Guacamole is the most popular use for avocados, but it can discolor. Forget the old cook’s tale to stick the avocado pit in the guacamole as a deterrent to browning. Instead, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate the bowl. Or stir a few tablespoons of sour cream into the guacamole, which increases its acidity and thus slows the browning and then cover and refrigerate.
Italian Food Sale
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For easy removal of brownies from a baking pan, line the bottom and two sides of the pan (short sides if baking in a rectangular pan) with a "sling" of aluminum foil or parchment paper, letting the excess foil hang over the sides as handles. When completely cooled, lift up on the handles to remove the brownie slab in one piece, then cut as desired.
For recipes that use melted butter, such as pancakes or some muffins, use browned butter for a deeper butter flavor. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, and let it boil for about 3 minutes or until the milk solids in the bottom of the pan turn a hazelnut brown. Immediately pour the browned butter into a small bowl to stop the cooking. Let cool slightly, but use while still fluid.
To discourage overbrowned cookie bottoms (which can happen when an oven heats unevenly), insulate the baking sheet by placing it inside a second baking sheet of the same size. The thin layer of air between the sheets will protect the top sheet from getting too hot.
For a smooth look to frosted cakes, first spread with a very thin coating of frosting called a “crumb coat.” This seals the crumbs in place so they won’t be visible in the frosting of the finished cake. Refrigerate until the crumb coat is firm, about 20 minutes. Then apply a finishing coat with the remaining frosting.
You microwave crystallized honey to heat and liquefy it, but there are caveats. First, if the honey is in a glass jar, remove its metal lid before microwaving. Don’t microwave honey in a plastic container, or the container might melt. And because honey heats quickly in a microwave oven, use medium power in 10-second bursts, stirring after each burst to check progress.
Meat & Poultry
Butterflied leg of lamb is a favorite of grill chefs. But because its thickness can vary, you will end up with rare and well-done pieces from the same leg. To solve this problem, cut the leg into three separate pieces— the divisions will be easy to see—which will yield a small, medium, and large portion. Then, grill each portion separately to the desired doneness.
While many cooks are in the habit of rinsing poultry before cooking, it really isn’t necessary. You always cook poultry to a temperature that kills any harmful bacteria. In fact, it could be more dangerous to rinse the poultry, as you can end up splashing contaminated water all over the sink and kitchen counter.
After preparing poultry, reduce the chance of bacteria contamination by washing the cutting board, prep utensils, and your hands with hot, soapy water. It’s a good idea to reserve one cutting board for raw meat and poultry and a second board for other ingredients.
During roasting, the hot air in the oven forces the moisture in food - roast beef, chicken, turkey - to the center. Before carving, let the roast stand at room temperature so the juices redistribute themselves throughout the flesh. Allow about 10 minutes for a roast chicken, about 15 minutes for such large cuts of meat as a rib roast or a leg of lamb, and at least 20 minutes for a turkey, depending on its size. If you carve the roast too soon, the juices will squirt out, resulting in dry meat. The resting time will not substantially cool the roast. In fact, thanks to residual heat, the internal temperature may even rise a few degrees.
You’ve paid for the entire chicken, so don’t throw anything away. The neck, heart, kidneys, and fat can be turned into quick chicken stock. (Don’t use the liver, as it will make the stock bitter.) If you have butterflied the chicken, chop up the backbone and add the pieces to the stock, too. The stock won’t be as rich as a long-simmered one, but it’s just fine when combined with pan juices.
Olive Oil & Vinegar
Olive oil is essentially olive juice, so it has a shorter shelf life than highly refined vegetable oils. Always store olive oil in a dark place, preferably in a colored glass bottle, to keep out the light that can hasten spoilage. The temperature should be no warmer than 70°F, which is the ambient temperature of most kitchens. If you buy olive oil in bulk, keep only what you need for a week or two in the kitchen, and store the remainder in a wine cellar or cool basement.
Olive oil can be stored in the refrigerator, but it will thicken and turn cloudy. This is a temporary state that will not harm the oil, and it will clear up and liquefy when allowed to return to room temperature.
Many chefs use a drizzle of boiled-down balsamic vinegar to decorate plates and act as an additional flavoring element. To make this useful garnish, boil 1 cup commercial balsamic vinegar in a nonreactive saucepan over high heat until it has reduced by about three-fourths and is thickened and syrupy. It will keep indefinitely stored in a tightly closed jar at room temperature.
In general, do not rinse rice before cooking unless a recipe instructs you to do so. Rinsing is generally reserved for short-grain sushi rice, where some of the starch must be removed before cooking for the best result. Otherwise, you are only rinsing away nutrients.
Give long-grain rice a fluffier consistency with this tip: Remove the pot from the heat, uncover, lay a towel over the top, and recover. Let stand for 5 minutes. The towel will absorb the excess moisture from the steam, and also give the rice a chance to finish cooking without additional heat from the stove.
Spice & Seasoning
The essential oils in herbs and spices evaporate with time, and after 6 months, they have lost much of their flavor. (For this reason, don’t buy more than you think you’ll use up in 6 months, even if it is a bargain, unless you share the bounty with friends.) Write the purchase date on the label to keep track. Heat speeds up the evaporation, so always store your dried herbs and spices away from the stove.
Don’t refrigerate vanilla beans or they will harden and crystallize. Instead, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard, and they should keep for several years. If they become hard and dry, don’t worry. They will plump up in warm liquid, which is how most vanilla beans are used.
Vanilla beans that you have added to a recipe and retrieved can be used to make vanilla sugar. Even if you scraped the seeds from the split pods and added the pods to the recipe, you can use the retrieved pods. Rinse the whole bean or pod halves and let dry for several days on a paper towel. Cut it into small pieces and process with 1 cup granulated sugar for about 20 seconds or until the bean is pulverized. The vanilla sugar can be stored indefinitely in an airtight container at room temperature. Before using, strain the sugar through a sieve to remove any large pod pieces.
No matter what you use to crack peppercorns for steak au poivre or a rub—the bottom of a skillet, a flat meat pounder, a rolling pin—the peppercorns jump all over the counter. To contain them, put the peppercorns in a small, resealable plastic bag; seal the bag closed, pressing out the air; and crush away.
When seasoning with salt and pepper, sometimes the amount of pepper is so small that it is difficult to distribute it evenly. Mix the salt and pepper together, then sprinkle the combined seasonings on the food. The distribution will be much better.
To substitute a dried herb for its fresh equivalent, use one-third of the amount. For example, use 1 teaspoon dried oregano for 1 tablespoon fresh. Of course, this substitution doesn’t work in cases where the herbs also provide bulk to a recipe like pesto.
Refresh the flavor of dried herbs by chopping them together with some fresh parsley leaves. Or, rub dried herbs between your fingers when adding them to a dish to release their aromatic oils.
Herbs are a wonderful flavoring for roast chicken, but they can burn if simply rubbed onto the skin. Combine the herbs with softened butter, and carefully slip the herb butter under the chicken skin, spreading it evenly. Roast away without worrying about singed herbs.
Coffee & Tea
With hundreds (if not thousands) of teas available, from robust to delicate, it makes sense that you should use a range of water temperatures to prepare them. Black teas are the heartiest, and should be prepared with rapidly boiling water. Oolong teas are ideally made with water at about 190°F (the bubbles in the water will form vertical rows). Green teas taste best when prepared with water at the gentle temperature of 160°F (the bubbles will just begin to break the surface of the water). Using an electric kettle will ensure the perfect temperature every time.
For a quick “tea bag,” insert a paper coffee filter in your tea mug. Add your favorite tea leaves, and pour hot water over the leaves. Let steep, then lift up on the paper to remove the leaves.
For the best flavor, buy coffee beans and grind them yourself. The flavorful oils in coffee beans dissipate when exposed to air, so grind only the amount you need for immediate brewing. Different coffeepots require specific grinds. For filter drip coffee, grind to the consistency of granulated sugar. Grind coffee for espresso almost to a powder. If you have a French press, grind the beans coarsely, similar to dried bread crumbs.
Coffee should be stored in an airtight container at cool room temperature. Never refrigerate coffee, as the humidity will have an adverse affect on the brew. Freeze coffee only if you won’t be able to finish your purchase within 2 weeks.
If you crave a cappuccino, but don’t have a milk frother, use your blender to make the foam. Bring about ½ cup whole milk to a simmer in a small saucepan or in a glass pitcher in a microwave. Transfer to a blender and process on high speed until the milk is foamy. Skim the foam off the top and spoon over the hot brewed coffee.