Tips

Substitute This

It’s happened to the best of us: all set to start a brand new recipe and you realize you are out of a critical ingredient. Rather than run out to the store, we’ve collected a list of popular substitutes for a wide range of common ingredients. So, hopefully the next time you run into an ingredient shortage, the furthest place you’ll be running to is to your pantry!

    • Allspice (1 tsp): ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp ginger and ¼ tsp ground clove
    • Beer (1 cup): 1 cup chicken broth
    • Brown sugar (1 cup): 1 cup white sugar or 1 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
    • Buttermilk (1 cup): Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup and add milk to the 1 cup mark. Let stand for five minutes.
    • Corn Syrup (1 cup): 1 ¼ cup white sugar and 1/3 cup of water; 1 cup of honey
    • Sour Cream ( 1 cup): 1 cup plain yogurt
    • Dried Herbs (1 tsp): 1 Tbsp fresh herbs
    • Egg (1 whole): 3 Tbsp mayonnaise; ½ banana mashed and ½ tsp baking powder
    • Evaporated milk (1 cup): 1 cup light cream
    • Lemon Juice (1 tsp): ½ tsp vinegar; 1 tsp white wine; 1 tsp lime juice
    • Mayonnaise (1 cup): 1 cup of either sour cream or plain yogurt
    • Molasses (1 cup): ¾ cup brown sugar and 1 tsp cream of tartar
    • Vanilla Bean (1): 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
    • Oil or Shortening (1 cup): 1 cup unsweetened applesauce or other fruit puree (*this substitution is primary for baked goods).
    • Onion (1 cup, chopped): 1 cup chopped leeks, green onion or shallots; ¼ cup onion powder; ¼ cup minced onion
    • Rice (1 cup cooked): 1 cup cooked barley or bulgur
    • Saffron (1 tsp): 1 tsp turmeric
    • Soy Sauce (1/2 cup): 4 Tbsp Worcestershire mixed with 1 tbsp water
    • Stock (1 cup): 1 bouillon cube dissolved in 1 cup of water
    • Vinegar (1 tsp): 1 tsp lemon or lime juice; 2 tsp white wine
    • Wine (1 cup): 1 cup beef or chicken broth; 1 cup of fruit juice mixed with 2 tsp vinegar; 1 cup of water
green onion cutting tips

What’s the Beef?

by Cathy Schreiber

The key factor in preparing excellent beef is choosing the right cut of meat for the job. “Tougher” cuts of meat come from harder working areas of the cow – areas where the muscles are used more, like the shoulder (called “chuck”) and brisket (from the chest). This meat, while tougher, is also very flavorful. Tougher cuts are best suited to slow moist cooking like braising and stewing which tenderize it and make it melt-in-the-mouth smooth. Think of a beautiful beef stew (beef Bourguignon anyone?) or the best pot roast ever. Cuts of meat from areas where the muscles are not used as much, like the ribs and loin, are more tender. They are best suited to quick, dry heat cooking methods like grilling and roasting. Think of a perfectly cooked bone-in rib eye steak, tender and flavorful… or a filet mignon with a red wine sauce to compliment the filet’s mild flavor and maximum tenderness. With the wide selection available and the varying names for cuts in different parts of the country, buying meat can be a bit confusing. Keep in mind the guidelines above, and always ask the butcher when you have a question – you’ll be buying meat with confidence in no time.

How’s the Beef?

Cooking meat to perfection is a part art and part science. Cooking meat slowly breaks down its natural proteins and therefore affects its texture; in other words, the meat actually feels different at various stages of doneness, becoming less malleable the more cooked it gets (that’s it for the science part, we promise!) The art of the process is what is known as “The Finger Test”. By comparing the firmness of the meat  to the fleshy part of your skin at the base of your thumb, you can determine how cooked your meat is.

Rare

Make an “O” shape with your thumb and forefinger and press on the fleshy part just after the base of your thumb. The soft and bouncy feel is consistent with meat cooked rare. Pressing on your steak with a pair of tongs or fingers should feel similar to this if your steak is rare.

Medium

Similar to the Finger Test for rare meat, make an “O” shape with your thumb, this time using your middle finger instead. The skin below the thumb should feel a little more tight and springy and is similar to the texture of a meat cooked medium.

Well Done

By forming an “O” shape with your thumb and pinky, the skin below your thumb should feel quite stiff and firm. This is consistent with a well-done slice of meat.

rare steak tips

Waste Not

 

By trying to be creative and fresh in the kitchen, it can be difficult to utilize all the ingredients we buy to their fullest before they inevitably go to waste. Here are some easy tricks to make some foods go the distance and last as long as they can.

Bananas:

If the bananas on the counter are past their “use by” date, peel them and put them in a freezer-safe container or plastic bag, and put them in the freezer. They’ll be perfect for making banana bread or smoothies later!

Berries:

To keep fresh berries fresh for several days, remove them from their cartons, discard any molded berries and eat or separate any berries that have burst and are leaking juice. Cover a plate or tray with a paper towel, and spread the remaining berries in a single layer on the paper towel. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Wash the berries just before you use them.

Cheese:

Shred leftover bits of cheese and combine them together for a mixed cheese shred to make quesadillas or pizza, or to top pasta.

Fresh Bread:

Store leftover “artisanal” bread (like a sourdough or ciabatta loaf) in an airtight container on the counter. For bread that won’t be used within a day or two, put the container in the freezer. When you’re ready to use the frozen bread, wrap it in foil and put it in the oven on the lowest temperature for about 20 minutes. For added versatility, slice the bread before you freeze it and only take out the number of slices you need at one time.

Lemons:

Squeeze the lemons and freeze the juice in ice cube trays, then store them in the freezer for anytime you need fresh lemon juice. Consider a refreshing batch of lemonade, maybe some basil-flavored lemonade, or a lemon tart for a treat any time of the year.

Lettuce:

To keep delicate lettuce greens fresh longer, separate the leaves from the lettuce head, rinse, and then dry them in a salad spinner. Place the leaves in a single layer on paper or tea towels, and roll them up. Put the lettuce roll in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. The lettuce will stay crisp and fresh and you can take out just what you need – washed and ready to go.

open fridge tips

Menu-Wise Tips

 

Planning a menu, whether it be for a small gathering or a large party, can be difficult to coordinate and plan for. Follow the below simple tips to help you organize and coordinate your next menu!

Plan for Success

The key to a successful event is planning, beginning with the menu. Take care to balance dishes that require last minute active work with dishes that can be made in advance and / or cooked “passively” (i.e. in the oven, requiring no hands-on). Consider the cooking space available (4 burners, 6 burners, one oven, two ovens, etc.) and the requirements of each dish. Think through the details in advance to lay the ground work for success – the host should also enjoy the party, and thorough planning from the beginning is a giant step towards a joyful event.

Food in Balance

A basic balanced menu will include a protein (i.e. fish, poultry, pork, lamb, beef, tofu), a grain (i.e. rice, potatoes, bread) and a vegetable. Build a dinner menu starting from these basics, and fill out the meal from there as you like – add a second vegetable or perhaps include bread in addition to a rice dish. Think of the menu as a “whole”, so that individual dishes compliment each other to create overall balance in flavor and texture. If you’re serving chicken with a cream sauce, then don’t also serve scalloped potatoes (also a creamy dish). Or, if you’re serving salad with tomatoes, then avoid sliced tomatoes as the second vegetable. Crispy chicken with roasted potatoes is a lot of crunch – try mashed potatoes instead.

Location, Location, Location

Remember the oven space! When planning your menu, keep in mind the oven space available and plan the menu accordingly. If you’re serving warm appetizers, make sure that you allocate enough time and space for each item, and remember to start the changeover early if you need to warm food for the main course.

Don’t Spoil Their Dinner (Too Much!)

When deciding appetizers for a dinner party, consider lighter fare so guests aren’t overly stuffed with heavy rich snacks when they sit down to the beautiful meal you’ve prepared. Foods like specialty Italian and French olives, pickled carrots, cherry tomatoes and spiced nuts offer variety and flavor but won’t spoil appetites for the main event.

This Big, Serve Small

To save time but still have variety on your buffet, make trays of food and cut them down to buffet size. For example, instead of making individual lemon tartlets, make a tray of lemon bars and cut them down to two-bite size. Chill the lemon bars first, and use a warm dry knife wiped clean after every cut. When necessary, use pretty candy cups to hold each petite slice.

Dessert has Food Groups?

To plan a balanced dessert buffet, select at least one item from each basic dessert “food group”: chocolate (truffles, brownies, chocolate dipped fruit), non-chocolate (macaroons, sugar cookies, nut bars), and fruit-based (tarts, pies, crumbles). For extra credit, select a custard/cream item as well (mousses, flans, cheesecakes). Selecting from each of these groups will almost guarantee something for everyone in the group to enjoy, and it will give your dessert buffet variety and sophistication.

meal planning tips

Party Planner’s Countdown

 

Throwing a party can be very stressful, especially when the to-do list seems endless and the big day is approaching way too fast. To help relieve some party planner’s stress, we’ve put together the below timeline to help you organize and preplan with as little stress as possible leading up to your big day. To help relieve some party planner’s stress, we’ve put together the below timeline to help you organize and preplan with as little stress as possible leading up to your big day.

As Early As Possible

Do the food and beverage shopping for an event as far in advance as possible. Most beverages will keep for several weeks if not longer, so decide what you’ll be serving and shop a couple of weeks in advance, then be sure to store it appropriately until the party. Dry goods, canned goods and pantry items can be shopped for a week or two in advance. Buy meat and produce the day before the party, and save the fish buying for party day. Don’t forget the candles while you’re out and about. Shopping ahead not only saves from running out at the last minute for all those ingredients, but also give you the opportunity to shop around and wait for higher priced products to go on sale, saving you both stress and money! Don’t forget the chairs! Make arrangements to borrow from friends or rent any extra chairs you might need for party day.

2-3 Weeks Before

Count silverware and glassware a few weeks in advance of a big event – remembering if you need salad and dessert forks in addition to main course forks. If you’re short on supply, consider borrowing from a friend or renting the extras needed – or forget the salad and serve soup instead (but make sure you have soup spoons)! Organize the music selection several days before a party. The earlier the better… the music won’t spoil and it’s another important detail that can be crossed off a long to-do list. Turn on the music and set the lights before the guests arrive so the party mood welcomes them at the door.

1 Week Before

For any larger special event, give yourself a hand by writing a timeline for the food – there’s nothing worse than reaching to serve the roasted potatoes, only to realize you forgot to put them in the oven! Any cook can be distracted once the guests start to arrive and the festivities take over. Do your thinking in advance and write a timeline to identify when you need to do what, including important details like what time to turn on the oven to preheat. Then, when the party is in full swing, all you have to do is refer to your timeline and do what it says. A timeline will also help identify glitches in the plan. For instance, you have one oven and it needs to be at two different temperatures at the same time – time for a re-think. A timeline is also handy for giving helpful guests an assignment or two! Give the public areas of your home a thorough cleaning the week before a party, then do “touch up” cleaning the day before, or day of, your event.

1-2 Days Before

Make your flower arrangements a day or two in advance of a special event. This gives the flowers a chance to open up in time for the big day, and it “checks the box” on what can be a time consuming task. It also allows for a little extra planning time if the flowers you had your heart set on aren’t anywhere to be found the week of your party! Iron the linens and set the tables (whether seated or buffet-style) the day or more before a special event. If necessary, cover tables with large clean sheets to keep everything in pristine condition. Cover stacks of plates on a buffet with napkins or dish towels. Set out serving platters and utensils and decide which foods they’ll be used for to eliminate the last minute stress of what to put where.

The Day Of

Anything that can be done in advance should be done in advance, no matter how small it seems. Make a goal of having all of the advanced tasks done 15 minutes before the guests are due; then, a few minutes before your guests arrive, pour yourself a beverage and relax for a minute or two. You’ll be able to greet your guests with a smile which is the best way to welcome them and set the tone for a great event.

wine table setting tips
wine finger food tips

Top Chef Techniques

 

Although we aren’t all professional chefs, applying a few basic techniques can help make you feel like a master in your own kitchen.

cooking in the kitchen tips
MEATS AND POULTRY

Room temperature for best results: Anything that can be done in advance should be done in advance, no matter how small it seems. Make a goal of having all of the advanced tasks done 15 minutes before the guests are due; then, a few minutes before your guests arrive, pour yourself a beverage and relax for a minute or two. You’ll be able to greet your guests with a smile which is the best way to welcome them and set the tone for a great event. For the perfect thick cut steak, seared on the outside and cooked to perfection on the inside: pat the meat dry, coat with a thin layer of your favorite cooking oil, and season one side with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a skillet on medium to medium high heat, depending on your type of skillet, until it’s hot. Place the meat, seasoned side down, in the pan – it will sizzle as it develops a flavorful sear. Season the top side of the meat and, when the sear on the bottom is just how you like it, turn the meat over and, if possible, put it on a different hot section of the pan to sear the other side. After a couple of minutes, turn off the heat and remove the pan to a cool burner. Let the meat rest in the hot pan to finish cooking to your preferred internal temperature, about 5 minutes for medium rare. For thinner cuts of meat, shorten the cooking times accordingly.

FRESH HERBS

Storing: To store fresh herbs, roll up the clean dry herbs in a paper towel, seal them in a plastic bag and keep them in the refrigerator.

PASTA
      • To Salt or not to Salt: Properly salted water makes a big difference to the taste of pasta. To cook one pound of pasta, add 2 tablespoons of salt to 4 – 5 quarts of boiling water. The water will froth a bit when the salt is added. Stir in the salt, then stir in the pasta. Once the pasta is added and the water is boiling again, slightly reduce the heat to prevent boiling over. The well-salted water will flavor the pasta, following the concept of layering the seasoning throughout the cooking process.
      • Stir to Unstick: Always stir pasta as it’s added into boiling water to cook. Stirring a couple of times during the first minute or so of cooking will keep the pasta from clumping together as it cooks.
      • Cooked to Perfection: Pasta will continue to cook after it’s removed from boiling water. To avoid bloated, mushy pasta: cook the pasta just before it will be served, and cook it until it is just tender (“al dente”) to the bite. As pasta cooks, it will get slightly bigger as it absorbs water and it will lighten in color – two visual cues that show when it’s time to taste for al dente tenderness.
TOOLS CARE

To keep knives in good condition for everyday use, “true” them up on a sharpening steel before each use. A sharpening steel is often included with the purchase of a knife set. Technically, a steel does not actually sharpen a knife, but rather realigns the microscopic teeth on a knife’s edge that become jagged with normal knife use. Hold the sharpening steel by the handle and run the edge of the knife along the steel at a 20 degree angle. Alternate each side of the knife, for a total of 6 – 8 strokes. When honing the knife’s blade on the steel no longer brings it back to desired sharpness, it’s time to truly sharpen the knife with a knife sharpener or by taking it to a knife sharpening service.