One of the great things to come from the internet is the availability of well-thought-out, expert and practical advice on cooking.
I regularly trawl sites like thekitchn.com, food52.com and epicurious.com for tips on topics that range from food-making to time-saving to how-tos. When I find something I like, I cut and paste it into a document on my computer to save for later use, because after almost 21 years as the food editor at the News-Democrat, I’ve learned that there’s a lot I don’t know. And that readers likely will be as interested as me in what I discover.
I’ve been in an early spring cleaning mode and decided to put together and share some of what I’ve stored up over the last six months or so. Bet you find something that will help you out in the kitchen.
3 tips to whisk it, whisk it good
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Not long ago, America’s Test Kitchen ran an experiment and proved, once and for all, that there is a right way and a wrong way to whisk different foods (i.e. whipped cream, meringue, vinaigrettes).
1. Side to side is the way to go. The ATK folks found that for all applications they tested, whisking side to side is a reliable way to get whatever result you’re after: from an aerated heavy cream to a vinaigrette that’ll hold together for a little while. Simply stirring in a circular direction in the bowl? Relatively useless. That’s because the back-and-forth nature of side-to-side whisking increases the amount of “shear force” — not a typo but an actual scientific term — applied to whatever is being mixed.
2. There’s only one reason for beating. If you’re used to whisking in a looping motion that lifts your liquid out of the bowl, you can hold on to that for one application only: egg whites. That’s because the viscosity of egg whites helps them cling to the tines of the whisk, allowing the protein structure to trap more air.
3. Pro tip: rotate the bowl. Whichever way you’re whisking, here’s a shortcut: use whichever hand is not holding the whisk to rotate the bowl while you’re mixing. It further increases the level of agitation, shortening the time from start to finish.
What kind of whisk to own: a simple balloon whisk is really all you need.
Sam Worley at epicurious.com
3 foods you’re better off buying at the supermarket
1. Chips. There’s a reason why homemade chips are a big deal. It’s because they’re a pain in the potato. Even with the perfect frying equipment, you still might end up with french fries that look like chips.
2. Frozen puff pastry. I’d go to the mat for this lifesaver ingredient that makes spanakopita, pastries, spinach puffs and tarts better — and 300 percent easier than homemade puff.
3. Pizza dough. Sure, you can pull off pizza dough in a food processor with no problem. But in the time it takes to knead, punch down and roll out dough, you could just pick up a perfectly good dough from the grocery store.
Tommy Werner at epicurious.com
3 tips on keeping, eating cheese
Jordan Edwards, a cheesemonger at Chicago’s best cheese shop, Pastoral, has a few suggestions for keeping cheese alive.
1. Buy cheese in small quantities. Cheese ages best when it’s part of a big, airtight wheel. The minute a wedge of cheese is cut from the wheel, it’s exposed to oxygen, and from that moment on, the cheese is losing moisture—especially in your fridge. “Cheese likes humidity, and your fridge sort of dries things out,” Jordan says. For that reason, “You shouldn’t be buying cheese that you can’t get through in a week.”
2. Wrap it right. If it’s in plastic, get it out of it. “The problem with plastic is that cheese is in a constant state of change. There’s evaporation happening, and plastic wrap doesn’t let humidity out. So the cheese sort of sits in water.” Best way to wrap? Wrap cheese in wax or parchment paper first, and follow that with a layer of plastic wrap. Barring that, Jordan conceded that “a Tupperware container would be better than a plastic bag,” because the cheese would have more room to breathe.
3. Eat it at room temp. Jordan threw in a final pointer: “Room temperature cheese tastes better,” he says. “As a society, I feel we’re fairly squeamish about refrigeration. Cheese is sturdy stuff. It’s been made since 11 B.C. There was no refrigeration in ancient Greece, so I think we’re OK with cheese being on the counter for a couple hours.” Just, you know, take it out of the plastic first.
3 tips on baking with chocolate
1. Best way to chop chocolate. For big chunks and heavy bars of chocolate, a long serrated knife is the easiest and fastest way to cut it down to size.
2. Boost chocolate flavor. Up the chocolate flavor of your recipe by adding a shot of espresso or a couple spoonfuls of extra-dark coffee along with the liquid ingredients, or even espresso powder. It will really enhance the chocolate flavor without adding a strong coffee taste.
3. Melt real chocolate, not chips. Unless a recipe specifically calls for chocolate chips, keep them in the pantry and use real chocolate instead — especially when melting chocolate. Chips were formatted to be able to hold their shape, so there are better choices when a recipe calls for melted chocolate.
3 grocery shopping tips
1. Compartmentalize your grocery cart. Put a couple of the store’s plastic baskets in your cart to sort out what you’re buying: if you’re shopping for something special, like a birthday party, alongside your regular grocery shopping, for example. But also use the small baskets when you’re stocking up on meat or produce and need to keep those ingredients separate from bulk or canned items. It helps keep bulky greens, like collards or kale, from getting crushed, too.
2. Park near a cart return. That way you can grab a cart before heading in (if it’s dry), which is especially helpful if you have little shoppers with you. But it saves even more time after unloading. No schlepping the empty cart back to the store.
3. Take your own bags. Use bags you really like (long handles for slinging over your shoulder, sturdy ones that can hold heavier goods) and remember to wash them regularly to keep them smelling fresh and clean. That practice will make you more motivated to use them. Plus, after unpacking, put them back in your car so you’ll have them available next time. Really, how many plastic bags do we need to be collecting, recycling (hopefully) and making again?