Foothill gourmet: Fun cooking tips

By From page B2 | October 08, 2012

Donna Brown


Finding a helpful preparation or cooking tip is for me almost as much fun as cooking. I constantly read food articles looking for helpful tips. When I find one or more, I save them in a special file. The file is a resource to share with my family, friends and readers. Here are my new best tips and a delicious avocado salad recipe.

To get crisp roasted potatoes in a hurry, jump-start them in the microwave. Check your manual for cooking time. Precooking the potatoes shaves about 10 minutes off the roasting time and they end up crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Try this precooking technique with butternut squash, carrots or any other slow-cooking vegetable.

Sauté parsley for a tasty, easy topping. It tastes great on soup, vegetables, meat or fish. You don’t even need a separate pan. You can sauté parsley in the same skillet you used to cook the main dish item, meat, chicken, fish, or tofu.

How to choose cheese. Check for freshness. Look for shops that make their own cheese, or that sell a lot of it, ensuring fast turnover. At the supermarket, buy it well ahead of its expiration date. Read the ingredients — minimalism matters when it comes to fresh cheese. It should be made of milk, salt, rennet (or some kind of acid) and little or nothing else. It’s important to refine your search. Use the Internet or library to give you important information regarding the best characteristics of the cheese you intend to buy. For example: Imported fresh mozzarella is great, but fresh domestic cow’s-milk mozzarella is a fine substitute. Balls that are sold in water are best. Good sheep’s milk ricotta is creamier and more delicate than supermarket varieties.

Corral your kernels — the next time you want to slice corn off the cob, try this technique to keep the kernels from scattering everywhere. Arrange an ear of corn vertically so that the thicker end sits over the hole of a Bundt pan. Using a small, sharp knife slice the corn off the cob, turning the ear as you go. The kernels collect into the Bundt pan. Capture more of the corn’s milky juices by scraping the cob with the knife.

Peak-season tomatoes are perfect just the way they are for salads and sandwiches. However, for more elegant dishes peeling tomatoes is necessary to do away with the chewy skin. Using a paring knife, slice a shallow X in the bottom end of each tomato. Put tomatoes in boiling water; keep submerged until skin starts to curl, 15-30 seconds. Transfer tomatoes to a bowl of ice water. When cool, peel skin, using a paring knife if necessary.

To ripen avocados more quickly, place them in a sealed paper bag with an apple or banana for 24 hours. Be sure to check them daily and refrigerate when ripe. An avocado feels ripe when there is a slight give to gentle hand pressure.

Avocado salad with peaches — Ingredients: 1/2 of a cored and seeded red bell pepper, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, 2 almost ripe avocados, drizzle of olive oil, 8 cups arugula, and 2 diced peaches.

Preparation. Make the dressing: Roast red bell pepper. Peel off loose skin; then chop pepper. Next, in a blender puree pepper pieces with red wine vinegar, the vanilla seeds and sugar until smooth. With machine running, gradually add olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Halve and pit avocados; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and place cut side down on a medium-hot grill until nicely charred, about 5 minutes. With a tablespoon scoop out avocado and thickly slice. Toss with arugula and diced peeled peaches. Drizzle dressing over salad.

Enjoy October with a few new tips and a tasty avocado salad.

Donna Brown

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