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Tips

I’ve found that when writing my posts I’ve wanted to add loads of little tips about how I do things to make them quicker, easier, tidier, better and safer. Or ways to vary them. I’ve included these in my individual posts but thought it would be pertinent to also include some of the more general tips here.

See also my Recommended Products page.


General

When frying at a high heat, especially with oily foods like salmon or streaky bacon – I use a small pan to minimize the smoke. Open a window and put the extractor on in any event.

Don’t forget to substitute Tamari Soy Sauce for regular Soy Sauce when cooking gluten free or for a wheatard.

I use scissors to cut bacon and many other things like raw chicken and herbs – much easier than a knife unless your knives are super sharp.

If you don’t have sea salt flakes and use runny salt, halve the amount of salt used. I would however recommend Maldon Sea Salt as a preference.

I am being deliberately vague with oven timings. All ovens are different and can cook unevenly. You will get to know your oven’s nuances over time.

This page from food52.com appears to give an excellent guide to adapting recipes to different size tins. I’m not that concerned, I tend to eyball things but if accuracy if you game, this may be of help.

When poaching or boiling anything, such as pasta, I boil the kettle rather than putting a pan of water on to boil.  I do however warm the pan while the kettle is boiling by putting a little water in the pan and putting it on the hob on a medium heat whilst the kettle is boiling. This saves a minute or so more than if you put fresh boiled water into a cold pan.

Salting pasta water is supposed to be the be all and end all of cooking pasta but when you’re coating it in sauce, I’ve never been able to tell the difference, just make sure the sauce is well seasoned. Or add salt to the water if you really like (use cheap table salt, not Maldon, you’ll be bankrupt in a year).

When using cornflour, you must mix the powder with cold liquid, such as water or milk first to make a ‘slurry’. I usually aim for the consistency of double cream. Adding the powder directly to your hot dish will result in lumpy chaos!

Use a pre made liner if you have one but if you need to make one, take a square of greaseproof paper and fold it in half (neatly). Fold it again into quarters and then make a triangle keeping the centre of the paper as the point. Fold again to create a narrower triangle. Hold the paper over your dish with the point roughly in the centre. Cut the paper into a pie piece shape to make it a bit longer than half of the base length and one side. Open it up and ta-da you have a liner. To make it fit properly, scrunch the whole thing up a few times then open it back up – this softens the paper and makes it more pliable – Magic!


Eggs

I tend to crack eggs right into what I’m making because I’m a renegade (lazy) and dislike washing up. If you are not so confident, crack eggs into a small bowl before adding to what you are making.

When poaching eggs – crack the eggs into the water starting at the top and working clockwise around the pan. Remove them in the same order so they are all cooked evenly.

When poaching eggs – use a flat fish slice to remove the eggs from the shallow pan. This is where confidence comes into play – fiddling around and being all gentle, will most likely end up breaking the egg yolk whilst it’s still in the water – disaster! Also it’ll take too long and your other eggs will be overcooked. Just go for it.

A few sea salt flakes on cooked egg will make a world of difference to the overall flavour.

When whipping egg whites – make sure your bowl/jug is clean and grease free, no yolk has broken near the white and always use a clean whisk or they simply will not whip up.


Rice

I use pudding rice rather than specialist sushi rice – its almost exactly the same kind of shortgrain rice as sushi rice and at least half the price. The outcome is, to my eye, almost identical.

Sushi/Pudding Rice – this rice is super simple to cook once you know what you are doing. Use twice as much water than rice (by volume) and do not take the lid off at all for the first 20 minutes – turn the heat off half way through – perfect every time.

When cooking rice – The lid can rattle, in which case I put a square of kitchen roll between the pan and the lid to create a better seal.

When adding wine to a risotto – add the wine before the rice (as is the common instruction) so that the rice does not absorb the uncooked wine which can result in an acrid taste to the end of the risotto. If using, add the garlic at the same time as the wine as this also stops the garlic from catching.

It is important to keep stirring a risotto. The stirring action helps to release the starch from the rice grains which results in a creamy risotto. It also stops the rice sticking to the pan and acts as a reminder to add the next batch of water when you feel the mix becoming too dry. Saying this, whilst it is important to stir almost continuously for the first 5 minutes or so, after that it is possible to take short breaks to deal with other aspects of the recipe. I wouldn’t advise walking away from it entirely tho – if you need to pee, just turn the heat off for a couple of minutes while you’re away.

When making a risotto, you may find need more water than stated or a bit less – as with flour the absorption rate of the rice can vary with many factors. Trust your gut.


Equipment

Kitchen roll is a cooks best friend, I have no idea how anyone operates effectively in a kitchen without it. Buy the good stuff though – cheap kitchen roll is like cheap toilet roll – ultimately pointless.

Be careful when blending hot liquids in blenders, some makes warn against this and its a warning that should be heeded until you want to mop soup up from half way up the walls (trust me).

If you regularly cook for 1 like I do, I would recommend investing in a small or children’s colander for draining single servings of pasta/rice/veg etc – using a full size one for this makes my teeth itch and unnecessarily fills the dishwasher!

If you don’t have a microwave, buy a microwave. Life if too short. Not necessarily used all the time but for quickly cooking a jacket potato or reheating leftovers, they’re a dream. I have gone into debt to get one on a number of times in my life. Worth it.

I own  this 12 hole mini sandwich cake tin from Lakeland (an older version that I got half price!) which has loose bottoms for super easy removal. Great for making individual cakes like these Sticky Toffee Buns when you don’t want to go the cupcake/muffin route. I just grease these tins with butter. Neutral flavour frylight spray should also do the job.

I don’t own a piping bag (although for my Sticky Toffee Buns I did buy a disposable one) but I do keep a couple of cheap plastic nozzles lying around which I sometimes use with a sandwich bag with the corner cut off for make-do piping. I’m not really a pretty piping kinda gal but I’m yet to find a better method of injecting filling into a cupcake.

If you don’t have a rolling pin and/or hate scraping pastry or dough up and off the counter top,  I line the counter with cling film and then use the cling film roll as my rolling pin. I just tear off the bit I rolled with before chucking the roll back in the drawer. The cling film on the counter gets rolled up and chucked in the bin, containing all of the excess dusted flour. Minimal mess. Lovely.


Meat and Fish

To flatten bacon for quicker cooking and better wrapping coverage, take one piece of bacon and lay out in the middle of a chopping board. Using the flat of a large, wide bladed chef’s knife, start from the middle of the rasher and push down whilst dragging the knife to the end of the rasher. Repeat towards the other end. Your rasher should now be thinner than before and a little longer/wider. I use this bacon flattening method when making pigs in blankets, wrapping asparagus  and for the bacon I cover the turkey with at xmas.

I keep frozen king prawns in the freezer to always have them on hand for a low calorie, super quick protein option. I cook them directly from frozen – they need an extra minute or two cooking in this case. I also try to buy these from an Asian supermarket as they tend to be much cheaper than from the supermarket or fishmongers.

I never use extra oil when cooking bacon – even with the relatively lean stuff, there is enough fat in the meat to lubricate any non-stick pan.

Always pat dry any meat or fish before cooking it with kitchen roll to ensure crispier cooking (unless in a glaze or marinade type situation obvs).


Fruit and Vegetables

To remove avocado fleshSee this handy post.

To make cauliflower rice/cous cous – If you have no processor, you can apparently grate the cauliflower although I haven’t tried this. Mind your fingers!

When frying onions, to avoid using more oil, if they are browning without softening a bit, add a little water to the pan.

When adding garlic to a dish, add it later rather than earlier to avoid it burning and going bitter. Garlic cooks very quickly.

Sweet potato shrinks drastically when roasted so cut the chunks larger than you instinct tells you – they will shrink.


Baking

To rub fat into flour like in my Peach and Ginger Crumble – Using the tips of your fingers rub the spread through the flour until the mixture has the texture something like breadcrumbs. Some bigger lumps won’t kill anyone.

When making a fruit crumble – I tend to heap the topping slightly higher in the middle to ensure a gooey centre and help the fruit juices to attractively bubble up the sides.  Perversely, I sometimes put a layer of topping on the bottom for extra gooey-bits.

To check if a cake is cooked – insert a skewer into the thickest part of the cake and if it comes out clean, its ready. This is not true for brownies, if they’re not gooey, they’re not worth baking.

Do try and be patient and let cakes properly cool before icing. I’m impatient and it never works out well – the icing will just melt all over the shop.

When making buttercream, I recommend that you use real butter. You could use light spread, another margarine or spreadable butter here but to be honest, the buttercream won’t be the best and it’ll be very soft, I’ve learnt my lesson and stick to proper butter.

A cake mixture that has split is not the disaster your home-ec teacher may have led you to believe. Don’t waste ingredients, in most circumstances, it’ll be just fine. Have confidence.

When it comes time to add flour to a cake mix or batter, stop using an electric mixer and revert to gentle elbow grease to fold it in. Developing gluten in flour is great for bread but will make cakes and the like tough.

I like to whip buttercream with an electric whisk to give it a nice light texture.

When using butter straight from the fridge when it should be room temperature, you use the microwave to soften it. I often do this as I’m rarely organised enough to take it out the fridge in advance. Cut the butter into small squares first and spread them out on a plate. Blitz for no more than 5 seconds at a time. This way its more evenly softened rather than big block which will melt on the outside and stay solid in the middle.


Breadmaking

When making sodabread batch rolls, Leave a little space between the rolls in the tin but not too much – they will expand a little but not as much as a yeasted bread.

When making a sodabread loaf, I tend to shape my dough about 2 cm high – a flatter bigger loaf results in more even and quicker baking. For a taller loaf, score large cuts at least halfway into the loaf to allow heat to penetrate the middle and leave in the oven for a little longer.

When kneading dough on a floured surface, try not to add too much extra flour to the dough as this will dry it out. If it does feel like its getting a bit dry, knead in a little more milk or water to balance the texture back out.

When proving dough (leaving it to rise), you can just leave this on the side in the kitchen but it’ll take twice as long. An airing cupboard or similar is ideal but I don’t have one so I usually put one of my ovens onto a super low heat and pop it in there – I’ve been burnt by doing this on occasion by being impatient and its started to cook the dough a little by having it on too high a heat. Don’t do this! You could also warm the oven a little, pop the dough in and then turn the oven off – just don’t keep opening the door to let the residual heat out.


Pastry

There are loads of tips for making puff pastry in this post here.

There are loads of tips for making sweet shortcrust pastry in this post here.

There are loads of tips for making savoury shortcrust pastry in this post here.


Yorkshire Puddings

See this handy guide for my recipe and method.

When making Yorkshire puddings I recommend using 1 tbsp of vegetable oil per muffin tin hole. Its a lot of oil.  You can use less but the best yorkies come about by using a shedload of oil – fact. My Nanny Vi made the best yorkshires in the world and she certainly didn’t skimp on the fat.  You could alternatively use lard, vegetable shortening or sunflower oil. I wouldn’t use olive oil here.

When making Yorkshire pudding, oil can overspill in the oven – I find its a good idea to put the muffin tin into a larger roasting tray to make removing it from the oven easier and catch any drips.

When making Yorkshire pudding or pancake batter, a lot of recipes will tell you to leave the mixture to ‘rest’. You can do – there is no problem preparing the batter in advance, but I’m yet to establish any actually benefit of leaving it.


Mealprep

When batch cooking for the freezer – write in black permanent pen on the sandwich bag what it is and the date you made it. I tend to write the calorie count on too for my easy reference.


Drinks

Muddling is the posh cocktail name for pounding and mushing. You can buy actual muddling implements or use the end of a rolling pin.

Taste cocktails before pouring into glasses. If you like it sweeter, add a bit more sugar or sugar syrup. If you like it more bitter, add some lemon or lime juice. If it’s not boozy enough, add more booze!

Honey Rum (Ron Miel) comes from Fuerteventura and is delicious and sweet, great cut with lime.

Cachaca is a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane and the main base for a Caipirinha (recipe coming soon). I bought the last lot from Amazon but Sainsbury’s now also sell a bottle so its getting much more easy to find.

Most cocktail shakers will have a strainer built in, otherwise use a small tea sieve or a regular sieve if you’re really stuck.

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