The nit-picky cook/baker: what shortcuts do you take, and what shortcuts make you cringe?
I often find myself, at the end of a day, look at a recipe and wondering if I *really* need to bother soaking or sifting or toasting-and-grinding or passing through a sieve to get the seeds out. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Most often, I find, it isn't a matter of my mood - I seem to have subconsciously developed policies about which details matter, and which do not.
Forthwith, some of my lapses and non-negotiables:
I never salt and weigh my eggplant. (Bitterness typically isn't a problem, but perhaps I'm just less sensitive than most?)
I'll never peel tomatoes for any recipe that calls for peeled tomatoes.
I always puree smooth soups in a stand blender rather than using an immersion/stick one.
I never whisk flour and salt/spices/baking powder/baking soda together in a separate bowl before adding to batter, but just add in the flour, sprinkle the other stuff on top, and then mix. (Exception: when the flour needs to be sifted).
I never use store-bought pie crust, but often use store-bought stock.
What are your must-dos and your do-withouts?
First off, I do not own a microwave, so there is never any frozen heat'n'eat going on at my place.
I put my knives in the dishwasher. They are cheap and in need of repair, anyway, and I will probably (hopefully) be replacing them soon.
I won't eat a vegetable from a can, or olives, or soup, but for some reason, beans are ok as long as they are well-rinsed in a strainer.
Ditto for chicken stock- I nix the can but will go for the organic carton kind.
The last time I tasted pre-made cookie dough was in high school- somehow raw cookie dough sounds like a good idea when you are 17 and suffer from "the munchies". I can't imagine it being worth eating under any other circumstances.
Store-bought tomato sauce for pasta??? Perish the thought! I make it often, and always 100% homemade.
But I don't mind a quality jarred tomato salsa for chip-dipping, such as Green Mountain Gringo.
I cannot tolerate dried herbs of any kind. But I have never actually bought a whole fresh nutmeg and grated it, even if the recipe specifically says to. I use the powdered one in the spice jar.
I won't eat fake cheese of any kind: cheese of any bright, neon color; cheese in unnatural shapes and textures and wrapped in plastic; cheese that breaks apart and forms a weird oily wax coating in your mouth; liquid cheese in a jar or can; or powdered cheese in a (shudder) canister...
But I love Doritos!!! :)
I do sift flour and try to let butter and eggs come to room temp when cooking with them... but I won't use three bowls when two will do. And I have been known to avoid the hand mixer so that there is less to clean afterwards.
I always use good, real vanilla extract or beans, never imitation. But rarely do I follow the exact recipe specifications when baking... somehow I always toss a few extra drops in for good measure.
I don't like "instant" anything. I need 20-30 minutes to make oatmeal the way I like it, and I cook my espresso on the stove, on medium (Moka pots can be very temperamental and do not like to be rushed. Besides, my taste buds can tell when it has been cooked on too high a temp.). I really like my Italian brand 15-minute polenta, though.
I can't eat day-old bread. And bagels? They can't be more than a few hours old. On the other hand, I do enjoy Pillsbury Crescent Rolls from the refrigerator section every now and then.
Please, nothing but fresh fruit juice in my cocktail... and no "margarita mix" or fake "Schnapps" anything. In that case, I'll just have a beer- preferably Dutch or Belgian, and ice cold, thank you!
Shortcuts I take:
I never sift, and am a sloppy flour measurer (but I don't really bake much besides bread)
I don't peel tomatoes but do tend to seed them.
I always use frozen pearl onions instead of fresh so I don't have to peel them
Store bought pie crust (probably because I don't sift or measure flour^^)
I use the Challenge Spreadable Butter (Butter plus Canola) to spread on toast because I always forget to take the butter out of the fridge
I admit to periodically buying Pillsbury Biscuits.
Shortcuts that others take that make me cringe:
Jarred minced garlic
Bottled Italian dressing.
This isn't really a shortcut but my mother in law keeps the butter dish in the cabinet. Something about non-refrigerated dairy products makes me itch.
Instant mashed potatoes or boxed au gratin potatoes
if it contains chemicals, artificial low-cal sweeteners, hydrogenated oil, corn syrup, nitrates, or unnecessary preservatives [i.e. SO2 in dried fruit], you won't find it under my roof.
i always peel chickpeas by hand.
i can't stand table salt, even in baking. [i use sea salt or kosher salt depending on the recipe].
i use fresh herbs whenever possible. some dried are okay for certain dishes, but you couldn't pay me to use dried rosemary or thyme. ugh. dessicated twigs of nastiness.
black pepper - always freshly ground. in 35 years i've never purchased ground black pepper, and i don't plan to do so for the next 35-plus.
granola - i don't care if it's gourmet, artisan, small-batch, whatever...nothing i've ever tried can compare to my homemade recipe. in fact, i baked 8 pounds (!) last night.
i always clean as i go...i can't stand seeing someone make a mess of the kitchen and leave it all sitting there. the counters are wiped and most of the cookware & cooking utensils are washed before i sit down to eat.
i refuse to use any sort of baking mix or pre-made dough. it's too easy to make your own, and scratch is always worlds better than anything you can get in a package. [heck, if you can't make a pie crust, use a crumble recipe instead.]
i wash all produce thoroughly, and i wash my hands obsessively when preparing food for others. [when i was a kid, our housekeeper set the table and helped with the food prep for thanksgiving dinner for nearly 30 people...and found out a few days later that she had hepatitis. mom was NOT happy about having to make those phone calls!]
i will use reduced-sodium store-bought stock or broth in a pinch.
i'll use canned beans, but not canned vegetables, and NEVER canned fruit. ick. i will use frozen veggies if fresh looks bad or it's out of season. and frozen fruit is great for smoothies.
other things i'll never use:
pre-chopped onions [but i do keep a jar of garlic on hand at all times, because for some reason i always run out of fresh right when i need it!]
pre-squeezed citrus juices [like the ones that come in those plastic fruit-shaped containers]
nut butters that contain any ingredients besides nuts
packaged deli meats/cold cuts
pre-ground coffee [one exception - medaglia d'oro instant espresso powder for baking]
imitation extracts. for that matter, anything with the word "imitation" in the name.
iceberg lettuce. if i want to chew on water, i'll eat a cup of ice cubes.
crap, i just read over this list, and i sound like a real snob. think i'll stop now :)
canned beans and tomatoes
sometimes boxed stock
frozen corn, for things like soups where you need it in kernels
canned whipped cream, but not Cool Whip
I never sift dry ingredients when baking
I cook bacon and melt chocolate in the microwave
bagged salad greens
No jarred tomato sauce
Fresh garlic only
Homemade pie crusts (though I keep a premade one on hand for those days when the baking gods are totally against me)
No cake or muffin mixes, but brownies are okay somehow
Yeah, I peel veggies always, and sometimes deseed depending on the recipe
back in the days of our standup freer, Mom would make a double batch of pie crust and use 4 aluminum pans to stack and freeze four crusts. Maybe that's why they were always so flaky? Sometimes she would prebake some for her incredible lemon chiffon pie. (Jello Lemon Pie Filling according to directions, mixed with beaten egg whites and whipped cream, generous amounts of Meyer lemon zest and juice, then chilled--always a birthday dinner request)
I don't use mixes. I used cake mixes when I was about 8 years old. Not now. I do use canned stock. I always think I'm going to make my own but I haven't gotten around to it lately. But I'm pretty sure I've never bought a prepared pie crust or bottled salad dressing in my life.
I replace fresh tomatoes in cooked recipes with canned or fresh frozen from the summer garden fairly often. These lose their peels quite easily, BTW, for those of you who don't like to peel fresh tomatoes.
I will sometimes use ground spices rather than toasting and grinding whole ones, but it depends on the recipe. I get my spices from Penzey's and they're good and strong, but there are times only fresh ground will do. (I don't make those recipes on weekdays very often!)
I don't buy veggies presliced, excepting angel hair cut cabbage in the summertime, for making coleslaw. If I'm not dressing it, though, I'll chop it myself b/c I can tell.
I sometimes buy gyoza wrappers for convenience rather than make the dough. They're thicker but I can deal with that.
I continue to buy and use that horrible oil spray, why I don't know!
I have used spray whipped cream, simply because we can't always use up a half pint at a time before it goes bad. I don't like it as much, but it's better than no whipped cream at all on certain things. I am more inclined to substitute a small scoop of good vanilla ice cream for the whipped cream in these cases, though. I like to keep it in the freezer if it's on sale.
I learned from I think it was a Deborah Madison cookbook to warm eggs up from the fridge by covering them in hot water for about 5 minutes. Works great!
I've been known to beat the hell out of cold sticks of butter with the stand mixer to soften them up. I'm sure my mixer can take it?
I whisk rather than sift a lot, or just put it all through a sieve, which is much faster.
I scald milk in the microwave, which is also much quicker than stovetop, but has to be watched carefully.
I buy tortillas and granola rather than make them. Homemade are generally better.
I do use canned broth sometimes, but also make chicken stock when I have time and keep it in the freezer. I keep the canned on hand, though. Veggie stock from the trinity, plus scraps and peelings is actually a quick alternative when making some vegetable soups. It can often be flavorful enough by the time you've prepped all the veggies and started the soup to the stage of adding broth.
I shred my own cheese. I don't want cellulose and natamyacin with my cheese, blech.
Ive never sifted anything in my life.
I don't own any measuring spoons. If it says Tablespoon, I take a serving spoon out and measure..same with teaspoon.
I don't measure extracts...just pour.
I have a secret love affair with my immersion blender (which has the mini chopper base).
I don't own a toaster.
I buy peeled but not chopped garlic.
I buy boxes of stock and better than boullion.
I dont cook meatballs, I just drop them into hot sauce.
I am learning to love working with yeast.
Bagged salad makes me ill...literally so Im stuck washing lettuce.
I love my crockpot.
I have this one random knife from a butcher block set I got 10 years ago...not very high quality, either. The handle melted somehow and fits the curve of my finger perfectly. If anything happens to that knife, its going to be bad news.
I have never peeled a tomato but always seed the mushy ones and roast anything after September.
We eat cookie dough, cake batter and brownie batter...not dead yet.
I use boxed dark chocolate brownie mix made with coffee instead of water. Don't hate.
Cool whip is repulsive as is boxed mac and cheese, but give my Other a box of Betty Crocker Julienne Potatoes and watch a grown man cry!
Frozen burger patties...wha????
I put EVERYTHING in the dishwasher. Measure water in the measuring cup? DISHWASHER.
I have a very well known love affair with Dawn and Clorox Clean Up.
I use 2 paper towels folded over on my drainboard as my "garbage bowl".
I use gloves for any form of handling meat, cutting garlic/onions or mixing anything by hand.
I rather enjoy frozen spinach, broccoli spears and canned corn (salsa!).
I would rather stick an ice pick in my cornea than ever use Kraft grated parm or the blue box of .79 salt.
I won't make pudding from a box. Milk, egg, brown sugar, cornstarch and a bit of vanilla and butter is all it takes for a great butterscotch pudding. Sub white sugar and add a melted square or two of chocolate for chocolate pudding. You have to whisk the boxed mix for the same amount of time and it tastes so artificial.
Boxed jello is an entirely different animal...
I never use nonstick pans and never will.
I hate sifting, and I usually just mix whatever I need to with a fork. If it requires sifting, I won't make it. I was a baker for 3 years, and I have sifted mountains of powdered sugar. Never again.
I really value pre-cut vegetables. I'm in school and I work, and it's the easiest way for me to get produce during the week. Love the pre-cuts. Love.
Margarine in baked goods where there should be butter. I can tell, and it ruins it for me.
Canned vegetables. Blech. Unless it's corn, and then for some reason it's ok.
Baking mixes are simply not worth the time and calories. I need real, painfully chocolate brownies and light yet buttery cakes if I'm going to have anything at all.
I use frozen peas and berries. (On the other hand, I loathe the soft texture of frozen carrots.)
I love my immersion blender. I could use it every day. It has made my life so much easier in so many ways. It's love.
I find something very pleasant about grinding spices in a mortar and pestle, or a coffee grinder, but I do use preground spices. Dislike the flavor of preground nutmeg, though. And I don't buy curry powder.
I like these frozen, made up (but uncooked) samosas from Deep. Those are pretty good. But I am not wildly enthusiastic about frozen uncooked Indian breads (often found in Asian markets).
Since I bought a scale, I've really become quite enamored with the whole measuring bit. That being said, I can be sloppy with some measurements especially for things like spices in baked goods.
- never peel fruits and veggies (let alone chickpeas! sheesh!!), seed tomatoes
- always use "better than bouillion"
- when baking, never wash bowls/spoons that have only held dry ingredients - just blow them clean!
- use canned tomatoes in anything/everything except salad
- pre-grated parmesan
- cool whip/canned whip
- pie crust
- supermarket sweets
- always sift all dry things together when baking - not for measurement purposes, but because i figure things get distributed better (doesn't really use up an extra bowl, though - see above)
great thread. thanks!
This thread is hilarious! Tons of posts where I cringe at all the "I dos," and then then "I don'ts" are mostly things that are just fine by me ;)
I buy pre-chopped garlic--freshly prepped, not jarred. Same for onion, which is such a lifesaver--but *not* celery, as I must have mostly celery heart and leaves, and very carefully choose the bunch with this in mind.
I also would never, ever buy a frozen hamburger patty. I often ask the butcher to leave my ground meat fluffy and not "squush" it when wrapping it. Squeezing ground meat in any way ruins the texture ...
HA! What a great post!
- I buy pre-peeled garlic, but never pre-chopped.
- I always buy pie crust and then just crimp the edges to make it look home made (but if someone asks, I chuckle and admit the truth).
- I never salt my eggplant, and don't really notice the difference.
- I never measure my herbs, unless handfulls count.
- The handsoap on my counter is gone; I'm resorting to using dish soap.
- I plan my chopping line-up so as to use one knife and and only having to wash that when I'm done chopping (goes something like this: bread, veggies, poultry/fish/meat).
- I use canned beans, and a skinned garbanzo will never cross my countertop.
- I use Cool-Whip and spray whipped cream, but very rarely. I don't make whipped cream.
- I can't be bothered to time anything.
- If something requires 10 bowls of mise-en-place, I'm not cooking it.
- I use brownie mixes (and canned icing on top of that - but that's the only acceptable application for canned icing, I swear!)
- I use the oven for cooking bacon (just put it in there and forget it for a while).
- I use frozen pearl onions when necessary - I'm never, ever going to peel them.
- We eat tacos made with Ortega/Old El Paso mix.
- I like blue box mac and cheese made only with water and will eat the cold leftovers.
- I mix my salad dressing in the same bowl as the salad.
- I don't peel tomatoes, unless it's really worth it (which it almost never is).
- I buy pizza dough from our local pizza shop when I want "home made" pizza but have no time to make crust.
- I don't wash pre-bagged lettuce.
- I buy the supermarket roasted chicken.
- I wisk my flour in the container before I measure it out.
Avoid at all cost:
- Pre-chopped garlic
- Grocery store bread, including pre-packaged.
- Boxed cakes with canned icing (except brownies, which are delicious!)
- 20 ingredient recipes
- Anything pre-packaged or "just-add-water" (except, ironically, mac and cheese)
- Pre-made cookie dough
- I do not eat things that have been marinated in bottled salad dressing.
- Buttercreams that taste like shortening.
I can't live without the pre-minced garlic that comes in the jar.
I don't use brownie mixes but often think that I should, since my brownies from scratch come nowhere near the chewy wonderful brownies my mother made from the box when I was a kid.
I don't own a sifter and so skip that step. I didn't realize the consequences on measurements until reading this thread!
I use low-sodium stock from a container in my soups.
I find that it saves time (albeit not much) to keep a bowl for peels and ends on the counter while I am peeling/trimming veggies.
Skipping sifting doesn't always have consequences on measurements, teaspoon. If a recipe calls for 2 cups sifted flour than yes, you need to sift the flour first and then measure out the 2 cups. In this case, sifting is necessary to get the proper measurement. BUT, if a recipe calls for 2 cups flour, sifted--you measure out the 2 cups before you sift...or before you don't sift!
Just because I've done so much research and experimentation on brownies, I feel I should ask if you've tried the Joy of Cooking "Brownies Cockaigne" recipe. If not, try it, unless you've resigned yourself to using a mix. They come out really chewy, and if you double the amount of chocolate (roughly, I probably use a bit less than double, but then it's a very forgiving recipe in that way), they come out really chewy and really chocolate-y.
I haven't tried that recipe, but I certainly will now. I had actually just resigned myself to never making brownies! But since that can't last long, I am glad to have a recommendation for a recipe. I will find it and try it - very soon, I think. Oh - as far as sifting - you know, I'd never thought about the order of the words in terms of whether sifting was necessary, but that makes tons of sense and makes me feel slightly better about my lapses. :) Thanks very much to all.
I would suggest Maida Heatter's South Beach brownies. Really any of Maida's brownies are fabulous, but this one is particularly good if you like a moist brownie. I'm certain that a restaurant chain I go to occasionally uses this recipe (or rather, whoever bakes for them does).
Try the ultimate Belgian Choc brownies at TJ's--I think they are Dassaant brand in a TJ's box. I add an extra T each of good ground cocoa and walnut oil to the mix. Bake in middle of oven and remove when the sides begin to pull away from the pan. They are consistently moist. I just am trying to save the measure & mess of dry ingredients. I used to insist on brownies from scratch till I found these.
One breadmaking shortcut I will not take is dumping yeast directly into the dry ingredients and mixing the dough without letting it bloom in the warm liquid ingredients first. This way you know you have active yeast without waiting and hour to find out your dough is not rising. Naturally, I did have to learn this the hard way - more than once.
This is a good thread. Funny thing is, I think it's shortcuts like these that explain why, after making a particular recipe several times, people think "hey, it's just not as good as the first time I made it!"
Having said that, I do it all the time! I make my own stock, but when that runs out I'm happy to use store-bought. Also, if I use stock cubes or granules, I never mix it in a separate container. I always crumble the cube into the pot and add water.
If I remember to soak dried beans, I use them. But I have a stock of good canned ones just in case.
I love my stick blender. You can pry it from my cold, dead hands.
I never salt eggplant, and only peel a tomato if I really feel I have to.
I've never fried my meatballs. Not because I'm lazy; my grandmother just didn't teach me that way. Just cook em in the sauce.
I cannot be bothered to sift anything.
Per an earlier post: I can't believe anyone out there peels chickpeas. Say it isn't so!
I always make my own tomato sauce. No exceptions.
I grind my own spices.
I almost never buy baked sweet things. I prefer to make them myself.
Thanks to Lahey and Bittman, I almost never buy bread (except pita).
I don't buy any canned or boxed soups.
ok, I am not neurotic or OCD, but I had to try the peeled chickpea thing for the superior hummous as per previous CH recs, and I do not lie: it was so much better! I figured that manuvering my arms over a bowl instead of using them to shovel snacks into my mouth while I watched TV for half an hour was worth a shot, and it was!
Lately I have been dumping my salt/baking powder/baking soda in with the wet ingredients, giving it a quick whirl to mix it in and then adding the flour. I think I am being paranoid, but I feel like it will distribute the leavening agents better this way without me being fearful of overworking my batter. would anybody see a problem with this method?
Since both baking powder and soda are activated by liquid, my concern would be that you might lose some leavening power if you didn't get the cake/brownie/whatever into the oven quickly. I don't think 5 minutes would make a huge difference, especially if there is powder which is also activated a second time by heat, but if you got distracted while mixing, it could affect the texture.
That is an interesting point about being activated. So far I haven't noticed a problem, but I tend to mix the batter and get it in the oven quickly. Maybe my technique is better for cakes and brownies rather than cookies since cookie batter can sit around for longer periods waiting to be baked.
I am a slob.
I often don't peel fruits or vegetables. I never mix together dry ingredients for baking in a separate bowl. I super-double-never mix something in a bowl only to dump all the contents right into a baking pan (e.g., apples and seasonings for apple crisp). (What IS that? Sometimes I think recipe writers get pleasure out of the thoguht of people washing a lot of dishes.) I use canned broth. I honestly have never even heard of cracking eggs anywhere but the side of the bowl. I never wash chicken--again, I never even heard of this until after decades of eating unwashed chicken without incident had elapsed. I often don't measure spices, vanilla, etc. I am not organized enough to marinate anything. I whack nuts with a mallet (inside a plastic bag) instead of chopping them with a knife. I cheerfully ignore any instruction to chop cranberries. I don't let eggs come to room temperature, because I really don't plan that far ahead. I never use a double boiler. I also do the thing of throwing vegetables in with the boiling pasta. I use canned beans. I never remove the seeds from tomatoes (I like them, okay?). I don't sift, though I have been known to regret it (and I don't bake anything all that delicate, partly owing to my hatred of sifting). I don't wash bagged lettuce/spinach. I will not do anything that involves slicing corn kernels off the cob (but I would use frozen corn for that).
However, I absolutely will not use boxed mac-and-cheese, cake/brownie mixes, Cool Whip, or even the whipped cream in a can. Or instant oatmeal in a packet, yuck. And I'm pretty much off canned soup lately.
Ah, there's one of mine ... no Bisquick, or shortening in any form, at my house. Agree on the butter ... and it's almost always organic, though I made an exception for Plugra recently.
I do always sift when the recipe calls for it. When I was a novice baker, I thought it wasn't necessary because my mother didn't do it. It's an absolute must in order to get the measurements right. Depending on the recipe, I might use this shortcut: use a fork to transfer the flour to the measuring cup. This takes care of the measurement problem, but doesn't do everything that sifting does.
Well, at this point in life, I'm more proficient at baking then cooking. As a result, I make less shortcuts with cooking because I don't always know which are crucial steps and which are skip-able.
As for baking...I RARELY sift my dry ingredients. *Maybe* if I'm trying a new recipe, but even then, I usually don't bother. I'd rather put in a little extra elbow grease, if necessary. Though I had to beat some cream cheese frosting I made the other day for quite a while to get rid of the tiny lumps!
I will use a boxed cake mix (sometimes doctored, sometimes not) but I'd never use a canned frosting.
I will use a refrigerated/frozen pie crust or puff pastry, but I'd never use any kind of pre-made filling.
I'd eat packaged cookies but won't touch a grocery store cake or cupcakes.
Except for when I want authentic San Marzanos, I cannot STAND using canned tomatoes. Unfortunately, I find I have to, often, for six or more months of the year, after our farm stands close. It bugs me a lot, but supermarket tomatoes around here are godawful.
I always remove the seeds from tomatoes.
I always wash or rinse everything, then give it a little spray with vinegar. I mean, everything, including eggs, garlic and onions. If I'm really worried about something (e.g., celery with a lot of dirt inside the base), after washing it, I give it a little rub with hydrogen peroxide, then rinse it again. (Too many stories re E-coli from spinach, scallions, etc.)
I won't serve or cook with canned soups in my home, for fear of killing us all with salt, and I make and freeze a lot of stock, since we love soups, but...fesses up...sometimes I *will* use prepared low-sodium stock.
I always break each egg separately into a ramekin before adding to a recipe.
Except for the finest textured, special occasion cakes, I don't sift my dry ingredients. I dump 'em in and then whisk 'em.
I don't use many fresh herbs, because they generally look rotten in the store (darned sprayers!). However, I always buy herbs and spices from spice specialists, not the grocery store, and I grind the spices in a mortle & pestle. World of difference. Exceptions to the dried herbs...I have good luck with fresh rosemary and always buy that. Sometimes in the summer the basil looks nice and not wilted, so I always scarf that up.
I have no problem with using frozen vegetables if the fresh item doesn't look good or is out of season. However, I ALWAYS check the bag to make sure no salt was added.
I never use canned vegetables.
I always use dried beans/legumes, rather than canned.
I'm paranoid about leaving food at room temp and skip that usually before adding ingredients and put cooked left-overs in the fridge sometimes *before* we actually eat (if I know something won't go for seconds).
I "always" wash my hands with soap and follow up with that hand gel. (Always in this case means "constantly, neurotically". Like, not only if I touch raw meat, but if I touch *anything* other than the knife and food. I wash my hands about once every two minutes while I'm cooking, and go through one or two rolls of paper towels every day, half a dozen cutting mats/boards for one dinner, half a dozen dish towels. I'm insane, but, OTOH, I can't remember the last time anyone in the house got tummy trouble due to skimpy kitchen sanitation around here.
Wow! You may be my twin in an upside-down opposite parallel universe. Let's see:
I don't ever mind using Muir Glen fire-roasted canned tomatoes if garden fresh are not available.
Never seed or peel tomatoes. If the recipe suffers because of it, I don't make that recipe again.
I never wash fruits or vegetables, unless guests are coming. (Or if there's visible dirt, I guess. Although sometimes I'll just rub it off with my fingers. Granted, I do occasionally end up with green salads a little on the crunchy side.) Most of my produce comes from my CSA, my garden, or is grown by other local farms. I trust that they are not downriver from industrial pig or beef operations and thus reducing risk of e.coli. On the other hand if I do get sick, I know who to go talk to about it.
I always use store bought stock, although recently it sounds like I should feel guilty for doing so. I'm a fan of canned and boxed soups. It's one of the few "processed" foods still in my house.
Egg, schmegg. Straight into the bowl.
I rarely use frozen veggies, just because I think the broccoli cuts are too small. And I try to eat in season as much as possible. I actually had to knock myself on the head and remind myself it was OKAY to buy a cucumber in the middle of winter.
I use canned beans with no sense of shame.
I do try to get the leftovers put away after dinner, but sometimes my husband will leave a pot of cooked egg noodles (drained) on the stove for several days. I'm not sure if he eats them or ends up tossing them. Oh, and we defrost meat on the cement floor in our basement.
Only wash hands, changes knives or cutting boards after cutting meats.
Okay, here we agree: I never sift, just spoon lightly into measuring cup.
I do use fresh herbs when possible (we have a great year-round local herb farmer, tho' seems expensive). But I keep must on hand in dried form as well. I've been amazed by the quality of Penzey's herbs. I keep many spices in both whole and ground forms, depending on my mood. My latest "shortcuts" that I'm still trying to rationalize are Penzey's blended Indian curries, and ground black pepper. I love freshly ground pepper, but if a recipe needs more than 1/2 teaspoon, the pre-ground stuff looks pretty good. (Again - from Penzey's and surprisingly potent.)
Oh, and no reports of food poisoning.
And for the record - no premade pie crusts or pizza crusts; no cool whip (ugh! when the first two ingredients are partionally hydrogenated oil and corn syrup, how can you do that?); no cake mix, brownie mix, bisquik. I don't wash chicken - I've heard that doing so is potentially more dangerous as the germs may get splashed around the sink, countertop, dishes, etc.
"Jenny is my cooking soulmate."
I'll second that, except I learned my lesson after cracking a bad egg into a bowl of cookie dough. Fortunately, I had more butter and sugar on hand.
I do usually wash salad greens. Even the ones we grow--especially the ones we grow, on second thought--have a tendency to be gritty.
Seriously, I have never, ever cracked a bad egg. Although I did crack one a couple weeks ago that had 2 yolks. Cool! Twins.
I got a great tip on cleaning lettuces today (as I said, I frequently suffer through gritty salads). Fill the sink with water, and hold the head of lettuce upside down to float out a lot of the dirt. I'm going to try that next spring.
I don't peel vegetables, fruit or chickpeas.
I use frozen produce in cooked dishes (like soup or stew).
I don't salt eggplant.
I don't measure vanilla, spices or dried fruit/nuts in baking.
I use storebought stock and some sauces (esp. Asian sauces).
I use the microwave to precook some things, soften butter, make popcorn.
I don't sautée veggies for soup.
I don't buy canned soup or jarred spaghetti sauce.
I don't use the seasoning packet that comes with noodles.
I skip most instant foods/ingredients: potatoes, oatmeal, rice, pudding, etc.
I make my own granola.
I use mostly whole spices instead of ground.
I am very picky about cooking/baking processes. You can take shortcuts and make OK food but OK food is not what I want. Cooking is such a passion for me that I am always trying to achieve perfection. It's a lofty goal and one I almost never achieve but I set my sights high so I will produce the best I can every time. I hate the tiny red "cigars" that form from cooked tomato skins so I always peel them. I don't like tasting sweet peppers for hours after I eat them so I peel peppers too.
Perhaps the only concession I make is to use store bought chicken stock where it is just an ingredient (1/2 a cup or so) and not the star of the show.
By taking so called shortcuts you can make OK or even good food but by making only a little more effort you can make exceptional food so why not strive for the best?
I never sift powdered sugar, even for frosting.
For baking--I microwave butter to get it to room temp at 25%ish full power. I put eggs in my pocket to warm up instead of letting them sit for half an hour or so.
I break asparagus rather than peeling or cutting closer to the bottom.
If I'm feeling really lazy, I throw in vegetables with pasta that's cooking, for the last few minutes.
I never measure peanut butter, vanilla, mayonnaise.
I eat cold mac and cheese out of the refrigerator from the container, with my fingers.
re: babette feasts
BF--I use a coffee cup for heating eggs because of the taller narrower shape. Or if they go in with milk (pancakes, etc.) I nuke the milk and blend the two together.
I had to laugh about the eggs in pocket, though it is ingeneious, I'd smack it against a cupboard and have a mess in my pocket!
As eggs go, I don't do it when I have tighter jeans on. :-) Only looser pants--fleece works best. But, I wouldn't change my pants to warm up eggs...I've also given them to my kids to hold in their hands since they're the reason I bake last minute anyway. Probably more danger there with them breaking.
Eggs - if I need to warm them up quickly and the stove or oven is on for something else, I place them on the stove top until they warm up a bit.
Butter - I cut it up into small pieces, put in a zip lock, then smush it up w/ my hands to soften. Or, I put it on the radiator a bit. A friend of mine runs the microwave empty for a minute, then puts in the butter, and it softens pretty quickly.
I should probably add things I always do...
I never use mixes, always bake from scratch
I always sear meat when I'm making a stew-type dish, especially if it's for the crockpot
I don't use precut veggies and fruits, though I will buy packaged salads, if they're a mix of greens
I bake my own bread, though, if I'm really tired and don't have time will resort to using the bread maker to make the dough.
I always taste cookie dough to make sure it's okay before baking...repeatedly...I never make a short cut here.
Not anal: use the microwave for a lot of things that I've learned over the years (baked and mashed potatoes, steamed fish, cornstarch and water base for quick thick white sauces (for my home alone foods), burgers or rice using plastic devices (again, for my home alone foods), never remove tomato skins, now and then store bought dough to roll out for pizza or calzones...
Very anal: breads, pies, the rest of my sauces, home made yogurt, stocks, soups, most Japanese food, knifework, fresh foods...
I have no problem using salted butter in baking, but I do adjust the salt the recipe calls for.
I occasionally use old spices, but I tend to use 1/2 or even doubled the amounts.
I will use canned stock on occasion in certain recipes.
I break eggs on the side of the mixer or the bowl, instead of a separate plate.
I forgot to add what I cannot tolerate,
Poor knife work. It is a easy skill to learn, and so valuable that makes me crazy that someone cannot properly prep veggies and do the basic meat cuts.
Cooking with preparation. A properly placed Mise en place is mandatory for good cooking and someone who runs all over the kitchen as they cook drives me crazy.
Sanitation and cleanup - nothing more needs to be said.
Jarred sauces and mixes. It is too easy to prepare the genuine article, besides life is too short to eat bad food.
People who put pans, knives, and other cooking utensils in a dishwaster. Dishwashers ruin things, and its too easy to wash them yourself. My sister does this and it drives me CRAZY.
I very seldom measure ingredients when cooking savory dishes, and occasionally do the same when baking. If you understand the process and techniques, you can can dispense with exact measurements.
"Cooking with preparation. A properly placed Mise en place is mandatory for good cooking and someone who runs all over the kitchen as they cook drives me crazy."
Good thing you've not cooked with me ;-). Though, my kitchen is so small there is no room to run about! And I'm usually pretty much done/have everything organized by the time guests arrive.
Exactly - I do do this for Indian/Asian cooking and for some reason actually found it helpful for the cooking I did from MAFC - seemed like I had a lot of things that had to be done at the last minute, so I needed to be prepared. But, generally, I get one dish going at the first stage, then move on to the next etc.
"A properly placed Mise en place is mandatory for good cooking and someone who runs all over the kitchen as they cook drives me crazy."
This is rather a false dichotomy -- instead of a properly placed mise en place, someone could just have an organized kitchen that eliminates the need to run anywhere. That being said, I hate watching people touch their cabinets with ground meat stuck on their hands from mixing meatloaf to rummage around for salt or whatever. Repulsive. That and salad in a bag that is NOT washed at home.
re: brittle peanut
re: brittle peanut
not the organic ones - and you shouldn't have to wash bagged greens, they are triple washed before it's bagged. If I was going to wash them, I'd just buy the regular ones and save the environment from the packaging - or buy them at the farmers market and support the local economy! :-)
re: Alice Q
I don't know what experience you have in this but I've worked for a couple of major producers of bagged produce and no one picks up the greens by hand (if that is a problem for you, though, restaurants might be a problem, unless you're prepared to wash your food from the kitchen) to bag them after they've been washed and machines that bag them are very clean and washed often. There are no chemical preservatives in them either. I agree w/ Alice Q that I'd rather buy greens from the local farmers market and clean them myself. But, if I were spending the money on bagged greens, I wouldn't be wasting my time washing. That's what you are paying for. They're processed in a much cleaner environment than my kitchen.
You don't measure baking powder, soda, yeast, etc.? One can understand how baking soda works and still add too much or too little, and the final product will reflect the error. Yes, you can estimate, but that can be tricky unless you're making the same recipe every day or at least several times a week.
I always measure chemical leavenings very accurately , as they are crucial to baking success. Yeast is very forgiving, especially with long fermented products. Flour and sugar are usually weighed, but spices, other then salt are guesstimated.
Yeast raised breads tend to be very forgiving, and you can play loose with measurements, much more so than cakes and pastries.
I never measure when I am cooking savory dishes, unless it is the first time to make a dish.
You're one ballsy baker, my friend! I would rather add too little than too much yeast, as a slower rise contributes flavor. Too much spice can lead to the "ack!" factor pretty easily, too. When I'm going to spend the time baking, I want it to turn out well as often as possible. Perhaps I'm pickier than many...
I use jarred marinara sauces and indian sauces dressed up a little with my own seasonings and/or fresh vegetables, meatballs or sausage, etc. It would take me hours to make them from scratch, and I don't have the room to store them frozen, etc.
I also do approximate measurements - especially with seasonings, etc. I pull out the jars and sniff them to get a feel for what I'm adding and the potency, then add what seems like the right amount - sometimes I have to add more later to get it right. If I wind up making it too spicy, I find sweetening to taste with agave nectar helps cut the bitterness. Works great for Indian and Mexican dishes.
Other shortcuts are boxed organic free range stock (if I had the storage space though I'd make my own), frozen garlic that comes in cubes, ready made Trader Joes pie crust, bagged greens, and serving salads instead of cooked vegetables. I also occasionally use those microwave packages of pre-cut veggies from Trader Joes, the green beans, butternut squash and sweet potato fries are very good. They also sell pre-chopped onions, but I usually do my own since they are a lot cheaper and they don't keep well. I do occasionally chop vegetables in the mini chopper or food processor if I'm doing a lot and they will be strained out, but if anyone's going to see them, I hand chop them.
I pre-slice bread into pieces that fit in the toaster, and put them in the freezer (cut it in half, cut each half in thirds, then stand each piece on end and slice across the middle) pull them out of the freezer and toast for fresh bread with dinner.
I also put eggs in warm water to bring them to room temperature, and I use the microwave to soften butter, melt chocolate, etc.
I use the microwave sometimes to bake a potato or par cook apples for a pie, but I don't like it for bacon.
Speaking of spuds, I always use real potatoes, never instant from a box.
I won't ever use cool whip. I make fresh whipped cream if I can. in a real pinch I'll use the canned real stuff.
I don't understand pre-formed hamburger patties in the market. They cost more and don't taste as good as a free formed burger.
I once made the absolute laziest chicken pot pie in order to use up some of my son's boy scout camping supplies, and it was definitely serviceable:
Leftover cooked poultry
Frozen peas and carrots
A can of white potatoes, chopped
Jar of chicken gravy
Combine and pour into a two-crust Pillsbury pie shell, and bake at 400 till done.
The baking shortcut that really makes me cringe is people buying cookie dough to make decorated cookies for Christmas. Ugh.
One shortcut I take is I never peel potatoes before mashing. I use Yukon Gold, and make them in the KitchenAid. The paddle attachment catches most of the peels and I consider those that are left ... decorative.
Oh, I am with you on both of these one hundred percent. The pre-made cookie dough is just horrible and the texture is just not right. I had one "baker" show up with a tray of these little horrors wrapped around whole Hershey kisses (at least she removed the foil!) because she saw the recipe in one of those women's magazines. It was apparently a recipe written by Hershey. They were just awful.
I have the ability to handle hot pototoes after many years of cooking, as most cooks who somehow develop insulated fingertips, so I usually boil them with the skins and then just pull the skins off easily. Sometimes they are a little too hot and I'll use a knife to scrape them quickly, but it is much faster than peeling raw.
I'm from the East Coast and, throughout the '80s, I traveled to California often. There I discovered Ghirardelli, which was regional back then and not available back here. I fell in love with the stuff. So...every time I went to California, I pigged out and stocked up on everything Ghiradelli.
About ten years later, I made friends on line with a small group of ladies from California and we used to have conference phone calls. One day, discussing chocolate, as we girls like to do, I mentioned that I loved Ghirardelli. One of them started laughing at me, and asked how I could eat that tasteless, generic junk. She told me that Hershey's was much better, she wished she could get it out there more often, and I really should up my standards. (*Rolls eyes*.)
My British former stepfather-in-law, pretty much a bon vivant/gourmand/epicurean/however we want to put it, lived in London and used to have his weekly groceries delivered from Harrod's food halls and Fauchon in Paris. He had a generous heart, and we surely ate and drank well when with him, but he was pretty obnoxious (read: elitist) about his food. He LOVED Hershey's, though. He used to say it was better than "all that cr** the French and Swiss use to rip-off Americans" (his words, not mine!), and had a little carry-on bag he'd pack up with Hershey's to take home, whenever he came to visit.
LOL. I guess whatever we can't have ourselves becomes exotic???
I don't care what either of them say. I still like Ghirardelli and all the usual European suspects.
I tend to agree, what's not famliar does take on an exotic quality. I live near Hershey PA, and have evn worked inthe area, it's amazing in the morning near the plant, the whole town smells like chocolate chip cookies baking. I think kisses are good if common, LOVE Ghiradelli, and would fight for Droste LOL. Guess I'm just a chocoholic!!! Another chocolate I really loved was Maribou, sold by Hershey but imported, haven't seen those in years.
I'm totally doing this for a cookie exchange tomorrow. Well, I actually plan on buying already baked cookies, decorating them, and passing them off as home made.
I will admit the "recipe" if asked, but I will not give it up otherwise.
I hate baking. If I could bring 10 jars of homemade jam, I would, but that's not the deal.
That reminds me of last year's cutout cookie fiasco. My sisters and I decided to make a bunch of cutout cookies at the last minute, but the cookie cutters we had were not Christmas themed. We went to three grocery stores, four pharmacies and a 7-11 and came up with only 4 Christmas cookie cutters, and every single employee we asked directed us to the slice-and-bake. So in the end we ended up with a fair number of Christmas dinosaurs and such, but they looked at tasted good anyway.
foiegras, you've hit upon one of my biggest pet peeves about Sandra Lee. Queen of shortcuts, she buys Pillsbury chub sugar cookies then spends and hour decorating them. Really? Want to show you care at the holidays. How about bake from effen scratch?
"Homemade" cookie platters that show up at my workplace are often of the sugar cookie/ chocolate kiss; chocolate dipped pretzels, "assembly" type. At least that makes it easier to walk away.
SERIOUSLY, this is what I don't understand about my fellow humans. Mixing up your own cookie dough is EASY, and commercial pre-made dough tastes bad. Decorating cookies is a PITA and doesn't make them taste any better. This is part of a larger rant in my mind about people who want to fulfill some abstract, visual concept of "lovingly made cookies" (or "food" in general) but fundamentally don't understand that the purpose of cookies is to taste good.
I loathe the ads on TV that show a mother with her kids taking pre-formed dough balls out of the package and placing on a baking tray then popping in the oven, with the announcer intoning something about the joys of baking together. On second thought, though, I guess they are *baking* together...
Yeah, I'd have to agree that mixing up cookie dough from scratch is fairly easy (although doing the commercial kind is probably cheaper in the short run since there wouldn't be a bunch of ingredients to buy). I made Christmas cookie trays for work for the first time ever and mixed multiple batches of cookie dough for the first time in 15-16 years. In one night's baking (about six hours), I was able to bake four different types of drop cookies and two pans of Rice Krispie Treats for a total of about 15 dozen cookies and treats that went into six cookie trays with 2-3 dozen leftovers (and this from someone who is the total novice baker).
I don't dislike pre-made cookie dough, but there IS something pretty cool about being able to confidently state, "Yes, I made all of these" and know that they didn't taste like they were from pre-made cookie dough.
However, you really have to enjoy what you're doing, right? So, maybe not everyone wants to spend hours in the kitchen baking cookies. OTOH, I never would've put together cookie trays to give away if they were of the refrigerator dough variety. I just can't take any pride in putting together giveaway trays of those.
I wouldn't give nasty sugar cookies a second thought, but I have a serious weakness for the peanut blossoms as long as the cookie part is homemade. The flourless PB cookie recipe is so crazy easy and good there's no excuse not to make it -- but I like them equally well with Hershey's kisses or good dark chocolate. I think kisses are one of my comfort food items, which doesn't stop me from liking better chocolate just as well.
I use garlic powder rather than chopping garlic into millions of little pieces when I am in a hurry.
I also NEVER brown meatballs that are going into spaghetti sauce, and I get raves over my recipe. I wait for the sauce to come up to temperature (and it can get up to 240 degrees, like lower temp frying oil) and carefully drop the meatballs into the pot. I let them cook, undisturbed, for at least ten minutes. The sauce sears the meatballs, and I have cut out the extra oil introduced by frying. Works best with lean ground beef, veal or pork -- that high fat stuff will cause oil slicks on top of the sauce in the pot.
Not washing fruits, veggies and herbs like parsley and basil makes me cringe. I don't understand people who won't rinse off a dirty mushroom and use a brush. Not washing poultry before cooking makes me get the willies.