Cut into 1” cubes (or buy already cut up).  In a large bowl add the cut squash, olive oil, salt & pepper.  That’s it!  Put on a foil-lined sheet pan (for easy clean up) and roast for 20—25 minutes in a 425-degree oven.  Stir after 15 minutes.  Bake until brown crusts form.  You will not believe how sweet a treat that is. 
 
Take an Acorn squash, cut in half and clean out the seeds.  Cut into 8-12 smaller pieces.  Salt & pepper and bake in 425-degree oven until golden brown.  Serve with a pad of butter on each.  Eat the whole thing!  Skin and all.  You won’t believe how tender it is and the “good stuff” is in the skin anyway. 
 
Get root vegetables – Yams, sweet potato, rutabaga, carrots, parsnip, etc.- cut up into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil, salt & pepper and roast at 425.  Sound familiar?  It’s just that easy.  Mix, match or use just one veggie.  Roast at a high temp until golden brown and serve.  The secret: All the natural sugars in these veggies caramelize in the high heat producing an incredibly sweet, tasty, easy side dish.  
 
APPLES – This is prime apple season.  Enjoy the bounty.  Look for unblemished, unbruised apples to last longer.  For decades the Red Delicious was the world’s best-selling apple.  However, inbreeding the beautiful color took away the taste and they declined in popularity to be replaced by the Gala in 2018 as the #1 apple.  The Gala is a hybrid of two relative unknowns, the Golden Delicious and Kidd’s Orange Red to produce a sweet, fine textured & aromatic apple.  Watch out for the Honeycrisp, currently #5, but the fastest growing apple variety.  It has a sweet, firm and tart taste, best for eating raw.  Just ask SIR Jerry Luzar!  
 
FETA CHEESE – We tasted several varieties at our September cooking class. One stood out.  Two considerations:  type of milk used and domestic vs. imported.  Milk types are cow, goat and sheep.  Hands down winner was Sheep’s Milk. US consumers and manufacturers are keyed in on cow’s milk for making cheese.  While great for a majority of cheese types, not so for Feta.  France, Greece & Bulgaria are the best-known Feta producers, usually packed in brine.  Beware of imitators and imposters who use cow’s milk and dress it up with brine.  The BEST is Sheep’s milk feta from Europe.  My favorite is Bulgarian, which is a bit creamier than Greek.  Keep it easy:  Buy imported sheep’s milk feta.  Maybe a few cents more, but well worth it for the taste.


 
SALT – There are too many to choose from, so what should I use?  Let’s simplify.
 
1.    Table Salt throw out your Morton’s Iodized Salt.  It’s too fine, has additives and you cannot control how much you use.  Use a shaker and you have no idea how much your poured on your food.
 
2.    Kosher Salt – coarse, pure, controllable.  Use your fingers to pick up exactly how much you want and add it to your recipe/food.  You control how much/little you use.  What kind?  Brands are less important than a coarse grain Kosher variety.
 
3.    Flavored salts – there are too many to concentrate on, but here are a few thoughts . . .
-Smoky – one of my favorites.  It adds a sultry, smoky, grilled flavor to whatever you are cooking.  It also enhances grilling taste on the BBQ.
-My favorite is Borsari (two styles, regular and lemon).  Available on line and you cannot go wrong with veggies, meats and all around flavoring.
-Stay away from simple combinations like garlic salt, basil salt, etc.  you can do better yourself, much cheaper, and control the seasonings. 
-Other combinations – be creative, bold and adventuresome.  IF you like what you read, buy it
-Regional/Nationality seasonings – try Za’atar (Middle Eastern), Merken (Chilean), Five Spice (Chinese), Fajita (Mexican), Magic Seasonings (Creole), Pike Place Market (Seafood combinations)
 
4.    Use Early, use often and taste regularly.   Salt your red meat 2-4 hours before grilling; or cooking; chicken 1-2 hours; seafood 15+ minutes.  This will bring out the natural flavoring of the protein. 

 
Marinades vs. Basting Sauces vs. Grill Sauces
– It is definitely grilling season and what better way to showcase your talent and please friends.
 
Here are some hints:
 
Marinades should be used before grilling. Oil and vinegar based are the best for this. Dry rubs also. Avoid using sugar/sweet-based marinades or sauces because they will not stand up to the heat of grilling. They will burn before the meat is cooked, leaving you with underdone meat and a burnt-crust exterior.
 
Basting Sauces are meant to be used while grilling. Any non-oil marinate or sauce can be used this way. Oil-based sauces will flare up when drips hit the fire. Use with caution and put out the flames (water spray) or move the meat. Burnt meat exterior is not only unsightly, but can be unhealthy with too many carcinogens.
 
Grill Sauces or Serving Sauces – These should be applied only during the last few minutes of grilling, giving your finished product a nice caramelized finish. Then, serve additional sauce on the table to further enhance the meat. Also, Do Not Overcook. Use a meat thermometer to reach the desired internal temps. And let it rest (minimum 10 min.) before carving. Let the juices settle back into the meat.
 
For fish and seafood, use a lighter marinade  (think, not sweet nor tomato based). Lemon, oil and simple spices are terrific. Serve with lemon wedges. As a rule of thumb, cook fish a total of 10 minutes to the inch. If your fish piece is ½” thick, 2+ minutes per side is enough. Remember the seafood will continue to cook after you remove it. Better less than more.

 

Take advantage of the summer’s vegetable bounty.  Soooo easy

Saladscut chunks of cucumber, red & green peppers, red onion and fresh heirloom tomatoes (they cost more, but are well worth it!), mix with a vinaigrette.  Add chunks of feta and pitted kalamata olives, sprinkle dried oregano for a Greek salad.  Or, add Parmesan cheese, pitted Castelvetrano Olives [or your favorite green olive], & basil for an Italian salad.  Option:  Serve over spring greens.

Roasted VegetablesBuy a grilling basket (I have two, and have used both countless times over the past 25+ years).  Cut up veggies into chunks.  Add olive oil, salt & pepper, put into the hot grilling basket over the BBQ and grill until just charred, turning regularly, about 12-15 minutes.  For an added touch sprinkle balsamic vinegar on the finished veggies, add chopped fresh herbs and toss (any combo you like – parsley, oregano, thyme, chives, rosemary, tarragon – one, three or all).  What to cut up?  Anything.  Like zucchini, yellow squash, onion, peppers [any and all varieties}, potatoes in small chunks, asparagus, fennel, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots – you name it.  Whatever you like, want or have around. 

 

Kitchen Gadgets I think cooking and golf give us more gadgets to “simplify” our existence.  I disagree.  Not for golf, mind you, but in the kitchen.  Don’t be enamored with garlic presses, chopping devices, egg separators and the like.  (Ever see a chef use those things on TV?).  Stick with the basic knife for most tasks.  However, I have two I cannot be without:  A lemon squeezer and cherry pit separator.  Get a handled lemon squeezer than allows you to juice a half lemon (or lime) with no seeds in seconds.  There is a Cherry Pitter that allows you to take the seeds out of 8 cherries in one smash – seeds gone and cherry in tact!  There is also a single cherry option, buy why work eight times harder!  What a great way to add cherries to your spring fruit salad.   Also, speaking of cherries, try the Rainer-type (cream & pinkish color) vs. the classic Bing. (dark red).  More expensive but double the taste!    


 

Oil Spray CansThey are easy, good and useful.  First, they add negligible fat/calories in their use as long as you are not trigger-happy.  Use them to 1) spray a plastic storage container before storing any tomato-based sauces; keeps from staining the container; 2) spray measuring cups & spoons when using for sugary, syrupy ingredients [e.g., maple syrup]; ingredients come out with little residue; 3) lightly spray a non-stick skillet for grilled cheese, French Toast & eggs; no oil needed; 4) spray on oven-baked breads for a crispier crust; 5) spray on baking dishes before filling to keep baked-on sticking to a minimum; 6) spray on the cheese grater before grating cheese – no residue; 7) spray on your hands when making burger patties;  8) spray on plastic wrap before covering desserts.   


 

Seasoning your Cooking  - I learned two important things about flavor and seasoning while cooking from Chef Paul Prudhomme of New Orleans fame:  Layer your seasoning and taste often.  As you prepare a dish, season each layer of added ingredients.  Let’s say you sauté onions to start – salt & pepper them.  Then you add peppers and veggies – salt & pepper and season them.  Taste.  Be sure it is flavorful and the way you want it.  If not, adjust your seasonings.  Then, after adding the final ingredients, flavor them.  Just before serving, taste again and adjust seasonings.  I also learned elsewhere the two most basic ingredients restaurants use to enhance the flavor of sauces and dishes:  Salt and Butter.   Simple, but so effective.  Taste and adjust seasonings. 


 

Pasta – Dried vs. Fresh -  Most of the pasta we use is dried – comes in a box, cello package; takes 8-14 minutes to cook, is made with semolina flour & water, has a sturdy texture and strong gluten (that’s what holds it together – and it is neither good nor bad for you, unless you are gluten-intolerant [have celiac disease]).  An alternative is fresh pasta, which is found in the grocer’s refrigerated section – it is made with eggs and white flour, which gives it a smooth, tender, more delicate texture.  It also cooks in 2-3 minutes! Usually what we get in a restaurant because of its higher quality taste and feel.  Store dry pastas for months, even years; not so for fresh.  Be careful of the “Best by” or expiry date – it has uncooked egg in its makeup.  Dry pasta has a countless array of shapes; fewer choices for fresh.  Mostly interchangeable in recipes, except where there is vigorous stirring involved to release the starch (e.g. cacio e Pepe – Cheese & Pepper) or with large ingredients, like broccoli or sausage chunks – the fresh pasta tends to clump. 


 

Freezing Foodsfreezer burn and leaving food in the freezer too long are the two best ways to ruin your frozen foods.  How long you keep it in the freezer is up to you, but this will help keep burn-loss at a minimum:  1.  Keep as much air as possible from the food – transfer to airtight packaging.  2. Freeze as quickly as possible.  3. Remove from the original package – lay meats out flat, wrap and freeze separately, then store together.  4. Wrap the food tightly in aluminum foil, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  This will keep at much air away from the food as possible.  Plastic wrap alone is air permeable.  5. Individually wrap items if possible or use a vacuum sealer (FoodSaver process), then put the items in a separate plastic bag.  Identify and date so you know what’s in the bag and how long it has been there. 


 

Defrosting - freezing items separately will help you defrost quicker and use portion control.  Lay flat on a plate or pan and defrost in the refrigerator.  This may take time – think overnight.  More time for whole roasts, chickens, or larger bowls of leftovers.  In a rush?  Soak items in cold water (not hot), or on an aluminum pan, turning every half hour or so as they thaw.  Careful here:  letting the frozen item reach room temperature is an invitation to rapid bacteria growth. Refrigerate if it is almost thawed.  Do not use this technique for large items or roasts – the edges are at room temp before the center thawsConcerned about spoilage?  Use your nose.  It does not lie.  If it smells off or bad, toss.  If it still smells fresh-like, you are good. 


 

Parchment Paper.  Never heard of it? Rarely use? This is one useful kitchen baking and cooking companion.  This paper will not burn under 400°.  Use it on cookie sheets or to line pans when baking anything.  It won’t burn, will protect baked goods from sticking and clean up is a breeze – throw away the paper and wipe the pan clean.  Use it as a surface for assembling and pouring baking ingredients, steaming fish, covering microwave dishes.  Use it on the counter top when assembling ingredients to bake or cook (lightly moisten the surface before placing the paper to keep it from slipping or curling).  Caution:  Do not confuse with wax paper.  That will burn in the oven. 


 

Cook Books.  I received three for Christmas!  I noticed immediately they all “teach” instead of just give you recipes.  Salt, Fat, Acid & Heat spends about 50-60 pages on each of these cooking basics then shows in recipes how to incorporate.  You’ll never look at the four basics the same with this book.  How to Taste does just that – teaches you tasting, what affects different aspects of taste and tips on how to.  Then after explaining, it gives recipes incorporating what was just covered.  The Food Lab – Better Home Cooking Through Science takes you through all aspects of cooking:  Tips, Techniques, Pictures, Recipes.  This is a cooking compendium to be read, reread and referenced.  Just got it, so I am just perusing the 950 pages! 


 

Thanksgiving Turkey.  Improve on mom’s/grandma’s traditional recipe – brine the bird.  Amazingly it does not add a lot of salt; magically it keeps the breast meat moist and the thigh meat tender.  Just go on line to find a brine recipe.  Brine the bird for 12-24 hours (no longer; too much salt taste) and roast normally.  The juiciest turkey you will ever have.  Don’t stuff the bird; just add celery and onions to the cavity and roast.  It will cook better, easier and you won’t have to worry about thoroughly baking the stuffing while overcooking the bird.  Bake stuffing separately. 


 

Easy Gravy.  Don’t let this tasty, simple addition to a great meal get complicated or lumpy.  Collect the turkey juices after roasting and skim off the fat (use a fat-skimmer or skim with a spoon and paper towels), pour juices in a pan and bring to a boil.  Dissolve 1/3 cup of flour in 1-1½ cups warm chicken broth (put in a jar & shake well).  Pour all into the simmering juices at once.  Whisk constantly and bring to a boil.  You are done!  Tasty, easy gravy and you will be the envy of the party! 


 

Rice:  Many kinds.  What’s the difference?  Long & Short - Long rice tends to be lighter, fluffier while Short rice is stickier, more chewy.  Types – Basmati rice is a long grain rice, aromatic, light and a perfect side dish alone or as a base for additional ingredients.   Jasmine is a short grain, soft and sticky, great for sushi, many Chinese dishes and other sticky combinations.   Aborio is a short grain, high gluten, pasta-like, perfect for risotto.  Calrose and Texmati are US developed grains that have both characteristics in that they increase in length and width in cooking.  Versatile and widely useful.  Brown v. WhiteBrown is less processed with just the hull removed leaving a higher fiber-content rice, a bit chewier than white.   White is milled until the product is white, softer and fluffier than its less processed sister.   This is the most common, easier to chew, less fibrous, more appealing choice. 


 

Get rid of Garlic HandsTo remove the annoying garlic smell from your hands, rinse in cold water and rub them on your kitchen faucet. Rinse, repeat. (huh?  It Does Work!).  Rub your hands on anything stainless steel for the same result.  Works with onion, celery – any un-desirous smell on your hands.   Rinse, rub, rinse, rub, dry.  You will be amazed. 

 
Green, Red, Yellow, Orange Peppers – what’s the difference? Not much and a lot.  All start from the same green pepper, which is just an immature colored one.  [That explains why colors cost more than green.]  Depending on the species, all green peppers will develop into mature colored ones.  In terms of taste the peppers are ranked for sweetness, most to least:  Orange, Yellow, Red, Green. 

 
Corn on the CobHere are two very easy ways to fix corn on the cob:  For 2-4 ears, husk and rinse.  Roll each dripping wet ear in a paper towel.  Microwave for 4-5 minutes (more for more ears; less for fewer) and serve.  Perfect every time.  (Caution:  they are hot!).  For a crowd:  place all cleaned ears in a pot of water.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from heat.  Leave in the hot water. You can serve anytime up to 15-18 minutes.  Perfect way to feed a crowd and not worry about timing – are they done?  Overcooked?  Perfect every time. 

 
Using OilsYou should have two, if not three oils in your pantry.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil is great for sautéing vegetables and low-heat cooking. It has a very low smoke point - 320° (once oil smokes, it is “burnt” and no good].  Have an upscale EVOO as a finishing oil for veggie, pasta dishes instead of butter.  For sautéed foods – chicken, burgers, searing meats – use Avocado, Grapeseed, Canola, Safflower.  All have smoke points above 400° and will hold up to high, searing temperatures. 

 

Corn on the CobHere are two very easy ways to fix corn on the cob:  For 2-4 ears, husk and rinse.  While dripping wet roll each ear in a paper towel.  Microwave for 4-5 minutes (more for more ears; less for fewer) and serve.  Perfect every time.  (Caution:  they are hot!).  For a crowd:  place all cleaned ears in a pot of water.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from heat.  Leave in the hot water. You can serve anytime up to 15-18 minutes.  Perfect way to feed a crowd and not worry about timing – are they done?  Overcooked?  Perfect every time. 


 

Kitchen Shears – What a useful tool!  As Jim Quon point out, use them to cut tomatoes in the car.  Cut pizza, pita or quesadillas into wedges; focaccia into squares.  Prep produce by snipping cauliflower to size, trim artichoke leaves, carrot & radish tops, stems from leafy greens.  Great for slicing messy items like dried fruits or even raw bacon.  How about opening those pesky sealed bags.  Perfect! 


 

Too-hard-to-eat stone fruit from the store?   Place the fruit in a paper bag along with a banana for 2-3 days, or until soft.  The banana releases an ethylene gas that triggers ripening of the fruit.  


 
Keep cooked pasta from sticking together.   Once pasta is cooked al dente (Do Not Rinse, unless you are serving the pasta cold), add a few tablespoons of olive oil and stir to coat.  Or, add a ladle of the accompanying pasta sauce and coat.  Freshly cooked pasta is very “vulnerable” and seeks to continue absorbing liquid.  The olive oil or sauce helps stop that process.  Then, use as planned. 

 
Have a pan/dish with hard-to-remove residue?  Soak the pan with a teaspoon of Cascade and hot water for about 1-2 hours.  Then, clean up is a breeze.  Don’t do this with aluminum or it will oxidize and discolor. When baking a dessert with sugar be sure to coat the pan well with butter/oil.   This will prevent a laborious clean up of sticky, burned on residue

 
Never wash vegetables or fruit until you plan to use them.  Both have a built-in protection coating that keeps them fresh and is easily removed with a quick cold-water cleaning rinse just before using. 

 
Keep parsley, cilantro and asparagus for weeks in the fridge.   Once home, cut ½ to 1 inch off the stem bottom and put in a container of water; cover with the store’s plastic bag and keep in the fridge up to two weeks.

 
Never store tomatoes (or onions) in the fridge.  The cold actually changes the flavor, eventually makes them mealy and lessens the quality.