Most of us have to be suffering from a pretty mind-blowing caffeine-withdrawal migraine before we’ll reach for instant coffee.
Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy some. Because while instant coffee makes a generally lousy cup of java, it can do astounding things for your cooking.
And that is why it is such an overlooked and underappreciated ingredient.
First, an instant-coffee primer.
Coffee hounds have been tinkering with versions of instant coffee since at least the late 1700s, but it wasn’t until just before World War II that it became widely available.
Those early varieties were made by spraying brewed coffee into heated towers and drying it into granules. By 1964, a freeze-drying method had been perfected, which boasted superior aroma and body.
Get the recipe for Bourbon Java Steak Tips »
A refrigerator in tip-top condition provides prime storage conditions for your perishables and stops odors and bacteria from flourishing.
1. The temperature should remain between 30 degrees F and 40 degrees F. While freezers should clock in at zero or below, a refrigerator that hovers no higher than 40 degrees F is safest for food storage, as it inhibits bacterial growth.
2. Your refrigerator and freezer need to be cleaned each season. Freshen up the fridge and its contents by doing away with odors and lingering germs. Remove everything from inside, weeding out items that need to go. (Put edible odds and ends to use in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salads, pizzas or soups.) Replace open boxes of baking soda, then take a bucket of water combined with a few spoonfuls of the replaced baking soda (it’s still effective as a household cleaner) and wipe down every surface.
Refrigerator door shelves are where it’s warmest »
It’s all about harmony and yin-yang.
Which sounds tritely New Age-y, but really is the key to Chinese cuisine.
Because as with so much of Asian cooking, the blend of seasonings known as five-spice powder is intended to trigger a sense of balance in the mouth and nose.
How? A careful selection of spices that simultaneously hit notes of warm and cool, sweet and bitter, savory and searing.
Because that’s what you get with five-spice powder, a mix of fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns.
Like spice blends around the world, the proportions of those ingredients vary by region in China, but some variant of it is used throughout the country.
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Chocolate lovers won’t just lick these bowls clean — they’ll eat them whole. To make some yourself, temper one pound semisweet chocolate. Dip the top of a partially inflated balloon in the chocolate, flip the balloon back up and twirl it to distribute the chocolate. Hold the balloon upright and let dry for about a minute. Repeat the dipping process two more times, then spoon some melted chocolate onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and center the balloon, bowl-side down, on the melted chocolate base. Repeat with more balloons, reheating the chocolate as needed (1 pound chocolate will make 4 to 6 small bowls). Refrigerate until hard, about 1 hour, then pop the balloons and peel them away. Store the bowls in a cool, dry place for up to three days.
Photograph by James Wojcik
Chorizo is a bit like pornography. You’ll know it when you see it, but it’s a bit hard to define in the abstract.
That’s because there are several hundred varieties of this sausage made across at least three continents and many bear little resemblance to the others.
Making matters worse, chorizo makers in the U.S. are a pretty freewheeling bunch. No matter what the packages say, you never quite know what you’re getting.
The good news is that you don’t need to sift through all that to understand why this meat is well worth working into your dinner repertoire.
At its most basic level, chorizo is a sausage made from chopped or ground pork and a ton of seasonings, often including garlic.
The flavors are deeply smoky and savory, with varying degrees of heat. Most are assertive and peppery, but not truly spicy.
Roasted Chicken With Chorizo and Root Veggies »
Come cold weather, praises abound for slow cookers. I never got on that bandwagon. While I love low-and-slow cooking, when it comes to barbecue, I prefer my meals to come together more quickly on a daily basis. Why wait that long for a tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef stew when a pressure cooker can do the same job in less than an hour?
Back when I was a personal chef, I only had four to five hours to spend at each client’s house, to get five meals for four prepared from start to finish. Using a pressure cooker allowed me to not only multitask, but to prepare short ribs, pot roast and even soups in record time. It was just the primer I needed for feeding my own family years later.
Forget all your fears and the stories you’ve heard about pressure cookers in the past. In the 15 years I’ve been using mine, there’s never been an explosion. I started with a stovetop pressure cooker in the beginning, and in the last few years my electric one has become my new best friend. Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll realize from the first bite that is one “fast food” busy parents can feel good about serving their kids.
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Feel like your cutting board just isn’t clean enough? Not to worry — you can get the board extra clean with some products likely found in your home.
1. Rinse immediately after use. Studies show that a prewash rinse eliminates enough bacteria so that levels are safe, while submerging the board in dishwater immediately after use transfers pathogens to the wash water. Since wood is a porous surface that absorbs water, submerging a dirtied board could also cause it to split and warp.
2. Disinfect using 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Pour it over the board and spread it around using a clean sponge. Let it stand for a few minutes as it fizzes to kill germs. Wipe off with the clean sponge and repeat as needed.
Remove stains with coarse salt or baking soda »
So you think you know steaks? Maybe you do.
But truth is, you probably only really know the particular cuts you buy over and over again. That’s good, but there’s a world of great beef out there to explore.
And many of those cuts (and by the way, butchers are creating new ones all the time) are far more versatile than you think.
You could spend ages learning the different cuts of beef and the various names for each (there isn’t nearly as much naming standardization as you would think). But I think it’s better to simply pick a cut you haven’t often prepared at home and start playing around with it. That’s how I learned to love flank steak.
First, the basics. Flank steaks are lean cuts from the rear side of the cow and are characterized by rich, deep, beefy flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Traditionally, London broils were made using flank steaks, though today any of the leaner, less tender cuts often are substituted.
Get the recipe for Balsamic-Pepper Flank Steak »
Did you know that the fifth most-common finger cut can happen while you split a bagel? It’s got a name too: BRI, or bagel-related injury. Sometimes avoiding these kitchen problems is easier said than done, so here are a few tips to help you navigate your kitchen more safely.
1. Safely Split a Bagel
Lay it flat on a work surface while pressing down with one hand to keep it steady with your fingers splayed upward and out of harm’s reach. Hold a sharp serrated bread knife in your other hand and slice the bagel horizontally, keeping the knife parallel to the work surface.
2. Wipe Up Spills Immediately
Always keep dishrags handy while you’re cooking in the kitchen and toss one over a spill you might not have time for at the moment as a visual reminder — and clean it up as soon as you have time.
Stabilize your cutting board and more »
Participating in The Big Waste on Food Network was as eye opening for me as it was to watch it. I consider myself fairly well-informed in matters of buying, selling or, most simply, eating what I buy for my restaurants and home. In short, I didn’t think there would be much to learn doing this show. Or at least that there wouldn’t be much I hadn’t already seen. I was wrong. There were small amounts of precious, expensive things wasted, like chocolate, espresso and prosciutto. There were the stunning amounts of vegetables like corn, in bulk quantity, that I was surprised to learn would never “make the cut” and have a chance to even be bought.
Here are a few things we can all think about when shopping and cooking that can help reduce the amount of food waste:
1. Don’t pick through an entire pile of tomatoes to find the biggest, most perfect one. Settle for a few of the nice, small ones on top. Moving the pile around and shifting the fruit can bruise them and increase the likelihood than people will leave those other bruised fruits behind. Same goes for peaches.
Five more tips to reduce the amount of food waste »