Gayle Schindler - new logo

 When I run into readers of this column or people find out I’m writing a cookbook, they frequently ask cooking questions. They ask, what is my favorite kind of food to cook? They ask where I shop for groceries. They ask for meal ideas. And they ask for tips –- advice about the little things that frustrate them in the kitchen.

 So, this month, I’m sharing some tips. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I’ve learned over the years.

 

Knives: The most important kitchen tool is a great, sharp knife. All expensive knives are high quality, but not all excellent knives are expensive. Construction and materials are important, but choosing a knife is an individual, personal decision. A knife that works for you should be balanced and fit easily in your hand. 

Many high-quality knives are quite heavy. If you cook, and therefore, chop a lot, a heavy knife can become tiring and even painful to use. Before I had carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists ten years ago, I found a brand of inexpensive, American-made knives that I love because they are light. 

I like a large chef’s knife, but I notice that others often use small knives even for heavy work. If you’re not happy with your own knives, I recommend trying something a little bigger; let the larger blade do the work for you.

You must keep knives sharp. A dull knife makes the work harder and is more likely to slip and cut you. There are two steps to keeping your knife at its best –-sharpening and honing. 

Although to the naked eye, a non-serrated knife looks like it has a smooth edge, it actually has tiny, unseeable teeth that should all point in the same direction –- towards the tip. Sharpening, whether you use a stone, an electric sharpener, or a professional, actually cuts a new edge on the knife. Repeated use bends the tiny teeth out of alignment. Using a steel to hone the knife between uses, puts the teeth back in the right direction. You can hone a knife before every use. Sharpening should be done only every few weeks or more, depending on use.

 

Parchment paper: In my recipes, I often write, “place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.” Parchment paper prevents or reduces sticking and makes clean-up much easier. You can even use it to line a loaf pan when baking quick breads or a baking dish for casseroles. In the supermarket, parchment paper typically comes on a roll; after tearing off the length you need, roll it in the opposite direction to flatten it out. Or buy a large box of flat sheets at a restaurant supply store. I keep the box on top of my refrigerator, where it’s always handy. 

 

Citrus squeezer: After trying several tools and techniques to squeeze citrus, I finally settled on a squeezer like the one in the photo.  It’s easy to use, small enough to store in a drawer, and it gets the most juice out of the fruit. 

Really cold fruit is harder to squeeze and gives less juice. Either take it out of the fridge early or toss it in the microwave for ten or fifteen seconds. Then roll the fruit along the equator, back and forth on your cutting board to break up the internal membranes before cutting it in half. Place the fruit cut side down in the squeezer.

 

Eggs: Eggs are an inexpensive, super versatile protein source that acts as a main course or ingredient. They’re easy to work with, but here are a few helpful tips.

If you need to beat egg whites, remove the eggs from the fridge and let them come to room temperature. The warmer whites will whip up quickly and easily. Use a scrupulously clean bowl, wiped out with white vinegar on a paper towel.

You don’t need a tool to separate eggs. If you’re not confident moving the egg back and forth between two halves of the shell, simply break the egg into your hand. Let the whites slip through your fingers, leaving the yolk in your palm. 

If a small piece of shell gets into your egg, use a larger piece of shell to capture it. 

 

See the recipe for how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg.

 

Toasting Nuts: I recommend toasting all nuts and seeds, especially if they’re frozen, to bring out the oils and pump up the flavor. Simply place them in a dry skillet over medium heat and shake them around until they start to brown and smell toasty. Don’t leave them unattended; they go from perfect to burnt in a heartbeat.

 

Garlic: There are a few tricks to peeling and cutting fresh garlic. One way to remove the thin, papery skin, especially if you want to leave the cloves whole, is to put the separated cloves in a large glass jar and shake them vigorously. 

If you’re going to slice, mince, or smash the garlic anyway, try this method. Place each clove on your cutting board. Cover the clove with the widest part of your knife, the part towards the handle. Use the heel of your hand to smack the knife, breaking the clove underneath and loosening the skin. 

To mince the garlic, start by slicing. Sprinkle the clove with some kosher salt – this doesn’t work with finely ground table salt. With the sharp edge of your knife perpendicular to the board, hold the tip of the knife in one place and rock the knife up and down and back and forth across the garlic. As it spreads out, bring it back to a small pile and repeat. The crystals of the salt act as an abrasive, working with your knife to get the garlic super fine. Don’t forget to adjust the salt later in the recipe.

To make a paste, lay your knife onto the garlic with the edge facing away from you. Hold the knife down and drag it towards yourself, applying enough pressure to smash the garlic underneath. Repeat. 

 

Preheat Your Oven: Always preheat your oven to the desired temperature. Putting cold food into a cold oven and then turning it on alters cooking time and may affect the final result. If you have trouble with items burning too quickly or not cooking all the way through, your oven may not be perfectly calibrated. Invest in an oven thermometer to check whether your oven is reaching the correct temperature. Move the thermometer around inside to check for hot and cold spots. If your oven isn’t temping right, a repairman can recalibrate; it’s not an expensive fix.

 

Temping Your Food: The only way to know whether fish, chicken, or beef is cooked correctly is to use a quick read food thermometer. Make sure the sensing area of the thermometer is completely in contact with the deepest part of the product. Insert the thermometer into the side of the piece, not the top. Push it in until the sensing area is in the center of the piece.

Always remove the entire baking dish from the oven and close the oven while you’re temping the product. The temperature in the oven goes down by about fifty degrees every time you open it; leaving it open lets it drop even more and will affect cooking time.

 

Boil, Then Simmer: There’s a good reason that recipes always instruct you to, “bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.” Bringing a pot of liquid or product to a boil ensures that everything is at the same temperature throughout before turning the heat down to finish cooking. If you leave cold spots inside the pot, it will affect cooking time and potentially negatively impact the final product.

 

 

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are a ubiquitous, old-fashioned classic for a reason. They’re inexpensive, easy to make, everybody loves them, and they’re parve. For kids’ lunches, put the two halves of the egg back together; wrap in plastic wrap or snuggle into a container small enough that they won’t roll around. If you make Deviled Eggs for a party and have leftovers, mash them with a fork and add celery, scallions, and/or shredded carrots to make egg salad.

 

Here’s how to make the perfect, easy-to-peel hard-boiled egg. 

Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil. 

Use a slotted spoon to slowly lower each egg into the water, taking care not to let it crash to the bottom of the pot and crack. 

Turn the heat down to a moderate boil. Set a timer for ten minutes. 

When the timer rings, remove the eggs from the hot pot. Put them in a bowl with cold water and ice to stop cooking.

 

This method results in an egg with a yolk that is almost completely hard all the way through; it leaves a small center of gooey yolk. If you prefer it cooked throughout, set your timer for eleven or twelve minutes, but not more. Any longer and your eggs will begin to develop that unattractive green ring around the yolk.

 

Ingredients

 

8 hard-boiled eggs

3 TBSP mayonnaise

2 tsp mustard

12 dashes Worcestershire

6 Tabasco or other hot sauce.

Salt & Pepper

 

Optional Toppings

Paprika

Slice of green or black olive

Caviar

Scallions or chives

Crispy Fried Shallot

Smoked Salmon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directions

 

1. Peel eggs.

2. Carefully remove the yolk into a small bowl.

3. If you don’t have a deviled egg dish with egg-shaped indentations, use a small knife to slice a sliver off the bottom of each half egg. This will help them sit solidly on a plate without sliding around.

4. In the small bowl, add mayo, mustard, Worcestershire, Tobasco, salt & pepper to yolks.

5. Use a fork or small masher to incorporate the ingredients until the mixture is smooth.

6. Place a small plastic bag (without pleats), corner down in a small glass. Spoon the yolk mixture into the bag.

7. Push the yolk mixture into the corner of the bag; twist the bag. Cut off the corner.

8. Line up six eggs (twelve halves) on your serving dish. Gently squeeze the yolk mixture into the cavity of each egg, distributing equally. (You will have whites from two eggs left. Cook’s snack.)

9. Sprinkle paprika or chopped chives from about a foot above plate, to gently decorate eggs. It’s okay if some drops onto the plate around the eggs.

10. Top with other optional toppings.

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