Tips and Tricks

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Drop Biscuits

Published March 21, 2016 by jenmatteson

These are by far the quickest and easiest biscuits to make, and wonderful for entertaining. The best part is that the dough can basically be assembled far in advance. A few quick steps, and they can be in the oven in less than 5 minutes.

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You can prepare the dough up through step one (all the dry ingredients and butter), and have buttermilk measured and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just pour, mix and drop. These biscuits come out nice and flaky, buttery and rich. They melt in your mouth – no joke! I often make these for Thanksgiving, and are the last thing I put in the oven while everything else is getting to the table. Works like a charm!

Want to make these at a moment’s notice, but don’t have buttermilk? Don’t worry – you can make your own buttermilk substitute with these two ingredients you probably do have: milk and vinegar. Simply measure out 1 tbsp. of vinegar and pour into a liquid measuring cup. Pour milk into the measuring cup with the vinegar, filling up to the 1 cup line. Let sit for 10-15 minutes. Viola! Buttermilk substitution.

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Drop Biscuits

Drop Biscuits

Source: Adapted from Fresh Direct
Servings: 8-12 biscuits

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.

2. Dump into large bowl, and stir in buttermilk with wooden spoon until just combined. The dough will be very sticky. Using the spoon, drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Lightly spray with olive oil.

3. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 12-15 minutes.

Homemade Ranch (and Chipotle Ranch) Dressing and a Trick for “making” Buttermilk

Published February 13, 2014 by jenmatteson

I make a lot of salad dressing, mainly vinaigrettes, which are generally pretty simple.  However, one dressing I’ve never attempted to make before was ranch.  We always just buy it in the bottle – basically the only dressing I buy in the bottle.

Ranch Dressing

I’ve always been a vinaigrette girl, but when I first met Nate, he put ranch on everything.  And I seriously mean everything (pizza, sandwiches, cereal…okay, maybe not cereal).  Being that it was always around, it sorta turned me into a ranch person, too.  But just on my salad 😉  One thing I have a severe weakness for is anything with a chipotle ranch.  Any salad or sandwich with this on it, and it’s a sure bet that’s what I’m going to order.  So, in deciding to make homemade ranch dressing, I thought I better throw in a chipotle ranch, too.  Good thing I did, because it’s soooooooo good.  The ranch is great, too, but man, the chipotle ranch is the bomb!  Try it on tacos instead of Greek yogurt or sour cream.  It’ll knock your socks off!

Play around with the seasonings, and feel free to substitute fresh for dried or dried for fresh, depending on what you have in the fridge.

Homemade Ranch Dressing

TIP: Oh, and a quick tip about buttermilk.  I don’t usually have this in my fridge, and I hate buying some to only use a few tablespoons and let the rest go to waste.  So whether you’re in a pinch or you’re like me and hate buying the stuff, you can easily make your own at home with things you probably already have, milk and white vinegar.  To a liquid measuring cup, add one tablespoon vinegar, then fill with milk to the 1 cup line.  Let the mixture sit for at least 5 minutes before using, and viola!  Buttermilk.

Homemade Ranch Dressing

Homemade Ranch Dressing

Source: Adapted from Pioneer Woman
Servings: Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:

1/4 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fresh dill
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/4-1/2 cup buttermilk (see tip above if you don’t have any)

Directions:

1. Combine all ingredients in food processor, except buttermilk.  Slowly add buttermilk to desired consistency.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  This will last in your fridge in an airtight container for about a week.

To make chipotle ranch dressing, add 1/2-1 tsp (depending on preference) McCormick chipotle chili pepper.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Published December 4, 2013 by jenmatteson

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between broth and stock?  Me too!  To be completely honest, I have always used them interchangeably, knowing that they must be different on some level.  But, I haven’t had any catastrophes yet, so I figured there’d be no harm in continuing my old ways.

Homemade Chicken Stock

However, when I decided to make my own stock (or is it broth?) and share with you, I thought I should actually do a little research.  Turns out, there is a slight difference.  Stocks are generally made with the bones and trimmings, while broth is made with the meat as well.  Stocks simmer for much longer and are said to have a deeper, richer flavor because of the gelatin released from the long simmering bones.  While they are technically different, they are quite similar.  I say, keep on substituting stock for broth, or broth for stock.  Who cares?! 😛  Just don’t ask me the difference between vegetable stock and broth!

Homemade Chicken Stock

So, what did I make?  I made a stock.  I had roasted a chicken (rustic roasted chicken) the day before and wanted to make good use of the leftovers, even the bones – I hate wasting!  Don’t get too hung up on the vegetables or herbs in this recipe – use what you have on hand.  It’ll be delicious no matter what.  The stock will be good for about a week in your refrigerator, but if you aren’t going to use it up right away, go ahead and freeze it.  I like to use my ice-cube trays for that.  Now you’ve got yourself a wonderful base for a soup or stew.  I made chicken tortilla soup and will be sharing that later this week! (And yes, that’s my cat in the top right corner – just checking things out!)

Homemade Chicken Stock

Homemade Chicken Stock

Source: Pigzilla Original
Servings: Makes about 6 cups

Ingredients:

bony chicken pieces (and trimmings if you have them)
4 celery stalks, halved
4 carrots, halved
1 medium onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
10-15 peppercorns
8 cups water

Directions:

1. Place all ingredients in large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.  Remove from heat and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but can be overnight.  Skim fat from top and use as desired.

Utilizing Your Ice Cube Trays

Published February 14, 2013 by jenmatteson

Do you ever need just a little of something, but don’t know what to do with the rest?  It happens to me all the time with tomato paste.  Recipes frequently call for 1-2 tbsp at a time, but not an entire can.  I don’t want a bunch of open cans in my fridge, or the stress of trying to use it up before it goes bad.  So, this is a wonderful alternative!  Spoon it out into ice cube trays.  Once they are frozen, pop them out and place them in a zip top freezer bag.  Viola!  When you need just a little, you’re all set.
Freezing tomato paste in ice cube trays

Freezing tomato paste

You can use this trick with many things other than just tomato paste.  Here is a list of great ways to use this same strategy:

  • Homemade Pesto: I made a huge batch last summer and froze it in ice cube trays.
  • Chipotle in Adobo: Be sure to blend or chop the chipotle, otherwise you might not get some pepper in all the cubes.
  • Coffee: Makes for great iced coffee.  Also, I just read this great blog post from my friend, Ashley, who uses these cubes in after dinner drinks.  My coffee-cube after dinner drink is an adapted version of her recipe.  Genius!
  • Leftover Herbs: Chop up, place in trays and fill with water to stock/broth.  Add to soups, sauces and stir fries.
  • Leftover Wine: But seriously, what is that?
  • Stocks/Broths: Great to add to many dishes for extra flavor.
  • Fresh Squeezed Juice: Perfect for when you need 1 tbsp of fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • Heavy Cream and Buttermilk: Great for that little leftover you couldn’t use up before it goes bad.  You won’t be able to whip heavy cream once it’s been frozen, but you can still use it in sauces and baking.
  • Fresh Berries: Freeze fresh berries with a bit of water to throw into drinks and smoothies.

Here’s another helpful tip when using your cubes:

  • 1 cube = 2 tbsp
  • 2 cubes = 1/4 cup
  • 4 cubes = 1/2 cup
  • 8 cubes = 1 cup

What do you like to use your ice cube trays for?

Making the Most of Your Bell Peppers

Published July 14, 2012 by jenmatteson

I am generally very budget concious when purchasing groceries, which is probably also why I hate waste so much.  One of the best tips I’ve learned in the last few years was how to make the most of my bell peppers.  Unless you are needing perfectly cut bell pepper rings, this method is excellent for any other kind of slicing, dicing, or chopping your heart desires when using bell peppers, and the only waste is the stem, seeds, and ribs!

Making the Most of Your Bell Peppers

1. With the pepper standing, work your way around the outside in a square-like fasion and cut off the walls.  Stay close to the edge of the pepper, and not too close to the stem, you want to prevent cutting into the seeds, while making sure to cut off the ribs.

2. Turn what remains of the pepper on it’s side.  Slice off bottom flesh.  This should leave some ribs as waste.

4. Now, slice off the seeds, cutting as close to the stem as possible, but still on the inside of the pepper.

3. The stem should pop right out, leaving you with the top flesh of the pepper.

4. Now you have ribs, stem and seeds as waste, and the entire flesh of the pepper for eating.

What’s your favorite tip in the kitchen to reduce waste?

Bacon Blues?

Published July 7, 2012 by jenmatteson

Who doesn’t love bacon?  Seriously.  I generally try to eat healthy, but there are some things that are just better with bacon.  There really is no substitute.  Have you ever tried turkey bacon?  If not, don’t bother.  It really doesn’t even come close to bacon as a substitute.

One thing that isn’t so awesome about bacon is that it splatters grease everywhere when you fry it; it gets all over your stove top, countertops, sometimes even on you.  I hate frying bacon.  But a great way to cook it without the hassle is in the oven.  If you place the bacon strips on a wire rack with a baking sheet underneath and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until it reaches desired crispness.  Viola!  Less mess, less grease, and perfectly cooked, crisp bacon.

Another thing that is not always so great about bacon is the way it’s packaged.  If we are eating bacon, we are eating maybe 4-6 slices at a time.  Well, have you ever tried to take just a few slices off a slab of frozen bacon?  You really can’t without destroying the bacon slices, or completely unthawing the entire slab.  If you take an extra 5 minutes when you get your bacon home from the grocery store to separate and freeze the strips, then you’ll be able to grab just one or two slices at a time when you’re ready to use.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper.  Lay strips of bacon in a single layer on wax paper and freeze.

Once bacon is frozen, about one hour, you can just peel each strip off the wax paper, throw in a gallon sized zip-top bag, and boom!  Bacon at your fingertips in an instant.

What’s your best time-saving tip in the kitchen?

Roasted Garlic

Published June 4, 2012 by jenmatteson

Roasting garlic is so simple and yields some really great flavor.  You really can’t fake roasted garlic.  Even if you only need a little bit, roast the whole head of garlic, and freeze and unused cloves.  Then you have it ready whenever you need it.

I was so crazy busy getting ready for my party, that I completely forgot to take a picture of the garlic after it was roasted…oops!  Next time though.

Roasted Garlic

Ingredients:

1 head of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove as much of the garlic skin as possible, while trying to keep the head in tact.

2. Cut head about 1/4 of the way from the top, so most cloves are exposed.

3. Drizzle with olive oil, making sure all cloves get covered.  Wrap garlic in foil and bake  for 30-35 minutes, or until cloves feel soft to the touch.

4. Once garlic is cool enough to be handled, remove cloves from skins.  Many will just pop right out with a little squeeze.  You’ll have to pop open any cloves that you didn’t slice through.

Keeping Your Fresh Herbs Fresh

Published May 5, 2012 by jenmatteson

Don’t you hate when you need 1/4 cup of cilantro, and you buy a whole bunch, with good intentions of using the rest of it for another recipe, but it just ends up going bad?  Or a whole package of fresh thyme, but you use 1 tablespoon, and the rest begins to grow fur and you can’t quite remember what you bought that for in the first place?  Its reasons like this that we end up using dried herbs, which, let’s face it, just aren’t as good as their fresh counterparts.

Well, fret no more.  I have a fantastic way to preserve  your herbs for two weeks or even longer.  This works well for parsley, cilantro, basil, and many other herbs.

Keep Your Fresh Herbs Fresh

Directions:

1. When you get them home from the grocery store, immediately take herbs out of their plastic bag and dry them with a paper towel (I really hate those misters at the store – they are no good for any produce!).

2. Using kitchen sheers, snip the bottom of the herbs.

3. Fill a jar or glass partially with water, and submurge stem ends of herbs in water.  Loosely cover your herbs with a plastic bag.  If you wish, you can secure your plastic bag with a rubber binder. Cilantro does well in the refrigerator, but parsley and basil can bet left at room temperature.

4. Change water frequently.  Every couple of days to keep herbs fresher longer.  Enjoy fresh herbs on hand when you need them!

Keeping Fresh Ginger

Ginger isn’t an herb, but I thought this would be a good place to add this little nugget.  I use ginger in a lot of recipes, but I hate buying a whole big ginger root because you use so little at a time, so inevitably, it goes bad before you get a chance to use it all.  Well, you can keep your fresh ginger root in the freezer.  The best part is, you can easily grate frozen ginger with a microplane right out of the freezer, no thawing required!

Make Your Food Better and Fix Your Most Common Cooking Mistakes

Published April 6, 2012 by jenmatteson

No one is perfect, and even if you are professionally trained, it’s likely that you still make mistakes.  Cooking is a dance, you learn as you go (or was that life?)!  Anyway, I came across this article in Cooking Light and thought I’d highlight some (there are a total of 42 listed).  I included some of my biggest cooking pet peeves as well as mistakes I’ve made over the years (don’t tell Nate that I just admitted that I make mistakes 😉 ).

1. You don’t read the entire recipe before you start cooking.  I am completely guilty of this one; I’ll get halfway through and realize I need parchment paper (which of course isn’t listed in the ingredients) or that I need to marinate overnight.  Alway read the entire recipe before you start, better yet, before you go shopping!

2. Meat gets no chance to rest after cooking. This is an awful cooking sin, and there is nothing worse than delicious juices evacuating the meat and running all over your cutting board.  Plan time for meat to rest after you’ve cooked it.  This allows for the juices, which migrate to the center while cooking, to redistribute evenly and keep your meat moist.

3. You put meat straight from the fridge into the oven or onto the grill. We’ve all done this; you get home from work and want to get dinner on the table, so you pull out your meat and get it in the oven, pan, or gill ASAP.  Meats will cook much more evenly if you allow them to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes (depending on the size of your cut).  Even smaller cuts, such as chicken breasts, will benefit from resting at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes.  Refrigerator-cold roasts going straight into the oven will be overcooked on the outside and undercooked at the center.  Take the extra time to ensure even cooking.

4. You use inferior ingredients.  Of course we can’t all afford the best of the best ingredients (myself included), but good food begins and ends with good ingredients.  Always use the best ingredients when available and affordable.  This especially pertains to meats, cheeses, oils, and produce.

This brings me to a related point and another pet peeve of mine; when you cook with wine or beer, be sure to use something that you’d actually want to drink.  Many people subscribe to the notion that they should use cheap wine or beer to cook with since they’re not actually drinking it.  Well, they’re wrong!  When using wine or beer in cooking, the alcohol is generally cooked off, but your food is left with very concentrated flavors of what you cooked it in.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to taste Milwaukee’s Best in my chili or my beer batter!

5. You don’t taste as you go. Tasting should be almost automatic for most cooks, but there are times that we all forget.  Some recipes don’t always call for the correct amount of seasoning, or your personal preference might differ from the original recipe writer.  Cooking times, ingredients, altitude can all vary, in addition to a million other factors.  If you are not going off a recipe and making it up as you go (as I frequently do), you absolutely must taste your food as you cook.  Oh, and if you are cooking for more than just you and your significant other (because I think its okay to share germs with the one you love 😉 ), PLEASE use a clean spoon each time you taste.

6. You turn the food too often.  Nate will attest to this being a huge pet peeve of mine, and I’ve even trained him well.  This is one of the hardest lessons for cooks to learn; it’s so tempting to poke, flip, and turn your food.  If you turn the food before it’s ready, you are interfering with the sear, your food will stick, or you’ll lose your breading.  You can tell when it’s ready to be turned when it releases itself from the pan.  This applies to chicken, fish, burgers, steaks, and pretty much everything else.

7. Your oven fries fizzle.  If you enjoy eating healthy, but still crave delicious french fries, oven baked is a great option.  However, many result in soggy spuds or dried up and burnt chips.  It may seem counterintuitive, but you need to presoak your fries. Nearly half a potato’s weight is accounted for by water; soaking the fries pulls out starch, which reduces the water content.

Baking potatoes are best for oven fries as they are drier than their waxy relatives.  Once cut into fries, soak for at least 30 minutes in cold water (I add a little white vinegar as I like the flavor it adds), then dry thoroughly with a paper towel.  Lightly toss with olive oil and spread on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Be sure not to over crowd your pan otherwise your fries will steam, and you’re back to square one with soggy spuds.  Bake on the bottom rack at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.  Flip halfway through.

8. You make unwise baking substitutions.  Making healthy food choices is important, but we must be careful when making baking substitutions as we are changing the cooking chemistry; baking is a science.  If you try to use all applesauce instead of a mix of applesauce and oil or butter, or a sugar substitute instead of sugar, the results can be dense or gummy cakes or cookies and major texture issues.  Your best bet is to stick to the recipe when baking.

9. You overcrowd the pan.  I’ve been guilty of this in the past, especially when cooking for a crowd.  Food releases moisture as it cooks, so if your pan is too crowded, instead of getting a nice sear, you’re actually steaming your food (remember overcrowding your oven fries?  Same theory here) leaving it soggy without a lot of flavor.  Make sure to leave breathing room for your food, and if you need to speed things up, use two pans at once.  Your results will be much better!

10. Your turkey burgers are parched pucks. I love making turkey burgers, in fact, it’s usually the only kind of burger I make.  I especially like using extra lean turkey for an even healthier version.  The problem with turkey burgers is that the meat is so lean that they can often turn out dry.  To compensate for the low fat content, you need to add fat.  What?  Fat?  Why would I add fat if I’m making turkey burgers to be healthier?  Well, you are using a heart healthy fat, like olive oil.  Add 1-2 tablespoons for each pound of ground turkey.  This will help the burgers stay moist inside but get a nicely browned crust without sticking to the grill.  I’ve used egg substitute (an egg would work just as well) successfully in the past also.

Another tip to keep your turkey burgers juicy – stop mixing the meat!  Don’t overwork your meat, or you’ll end up with dry burgers.  Gently work ingredients together until combined, then make your patties.

That’s it, but feel free to peruse the entire list at Cooking Light.  What mistakes are you guilty of?

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