1:05 AM | Posted in
Buying and Storing Tomatoes
As long as they are kept at room temperature, tomatoes picked at the mature green stage will finish ripening in supermarkets and after you purchase them. Within a few days, they will soften slightly, turn red and—most important of all—develop their full flavor and aroma.

To avoid interrupting this process, place the tomatoes on a counter or in a shallow bowl at room temperature until they are ready to eat.
When tomatoes are chilled below 55° F, the ripening comes to a halt and the flavor never develops.

To speed up the process, keep tomatoes in a brown paper bag or closed container to trap the ethylene gas that helps them ripen. Adding an ethylene-emitting apple or pear to the container can also hasten ripening. Store the tomatoes in a single layer and with the stem ends up, to avoid bruising the delicate "shoulders."

Once they are fully ripened, tomatoes can be held at room temperature or refrigerated for several days. When you’re ready to use them, bring the tomatoes back to room temperature for fullest flavor.

Tomato Techniques
To peel: Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover tomatoes; bring to a boil. Immerse tomatoes about 30 seconds; drain and cool. Remove stem ends and slip off skins.
To seed: Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Gently squeeze each half, using your fingers to remove seeds. To reserve the juice for use in dressings, sauces or soups, seed the tomato into a strainer held over a bowl.
Tomato Shells: Cut a 1/2 inch slice off the stem end of each tomato. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp.
Roast: Preheat oven to 450° F. Halve tomatoes crosswise. Place halves, cut side down, on a shallow baking pan; brush with oil. Roast until lightly browned, about 20 minutes; cool. Remove skins and stem ends.
Slow-Cook: Preheat oven to 300° F. Remove stem ends; slice tomatoes. Place slices on a shallow baking pan; brush with oil. Cook until tomatoes soften and shrink, about 45 minutes.

Tomato Equivalents
1 small tomato = 3 to 4 ounces
1 medium tomato = 5 to 6 ounces
1 large tomato = 7 or more ounces
1 pound of tomatoes = 2 1/2 cups chopped or 1 1/2 cups pulp
1:04 AM | Posted in
Cooking pumpkin for pies
Cut off the top of the pumpkin and scrape out all the seeds and strings (an old-fashioned ice cream scoop works great). Cut it into sections and with a paring knife, cut the skin off the flesh. Steam the flesh until tender and puree. (Do NOT immerse the pumpkin meat in water and boil - it will soak up the water and make a watery pie.)

Be sure to read our tips on choosing the best pumpkins for pie below in How to pick a pumpkin.

Using ordinary kitchen tools to carve the pumpkin
Chances are you have some kitchen tools other than the paring knife that will help you carve the Halloween pumpkin. . Your resident ice cream scoop, especially the old-fashioned metal kind, will do a terrific job of scraping out the seeds and strings. A grapefruit knife (the double-edged serrated type) is helpful for carving out large areas. After you've cut the big chunk out with the grapefruit knife, smooth out the edges with a sharp, thin blade. An apple corer makes a clean and perfect circle. A simple vegetable peeler, if inserted into the pumpkin flesh and rotated, carves the perfect nostril. Have fun and be careful!

Using a carpentry tool to carve the pumpkin
From a foodies fan in California, Land of the Cutting Edge:
"After you have scooped out your pumpkin, thin the wall down as much as is practical. Take a coping saw blade (an old worn-out one will do) and wrap about half its length in heavy tape to create a handle. Wrap it tight so the blade doesn't slip inside the tape. If your blade has a small pin through the end (for mounting in the saw), cut or break off about a half inch to eliminate the pin. Push the end of the blade through the pumpkin wall and start cutting. The blade is thin enough to turn sharp corners, allowing you to get some incredible detail. I find it helpful to sketch the design on the pumpkin first using a dry marker or ball point pen. Make sure you don't use a jeweler's saw blade. They're too thin and will just bend.

Make sure the blade teeth are pointed toward you so the blade cuts on the pull stroke (rather then the push stroke). Much better for control. Obviously, this also affects the way you wrap your tape handle. My favorite reason for coping saw blades vs. knife blades? It's almost impossible to sustain a life threatening injury while wielding a coping saw blade. Not true of knives and I have the scars to prove it. Happy carving!"

Advanced tip on carving pumpkins
For the serious carver: Hollow out the pumpkins and then let them sit around for a few days to soften them up. Stagger this process in the several days before Halloween - start with the biggest pumpkin first as it will have the thickest walls. Be careful - if you thin the walls too much, or if the gutted pumpkin gets too warm and rots, the walls may collapse. (see our tips on How to pick a pumpkin

How to pick a pumpkin
There are two types of pumpkin available commercially. Sugar pumpkins are usually the smaller, deep orange variety. Field pumpkins - also known as jack o' lanterns - are larger, a brighter shade of orange, and more suitable for carving. Although both varieties are edible, sugar pumpkins have a sweeter flesh and are better for cooking.
1:03 AM | Posted in
How to choose a pie plate
foodies east suggests glass plates. The crusts brown better on the bottom and can be monitored more easily. Buy standard-sized plates (8", 9", or 10") if you're plateless-- deep-dish and other specialty plates can be added to the collection when you're ready to branch out. Most recipes call for standard sizes so you won't have to finagle the recipe.

foodies west prefers the good heavy ceramic plates. Kauffman's Hardware on Main Street in New Holland, PA, was always the place to find them. Glass can brown too quickly. The ceramic ones that are glazed inside and on the rim (but left unglazed outside) are the ticket. They discolor and improve with age and repeated apple filling spilling over the edge. As a kid, I got 1st prize for my crust in every New Holland Farm Show for a long time. So there!

How to use cold to create flaky pastry
Cold, cold, cold --the pastry, the marble slab (if you're lucky enough to own one), the water in the recipe. Cold fat congeals! Rumor has it some chefs even chill the flour, but be mindful that condensation can create lumps.

Should I use my Cuisinart to make a pie crust?
It's tempting to use a food processor to fling together a crust. In this foodies editor's experience, it is impossible to do so and create a pastry as flaky as one made by hand. Despite that caveat, an acceptable crust can still be made, so, if time is short, pull out the trusty Cuisinart. Chill the bowl and blade. Feather that pulse button! Inspect the texture of the dough carefully during pauses. As soon as the dough begins to form a ball, remove it from the machine.

How to use up pastry scraps
Butter scraps, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and bake like cookies. The chef deserves a snack!

foodies west, once again, begs to differ: "Like cookies"? No, no. They are spread with butter, cinnamon and BROWN sugar and then ROLLED into little loose tubes. They are called "Schnukerhiesen". No kidding.

On freezing pastry dough
Pie crust dough freezes better in a ball than rolled-out dough. A ball takes up little room in the freezer and it won't be broken when you shove in another half gallon of ice cream. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap. Thaw at room temperature, in the plastic to prevent it from drying out, until only slightly chilled. Proceed with your pie.
1:02 AM | Posted in
How and When to Pick and Wash Fresh Basil Leaves
If you are fanatical, water the plant a few hours before picking to perk up the leaves. Use only fresh basil from a plant that has not yet gone to seed. The leaves are at their sweetest before flowering. Pick just before preparation, bathe tenderly in cold water, and dry by gently blotting between layers of paper towel or dishtowels.

Freezing Pesto
As the best basil is seasonal, you may wish to freeze batches of pesto for a welcome return to summer in the colder months. Before preparing the pesto, have a sterilized glass jar with a lid and a roll of plastic wrap handy. The jar should hold only slightly more than the amount of pesto you are making. Prepare the pesto. Leaving a little space in the jar, pack in the pesto and cover the top with a 1/4 inch layer of olive oil. Press a piece of plastic wrap evenly over the surface of the oil allowing the wrap to hang over the sides of the jar. Screw on the lid and freeze immediately. Pesto will keep for weeks, if not months, if prepared properly. Thaw to room temperature before adding to a recipe.

Miscellaneous Pesto Notes
Pesto and pine nuts. May the two never be torn asunder. Forget what you read about substituting walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts. Pignoli is the only ingredient that provides the creamy texture that binds this sauce.

Never heat pesto sauce - the basil will turn black and taste bitter.

Never use dried basil or you're in for a rude surprise.

Experiment with pesto - add it to soups, soft cheese, sandwiches, life.

When cut basil is exposed to oxygen, it eventually blackens. If you must make pesto ahead of time, cover the top of the batch with a light layer of olive oil and press a piece of plastic wrap evenly over the surface. Refrigerate. Leave the pesto out to reach room temperature before adding to a recipe.

Does your pesto taste a tad flat? Add 1/4 teaspoon of high quality balsamic vinegar to round it out.

1:01 AM | Posted in
Tips on storing olive oil from Joy
Olive oil, like all organic oils, will turn rancid over time if not properly stored. Keep it away from heat, air and light. Don't be tempted to store it in the cupboard over the range or above the refrigerator. Most cooks like to have some handy at the stove. Keep some in a pretty opaque container with a pouring spout within reach of your hand but not of the cooking heat.

Do not store olive oil in the refrigerator--it solidifies at 36 degrees Fahrenheit. If you find your olive oil contains a layer of white solids, the bottle has been chilled. Leave it to reach room temperature-- the olive oil will not have suffered. Joy
12:59 AM | Posted in
How to skin (blanch) hazelnuts
"To skin hazelnuts, spread them on a jelly roll pan and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the skins parch and begin to flake off. Then wrap them in a towel and let them stand for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, working with a small amount of the nuts at a time, place them on a large, coarse towel (I use a terry cloth bath towel). Fold part of the towel over to enclose the nuts. Rub firmly against the towel, or hold that part of the towel between both hands and rub back and forth. The handling and the texture of the towel will cause most of the skins to flake off. Pick out the nuts and discard the skins. Don't worry about the few little pieces of skin that may remain."

Tips on storing nuts
"Nuts can turn rancid rather quickly--walnuts and pecans more so than almonds. Always store all nuts airtight in the freezer or refrigerator. In the refrigerator nuts last well for nine months; in the freezer at zero degrees they will last for two years. Bring them to room temperature before using, smell and taste them before using (and, if possible, when you buy them)--you will know quickly if they are rancid. If you even suspect that they might be, do not use them. They would ruin a recipe. Always store nuts in the freezer or refrigerator."
12:58 AM | Posted in
Martini Tips

The measurement
"Be scientific. Use a jigger. If you don't know what a jigger is, use a measuring cup. 8 ounces = a cup. You figure it out. Record what works."

The vermouth
"Buy the smallest bottle of vermouth that will support your habit. Refrigerate after opening. After the bottle's been open more than a month, use it for cooking. Buy a fresh one for the bar."

The ice
"One often overlooked ingredient in the perfect martini is the ice that goes into the shaker. As we all know, ice absorbs the flavors around it. First, clean out the freezer. Give Aunt Edna's soup and everything else whose vintage is suspect the heave-ho. (Editor's Note: Jam a freshly opened box of baking soda between the frozen fish sticks.) Fill several children's ice pop molds with your favorite bottled water. Still water, not bubbly. I prefer the kind of long plastic mold that comes in a holder of six or eight. Three sets of this sized mold is enough unless you're having the House majority leader and his girlfriends over. Put a sheet of plastic wrap over the tops of the trays just in case your freezer is channeling the spirit of Aunt Edna."

"If you have a source for bagged party ice that you trust, go ahead and take your chances. I've always been wary of commercial party ice...is it tap water?...filtered water?...is it even clean water? It always tastes slightly metallic to me." (The Editor again: I recommend the Brita system for a quick tap water fix.) "Remember, you want the largest possible pieces of ice in the shaker. Do not use chipped ice. You'll pour out a martini that is about half water." (Egads!)

"This is a good time to frost some glasses. I douse them in water before I put them into the freezer. Filtered tap water works just fine for this purpose. Make sure you put them in upside down if you've used the water trick; otherwise, you'll end up with a little disk of ice in the bottom of the glass that will dislodge itself after the first sip, float to the surface of your drink, and paddle around staring at you."

"If, as a very last resort, you must use old ice, dump it all into a large bowl, fill with clean water and stir. Drain off the water and place the ice back in the freezer to 'set.' If the purity of your ice is suspect, use a few more drops of vermouth. Vow never to let it happen again."

The shake
Again, Flick Eggleston: "It's all about your own personal rhythm. I get sixteen shakes into ten seconds. That works for me. Don't shake too vigorously or too long or you'll break off shards of ice. They'll melt faster and dilute your drink. Much less than ten seconds doesn't get the mix cold enough. Experiment."
12:57 AM | Posted in
Tips on using ice cream makers (electric or manual)

To ensure that the egg yolks and sugar of the ice cream base are completely mixed, do it by hand.
Let the base flavors develop overnight in the refrigerator. Adjust the flavor before churning.
Don't chintz on the flavorings - why risk the rest of the expensive ingredients? Choose natural, top quality flavorings and extracts.
Consider adding flavorings with alcohol toward the end of the churning process - alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than the other ingredients and may slow the process.
What NOT to do with salty waste water from the ice cream maker - don't dispose it on the grass or any living thing! (The Romans dumped their nasty old saline on Carthage in 146 B.C. decimating a perfectly good city, but the gelato sure hit the spot!)

How to scoop, serve and serve ice cream
A crust of ice crystals on leftover ice cream is sure a let-down for that midnight hankering! Follow these tips to prevent crystals from forming.

-"Temper" ice cream before you scoop - leave it at room temperature for 8-10 minutes before serving. Return ice cream to the freezer immediately after it has been served to minimize the formation of ice crystals.
Forget what your brother-in-law told you about nuking it for 10-20 seconds. Resist the temptation for immediate gratification! Ice cream is a good enough treat on its own!
-Serve ice cream in chilled bowls, preferably glass. Not only is the frosted bowl refreshing to look at, but the ice cream will retain its shape longer.
Scooping ice cream: A variation on a theme. Try this! Have a large Pyrex measuring cup or other heat proof container filled with just boiling water standing by. Dip the metal scoop into the hot water, let it heat up for a moment, and then DRY the scoop on a towel. Quickly drag the hot scoop across the ice cream creating tight rolls of the divine stuff. Do not smash the ice cream with the scoop. Think ribbons, not chunks. Repeat the process for each serving.
-To store opened ice cream, first place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface and smooth it down lightly with your fingers. Then close the lid securely (use a rubber band if you have to) and return to the depths of your freezer.
12:55 AM | Posted in
How to tell if an egg is fresh
Old wives' tales? Maybe. Lower uncooked eggs into a bowl of water. If the egg settles horizontally, the egg is fresh enough for human consumption. If it settles vertically, feed it to the dog. If it rises to the top, feed it to the hydrangeas.

How to hard cook eggs without cracking them
Cold water method or hot? Room temperature eggs or cold eggs? Cold water plunge or no cold water plunge? Here in the foodies kitchen, we tested every possible permutation-- this is how to hard cook an egg:

-Use fresh eggs, preferably organic or grain fed, as they peel more easily once cooked. They also have better texture
and flavor.
-Handle like eggs. Or nitroglycerin.
-Bring eggs to room temperature before cooking. This helps prevent cracking due to the sudden shock of temperature change and ensures a properly cooked egg. If you do use eggs right out of the refrigerator, add a minute or two to the cooking time.
-Simmer eggs. A roiling boil is too violent. Call them "hard cooked" instead of "hard boiled" and you'll remember
this hint.
-Don't crowd the pan. The eggs will knock each other and crack.
-In a saucepan, bring enough water to cover the eggs to a boil. With a slotted spoon, lower the eggs into the water. Quickly, bring the water back to a boil. Lower the temperature to medium heat and simmer exactly 10 minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and plunge into a bowl of cold tap water. The cold water will stop further cooking and create a gap between shell and egg for easier peeling. You may put the eggs right into a color bath now if you wish.

How to color eggs without the silly kit
In a bowl (not metal), pour in enough water and white distilled vinegar to cover the eggs. For pastel colors use one cup of water to 1 tablespoon of vinegar. (Intensify the color by reducing the amount of water used or leaving the eggs in the dye for longer periods of time.) Using basic food coloring, mix your own shade in the water and vinegar. Be sure the food coloring is completely blended so there are no "stains" on the eggs. Carefully submerge hard cooked eggs in the color bath, rotating frequently, until of desired intensity.

Egg coloring tricks
For an easy tie dyed look, wrap the egg with rubber bands before coloring.
Take a candle or other piece of wax and draw whatever you fancy on the egg-- the dye will not be absorbed by the wax.

-Mix some offbeat colors. Or use a very strong solution of dye and leave the eggs in it for a long while-- a deeply colored egg is gorgeous.
Fashion a ring to hold the egg at the end of a handle out of some seizing wire (or other stiff wire) and lower the egg very, very slowly into the bath to create a striated effect.
-Let kids decorate the eggs. Set some eggs aside that will not be eaten, collect odds and ends from house and garden, provide glue sticks, and let the little ones put Fabergé to shame.

How to peel a hard cooked egg
Cold eggs peel more easily than room temperature eggs. Gently tap the egg shell on the counter along the egg's "equator." Place the egg between hands and roll back and forth as if you were making a hot dog out of clay. You should feel the shell and membrane loosening from the egg white. Peel off the shell. If the shell is still coming off in irritating bits, peel under running water (this is the last resort).
12:54 AM | Posted in
How to remove baked on food from your baking dishes
Scrape off loose bits of food. Put a couple of tablespoons of dishwasher detergent in the dish and add hot water. Stir the solution - a small wire whisk helps. The solution should be so heavy with detergent that it doesn't all quite dissolve. Leave it overnight. By morning, the baked on food will have lifted right off the surface of the dish. This works particularly well with glass baking dishes. Don't use this method on non-stick surfaces.

How to remove cooked on cheese (and other fatty foods)
Scrape off loose bits of food with a spatula or wipe them off with a paper towel. Then, blast the cheese with blazingly hot water while scraping with a brush or spatula. Be careful! What you don't manage to remove leave to the dishwasher. Leave the brush to the dishwasher, too. It will take care of those gummy bits of cheese better than thou.

How to remove cooked on rice, pasta or other starchy food

You left the stove to catch the Local on The Weather Channel and OOPS! First of all, if the rice has scorched, remove all the nicely cooked rice to a serving dish before the scorched food imparts a nasty flavor. Then, soak the pan in cold water. Cold, not warm, not hot. By the time you finish eating, your pan should have released the cooked on food. If not, try the method above for removing blackened, baked on food.

How to remove cooked on milk
Use the cold water method above (How to remove cooked on rice...). Attention Espresso/Cappuccino Machine Owners: You may know the trick of blowing a shot of steam into a towel and wiping down the steamer with the cloth to keep it clean. This doesn't work well if the milk has caked on. Soak the steam wand in a tall glass of cold water to soften the hardened milk, then wipe with a towel to remove it.

How to guarantee a clean, lint-free window
Run out of Windex? Don't panic. Don't even put it on the shopping list! Fill up the bottle with 3 parts of water and 1 part vinegar (don't waste the balsamic - use white or cider vinegar) and start spraying. Wipe your windows clean with newspaper. You'll be amazed!