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Eats and Drinks

DIY Kitchen

Holiday Tips

Photo: Henry Hong, License: N/A

Henry Hong

It being the holiday season and all, seems to me that our collective cooking energies are best directed toward executing traditional or family favorites rather than tackling some random new project. So to help reduce effort and stress in the kitchen, here are a few vaguely holiday-related tips. Mashed Potatoes Boil potatoes whole and unpeeled, except make a scoring cut all the way around the center of each potato—a circumcision if you will—just deep enough to cut through the skin. Place them in a pot of cold, salted water (this helps reduce uneven cooking) and boil until you can stick a knife easily all the way through the biggest tater. Have a large bowl of ice water ready. When the potatoes are done, drain them and place one into the ice water bath for a minute or until cool enough to handle. If you grip the potato and twist, the peel should magically slip right off. Protip: Use the cooking pot as your mashing pot (less dishes) and let the potatoes steam for a while before adding butter/milk/stock: Less water = more room for other liquids. Roasts If you’re roasting something that benefits from frequent basting, use what I call “a moisture binky.” (Keep in mind, I do have a rather deep voice.) Soak either several layers of cheesecloth, a clean dishcloth, or even sturdy paper towels (Viva works well) in whatever basting liquid you’re using (stock, wine/butter mixture, etc.), and drape over your roast or bird. The liquid will slowly seep down into the roast, requiring less frequent oven-opening, and the binky will help protect the meat from evaporative moisture loss. This is especially helpful when roasting a presliced ham, which tends to splay open and dry out fast in the absence of something to hold it together. Continue to baste directly onto the binky as necessary, but remove it for the last bit of cooking if you want browning to occur. Protip: Periodically rotate a large roast 180 degrees along its Z-axis to mitigate oven hotspots. Deviled Eggs The Colt 45 of egg-boiling methods: Start eggs in cold water, bring to boil, boil uncovered for exactly 90 seconds, turn off heat, cover and wait until cool. But then, instead of peeling, just cut the eggs in half, shell on. The cut must be decisive and the blade sharp, but this makes peeling eggs significantly less enraging, as they should come off rather easily, even if the eggs are very fresh. After you’ve removed the yolks, rinse with water to remove shell fragments if necessary. Protip: If you are making deviled eggs ahead of time, refrigerate the whites and filling separately. Bring egg whites to room temperature (about 15 minutes before serving) and pipe filling into whites just before serving. Sundry tips - To put a quick edge on a dull knife, use the unglazed ring you find on the underside of ceramic dishes and mugs. Sharpen in long strokes at a shallow angle, on both side of the edge . If you see the ceramic darkening, that means material is coming off the blade and that leads to a finer edge. - For maximum juice extraction from a lemon or lime, first roll it a few times on the counter with a fair bit of downward force (to break open the little sacs inside), then pop it in the microwave for 5-10 seconds. - When making stock—especially a meat-based one—scum will often form on the surface. Larger deposits can be removed with a spoon. But for the pesky remaining bits, make sure the heat is off and the stock is no longer simmering. Take a sheet of foil and lightly crinkle it up, then unfold it again into a flattish sheet, but do not smooth it out. Drag the crinkly sheet over the surface of the stock, and it should grab most of the scum within its many nooks. I mean, what the hell is a cranny anyway? - To thicken a gravy, instead of adding flour or cornstarch directly to your stock or other gravy base, add some flour or cornstarch and some water to a lidded jar and shake vigorously. Add this slurry as necessary to make a lump-free gravy.

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