blanch (cook) vegetables, bring a pot of salted water to a boil,
then add vegetables and cook until tender-crisp. Immediately
transfer vegetables to a bowl of ice water to cool.
Revive limp celery by trimming the ends and
sticking the stalks in a jar of cold water. Place the jar in the
refrigerator for a couple of hours until the stalks are crisp.
Trim the woody ends off fresh asparagus then
arrange in a tall vase or glass with a little water in the bottom.
Loosely tent with a plastic bag and refrigerate until needed,
refreshing the water every couple of days.
To clean leeks, cut them as instructed in the
recipe, then place in a bowl of cold water and swish around until
the sand falls to the bottom of the bowl. Drain carefully, then
rinse again to remove any traces of grit.
Quick-thaw frozen spinach by placing it in a
colander and running cool water over it until thawed. Squeeze out
as much excess water as possible before using in recipes.
Peeling cucumbers is simple, just use a standard
vegetable peeler to remove some or all of the green skin. You can
also use the tines of a fork to make decorative "stripes" down the
length of the cucumber.
When tomato season is in full swing and you
can't use tomatoes up fast enough, freeze them whole in resealable
plastic freezer bags. Pop a few frozen tomatoes into a pot of soup
or sauce and simmer, breaking up with a spoon as they thaw.
Ripen hard avocados or green tomatoes by placing
in a paper bag with an apple. The apple emits a gas that helps
Freeze extra tomato paste or chipotle chiles in
a small resealable plastic bag, pressing the paste flat before
freezing. When a recipe calls for a little paste or chile, just
break off a chunk from the frozen block and refreeze the remainder
When making guacamole, use a potato ricer to
mash the ripe avocados. If you don't have one, mash the avocados
in a bowl with a hand-held pastry blender.
Soft-skinned vegetables, like tomatoes and
eggplant, are easier to slice with a serrated bread knife. The
serrations on the knife grab the slick skin much better than a
Arrange stuffed bell peppers in a Bundt or tube
pan for baking. They'll stay upright and won't tip over as easily.
When cutting corn off the cob, it's easiest to
do it on a rimmed baking sheet. That way, the corn kernels aren't
as apt to fly all over the work surface.
Cook sweet corn by placing shucked ears in a
large pot of boiling water. Cover the pot and remove from heat.
The corn will be cooked in a few minutes and will hold in the hot
water for about an hour, perfect for groups!
Before baking whole russet potatoes, rub them
with oil, then bake directly on the rack of the oven, not on a
pan. This makes the skin super-crisp.
Potatoes will cook faster if they're quartered
or cut into cubes before boiling. So they cook at about the same
rate, cut them into similar-sized pieces.
Mash potatoes up to two hours ahead of time and
keep warm in a slow cooker set at low heat. Just before serving,
stir in a little milk or butter. This makes coordinating big
dinners, like Thanksgiving, a lot easier.
To prepare hard winter squashes, first use a
vegetable peeler to remove the skin, then very carefully cut the
squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and trim any remaining skin
with a paring knife before cutting into chunks.
Use a soft brush or lightly damp paper towel to
clean mushrooms. Rinsing is okay too but be prepared to use the
mushrooms right away—they'll mold if stored wet.
Store mushrooms in a paper sack, not the
plastic-wrapped styrofoam containers they're sold in. They'll last
longer if allowed to "breathe" in the paper bag.
Plastic clamshell containers that strawberries
are sold in are also perfect for storing fresh mushrooms—air
circulates around them and keeps them fresh longer.
Roast mushroom caps before stuffing to prevent
them from turning soggy. Sprinkle the cavities with salt and
roast, cavity side up, at 400° F. for 10 minutes. Turn the caps
over and roast another 5 minutes before stuffing.