Like most things in life, timing must be perfect — and cooking, baking and food preparation is no exception. Slice an avocado prematurely and it’s hard and bitter, past its prime and it’s mushy and brown. A door slamming at the very scintilla of time when a soufflé is critically rising can convert the airy delicacy into a pancake, while a salad dressed too long before serving will limp into a soggy mound.
The Time is Ripe
Relish your favorite fruits bursting with sweet juiciness by becoming savvy about their ideal ripeness. Watermelon, the season’s quintessential treat, won’t ripen anymore once plucked from the vine since it doesn’t contain ethylene like bananas or apples. So pick a winner by tapping the side, listening for a hollow sound. It should also have good heft and a nice yellow belly. For cantaloupes, scope out heavy, solid spheres with a sweet musky aroma. A strong sweet smell means it’s overripe.
Perfectly ripe peaches should have a rich golden glow tinged with a pinky blush, a nice rounded shape, and give slightly to finger pressure. You can also buy them green and firm, and let them ripen to your druthers at home.
For picking pineapples, if one of the center leaves can be plucked with ease, then it’s ready, Freddy; if it needs to be yanked out, then it’s not quite ripe. But smell is the key. Like Baby bear’s porridge, it has to smell just right — an overripe one has a vinegar smell, an under-ripe one is practically odorless, while a perfectly ripe pineapple has a sweet, tropical aroma.
Finally, an avocado should give slightly to pressure, but still be firm. If it squishes in your palm, it’s toast.
Use Your Noodle
Since not all pastas are created equal, they must be treated differently in a pot of rolling boiling water. In addition, pasta texture preferences determine the length of boiling time.
For those who enjoy al dente (chewy) boil for shorter periods than those who like a softer, more limp noodle. Hearty, whole grain pastas are tougher than white durum wheat and tender egg noodles, requiring more cooking time. Delicate “angel hair” cooks up in 2-3 minutes, while fettuccine, penne or rigatoni needs at least 7 minutes. Noodles that are going to be subsequently baked like lasagna or ziti should be somewhat undercooked.
A mere minute longer on the grill can spoil a carnivore’s preference or create carcinogenic charred offerings. Degrees of doneness for beef include the following:
“Very rare” when the bovine is still mooing, and could practically be revived by a competent vet (internal temperature 130 degrees Fahrenheit)
“Rare” is 140 degrees F, very red center with red juices, too
“Medium rare” 145 degree F with a warm pink center
“Medium” 160 degrees F
“Well” 170 degrees F and “very well” 180 degrees F, no longer having any pink while the juices run clear
Steeping tea is an art form. For loose leaves, the larger the leaf, the longer the brewing time. Brew Earl Gray and Lady Gray for 5 minutes, and more delicate leaves for 4 minutes. For tea bags, the more robust, darker teas like black should steep for 3-5 minutes, while lighter green or white just 2-3 minutes. Never brew too long to prevent bitterness.
Mediterranean Watermelon Salad
• 6 cups ripe watermelon, cut in chunks, seeds removed
• 2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
• 1/3 cup chopped kalamata olives
• 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
• Handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• Juice from one Meyer lemon
• Sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste
In a large glass bowl combine watermelon, olives, onion, cheese and basil. In a small bowl whisk oil, lemon juice and seasonings. Pour over salad and gently toss. Chill for one hour.
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