Helpful Hints

Greetings Readers!

On our sidebar, each week we will post a new “Helpful Hint”. These will vary and can pertain to anything cooking or baking or just plain “kitchen-y”.

After their appearance on the sidebar, you can find them saved here. Hope this feature helps answer a question or solves a problem you’ve also had in the kitchen!

These are:

1)Egg-y Info!

Cold eggs are easier to separate. Room temp egg whites reach maximum volume faster then cold eggs. Start beating on low-speed, then increase to medium high. 3-Day old eggs are better than brand new eggs for this. Use cream of tartar to stabilize the foam.


2)How to tell if fish is fresh:
There should be no strong, fishy odor.
For a whole fish, the eyes should be bright and bulging, the skin and scales should be shiny. The gills should be red, & the flesh should be firm & springy to the touch.


3) Freezing Frosted Cookies!

Think you can’t freeze iced cookies for fear of sticking together? Well, you can:  After baking and cooling the undressed cookie, ice as you like. Then place on a baking sheet, in a single layer, side by side. Freeze, uncovered for a couple of hours. Then remove, frozen, and stack in an air-tight freezer container, covered tightly. No sticking together. Enjoy on another day!


4)Baking Muffins!
This week’s helpful hint has to do with baking muffins.
If you find that your muffins brown around the edges before the centers are cooked, try partly filling one section of the tin with water.
The extra steam will help keep the edges from over-cooking, and some types of muffins won’t crack on top either. Happy Baking!!


5)Making Compound Butters!

Make a compound Butter to flavor rolls, crackers, or even meats. Spread over chicken before roasting or add a pat to a cooked steak for great flavor when ready to serve.
You can mix grated Italian Cheese with butter , or add dried herbs like Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Dill, Chives, or even Parsley with some Black Pepper.
Make ahead and store in fridge for a couple of days. For half cup butter, use ¼ teas of added ingredient.

6) Sinking Raisins or Nuts!

Do you find that the raisins, nuts, chips, etc that you add to your muffins or cakes, settle to the bottom of the batter? Here’s how to keep that from happening: dust them first with a little bit of the flour you’re using in the recipe, then add to the batter. Just toss them lightly with a little bit of it, not too much. Voila, they will stay suspended throughout the baked dish.


7) Ripening Bananas!

Wonder why those bananas seem to be ripening faster than the last batch? Well, if you also placed apples near them or even in the same bowl, that’s the culprit!
Apples release an ethylene gas that causes a ripening process in all fruits and veggies near them.
So, keep the bananas away unless you’re in a hurry to get them browner.
And while we’re talkin’ apples…don’t keep them in the vegetable drawer next to unwrapped carrots. The gas from the apples will elicit a bitter taste in the carrots! Who knew?!


8) A Primer on Chile Peppers!

The bigger the pepper; the milder it is and the smaller it is, the hotter. The ribs and seeds are where most of the capsaicin (the chemical that causes the “burn”) is concentrated. An effective quencher if you feel like you are on fire, is milk. Water will just spread the flames around ! Yogurt, milk, even beer help more. Take care to wash hands very well after handling, & whatever you do, don’t touch your eyes or a cut until you wash well.

The Poblano is a large, mild one, best roasted & even stuffed. In dired form it’s called the ancho.
The Serrano: hotter than a jalapeno, it is crisp tasting but blistering hot!
The Fresno Pepper: Sweet, thick flesh, also hotter than a jalapeno. Sometimes pickled, even eaten raw. Also used in sauces.
The Anaheim: Long, pale green, medium thickness, but it varies in intensity from medium to hot. Roasts well & can be stuffed.
Info from “Better Homes & Gardens”, Jonathan Locke.


9) Jazzing up Cornbread!

If you like making Cornbread, try preparing it with a twist! You can enhance the batter by adding tiny bits of bell pepper, or some scallion when you’ll serve it as a side with your meal. For serving Cornbread as a snack or for breakfast, try adding fruit like dried apricots, chopped up of course, or dehydrated pineapple, apple or peaches, or even craisins. And of course, finely chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts work too.


10) Washing your Produce!

Many people don’t know how to wash their produce and fruit. Even a melon should be washed! After all, any pesticides or bacteria are carried inside through the rind or skin with the knife as it enters. What to do? Well, there are 2 ways to clean your produce: 1) take a bowl or even a small pot, add distilled white vinegar and water in a ratio of simply 5 cups water, to 1 /2 cup vinegar. Add the veggie or fruit, swish around with your hands, and then rinse well. No taste lingers, but your produce is certainly clean & ready to be enjoyed. Do this for your grapes, berries, greens, broccoli, anything small enough to put in the bath. 2) For large items like a cantaloupe or eggplant, you can wash with a dab of dish soup on your palm, and rub all over the rind. Then rinse well under the faucet. Pat dry, then cut as usual.



Muffins, Muffins, Muffins!
Typical muffins may be dressed up simply by adding a new ingredient that the recipe doesn’t call for. Try adding a dollop of Jam or Preserves in the center.
Or a spoonful of Cream Cheese in the center,
Or sauteed fruit such as an Apple, Pear, etc.
Or of course, nuts & raisins are always great in breakfast-type muffins.

Now: Want a different flavor all together? Add fruit-flavored Yogurt to the batter in place of the liquid your recipe calls for. Just make sure the amount is identical to the measurement called for in your original recipe.


12) Herb Blends!

Rather than buy mixed blends in the market, combine your own. You may already have the herbs in separate bottles. Try combos in small am’ts until you’re
happy with the flavor, & your tastes.
1)Blends for many Italian Recipes: Basil, Oregano, Parsley, Garlic Powder, Marjoram, Rosemary, Thyme.

2) Blend for Bouquet Garni, tie together & remove when discard is done: Parsley, Bay Leaf, Thyme, Rosemary (an optional one)

3)Blend for Fish: Basil, Bay Leaf, tarragon, Parsley, Lemon Pepper.

4)Blend for Poultry: Marjoram, Parsley, Thyme, Sage, Rosemary

5)Blend for Mexican Foods: Cumin, Oregano, Dried Red Pepper

6)Blend for Cajun Flavors: Cayenne, Garlic Salt, Bay Leaf, White & Black Pepper, Basil, Ground Allspice.


13) Dress up that Egg Salad or Tuna Salad!

Not a fan of plain Egg Salad or Tuna Salad? Try these hints:
For Egg Salad: Add one of the following:
Minced cooked Bacon Bits, Chopped Celery,
Chopped Ripe Olives, Chopped Bell Pepper, Chopped Walnuts, Radish or Scallion, or even a dash of Curry Powder. Not all of these at once, just pick 1 and try it.

Jazz up Tuna Salad: Add one of these:
Chopped Hard Boiled Egg, 1/2 tsp Capers, Chopped Apple, Chopped Celery, Chopped Pickle or Green Pepper, Dried Dill, or even grated Cheese like Swiss or Parmesan or Provolone. Of course a dash Of Salt & Pepper helps too!

Don’t forget the Mayo to blend all of these together.


Looking for lower calorie snacks now that warm weather is ahead? Here are “Under 100-Calorie Snacks”:

1/2 cup Fresh Cherries w 2 tbl Vanilla Yogurt. or
1 cup Strawberries w. 1 tbl Powdered Sugar. or
1 small Banana ( about 8-9 in. long). or
1/2 cup Pears packed in juice. or
1 cup Light Canned Fruit Cocktail. or
1 Apple. ( up to medium in size). or
1 cup Unsweetened Applesauce. or
1 Small Bartlet or Bosc Pear. or
5 Fresh Apricots or 7 dried Apricot halves. or
25 Grapes.(Try freezing them first for a yummy cold snack). or
25 Roasted Pistachio Nuts. Unsalted. or
3/4 inch thick slice of Fresh Pineapple. or
1 1/2 cups Watermelon cubes.


15)Baking Potatoes?
If you’re going to bake 5 or 6 potatoes, retrieving them can be tricky, since they’re so hot to touch. Of course you can use a pot-holder to grab ’em, but here’s something that serves a couple of purposes:
If they aren’t super huge in size, place them in a large muffin tin, standing on end! That way you can remove up to 6 at a time, and the baking process will be speeded up a bit as well. ……………………………………………..

Another great thing: I use the baked potato device all year long that’s sold for BBQ use. It’s a 12 in. long sheet of metal, It hold 4 potatoes, and they are “Speared” onto the pointed metal spikes then baked in the oven. That’s until summer when we move outdoors. The heat from the metal piece inside helps bake the potato!



Cake Frosting!

To make your frosted cake look its’ best, do 2 things:

1) First dust the loose crumbs off the sides, then spread a thin layer of the frosting all over the sides. Dip your spatula in hot water and go over that layer again to make it even smoother. Allow it to sit a minute. 2)Then add the final, thicker coat. it will go on smoother and easier, and look so much better. …….If you are frosting a 2 layer cake, remember not to spread the filling on the bottom layer all the way to the edge. Stop about 1 inch from the edge, or else that top layer will force out globs of frosting with the weight of the top layer. As you frost the final outer sides, any gaps will be filled in anyway as you coat the 2 sides.


Semi-Homemade Biscuits: Dressed up!
Using Gluten Free Bisquick is a boon to a busy household! And you can dress up biscuits in many ways:
1) Cheese-y Biscuits: grate 1/2 cup of any hard cheese you love & add to batter before baking.

2) Herb Biscuits: Add 1/4 cup finely chopped Chives, Parsley, or other leafy fresh herbs.

3) Meat-Flavored: Make a savory biscuit by adding cooked Ham, Prosciutto, or plain Bacon. Cooked Sausage can be chopped & added too.

4) Orange Biscuits: Grate the zest from the rind. (Avoid the white pith, that’s bitter. Use only the outer rind area)

5) Spicy Biscuits: Add some dry mustard powder, ( about 1/4 teas.) or some grainy Mustard but just a little or biscuits become wet. Add a pinch of caraway seeds, celery seeds, or fennel.



Baking an Unfilled Pie Crust!

To prevent an unfilled crust from bubbling up while you’re baking it, you can do a couple of things: Prick it with a fork all over the bottom of the raw dough. Do that all around it, even close to the sides.
Next, for more assurance that it won’t happen, you can place a circle of Parchment paper on the bottom, then put a layer of DRIED beans on top, spread evenly all over. You can use lentils, beans, etc. The weight keeps the dough from rising up. Thus giving you a nice crust to fill later. Save those dried beans; they can be used for this purpose over & over!


Braising Tip:
When we braise meats, we dredge them in flour 1st, then brown quickly to seal in juices. Then we add liquid just to the top of the meat. Not too much liquid or we’re boiling the meat & it loses flavors and they go into the liquid like a broth. You cover the pot tightly and & simmer.

A tip: take a piece of heavy foil, and shape it into a shallow bowl, curling the sides into that shape. Place it on top of the meat with the opening facing upward, like the letter U. Then cover pot as usual. As the steam that we always see forming on the underside of the lid rises, it will fall into the foil “bowl” and not into the braising liquid in the pot. This keeps the braising from thinning out. Just check often that your braising liquid doesn’t evaporate as it cooks.



Seems like an obvious tip, but so many I’ve mentioned it to, have never thought of it!
When you’ve taken the time to make your favorite sauce; Marinara, Meat Sauce, Putanesta, Aioli, Bolognese, etc. reserve about 3/4 cup ( or more if you can spare it) and put some into a spare ice cube tray. Pop in the freezer till frozen, then release from tray and place in a Freezer quality Zip bag. This way you’ll always have a little bit of flavor to add to your soups, stews, and so many other dishes that can use some zing when you’re cooking them! If you don’t have an extra ice cube tray, pick up one at the dollar store. It pays off in future savory dishes!

21) Make your own Stock!

Okay, you’ve been prepping for dinner: chopping veggies, slicing onion & celery, maybe carrot, maybe a bell pepper or zucchini, or even a leafy green. And did you have an assortment of leftover bits & pieces? Like ends of the scallion that you didn’t use, or a those green ends of the celery stalk? Well, save them in a baggie, and after a few days, having accumulated quite a lot, make a Vegetable Stock. Yes, with the stuff you always discarded!

Of course, you’ll wash them, we don’t mean that you ought to use garbage; but the parts you didn’t use in the dish.
Make a stock with these parts, of course add spices to season it like Salt, Pepper, Parsley, Rosemary, perhaps some Ginger root, or even a Nutmeg dash. Flavor along with the veggie parts will create a great addition to your next dish. And by the way, You can make a broth with Shrimp shells and a few of these staple veggies too. Save that, or freeze it, and then use it in your next fish recipe. Flavor, Flavor, Flavor!!

22) Is it done?

Using a thermometer is the only true way to determine a cooked meat’s temp. And an instant-read digital is best.
Remember this fact provided by the USDA: There’s a crucial difference in cooking a solid piece of meat, like a steak for instance, and in cooking ground meat such as a burger. With the ground meat, it’s riskier because the meat surface is broken into smaller fragments and spread throughout the mass. Thus bacteria has a chance to grow throughout it. It is safest to cook ground meat, that burger we spoke of, to well done. That means internal temp of 165 degrees. With a steak or chop, we are talking about only the surface you can see and thus bacteria doesn’t “infiltrate” the meat you’ll be eating.
Here’s a quick guide for safe minimum temps for cooking provided by USDA & Food Network :
Chicken & Turkey:
Whole: 165
Parts, Stuffed or Ground: 165

Beef & Lamb:
Rare: 125 +resting of 3 minutes
Med-Rare: 130-135
Med-Well: 145 + resting of 3 minutes
Well done: 155 + rest of 3 min.
GROUND: 160-165

Medium: 150
Well: 160
Ground 160-165



Better Baking!

Baking Powder loses it’s “Power” over time. So if you have some and don’t recall how long it’s been in your pantry, do this; To see if it’s still good, put 1/2 teaspoon of Baking Powder in 1/4 cup very hot water. If it bubbles, it’s still effective in your baked goods. If it doesn’t…then it’s time to toss it out & buy a new box. You’ll be glad you did!