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Cooking Tips

Mis en place is a French term meaning "Everything put in place"

This page includes tips and tricks to make cooking easier. Please feel free to contribute your own cooking tips -- I'll post the best ones so everyone can see them.

Lighter Cooking Techniques

Make meals that are delicious and good for you with these smart cooking methods.
Lighter Techniques - Unfrying

"Unfrying"

We all love fried chicken, but nobody loves the fat and calories that go with it. Baking or "unfrying" starts with removing the skin. If you're worried about sacrificing taste, don't be — marinating the chicken in Kraft Light Done Right! Ranch Reduced Fat Dressing infuses it with flavor, while Shake 'N Bake gives you that great crunchy texture.

Simple Southern-Style "Unfried" ChickenHealthy Living

Lighter Techniques - Sautéing in Light Dressing

Sautéing in Light Dressing

This is a quick way to cook vegetables so they retain their flavor, crunchy texture and nutrients. Light dressing also contains less fat than oil or butter, and allows you to change up the flavor with each different variety.

Quick & Easy Shrimp PrimaveraHealthy Living

Lighter Techniques - Foil Packet Cooking

Foil Packet Cooking

This simple steaming method guarantees a moist and flavorful all-in-one meal. To enclose food in packet, bring up foil sides. Double fold top and both ends to seal, leaving room for heat circulation.

Foil-Packet Southwestern Chicken DinnerHealthy Living

Pan-roasting

Pan-roasting

Looking for a great way to cook lean cuts of meat indoors? Pan-roasting is the answer. Marinating the meat in light dressing beforehand keeps it moist and delicious, while roasting it in the oven afterward with quick-cooked vegetables brings out all the different flavors.

Pan-Roasted Steak DinnerHealthy Living

Freezing Baked Goods

Get ahead of holiday baking, or any big baking occasion, by preparing and baking items ahead of time. These storage tips, along with some of our best make-ahead recipes, will help you to get started.

Freezing Baked Cookies and Bars

  • To freeze baked cookies, cool cookies completely, then wrap individual cookies tightly in plastic wrap. Place in freezer-style resealable plastic bag or airtight container. Freeze up to 1 month. When ready to serve, thaw at room temperature.
  • To freeze brownies or bar cookies, cool brownies or bar cookies completely, but do not cut into individual servings. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap again with foil. Freeze up to 3 months. When ready to serve, thaw at room temperature before cutting into individual servings.
  • Chocolate-topped brownies or bar cookies should be frozen before topping. Follow directions for freezing brownies. After thawing, spread melted chocolate over the top of the brownies or bar cookies and cut into individual servings.

Check our our favorite cookie recipes.

Freezing Cookie Dough

Cookie dough can be frozen up to 6 weeks using these methods:

  • For slice-and-bake refrigerator cookies, shape dough into logs, then double wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze until ready to use, then just thaw, slice and bake as directed in recipe.
  • For drop or shaped cookies, shape cookie dough into balls (or other shapes as directed in your recipe) then place on parchment paper or wax paper-lined baking sheet. Freeze until dough is completely frozen. Transfer dough from tray to freezer-style resealable plastic bag; freeze until ready to use. When ready to bake, thaw frozen dough on baking sheets, then bake as directed in recipe.
  • For cut-out cookies, pat dough into a disk and double wrap in plastic wrap. Place dough in freezer-style resealable plastic bag. When ready to use, thaw dough, roll out, cut into shapes and bake as directed in recipe.

Freezing Cakes, Muffins and Quick Breads:

  • To freeze unfrosted cakes, place cooled cake in freezer-style resealable plastic bag; seal bag. Freeze up to 3 months. When ready to serve, remove cake from bag and place on serving plate. Let stand at room temperature 1 to 2 hours. Frost as desired.
  • To freeze frosted cakes, place on parchment paper or wax paper-lined tray in freezer 1 hour or until frosting is frozen. Place in freezer-style resealable plastic bag; place in airtight container. Freeze up to 3 months. When ready to serve, remove cake from bag and place on serving plate. Let stand at room temperature 1 to 2 hours.
  • To freeze muffins or quick breads, cool muffins or breads completely. Place in freezer-style resealable plastic bag. Or, wrap cooled muffins or breads in plastic wrap, then wrap again with foil. Freeze up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature. To serve warm, microwave on MEDIUM (50%) just until heated though.

Freezing Pies

  • To freeze baked fruit or nut pies, cool pie completely, then wrap pie (in pan) tightly in plastic wrap. Place in freezer-style resealable plastic bag. Freeze up to 4 months. When ready to serve, thaw in refrigerator. Bake at 325°F for 15 to 20 minutes or until heated through, if desired.
  • To freeze unbaked fruit pies, assemble as directed in recipe, except do not cut slits in top pie crust. Place unwrapped pie in freezer until completely frozen. Remove from freezer, then wrap pie (in pan) in plastic wrap. Place in freezer-style resealable plastic bag. Freeze up to 4 months. When ready to bake, do not thaw. Unwrap frozen pie and cut slits in top of pastry. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F, and bake 30 to 40 minutes or until juices form bubbles that burst slowly.
  • To freeze baked or unbaked pie shells, prepare shell as directed in recipe. Cool completely if shell is baked. Place shell in freezer, unwrapped, for 1 hour or until crust is frozen, then wrap shell (in pan) in plastic wrap. Place in freezer-style resealable plastic bag. Freeze up to 2 months. It is not necessary to thaw pie shells before baking or filling.
  • Custard and cream pies, such as pumpkin and banana cream, do not freeze well.

Freezing Cheesecake

  • Prepare cheesecake as directed, omitting any topping added after baking. Cool completely. Wrap cheesecake tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap again with aluminum foil. Freeze up to 2 months. When ready to serve, thaw wrapped cheesecake in refrigerator overnight.
  • Cheesecake may be cut into individual slices prior to freezing. Place unwrapped slices on parchment paper or wax paper-lined tray in freezer until surface is frozen. Wrap slices tightly with plastic wrap, then wrap again with foil. When ready to serve, microwave individual slices on DEFROST (30%) for 45 sec. to 1 min. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Knife Skills

Knives are essential tools in any kitchen and can be your best friend when you're preparing food.
Print the step-by-step knife skills instructions

Knife Skills Basics

Chef's Knives

Chef's Knives are great for cutting both raw and cooked meat. Before you slice raw steak, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour before cutting into slices. Cut steak across the grain, straight up and down and as thinly and evenly as possible, holding the chef's knife at a 45-degree angle to the cutting board. Chef's knives are also handy for thinly slicing raw beef for stir-fries. You can use them to chop large or hard vegetables and mince smaller items such as garlic, too.

Tips for Buying a Chef's Knife

  • Buy the best quality knife that you can afford.
  • Make sure there are no gaps at the joint where the blade and handle meet.
  • Sizes range from 6- to 12-inch blades, but an 8-inch blade is standard.
  • The blade should curve toward the tip to allow a rocking motion.
  • A hefty bolster (the metal part between the blade and the handle) will help balance the knife and give you more control.
  • The tang (metal extending into the handle) should extend to the butt of the knife handle.
  • There is no rule on how heavy the knife should be. Some people like a weighty knife while others like a lighter one. It’s important to hold the knife before you buy to make sure it feels right for you.

Paring Knives

Paring Knives are an excellent choice for precision work and can be used to cut out the cores of peppers. To chop or slice, stand the pepper on its end on a cutting board. Cut down 3 or 4 times to form vertical slices. Discard the stem, core and seeds. Remove the white veins or membranes. Cut the slices into strips or chop as desired. Paring knives are also good for peeling fruits and vegetables and slicing smaller items.

Serrated Knives
Serrated Knives have a wavy blade that has teeth along the edge. This gives them a greater ability to cut, and makes them ideal for foods that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Serrated knives are also perfect for slicing more delicate foods such as tomatoes and cakes. They cut much better than plain-edge knives, even when dull, so they can also last longer without sharpening.
 
 

Baking Basics and Tips

Getting Ready/Equipment

  • Don't mess with the basic ingredients, the flour, liquid, salt, fat and leavening in your recipe. Unlike other types of cooking, you must measure your ingredients accurately and have the right tools to do so.
  • Dry ingredients are measured in flat-topped measuring cups and are made to be filled to the top and leveled off.
  • Liquid measures are usually glass, with more space at the top, and a pour spout. Add liquids to the cup, set it on the counter and look at it sideways, on its own level. Do not substitute liquid and dry measuring cups for one another -your ingredient measurements will be inaccurate if you do.
  • Tableware spoons should not be used for measuring since they vary in size.
  • For best results use shiny aluminum baking sheets without sides (baked products will brown more quickly on dark-colored baking sheet because they absorb more heat than the shiny type). You can also turn a jelly-roll pan (15 x 10 x 1-inch pan) upside down and use it in place of a baking sheet.
  • Prepare baking pans according to the recipe. Cookies with a high fat content may not need to be baked on a greased surface. Remember some non-stick pans can be ruined if you apply non-stick sprays.
  • Tip: allow baking sheet to cool completely before reusing.
  • Tip: Line baking sheets with parchment paper. The paper will withstand high temperatures without scorching. This makes the baking sheet easier to clean, and you can slide the sheet of parchment with the baked cookies right onto your rack for cooling. However, as they cool you'll need to turn them over to complete the cooling and prevent the bottom of the cookies from getting soggy.
  • Bake only one sheet of cookies at a time on the middle rack in the center of the oven.
  • A wire cooling rack speeds the cooling of cookies, etc. It allows steam to escape from all sides of the baked product so the bottom doesn't get soggy.
  • Tip: use a cooling rack with closely spaced wires so cookies have adequate support when cooling.

Ingredients

Flour

  • All-purpose is a good choice for a wide variety of recipes from cookies to breads to cakes.
  • It comes in 2 basic forms; bleached and unbleached, which can be used interchangeably.
  • All purpose flours today are "pre-sifted" therefore no need to sift the flour unless a recipe specifically states to do so. Do not tamp it down when measuring. Spoon it into cup and let it heap up, then use the flat side of a knife to level it off.
  • Whole wheat flour is heavier. If you substitute it for all-purpose -you'll end up with a baked brick. You can substitute half the flour in an all white flour recipe with whole wheat, but no more than that.

Butter

  • Substituting a spread product for butter or margarine is the most frequent baking mistake people make and often a guaranteed way to wind up throwing your results in the trash.
  • If the first ingredient on the product label is water, don't use it for baking. Spreads that are less than 60 percent fat have a lot of water included and will make cookies spread too thin or otherwise mess up recipes.
  • Stick margarine that is at least 80 percent fat can be substituted for butter. For best results, use butter if the recipe calls for butter. Buy it on sale when it is cheap and freeze in original packaging.

Baking Soda and Powder

  • Place a teaspoon of baking powder in some warm water. It should foam and bubble quite actively if it is fresh.
  • Place a teaspoon of baking soda in a small bowl, add 1 Tbsp. vinegar. If the mixture fizzes the baking soda is still good.
  • Baking powder cannot be substituted for baking soda. They are not the same thing.
  • Baking soda is used instead of baking powder when a recipe contains acid ingredients like buttermilk, vinegar or sour cream. It creates a chemical reaction as soon as the liquid ingredient is added so the recipe should be baked immediately after mixing or the gases will escape and the product will not rise.

Eggs

  • Egg sizes range from jumbo to small. Always assume and use large size eggs in recipes unless it is specified differently.
  • Before purchasing, always check the carton to make sure there are no cracked eggs.
  • Eggs should be stored in the refrigerator. For optimum quality use them before the "Best Before" date expires.
  • When eggs lose their freshness, the yolks flatten and the whites become runny. A fresh egg will sink in a bowl of water whereas an old egg will float.
  • When adding eggs to a recipe, break them one at a time into a small bowl before adding to the other ingredients. This way you can check the quality first and remove any pieces of shell.

Eggs

Tip 1: Baking with Eggs

When baking, always bring eggs to room temperature first. Cold eggs may cause the batter to curdle, which could affect the cake's texture. To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, let them soak in a bowl of warm water for about a half hour.

Tip 2: When storing Chocolate
 
Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Ideal storage temperatures are between 59 to 63 degrees F with a relative humidity of less than 50%. Chocolate should be stored away from other foods as it can absorb different aromas.

Tip 3:Slicing Meat Very Thin

To slice meat into thin strips, as for Chinese dishes - 
partially freeze and it will slice easily.

Barbecue Tips
 * Approximately 30 minutes prior to grilling, prepare the charcoal
   fire so coals have time to reach medium temperature. At medium,
   the coals will be ash-covered. To check the temperature of the
   coals, spread the coals in a single layer. CAREFULLY hold the
   palm of your hand above the coals at cooking height. Count the
   number of seconds you can hold your hand in that position before
   the heat forces you to pull it away: approximately 4 seconds for
   medium heat. Position the cooking grid and follow recipe directions.

 * Never place meat directly over an open flame. An open flame is an
   indication of incomplete combustion, the fire will discolor the
   meat by leaving a black carbon residue on the meat. Actually an
   open flame has a lower temperature than coals that are glowing red.

 * Whenever barbecuing, use tongs to turn the meat. A fork should
   never be used. For it will punch holes in the flesh and allow
   the natural juices to escape and loose flavor and become chewy.

 * Tomato and/or sugar based BBQ sauces should be added only at the end of the grilling process. These products will burn easily and
   are seldom considered an internal meat flavoring. Once added, the
   meat should be turned often to minimize the possibility of burning.

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Featured Food & Recipe Quiz
Are You A Culinary Ace?
There are those individuals who love nothing more than spending their spare time standing over a hot oven. And then there are those who can't stomach the thought of working into the kitchen. When it comes time to get cooking, how well do you fare? Put your culinary knowledge to the test. And you know what they say -- if you can't stand the heat...
Take the quiz

Did you know?

Julia Childs studied at the Cordon Bleu, a famous school of French cooking. She soon joined with two French cooks, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, to form a cooking school. The three also began writing a cookbook together. The book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published in 1961. Julia’s appearance on a book review program led to her first television series, “The French Chef,” which ran from 1963 to 1972.

Julia Child went on to host several other television series. She shared the spotlight with other notable chefs in many of these series, which included “Julia Child and Company” (1978-1979), “In Julia’s Kitchen with the Master Chefs” (1995-1996), “Baking with Julia” (1996-1997), and “Julia Child & Jacques Pepin Cooking at Home” (1999-2000). Nearly all of her television series were accompanied by a cookbook of the same title. Child’s other books include From Julia Child’s Kitchen (1975) and Julia Child’s Menu Cookbook (1991). She wrote Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom (2000) with David Nussbaum. Child died on Aug. 13, 2004.

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