Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ghee whiz: Kitchen tips and techniques

The more I cook, the less I work. In other words, as I cook, I figure out shortcuts and techniques to save time, effort and money. And sometimes, I find that a little extra effort pays dividends later on.

Consider my stash of frozen ghee, the clarified unsalted butter sold in jars and used in Indian cooking. It's great for sautéing because it has a high smoke point. I bought a jar recently to use in Quick Spiced Potatoes and Cauliflower with Baby Shrimp. We loved the recipe, which I've served more than once. Even so, I had a lot of ghee left over.

Research suggested that I keep the ghee at room temperature and use it within three weeks. Instead, I used my smallest cookie scoop to arrange 1-tablespoon mounds of ghee on a sheet pan that I'd covered with parchment paper. I refrigerated the ghee until firm, then cut each piece in half. Then I put the sheet pan in the freezer. When the ghee was frozen, I transferred it to a plastic freezer bag. The little pieces thaw quickly, so I pull out whatever I need when I need it. One piece is just the right amount when cooking eggs or sautéing veggies in a nonstick skillet.

In the summer, I portion and freeze mounds of pesto the same way, and if I open a can of tomato paste, I use the same method to freeze the excess.

I knew the size of the cookie scoop because I'd previously filled it with water, then poured the water into a measuring spoon. I also have two bigger scoops, one which holds 1/3 cup and one which holds 1/2 cup. The biggest scoop is perfect for portioning out muffin batter. I also use those larger scoops to divide batter equally between loaf pans or cake pans. When I made waffles recently, I used the biggest scoop to plop the batter onto the waffle iron.

When you have leftover stock or broth, you can freeze it in 1/4- or 1/2-cup portions in muffin cups. After the stock has frozen solid, dip the bottom of the pan briefly into a sink of hot water, then pop out the blocks of stock and transfer to a freezer bag.

When baking, I almost never use a sifter. When a recipe calls for sifted flour, I whisk the flour in the canister before measuring it. (I then spoon the flour gently into the measuring cup and level the top, using the flat edge of a knife.) Most of today's recipes do not call for sifted flour, however. You can tell this way: If the ingredient list says "1 cup SIFTED flour," sift before measuring; if it says "1 cup flour, SIFTED," sift after measuring.

If a recipe calls for sifting dry ingredients together, combine them in the mixing bowl and whisk until the spices and other ingredients are well distributed.

When do I use a sifter? To get rid of the lumps in powdered sugar when stirring together icing.

Sticky ingredients such as honey and molasses are easy to measure but hard to get out of the measuring cup. If your recipe calls for vegetable oil, measure that first. If not, lightly coat the measuring cup or spoon with nonstick cooking spray. Either way, the sticky stuff will slide right out.

I have several fine mesh strainers. I use the smallest to skim the foam off simmering stock. Most recipes  tell you to use a large spoon, but I always seem to pick up more stock than foam. Using a strainer solves that problem.

When decorating a cake with icing or piping the filling into deviled eggs, I use a pastry bag and decorative tip. I've learned that pastry bags are easy to fill if you set them in a tall, narrow glass.

I'd love to hear your tips. If you have any to share, please leave a comment.

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