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A Cooking Adventure with Thom

Thom's Cooking Tips

Basic Cooking Tips:
  1. Read the recipe through before beginning to cook.

  2. Measure and set out all the ingredients first.

  3. Wash and dry all produce before proceeding with the recipe.

  4. Measure liquids in glass or clear plastic measuring cups.

  5. Measure dry ingredients in measuring cups that can be leveled off with a straight edge.

  6. Measure flour by spooning it into a measuring cup and leveling it off with a straight-edge.  Do not tap or shake cup.  Do not scoop.

  7. Measure skillets and baking pans across the bottom, not the top.

  8. Freshly ground black pepper is preferable to pre-ground.

  9. Grate cheese just before using.

  10. Most recipes call for large eggs.  Do not substitute other sizes.

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How to cook Pasta:

In making Pasta, make sure the water is boiling rapidly and that only salt is added.  Do not add oil to the cooking water, stir often to eliminate sticking.  Do not cover the cooking pasta.  Cook the pasta "alla dente" and do not rinse the pasta before using.  If you are not using the pasta immediately, I recommend that you retain the pasta water, keeping it hot, and re-immerse your cooked pasta before using. Hot pasta straight from the strainer is best.

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How to Peel and Keep Garlic for Days:

This is so simple you will wonder why you never did it before.  Soak the garlic cloves in cold water for a couple of hours or overnight. Then peel garlic and place back into cold water until use. Store in the refrigerator.  Will keep for a number of days in the refrigerator.

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Peeling Garlic

How To Peel Tomatoes:

During my travels, I noticed that most tomatoes served in salads or as decorative garnishes were peeled. They always looked beautiful and tasted great. Since peeling them is easy enough, you might want to consider doing it more often than for the occasional soup. 

Here's how:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  With a sharp paring knife, cut an X just through the skin on the bottom of each tomato (Notice the picture above).  Drop the tomatoes, a few at a time, into the water for 30 seconds.  Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon to a bowl filled with ice water to cool them down. The skin will easily slip off each tomato.  If the tomatoes are to be cooked further, the ice water bath is unnecessary.

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How to Peel Tomatoes

How To Garnish A Plate:

A great way to garnish the plates for your next dinner party is as simple as whipped potatoes and a pastry bag.  Fill the bag with the potatoes (be careful - it will be hot!). Wrap a towel around the bag to insulate the heat from your hands.  You can create mounds of beautiful side dishes.  This is also the most appealing way to re-stuff twice-baked potatoes.

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How To Cook and Peel Hard Boiled Eggs:

I am going to send you to the web site for this information.  Just left click the web site below...

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How To Remove Strong Food Odor from your Hands:

The lasting odors of full-flavored foods such as onions, garlic, and seafood sometimes leave a lasting reminder on your hands after cooking. The scent can usually be removed by simply washing your hands, rubbing on lemon juice (fresh or bottled), and then re-washing again.

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Learn All About Spices:

I am going to send you to the Spice Facts at the spice advice web site.  Just left click the web site below...

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Food Handling Procedures:

  • Prepare all ingredients before you begin grilling. Not only is it unsafe to leave a hot grill unattended, but it can be very stressful to run back and forth between your kitchen and the grill.
  • Do not allow raw meat and fish to come into contact with other foods. Use separate cutting boards, or thoroughly sanitize the one you are using. Wash with hot soapy water, spray with a 5 % solution of chlorine bleach, and air dry. Plastic cutting boards can also be sanitized in the dishwasher.
  • Do not carve cooked meat on the board used to hold or cut raw meat.
  • Cut the fatty edge of steaks and chops to prevent curling. Slice through the fat at 2 to 3 inch intervals, cutting just to the meat.
  • Most basting sauces can be brushed on throughout the cooking process, the exception is sugar based sauces. Many commercial barbecue sauce preparations fall in this category. These tend to burn if applied too early, so apply during the last few minutes of cooking.
  • Marinades should be boiled if they are to be used as basting sauce as well.
  • Poking and stabbing the meat will cause the loss of juices that keep your meat moist and tender. Do not attempt to turn the meat with a carving fork. Instead use long handled tongs or spatulas to turn the meat.

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Smoking Foods:

You can add a more distinctive flavor to your foods by adding flavorings such as any of the dried herbs while cooking. Dried rosemary, tarragon, sage or thyme are all great herbs for smoking. It’s a good idea to soak your herbs for about 30 minutes and drain well before cooking to help create the smoke flavor and aroma.

For charcoal BBQs, sprinkle your herbs directly onto the coals before cooking. If you’re cooking with gas, put your herbs into a small foil pan and place the pan on the grill next to your food.
The above techniques should help you achieve the perfect BBQ. All you need now are a few friends and family members. And when they smell the food, you shouldn’t be in short supply.

Happy BBQ!

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Direct Heat Versus Indirect Heat:

There are primarily two methods of using a grill. Cooking directly over the heat source is known as grilling over direct heat. The food is cooked for mere minutes on a hot grill, and the lid is rarely if ever closed. Thin cuts of meat, fillets, kabobs, sates, and vegetables are good candidates for this method. Indirect heat is used for larger pieces of meat, such as thick steaks, roasts, and whole fish. In this method, the food is cooked just off the heat at about 350° F (175° C). The lid is closed, and the cooking times are somewhat longer. On a gas grill this generally means firing up the two outside burners, and cooking the meat over the middle, unlit burner. When using charcoals, the coals are pushed to the sides of the grill, leaving a place in the middle to cook. Traditional barbeque is a form of indirect heat using very low temperatures over long periods of time. A gage is...the use of "direct heat" is ideal for searing meat and indirect heat for slower cooking. To address the question of "how slow", the answer is provided by a meat thermometer. Here are some temps for you:

  • Well done: >= 130° F for red meats (beef), >= 170° F for white meats (pork & poultry)
  • Medium done: =140° to 159.9° F (beef), 160° to 169.9° F (pork & poultry)
  • Medium rare: >= 130° F (fish), 130° to 139.9° F (beef)
  • Rare: 120° to 129.9° F (fish), 120° to 129.9° F (beef)

Direct Grilling is the most basic and simple way to cook. Foods are cooked, or grilled, directly over the heat. What can be simpler than that? There is one basic variation to direct grilling, however: leaving the lid up, or keeping it down. Direct cooking is the oldest method of cooking. You can do it with a piece of meat, a stick and a fire. It is the direct exposure to the heat that cooks the food. In this day and age we have cooking devices with lids. It is this lid that determines whether the food is grilled or baked. By closing the lid you hold in the heat and allow foods to be cooked all over.

Imagine using a frying pan. The frying pan on the burner is using direct heat. The part of the food in direct contact with the pan is cooking. Now put the lid on that pan. The part of the food in direct contact with the pan is cooking faster, but the sides and top are also cooking because the lid is trapping the heat inside. The same principle applies to grilling. Open the lid and the rising heat will cook the bottom of the food. Close the lid and the trapped heat will cook the sides and top. Of course you still have to turn things over to get even cooking, but with the lid down you reduce the cooking time and cook through to the center faster than you would with the lid up.

The foods you cook with direct heat are the traditional grilling fare: steaks, burgers, fish fillets, etc. Anything that is less than 2 inches in thickness should be cooked by direct grilling. These are things that generally cook quickly and benefit from the fast cooking of a hot grill. As for having the lid up or down, generally you want to go with down. The only reason to grill with the lid up is for items that need a lot of basting, or cook so quickly that having the lid down increasing the risk of over cooking.

Any large food item or cuts of meat more than about 2 inches thick should be grilled indirectly.

Indirect Grilling is more similar to baking than direct grilling. This method requires that the "fire" by built off to the side of where the cooking will take place. If you think of a typical gas grill, imagine having the burner(s) turned on, on only one half of the grill. This is the heated side. You then place the food you wish to grill indirectly on the unheated side and close the lid. Convection and radiant heat will then cook the food. Since the food is not being exposed to direct heat from the burners it will cook more evenly and be less likely to burn on the exposed side. Of course this also means that it will cook more slowly.

This method of cooking only requires that you be able to enclose the food in some way, charcoal works just as well as gas. With a charcoal grill you simply build the fire on one side of the grill and cook on the other. When using a charcoal grill to cook indirectly I find it best to build the fire like you always would and then use a small metal shovel or similar tool to shift the hot coals to one side.

Of course there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to fire building. With a gas grill you are limited in how you set up the fire. Burners have this annoying habit of either being on or off. When it comes to indirect grilling a burner on low is still too hot so it's off or on, how high depends on your target cooking temperature. However with charcoal you can build all kinds of indirect fires. Coals can be piled in the middle and food placed around the edge, the coals can be around the edge and the food in the middle, the coals can be on the side, well you get the idea.

So what do you do if you have a small gas grill and only one burner. Well on of the tools you need for indirect grilling is a drip pan. This can be a heavy cast iron pan or a disposable aluminum pan. This pan sits under the cooking grate where you plan on doing the cooking. If you have a one burner grill then the drip pan should go in the middle with the food directly over it. The drip pan diverts the rising heat and creates the space you need for indirect grilling. The drip pan also catches all the drippings from the food and helps keep your grill clean.

As I said you grill indirectly anything that will burn on the surface before it can get cooked through to the middle. This includes cuts of meat over 2 inches in thickness, poultry, roasts, etc. You also use this method for grilling with a rotisserie.

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Grilling Basics:

The key to a successful BBQ is to have fun! Keep your ingredients simple and fresh, and make sure you plan and prepare before you start cooking. Following is some rules to observe to enhance your barbecuing experience.

Rule 1: Always keep your grill clean.

Rule 2: Use oil or cooking spray on your cooking grate when grilling low fat meats and other foods. Do not apply cooking spray to a lit grill.

Rule 3: Always give yourself plenty of time. Don't leave you family and/or guests waiting.

Rule 4: Always keep an eye on what you’re grilling.

Rule 5: Do not use spray bottles of water to control flare-ups. Flare-ups are caused by too much fat and too much heat. Trim excess fat and when you turn meat on the grill move it to a different part of the grill.

Rule 6: Do not add sugary or oily sauces or marinades to meat on the grill. This causes burning.

Rule 7: Keep your grill away from anything flammable like lighter fluid, fences, your house, etc.

Rule 8: Spice up your food a good hour before you grill. This lets the flavor sink in.

Rule 9: Use the proper tools. Forks are good for eating, not good for grilling.

Rule 10: Always make more than enough food for everyone.

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Charcoal Versus Gas:

If you have the room then I would suggest both. Today you can even purchase a grill that can do both. With today's busy lifestyles I suggest the gas grill for during the weekdays and the charcoal grill for the weekend when you have more time to slow cook.

American families today live dual lifestyles: During the week, nearly 80 percent experience "frantic family syndrome," rushing home from long commutes to pick up kids, supervise homework and throw something together for dinner. But when the weekend comes along, most opt out of the frenetic pace for two glorious days, spending precious down time relaxing with family and friends. Catering to these dueling lifestyles is a whole range of new combo products designed to help consumers balance their daily activities, including new dual-purpose products for the kitchen and backyard. Among those is the Charcoal/Gas grill from Char-Broil, which gives busy families two options in one grill that’s easy to assemble and use.

During the time-constrained work week, the grill's gas burner is ready for cooking in less than 10 minutes and cleans up just as fast. Switch to charcoal for the leisurely pace of the weekend -- simply remove the grid, and insert the charcoal pan and multi-level cooking grate that locks into two positions for varied cooking intensities. The burners light the coals with the push of a button, so no lighter fluid is required!

The decision of grill type is which will meet your lifestyle needs.

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Spice Up Your BBQ

Wood smoke adds the most flavor to your BBQ. Rubs, marinades and mops are used to affect the flavors of the dark outside meat and help form the bark characteristic of barbecue. The taste of the interior meat may be changed by applying a finishing or table sauce. Excellent 'Q' can be made with some, all or none of these.

A rub is a combination of spices that is “rubbed” into the surface of the meat. The rub seals in the flavor of the meat, and help form a tasty crust. The rub pulls moisture from the air, and draws the juices from inside the meat. This reaction causes the meat to literally marinate itself. The best way to apply the rub is to sprinkle the rub onto the meat, wrap in plastic wrap and store in a refrigerator overnight. Of course, this, like most things relating to good Q, comes from experimenting and experience. Try different techniques to apply the rub and how long to let it set. After sitting overnight, the rub will have become almost pasty from all the juices. I like to rub this back into the meat. I also usually apply some more rub just before the meat goes onto the smoker. What kind of spices make up a rub? Most recipes have two ingredients in common: salt and sugar. These are also the two most controversial ingredients. Salt draws moisture out of the meat, and sugars will burn or caramelize on the surface. Moderation is the key! Some of both ingredients are good, but don’t overdo it. Other common ingredients are: onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, cumin, sage, thyme, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Learn the flavor of all the seasonings and herbs, and once again, experiment.

Marinades are used to tenderize and flavor meat. There are as many marinades as there are rubs. They all have several ingredients in common: acid, oil, and spices. The acid is to help break the meat down, the oil is to add moisture to the meat, and spices add flavor. The most common types of acid are fruit juices, vinegar, milk, wine and beer. The oil is commonly vegetable oil, but other oils can be used. Avoid using bacon drippings and butter in marinades that are to be used in the refrigerator, they will coagulate and be of little use. The spices are usually very strong, or assertive since they grow weaker the longer they sit. Care must be taken with tenderizers, vinegar’s and citrus juices which can make meat mushy if left in too long. An interesting addition to marinades is ginger-ale for chicken and cola, 7-Up or Dr. Pepper for red meats. Do not use aluminum pans to marinate! The acids will react with the aluminum. Since most all pans are alloys these days, I prefer to use a glass baking dish or a large plastic bag to marinate in. CAUTION: Do not re-use a marinate. There is a very good chance that bacteria will be present from the raw meat.

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