Cooking Tips & Time Savers

This is an active and changing list, so be sure to visit occasionally and even offer your own tips as a comment.

Bouillon: Braised or roasted meats produce savory pan juices, that once rendered, can be used in place of salty store-bought bouillon that use MSG to enhance flavor.  After roasting or braising meat, add 1-2 cups of hot water to the pan (depending on the amount of liquid that was used during cooking and what amount remains) and stir to loosen any browned bits.  Pour into a fat separator; once the fat has separated, pour into a freezer bags in 1 cup increments.  Freeze flat whenever possible so that it is easy to break or cut off the amount needed to make broth.  Mix 1/4 cup of this type of bouillon with 3/4 cup hot water to make 1 cup of broth. The consistency and flavor will differ based on the seasoning and liquids used while roasting.  Use this technique for chicken, beef, or pork.

Dried herbs: To release the scent and flavor of dried herbs, use a mortar and pestle to grind spices and seasonings together before incorporating into a recipe.

Fruit: Citric acid helps to keep fruit from oxidation, thus turning brown. Ascorbic acid sold as Fruit-Fresh works even better, but lemon or lime juice is available in most kitchens.

Avocado: To preserve a cut avocado, leave the peel and the pit in tact on the part saved. Place the unused portion in a resealable bag with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice to keep the avocado from turning brown.

Garlic: To preserve garlic for use in a number of recipes, purchase a large quantity of peeled garlic as sold in warehouse stores like Costco, Sams, or Trader Joes; place approximately 2 cups of peels garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of softened butter, and 1/4 cup of olive oil in a food processor.  Blend until smooth.  Spoon into a freezer bag, press-out flat to remove air, and freeze flat. 
To use:
Allow the garlic butter to defrost enough to easily slice off the desired amount needed for a recipe, return remaining to the freezer. 
Variations:
Add chopped parsley, grated Parmesan, or other hard cheese and herb combinations to make garlic bread or as meat and seafood toppers when grilling or broiling.  Citrus juice or white wine can be added for quick sauce to finish fish or chicken.

Freezing Food: Freezing food is an ideal way to preserve food for another time.  There are important guidelines so the food retains its flavor and texture.
1. Use the type of bags designed for protecting food in the freezer.  Avoid using storage bags or plastic wrap.
2. Remove as much air as possible from the bag.  Vacuum sealers work great, but zipper type bags work too so long as you press-out the air.

Beef: Steaks, tri-tip roast, hamburgers should not be cooked before freezing.  Roasted cuts of beef should be frozen with some of the pan juices so the beef is protected and can rehydrate as it defrosts.  Browned ground beef freezes well without the added liquid because of the fat content.
Chicken:
Grilled, baked, or stewed chicken freezes very well.  It is best when frozen in whole pieces and chopped, sliced, or diced once it has defrosted.
Cornstarch
: Cornstarch loses its thickening properties in the freezer.  Recipes that call for cornstarch as a thickening agent can be prepared ahead of time by leaving the cornstarch out until the meal defrosted and prepared.
Fish:
In general, fresh fish should not be cooked before freezing.  However, if there is a protective coating like used when frying, or the fish is in a soup, the texture will not be as affected by freezing.  I try to eat fish as fresh as possible, so if you’ve had success with freezing cooked fish, I’m happy to hear your suggestions.
Mushrooms:
Avoid freezing mushrooms.  Instead, if you are preparing a precooked meal to freeze: wash and chop the mushrooms according to the recipe, sauté and add the mushrooms to the dish just before serving.
Pasta: Pasta should be cooked to just under-done when freezing a precooked meal to avoid mushy results when reheating or completing the cooking process. 
Pesto Sauce:
Freeze left over pesto in a spare ice cube tray.  Each compartment is approximately a tablespoon.  Once frozen, store the cubes in a freezer bag to use with grilled chicken, fish, cream sauce, Quiche, etc.  A cube placed on top of a chicken breast or fish fillet as it bakes or finishes on the grill will dress-up any meal.  (If you don’t have a spare ice cube tray, put pesto in a quart freezer bag, press flat removing the air, and freeze flat.  It should be thin enough to break off a piece when needed.)
Pork: Chops and whole loin roasts should not be cooked before freezing.  Roasted or smoked cuts freeze well and benefit from being frozen with some of the pan juices so the pork is protected and can rehydrate as it defrosts.
Seafood:
In general, seafood should not be cooked before freezing.  However, if there is a protective coating like used when frying, or the seafood is in a soup, the texture will not be as affected by freezing.  I try to eat seafood as fresh as possible, so if you’ve had success with freezing cooked seafood, I’m happy to hear your suggestions.
Soup:
The beauty of soup is its simplicity and how well it freezes.  Broth based soups and chili freeze very well.  Cream based soups are another story.  Milk and half & half will not perform as well in frozen soup as cream.  Soups made with milk or half & half will separate and lose their creaminess once frozen.  When making a cream based soup you will freeze substitute whole cream for the milk or half & half by simply using 1/4 of the milk or 1/2 of the cream called for in the recipe.

Lentils: Add lentils to broth-based soups to enhance nutrition and naturally thicken the soup. When lentils cook for a long period of time they break down and incorporate into the soup’s broth.  Note: Using red or yellow lentils will brighten soups, brown or green lentils can make the soup appear dirty or dingy.

Mushrooms: Add mushrooms to a beef dish in order to enhance the beef flavor and reduce the amount of beef required.  This works well for fajitas, beef stews, roasts, soups, stroganoff, or stir-friesPortobello mushrooms work great for this, providing a deeper flavor than common button mushrooms.  Porcini mushrooms offer a deep, woodsy flavor and even a small amount mixed in with other less expensive mushrooms can enhance a beef flavor.

Pasta: Reheating pasta in a microwave can cause a mushy or gummy texture.  Instead, put pasta in a small skillet or saucepan with 2-3 tablespoons of water, heat on medium heat until water starts to boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add sauce and continue to simmer until sauce is warmed through. Adding pasta to soups: When preparing soups which include pasta like Minestrone or Chicken Noodle, keep the pasta separate until just before serving or reheating to maintain the integrity of the soup’s texture and consistency. This will keep the pasta from absorbing too much of the base and becoming too soft.

Salsa: When salsa nears its expiration date, freeze it.  It will be a welcome addition to future soups or stews.

Stock: Making your own stock has rewarding health benefits and reduces waste.  Any time you have bones from roasted chickens, beef bones, or vegetables that are about to spoil, freeze them.  The vegetables will wilt, but that’s okay.  When you’ve accumulated enough to fill the largest pot you own, make some stock.  The vegetables and herbs that work best in stock are: onions, celery, garlic, zucchini squash, carrots, kale, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, or cilantro.  Anything that imparts the flavors you like, use it.  Use stock in place of broth in recipes or as a meal when someone is ill.  If you need a good stock recipe, click here.

Though much of this information is based on personal experience, results cannot be guaranteed.

4 Responses to Cooking Tips & Time Savers

  1. Amy September 30, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    I never thought of reheating pasta that way. Interesting idea. Thanks for all your help!

  2. Merryl Chantrell June 1, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    When I reheat cold pasta I rinse the cold pasta first then drain then place in the microwave in a microwave safe container and reheat for 2-3 minutes.

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