Cooking Hints and Tips
every cookbook written I continue to learn even more about
food, cooking and equipment use. This page is dedicated to sharing what
works and what doesn't work.
I've added a new section on gluten- and dairy-free cooking with tips
acquired from developing my latest book, The Intolerant Gourmet. Do
try this at home.
Many useful charts and reference information can also be found in the
pages of my books. In particular, Vegetable Love features an A-to-Z Cook's Guide to all
vegetable preparation, substitutions, cooking times, yields and
These are the small hulled Japanese buckwheat groats.
After playing around, I found that mixing a given quantity—say
the groats with twice the quantity—say
other light liquid such as stock and letting them soak and swell for a
half to a whole hour and then cooking gives the best result. This keeps
the groats from getting mushy. The amount of liquid needed for the
actual cooking will depend on what is being cooked with them. See my
blog for a preparation made with scallops.
A good substitute in sauces that is lactose-free is to use canned
normal kind, not the extra heavy.
with Anise Seeds
I have always found it tedious to scrape the fibrous and seedy
interiors out of acorn squash before cooking them. I have the answer.
Use a melon baller or even better a squash corer such as is used for
zucchini. This will encourage the traditional squash puree or soup. The
microwave time is seven minutes.
A delightful soup, thinner and lighter than my usual ones, can be made
by pureeing the squash meat and three garlic cloves in a food
processor. The secret is to puree very thoroughly and for a longish
time. Add a half teaspoon of Carribean curry powder and a cup of rich
chicken broth. Process more. Add salt to taste. This can be made ahead
and reheated. Will serve four amply and isn't too rich to go before a
It always amazes me that there are always new things to
learn about food and cooking and new things to try. Once done,
some of them seem so self-evident I don't know why I didn't try them
before. The other day as I was taking some converted rice (Uncle
Ben's to not be prissy) out of
the cabinet I had to move another plastic storage container that
happened to be labeled "anise seed" and actually had a nice cache of
them inside. It was a light bulb moment. I was making the rice to go
with fish and when I boiled the water for the rice, I slugged in some
good olive oil, salt and—for one cup of rice—a
tablespoon and a half of the seeds. I let them simmer gently for about
ten minutes until I was ready to up the temperature and stir in
the rice. Once it came back to the boil, I turned down the heat and
cooked covered until it was all steamed and the liquid was absorbed.
The anise was a nice touch and perfumed the rice and added a little
crunch. I will do it again; but it won't be a surprise.
Young, I thought that large juicy capers would be the
best. Over time, I learned that the small elegant ones that the French
call non pareils were of better texture and taste. It took me yet more
years to figure out that buying them packed in brine in small glass
bottles was not the ideal
solution. Today, I vastly prefer them—Spanish or Italian—packed in salt like the ones that I get
For use in most cooked dishes or prepared ones such as a tartar steak,
they need to be thoroughly rinsed or even soaked for about twenty
minutes in lukewarm water.
cam up with an excellent use for them as they come. I made myself some
pasta and sauced it with chopped garlic gently cooked in olive
oil, some tomato sauce base that I had put up at the end of the
summer (page 460 of Vegetable Love,
or feel free to substitute Pomi crushed tomatoes), a substantial pinch
of powdered Turkish thyme, a small tip of a dried hot pepper and ground
black pepper. Instead of salt or the caloric cheese, I threw a
handful of dried capers into the mix. They were wonderful. Try it.
Slow cookers and browning
Those of you who visit my blog will know that I have started a somewhat
timid foray into the world of slow cookers. In my usual compulsive
way, I now have three different kinds. The makers give no hard
data on temperatures so it is pretty much experiment. The one cooking
tip that I can currently give is avoiding the constantly repeated
instruction in cookbooks and manufacturers' guides to brown ingredients
first. This simply messes up a second pot, makes the process for
the cook slower and is not needed for flavor. I don't think that
we are so over-conditioned that we have to look at browned food.
Microwaving bacon and tortillas
High wattage oven: 3 slices of bacon next to each other on triple layer
of paper towel take 2 minutes to 2 minutes 15 seconds depending on
High wattage oven: a single white corn tortilla takes 20 seconds to
come back to life and soften.
I loved the smooth mildness of cooked garlic. When the salted water
comes to a boil and the pasta is tossed in, also toss in any number of
unpeeled garlic cloves. When the pasta is cooked—about 6 to 9 minutes—drain.
Holding the papery tip of a garlic peel in one hand, use a
spoon to press downward to the root end of the clove which will pop it
out. Repeat with remaing cloves. Serve garlic with the pasta. If the
pasta being used cooks more quickly, throw in the cloves and let boil
for about 2 minutes before adding pasta. If the pasta—such as ziti—takes longer to cook, wait until
about 7 minutes of cooking time are left and add the garlic.
never occurred to me that I still had something left to learn about
peeling boiled eggs. However, the other day when I was running some oeufs mollets—boiled
eggs with firm whites and gooey yolks—under cold water to
them tolerable to peel, I dropped one onto the bottom of the pan. The
shell splintered so rather than taking it out of the water and rolling
it around to break up and loosen the shell, I did it in the water. To
my surprise, the fragile egg became much easier to peel. The water got
under the shell and seemingly liberated it and the thin membrane
underneath. After that I had an absolute orgy of egg boiling and
peeling—hard-boiled as well—and the dog has enjoyed
results as I have in egg salad.
peeling, cut cucumbers in half lengthwise. With the tip of a sharp
a vee-shaped cut around the seeds towards the center. Scoop out the
either with the knife or a spoon. It’s easy and quick.
For those as suspicious as I, I should point out that I don't accept
free things and sadly pay for everything.
After years of exhorting people to go out and buy new
vegetables—inexpensive—when theirs got dull, I have a
better solution. There are now swivel action vegetable peelers with
ceramic blades. They are light, efficient, easy to clean and stay
sharp. By all means buy one and enjoy. Nor rust either.
Scraping Pulp With a Silver Spoon
I used to think that it was an affectation when I read that some
vegetables should be scraped with a silver spoon. I now realize that
these spoons have thinner, sharper edges than stainless steel
spoons and are much more efficient as in making the Acorn Squash
Pulp as below in Vegetable Tip.
Stir Fry Utensils
Look for extra-long wooden spoons and use two for stir frying. They are
less likely to scratch the carefully patinated surface of your wok than
conventional Asian metal tools. Keep those wonderful extra-long cooking
chopsticks for dropping and retrieving food from hot oil or stirring
largish pieces of beef or other meat that need to be turned. Chinese
cooking chopsticks will generally be bamboo. The Japanese ones will
have wooden tops but longish needle-shaped ends for doing the job—particularly
good for deep-fat frying of any kind. Incidentally, bamboo chopsticks
are a good way to tell when oil is hot enough for frying. Stick the end
of a clean one into the oil. If little bubbles form around it, it is
ready. The bubbles are from water retained in the bamboo.
Safeguard Stirring Spoons
keep a chopstick or knife rest near the burners on your stove.
will prevent burnt wood or melted plastic from stirrers left in the
pot. It also means less mess.
Zyliss julienne peeler and tongs
Every once in a while a manufacturer comes up with a new tool or a
variant on an old one that is a real blessing. Zyliss has come up with
*One*: A real "why-didn't-I-think-of-it?" is a small hand tool that
looks like an ergonomic (the plastic handle) potato peeler. The
difference is that it has a second blade—sort of toothed—on
the backside of the peeler looking blade. The peeler looking blade now
functions as a slicer and the second blade neatly cuts the slice into
strips, julienne. Easy, much cheaper than a mandoline, and efficient. I
tried carrots and celery with equal success. This takes little space
merits a place in the kitchen.
*Two: *They have a seriously improved tongs for foods such
as asparagus. Good looking, they are made of stainless steel with
rubbery feeling ends to grip the vegetables without crushing or
marking them as well as grips on the handle to avoid burns. There
is a lock in the same material to keep them from opening and
getting entangled in a drawer or wherever they are stored. The plastic
comes in black or a sort of rust color. I have bought three of these.
One is for New York, one for the country and the third is for a
cooking friend who saw them and coveted.
favorite gluten-free pasta is Pasta Schar. Originally German, it is
made in Italy in many shapes. You can order it online.
is as various
as the many countries of Asia that ferment it and use it for dipping
and cooking. Try to match your soy sauce to the recipe that you are
preparing: Chinese to Chinese, etc. However, if you want to stick to
one, look for tamari soy that is wheat free. It is closer to the
original taste of soy sauce and less salty. It will also be a boon to
any gluten-sensitive friends that you have.
Butternut Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
A very large butternut squash—about four pounds—should
be quartered lengthwise and the seeds scraped out. Put in one or two
layers of a steamer. Bring to a boil and steam for thirty-five minutes
or until a skewer or the point of knife slips in. If need be, add more
water during steaming. Scraped from the shell, this will make six cups
of vegetable. Pureed, it will make five cups. Use for pie filling, soup
or as a vegetable.
Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
I feel like a fool for having covered these halves with plastic wrap in
my book, Microwave Gourmet,
and in my home for many years. Only today did it occur to me that
squash come already wrapped as long as they are placed cut-side down in
a glass baking dish. The apparent discrepancy in cooking times and pulp
yield has to do with the larger cavity and number of seeeds in the
heavier squash. Evidently, a 1-pound squash is a better value.
1 2-pound squash halved across the middle, seeds and fibers scraped out
High-wattage microwave: In a glass baking dish cut-side down, cook 13
minutes. Remove from oven. Gives 1 2/3 cup pulp scraped from skin as
soon as cool enough to handle. It is easiest to scrape out the
pulp by scraping along the rib indentations (see equipment tip)
1 1-pound squash, prepared as above and microwaved for 7 minutes (no
reduction from lower wattage). Gives 1 cup+ pulp.
(Onions, Garlic, etc.)
Coping with Allium
Tears: Many of us look as if tragedy has struck whenever it is time to
cut an onion. It is not distaste but out tear ducts. Especially as
we now know how healthful the alliums—onions,
and as they have always been essential for both fine and peasanty
cooking, I would like to give a little help with the problem which
always hit me when the eye make-up was already on for a party and the
leakage was black.
Put the onions or other alliums that will be needed in the refrigerator
for at least an hour—preferably
cutting. chilling reduces the apparent energy of the problem makers
without in the long run--they warm up--changing the flavor.
Historically, these vegetables were not refrigerated as they keep well
for many months. However, if space is available, refrigeration
will also prevent them from sprouting.
White (Asapragus officinalis)
asparagus are cream-colored specimens with light purple shading
possible towards the tip, a particularly fibrous texture, and stalks
that need complete peeling before cooking. Provide knives and forks.
European white—the basis
of festivals and special menus in the spring—have
no lavender tips. They too are tougher than green asparagus and after
peeling and cooking must be eaten with a knife and fork. They are
expensive but I would gladly give up the rest of the meal for them.
They are particularly good with hollandaise (see recipe of the week) or black
Giant (King, Trumpet) Mushroom
I’m not a mycologist or even a mushroom expert; but I thought
that I had come across most of the popular and available edible, magic
and poisonous mushrooms. Imagine then my surprise when walking around
the small Saturday Farmers’ Market near my house (Garrison) in
Cold Spring, New York, when I came across a large—about an inch
and a half across and six inches long—white mushroom with a
vestigial slightly concave pale tan cap and barely evident gills that I
had never seen before. When I asked what it was, I was told it was
“a giant oyster mushroom.” Sort of; but it took a little
hunting down to pin it down.
It is a Pleurotus, the over
arching name of the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus
that grows in frilly colonies on dying trees. It turns out that it is
Pleurotus eryngii, native to the Mediterranean, the Middle East and I
suspect Japan as there is a Japanese name for it: domo domo santos.
The seller told me that they sliced it across and grilled it brushed
with a sort of Asian barbecue sauce. I took it home, sliced it across
on the diagonal, sautéed it over low heat in a little olive oil
along with chopped shallot and tarragon. Then three eggs whisked up
turned it into a frittata that was enough for one hungry man and two of
me. It was very mild in taste and slightly rubbery. The sources say
that it has the texture of abalone. The omelet was a success, but
required a knife as well as a fork.
I suspect that we will see a lot more of it around as it has now been
cultivated. I’m going to try braising it with some broth or some
cream if I find it again.