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Your one cooking tip ?

OK, I thought I would try something different for a post. There is always one thing that you learn somewhere that you just never knew about cooking or preparing. What is the one thing that you would share with us all that you learned along the way and said "Gee, I wish I knew that years ago" ??

I will use one example that I learned when I was about 15, that was the easiest way for me to hard boil eggs without them breaking, just put them in a covered pan, cover the eggs about one inch over with water, bring the water to a boil, immediately take the covered pan off of the burner when it starts to boil and set the pan aside, 16 minutes later, Wallah, all done, perfect !!!

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    1. re: inuksuk

      This is indeed the best way to cook. I think it helps with Roman's (below) comment about not being a nervous cook. Once I started prepping everything in advance I became much more confident in the kitchen and my dishes have benefited.

      1. re: inuksuk

        I second, third and fourth this tip.
        You've got everything at your fingertips ready to go when needed. There's also something very therapeutic in prep work, for me.

        My tip is: learn how to make your own stocks (chicken, beef, veggie, seafood). They freeze so well, are very easy to make, are cheap to make, and are a bazillion times better than any canned or boxed product you'll ever buy in the store.
        I used to make risotto with boxed stock. I made it for the first time with my homemade stock and the richness and depth was so beyond the way it was before. I'll never go back.

        1. re: inuksuk

          Another affirmation-it makes cooking enjoyable instead of stressful (and, it follows that a stress free way to set up the mise en place is, per lunchbox's suggestion, to have a sharp knife ready to go).

        2. Trust your senses and never be a slave to recipes.

          1. Steel your knives frequently- like everytime you pull them out of the block and at least every 5# of veggies or meat- Steeling a sharp knife really keeps it in prime cutting condition for a longer time than just swiping it at the start of your prep (part of any good mise en place- thanks inuksuk).

            And another that gets overlooked too often- Season as you go. Adding s & p at each phase of a recipe will increase the depth of each individual ingredient and will require less adjustment at the end of the cooking process.

            Equally as important- CLEAN AS YOU GO!

            1. I also like to smash the head of lettuce down on the counter, then just pull the core out of it, always tearing my lettuce and never cutting it with a knife. Ooops, forgot to add that I rinse it in nice cold water 10 minutes or so before.

              1. Brine your pork and poultry before cooking. It boosts the flavor and even if you accidentally overcook, the meat will still be juicy and flavorful.

                12 Replies
                1. re: KenWritez

                  Oh my God, my 80 year old mother has just become the brining queen! Turkey at Thanksgiving for sure!

                  1. re: MellieMac

                    Alton Brown's brined, roast turkey recipe on FN:


                    ...is the best I've ever tried so far. Brining is the key!

                    1. re: KenWritez

                      I second Ken's post! I made it for the first time during the 2006 holiday season. That bird was moist, succulent, flavorful, and luscious.

                      My tip, read recipe directions carefully, and keep everyone out of the kitchen! (unless you like company, that is). Cooking is my "therapy" and I like to have the peace to myself.

                      1. re: KenWritez

                        Have you ever tried this recipe on an outdoor rotisserie ?? Sounds like it would be delicious done that way also (wheels are turning) !!

                        1. re: Jimbosox04

                          Might be, but part of what makes this so great is the 500 degree start in the oven. Browns the breast skin sooooo nicely.

                          Just have never been able to keep the oil and scum in the oven from setting off the smoke alarm!

                          1. re: Jimbosox04

                            Rotisseried over a cherry wood smoker. Every T-day. Sooooo good.

                          2. re: KenWritez

                            I've done this recipe twice and I just don't like it. The odd flavors are off putting and it screws up the flavor of your drippings for gravy

                            1. re: chrisinroch

                              Huh, that's very different from my experience. I've been brining my turkeys using Alton Brown's method for a few years now and have spectacular results each time, including the gravy. What did you find odd, specifically? I'm curious about whether some seemingly minor variations in technique or ingredients might get different results.

                              1. re: ccbweb

                                I think it was the cinnamon and ginger that were not working for me. I use a traditional salt brine now, and sage and thyme and onion for the aromatics. It probably has more to do with traditional meals demanding traditional flavors for me.

                                When the family sits down to TG dinner, the best food takes them back to when they were kids. This recipe made the gravy taste "deserty" and non familiar.

                                1. re: chrisinroch

                                  That makes a bunch of sense. Now that i'm thinking about it, I often use additional stock from a different bird made earlier for the gravy so those flavors would be cut some in my final dish. Glad to hear you were able to adapt, though. I'm not sure any of it really matters much except the salt water and time.

                              2. re: chrisinroch

                                Love this recipe...no odd flavors.... my MIL asked for it.

                                1. re: Siobhan

                                  Ditto - nothing really odd that I've noticed - just really really good moist turkey and the best gravy.

                        2. It took me a long time to learn to be patient instead of being a nervous cook. Most things don't need to be flipped constantly or stirred all the time. For example, let meat brown until it's ready to release from the pan. Then turn it and not until then.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Romanmk

                            AMEN! Patience is not one of my virtues, but I have had to develop it for cooking, at least. Too many times in my early cooking days I flipped something too early, took something off heat before it was done, not chilled something long enough, etc. Patience is necessary in the kitchen.

                            1. re: Romanmk

                              Oh, I also took so long to learn that if you want something to brown you should just LEAVE IT THE HECK ALONE.

                              But my personal secret cooking tip is something I just happened to also post in another thread a minute ago: Don't buy brown sugar, mix your own from white sugar and molasses. It's one less ingredient to have around, and it tastes much better. I am sure I can tell the difference, especially in something like a chocolate chip cookie.

                            2. Pitting a peach. Cut around the perimeter. Hold peach in both hands and twist in opposite direction to separate halves.. Then pull out the pit. Voila!

                              1. Romanmk is right. The way I always think of it and tell people who ask for tips is "leave the pan on the burner." Don't shake it much, don't toss everything around all the time, just let the food cook.

                                You specified "one." :)

                                1. Let steaks come up to room temp (72-75 degrees F) before putting them in the pan, in the oven, or on the grill to sear. You get a better crust and retain more juices this way.

                                  And the mise en place tip? The best thing EVER. It really does make cooking so much easier and more relaxing.

                                  11 Replies
                                  1. re: riceflour

                                    The only time I don't use the mise en place technique is when I'm doing a stew or long braise preparation. I find that I can cut most of the vegetables while browning the meat, and this activity helps prevent me from messing with the meat too much, letting it brown properly. Then once I remove the meat, the vegetables are ready to saute. If I have an extra carrot that needs to be chopped up, that can easily be done while the rest of the vegetables start cooking.

                                    Never put the garlic in at the beginning of a saute, but during the last minute or two to prevent burning.

                                    Use the spout end of a funnel to pit olives or cherries.

                                    And it's true that you should learn to layer your seasonings.

                                    O.K., sorry that there is more than one tip here.

                                    1. re: diva360

                                      Oh gosh, I find "mise en place" or having everything chopped and ready is much less time consuming during a long stew or braise. I have done everything ahead of time and I can wash the dishes while the meat is browning so my kitchen stays relatively tidy. And I dont have to panic about anything because it's all done.

                                      1. re: MellieMac

                                        Mise en place is something I've just not gotten the hang of. If I'm cooking a lot of dishes, I want to get one or more of them started, rather than prepping for everything ahead of time. I guess I should try it once and see how it goes, but I always feel as if I'm "wasting time" - that things could be simmering and sauteeing away while I continue to prepare ingredients for the next dishes!

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          I love "Mise en Place" but I believe it also depends on the size of you kitchen and the available counter space. ;-)

                                          1. re: Jimbosox04

                                            Definitely. I honestly don't utilize "Mise en Place" much unless I'm cooking something that has to go together in quick succession. I simply don't have the space to lay everything out ahead, so I usually do like MMRuth and get something started and use that time to prep the next ingredient. The one thing I've learned about doing this is that it pays to plan ahead all the way through the dish "OK, I will start sauteeing the onions and while they're going, I'll slice the meat..." etc.

                                            1. re: Andiereid

                                              "Mise" is a tool, nothing more. Use it if it works for you, don't if it doesn't. In my kitchen, I've found Mise to be a time-saver and a reducer of kitchen frustration, as it *always* turns out that secondary tasks such as chopping, de-boning, peeling or whatever takes longer than I thought it would, and I end up frantically trying to prevent my main from overcooking or burning.

                                            2. re: Jimbosox04

                                              That may account for part of my problem - tiny kitchen and minimal counter space.

                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                I've found that Mise goes hand-in-hand with Clean-as-you-Go. Most recipes end up up with several group additions. All the stuff for the mirepoix gets dumped in at once so that can go in one bowl - all the trash is dumped. Most of the spices can be put into one small bowl and the bottles returned to their places or the stems thrown out. By the time I'm ready to cook, everything is pretty well neatened up, even in a tiny kitchen. Stuff isn't spread everywhere. I wash up the prep stuff and surfaces while I cook so all I'm left with is something cooking on the stove.

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  I have instinctively utilized "mise en place" (... and "clean as You go"...) my whole life... but did not always know it has such a fancy name :-DDD

                                        2. re: diva360

                                          Note the garlic tip. It only needs a minute or so, and keep moving it around. Burnt garlic is awful.

                                        3. re: riceflour

                                          So many great tips in this thread, but the one that popped immediately into my head when I came late to the thread was mise en place, which so many of you have already endorsed. I make/find room in my tiny city kitchen to prep everything in advance. Even in my friend's larger kitchen, sometimes the "mise" gets "placed" on the dining room table for a little while. In the rush to finish a meal, it's easy to forget an ingredient of even a frequently prepared dish, or overcook something for dishes 1 or 2 because you're hurriedly chopping something for dish 3. Perhaps it's my nature, but I'm with QueenB here. Prepping in advance makes the tasks (chopping, measuring, pureeing, etc.) almost Zen-like and the whole process of assembling a meal a relaxing pleasure. If there's not a lot of time, I just pick a menu with minimal prep.

                                          The other "tip" I share with less experienced cooks is to read through a new recipe entirely before plunging in. Not just the ingredients to make a grocery list. The devil's in the details, and that's where we often find out a step is particularly time-consuming, or there's a new technique we've not tried, or that something must be prepared in advance (makes me nuts when that kind of "detail" is buried, but it sometimes is), and what equipment we'll need. Info best gleaned well before the meat's browning.

                                        4. For pasta w/ hearty sauces, cook the pasta a few minutes short of how long it usually takes (just when it starts to get al dente) and finish cooking the drained pasta in the sauce.

                                          1. my pie crust mantra: Work cold, work fast

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: SteveInSoCal

                                              Use pasta cooking water to season and thicken sauces.

                                              Lean red meat is as healthy as chicken breast, and there are actually tasty cuts to choose from (I know that's not a tip, but I just learned this recently and it made me very happy!)

                                              1. re: katiepie

                                                Mise en place, definitely.

                                                Warming my serving plates.

                                            2. how about one baking tip?... for the best, moist quick breads and/or muffins, I always bake at a lower oven temperature (25-degrees less), and take them out of the oven at the moment I think they are done. (yes, I always toothpick test...nothing worse than a raw muffin) This is sort of a slow-bake method, but the results are mouth-meltingly good.

                                              1. Learn the basics: stocks, sauces, spices & curries, dough; and how to prep fish & birds.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  My rules:

                                                  Always buy the freshest ingredients you can. Make 10 stops shopping if you need to...your food will reflect the effort.

                                                  Presentation counts...esp if something is overcooked. People forgive easier when the meal is pretty.

                                                  Keep people OUT of the kitchen when you're cooking so you can breathe and focus on what you're doing.

                                                  Prep as much as you can ahead of time including having your serving dishes out.

                                                  Most recipes call for way too much sugar and not enough vanilla. And imitation vanilla is NOT vanilla.

                                                  Margarine is not food. Use butter or don't bother.

                                                  1. re: OrganicLife

                                                    I completely concur with the rule on freshness. We try to grow whatever we can (in terms of spices, veggies, etc.) and use farmer markets for the rest. Good butchers for meat and an excellent fishmonger for seafood are also key.

                                                    And, with rare exceptions, no store-bought bottled sauces or packaged foods. In the time it takes to drive to a supermarket, anyone can make an excellent and simple spaghetti sauce or mayonaisse with a few pantry ingredients that is so much better than can be purchased pre-made.

                                                    1. re: OrganicLife

                                                      >"Most recipes call for way too much sugar "<

                                                      Needlepoint this and hang it over the fridg. Start out every new recipe with 75-80% of the given amt. of sugar. I use 1/2-2/3 less sugar in my jams than the recipes call for, and they are absolutely delicious and not runny at all. (Takes a little more cooking and stirring, but so what.)

                                                  2. When I was young and broke, I also started cooking from scratch. I also bought cheap pots and pans, no choice.

                                                    If I could pass on one tip, it would be to have good pans. Or at least, not cheap ones.

                                                    I can't tell you how many stews, sauces and other things I have burned because of the cheap ones.

                                                    Now, I don't say that you need top of the line. I have a 6 qt. Staub that I use over and over, and it cost a third of what Le Crueset costs.

                                                    So, if I am going to pass on any tip after 45 years of cooking, it will be to buy three good pieces. A 5 or 6 qt sauce/stew pan, a 12" fryer, and a medium sauce pan will do you well through the years.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: mcel215

                                                      I second the pans suggestion and would add "Buy good knives" to that. A wise friend suggested that I register for the expensive knives when I got married, but I was too embarassed at the thought of someone spending that much $ on me so I registered for the cheapest set I could find. Bad idea, the cheap knives didn't make it two years. I ended up buying parts of the more expensive set over time.

                                                    2. Before you start, think through how long each dish will take to do and what needs to happen when in order to have everything ready at the same time. (At first this will require some effort, but with practice it becomes more automatic.)

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: revsharkie

                                                        Absolutely, and to go with this my tip: read the recipe all the way to the end. Then read it again! How many times have people started making something for dinner and then gotten to the point where it says "refrigerate overnight"! Also, if the recipe refers to another recipe (a sauce, for example), make that one first!

                                                      2. My one:

                                                        When using herbs or spices for intrinsic flavor like a paste, crush whole rather than cutting or using pre-ground from bottles, etc.

                                                        For instance, instead of using ground cumin from a jar I always pound whole cumin in a mortar. Instead of using a knife or a food processor to cut basil for a pesto, I crush it in a mortar. I was taught a long time ago that crushing more thoroughly breaks the molecules of an herb or spice whereas cutting, even into small pieces as in mincing, does so only partially. The destruction of the molecules of an herb is what releases its oil hence flavor. My experience certainly seems to bear out this theory.

                                                        Of course there are quite a few times where I find cutting to be preferable such as sauteeing garlic in oil prior to adding tomatoes for a marinara. Crushed garlic simply burns in such a recipe whereas slivers of garlic cooked shortly to translucence releases the flavor needed to enhance the sauce. Depends upon the way the flavor is to be imparted.

                                                        note: I never use garlic presses, mortars are a far superior tool to crush garlic, IMO of course.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: kevine

                                                          buy the best ingredients you can get your hands on and don't f### 'em up...let them taste like themselves

                                                        2. the thing i usually tell people is the trick about balancing each dish or meal with these four dimensions: salt, sweet, fat, and acid.

                                                          i find that this trick covers many situations and is not very stressful, and many different kinds of cooks can use it to good effect. i think it is pretty elitist and unreasonable to demand that people only use fresh food or always chop their garlic ahead of time - many, many people cannot manage that, and they should still be able to make good-tasting food at home. also, in the line of helping people to think about balance, i think it is best to aim for a balance between textures and temperatures in a meal. i also generally advise new cooks to keep the meal "within one country" - that is, avoid wierd fusion ideas.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: pigtails

                                                            I like your suggestion of balance, thanks for the point. But I'm curious about something else you mentioned. Although you referred to a 'demand' for fresh food, why would it be unreasonable to suggest seeking out the freshest ingredients? Why would many people who wish to cook for themselves and their family have trouble in seeking out the freshest food from a local supermarket, or the multitude of farmer markets that are now common throughout the US?

                                                            1. re: kevine

                                                              I'm thinking pigtails was writing more about using canned products or frozen products. In the case of, say, tomatoes, unless the best are in season canned are usually superior. Similarly with frozen corn. Frozen shrimp and frozen chicken, if properly handled are good to have on hand. Partly its access (people in many places don't have access to good farmer's markets) and partly its time, single parents especially may not have time to go to the market more than once a week, if that often.

                                                              Proper use of canned and frozen ingredients can make possible dishes that would be out of reach otherwise for one reason or another. its a good tip in its own right.

                                                              1. re: kevine

                                                                I'm with kevine here. I was amazed when I realized how easy it is to cook the sauces, etc., myself -and how much tastier the result is . And what control it gives you. You get exactly the flavors (layers of flavors) that YOU like, not what happens to be included in the sauce in the jar.

                                                                Fresh is best -when possible.

                                                            2. So many excellent answers--mise en place, steel your knives before every use, good pots and pans ("good" doesn't have to mean expensive), lightly S&P in stages, forget margarine exists, relax and let things brown til they let go, clean as you go, the fresher the better, homemade tartar sauce/seafood sauce/salad dressing is easier than you think and usually much better.

                                                              I'd add just one small demurral: there ARE very good commercial sauces, mixes, seasoning blends, canned items, shortcuts out there (esp. w/some simple tweaking), and things like garlic presses have their uses. Cooking is the art of the possible and it's simply impossible for the average person to always have the time, strength, and inclination to grind whole spices and make his own 14 ingred. curry powder and garam masala.

                                                              Investigate and locate the good shortcut products. Use the time they save you to play with your kids or mow your grandmother's lawn.

                                                              14 Replies
                                                              1. re: PhoebeB

                                                                Sorry to come off the way I did. Reading my earlier post it that someone could easily take it as a bit snobbish after all. :-)

                                                                I was trying to come up with what advice I would give someone who would ask for it in terms of basic philosophy towards cooking, an ideal as it were. There certainly are many products that can save time and are at least as good as what I would make myself but my tendency is to see what I can do on my own and I'm usually surprised at how much easier and tastier it is than what I've purchased in stores, e.g. mayo or sauces.

                                                                1. re: kevine

                                                                  I think you're right, but let's recall that many people wouldn't enter a kitchen at all if it were not for people like (gasp!) RR. A lot of techniques and strategies that come naturally to experienced cooks are totally beyond somewho have little/no experience or interest!

                                                                  1. re: kevine

                                                                    Not at all, Kevine. It's the cooks who have the time/energy/curiosity to keep trying to do things the very best way who keep us "good enough is best" types progressing and learning, and in the process keep raising the bar for the mfrs. of commercial food products .

                                                                    I've been cooking for nearly 60 years and I'm still learning and trying new ways to do things, thanks to other good cooks like you--on CH, the recipe reviewers on websites like allrecipes.com, my own innovative kids, fine cooks young & old at my church, etc.

                                                                    1. re: kevine

                                                                      I think all of us on this board know what you mean, Kevine, because most of us are willing to go to a lot of trouble for good food. But there is so much elitist claptrap about the absolute "necessity" of "organic" this or that and how it has to be absolutely fresh and nothing else will do. Some of really is elitist because with modern methods of processing, good frozen and canned products - IF you buy carefully - can be just as nutritious as the fresh. Sometimes more so if the "fresh" stuff takes a while to get to stores. This is a real disservice to people with limited time and resources who are trying hard to do well by their families and don't have the ability to sort through the information to make good choices. It's better for them to open up some good frozen veggies than to fall back on carry-out fast food. Maybe that's a baby step for them to a better diet down the road.

                                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                                        I just read somewhere that most frozen veggies retain far more nutritional elements than the average grocery store "fresh" produce that's likely been in cold storage for days or even weeks.

                                                                        Companies like Green Giant locate their processing plants right where the crops are grown and it's a matter of minutes before they are flash frozen.

                                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                                          I appreciate the discussion, thanks for the posts.

                                                                          As far as frozen veggies and canned tomatoes I completely agree that these can indeed often be the freshest available, especially out of season. I tend to cook around the seasonal availability of items but other than between July and October at the best, the freshest tomatoes are best found in cans. Likewise for frozen peas, beans etc outside of their seasons and if you want to use them as I often do, they are reliably good any time of year.

                                                                          By recommending to avoid packaged foods, I really meant I would avoid things like packaged prepared meals, bottled spaghetti sauces, packaged hummus, etc.,; you know, all those boxes that spill out among all the middle aisles or frozen bins in Safeways across the county that will usually contain tons of preservatives, salt, high fructose corn syrup and whatnot.

                                                                          I included mayonnaise in my list as it could not be simpler to make a much superior version at home if you use it on any type of regular basis as it will keep for at least a month in the frig.

                                                                          I included whole spices and herbs as they are usually sold right along side the pre-ground ones in the spice racks in any store, tend to keep longer and are very simple to grind or pound in a mortar, lending much more flavor to a dish.

                                                                          I mentioned butchers and fishmongers as regardless of where you live and your resources, it is certainly worth the time to seek out good ones and remain as loyal customers when you find them. With a good butcher you need only visit periodically to purchase meat you can freeze until the next visit.

                                                                          I mentioned growing whatever one has the space and time for as even a couple of pots of herbs are very easy to learn how to grow and maintain usually year-round and can be very helpful in making good food.

                                                                          Of course this is really meant as advice to someone who would ask me about my best tip as far as cooking goes. Most people are more than happy with the food pre-made in packages, cans, fast foods, etc. and more power to them. Like in the Carls Jr tv ad; without them, a lot of people would starve. Just not what I would recommend.

                                                                          In many cases people are either afraid or just have never had any experience in cooking and are needlessly intimidated by it. And to anyone who ever asks me, I try to make plain that it is not at all difficult to cook very well, usually much cheaper, once you take some steps to learn how to do so.

                                                                          1. re: kevine

                                                                            I think most of us on CH agree with your attitude toward food and do many of the things you do. Certainly makes our day to day meals better.
                                                                            I think that some of us were objecting to the elitism of many food writers who disparage all convenience foods for all people. The folks who are microwaving frozen burritos aren't going to suddenly start grinding their own spices, buying their meat from a butcher, finding artisan tortillas, etc. because a food writer says so. They're just going to ignore that stuff as frou-frou crap and give up.
                                                                            If they can just be encouraged to take intermediate steps to at least begin to assemble their own from some easily obtainable supermarket ingredients, maybe a creative spark will be fanned into something a little greater and they'll be inspired to do better. You don't go from nuking Spaghetti-Os to making your own sauce with home-grown tomatoes.

                                                                            You are exactly right that many people are needlessly intimidated by the whole concept of cooking good food as it is sometime presented. They think they can't do it so why risk failure? We ought to encourage them by remembering to give out A's for effort when they are deserved. So what if they use a jar of Ragu when they assemble lasagna at home? It may not be as good as your homemade version but they're trying, aren't they? That's a step in the right direction. They'll get better at it.

                                                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                                                              MakingSense, you are living up to your name! I say, Amen!

                                                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                Canned vs fresh. I have been preserving tomatoes with family since my childhood, but the tomatoes tasted more tomatoey (is this even a word?) back then. Now, we grow our own and put them up in a variety of ways - strained, peeled chopped and seeded, with skin on chopped. Even when making good homemade long simmered Italian sauce, or quick arrabbiatta sauce, we break open the imported San Marzano whole tomatoes. Something about that volcanic soil and temperature that even if you grow San Marzano in NA, it will not be the same. They can be pricey but worth it really.

                                                                                1. re: itryalot

                                                                                  I think the whole DOP imported San Marzano preference is another shibboleth that discourages would-be cooks of moderate means. There isn't any need to pay that much for decent canned tomatoes especially if they're going to be long-simmered. Basically a triumph of marketing by the Italian government.
                                                                                  Frankly, it's not hard to simulate the "volcanic" soil condition in a garden and if you live in a similar latititude, you'll have approximately the same number of daylight hours and may have similar hot days and cool nights. You may even have similar rainfall if you're lucky. You can buy heirloom San M seed. You may live too far North or South to have much luck with the variety. Not every variety grows well everywhere.

                                                                                  I really believe that we should encourage starter cooks to do the best they can. As they develop, they may well agree with you and decide that San Ms are the way to go and spend their money there. But I'd hate to have them think that only home-canned or San Ms can be used and therefore abandon any beginning efforts because of that. Baby steps and training wheels are good things.

                                                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                    Hey, anyone that is going to use "shibboleth" correctly in a sentence on an internet message board is going to get my support. I also happen to agree completely about using whatever is within one's means. To me, the difference between good canned tomatoes and great canned tomatoes isn't a whole lot. I'm willing to allow that there may well be some difference in quality, but by the time that sauce to which someone has paid attention and carefully constructed hits its final application, I'm unlikely to care a bit as its going to be delicious.

                                                                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                                                                      The whole canned tomato thing drives me nuts. Plum tomato varieties, of which San Marzanos are just one, are indeterminate which means they keep growing like vines and set fruit which ripens over a long period of time. My Romas are starting to ripen now and will keep going until frost - that's five months - and some will be better than others over that period. About the same will be true for the DOP San Ms in Italy.
                                                                                      So every can from Italy can't possibly be the same, even from the very same tomato plant, depending on the rain and amount of sun, temperature, etc. It's an agricultural product and there's going to be normal, natural variation. They'll vary year to year.
                                                                                      To make matters worse, many DOP San Ms are canned in purée which is how they use up the over-ripe tomatoes that are past their prime. A lot of tomatoes canned in the San M region are actually imported and simply canned there. Most are grown in the region that used to be Yugoslavia, which has the identical climate and a similar magic volcanic soil. The San M region isn't nearly large enough to grow half the tomatoes that Italy marks as DOP.

                                                                              2. re: kevine

                                                                                Would you post your mayo recipe? I've never made my own mayo. Now I feel I should try it.

                                                                                1. re: nc213

                                                                                  Sure. It's from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone.

                                                                                  She has another version made using a whisk to emulsify the egg and oil which I used for quite a while but the emulsification used to always break down within a few days. This one uses a food processor. It has always lasted for a few weeks in the frig for me and is much easier to make. Once you've made it a couple of times, it should only take a few minutes to make.
                                                                                  IMO it's the ingredients (good peanut oil for the base and extra virgin olive oil for a taste topping, good Dijon and a fresh lemon) that makes it outstanding. BTW, I've tried all olive oil in place of the peanut oil and it really didn't work - for some reason EVOO doesn't seem to lend itself to a good mayo.

                                                                                  Here's the recipe. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

                                                                                  2 egg yolks (any size)
                                                                                  1 whole egg (any size)
                                                                                  1 TBS dijon mustard
                                                                                  2 TBS EVOO
                                                                                  1 1/4 cup peanut oil
                                                                                  juice of 1 lemon

                                                                                  Drop whole egg and the 2 egg yolks into a food processor with the mustard and 2 TBS of the peanut oil. Close the processor and start it, dropping the remaining peanut oil into the processor through the top opening in a very slow and steady stream (the slow and steady is the key to the emulsification).
                                                                                  Once you've added all of the the peanut oil, add the EVOO in the same manner. Add the lemon juice and add salt to taste. Remove the finished mayo to a bowl.

                                                                                  I like to whisk in a few mortar-pounded basil leaves with garlic cloves to make an aioli out of it sometimes.

                                                                        2. I read through the suggestions thus far and agree -- sharp knives, mise en place, fresh ingredients, leave the food to brown and carmelize and release, good cookware is a sound investment.

                                                                          I'll add the one that came to mind when I read the post headline, and it incorporates a lot of the others: don't be afraid of the heat, cook hot, don't be fearful but pay attention. Now I'm not talking about sweating aromatics or doing slow braises. But to sear meat, develop carmelization, get a good fond to deglaze for a sauce -- all of this demands high heat (especially on a wimpy home stove) on good heavy cookware with an attentive cook to add prepared ingredients and take them out when ready.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: nosh

                                                                            Don't try to fry anything until it is entirely defrosted and blotted dry. Otherwise, water will come out when you heat it, and the food will boil, not fry.

                                                                            1. re: ekammin

                                                                              Very important. Nothing will brown if it's wet or too crowded in the pan.

                                                                          2. fluffing cooked rice with a fork before plating
                                                                            A friend just learned you should fluff couscous with a fork- she never read the instructions on the box - she's not a native English speaker.

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: ginnyhw

                                                                              When I have to prepare a holiday meal, or special even meal, I get extremely nervous ! My one salvation is to Plan Ahead ! 1)Sit down with paper and pen and map out a plan....along with a time schedule. 2)Tack this list up in the kitchen in a place where you can easily refer to it from time to time. 3)Make a shopping list and shop the day before ! 4)Complete anything that can be prepared ahead of time (at a relaxed pace). Also, "Mise en Place" is extremely important !

                                                                              1. re: Lisbet

                                                                                All great points, and I also like to photocopy the recipes and tape them to the kitchen cupboards - no flipping through various cookbooks etc., and v. helpful in a small kitchen.

                                                                                1. re: Lisbet

                                                                                  I have increasingly turned to MasterCook for the planning ahead. It took some getting used to, but now I have the software loaded to really suit my needs. It allows you to build your own pantry and select items from the pantry you're out of and generate a shopping list from it. You can also create menus from recipes in your cookbooks and automatically add the ingredients from all the recipes to a shopping list and the shopping list can be sorted by store location. When I'm entertaining, I just print out the recipe from the software and print out the shopping list and I'm ready to go. It does take some time to set up, but it has ultimately saved me more time in the long run.

                                                                              2. Pre-heat!

                                                                                Preheat your oven, preheat your pans on the stove - never put food into a cold pan or a cold oven unless the recipe specifically states to do so. You can't saute or sear in a cold pan.

                                                                                The other thing that I learned a long time ago is that the size of your kitchen and the quality of your appliances do not make a difference if you have a good pan. I used to live in an apartment with the tiniest little stove/oven combo in a wee kitchen and threw fabulous dinner parties with no problem. Don't use the lack of fancypants appliances as an excuse.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: dalaimama

                                                                                  Yes! Pre-heating....that's a great great tip/reminder. Its amazing what can happen to otherwise wonderful food when you don't.

                                                                                2. I find that salting during sauteing softens the vegetables and effects carmelization. Depends upon your goal whether to salt or wait. Also softens fresh cut tomatoes.

                                                                                  1. with any seafood, cook till just opaque. any longer and it's ruined. in a dish that needs to be cooked for a long time, like gumbo, add the seafood at the last minute.

                                                                                    1. Don't be afraid of heat.

                                                                                      If you're using high heat on the stove, that means blistering high heat... and have the oil in the pan just long enough to bring it to temp.

                                                                                      1. Well, I've learned alot here and I appreciate everyone's response. Back 40 years ago, when I was in high school cooking class, the one thing I learned that I never forgot, was the Clean As U Go. I know it's been mentioned but I think it's one of the most important tricks. It helps remember what you've added and what you need to add and keeps you on track for what comes next. Now, if I can only teach my kids this...... :-)

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: othervoice

                                                                                          I completely agree with the Clean as you go advice. The garbage bowl is a life savor for me..a nice sized bowl to throw all your trash in as you cook.
                                                                                          I also highly suggest defrosting meat under cold running water NOT in the microwave.
                                                                                          My best advice is, when entertaining...cook what you know! Don't try to impress a crowd with a dish you have never made before, it could go very badly!

                                                                                          1. re: chocolatechip

                                                                                            But please, only clean up after YOURSELF as you go! If my husband throws one more thing in a dirty sink BEFORE I have used it....

                                                                                            1. re: wombat

                                                                                              One of my pet peeves too. Virtually everything that's ever gotten broken in my kitchen--incl. some items that still grieve me--was broken because some helpful someone one who wasn't paying attention threw something in the sink on top of something that broke it or was broken by it.

                                                                                        2. Let us not forget that altitude affects cooking times and sometimes, ingredients like water. On another note, if cooking outdoors, do in fact take into consideration relative humidity, I dont want to confuse things but yes it does matter.

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Jimbosox04

                                                                                            It can affect cooking indoors too. My grandma always makes toffee at Christmas time. Christmas in Kansas the humidity is very low. I tried to make some when I lived in Portland, same time of year, and it never set up.

                                                                                            1. re: Jimbosox04

                                                                                              I'll never forget a trip I took to the mountains with a woman from Laos. This woman had probably cooked rice twice a day for 30 years, but she didn't understand the effects of altitude, and language incompatibility meant that the people who did understand couldn't explain it. The disgusted look on her face about the third time her rice didn't cook the way she wanted it to was priceless! To us gringos the rice was fine, but it clearly wasn't up to her standards!

                                                                                            2. Face the stove.

                                                                                              Oops, that one's already taken.

                                                                                              OK, Tip: De-chill (that is, take them out of the frig) large pieces of solid meat* for 1-3 hours before roasting them. It's assumed in most cookbooks that you know to do this. It makes a huge difference in avoiding achieving even doneness without overcooking.

                                                                                              * It's less important for whole poultry that will not be stuffed because the heat will get into the core of the bird easily. But a big turkey that's going to be stuffed can benefit from being taken out 30-60 minutes ahead of time.

                                                                                              Bonus Tip: Remove the wishbone of whole poultry before roasting. Makes for much easier carving.

                                                                                              1. Try new flavors, but keep cooking your old favorites, which will evolve as you try out those new flavors.

                                                                                                1. I read an interview with Judy Rodgers (Zuni Cafe) who said (as best I can remember): to really learn how to be a better cook, make the same dish over and over. This seemed counter-intuitive to me at the time, but now I think I understand what she meant. My take on it is that it can be really useful to take a dish (preferably one that you can stand to eat often!) and make it many times, so that you really understand how and why it works, and reach the point where you can riff on it.

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: mutterer

                                                                                                    Yes. Follow the recipe faithfully the first time. Nine times out of ten the next time you make it you'll-- either from whim, accident, or necessity (you don't have one of the ingredients)--make a minor change or two. Sooner or later you'll make the absolutely pluperfect version of it. IMMEDIATELY WRITE DOWN ON AN INDEX CARD PRECISELY WHAT YOU DID!!!

                                                                                                    You'll be sorry forever after when you can never quite replicate that perfect recipe.

                                                                                                  2. When yu buy lettuce, slice a thin piece off the core end and soak in a bowl of cool water for a couple of hours- you wouldn't believe how much it refreshes the leaves. I've used this with romaine and green leaf lettuce

                                                                                                      1. More about mise: some items (mirepoix, herbs, etc) can be loaded onto a sheet of waxed paper rather than a plate or bowl. This works well for sifting flour, too. When ready, just lift up the paper, fold in "half" and slide the ingredients right in. Less dirty dishes!

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: KTBearW

                                                                                                          Second that. In fact last few times I made pie crust, I sifted flour etc onto parchment paper, cut in the butter with two knives, added ice water, brought dough together and later rolled the dough all on one sheet of parchment. Easy cleanup. I felt a little twinge of guilt because I don't know how biodegradable parchment is. But it sure beat cleaning up a messy pastry board _and_ mixing bowl. :)

                                                                                                        2. Cast Iron, Cast Iron - If ever at a yard sale, garage sale, flea market - GRAB THEM WHEN YOU CAN!!! (of course you can buy new too) They are the best to cook with. They can go in the oven, on the stove, grill, open fire, etc. You can easily re-season one that has been ignored. They evenly cook regardly of the stove you are using - they are the perfect cookware. I love them.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: lexpatti

                                                                                                            I agree. There is so much great old kitchenware at estate/yard sales, flea mkts.: wonderful things no one makes anymore.

                                                                                                            Look esp. for the lighter weight cast iron: Erie, Griswold, some unmarked ware. It cooks as well as the very heavy but is easier on your arms and wrists. You can pour from a 12" skillet with one arm instead of two.

                                                                                                          2. Great ideas here, just wanted to add this:

                                                                                                            Unlike many things in life, moderation is not always a good idea in cooking. As has been pointed out else where, sometimes a big blast of heat is needed (particularly for browning), and other times very low heat is great (for braising, cooking minced garlic, or barbeque). Knowing enough about cooking to decide which extreme to use (and for some ingredients, such as shrimp, either will work depending on the outcome desired), is important to getting the best taste/texture from a dish, whereas a moderate temperature often produces a much less desirable result.

                                                                                                            1. If you really want a great dish, use fresh ingredients and the best that you can afford...Use fresh veggies, not frozen, use fresh herbs,( use fresh garlic instead of powdered), and if you can afford it use organic veggies and meats....
                                                                                                              Spices...they really can "make" a dish...Fresh ones are best..Most recipes, I find, do not use enough, so I always end up adding more, and/or adding other spices...I buy mine in small quantities at bulk spice bars...The jarred ones are not as good and don't last in terms of flavor..
                                                                                                              Unless it is a "bakery" item, I usually don't stick with just the mentioned ingredients in a recipe...I try to "up" the recipe by adding other ingredients..and again, more spices...
                                                                                                              A really good dish usually takes time to prepare...Best ones are made on your days off...
                                                                                                              Clean as you go...SO much better than having a kitchen full of pots and pans...
                                                                                                              If I am a bit short on time, I will prepare some of the ingredients ahead of time and refrigerate...i.e. Recipes that call for cooked chicken breast or cooked veggies, do them ahead of time...
                                                                                                              "Make your own"...Try not to use already prepared dishes...i.e. Salad dressing, pasta sauces, etc...If time is a problem, I understand the "Sandra Lee" approach, though anything homemade is always so much better...
                                                                                                              Recipes...There are a lot out there, but many are so much better than others...Find some chefs that have great cooking techniques, recipes, and buy their cookbooks...A couple of them come to mind...their recipes are always delicious and easy to follow...Ina Gartner, Sheila Ludkins...
                                                                                                              Have cooking equipment that makes your life easier...Get a cuisinart, have sharp and reliable knives, good cutting boards, small manual choppers, a mandoline if you can afford one, good cookware ( a great non stick skillet, a cast iron one, a wok, a double boiler, grill pan and/or grill, dutch oven or large stockpan, buy the best that you can when it comes to "equipment")
                                                                                                              Finally, I think that a good cook is usually one that truly enjoys the experience...The more you enjoy cooking, the better your dishes will be...

                                                                                                              1. I have always thrown my leftover spices or stems from marinades (thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc) into the fire when grilling. It imparts a flavoured smokiness.

                                                                                                                1. Let me add...don't be afraid to experiment.

                                                                                                                  1. two tips really....

                                                                                                                    ventilation. if you're going to be doing all this super high heat searing, make sure you're kitchen is ventilated properly. or have a good fan. or at the very least a shower cap to throw over the smoke detector!

                                                                                                                    second: in cooking don't let not having an ingredient or two stop you from making a recipe. if a recipe calls for cinnamon and mace and you only have cinnamon, fine! leave out the mace. no whole grain mustard, only dijon? fine, use the grey poupon! water, stock, vermouth are all perfectly good substitutes for wine in recipes. you don't have cream to finish a sauce but you have half and half? go for it. the recipe that calls for gorgonzola and all you have is regular old bleu? fine. no one died from substituting bacon for pancetta or guanciale in a carbonara (and i know there is a difference, but really, it's ok). if you don't have a specific vinegar, oil, citrus, herb....substitute (peanut vs canola/red wine v white wine vinegar.....)or leave it out. if i waited to have all the ingredients for every recipe i wanted to try, i'd never try anything. and seriously, what could really happen?

                                                                                                                    the one exception here is that i wouldn't substitute a dietetic ingredient (fat free cheese) for the real deal.

                                                                                                                    12 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: eLizard

                                                                                                                      Basically be a cook, not a "recipe jockey", take that recipe and use it as a base, not a direct order. And smile when you cook, the rest of the family will think your up to something.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Jimbosox04

                                                                                                                        Just don't complain that the recipe is weak or deficient. Normally, particularly recipes from technique-specific authors, you should do the recipe exactly as written the first time, so then you have a comparison for your experimentations, improvements and deformations of the recipe. The only reason I say this is because so many people complain about recipes when it is abundantly clear they ignored a subtle but crucial part of the recipe.* Duh!

                                                                                                                        * One of the most common problems (it's so common it beggars the imagination): a recipe for whole roasted chicken specifies a 3-4 lb bird. Cook uses a 6 lb roasting chicken. And wonders why the recipe isn't as wonderful as advertised.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                                          I agree with Karl. The first time through a recipe, especially if it's something not like what I've cooked before, I always follow to the letter, maybe the first couple of times if I'm not quite sure the first time. I usually see it more as a lesson than anything so I want to be a good student to see what I can learn from the author. Of course some times a bad editing job will throw me off though more often I'm surprised that something that seems non-intuitive really works beyond what I expected; if so, then voila! something to add to my repertoire.
                                                                                                                          I also will poke around through other sources to see how others handle the same or similar dishes to get more of a basic feel.
                                                                                                                          However once I'm familiar with the ingredients and technique then I feel quite free to riff on my own. (drives my wife nuts those first couple of times as I tend to be so anal about measurements and ingredients)

                                                                                                                          1. re: kevine

                                                                                                                            I would only append this to suggest that if the recipe is similar to something you know well, either by ingredients or technique, then it MIGHT not be a problem to leave something out, or tweak some part of it.

                                                                                                                            For instance, for cookies, my wife almost always uses half butter and half shortening not matter which is indicated in the recipe. The texture and flavor just works out better, and it's never failed her.

                                                                                                                            On the other hand, there are some recipes that just won't come out right if you leave out that teaspoon of nutmeg, or use 1% milk instead of whole.

                                                                                                                            1. re: GDSinPA

                                                                                                                              Replacements, and downright changes are different. Yes butter cooks different than shortening, but it is essentially a fat. It's much different than deciding to make fat free cookies and leave it out, or only use half the fat. Knowing how much liquid to change due to the butter is extra credit. Just like knowing the difference Ph levels of vinegars. In the end we can only do these things with adequate knowledge, but ignorance is a hard thing to be aware of.

                                                                                                                              1. re: GDSinPA

                                                                                                                                If you make a cookie recipe with butter, the identical recipe with a mix of butter and shortening, and a third with all shortening, you will get three different end products. The cookies won't be the same. Your decision over which is "better" in "texture and flavor" is personal preference.
                                                                                                                                If you have always made the cookie with the butter/shortening mix, you have no basis of comparison to say it "works out better." Better than what? All butter or all shortening?

                                                                                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                                  Yes, and if you melt the butter you get a different cookie than when it's just softened.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                                    Actually, that's a good point. It's just one of those things we always do because in the cases where we did compare, we prefered the butter/shortening combo. So, yah, it's a preference - generally this combo yields a moist chewy cooking, but not all cookies are supposed to be that way.

                                                                                                                                    We often make double batches of cookies, since they freeze and thaw well. Perhaps the next new recipe we try will be a taste test comparison!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: GDSinPA

                                                                                                                                      I have a few old recipes from Mama, probably from the 50s or 60s, that actually work better with margarine, which I never keep in the house. I've got scribbled in the margins "Do NOT substitute butter!!!!" because they come out greasy when I've done that. Always have to make a special trip to the store. That recipe may well have been developed when margarine was the really hot thing and it just doesn't work with butter.
                                                                                                                                      Trial and error. Personal preferences. Do what you gotta do.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                                        I have the opposite notation on my shortbread recipe. Tried it once with oleo, and they came out all crispy, not like shortbread should be.

                                                                                                                                        I make my chocolate chip cookies with all shortening because I like them crispy (and because that's how my mom has always made them). You can use oleo or butter for other ones, but chocolate chip cookies are made with shortening.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                          This is so weird! I make my chocolate chip cookies with butter because I like them thin and crispy; shortening always made them plump and soft.

                                                                                                                        2. Try not to start drinking until your done cooking....and if you can't wait, stop at one glass of wine. Its tempting when it's an ongredient, but self control will make for much better products. I learned quickly that my timing and measuring skill, not suprisngly, are no good when drinking in the kitchen. I can remember one unfortunate college day experience when after a bottle of red, I tried to bake peanut butter cookies. I stuck them in the oven but had both forgotten to start a timer or properly set the oven temp. (it was 400 instead of 350). 15 minutes later black smoke was pouring out of the burners on the stove top. And, I had to throw away the cookie sheet as the cookies had changed into a stcky dark sludge like mess that would not come off.

                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: ashes

                                                                                                                            this is the best advice yet! I left a plastic cutting board in my oven (storage) and forgot about it when I turned on the broiler...10 minutes later my smoke detector was going off and I was at the losing end of a bottle of beaujolais. so I guess my tip is CHECK YOUR OVEN before you turn it on!

                                                                                                                            1. re: Sophia.

                                                                                                                              My 1 yr. old son once stuffed a thick square foam sofa pillow in the bottom-drawer broiler of a gas stove. I turned on the oven to preheat while I ran to the store for pepper for the roast that was going in the oven. When I got back the huge (25 ft. sq.) kitchen and a goodly area of the adjoining sitting room was BLACK/BLACK/BLACK with soot!

                                                                                                                              I had to get a professional fire-damage cleaning co. in to wash the soot off everything before we could paint.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Sophia.

                                                                                                                                No place on the counter to put the empty pizza box? Don't put it in the oven. Learned that the hard way myself.

                                                                                                                            2. Funny you mention that, it is good tip - 16 minutes is way too long - I usually go with 10 for hard boiled, anything less and they are more and more tender until you essentially have a soft boiled egg - also delicious.

                                                                                                                              Oh, and a couple of tips.

                                                                                                                              As others have suggested - sharp knives, prep ahead, clean as you go, cast iron.

                                                                                                                              My suggestion - for soups, chili, stew etc - season as you go. If it calls for 4 different herbs and spices, add a little bit of each as you build the soup. When browning the meat, season it with a little of all the spices, don't just dump them in at the end.

                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: GDSinPA

                                                                                                                                10 minutes will yield you a yolk that is not fully done, I mentioned "hard" boiled , what you are mentioning I imagine to be "soft"boiled.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Jimbosox04

                                                                                                                                  10 minutes works like a complete charm for me. cold water to cover the eggs. once it comes to a boil, put the lid on, turn off the heat and wait for 10 minutes. i put the eggs in an ice bath, but that's not necessary. nice sunny yellow yolks!

                                                                                                                                  1. re: eLizard

                                                                                                                                    Ditto for me - 10 minutes is plenty of time for a hard yolk. Is it rock hard? No, but hard enough to make deviled eggs out of the results.

                                                                                                                                    Soft-boiled would be more like 5 minutes, some people really like "3 minute eggs" but that's a little too runny for me.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: GDSinPA

                                                                                                                                      I admit I've cooked my share of hard-cooked eggs with green-rimmed yolks, but no matter what method I use, if I do it for less than 14 minutes the center is still gooey. It's a mystery to me (although I don't lose much sleep over it!).

                                                                                                                              2. Learn! Obviously experience is the best education, but there are great resources (not just cookbooks) for learning about the roles of various ingredients and techniques.

                                                                                                                                1. I'll offer some tips on waste avoidance. When you buy a bag of lemons and only need a few, squeeze them all and freeze in ice cube trays. Same for an open container of chicken broth. You can freeze just about anything.

                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                  1. re: suse

                                                                                                                                    You can also zest all those lemons and freeze that as well!

                                                                                                                                  2. Unless you're working with raw meat, taste as you go. Dip a spoon into that marinade -- does it need more salt? More lemon? Take a taste of that cookie dough -- could it use just a touch more cinnamon? Fork up some of that cole slaw - is it too mayonnaisey? Don't be afraid to adjust recipes to taste, but taste!

                                                                                                                                    1. buy in season; don't bother with tomatoes in January. Use canned or make something else

                                                                                                                                      DON'T buy cheap (industrially farmed) meat.

                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: coney with everything

                                                                                                                                        Well, I would say that Campari tomatoes (the large cherry tomatoes) are pretty damn good in the off-season, and often (like 2/3 of the time) taste as good as ordinary garden tomatoes in the late summer. It's suprising. Now, I wouldn't use them to cook with - the flavor is bright enough for eating raw, but not deep enough for cooking. But that's true of a lot of summer tomatoes, too...

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                                                          So, so true. Too few people pay attention to the differences among tomatoes. Plum varieties should be used for cooking because they have a low water content and are extra "meaty." The varieties grown for use in salads have a high water content and when you use them for sauces they have to be cooked for a long time to evaporate the water, leading to an "overcooked" flavor. If you have a surplus, they're OK for soups, juices and things that have a high water content but you don't get the intensity of flavor that comes from using plum varieties.

                                                                                                                                      2. I use the (basic) Microplane to shred fresh ginger root = No annoying long ginger fibers in the end product.

                                                                                                                                        1. Learn to cook with CAST IRON...you will love it and never regret it. It has also has the benefit of being passed down from generation to generation and making memories is what it's all about..right?!

                                                                                                                                          1. Two:

                                                                                                                                            1) K.I.S.S.
                                                                                                                                            2) I know I'm in the minority here, but I feel that chicken stock and pork products are way overused, and while they certainly provide a layer of flavor they don't always suit the dish. Expand your horizons - think outside the stock.

                                                                                                                                            1. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Some of the best-tasting meals I've produced were those when I had no idea what I was doing or what I was making until it was done.

                                                                                                                                              7 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                                                                That is absolutely true, and to add to that, remember that everyone's taste buds are different so just because you dont care for something that you made does not mean that others wont love it. I say this because I am my worst critic.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                                                                  This needs a corollary. I find myself to be an experiment junkie, so i have to remind myself that it's OK to serve a simple meal, or even to copy someone else's work... since that's pretty much all we do really.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kindofabigdeal

                                                                                                                                                    Play with what's in your refrigerator. It's so much more fun to use those last 2 carrots in a new way instead of letting them rot and then throwing them away.

                                                                                                                                                    Bread, cookies, doughs freeze extremely well. I make all my own bread from scratch . cool, slice, double bag and freeze. Then I always have the best bread, pizza doughs and bagels when we feel like eating them.

                                                                                                                                                    If you save all your peelings - carrots, onions, celery ends and freeze you have the makings of a really wonderful stock for a rainy day.

                                                                                                                                                    And last, but not least, if you don't have room or the inclination to prep immediately before cooking, try doing some of the prep the night before. Then when you come home from work it's so much easier to put together a nice homemade soup instead of reaching for a can.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Texchef

                                                                                                                                                      Curious about the homemade bagels: what recipe do you use? Are they a ton of work to make? (don't you have to boil them and bake them)? I'm asking because it's so hard to find a good bagel around here so the idea of homemade is intriguing.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: ricepad

                                                                                                                                                    And some of my most inedible :o(

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: PhoebeB

                                                                                                                                                      Well, yeah...but it's that risk is what makes it fun!

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                                                                        That's the best thing about being at the stage of life I'm cooking just for myself and can feed my bad ideas to the dog.

                                                                                                                                                  3. Put white vinegar into the simmering (but never boiling!) water before adding the egg when poaching eggs. It helps the egg retain some shape and form, rather than running all over the pot.

                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: pgokey

                                                                                                                                                      My one cooking tip... NO its NOT Mexican cuisine if you just add Cumin & Chile Powder!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                                                                                                                      Its like the old story about adding an 'o' ending to any English word... and voila you are a Spanish speaker!

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                                                        You say one thing, Chevys says the exact opposite. Who am I supposed to believe? Which of you has made more money selling "Mexican cuisine" this fiscal year?

                                                                                                                                                        Chevys foodo is fantastico!

                                                                                                                                                        Anyone who didn't get that I was kidding two lines ago should be ashamed of themselves, okay?

                                                                                                                                                    2. When you smell something cooking, it's about to be done. Great principle for roasting.

                                                                                                                                                      I think I heard it on Julia.

                                                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: julietg

                                                                                                                                                        Yeah, and that works for just about everything, from steamed asparagus to cookies.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                                          Was afraid of flack from chemist pursits,

                                                                                                                                                          but yeah, baking, too.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                                            Use all of your senses!
                                                                                                                                                            You can hear meat sizzling, tenderness can be roughly deterined by touch, watch every setep, taste as you go, etc, etc!

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: lunchbox

                                                                                                                                                              I've become a huge fan of using a steak's resistance to judge doneness.

                                                                                                                                                        2. Pay attention to cooking times and become familiar with them. Start with the dish that takes longest---roasting, braising, stewing, etc. Prep as you go, *after* you get the ingredient that takes an hour to cook on the stove first. It's common sense, but I find that I have become so much more efficient in the kitchen when I think my menu through and plan accordingly.

                                                                                                                                                          1. Some tips to add in to the pile!

                                                                                                                                                            For those just starting out:

                                                                                                                                                            1. Figure out the general "system" in dealing with oven temperatures, cuts of meat, etc. Instead of checking your recipe each time for how long to cook that breast meat in the oven or what degree you'll want to roast veggies at, you'll really learn a lot more if you pinpoint the underlying logic.

                                                                                                                                                            2. Try not to do the actual cooking for a dinner party when your guests are there. There's nothing more awkward than you rushing around like a headless chicken while missing out on the communal fun and reassuring everyone that you're doing fine without them.

                                                                                                                                                            For everyone:
                                                                                                                                                            1. Safety. Wear (preferably) closed-toe shoes when you cook in the kitchen. I managed to sever a tendon in my foot just by dropping a plate last year!

                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Rafie

                                                                                                                                                              Rafie reminds me of something I forgot--another safety tip.

                                                                                                                                                              Get a squirt bottle of 100% pure emusified aloe vera gel (NOT that "35% aloe" lotion stuff) and keep it in the door of your fridge for the inevitable little kitchen burns (not to mention sunburn). Available at any drug store, cheap as anything, you can squirt it on a burned finger with the thumb of the same hand, it will last for YEARS, it is so instantly soothing when it's cold, and it will almost always keep a blister from developing.

                                                                                                                                                              (If the burn continues to sting after the aloe dries, do it again a couple more times. It's as near a miracle cure as any I know of.)

                                                                                                                                                              I kept a live plant for years, but that's not nearly so effective as the gel and it takes up too much valuable window-sill space.

                                                                                                                                                              I never give a wedding/housewarming gift w/o tucking in a bottle of it with instructions re: where it should be kept.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: PhoebeB

                                                                                                                                                                Still another safety tip: Get a fire extinguisher and know how to use it. Failing that, keep the baking soda or salt on hand for grease fires. NEVER PUT WATER ON A GREASE FIRE! Just makes matters worse.

                                                                                                                                                                (No doubt everyone here knows all that, but it's worth mentioning again.)

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                                                  Yes...never put water on a grease fire....I learned this after my first wok fire (that's what the fire fighter called it on his report). I'm probably not putting my cooking skills (in the college years) in the best light. But, I was attempting my first stir fry that my roommate was going to help with. I got tired of waiting for her to finish napping and decided to make the attempt on my own. What I didn't know was that sesame oil has a very low flash point. I loaded down the wok with sesame oil and cranked the burner up then turned to finish chooping veg. When I turned back around the wok was on fire. My first, and stupid response was to stick the wok in the sink and blast with water. Bad call. I had time to open every window in the campus apartment before the fire alarm started blaring. And due to school regulation, the thing couldn't be turned off until the local fire truck pulled up and "assessed the situation." Needless to say I was VERY embarassed as the firrefighters in full gear tromped through my apartment and laughed at my now sadly scorched wok.

                                                                                                                                                            2. 1--long pants & close toed shoes--easy to kick them off if you dump something on yourself.

                                                                                                                                                              2--rinse greens in a bowl, not a colander. then you can lift them out and leave the grit behind.

                                                                                                                                                              3--don't peel avocadoes. cut them in half lengthwise, twist apart. whack a sharp blade into the pit, twist and it comes out. if you need to slice the avo, hold it by the skin and stripe a paring knife down the flesh inside, scoop it out with a spoon.

                                                                                                                                                              4--mise en place, mise en place, mise en place.

                                                                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Louise

                                                                                                                                                                Agree with mise en place, clean as u go, aloe tip (no scarring!). You can actually combine learning patience (waiting for pan to heat up) with the cleaning thing.

                                                                                                                                                                A not unrelated "be prepared" tip for those who are just starting out & nervous & forgetful - preventing them from making something b/c you're missing one ingredient, make a note of things that you use all the time: stock, potatos, onions (aromatics), tomatos (canned or however u like), frozen peas, noodles of all kinds, eggs, cheese, butter, lemons/limes, spices & sauces, herbs etc., and always keep them on hand. You'll slowly expand your pantry & then all you'll need to really purchase is protein & fresh veggies.

                                                                                                                                                                That way when you're looking at a new recipe, you don't go & buy EVERYTHING all at once, you'll only need a few things (unless experimenting). It makes shopping less daunting & trying new recipes more manageable.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: bbc

                                                                                                                                                                  The well stocked pantry is a great tip. It's quite helpful when you are having trouble coming up with a dinner solution.

                                                                                                                                                                  One thing we've been doing lately is buying lots of certain things we know we'll use when they are on sale and/or we have a coupon. Canned tomatoes, stock, noodles, etc. Sometimes you'll end up with 15 cans of plum tomatoes at once, but you won't have to think about them for months.

                                                                                                                                                              2. When making 'raw' stuffings test the seasoning by frying a small 'fritter' of the stuffing and tasting. A tip I learnt when making a fish based stuffing for squid, also a chicken mousse stuffing for poached chicken thighs. In other words stuffings you don't want to test in their raw state.

                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: ali patts

                                                                                                                                                                  I appreciate this and can't believe what a dummy I am for not figuring it out on my own!

                                                                                                                                                                  My mother/grandmother always used to casually taste their raw meat loaf/meat ball mixture for seasoning, but I'm afraid to do that anymore. Never occurred to me to fry up a smidgen and taste that.

                                                                                                                                                                2. Use your crock pot/slow cooker to make stock- just leave it on low all day.

                                                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Coconuts

                                                                                                                                                                    Crock pots are good, but here's my secret. Put the stock pot on an electric griddle. You can get a super precise temp with a thermometer.

                                                                                                                                                                    I've done sous vide chicken breast at 143 degrees and cooked stock at 190. With the stock i left the house for a few hours and came back and it was at the exact same temp.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Coconuts

                                                                                                                                                                      The aloe vera is great for kitchen burns, but if you don't happen to have any on hand, toothpaste will stop the burn too. It should be a minty toothpaste.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: breadbox

                                                                                                                                                                        That's good to know, because aloe vera never did anything for me.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. There is nothing wrong with using frozen spinach.