Readers are constantly e-mailing this Kitchen Shrink for advice on assorted culinary crises. I recently received one from a panicked cook who was hosting a holiday gathering. When she inserted a first generation-style meat thermometer into a crown roast of lamb — and it snapped in half — I recommended Chinese take-out for dinner.
Here's a batch of tried-and-true food handling, storing and cooking tips for your collection. Some of these I stumbled upon by serendipity while searching for help to prevent or repair culinary glitches. The rest were gathered from other food-impassioned solution seekers and, of course, thoroughly tested in my kitchen before being added to the list.
Say Cheese: When shredding hard and semi-soft cheeses, coat the grater with a non-stick olive oil spray for faster clean-up and less wastage.
Chill Out: For easier handling of beef, lamb, chicken or fish for soup, stew and stir-fry preparations, pop in the freezer for an hour or two. This makes it more manageable to slice or cube without shredding the fibers. Onions are also kinder on the eyes when frozen — no more tears when dicing or slicing these icy bulbs.
Herbal Essence: Enrich the flavor of soups and sauces by adding the herbs and spices during the last five minutes of cooking so they maintain their potency.
Your Main Squeeze: To get the most juice out of a lemon, keep at room temperature for a day (or immerse into a bowl of hot water for a few minutes), then, with your palm, roll on a hard surface until the rind feels supple and the lemon softer.
Cook's Tip: After you have squeezed the last drop, plastic-wrap tightly the remaining pulp and rind, then freeze to use later for cake batters, risottos, or other lip-puckering dishes.
Flour Power: So that bugs don't take up residence in your flour stash, store it in a wide-mouth glass jar and add a bay leaf.
Use Your Noodle: To prevent pasta from its maddening tendency of sticking together, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the boiling water before immersing the noodles. Strain when done, and gently blend another tablespoon or two of olive oil (per package) into the pasta. Cook's Tip: Prepare al dente any pasta you intend to bake or cook further — such as lasagna, ziti or stuffed shells.
Eat, Drink and Be Berry: The easiest way of preventing pesky mold from forming on berries is to rinse only the amount you plan to eat or serve right away. If, however, you intend to keep berries in the refrigerator for a few days, give them a quick rinse first in a weak dilution of water and apple-cider vinegar, drain in a sieve and air-dry for an hour, then refrigerate in an open bowl.
Brown Out: To stave off sliced apples from oxidizing and turning brown simply squirt with lemon juice before storing or serving.
Spud Smarts: Keep potatoes in a cool, dark place until ready to be cooked. Spuds tend to rot faster when onions are stored nearby. Use potatoes before they get a chance to germinate. Scrub them with a brush and rinse with cold water. Examine the root carefully and gouge and discard each sprouted "eye" before cooking. (Sprouting tendrils contain a mild toxin the plant creates to protect its offspring).
In A Nutshell: Since nuts and seeds have a high fat content and tend to go rancid rather quickly, store in tightly closed glass containers in the refrigerator or freezer to keep light and moisture out. They generally last four months in the fridge, and eight in the freezer with their texture intact. Nuts and seeds also have a habit of picking up tastes and odors of nearby foods, so it's best to keep them in solitary confinement. Taste before use because a few rancid pieces can ruin a dish.
•••• Recipe: Sweet & Savory Toasted Nut Combo
• 1 cup assorted shelled nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, your choice)
• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
• Cayenne pepper (to taste)
• 1/4 teaspoon powdered cumin
• A dash of nutmeg
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons butter (low-cholesterol version: use walnut, almond, sesame or sunflower oil)
• 1/2 cup dried cherries, cranberries or raisins (optional)
• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
In a mixing bowl, combine salt and spices. Set aside. In a skillet, melt butter or heat oil on medium, add nuts and toast. Add remaining ingredients and teaspoon of water. Cook on low until sugar is melted. Spread mixture on parchment-lined cookie sheet and cool. Store in airtight containers.
Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org