Kitchen Tip du Jour: Label everything with contents and date.

Label everything with:

  • Contents: ex. how its cooked, what’s in it, what part, vegetarian or not, etc.
  • Date: when it’s cooked, frozen or reheated.
  • (Optional) Serving size or portion:  Ideal to change the amount left over on the label as it’s used up.)

Use abbreviations as needed.  Make sure they are easy to decipher to you and those in your household.

Example:

  • SH P Chix Breast, 7/16, (2)  — shredded, porched chicken breast, made on 7/16, 2 breasts
  • ST onion/chorizo mix, 7/15  (1 c) — Sauteed, onion, chorizo mixture, made on 7/14, 1 cup
  • Lentil Soup, VN, 7/14 (4)  — Lentil soup, Vegan, 7/14, 4 servings
  • GR Turkey, 7/2 (4 oz) — ground turkey, frozen on 7/2, 4 oz portion

You get the idea.

This will make your life a lot easier… and save a ton of time and frustration! (Especially for something frozen.)

Advertisements

Need a break from cooking from time to time – even after your Mother’s Day break?

Even moms that love to cook sometimes need a break. They get their wish come true on Mother’s day – Daddy and/or Children take her out for brunch, or even better, make a home-cooked meal!  Nice!

How many of you actually would like to have a break like that more often?

Even if your husband or child is not an avid cook – you can do it.  And it actually tastes good!

By saving some basic things you cooked previously, things like various sautéed vegetables, vegetable and meat mixtures etc. and give them some written instructions, your sous-chef of the house will be able to assemble dinner when you are away, busy or you need a break!  Look under “batch and fridge” or “batch and freeze” categories for ideas for food to keep on hand, and what you can do with them.

Here’s an easy freezable French toast trick I found in a Japanese cooking magazine. You can make extra, eat some and freeze the rest to have your family bring to your bedside from time to time.

Freezable French Toast

  1. Slice French bread in 1” thick pieces.  In a flat container with sides, place all of them cut side down.
  2. For 8 oz French bread, mix 2 eggs,  2-4 TBS sugar, 1 C milk, a little bit of vanilla essence or cinnamon, and pour it all over the bread.  Let the bread soak up the egg mixture completely (5-10 min), turning it once. 
  3. For portions that will be frozen: Wrap individual portion with plastic wrap, with cut side down (if 2 or more, make sure it’s wrapped side by side).  Put them on the cookie sheet (with side, in case of the leakage), and freeze.
  4. For when you have your family do it for you: : )  When you are ready to eat, remove the plastic wrap, melt 1-2 ts butter in a skillet at low heat. Place frozen French Toast and cook for 4-5 minutes with lid on. When it’s golden brown on the bottom, flip them, place lid again, and cook 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
  5. Serve hot with maple syrup.

We didn’t have any French bread, nor maple syrup, so made it with ciabatta, ate it as it is without syrup, and it was chewy, yet moist and delicious!

So go ahead and make some this weekend, and have the frozen version ready to go for your family to treat you to breakfast in bed later.

So what do you do with leftover egg mix in the container?  How about making an easy dessert? 

Stay tuned for the bread pudding recipe…  Click “Subscribe to ‘Secrets of a Kitchen Wizard’ by Email” above the calendar, so that you won’t miss it!

 

 

 

Storage /Packaging — Freezing Part 2: Don’t Touch The Neighbors!

Don’t let the neighbors touch each other at the beginning.  Otherwise, you will find yourself in big trouble – soon.

Before you know it, they will get stuck. And, it will take forever to separate them, and it could ruin them all.  Not good.

I’m talking about freezing food.  Things like bacon, extra gyoza dumplings, those chicken breasts and drumsticks you bought on sale, but can’t finish.

One idea is to wrap them individually with plastic wrap, but there’s an easier trick, one especially helpful for things that are difficult to wrap.

It really is a pain to handle all the food stuck together.  Pretty much the only choice is to thaw the entire thing, and the rest often ends up in the garbage. Unless you manage to cut it off or smash it off, which takes a lot of time and frustration.  Not good.

With a little planning, you can avoid all that, and create a happy neighborhood in Freezerville.

Lay all of the individual pieces to be frozen on a cookie sheet, lined with a sheet of parchment paper or a silicon pad, making sure that they are not touching each other.  Otherwise, unlike human neighbors, you can guarantee these food neighbors will get stuck really badly, especially if they have moisture on them.

Once they are partially frozen, you can take them off the cookie sheet, and put them in a Ziploc bag. 

Then when you need to use them, all you need to do is grab whatever you need, no more, no less and thaw.

One exception is things like herbs, or chopped green onions.  Make sure to dry them well first, then put them directly into a Ziploc bag.  Their surface is small and thin, so it won’t become solid even when they are frozen, and even if they get stuck, it’s easy to break them up.  I grab some frozen parsley leaves, and mince them and add to food… They are so thin, it thaws while you are chopping.

With this rule, everyone will be happy in Freezerville.

Storage – Packaging Part 1. Freezing Thin with Cleavage

Packaging is important!

Are you shocked that was the first thing I uttered?  And that I mentioned cleavage?  This is a family-friendly site!  Rated-G!

I’m talking about when you store things – FOOD. Especially when frozen.

Have you ever frozen a bulk package of ground meat you bought on sale, thinking you’d never be able to use it in one shot, so you’ll save it for later. When you are ready to defrost, you realized, “Oh, shoot… I never be able to use it in one shot, and once it’s defrosted, I’m not supposed to refreeze…  Oops…”

So it requires a bit of pre-planning and strategy.

Kitchen Wizardry is all about how to make things easier to use later without heavy planning. (I’m not a good planner.) It’s about smart cooking and storing.

When something is in the fridge, you can just scoop it out and use it right away.  When frozen, all you have is a solid block, if you don’t plan carefully. It’s really important to make it easier to thaw and use when you store food for freezing.

There are different ways to freeze different things. Today, I’m going to talk about freezing something moist and spreadable (sautéed vegetables, sauces, etc.)

Here are the tricks.

  • Use the same size Ziploc bag whenever possible. For most freezers, quart size is ideal. For smaller amount, I use snack size.
  • Spread the contents thin – ideally 1/4 to 1/3 inches maximum.
  • Then lay the bag down flat and create deep creases across the bag, both vertically and horizontally before freezing.  This is to make it easier to break it off small pieces in the amounts you need. (Use the flat side of a rubber spatula or pointed tip of a chopstick to create these lines.)
  • Lay them flat inside the freezer until frozen – a cookie sheet works well. (Otherwise, all the contents will be balled at the bottom, ruining all of your efforts!)
  • Once frozen, store them vertically (like books) for easier retrieval.
  • You may want to label on the side, so that you can see the contents without taking out (again, just like books!)

Not everything can be shaped like this… or needs to be.

Stay tuned for other cool freezing tricks in future posts… (Click “Subscribe to Secrets of the Kitchen Wizard” via Email above the calendar, so you won’t miss them. : ))

Batch and Fridge: Sauteed Mushrooms

Just like sautéed onions, sautéed mushrooms are pretty handy to keep in the fridge.

I used to make duxelle (sauteed chopped mushrooms with wine) because  Jacques Pepin told us to keep it handy when we find cheap and imperfect mushrooms.  Despite of his advice, I often couldn’t  find the use for it…

Instead, I found keeping a container full of sautéed sliced mushrooms more versatile. Unlike Duxelle, which is made with chopped mushrooms, these sliced mushrooms can be used for a base for any mushroom sauce. If the recipe calls for chopped mushrooms, I can still chop them small, not the other way around.

Since most mushroom dishes call for chopped onions or shallots, I often sautee them first, then add sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper, and wine. Just like sautéed onions or mirepoix, I cook them in Extra Virgin Olive Oil rather than butter. Of course, you can cook it with butter for a richer flavor.

I found 2 lbs of  perfectly fine assortment of mushrooms for only 99c at a market near our house the other day!  Many stores offer similar specials on mushrooms.  Take advantage of them.  Slice (you can use egg slicers if you want), and sautee them for various dishes throughout the week. They keep well in freezer if you cannot finish them all after several days.

When you want to freeze something, it’s crucial to spread it relatively thin, about ¼-1/3 inch, so that it’s easier to break it off only the amount you need. I use a Ziploc Quart bag, and if the layer of mushrooms is thicker than that, I use a second one.

It’s helpful to create creases with a thin, but dull object, like a chopstick so that it’s even easier to break off what you need. I like to have a both vertical and horizontal creases for smaller amounts, especially if it’s on the thicker side.

Usage: Steaks, burgers, chicken/veal marsala, beef stroganoff, mushroom pilaf, kasha with mushrooms, warm mushroom salad, pasta, risotto, polenta, tart, quiche, crepe, white sauce with mushrooms, mushroom soup, etc. OR chop them and add in stuffings, ravioli, etc.

Tips: Sautéing mushrooms often requires a lot of oil or butter. If you want to cut fat, add salt to mushrooms immediately after you start sautéing. It will draw out the moisture and requires a lot less oil.

Since we’ve talked about both sauteed onions and mushrooms, it’s time to talk about my favorite, Magic Mushroom Soup tomorrow…

Mirepoix three ways: 1. Uncooked Mirepoix

Last week, we talked about saving some of the mirepoix, and as promised here is the magic tips.

Today is the first post of three. Uncooked mirepoix — chopped onion, carrots and celery.

When you save them in the raw form, I strongly suggest you keep them separately.

Why?

Because by keeping them separately, you can use small portions of each of them as needed for different dishes.  You can throw in chopped carrots and/or celery in salads, soups, and ground meat dishes.  Yet among these 3 ingredients, chopped onion is  used a lot more often. (Click here for chopped onion usages).

My favorite trick is to keep extra carrots and celery in thin stick form, so that you can eat them as a healthy snack with or without dip.  (These are a lot cheaper home-made than store-bought.) And when you need the chopped celery for tuna salad sandwich or something, it’s much easier than starting from washing and peeling…

Tomorrow Sauteed Mirepoix….

Batch, Fridge and Freeze: Caramelized Onion

A few days ago, we learned how to batch and fridge pre-chopped onions.

As you can imagine, you can do the same for sliced onions. And you can go even further with this… Sauteed onion, of course, and caramelized onion.

I love caramelized onions, but as we all know, it just takes so long and it’s like a crying fest!  I used to practice the “batch and eat everyday and get sick of it” method.  I always made a huge batch of onion soup (like 5 Qt/5L for two of us), eating onion gratin soup for days, sometimes more than once a day – and I got tired of it.  (How many of you relate with that?)  Especially because I’m so not creature of a habit, and I need variety consistently.

Now I  “batch and fridge”  my caramelized onions.   Some become onion gratin soup, some go on top of my pizza (caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza is the best!), or on burgers.

AND (drum rolls, please….) I freeze some in a zip lock bag for a future use.

When you want to freeze something, it’s crucial to spread it relatively thin, about ¼-1/3 inch, so that it’s easier to break it off only the amount you need. I use a Quart bag, and if it’s thicker than that, I use a second one. It’s helpful to create creases with a thin, but dull object, like a chopstick so that it’s even easier to break it off.  I like to have a both vertical and horizontal creases for smaller amount needed, if it’s on the thicker side.

So now I can always enjoy my onion gratin soup, whenever I want! So can you.

Recipe: Instantly in Paris, Onion Gratin Soup

  1. Break off some frozen caramelized onion and pour some hot water or broth on it. Adjust seasonings.
  2. Top it with toasted French bread, and lots of grated Gruyere cheese (grate extra for other uses.)
  3. Bake it until golden-brown and bubbly. Instant gratification with authentic flavors!

Hmmm… I’m getting hungry… Let’s make one with the onion I have in the freezer now! (My bread also came from the freezer.)

10 minutes later…  I’m transferred to a bistro in Paris. (It’d  take even longer if you order one there!) I’m in heaven…

Tip: To save time and electricity/gas, use toaster oven to bake your soup.  It requires a lot less energy and no pre-heating.

Kitchen Wizard Trick – Batch and Freeze: Rice

Among the many tricks I have up my sleeve the first trick I want to share as the Kitchen Wizard of Japanese origin, has to be about this: RICE!

How much rice do you cook each time?

1/2 cup, 1 cup or 2?  Just enough to serve everyone once? Or cook a lot, but leave the rest to spoil in the rice cooker?

In our household of 2, I cook 3 cups minimum, or sometimes 8 even when we don’t have anyone else over for dinner. We consume all of it eventually (over a few weeks).  Everytime it’s hot, fresh and tasty.

Why?

It takes a minimum of 30 minutes to cook decent rice, ideally about 45 minutes to one hour.  Even if you cook more, the time added is minimal.  That’s why I cook so much more.

And here’s the trick.  After the meal:

  1. Make packages of individual portion rice balls (about 2/3c), wrap tightly with plastic wrap.
  2. Leave them at room temp till cool, and put all in a Ziploc bag, and freeze.
  3. Next time you want to eat rice again, microwave rice balls at full power about 1 min to thaw a bit, remove the wrap, cook it in a bowl for another 1 min. (Please adjust the time depending on your microwave.)

Compared with rice kept in the fridge, you can enjoy “takitate” (Just cooked and perfectly steamed) taste which all Japanese and foodies are obsessed about.

You can use these for fried rice, too. Just nuke it half way, and use cold (but not frozen) rice in the recipe.

Other usages: Fried rice, Stuffing for vegetables, rice salad, quick risotto, in soups, rice porridge, Ochazuke (Japanese national midnight snack of rice soups, Mexican dishes, rice pudding, etc.

To save money, buy in bulk. Rice lasts for a while. I buy 20 lbs bag.

So next time you cook rice, cook three times as much. Enjoy the time saved! (and even a child can microwave a rice ball!)