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|Cooking Tips: Produce|
Add Flavor with Food Waste: Save the loose skin on onions and garlic to toss into the fire just before grilling meats or vegetables. And dry fennel tops on the fire when grilling fish.
Apples: Refrigerated apples last up to 10 times longer than those left at room temperature. To prevent apples from speeding up the ripening process of other items in your produce drawer, store them in a plastic or brown paper bag.
Asparagus: Always store uncooked asparagus in the refrigerator, upright in a container of water (about 1" - 2"). For tender asparagus, gently bend a spear until it breaks. The natural breaking point should separate the tender spear from the tough end. Dispose of the end pieces and steam to perfection!
Cabbage: Instead of blanching cabbage leaves to wilt them for stuffing, simply leave the whole head in the freezer overnight.
Celery: Wrap celery in aluminum foil when putting in the refrigerator, and it will keep for weeks.
Chopped Onions & Green Peppers: You can buy frozen chopped onion or green peppers for a quick recipe shortcut, or since they freeze so well, chop a whole bunch at once and freeze them in single servings.
Chopping Onions & Grating Horseradish: Hate how your eyes water? Tear off a section of a slice of bread (I prefer to use the heel, as I don't eat it) and place it between your lips, allowing it to protrude from your mouth while cutting.
Citrus Fruit Juice: To get the most juice out of fresh lemons, limes and oranges, bring them to room temperature and roll them under your palm against the kitchen counter before squeezing. Another method is to microwave fruit on high for 30 seconds, let stand a couple of minutes before cutting and squeezing them.
Citrus Zest: Before you squeeze juice from a lemon, grate off the rind into a freezer bag and freeze. Then when a recipe calls for lemon zest or rind, just pull it from the freezer. Sprinkle a little sugar over citrus zest or fresh ginger before chopping. The sugar not only dissolves and absorbs the juices but also helps spread the flavor.
Corn: When boiling corn, cooking for 3 minutes is all that's necessary; any more time will only boil out the flavor. Instead of adding salt to the boiling water, add a pinch of sugar to bring out the natural sweetness of the corn.
Crisper Drawer: Line the bottom with a paper towel to absorb liquids that make veggies wilt.
Frozen Vegetables: These are an important staple; don't be embarrassed to use them. No need to cook before adding to dishes; simply pour boiling water over them in a colander and then add them to your casserole or stove-top dish to finish cooking.
Garlic: To mince a garlic clove quickly, rub it over the tines of the back side of a fork. Save yourself lots of time by using jarred minced garlic that can be found in the produce or condiment section of the supermarket. Peel garlic by using the heel of your hand, press the flat side of a wide knife onto an entire clove of garlic. You can then slip the slightly crushed garlic from its skin. Hands smell after peeling garlic? Rub hands with the rounded side of a stainless steel spoon under running water.
Hot Peppers: When working with fresh chilies and peppers, wear disposable gloves. Don't handle the peppers under water (it extracts painful vapors). Remember, the spice comes from the white membrane inside the pepper, not the skin or seeds.
Leafy Greens: The sooner you consume lettuce, spinach and other greens after they are picked, the crisper they will be. Rinse not-so-fresh greens under cool water to "revive" them. Dry by running the greens through a salad spinner or wrapping them in dry towels. Place in a loosely closed bag and refrigerate 1 hour. Leafy greens are packed with vitamins and minerals. When buying fresh greens, remember that they cook down considerably. One pound of spinach or mustard greens will yield a cup or two of cooked greens. Serve iceberg lettuce wedges instead of torn salad greens to save time making a salad. Also, before refrigerating iceberg lettuce, wash and remove the core so each time you need some for salad it's clean and ready.
Leeks: To clean leeks: Cut off dark green top and discard or save for stock. Trim root end, leaving base intact so that leek remains in one piece. Starting 1/2" from base, slit leek through the other end; give it a quarter turn and repeat, so the leek is quartered and the root end is intact. Soak the leek in cold water or rinse it under running water, gently spreading the leaves to remove any grit and dirt.
Mushrooms: Contrary to popular belief, mushrooms do not soak up water when washed, so rinse away! You may want to use a mushroom brush with soft bristles to remove all of the organic matter on the fungi.
Onion Leftovers: If you need only 1/2 an onion, save the root half. It will last longer.
Onion & Garlic Odors: To deodorize a plastic storage container in which onions or garlic were stored, wash thoroughly, then stuff a crumpled piece of newspaper in the container, and snap on the lid. In a few days the smell will disappear.
Parsley: Fresh parsley can be dried or frozen for later use. For either method, wash and dry parsley then chop. To freeze, simply pace in a plastic zipper bag and freeze. To dry, spread chopped parsley evenly on a baking sheet and place in a 200 degree oven with the door slightly ajar. Check occasionally and remove from oven with completely dry. Store dried parsley in an airtight container. When selecting parsley, remember that the curly-leaf variety has a milder taste and the flat-leaf has a bold taste.
Peeling Fruits and Vegetables: Vegetable peelers are good for more than just carrots and potatoes. Use them to peel avocados, kiwi fruit, and many more produce items. Try it out next time you need to peel something difficult. To peel tomatoes, peaches, and pears, scald them in boiling water before peeling will allow you to peel their skins right off.
Peppers: When buying fresh peppers, choose those that are a little wrinkled but still unblemished. Wrinkling indicates mellowness.
Potatoes: To keep them from budding, place an apple in the bag with potatoes.
Ripening Fruits and Vegetables: Many fruits and vegetables found in supermarkets today look ripe, but are hard as a rock. Soften them up by placing them in a brown paper bag and hiding the bag away in a dark cabinet for a day or two. This is great for items such as avocados, kiwi fruit, peaches, nectarines, and more. Once ripe, refrigerate the produce to preserve vitamins.
Saving Herbs For Winter: To preserve summer herbs for winter soups and stews, make herb cubes in the freezer. Chop up your herbs and place them in ice cube trays, then cover with water and freeze. To preserve the color and flavor, use boiling water to fill the tray (this blanches the herbs). Some herbs, like cilantro, keep better when frozen in oil. Mince the herb in a food processor, then introduce olive oil until you produce a fine puree. Pour into ice cube trays or bags and freeze. When introducing the frozen herbs to recipes, remember that they contain water or oil. If this will throw off the recipe's consistency, thaw and drain the cubes first.
Tomatoes: Never refrigerate a tomato that is not fully ripe. Most tomatoes sold in stores are still ripening, and would benefit from a few days on the counter. Cold temperatures alter the fruit's flavor and stop the ripening process. Once ripe, a tomato can be refrigerated for several days. To ripen a tomato fast, put it with an apple in a perforated bag. To peel and seed tomatoes, cut out the core and score an "X" on the bottom. Immerse in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove the tomato and plunge into cold water. Remove the skin, cut in half and squeeze out seeds.
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