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Terri's Cooking Tips

by Terri Geiser

Cooking Tips For Frying

  • When frying the oil should always be hot before adding the food so that the food doesn't soak up the oil, this will create a crispier crust.
  • When using crumbs or flour don't over turn the food, the crust will come off.
  • Bread crumbs can be seasoned for additional flavor.
  • Premade corn flake crumbs are available but you can easily make your own by crushing corn flakes until fine.
  • Other ingredients can be added to the crumbs like pecans or almonds for a crispier, more flavorful coating.
  • The food is often dipped into milk or eggs to help keep the coating on. The food is then dredged through the crumbs or flour
  • For best results use tender food bites for stir frying.
  • Prepare all food, chopping, slicing or dicing before you begin stir frying since it is a very fast paced process
  • Woks (flat bottom with sloped sides) are great for stir frying
  • When stir frying or sauteing, heat the pan or wok until it begins to smoke then add the oil

Cooking Tips For Baking

  • Quick breads use baking powder or soda as the leavening agent. Throw out old product and replace it about every 6 months to ensure it is still good
  • When using baking soda work fast to get it into the oven after adding the liquids ingredients so that it will rise properly
  • Baking soda must be used with an acid like yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream to get its leavening power
  • Measure all ingredients accurately!
  • When making a batter, allow the flour to absorb all the liquid before cooking.
  • Cakes should be light and fluffy, if making from scratch use cake flour for the lower protein (gluten) content
  • Don't overbeat bread batters
  • When filling your pan don't forget to leave space at the top for the product to rise during cooking, usually at least the volume of the batter
  • Quickly beat sugar into eggs or add another ingredient into eggs first like the milk. Sugar will cause eggs to harden
  • Cold eggs are easier to separate whites from yolk
  • When making quick breads use all purpose or self rising flour between 10-12 grams of protein
  • For best results, weigh your ingredients to ensure accuracy
  • Sifting aerates the flour. 1 cup of sifted flour means flour should be sifted before measuring, 1 cup flour sifted means measure then sift it
  • Use a spatula to gently fold light ingredients into heavier ones and use a turning motion
  • Do not overwork the dough when making biscuits, it will make them tough rather than light and fluffy, just barely mix the milk into the flour, resist the temptation to over mix! Remember Granny says, "a light hand is a good biscuit hand."
  • Use a pastry blender to work the butter into the flour, keeping the butter cold, that helps the biscuits rise better
  • Always use cold butter when cutting it into the flour, I start with little pieces of frozen butter
  • When cooking the biscuits, you will have softer sides if you allow them to touch but if you are like me and prefer crispier outside then space them apart with enough room to rise without touching Yeast breads
  • Always proof the yeast to make sure it is still good, it is a natural leavening agent
  • Proof yeast by adding it to water between the temperature of 80-100o F, add about 1 tablespoon sugar. Watch for it to begin bubbling- that means it is good
  • Don't heat water for yeast above 100-110- it will kill the yeast
  • Keep yeast refrigerated and bring to room temperature before using to prevent shocking it
  • I don't prefer rapid or quick rise yeast, while it does cut down the rising time, it doesn't allow time for the best flavors to develop
  • I usually use active dry yeast
  • Measure all ingredients accurately!
  • After adding liquids to flour allow 5 minutes for dough to rest and flour to absorb all the liquids
  • Never never skimp on the kneading time- I usually knead basic yeast breads at least 10 minutes, 15 is best. Use a cool surface
  • The dough will become smooth with good stretchy power
  • Knead by throwing the dough down on the work surface rather hard and press your weight into it with the heels of both hands. Fold the dough over and repeat
  • Allow dough to rise double its size at least one time, then punch it down and shape it for baking
  • Shaping is very important, the tighter the shape the better shape it will rise into
  • Fold and pinch all seams together to seal
  • Always preheat oven to proper temperature
  • Add steam to the oven with a pan of water placed on the floor of oven for the best crust
  • Bake bread until golden brown
  • With practice you will know how the dough should feel after kneading and how brown the outer crust should be to ensure it is done. There is nothing worse than cutting into the bread to find it is still doughy
  • Allow bread to rest at least 15-20 minutes before slicing it

Cooking Tips For Making Sauces

  • Follow the recipe for the right ratio of fat, liquids and solids
  • Stir the sauce constantly being careful not to scorch it
  • A roux must cook slowly to avoid turning grainy
  • A white roux should be cooked just until the flour has cooked and the mixture is smooth about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • A blond roux will cook about 10 minutes and just begins to turn caramel color
  • A brown roux will cook about 15 until it looks like chocolate and has a very strong flavor, the basis for Cajun cooking
  • Remove the brown roux a little before it is reaches its full color, be careful it will be extremely hot and it will continue to cook another 3-5 minutes.
  • Don't overcook your stock once you add the beurre manie, it could cause it to separate.
  • Use about 1-2 tablespoons beurre manie for each 4 cups of stock and add it in small amounts so that the flour won't taste raw

Tips for Cooking Pasta

  • Begin the cooking process with quality dried pasta.
  • Look for pasta that is made from durum wheat flour like semolina or whole wheat flour. Secondly look for pasta that has a rougher, grainy texture a result of using the right equipment for shaping the pasta during the production process. And lastly look for pasta that has a light blond color. Once upon a time, pasta was dried in the sun but today the methods are more industrial. To replicate the sun dried version, pasta should be dried for a long time at low temperatures to maintain the nutty flavor and best texture when cooked. A dark yellow color indicates a high-heat drying process.
  • For cooking, always use a large stockpot covering about one pound of pasta with at least 4 quarts of water. It will take longer for the water to boil but it will yield more favorable results. The pasta will be less likely to stick together, the water will continue to boil after the pasta has been added and the pot will not boil over.
  • Pasta will release starch as soon as you put it into water. Therefore, stir the pasta the first few minutes to keep it from sticking together.
  • Many people add salt to the water. I do not and you really do not need to. Yes, it does flavor the pasta through absorption but none of us need the additional salt. I prefer to control salt levels and increase flavor with herbs or spices. Add a sprig of oregano or a clove of garlic if you want to but avoid the salt.
  • Do not add oil to the water, nothing good comes from it. You add more calories and your sauce will slide right off the pasta rather than clinging to it.
  • To tell if the pasta is done simply taste it. It should be al dente, Italian for "to the tooth" which comes from testing the pasta's consistency with the teeth. It should be tender with a tiny firm core in the middle. The color should go from white to translucent yellow.
  • Finally you are ready to toss the sauce onto the pasta and enjoy.

Cooking With Eggs

  • Keep your eggs away from strong tasting foods in the refrigerator like onions
  • Never use eggs that have cracked shells; you know what they say about a cracked egg
  • Keep counters clean and scrub well with antibacterial agent after using eggs

The Art of Grilling

The tips and additional information will help you become a master of the grill.
  • Use plenty of freshly cracked pepper and kosher (or sea) salt
  • Don't be afraid of a good, hot fire. It will create a good sear and add of flavor
  • Always build a two level fire-layer coals high on one end and taper down
  • Check frequently for doneness- watch for the window of opportunity
  • Be organized and have plenty of cool drinks on hand- I recommend ginger and mint tea or an adult beverage margarita
Grilling is without a doubt the most interactive and most exciting and challenging of all cooking methods. All it takes is the willingness to spend some time outside perfecting the fire. The basics involve selecting the proper tools and ingredients. The most important tool is the grill.

There are so many grills to choose from that you might feel confused and frustrated. So begin by deciding if you want an open or covered grill. There are more cooking methods available with a covered grill like a smoker or a kettle type. Next you should decide whether you want charcoal or gas. I prefer a charcoal grill and I usually add wood to increase the flavor. I know many people who like the convenience of a gas grill but honestly, you can smell the difference. Remember, we can only taste salt, sour, sweet and bitter. The rest is dependent on what we smell. "Smell" for yourself next time you are grilling.

Wood chips are easy and some of my favorites include mesquite, hickory, apple or cedar. Dried basil or rosemary stems are also great. I love grilling planks, especially apple, cedar and alder wood. The food cooks on the planks and absorbs the flavors from the wood. One of my favorite salmon recipes is Alder Plank Salmon with Asian Lime Dipping Sauce. Try using rosemary stems as skewers, it adds a lot of flavor to the food. Rosemary Roasted New Potatoes are a great example.

When selecting the other tools that you will need, I have learned that you should keep it simple. You will need a meat thermometer, tongs, chimney started, hardwood and briquettes. Other helpful tools, depending on your recipe might include skewers, grilling baskets, and basting brushes. For safety purposes keep a spray water bottle and pair of oven mitts handy.

Laying the fire is simple as long as you remember not to skimp on the fuel. Build a fire with two levels of heat by laying a bed that is about 3 inches deep on one side, tapering down to about 1 inch on the other side. The briquettes will light fast in a chimney starter, making your coals ready much faster. Never use quick start briquettes and avoid lighter fluid.

Two additional points to consider are the correct temperature of the fire and the window of doneness. You need to be able to judge the heat of your fire. Wait until your coals are ready. When the coals are covered with a fine gray ash, it is time to check the temperature. Hold your hand about 5 inches above the cooking surface. If you can hold it there for 6-8 seconds it is a low fire, 4-5 seconds is a medium fire, 3 seconds is hot fire, and 1 second is a very hot fire.

Use a very hot fire for searing meats then move to hot or medium depending on the thickness of the cut. Thinner slices of meat should cook on a medium fire. Most fruits and vegetables will hold up well on a medium fire. The low fire is used for indirect cooking and keeping smaller pieces of food warm while finishing the remaining food.

The window of doneness is very small. It is better to undercook; you can always return your food to the grill. But once its overcooked there is no going back. Use a meat thermometer to avoid overcooking. It is important to cook meat to the proper internal temperatures

The window of doneness is very small. It is better to undercook; you can always return your food to the grill. But once you've overcooked it, there is no going back. Use a meat thermometer to avoid overcooking.

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