Culinary Tips and Tricks
by Claire Shackelford
Most of us have our little tricks and tips we use in the kitchen. Some of them we learned from our mothers, some we learned from our friends, and others we learned by trial and error. Here are a few of mine that I have picked up here, there, everywhere, and in the kitchen while something was burning. Enjoy!
- Looking for a quick and easy way to get crumbled bacon for your recipe or salad? When a recipe calls for cooked and chopped bacon, I use very sharp kitchen shears to cut the bacon and I cook it pre-cut. Put the cooked bacon on a paper towel to let fat drain off and viola you are ready to go. The bacon cooks faster this way too. I have one pair of shears that I use on meat. I cube my chicken breasts this way or my stew meat. It is fast and very easy and much nicer than using a knife, in my opinion. Don’t need the whole pound? Cook it and freeze it! That way you have it on hand for the next recipe that calls for it.
- Want a lazy woman’s secret to fast and easy chopping? When a recipe calls for finely chopped nuts instead of pulling out your knife pull out a large ziplock bag. Put nuts in bag, let extra air out of bag and seal. Take rolling pin and gently smash by hitting or rolling the pin over the nuts until you reach the desired consistency. This works for most hard food that needs to be crushed or finely minced. If needing to mince something like chocolate, just freeze the chocolate solid first and then proceed!
- How to avoid the tummy troubles associated with high fiber beans! When cooking beans — rinse dry beans well and then cover them with cold fresh water. Add a tsp (per pound) of baking soda to the beans and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 10 minutes in baking soda mixture. Then rinse beans well and add fresh clean water and cook the way you normally would. This baking soda boil will release a lot of the enzymes that cause (*ahem) gas when you eat the beans. Beware though… there is a chemical reaction with the baking soda and beans that causes a nasty green foam (for pintos anyway) that boils over easily.
- Want to make good homemade whipped cream, fast? When making whipped cream use a metal bowl. About 15 minutes or more before you plan on whipping the fresh cream, put metal bowl and beaters into freezer. I also put my cream in the freezer for about 10 minutes before I whip it. The ice cold utensils and bowl will make the cream whip quicker.
- Want to avoid ruining a batch of tamales or veggies you are steaming? Throw a couple of marbles in the bottom half of your double-boiler/steamer. They will rattle when the water gets low. It will let you know to add more before the pan runs dry and burns what ever you are steaming or cooking.
- Don’t want to waste cooking wine or sherry? Next time you open a bottle of red or white cooking wine, freeze the leftovers it in an ice cube tray. When they are frozen solid put the cubes in a freezer bag (separated by color of wine, etc), mark date and type and zip closed. When a sauce calls for wine you will have it on hand.
- Want to deglaze a pan? When cooking steaks use the leftover “stuff” in the pan to create a wonderful sauce to serve over your steaks. Deglaze the pan you have used to cook your steak in with brandy or another fortified cooking wine. Just put a couple of tablespoons of cooking wine in and gently scrape the pan to release the scraps of meat and fat left in the pan after searing the steaks. Then to the pan and wine add a couple of tablespoons of real butter, and a little broth, or other cooking liquid of your choice like more of the cooking wine.
- Want to substitute wine or beer in a recipe? For wine substitute use 1 cup chicken or beef broth, OR 1 cup fruit juice mixed with 2 teaspoons vinegar. To substitute beer use non-alcoholic beer, broth or ginger ale – cup for cup. Substituting with plain water will work, but you will lose a lot of flavor.
- Want to cut fat in a recipe? Simply substitute the fat (butter, margarine, crisco, etc.) cup for cup with applesauce or other fruit puree.
Claire Shackelford began writing when she found herself attached to the Army at the hip—at one point her husband and two sons were serving. It was then she began writing about her journey through separations and deployments from a Christian perspective. She never faced deployment with her husband, but she have been through 2 now with her oldest son. Claire holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work and she serves as a ministry leader with Christian Military Wives as well as on the Board of Directors for Christian Military Fellowship.