Slice of Advice

This is a collection of things I've learned in my cooking adventures.  I will keep adding as I go along.

APPLE - how to pick a crisp one.  Pick up the apple, hold it close to your ear, and lightly flick it with your finger.  The higher the sound, the crisper the apple.

AVOCADO - how to open and chop one.  Slice it all the way around, length-wise.  Rotate the halves so that they separate. To extract the pit, take a large cooking knife and gently hack it into the pit.  Rotate the knife and the pit should come out cleanly.  When removing the pit from the knife, use a fork to hold the pit down on the counter and remove the knife.  Then, slice the avocados into a grid (approximately 5-6 slices length-wise and 8-9 slices across).

AVOCADO - how to pick a ripe one.  Avocados should yield to gentle pressure when squeezed.  They should be a little soft, but still hold their shape.  Color and size are irrelevant.

BAKING - cooling baked goods.  Forget buying a cooling rack - what a waste of money!  Place chopsticks or shish kabob skewers over a plate instead.  Instant cooling rack.

BROWN SUGAR - how to keep it soft.  Brown sugar left in the pantry turns into a brick because it loses moisture.  In order to keep it from hardening, you can store it in an airtight container or drop a citrus peel in the box.  I've heard that an apple slice works, but I haven't tried it.  I use orange peels and they work wonderfully.

BROWNIES - how to cut them.  Brownies want to stick to your knife when you're cutting.  Instead of neat little squares or bars, you get a pile!  Avoid this easily by using a plastic knife to cut.

BUTTER.  Do your body a favor: consume real butter.
  • Keeping it cold:  the key to getting that delicious flaky goodness in baked goods is to keep the butter as cold as possible.  One easy way to do this is to keep a stick of butter in the freezer at all times (take one out, replace with another stick).  Then, instead of chopping the butter up, grate it!

BUTTERMILK.  Don't have buttermilk handy?  That's okay.  Just substitute with sour milk:.  The ratio is 1/4 cup of milk (I only drink whole) to 3/4 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice.

CAKE - how to cut it.  Sometimes cake with icing loses its attractiveness after it's been cut.  To avoid ripping up the cake and bunching up the icing, have a glass or bowl of cold water on hand, and a dish towel.  After each slice, dip the knife into cold water and wipe it off with the towel.  You can then proceed with clean, neat slices. 

CAKE FLOUR - substitute.  I found this great cake flour substitute: make your own cake flour by combining a 1:7 ratio of cornstarch to all-purpose flour.  One easy way to measure this out is to fill a 1/4 cup with cornstarch and pour into your 1 cup.  Then, fill the remaining 1 cup with all-purpose flour.  Finally, combine that 1 cup of mixed cornstarch/all-purpose flour with 1 cup of all-purpose flour.  Voila!  I keep a labeled jar of this cake flour substitute in my cupboard for those "in a pinch" moments.

COOLING RACK - substitute.  Why buy a cooling rack when you have a perfectly good second rack in your oven?  Alternatively, I space out a few chopsticks on the counter top.  Voila!  Instant cooling rack.

EFFICIENCY - how to be an efficient cook.
  • Chopping boards:  use the chopping board for non-meat first, then meat, so that you only have to wash the board once. 
  • Multitasking:  clean while you're cooking. I don't stare at the food while it's cooking - I do dishes and wipe counter tops.  I sweep the floor.  Ideally, most of the kitchen work is done by the time the food is ready to be served.  
  • Tackling multiple dishes:  note how long each dish takes and cook accordingly, starting from the most time consuming dish to the least.  That way, all the dishes are done at approximately the same time.  Yes, this may require some math.  See?  School wasn't totally pointless. 

HAMBURGER PATTIES - avoiding the "dome" effect.  Ever notice how hamburgers made at home tend to come out looking like little domes?  It's easily fixed.  Take two fingers and make a shallow well in the middle of the patty.  As the meat cooks, it expands and rises.  Creating the well helps to ensure a flat patty, rather than a domed one. 

KEEPING FOOD WARM.  Pancakes and french toast can be kept warm in the oven while their buddies are finishing up on the stove top.  Put them in one layer on a cookie sheet and keep them in the oven at 200°.

ONION - how to chop one.  Peel the onion and cut it in half, from tip to tip.  Take one of halves and chop off one of the tips.  Leaving the other tip of the onion intact, chop slim strips along the length of the halved onion, about 4/5 the way in.  Then chop along the width of the onion.  You'll get nice little pieces.

  • How to prevent the crust from getting soggy.   Brush the bottom crust with egg white.  This creates a protective layer of protein that prevents the crust from soaking up the filling and getting soggy.
  • How to get that lovely toasty brown crust.  Brush the top crust with the egg yolk.  This gives the crust that lovely, glazed, toasty brown color.  If you like, you can also sprinkle it with sugar to get a glittery look.

PIZZA - add vegetables.  I like to buy Connie's (frozen) Cheese Pizza when it's on sale.  Five dollars gets you a delicious, healthy pizza made with natural ingredients.  No [insert difficult to say multi-syllabic preservative word] here!  I buy vegetables separately (tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, whatever you like) and add them to the pizza before putting them in the oven.  Deeeeelicious.

RECIPES - read first, then do.  The simplest but most forgotten step in cooking is reading the recipe first.  Read the entire recipe, from start to finish, before you lift a single knife. 

ROLLING PIN - substitute.  Don't have a rolling pin?  Don't worry.  Just use a bottle.  Or roll up your sleeves and use your fingers and hands to flatten and push the dough out (I've definitely done this and it works)!

WATERMELONS - choosing a good one.  Pick a symmetrical melon and pick it up.  Watermelons are mostly juice (surprise!), so the watermelon should feel quiet heavy.  Thump the watermelon with your hand.  The lower the sound the better.  It should sound kind of hollow.