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Food storage tips from Liz Barbour

• When freezing, try to fill the entire container so there’s no air in it. “If there is space in the container, put a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap on top of the food so now the food doesn’t have air on it, there’s just air in the container,” Barbour said.
• Don’t be afraid your food has gone bad if it’s been in the refrigerator for two days. “If you have a good refrigerator, depending on what it is, your food will keep for much longer than you ever thought,” Barbour said. 
• Anything that goes in a container, whether it’s the refrigerator or freezer, should have the date on it. Include the year, especially for freezer items. 
 
Gluten-free cooking at home
Kasia Lojko and Sonia Almodovar of All Real Meal, a healthy meal delivery service that brings gluten-free meals directly to homes and workplaces in southern New Hampshire, said that with the benefits of eating gluten-free comes a potentially challenging transition to the alternative cooking style.  
“There are certain ingredients that may be unfamiliar that now have to be used in the kitchen,” Almodovar said. “I mean you just have to learn a new way of cooking.”
It can be frustrating to go through the learning curve of using different ingredients in new recipes, Almodovar said, but is worth it for the nutritional value. 
“The gluten-free thing is so much healthier,” Lojko said. “Even for the people that don’t have celiac [disease], it’s not about the gluten, it’s about the genetically modified wheat that is so bad for everybody.”
Whether you must make the switch or decide to do so, there are plenty of options for replacing gluten in your diet.
“Most people in a traditional diet probably have something with gluten in it every single meal and many of their snacks,” Almodovar said.
One change they suggested is replacing bread crumbs, used to coat fish or make meatballs, with a nut-based flour such as Bob’s Red Mill hazelnut flour or almond flour. “It increases the nutrition, it increases the protein, it tastes amazing and is gluten-free,” Almodovar said.
Nut-based flours are a good thing for gluten-free cooks to keep in the pantry, along with high-quality, non-GMO gluten-free baking mixes for pancakes or muffins, brown rice pasta, sorghum and arrowroot. 
Keep in mind that while gluten-free cooking can be very delicious, tastes and textures are going to be different. When making the switch, don’t get frustrated. Starting gluten-free cooking is a trial-and-error process of finding what new ingredients you like and how they work in certain recipes. 
Think outside the box to expand your diet around the gaps left by gluten. Try nuts and beans in a salad instead of croutons or sweet potato or portabella mushroom slices instead of hamburger buns.
“When you get used to it, it’s so easy,” Lojko said. Once you get used to cooking gluten-free, you can take recipes and modify them on the fly. Overall, Almodovar said, your diet will improve because gluten-free cooking does involve more effort, thought and planning. 
 
Good old-fashioned cookbooks
While the days of solely using a hardcopy cookbook for recipes may have passed, there is something to be said for hanging on to classics like The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. Enjoy a bit of nostalgia with meals made when you were a kid or branch out with lesser-known cookbooks like one of Rephan’s favorites, Black Fly Stew: Wild Maine Recipes by Kate Krukowski Gooding.
“Her book itself is really simple, really delicious,” Rephan said. “She doesn’t have 8,001 ingredients or 8,001 steps in it.” Rephan appreciates that the book has unique recipes that call for bear, beaver or otter, as well as a substitutions list to make the dishes with chicken or beef.
One of Beauregard’s favorites is The Gathering of Friends cookbook series, which meets all of her cookbook requirements.
“First and foremost to me is colored pictures, and they have to be glossy. Otherwise I lose interest,” she said. “I like how [the] recipes are laid out. They’re very simple and they also give a shopping list, which isn’t in every cookbook. Just kind of the simplicity of the recipe because you know people are busy nowadays and don’t have a lot of time.” 
If magazines are more aligned with your cooking style, check out Better Homes and Gardens, Cook’s Illustrated, Cooking Light, Savour and Bon Appétit for some inspiration.
 
Pantry tips from Liz Barbour
• Try to store items in cool, dark places like closet shelves, cabinets or drawers.
• Don’t stick cans or boxes behind each other. If you can see everything, you’ll avoid doubling up on items you didn’t know you already had.
• Bulk is good for frequently used items, but not for everything. You don’t want things to go to waste.
 
Do’s and don’ts for home cooks
Don’t underestimate your taste buds. Arend sometimes has people ask her if a dish they made tastes good. Her first questions is always, “Do you think it tastes good?” The response is often yes, but tinged with a doubt of whether their opinion can be trusted. “I [say], ‘Your palate is what’s going to be eating your food...so just enjoy it, embrace it. … If it tastes good to you, it’s going to taste good to other people.’”
Do stay within your comfort level. The biggest thing to stay away from as a home cook is not a particularly challenging recipe or tough technique, it’s anything that you don’t want to cook. 
“If you’re comfortable taking on a challenge and you want to make a goose liver pate, bring it,” Arend said. “I think it’s great. But if you’re not comfortable with it, why do it?”
Don’t overexert yourself. “I would suggest, don’t have too many tasks going on at once,” Therrien said. “ Keep it manageable … start simple but don’t be afraid to try something. If it fails, who cares? It’s not like you’re going to destroy the world with it.”




Master Your Kitchen
Tips and tricks for bringing better meals to the table

06/04/15
By Allie Ginwala aginwala@hippopress.com



Many of us have visions of ourselves as culinary masters, chopping, sauteing and whipping up a classy meal without breaking a sweat. But in reality, lack of inspiration or challenges during the cooking process can leave us feeling like the tail end of a Pinterest fail.

Whether you want to move beyond making the same three meals for yourself on rotation or are looking for ideas to make feeding a whole family fun and easy, you can up your cooking game and become a better home cook with these tips and tricks for stocking your pantry, organizing your kitchen and planning your meals. Show your home kitchen who’s boss.
 
Preparation is key
One aspect that impacts almost every part of the cooking process is preparation. From gathering ingredients to planning meals, dinners during the week become a lot easier if they’re planned a day or so in advance.
Bonne Cavanagh and Laura Therrien, chefs/owners of Feed the Family, started the healthy meal takeout alternative to give busy families and individuals a nutritious helping hand.
“We are two moms that were sick and tired of not being able to call somebody and say, ‘Could you please bring us a roasted chicken and some freshly steamed green beans?’” Cavanagh said. “The only option was a pizza or a sub [for takeout]. We decided that we were going to fix that problem and start this company.”
One of the best ways to get out of the food rut of thinking only of that night’s meal is to have a “food vision” a few days ahead of time, if not an entire week. Cavanagh and Therrien suggest using Sunday as a prep night. It can mean making a general list — think “grilled chicken on Monday” and “tacos on Wednesday” — or cutting vegetables and boiling rice to put in containers and use throughout the week.
If you’re cooking for more than just yourself, have a family meeting and talk about what everyone wants to eat that week (a particularly good idea if you have picky eaters). Go over the menu so the family shopper knows what to buy. 
Caroline Arend, chef and owner of Caroline’s Full Service Catering, also recommends taking Sunday to do the more tedious prep for the week and beyond. She regularly purees garlic and puts it in the freezer so she can grab it as she needs it. 
“You can have your carrots peeled, if you’re having potatoes, you can peel your potatoes in advance and put them in a little thing of water so they don’t oxidize,” Arend said. “You can marinate your meats in advance.”
For those on a budget, Cavanagh and Therrien suggest taking a look at grocery flyers that come out on the weekends to plan a menu based on the week’s sale items.
 
Stock up
A well-stocked pantry and freezer is a must-have for all home cooks. More than just a backup option or place to store infrequently used items, pantries can provide inspiration for a meal and also peace of mind knowing that in a flash you can pull out a few ingredients to make a quick, tasty meal. 
While each person’s pantry will differ depending on the volume of food cooked and types of meals made, there are certain ingredients that should always be on hand. The four main pantry categories to focus on are herbs and spices, oils and vinegars, canned goods and dry goods. 
For herbs and spices, go for the basics like salt and pepper (add in sea salt or Himalayan salt for variety) and a selection of diverse flavors such as garlic powder, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, cilantro, paprika, saffron, cayenne pepper, Italian seasoning and Chinese five spice. 
Oils and vinegars to think about include olive oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sherry vinegar, apple cider vinegar, Champagne vinegar, balsamic and other vinaigrettes. Vanilla extract and coconut oil or milk are also good to have. 
Pastas and rice (like white, brown, basmati and jasmine) are dry goods that make a great addition to any vegetable or protein for a given meal. Try to have flour and some boxed baking mixes as well.
Always have canned goods like tomato products (tomato sauces, tomato paste, diced tomato), beans (black beans, chickpeas, garbanzo beans), tuna fish and some type of broth, either a chicken or vegetable stock.
Keep in mind that the pantry doesn’t have to end with cans and boxes. Liz Barbour, chef, cooking instructor and owner of The Creative Feast, said that the pantry should extend into the freezer and the refrigerator.  She always keeps chicken and a selection of vegetables in the freezer in case she wants to whip up a quick pasta dish.
Depending on the food you like to eat, there are certain fresh ingredients you’ll use a lot. Figure out what those are and every so often chop, prep and freeze a bunch so when you want to make a meal you love, you know it’s already partly taken care of.
“I can make a lemongrass ginger shrimp in five minutes because all of my stuff is already done,” Arend said. 
She makes sure to always have lemongrass and shrimp prepped and ready to go.
With everything from chopped garlic and broccoli in the freezer to chickpeas and olive oil in the pantry, you’ve given yourself the creative license to make all sorts of dishes without having to fill out a full shopping list. 
 
Clean out your kitchen
If you’ve been cooking in the same kitchen for a number of years, you’ve probably accumulated a fair share of plastic cups, tupperware, stirring spoons and kitchen gadgets, only a fraction of which you actually use on a regular basis.
“I find that … a lot of us have way too much stuff that we never use and it’s taking up valuable cabinet space, and so you really need to kind of try to cull that down,” Barbour said. 
Give yourself a clean slate by going through all of the kitchen nooks and crannies, sorting through the must-haves and have-nots while giving a flow to the kitchen that will make the cooking process easier. 
Barbour suggests setting aside one day to organize the kitchen in a way that makes sense to you. For example, have the bread basket right near the toaster or the plates, bowls and silverware in a cabinet next to the dishwasher. Having a system is essential to making all other processes seamless.
 
Basic kitchen tools 
Once you’ve cleaned out the extras in your kitchen, make sure you re-supply it with the items every home cook should have. 
Based on the recommendations of multiple chefs, one of the most important tools to have in the kitchen is a good set of knives, particularly a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife. 
“It’s like shoes,” said Suzie Rephan, a manager for Le Roux Kitchen, in a phone interview. “These are good shoes [but] if it doesn't feel good it’s not good. You can have good knives [but it] depends on what you're looking for and what is good to your hands.”
Also important is a selection of cutting boards. Barbour said a range of sizes would be best, with at least one large cutting board. 
“When you have a large cutting board you can cut over here and push over there,” she said. “If you have a small cutting board, there’s nowhere for the food to go.”
While Arend uses a wooden cutting board at home, she said plastic works well also. 
“It’s all about personal preference,” she said. “Plastics are easy to sanitize, so get a mix of both depending on what you’re doing.” 
Try cutting meat and fish on a plastic board because they can be easily sanitized with a run through the dishwasher.
“You don’t want to cut on just any surface,” said Diane Beauregard, owner of Things Are Cooking in Concord. “Some people think they can cut on granite but you can’t because you’re going to ruin your knife. It would just wear it down faster and could damage your knife if you’re not careful.”
One thing that home cooks may overlook is a pair of tongs, which act as an extension of your hands. 
“Tongs are for more than just the grill,” Barbour said. “It can be used for salads, serving and the cooking process. Especially long tongs; now I can get in to get that chicken [in the pan] and I’m not going to splatter myself.”
When it comes to pots and pans, make sure you have a 12-inch saute pan, a 4-quart saucepan, a 12-quart stockpot and an 8-quart stockpot. A couple other fry pans (perhaps one nonstick for eggs or fish), smaller saucepans and a cast iron griddle are useful too.
Other items that are good to have around are a rubber spatula, a couple of wooden spoons and metal spoons, a whisk, a peeler, a manual can opener, a slow cooker, a toaster oven, a blender, and a hand mixer.
A lot of the tools, like wooden spoons, peelers and tongs, can be purchased inexpensively at a kitchen supply or retail store. But for some items, like saucepans and knives, it makes sense to spend a little more. 
On top of the basic kitchen tools every home cook should have, there are items that one may not think of as a “kitchen tool” that can be very useful. Rephan said a salad spinner, garlic press and instant read thermometer are good to have, along with a tabletop or handheld mandoline for thin slicing. 
“I got one and I love it,” Rephan said about the mandoline. “That’s one of those things you don’t think of as a necessity and once you have it [you love it].” 
Beauregard said a compost pail, dish racks, spice racks and recipe book holders are all things people may not consider kitchen items, but definitely come in handy.
Recently, Beauregard has been excited about produce keeper containers for the refrigerator, which eliminate ethylene gas so fruits and veggies last longer. 
“Things like this will make the shelf life so much longer,” she said — a bonus for a home cook trying to plan a few days in advance.
Also trending now is the spiralizer. Spiralizers take all kinds of vegetables, like sweet potatoes or zucchini, and cut them in pasta-like shapes. Many cooks, at home and professionally, are using them as a fun vegetable side dish or even an alternative to pasta. 
 
Get cooking
Now that the pantry is stocked and the proper kitchen items are at hand, how do you begin cooking up tasty dishes? One of the best ways to increase your cooking abilities is to start with something simple and familiar.
For example, take a plain pasta and broccoli dish with olive oil. Barbour suggests building on to it by adding sauteed onions. 
Her first step is to get the pasta boiling (you can cook the whole box and save the rest in the refrigerator to eat from for the rest of the week) and saute the onions until they’re soft, then add in crushed garlic. 
When the pasta is finished, mix in the onions and garlic, plus broccoli, a bit of parsley or basil and oregano and either heavy cream or chicken broth. Add some canned tuna and you’ve created a familiar yet well-rounded dish with protein and vegetables. 
Don’t feel like following a recipe to a tee is the only way to make a yummy meal, Arend said. Use it as a guideline and pull an assortment of pantry items to develop the dish. 
Once you have a collection of dishes and recipes to start from, hone in on one or two skills that will make overall cooking easier, like chopping and knife skills. 
Tips and tricks for the 
cooking process
• Season in layers: Don’t save the salt and pepper for the final step of the dish because at that stage, that’s all you’ll taste. If you’re making a tomato sauce, salt and pepper with each step in the process, like when adding onion, garlic or sausage. “What it does is it draws out the flavor of that particular ingredient,” Arend said. “It doesn’t taste salty because it’s drawing out all the flavors of each layer.”
• Dry herbs vs. fresh herbs: If you’re working with dried herbs it’s important to put them in at the beginning of the cooking process. For fresh herbs, add them at the end to preserve their brightness. Dried herbs need more time for the flavors to come out, Arend said, whereas fresh herbs would be diminished if left in too long. 
• Know when your food is cooked: A lot of people have a tough time knowing when their meat is cooked all the way through. You can’t rely on outside color and you don’t want to cut it to check inside because you’ll lose all of the juices. Arend recommended the feel test instead. “Don’t be afraid to use your hands,” she said. “Wash your hands and touch your food. You can poke it. You’re eating it and it’s in your home.”
• The grill is your friend: Easy, flavorful food and quick clean-up — don’t overlook the benefits of cooking on the grill. “You don’t have to clean your kitchen, you don’t have to worry about cleaning sheet pans or saute pans or your oven,” Arend said. She views grilling not only as a summer pastime, but as a year round option. Put on a big coat and go out to the porch in the winter to grill marinated meat and vegetables. 
 
The friendly freezer
Freezers sometimes fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” category when it comes to making meals. Good for more than saving leftovers and storing bulk items, freezers can become an active part of the pantry and an aid for home cooks. 
Prolong the use and life of food by making your freezer a part of the pre- and post-meal plan. Upcycle produce by freezing it to repurpose in another way. “I always tell people, we have farm stands everywhere, go buy the reduced berries, cut them up and freeze them,” Cavanagh said. “There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re just getting too ripe.”
Overripe produce may not taste great by itself, so cut it up for a sauce or freeze it for a later use. 
“Bananas are the classic example,” Therrien said. “Peel them first, you can either dice them up if you want or leave them whole in the bag and break off pieces, throw it in your smoothie.” Therrien did the same thing with a stockpile of sweet potato; she peeled, cut, diced and froze it to use another day. “Now I’ve got butternut squash in my freezer I can pull out, either roast it or put it in soup or use it for another side dish at dinner,” she said.
If it turns out that the produce isn’t good enough quality to use in a recipe or is mostly scraps, use it to make a stock. 
Cavanagh is a big fan of saving the ends of celery and asparagus or carrot peelings in a freezer bag for another time when she wants to make chicken stock (another item a home cook should always have in the pantry/freezer).
“Now when I have a chicken and I’m going to make stock, I take that bag out of the freezer and throw it in because it’s all scraps anyway,” Cavanagh said. “You’re not really going to eat that part, but all of the flavor is in the bottom of that celery and in those leaves and all those peels have flavor and vitamins. Why throw it out?”
Another way freezers make future meals easier is by storing not only individual ingredients, but ready-to-go or already made meals. During the summer, freeze fresh vegetables like corn and beans in cup-sized portions. That way, one night down the road if you don’t know what to make, open the freezer and use the corn for a chowder or shepherd’s pie.
For Therrien’s family of five, she’ll cook a larger batch for the meal and freeze half of it into individualized portions. 
“If one son’s hungry for the pizza or whatever, we make three pizzas the week before, then he just pulls out a couple slices and throws them in the toaster oven and I don’t have to worry about it,” she said. 
 
As seen in the June 4, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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