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Did you know? How to keep cookies fresh

1 Mar

Don’t you just hate how fast fresh-baked cookies seem to get stale?  Timely with my recent post about Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies, I thought I would post about a few secrets I’ve learned to keep them fresh, soft and not stale.

Here are a few secrets that I’ve learned to keep cookies tasting fresh:

  • Always keep cookies in a container (like Tupperware) with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Store cookies with a piece of bread!  The moisture from the piece of bread will help keep the cookies soft, moist and fresh (if you don’t want to waste a piece of bread, use the ends of the loaf that no one ever seems to want to eat anyway!)   Change the piece of bread every other day, or when it feels dry.
  • Freeze them!  Did you know that cookies freeze very well?  I didn’t know this until a few years ago.  Again, wrap them well and put them in a container with a good lid to keep them fresh for much longer in the freezer!  All the cookies I made around Christmas time stayed fresh for about 2 weeks because I kept them either in the freezer or in the garage (which hovers at a temperature just above freezing at this time of year!).

And if you want more cookie advice, this is a great article from Good Housekeeping on all your cookie baking questions!

Did you know? Fixing Smelly Garlic Hands

21 Feb

Have you ever noticed how chopping garlic and onions can make your hands reek for hours?  I hate that!  I think I’m particularly paranoid about it, so the tip of the day is how to fix it!

Just use one of these to wash your hands:

…It’s a stainless steel bar of soap!  They’re inexpensive, and when used like a normal bar of soap, completely eliminate odors from your hands.  They’re available at cooking stores or from Amazon (like this one).

If you don’t want to buy one like that, you can actually use any piece of stainless steel in your kitchen and just rub your hands against it (like your knife or sink faucet – just be careful with the knife option! ha).

Hooray for no more stinky garlic hands!  Now only if it worked for garlic breath…….. hmmm.

Vinaigrettes 101

27 Jan

Making vinaigrettes is definitely a skill you want to have in your culinary arsenal.  Whether it’s for throwing together a salad for which a store-bought dressing just won’t do (sometimes there’s not just a perfect flavor in the store – so this way you can customize your own!), or creating a nice vinaigrette sauce for fish or other meals, it’s a good skill to have.  Making your own dressings is simple, yet impressive.  Additionally, you can make them how you want them – without high fructose corn syrup or preservatives (not that there’s anything wrong with those, I am a Food Scientist after all, but sometimes it’s just nice to have things all-natural and homemade).  Plus, homemade dressings can be healthier (you control the amount of oil and sugar) and taste better (homemade balsamic vinaigrette is just so much better in my opinion!).

There are just a few basic principles to keep in mind:

(1) the basic components: fat (oil), acid (vinegar) and an emulsifier (optional)

(2) the ratios of these components

Ratios:

Typically, a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part acid is a good starting point.  Sometimes the ratio can be 1:1 (when using a weaker acid, like citrus juice) or even 3 or 4:1 (for very strong vinegars).  It’s up to you!  Just go by taste and consider what the dressing will be on – can it stand up to a strong vinegar or is it better if it’s toned down a bit?  I tend to like a 2:1 ratio (because I like a good vinegar tang and then there is less total fat and calories than a 3:1 ratio).

Fat/Oil:

  • Oils: Extra virgin olive oil, grape seed oil, walnut oil…
  • Dairy: Yogurt, buttermilk, cream…  I’m not going to go into detail on how to make your own cream dressings – I’ll save that for another day
  • Other: Avocado (to supplement the above oils)

Acid/Vinegar:

  • Vinegars:  Red wine, white wine, rice wine, balsamic, cider, Sherry or Champagne vinegar…
  • Citrus: Fresh squeezed lemon, lime or orange juice…

Emulsifier (or in non-Food Science terms, the component that can make the oil and vinegar come together and stay together – since naturally the oil and vinegar tend to separate)

  • Eggs: raw egg yolks (which I don’t condone) or pasteurized egg products (like Egg Beaters)
  • Mustard: Dijon, whole grain, spicy brown, honey…

Eggs and mustard both help to emulsify dressings because they contain amphiphilic molecules that interact with both water and oil (so they bridge the gap between the two and help hold them together, in very simplified terms!).  Vinaigrettes can also be pretty successfully emulsified by the use of a blender or food processor, without adding mustard or eggs – the force of a blender breaks up the fat into smaller droplets – which will make a fairly stable dressing that won’t separate as fast as one that was just whisked together.

Extras:

  • Onion/garlic/shallots: finely minced or even grated on a microplane
  • Seasonings: herbs (finely minced), spices, and definitely salt and pepper!
  • Sweetener: sugar or honey can really help complete a vinaigrette
  • Water: water can successfully be added to a dressing in small amounts to thin and to reduce calories
  • Hot sauce/cayenne pepper/red pepper flakes – something spicy, in a small amount can give a dressing a nice zing

To blend:

  • Whisk: The most traditional method.  Mix the vinegar, emulsifier and all other “extras” in a bowl, then slowly stream in the oil as you whisk the dressing vigorously in one direction.
  • Shake:  The quick-and-dirty method.  Place all the ingredients in a Tupperware or jar with a secure lid and shake until combined.
  • Blender/food processor:  If you want a more stable dressing, using the high speed of a blender or food processor will make a better emulsion (so it won’t separate as easily as the first two methods).  Like with whisking, add everything except the oil to the blender, turn it on, then slowly stream in the oil through the opening at the top of the blender or processor.  Using a hand-held immersion blender also works well.

Whether you want a more creamy, emulsified vinaigrette is up to you.  If you are tossing a salad with the dressing in advance, it won’t matter as much if it separates, compared to serving the dressing in a bottle on the table, where you may want the dressing to appear consistent and uniform for appearance sake.

Recipe for a Basic Vinaigrette

Yield: 1 cup, Time: 5 min

The cast of characters:

  • 1/4 cup vinegar of your choice (or 1/3 cup citrus juice) – in this example I used balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey (or sugar, optional)
  • 1 dash Tabasco (optional)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced (or 2 teaspoons minced shallot)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Methods:

Whisk:  Add first 8 ingredients to a bowl.  Whisk continuously while slowly streaming in the olive oil.

Shake:  Add all ingredients to a container (jar or Tupperware with a tight-fitting lid), cover, and shake until well combined.

Blender:  Add first 7 ingredients to the blender (not the shallots, if using – add after blending).  While the blender is running, slowly stream in the oil.

I shook mine:

With any dressing and method, taste and adjust the seasonings and ratio of oil/vinegar to your taste (ideally, dip a piece of lettuce in the dressing to see how the final product will taste).  Add more salt, sugar or pepper if needed.  Vinaigrettes like this can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days.

Did you know? Oiling Wood Cutting Boards

5 Jan

Did you know that the best way to extend the life of your wooden cutting boards and spoons is to oil them periodically?

I never did this prior to a few months ago, but it makes a huge difference in the appearance of your boards and spoons and in preventing cracking.

All you need is some food-grade mineral oil.  You can buy it at any drugstore or drugstore section of the grocery store.  This will save you lots of money over the marked up “cutting board oil” sold at gourmet food stores.  And if you buy it in the drugstore section, then you know it’s really food grade.

Simply apply the mineral oil to a rag or towel, and spread it over the cutting boards or wooden spoons until it’s well coated.

See the difference? The left side is untreated, the right side is oiled:

Good as new!  As far as how frequently to oil, it depends on use.  My bamboo cutting board said to oil it once every 2-3 days in the first weeks of using it, gradually decreasing to maybe once a week or less.  Or, whenever they look dry!   It’s a simple and easy way to keeping your kitchen tools looking like new.

Did You Know? Secrets to thin and tender chicken for stir fry

14 Dec

This is my first “Did You Know?” post (of hopefully many more), where I’ll write about a cooking tip or technique.

Today it’ll be secrets to making chicken stir fry at home that mimics that from Chinese takeout restaurants.  Not that saucy crispy stuff, but the very thin and tender chicken in vegetable stir fries, that looks like this:

Image from Here

The Tips:

1.  To slice the chicken very thin, slice it when it’s semi-frozen.  This makes it significantly easier to cut it very thin because it isn’t squishing beneath your knife (also – a very sharp knife makes this MUCH easier).

2. Slice the meat against the grain.  With chicken, this is cutting it the short way, not the long way (the width of the meat, not the length) – so you end up with oval shaped pieces, not long strips.

3. Velveting the meat.  This is official name for the Chinese cooking technique, and it’s great for both chicken and shrimp!  It’s very easy and definitely worth the extra step.  Whisk together:

  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

plus an optional teaspoon or so of soy sauce, if you so desire.  Toss the sliced chicken (or shrimp) with the mixture and let sit 30 minutes in the fridge.  Drain off any excess liquid before stir frying.  This coating will, as the name implies, give the chicken a nice velvety texture.  But to taste the difference, also make sure you….

4. Don’t overcook it!  Get your wok (or large skillet) very hot, add the oil, place the meat in the pan and cook until just opaque.   Take it out and set it aside while you cook the rest of the ingredients (vegetables and sauce), then add the chicken in at the last minute to coat and warm through.

These simple tips will really help transform your ho-hum stir fry to something extra delicious.  Stir fry is my go-to meal – I make it at least once every two weeks – so expect more stir fry recipes on the way soon!