TIPS TO MAKE A COOK'S LIFE EASIER
Meat And Poultry
Clever shortcuts, simple ways to tackle tricky preparations, money-saving ideas-a round up of hints to help you entertain, effortlessly.
Meat And Poultry
- Although duck makes a delicious dinner party dish there is a high proportion of bone to meat, especially on birds weighing less than 1.5kg (3lb). Allow about 400g (14oz) bought weight per person to give good-sized portions.
- Some recipes call for very thinly sliced liver-easier to do if you pour over boiling water, leave for one minutes, then drain and slice the liver immediately.
- To be sure of really crunchy crackling on roast pork, make deep cuts across the rind with a very sgarp knife then rub in oil and salt before cooking. Roast uncovered.
- Tough steak is a great disappointment, so tenderize it by giving it a good pounding with a steak mallet. Place the steak between sheets of waxed paper to stop it sticking to the mallet.
- Meat for a casserole will brown evenly if you press it down onto the surface of the frying pan with a spatula.
- The easiest way to coat meat or chicken pieces is to place them in a polythene bag with the seasoned flour and shake well.
- To remove fat from the top of a casserole, pass a piece of kitchen paper across the surface. Alternatively strain off the liquid and add a few ice cubes. The fat will set around them, they can then be removed with a slotted spoon and the de-fatted liquid returned to the pan.
- Don't panic if a curry turns out too hot-cool it down with lemon juice, potato, milk, soured cream or yogurt, whichever is to hand.
- Cream makes simple stews special, it's true but remember to check the seasoning once the cream has gone in you will almost certainly need more.
- For quick cocktail nibbles snip bacon rinds into 2cm (1in) length and place in a very hot oven until crispy.
- It's preferable to soak bacon or gammon joints overnight to cut down on saltiness, but if you forget, just cover the joint with cold water bring to the boil throw away the water then cook as usual in fresh water.
- Leave a little space between cubes of meat or poultry when making kebabs helps them cook more evenly on the skewer.
- Anchovies are a traditional garnish for pizza, but they can be unbearably salty. Soak them in milk for an hour or so before use for a better flavour.
- Skinning fish is an awkward job, made simpler if you use a scallop shell and work in the direction of the head, against the lie of the scales.
- Get to grips with fish when skinning it by dipping your fingers in salt.
- Danish lumpfish roe doesn't cost the earth and makes a very effective garnish for egg mayonnaise.
- Skin peppers by turning them under a hot grill until the skin blackens and blisters. Place in cold water immediately and the skins will rub off.
- Never buy more new potatoes than you can use in three days. They don't keep well.
- New potatoes are easier to scrape if you soak them in warm water for a few minutes first. It's easier still to cook them in their skins and either peel the skins off when they are done, or eat them with the skins.
- Roast potatoes should be very crisp and crunchy. Parboil for about 7 minutes, then rough the surface with a fork before adding to very hot fat.
- Jacket potatoes will cook more quickly with a metal skewer pushed through the centre of each one.
- Always dress salads just before serving and don't overdo the dressing. If you must dress them earlier, invert a saucer in the bottom of the salad bowl, to stop the dressing forming a pool.
- Wooden salad bowls dry out and crack if washed. Just wipe well with kitchen paper after use.
- Salt in the cooking water makes sweet corn kernels tough, so always cook lightly in unsalted water.
- Onions brown faster if you add a spot of sugar to the pan when frying them.
- Cultivated mushrooms don't need peeling, just through wiping.
- Don't cut a chilled lettuce as it will brown and wit quickly. Instead break it into pieces.
- Leeks are tricky to clean properly simpler to slice them first then wash.
- Dried beans are useful for hearty casseroles, but soaking them is a bother. To shorten the soaking time, bring them to the boil in water then soak for 1-2 hours off the heat before cooking in fresh water.
- French dressing i best stored in a screw-topped jar somewhere cool, but not in the fridge. Salad oil tastes better if you keep a couple of olives in the bottle.
- Chicory that has green tips will be very bitter.
- You can refresh slightly sad celery by wrapping in newspaper and standing it upright in cold water.
- If fresh French or runner beans start to wilt, chill them in a polythene bag in the fridge to restore crispness.
- Avocados are notorious for discoloring, but you can prevent a mixture from brewing by popping the stone in and covering with Clingfilm, Remember to remove the stone before serving.
- Asparagus rolls make a lovely buffet snack. Roll the bread with a rolling pin before buttering to make it easier to handle.
- Aubergines can be bitter and need careful preparation. Slice them and sprinkle with salt. Rinse with cold water after 30 minutes then dry well.
Fruit And Nuts
- The simplest way to skin peaches or grapes is to place the fruit in boiling water for 15 seconds before peeling.
- No need to fiddle about with a knife when coring pineapple slice a small round pastry cutter, pressed firmly over the core, does the job more efficiently.
- You will get a better yield of juice from lemons if you warm them slightly before squeezing. Store lemons for up to six weeks in a polythene bag in the fridge.
- If a recipe calls for rind and juice of oranges or lemons, grate the rind before you squeeze the juice. A potato peeler works well as a zestier.
- Blanched almonds that have dried up will improve if soaked in hot water for half an hour. Alternatively blanch them when needed by steeping in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then placing in cold. The skins will rub off easily. If you need almond slivers cut them when still damp after blanching.
- Don't give hazelnuts the boiling water treatment if you want to skin them-instead grill until the skins split, place the nuts in a plastic bag and rub them against each other until the skins come off.
- You can crack walnuts without nutcrackers by squeezing two together in your hand.
- Once you have opened packets of salted nuts, keep them in the fridge. Re-seal the pack with a twist tie or keep in a small airtight box.
- Melons lose their flavour if served icy cold, so don't chill them for too long before you want to eat them.
- Frozen fruit juice is very handy to have in the freezer and can be quickly reconstituted, with the right amount of water, in a blender at low speed.
- Fresh dates can have rather tough skins simply removed by squeezing the stem end.
- Fresh black currants have a marvelous flavour but can be tricky to prepare. Strip the berries from the stalks with a fork, or open freeze whole and store in a rigid box. When needed shake the box well before thawing and most of the berries will fall off the stalks.
- Apples sauce is simple to make in the pan. Just use a potato masher to pulp the stewed apples once they are tender.
Pasta And Rice
- A tablespoonful of oil in the water stops pasta boiling over and helps prevent the pieces sticking together. Cook without the lid and make sure the pasta retains some bite.
- Noodles swell by about a quarter when cooked, but spaghetti and macaroni double in size.
- Fresh pasta needs only five minutes cooking, compared with 10-15 minutes for dried pasta.
- Rice can be cooked in advance and kept, covered for up to three days in the fridge. Allow 50g (2oz) uncooked weight per person. Dot with butter cover and reheat in a moderate oven. Fork through after 15 minutes.
Eggs, Cheese, Cream, Butter
- Egg whites will stubbornly refuse to whisk if there is a hint of grease on bowl or whisk. Rubbing a cut lemon round the bowl helps increase the volume and a small pinch of salt strengthens the albumen.
After a meringue-making session, store the yolks, covered with water for up to five days in the fridge. Use them to replace whole eggs in dishes where the white is not needed to aerate the other ingredients. Two yolks plus 1 tbsp water equals one whole egg.
You can use frozen cream in hot dishes without thawing first, but don't allow the dish to boil once the cream has been added or it could curdle.
Chill bowl and whisk before whipping cream. A stiffly whisked egg white folded into whipped cream increases bulk and equal amount of single and double cream whipped together make a lighter result. You can rescue slightly over-whipped cream by adding a little milk.
Choose mature cheese for cooking the stronger flavour means you can use less.
Always cook cheesy dishes over a gentle heat and never allow them to boil, otherwise the cheese will turn stringy.
Cheese keeps well closely wrapped in foil or Clingfilm in the fridge but needs to be removed and unwrapped at least an hour before serving to let the flavour come out.
Butter curls are pretty for dinner parties make them with a potato peeler, using a block of firm butter.
Bread, Biscuits, Cakes, Pastry
- Pastry likes to rest for about half an hour in the fridge before rolling out makes it easier to handle as well as shorter.
Don't overdo the rolling out as the pastry will shrink during cooking if it has been overstretched.
Neatest way to trim a lined flan ring is to run a rolling pin across the top. Stop the edges from burning by covering them with strips of foil.
There is nothing worse than a soggy-bottomed flan. You can improve matters by brushing the base with egg white before baking blind, and standing glass and earthenware dishes on a pre-heated metal baking sheet.
Use vegetable oil to grease baking tins and the finished dish is less likely to stick.
You can tell if the egg and sugar mixture for a fatless sponge has been whisked enough by lifting the whisk out it should leave a trail.
Chill fresh bread in the fridge and it will be easier to slice without crumbling.
The crusty ends of loaves can be instantly made into crumbs in a blender and frozen-no need limps in the biscuit tin will keep the contents crisp.
Crush biscuits for a flan base in a strong polythene bag-bash and roll well with a rolling pin.
Place flans on an upturned baking tray so you can just slide them off when cooked.
Place flans on an upturned baking tray so you can just slide them off when cooked.
Seasoning And Sauces
Bring the ingredients for mayonnaise to room temperature before you start and the sauce is less likely to curdle. If the worst does happen, whisk the curdled mayonnaise drop by drop, into another egg yolk.
Vanilla sugar gives a delightfully subtle flavour to cakes and custards. Place a vanilla pod in 500g (1lb) caster sugar in an airtight tin. It takes several weeks for the flavour to reach full strength.
Salads take on a discreet garlic flavour if the bowl is rubbed over with a cut clove, before putting in the salad.
Garlic and spices take a bitter flavour if fried for too long.
Fresh parsley really does take away the smell of day-old garlic from the breath. Eat one oe two sprigs.
Mace and nutmeg are interchangeable as they come from the same plant. Mace is a little stronger.
Retain as much flavour as possible in herbs by adding them to slow cooking dishes 10 minutes or so before you want to eat.
If a sauce insists on staying lumpy, it can be strained whisked or blended into perfect smoothness.
Hollandaise is quick to curdle if overheated but can usually be rescued by placing in a cold bowl and whisking strenuously. Strain it as well, if necessary.
Cover sauces not needed straight away with a disc of dampened greaseproof paper to stop a skin forming.
You will get a better flavour if you add seasonings to vegetables after they have been cooked. Finely chopped crisply grilled bacon, crumbled chestnuts, browned flaked almonds or grated nutmeg all add flavour and interest to cooked green vegetables.