THE COOK’S NOTEBOOK…CHEF’S TIPS AND TIDBITS

NO ANCHOVIES FOR YOUR CAESAR DRESSING???         When you’re out of anchovies a few drops of fish sauce added to your Caesar dressing is a reasonable substitute.  Fish sauce is made from fermented anchovies.

AN EASY WAY TO ROAST BUTTERNUT SQUASH     ……     Some recipes call for the squash to be peeled and cubed and then roasted.  It’s not my favorite chore.  Here’s an easy way to  roast squash.  Have your oven at 400degrees F.  Wash your squash and prick with the tip of knife so it doesn’t explode when it is baked.  Place on rimmed baking sheet and roast until soft to the touch and a knife penetrates the skin easily (around l hour).  Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle.  Half the squash and remove the discard seeds and fibers with a large spoon.  Scoop the pulp into a bowl and proceed with your recipe.

SOFTENING BROWN SUGAR

Brown sugar can become hard if not stored in an airtight container.  To soften it quickly, place it in a microwave-safe dish with a few apple wedges.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap; microwave on high in 20 second increments until soft (but not melted)

STEADYING A BOWL

If you need to pour and whisk at the same time (as when making vinaigrettes) and don’t have a mixing bowl with a rubber-rimmed bottom, place your bowl on a dampened dish towel, and bunch the towel up around the base.  The bowl will stay put while you mix or whisk.

PITTING OLIVE

The easieset way to pit an olive is to lay the blade of a large knife over it and smack the blade with your fist or the heel of your hand.  The olive should split open, causing the pit to pop right out.

CUTTING CANNED TOMATOES

Whole canned tomatoes are a better quality tomato than crushed or diced.   To use them in your recipe use kitchen shears to cut them right in the can.

If you puree canned tomatoes in a blender or a food processor they loose their deep read colour and turn pink.  We don’t want that!

 

The best canned tomatoes are Italian.  The best canned Italian tomatoes are San Marzano’s.

REDUCED TO A GLAZE.   A glaze is not so reduced as you might think.  When you pull a wooden spoon through the mixture, the resulting line, exposing the skillet’s surface, should stay intact for a second or two before the liquid flows back into place.  A glaze does not mean that the liquid has been reduced until it lacquers the ingredients.

NOODLES.  Dried noodles should be first cooked and drained before they are added to your soup.   If cooked in the soup, they absorb too much of the liquid.

Slice soft fresh cheese without crumbling.  Use dental floss  or fishing line stretched taut between your hands.  You can slice a log of soft, fresh cheese into rounds that stay intact instead of crumbling.

Peel ginger with the edge of a spoon.  You’ll easily remove just a thin layer of skin.  Then you can dice or shred the ginger.

Salads are so good for you and rounds out almost any meal.  The first ingredient of most commercial  salad dressings is water.   You can make your own and keep an all-purpose vinaigrette on hand. Combine olive oil and balsamic or herb vinegar (three parts to one part) with salt, pepper, mustard, garlic, and herbs to taste.  Transfer to a clean wine bottle and stop it with a new cork;  the dressing will keep for weeks refrigerated.  And the bottle is attractive enough to bring to the table.  This also makes a most welcome gift.  Just be sure your mark it “keep refrigerated and enjoy”.

Home made pita crisps are perfect with your home made dips, especially humous.  Brush the pita rounds (the thin kind not the pita pockets) with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Cut into eighths and put on a baking sheet.  Broil until crisp and brown.  Watch them carefully so they don’t burn.

The next time you are roasting meat use a nest of herbs as an impromptu roasting rack and infuse the meat with flavour at the same time.  Arrange sage, thyme, or other stalks in a roasting pan, and place meat on top.  Large, woodier stalks, such as the ones in the garden at the end of summer work best.

Select asparagus that is  crisp and green with tight, unopened tips.  It’s best eaten the day it’s purchased, but it can be stored for up to three days.  Wrap the bottom ends in damp paper towels and seal in an airtight plastic bag and refrigerate.  Before cooking, snap the bottom off each spear; it breaks naturally just where it should.  If the stalks are tough, peel the bottom third of each one.

Don’t cry for onions.  Cut them near a flame and the gaseous sulfur compounds released from onions will burn off before they irritate your eyes.  Don’t forget to turn off the stove when you’re finished.  Or try lighting a votive candle near the cutting board instead.

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