Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Helpful Cooking Tips!

I was just thinking of all of the little things I've learned along the way since I fell in love with cooking & baking.  I was watching a friend of mine cook in the kitchen, and kept cringing at everything he was doing wrong!  It was a lot of simple little things, all of which would've made his life a little easier - and made his food taste a little better. 

So for my friend, and for you, here is some of what I've learned! 

Beth's Cooking Tips

Proper food storage enhances the taste of your food. 
Tomatoes should NEVER be stored in the refrigerator.  The cold actually damages their cells, causing them to taste mealy.

On the other side, apples should ALWAYS be stored in the fridge.  Sure, they'll be fine on the counter, but after a while they will taste mealy - if you store them in the fridge, they'll stay nice & crispy & juicy.  However, be sure to not store apples in the same drawer as other veggies - they contain an enzyme that will actually cause certain fruits & veggies to wilt and wither faster.

I also store onions in the fridge, as it helps prevent my eyes from stinging when I chop them.

Storing leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, etc) in the crisper actually does help them stay healthy longer!  Just be sure they are kept dry.  Some people say to wash lettuce as soon as you get it and wrap it in paper towels for storing.  I've tried this, and it doesn't seem to work for me.  I find that keeping lettuce in it's original bag with the mouth of the bag left open and stored in the crisper helps it stay the freshest the longest.

Use vinegar instead of oil when cooking pasta. 
I know your momma has always taught you to add olive oil to your boiling water to prevent noodles from sticking together, right?  Your momma is WRONG, baby!  I did this for the longest time, and it turns out it's a complete myth

Personally, I like to add a splash of good ol' Apple Cider Vinegar to my cooking liquid instead.  It has certainly been more helpful to prevent sticking than oil ever has!  And on that note...

Soak your rice overnight before cooking. 
I know this takes a bit of planning, but it has become a wonderful practice for me!  Just add the proper amount of water in a pot to the amount of rice you want to cook (ALWAYS brown rice, people.  C'mon now.) - so 2 cups of water to every 1 cup of rice.

Add a splash of Apple Cider Vinegar (this is seriously one of my most favorite kitchen staples), then cover the pot with a lid, and leave it alone for the night.  The vinegar will actually help the rice to germinate.

In the morning, turn the heat on medium-high until it boils (you don't even have to dump out the water)!  Lower the heat to simmer and it should only take about 30-ish minutes to cook (instead of the usual 45 mins to an hour without soaking).  Allowing time for the soaking process really helps your body absorb the nutrients in the rice better, and it helps you to digest it.  For more information on the health benefits, click here. On the same note...

Get raw, uncooked beans in bulk - and cook them yourself!
Again, this takes some planning, but after I did a little research on my own I realized this isn't as hard as it seems.  This is a great website for instructions on how to cook all kinds of beans, and you can easily find a cooking chart (for using a regular pot instead of a pressure cooker) with soak time / cook times.

Cooking your own beans takes out the processing ingredients that are put into canned beans, including sodium (there is SO much sodium in canned beans - unless you buy salt-free), and cooking your own can aid with digestion and make them easier for your body to process - therefore making them even more nutritious.  Also, when you buy beans in bulk you're buying hardly ANY packaging, therefore saving the world one little step at a time.

ALWAYS use a sharp knife. 
I once saw a friend of mine attempting to saw through a head of lettuce with a butter knife.  *facepalm.

Before you start chopping, slicing & dicing, be sure your knife is good & sharp.  A dull knife will squash fruits & tomatoes, and you'll be more likely to have a slip and accidentally cut yourself.  I like to run mine through a basic sharpener right before I get started - just be sure to wipe the blade with a clean dishtowel before you start a'choppin'!

I guess I should have listed this one first, but ALWAYS wash your hands before you begin cooking.  There are so many icky-sicky germs everywhere, and although this seems like common sense, you'd be surprised at how many "helpers" I get in the kitchen that say NO when I ask "have you washed your hands?"

Always check the yield of your recipe first thing!
I have made this mistake a LOT of times.  I'm in the middle of cooking up a delicious casserole, and halfway through the recipe I realize, "Hmmm.... this doesn't look like it's going to make enough to feed the group of 8 that I'm cooking for..."  I check the recipe yield, and it only makes enough to serve 4.


Or in another scope (such as when making cookies or jam), you realize that the recipe yields 80 servings, and you're making WAY too much!  No wonder those cookies used an entire package of butter... whoa.

Adjust the recipe according to your party size - either doubling or halving the recipe ingredients when necessary.  Just don't forget halfway through cooking what you're doing though!  I've totally done that too!

Cooking and baking both come down to science.  But baking is REALLY a science (that I don't understand).
I am definitely more of a cooking-type person than a baking-type of person, but I'm definitely trying to change that.  I've learned through trial & error in cooking what flavors work well together, and I can flub my way through things even when they seem like a disaster.  However with baking?  I just don't get the science of how it all works.  Therefore my advice here is: when it comes to baking, follow the instructions exactly!  That seems to prevent most of the screw-ups I've created in the baking world!

Go easy on the salt. 
It's much easier to add a little more, rather than take out a little less. 

When it comes to spices, go ahead & substitute. 
I have never owned saffron.  Nor will I probably EVER own it, since it costs more than its weight in gold.  So needless to say, when a recipe calls for a spice like this or any other ridiculously specific "gourmet" seasoning that you have to go to a special store to buy - I substitute.  Or just omit it, depending on what it is!  Usually a quick Google search can give you some good ideas on spice substitution.

Wear an apron. 
Now, I know this might sound silly.  But after you have flour all down your shirt or gravy on your pants, you'll think twice!  Also I love aprons because you can just wipe your hands right there on 'em.  So convenient.  You can find some really super cute ones here.  Maybe not for the boys of the kitchen, but I kinda like this one for them. :)

Presentation is totally important. 
I didn't used to think this was true, but now I'm a believer.  It doesn't take much effort to make your plate pretty, and that extra dash of color can add some healthy vitamins to your meal.  After all, they say the more colorful the meal on your plate - the more nutritious it is!  Add some arugula or spinach under that fried egg, and a couple of sliced strawberries on the side.  Garnish your soups with some sprigs of parsley or cilantro for a spicy soup.  It's true that we first eat with our eyes, and if you make your food LOOK appealing, your mind will find it even more delicious. 

If you put love and joy into your cooking, then it will spread to those who you share it with.  That is kind of my new motto!  I love cooking and I enjoy doing it, I find it so relaxing, and it makes me happy.  Nothing is more wonderful than sharing a dish with friends, and having them go back for seconds (best compliment to the chef ever).  :)  Remember, it doesn't matter if something doesn't turn out exactly the way you wanted it to.  But the fact that you tried, and that you know how to fix it in the future - that's what matters!  Practice makes perfect!  And chances are, someone will still find it delicious.  There have been many times where I make a recipe that I totally flubbed, and I have a handful of friends that end up going crazy for it. 

That's all I got! :)  I hope these tips come in helpful for you, and I'll probably do another installment of cooking tips as I think of them.  It's always good to share what you know in case it helps someone else along down the line!  Especially when it comes to learning to love cooking & baking - I think a big problem with our country is that people don't take pride in food anymore.  We can buy just about anything pre-made, and we don't take the time in the kitchen to make food our own.  I truly believe that solving the obesity crisis will start in the kitchen. 

So grab up your spatula, and start cooking!

All photos from www.weheartit.com

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