For someone who rarely cooks, it is incredible how many cooking magazines I religiously dip into and how many cooking shows I watch. I am astounded, always, by the tips provided in publications not only by the editors but by readers who send them in. With full credit going to Cooks Illustrated – to my mind it reads like a novel, especially the opening essay by test kitchen guru Christopher Kimball – I share these tidbits:
For pesto that remains truly green, not food-colored green even hours after sitting on a counter or being refrigerated for days or frozen, just blanch the basil leaves before chopping them up in the food processor. (To blanch, place leaves into boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds and then transfer immediately to ice water.)
Cheesecake without the crack. A cheesecake that cracks is a cheesecake that has baked too long. The unsightly crater generally happens at 160°F, so remove the cake from the oven when the temp measures 150 °F at the center. Once out of the oven, there’s another crack opportunity as the cake, which shrank during baking and now is clinging to the sides of the spring form pan, splits in the middle. Avoid this unwanted situation by only leaving the cake in the pan (on the cooling rack) for a few minutes before freeing it from the sides of the pan with a paring knife.
That white film on grapes, easier to see on dark grapes than green ones, is very difficult to wash off because it is not water soluble. Not to worry. That film is a harmless, tasteless yeast that grows in soil, becomes airborne and settles on the growing grapes. It’s a good yeast because it protects the flesh of the grapes from harmful fungi and bacteria.
Made too many mashed potatoes? They won’t go to waste if you use a large ice-cream scoop or measuring cup to mound single-portion size “potato cookies” onto a parchment-covered baking sheet, place it in the freezer until frozen and then transfer to a zip-lock bag. To defrost and heat, put a portion into a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and heat at half power for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Spaghetti for two. Save a spice jar with a one-inch opening. The amount of spaghetti it takes to fill up the whole jar opening is just the right amount for two servings.
Stinky sponges. Given the bacteria present in the typical kitchen sink, it is no wonder that sponges are often the answer to the “What smells in here?” sniff test. The most effective methods for cleaning sponges are boiling in water for five minutes or microwaving them. Go with the water because high-powered microwave ovens can burn sponges.
Tap twice on the counter, once before baking in a tube pan, once afterward to break up air pockets.
Whole wheat watch. Trying to do the healthy thing by eating more whole grains? When it comes to pasta, if it is not labeled 100% whole wheat, you might not be doing yourself or your family the favor you set out to. “Whole wheat” or “multi-grain” labels might sound healthy, but without the 100% qualifier required by the FDA, the ambiguously labeled product may not be significantly different in nutritional value from ordinary “white” pasta.