We’re more than halfway into January and a couple more lists have come to my attention. Well, one of them must have come in the mail encouraging me to renew my subscription to Rachel Ray’s Everyday magazine. Or maybe it fell out of one of her magazines—I don’t always remember how I acquire bits and pieces of stuff – like someone else’s list. This one was titled 12 Bites of Every Day Food Wisdom from Rachel.
- Recipes: First Things First – Rachel instructs us to always read each menu or recipe through before you begin. It’s the best way to check out your ingredient list and get familiar with the steps. Good tip. I find myself checking the list of ingredients first, then reading through the recipe and then, often as not, I go back and re-read some vital piece of information, like yesterday when I was making pistachio dried cranberry ice box cookies for my daughter in law. I was well into the recipe when I asked myself “wait! Where does the egg fit into this?” Turns out the egg is just an ingredient that gets brushed onto the dough before it goes into the oven.
- Shortcuts: sometimes Okay. Rachel tells us there are times when store bought items simply make sense. For example, she often suggests pre-shredded cheese and pre-cut veggies as options in her recipes. One of my favorite short cut ingredients is pre-made salsa, green or red, that comes in many sizes and varieties. I poured some into my chicken tortilla soup a few days ago to give it the kick that it needed.
- Substitutions: Why Not? Rachel says personally she rarely uses them but it’s up to you. Substitute freely, she says, as you like or need. If you prefer reduced fat cheese and dairy products, she warns, be aware that the consistency of spreads, dips or sauces may be slightly thinner. I just want to add—my youngest son had to give up dairy for health reasons; I began buying soy-based shredded cheddar cheese for him; we tried different varieties until he found one the most palatable. Personally, I despise salt substitutes and would rather use less and stick to the real thing—well, we did graduate to sea salt.
- Smell and Taste as You Go—Rachel says learning about food and flavor is part of developing as a cook. Bu tasting and sniffing your way through different types of recipes, your palate will play matchmaker and you’ll learn how to associate flavors and textures that complement one another. I thought this tip was just about as basic as anything you could learn at your mother’s elbow or in a high school cooking class—and I taste everything as I go. I keep a pan of hot soapy water in the sink to drop the spoons into so there’s no double dipping, but you know what? It amazes me how often a chef on the Food Network program CHOPPED (which I love) hasn’t TASTED his or her recipe as they went along. The judges often ask “Did you taste this?” knowing full well which contestants have or haven’t seasoned a dish. Those judges don’t miss much!
- One-Fell-Swoop Washing. After a trip to the market, says Rachel, unpack, rinse and re-pack greens—like parsley—in plastic bags with damp paper towels before storing in the fridge. It cuts prep time all week. And I want to add, I repack and freeze almost all meats that I buy in quantity. My daughter in law’s tip is to buy large quantities of boneless chicken breasts when on sale and then she repacks and freezes them in one quart size freezer bags. She always has the amount she needs on hand, and the one quart bags take less time to defrost.
- SWEETENING SAUCE: To sweeten tomato sauce, says Rachel, don’t add sugar; add half a mince onion to the garlic beforehand. Let it soften and sweeten over medium low heat for 10 minutes, then add to your tomato products. I confess, this is a new one for me. I can’t wait to try it.
- PACKAGES BROTHS: Broths and stocks have come a long way in the last few years, says Rachel; not only with taste and consistency, but in terms of packaging. They now come in re-sealable containers found in the soup aisle. The proper containers make storage of remaining product super easy. Stock up. I have to agree with this but want to add that I search for any of these products to be on sale and then stock up.
- GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. Rachel keeps a big convenient earthenware garbage bowl on the counter for everything from peelings to pits to plastic wrap as she is cooking. It saves steps and time by eliminating unsanitary and repetitive trips to the trash can across the kitchen and keeps junk out of the sink drain and out of your way. I want to add to that—before we moved to the high desert where it’s not exactly safe to have a compost in a coyote might visit your back yard—Bob had a large compost area in Arleta that was walled in. All the grass clippings and leaves went into the compost along with most compostable-items such as carrot and potato peelings. He had a steady supply of rich compost soil for planting.
- E-Z SLICING-For easy slicing of raw meat, pop it into the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before starting to prepare the meat. This firms it up and you’ll find that it will be easier to control the thickness of slices. (all very true—sls)
- CRUNCHY CAPERS. Roasting gives capers a new flavor. they become a little nutty and earthy and they pop when you bite down! I’d like to add to this that my favorite fish recipe is a white fish sautéed in lemon juice and sprinkled with lemon pepper—then sprinkled with capers.
- Oil & Vinegar. When dressing an oil and vinegar always put the acid (vinegar) on first before the EVOO. If you add the oil first, the oil keeps the acid from getting to the greens, and your salad isn’t really “dressed”. My comment about this one? I never add any kind of salad dressing to salads; I put them on the table for everyone to add their own favorite salad dressing. The leftover greens stay fresh this way.
Happy cooking! Sandy