Storing oils

Most sources recommend against storing olive oil in the fridge, preferring the classic “dark, cool place.” If you do refrigerate it, they advise giving it 5 minutes or so to come to room temperature before use.

Other oils are apparently more forgiving of refrigeration, or maybe just beneath the notice of those who care about such things.

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Some little tricks you may already know

Dental floss
Cut soft cheese such as Brie, Camembert, or chevre by placing unflavored dental floss under it, crossing the ends over the top, and pulling.

Cake can be split horizontally into layers in a similar manner. Use a ruler to place toothpicks evenly around the cake to guide the floss, wrap, and pull.

Dental floss is also a good choice for stringing food-coloring-dyed or painted pasta “beads” (or any kind of beads) when kids need something “crafty” to do. Please note that dental floss is particularly strong and probably won’t break if the kids try to strangle each other with it or their new necklaces, so this should be discouraged.

Potato flakes
Thicken soup, especially the “cream” kind, by adding instant mashed potatoes. Add it little by little and give it time to absorb liquid and dissolve before adding more if you particularly want to stay soup-ward of mashed potatoes with stuff in. I find this especially useful for commercially-made soups, because the potatoes also cover up some of the saltiness.

Scissors
Chop bacon with kitchen shears instead of a knife and cutting board.

Cut pizza — especially the thin crust kind — with kitchen shears.

Spoon
Spread jam, jelly, and nut butter with the back of a spoon — it’s easier than trying to dig the stuff out of the jar with a knife and then keep it balanced until you get it to the bread.

Wine bottles
Pit cherries by placing them stem-end up on the opening of a wine bottle and pushing the pit out with the handle end of a chopstick. If you wash the bottle out first, you can then use the pits to make flavored water or vodka. Add sparkling water to the pits, give them a good swirl, and strain the water into flasses to serve, or collect a good pile of pits, add vodka and a few whole cherries, and infuse for at least a week.

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Onions

Cut onions with a particularly sharp knife to reduce “crying.” This effect is caused by the sulphur in the onions reacting with eye moisture to produce (very weak) sulphuric acid that the body washes away with tears. The less you tear the membranes of the onion, the less sulphur gets into the air. Wearing glasses, sunglasses, or safety goggles can also help by limiting the sulphur fumes’ access to your eyes. For big projects or extra protection for sensitive eyes, invest in a good pair of swimming goggles, sized for adults. If anyone laughs, invite them to take over the chopping.

To tone down the pungency of an onion, soak it in ice water for half an hour before using it.

To peel pearls onions, drop them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then into cold water. Trim the root end and squeeze the onion toward the stem and it will pop free.

Many believe leftover onion — not used the same day it’s cut — will attract and collect germs. There’s some scientific evidence to support the idea, so consider chopping up the whole onion and freezing what you don’t use right away — or even chopping and freezing several onions at once. It can be very convenient to have a stash of chopped onion all ready to toss into the soup kettle or frying pan.

I’m told this chop-and-freeze technique works with celery as well, also just for cooking. It’ll lose its crispness but not its flavor.

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Gelatin and friends

Gelatin is made of collagen, mostly from the tendons, connective tissues, and bones of mammals. Powdered gelatin is the most familiar, but leaf gelatin is gaining popularity. Five sheets of leaf gelatin are equivalent to a tablespoon, or one packet, of powdered gelatin. To use it, soften the sheets in cold water for 1-2 min before adding them to whatever liquid you’re cooking them in, then heating that liquid until the gelatin melts.

Agar-agar is the vegan (and pareve) alternative, made from algae. Powered agar is usually designed to replace gelatin one-for-one, but in most cases you’ll need to use more flake or bar agar than gelatin.

There’s also isinglass (not to be confused with muscovite, a kind of mica that’s also called isinglass but isn’t edible). Isinglass is a kind of gelatin made from fish swim bladders and is used primarily in brewing.

More links:
Some health aspects of agar-agar

More about isinglass

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Saffron

If you’re using saffron primarily for its golden color rather than flavor, you can cut costs by using turmeric or even plain yellow food coloring. If you want the proper taste, though, stick with the real thing and avoid the grocery store. Not only can a specialty shop or website (Buck’s and Penzey’s both have good reputations) save you a lot of money, their saffron will be much fresher.

Although some sources recommend lightly roasting saffron for more flavor, the traditional method is to soak it in some of whatever liquid you’re using in the dish you’re making, ideally warm or hot, for a few minutes before adding both saffron and liquid to the dish.

Saffron grows as a beautiful fall crocus that will actually do quite well in our climate, given a sunny spot and very well-drained soil — and reasonable safety from wildlife (a generous sprinkle of chili powder will keep the squirrels from eating all the bulbs). The harvest is a bit labor-intensive but not particularly difficult once you figure out which little bit of flower you’re looking for.

The WSU Extension has a very nice .pdf about growing saffron, written pretty much with Eastern Washington in mind but still useful for those of us on “The Wet Side.” To download it, find the “Miscellaneous” section at the bottom of their listing for Benton and Franklin Counties and click “Grow your own saffron.”

Hey, vendors! I’d love to see locally-grown saffron at the market, even just briefly and in limited amounts. I wonder if it could be sold as whole flowers to make things easier, kind of like shelling peas…

Paella recipe (but I’d leave out the chorizo, especially since they don’t say which kind, and peel the tomatoes)

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Tomato trivia

Leftover canned tomatoes will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but for best results store them in a glass jar. You can add sliced or chopped garlic, shredded fresh basil, and some good olive oil to drained whole canned tomatoes* so they’ll keep better.

Green tomatoes will ripen best in a cool, dark location. That traditional sunny windowsill just shortens the time they have before rotting. One source* suggests ripening the end-of-summer last picking by arranging the tomatoes on a baking sheet, covering them with newspaper, and tucking them under the bed.

How to dry tomatoes, including how to get all those skins off.

Previous Market blog posts about tomatoes.

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*How to peel a peach : and 1,001 other things every good cook needs to know / Perla Meyers. Wiley, c2004. ISBN: 0471221236

Peppercorns

Black peppercorns are the nearly-ripe berries of Piper nigram. Tellicherry is generally considered to be the best variety of black pepper and comes from the Malabar Coast of India. Lampong and Sarawak are also popular varieties.

Green peppercorns are the same berries picked while completely unripe. They’re best known in green peppercorn sauce, served with steak.

White peppercorns are the seeds of the fully ripe berry. They show up in light-colored sauces, purely for aesthetic reasons, and in Scandinavian cooking.

Pink peppercorns are the dried berries of the Baies rose and technically not pepper at all. They’re less widely used but can be found in vinaigrettes and light sauces for fish.

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