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Brewing beer, curing meat, or making cheese? Get great advice

Best Cooking Tip

Davwud Jul 15, 2006 02:34 AM

Okay, I guess it's time to kick of this thread.

What is the best tip you've ever read or received that just made your good recipe jump off the plate.

As a "For instance" when I first learned to make a simple Greek salad dressing, it had vinegar in it. I later read an article on Greek cooking and it said that there is "No vinegar in Greek cooking. It's acidity is from lemon juice." I switched to fresh squeezed lemon juice in my dressing and other Greek foods and oh man, what a difference.
"For instance" #2. While playing around with Jambalaya I noticed one recipe that said to "Fry" the tomato paste. It adds a depth of flavour you don't get without doing this. Put it in the pot in oil and let it fry. It's like playing chicken in your car, the longer you can go with it without burning it (a beautiful deep brown) the better.

Anyone else got any kitchen gems they'd like to pass on??


  1. PBSF Jul 15, 2006 02:48 AM

    As much as the Greeks love lemon, they do use vinegar in their food.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PBSF
      Davwud Jul 15, 2006 02:57 AM

      I just knew that was coming.


    2. yayadave Jul 15, 2006 03:38 AM

      How about AB saying that the reason you add wine to tomato sauce is that alcohol releases extra flavor from the tomatos, not just because of the wine flavor being added. That helps explain vodka in tomato sauce, also.

      The one that got me, though, was when I found out that bread is done baking when the internal temperature is between 190 and 205 degrees.I just had never seen or heard that fact before.

      1 Reply
      1. re: yayadave
        foiegras Jul 18, 2006 08:05 PM

        true dat ... I learned this from Shirley Corriher's Cookwise, that some flavors are alcohol-soluble ... no alcohol, you don't get that flavor. I too like to use vodka since I always have an open bottle handy (the same one for the past 10 or so years I might add ;)

      2. bryan Jul 15, 2006 05:47 AM

        I love the tomato paste hint. My ex-MIL used to make a cooked down tomato paste that was practically black and then canned it - perhaps I now possess a secret to my gravy.

        Here's a hint I love: when you're sauteeing garlic in olive oil always add some salt - it spreads the flavor throughout your sauce or whatever else you're making.

        And here's one I learned from my father, a great lover of fresh, home-grown tomatoes: he always had a salt shaker labled "tomato salt". It contained 3/4 salt and 1/4 sugar. Sounds strange, but man does it make a good fresh ripe tomato taste even more wonderful.

        1. m
          melly Jul 15, 2006 05:49 AM

          One of the best tips I got was on how to mix a salad so that the dressing is distributed evenly before plating. Saw it on Cooking with Julia. Sounds simple...but is it?

          Don't overdress...and use tongs to keep turning the greens (or whatever is in there) until each piece has a little dressing on it. The guys was using a simple vinagrette.

          Also...Lemon brightens up so many dishes. Just some squirts at the very end of cooking. I go thru lots of fresh lemons at my house. Even lemon on a great steak is wonderful...and it is a must in most soups.

          5 Replies
          1. re: melly
            theannerska Jul 15, 2006 07:05 AM

            Yes, lemon does make a difference - I tried it once over chicken noodle soup, thinking it would only make a fraction of a difference, but it was a huge (and amazing) change.

            1. re: theannerska
              Kuisine Jul 18, 2006 08:10 PM

              Yeah, we made parmesan crusted pork chops last night and it called for a spritz of lemon/serve with a lemon wedge. I was a little dubious but gave it a try and it REALLY made a considerable difference (for the better).

              1. re: Kuisine
                Candy Jul 18, 2006 08:21 PM

                When I make parmesan crusted chops I add either grated lemon rind to the parmesan/bread crumb mixture or if I am just plain out of lemons I add a drop or two of Boyajian lemon oil to the egg wash. Got to have that lemon.

                I always have the Boyajian citrus oils in my refrigerator. Yes they are expensive but refrigerated they keep forever and just 1 drop can go so very very far. I just wish they had a shaker top on them because just a drop or two is all that is needed. I buy the large bottles, lemon, orange and lime. I know Sur la Table has small 4 packs of them, I can't remember what the 4th is at the moment but once you get used to having them available you won't want to be without.

                I use the orange not too long ago to make a sauce Maltaise to go with pan seared scallops. The orange juice I had in the sauce was a little anemic. 1 drop of the orange oil changed that sauce from ordinary to brilliant.

                1. re: Candy
                  Funwithfood Jul 18, 2006 08:29 PM

                  Agree about Boyajian oils, I have them all.

                  The orange is my favorite--great in frosting, especially cream cheese (and is a key ingredient in the salad dressing in the Broccoli Salad thread).

            2. re: melly
              Davwud Jul 16, 2006 02:02 AM

              I didn't even think about that one. I do that too.

              I tossed out my Realemon bottle a number of years ago and just keep fresh lemons in the fridge at all times.


            3. k
              Kagey Jul 15, 2006 09:53 AM

              One of the most important things I've learned is patience when pan-frying. Things like burgers and steaks cooked in a pan might stick, but they will release when ready (of course the pan has to be hot enough). No more scraping and trying to peek!

              1. i
                iLoveFood Jul 15, 2006 11:33 AM

                A dash of nutmeg in any mashed potatoes you make. It gives it a special flavor that makes the potatoes oh so tasty and always has people trying to guess what is different.

                1 Reply
                1. re: iLoveFood
                  krissywats Jul 15, 2006 02:49 PM

                  Cocoa powder works the same - a heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder in garlic mashed potatoes is amazing.

                2. p
                  peppermint pate Jul 15, 2006 12:16 PM

                  Store blue cheese and soft goat's cheese in tin foil rather than saran - prevents the cheese from weeping and extends the fridge life by at least a week.

                  1. coll Jul 15, 2006 01:03 PM

                    A chef once made me some vegetables that were unbelievably delicious, and when I asked how he prepared them, he said "Butter, salt and pepper". Wow. The three ingredients I hardly used anymore because they were "boring". Needless to say, I use all three in my basic recipes now.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: coll
                      Funwithfood Jul 16, 2006 08:22 PM

                      I would add "brown butter" to this idea--produces the best green beans...or anything for that matter!

                    2. pikawicca Jul 15, 2006 01:26 PM

                      Add lots of salt to water when cooking pasta, blanching veggies.

                      When baking chocolate cake or brownies, instead of buttering and flouring the pan, butter and cocoa in place of flour.

                      ALWAYS finish cooking your pasta in the sauce for a couple of minutes.

                      Let all meat rest 5 - 15 minutes (depending on size) before slicing.

                      Use panko instead of ordinary bread crumbs when breading.

                      1. krissywats Jul 15, 2006 02:52 PM

                        I've said it all over this board but the biggest tip and the biggest change in my cooking was a sprinkle of sugar on all meat (of course, along with the salt, pepper, whatever else). It's the juiciest burger, steak, etc.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: krissywats
                          Darren72 Jul 17, 2006 08:34 PM

                          I can't imagine how adding sugar makes the meat more juicy. Adding sugar will help the exterior of the meat brown better, which does improve the taste. But more juicy? Could you explain?

                          1. re: Darren72
                            foiegras Jul 18, 2006 08:08 PM

                            I've never done this with sugar, but ... could it create a better "seal," thus more juicy?

                            1. re: foiegras
                              Darren72 Jul 18, 2006 08:16 PM

                              Creating a browned crust on a piece of meat does nothing to "seal in the juices". This is one of the oldest myths around. For a long discussion of it, see Harold McGee's book "On Food and Cooking". Or, see


                              Even when you sear a piece of meat, you aren't actually creating a barrier around the meat. Water molecules are very small and get through.

                        2. o
                          OnceUponABite Jul 15, 2006 04:22 PM

                          When cooking chicken breast, pound thinner or slice width-wise for even cooking. And take it off the heat when it's 90% done and let sit in a plate with cover, the residual heat will finish it without drying it out.

                          To devin shrimp, use a toothpick, insert into the last segament before the tail begin, press and putt up through the skin, the vein will come out. This way is much faster than to slice open the shrimp individualy.

                          Left over rotissery chicken bones or any other chicken carcass makes great stock. Then freeze stock in ice cube trays and later use one cube at a time as needed.

                          Too much lemons from your lemon tree? Zest and juice and freeze in ice cube trays for later use.

                          Always buy meats and fish in bulk at Costco and portion out at home and freeze individual portions. Big money saver, and it's fresh.

                          1. toodie jane Jul 15, 2006 05:33 PM

                            Making thin, thin, thin fresh pasta sheets for lasagne and getting the most tender and light lasagne. So very different than with storebought dry pasta sheets.

                            Adding starches: pasta, rice, cornmeal etc, to boiling water so slowly that the water never leaves a high simmer. Starch grains are cooked so they don't burst and get all gooey. Makes great rice! and pasta cooks more evenly.

                            Growing, drying, and cooking with my own herbs. What a flavor difference. All the fresh parsley I can ever use, so I use it much more often to get better flavor and more nutrition in my foods. Learned that from my mom, a real parsley hound!

                            1. k
                              kevine Jul 16, 2006 06:41 PM

                              Common knowledge I think but was news to me when I heard it many years ago. Use an instant-read thermometer when cooking meats and always let meat rest before slicing/serving.

                              1. steinpilz Jul 16, 2006 09:22 PM

                                Lots of good ideas here. I'll add marinading briefly, 20-30min, in balsamic vinegar when pan frying most meat (balsamic is milder than most vinegar) for great browning. I usually blot the excess vinegar with a paper towel and then salt the meat before cooking.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: steinpilz
                                  Funwithfood Jul 16, 2006 09:59 PM

                                  I marinate my pot roast in a balsamic marindade--agree, fab.

                                2. h
                                  Hungry Celeste Jul 16, 2006 09:57 PM

                                  One man's great tip is another's abomination. Keep the tomatoes (paste, fresh, or otherwise) out of jambalaya, please. Brown jambalaya rules; the red stuff will get you scratched off the christmas card list in my part of Louisiana!

                                  But I do think that using allspice with crawfish was quite a transformational moment for me...

                                  1. w
                                    Winemark Jul 16, 2006 10:03 PM

                                    Brine everything! Well almost everything.. Chicken and a any other fowl as well as Pork are good cantidates for a hour in a brine to keep things moist. Really makes a difference

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Winemark
                                      Funwithfood Jul 17, 2006 04:31 AM

                                      Agree with brining--esp chicken breasts--night and day difference.

                                    2. DanaB Jul 17, 2006 01:23 AM

                                      The best cooking tip I ever got was from this board. Refrigerate onions before cutting/slicing/chopping them, and you will never cry again. Works like a charm!

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: DanaB
                                        Foodrat Jul 17, 2006 04:35 PM

                                        Refridgerated onions still make me cry.

                                        A tip that I love: freeze homemade croutons. No need to even defrost as they are ready to eat as soon as the salad is ready.

                                        1. re: Foodrat
                                          OCAnn Jul 17, 2006 11:33 PM

                                          Refrigerated onions make me cry also, so I stick mine in the freezer before chopping. That seems to work.

                                          1. re: OCAnn
                                            Funwithfood Jul 18, 2006 03:17 PM

                                            CI did a study of this years back. The only foolproof method was wearing ski goggles.

                                            1. re: Funwithfood
                                              Darren72 Jul 18, 2006 03:23 PM

                                              Or contact lenses (if you otherwise use them).

                                              1. re: Funwithfood
                                                OCAnn Jul 18, 2006 03:28 PM

                                                Well when my freezer stops working, I'll don the goggles!

                                                1. re: Funwithfood
                                                  Candy Jul 18, 2006 08:30 PM

                                                  Ditto on the contact lenses. After starting to wear them years ago I have never shed a tear over an onion since.

                                                  1. re: Funwithfood
                                                    DanaB Jul 18, 2006 09:36 PM

                                                    I'm really surprised by people's comments on this one. I used to be a gigantic crier when chopping onions, and haven't dropped a tear since the refrigeration tip! Nary a one ;-) I guess everyone's sensitivity is different, but in all seriousness, I couldn't even cut one slice of onion without majorly tearing up before I found out about refrigerating the onions.

                                                    1. re: Funwithfood
                                                      Foodrat Jul 19, 2006 07:33 PM

                                                      I use to use my ski goggles and it was the only thing that worked! However, since the goggles were from the early 80's, I haven't seen them since 3 moves ago (which was less than 5 years ago). But I have been shopping for new ones! I don't care who laughs at me as long as I don't cry!

                                              2. r
                                                rainey Jul 17, 2006 05:00 AM

                                                Don't know if this is the best but it's one of my latest discoveries: you don't have to ever grate ginger. If you're doing something that will be pureed, just use thin slices and cook them until they're soft. Pureeing will reduce even the fibers to entirely smooth and edible. If you're not pureeing, slice crosswise into smallish bits that will fit in a garlic press. Press out juicy, flavorful pulp. The fibers will all be trapped in the press.

                                                And the simplest way to peel ginger is to use the bowl of a teaspoon.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: rainey
                                                  iLoveFood Jul 17, 2006 02:09 PM

                                                  I like freezing fresh ginger in a ziplock bag cause it then becomes super easy to peel (with a regular peeler) and grate (cheese grater works well but a microplane is even easier).

                                                2. Karl S Jul 17, 2006 03:06 PM

                                                  In no particular order:

                                                  1. Warm your plates before plating warm foods on them. Ditto serving bowls/plates therefor. (And the opposite is true for cold foods....)

                                                  2. Salt your salad greens lightly before dressing them. That's how salad got it's name, after all. Use more oil and less vinegar than you instinctively think.

                                                  3. Remove the wishbone before roasting whole birds.

                                                  4. Add grated cheese (if using) to hot pasta before mixing the pasta with the sauce.

                                                  5. Preheating takes more time than waiting for the oven to beep at you. Give it 15-30 minutes more, so that the walls are fully radiant with heat.

                                                  6. Take large cuts of flesh out of the fridge 1-3 hours before cooking them. Meat should generally be near room temperature before cooking, otherwise you run significant risk of a high degree of after-cooking when you remove it from the oven.

                                                  7. For baking, learn the weights of basic dry ingredients and weigh them so you don't have variations arising from different volume measurement methods. E.g., a cup of flour weighs 5 ounces (unless very damp). Will save lots of worry.

                                                  8. Keep your knives and humor sharp.

                                                  9. Before you complain about a recipe, make sure you followed the instructions carefully the first time, including general instructions that may be in the front or back of the book. Do not substitute ingredients unless you understand what might happen or are willing to accept the consequences of not understanding what might happen.

                                                  10. Foods have no moral character, so don't waste time and energy imagining foods as being good or bad in moral terms.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: Karl S
                                                    LindaWhit Jul 17, 2006 04:21 PM

                                                    Karl, I'm curious - why remove the wishbone BEFORE roasting the bird? That's one I haven't heard.

                                                    1. re: LindaWhit
                                                      Karl S Jul 17, 2006 04:43 PM

                                                      Because carving is much easier. There is zero advantage leaving it in -- it doesn't add much of anything except rigidity of structure. It's much easier to remove it raw than after cooking.

                                                      This is actually pretty standard kitchen practice, but the kind of thing that cookbooks often neglect to mention.

                                                      1. re: Karl S
                                                        yayadave Jul 17, 2006 04:47 PM

                                                        "This is actually pretty standard kitchen practice, but the kind of thing that cookbooks often neglect to mention."

                                                        There's a lot of that going around. That's why this is such an interesting thread.

                                                        1. re: Karl S
                                                          Candy Jul 18, 2006 08:34 PM

                                                          But when cutting up a chicken for frying I always cut a wishbone piece before splitting the breast. My mom did, my grandmother did and my great grandmother did. The wishbone cut was the piece most coveted. It made for some great picking too.

                                                          1. re: Candy
                                                            Karl S Jul 18, 2006 08:51 PM

                                                            I only mentioned this for birds being cooked whole....

                                                    2. i
                                                      iLoveFood Jul 17, 2006 03:25 PM

                                                      When cleaning plates with cheese on them use cold water instead of hot. By using the cold water the cheese will not melt and stick to the plate...once the cheese has been removed then proceed with hot water.

                                                      1. i
                                                        ICE_Student Jul 17, 2006 04:33 PM

                                                        1. Peel ginger root by scraping with a spoon. You won't look all that great ginger like when you try to peel with a knife.

                                                        2. If you have melted sugar stuck to a pot just add water and reheat. Once hot, the sugar will just pour out.

                                                        3. Don't salt you meat too early before cooking as it will cause it to dry out.

                                                        4. Never cover a pot of simmering beans. (That will make you more gassy :-) hahah)

                                                        5. There are no short cuts for making risotto...you really do just have to stir the whole time.

                                                        6. Put on a pot of water when you get home even if you don't know what you are cooking yet. You'll be able to use it for blanching vegetables or making pasta if you need and if you don't need it, you can just pour it out. It can save lots of time when you get home late and just want to eat quickly.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: ICE_Student
                                                          Darren72 Jul 17, 2006 08:40 PM

                                                          "6. Put on a pot of water when you get home even if you don't know what you are cooking yet. You'll be able to use it for blanching vegetables or making pasta if you need and if you don't need it, you can just pour it out. It can save lots of time when you get home late and just want to eat quickly."

                                                          This is silly. If you really can't wait for the water to boil, invest in an electric kettle. It will boil the water very fast and save you the trouble of needlessly boiling water you won't use.

                                                          Whether you cover the beans or not will have no influence on how gassy you get.

                                                          Someone else already pointed out the meat/salt thing.

                                                          1. re: Darren72
                                                            JoanN Jul 17, 2006 10:46 PM

                                                            I bought an electric kettle about six months ago just prior to a visit from a British friend who had disparaged me for not having had one the previous time he'd been here. I can't believe what a dfference it's made in the way I go about things in the kitchen. I now heat the water in the kettle before putting it in a saucepan to cook pasta or blanch vegetables or will use it just to heat water for pouring over dried mushrooms or to proof yeast. And I use it every morning for my drip coffee. I haven't touched my stove-top kettle since the day I bought the electric one. Best new kitchen toy I've bought in years.

                                                            1. re: JoanN
                                                              Karl S Jul 17, 2006 11:01 PM

                                                              I've had one for so many years I take it for granted and assume everyone has one. Not having one is rather silly...

                                                            2. re: Darren72
                                                              Candy Jul 18, 2006 08:39 PM

                                                              yes, and I peel ginger with one of those Kuhn Rikon "Y" shaped swivel peelers. Those things are so sharp and slice so thinly. When I discovered them I made sure everyone on my Christmas gift list got one as a tie on to their gift. My S-I-L had never used that shape before or a swivel peeler and nearly took off the tip of her finger. I had requests the next year for more. I actually have 5 and could not imagine being without them. They are the sharpest and least wasteful peelers out there.

                                                              1. re: Candy
                                                                Funwithfood Jul 18, 2006 08:47 PM

                                                                I have (and love) that peeler.

                                                                (Unfortunately the blade fell off--must be at the bottom of a very crowded drawer.)

                                                          2. Karl S Jul 17, 2006 04:46 PM

                                                            "Don't salt you meat too early before cooking as it will cause it to dry out."

                                                            Actually, that's a kitchen myth that's been busted, and the trend in light of that busting is to encourage salting for longer periods of time before cooking (Judy Rodgers of Zuni fame has championed 2-3 days of pre-salting, with laurels to prove the soundness of the results.).

                                                            1. i
                                                              isadorasmama Jul 17, 2006 05:13 PM

                                                              My Colombian MIL is a wonderful cook and I've learned a lot from her. One of my favorite tips from her is to chop some green onion, tomato and cilantro finely and combine. Always keep some on hand to use as a condiment or to add to scrambled eggs.

                                                              Other random tips I've added to my repertoire:
                                                              Adding Kombu strips to the cooking water when making beans. It speeds up cooking time and makes the beans easier to digest.

                                                              Adding lots of fresh herbs whenever possible. It's amazing how a little parsley, cilantro, dill (etc.) can perk up a dish.

                                                              Chances are if you introduce a child to a variety of smells and tastes when they are very young they will be open to trying new flavors throughout their lives.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: isadorasmama
                                                                OCAnn Jul 17, 2006 11:32 PM

                                                                My mother keeps a big container of chopped green onions in the freezer.

                                                              2. mimilulu Jul 17, 2006 08:12 PM

                                                                Use instant flour (Wondra)instead of all-purpose flour when dredging chicken breast, fish, etc. for sauteeing. It makes the most wonderful crust!

                                                                1. t
                                                                  thursday Jul 18, 2006 12:21 AM

                                                                  Speaking of adding lemon, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice is the key to a really excellent marinara.

                                                                  If you don't have a cherry pitter, use a hard plastic straw--poke it right through the top and the pit shoots out the bottom.

                                                                  Let eggs get to room temperature before whipping, especially for meringues. Cold eggs don't get as much air, for whatever reason.

                                                                  Leave green beans alone in the pan--they're AMAZING with a little burn on them. I keep an eye and stir and fuss and they come out fine I guess, limp but edible; my husband forgets about them on the stove and they're the greatest thing on earth. =)

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: thursday
                                                                    foiegras Jul 18, 2006 08:13 PM

                                                                    I've pitted countless cherries with a bobby pin.

                                                                    1. re: foiegras
                                                                      JoanN Jul 18, 2006 08:45 PM

                                                                      Either a paper clip (same idea as a bobby pin) or a chop stick (same idea as a straw). Kitchen is too small for one-use-only gadgets.

                                                                  2. s
                                                                    Sam Ottawa Jul 18, 2006 05:25 PM

                                                                    Peel a Kiwi by slicing off the ends with a spoon, standing it on one end on your cutting board and then sliding a spoon down the sides, just under the peel. Removes just the peel without also taking tons of extra flesh, and leaves a nice round kiwi to slice.

                                                                    1. b
                                                                      Belly DuJour Jul 20, 2006 06:30 PM

                                                                      The best tip I ever got, besides someone telling me about Smoked Paprika -- phenomenal on so many dishes, grilled or otherwise -- was the Cook's Illustraed book - 500 Quick Kitchen Tips & Tenchniques. A great, great book chock full of ideas.

                                                                      1. jennaroo Jul 20, 2006 11:23 PM

                                                                        1. When cooking with red pepper flakes, saute them in oil. Oil will release the flavor of the flakes, water based ingrediants will not.

                                                                        2. Parchment paper!!! I use it for all baking. I never use cooling racks anymore, just slide the paper, off with the cookies on, onto the counter to cool. I never have a problem with cookies sticking, nor do I ever have to clean cooling racks or baking sheets.

                                                                        1. d
                                                                          davidknowshow Aug 4, 2006 10:45 PM

                                                                          1) Put a lemon in the microwave for 10-15 before squezing for juice - according to Rachael Ray... "it gets the juices flowin'." I've done it multiple times and it is alot easier to squeeze.

                                                                          2) I can't believe that I didn't do this before, but when seeding an avocado and the seed is stuck on your knife... pinch the seed off of the knife. Common sense, I know. I'm just not that bright.

                                                                          3) When you buy herbs from the store, immediately wash and dry them, wrap them in paper towels, throw them into a ziploc bag and suck the air out with a straw. This will help your herbs keep longer. Remember to label the bag!!

                                                                          4) To avoid getting burns from cutting chile peppers... wear rubber gloves. Chile burn sucks. You can never seem to get it off!! What worked for me last time, although I do have to try it again to make sure it wasn't a fluke, was soaking my hand in a glass of cheap white vinegar for 2-3 minutes. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with lots of smelly soap, because vinegar smells! i'm still testing this one.

                                                                          5) To get the garlic smell off your hands, wash your hands and rub them on stainless steel such as a soup ladle, water faucet..

                                                                          6) When storing guacamole, place it into a small bowl and cover it with saran wrap. The key is to press the saran wrap into the guacamole and remove as much air as possible. I've been able to store guacamole for 4 days without it browning. I've never made it past 4 days... I just love guacamole that much :-)

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