Tips and Tricks

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It is amazing how many little tips and tricks you learn along the way when you are cooking and storing food for a large family.  A lot of these are just common sense but I can't tell you how many times I learned something that was common sense to someone else and I had one of those 'Ooooh!' moments wondering why I had never thought of it myself.  This list will definitely grow over time.

Just treat it like a flower - cut off the lower 1/2 inch or so and put the whole bouquet into some water.  Store in your refrigerator until it is time to eat and they will keep their crisp flavor far longer this way.

If you can't get through those last 3 bananas in the bunch and they are starting to get ripe, just peel them and wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze them.  You can then turn them into banana bread when the weekend gets here and you have more time, or use them frozen in your favorite smoothie.  They are also great dipped in chocolate and made into a summertime treat.

Canning - Jar Sterilizing
Canning jars can be sterilized in the oven instead of a boiling water bath. Space them so that they are not touching, set the oven to 220 (F). Once the oven reaches full temperature, keep the jars in there for a minimum of 10 minutes.  You can use this method to sterilize many jars and only pull out as many as you need for the next batch, making sure your jars stay hot and you do not have to wait in between to sterilize.

Canning - Canning Rack Alternative
Canning racks that come with your canning set are scary. Jars tip, tilt, and in general the canning rack is a hazard, not a help. Northwest Edible Life has a fantastic DIY alternative that I highly recommend.

Canning - Lid and Ring Sterilizing
My shortcut for keeping warm and sterilizing the lids and rings is to use a heatproof bowl or 4 - 8 cup measuring cup. Place all of the lids and rings into the cup and then using water from your electric kettle or instahot (I have a kettle), pour the water to completely cover everything. Do this 10 minutes before your first batch of jars are ready to be filled. For me this keeps the stovetop clear and the heat down since most canning is done while it is so dang hot outside.  You can do repeatedly for large batch canning projects, just place the number of lids and rings your canner can hold per batch.

Canning - Tomatoes and Peppers
Using gloves when handling peppers is something most know to do, but you might want to consider doing it when processing large amounts of tomatoes. If you put up enough tomatoes that you buy them in bulk, you will be very happy that you wore gloves. The acid in the tomatoes takes a toll on your hands when working with that many of them.

Freeze fresh ginger and use it straight from the freezer without thawing it out.  Use a microplane grater to add frozen ginger right into your recipes in place of dried ground ginger or recipes that call for fresh ginger minced.  You will be surprised at how different and more vibrant things taste.  If you do have fresh ginger on hand and need to peel it, just scrape the skin off with a spoon.  Far easier than a peeler and less wasteful than trimming with your knife.

Measuring Flour - When measuring flour for baking projects and the recipe is not posted by weight it is very important that you do your measurements carefully.  Before you measure anything out you need to fluff the flour.  I am sure there is some fancy term for this, but for me it is a matter of scooping the flour and pouring it back into  the container several times so that the flour I am going to now measure out is fluffy, not packed and dense.  Always use a dry ingredients measuring cup for doing flour so that you can over fill it, then using the back of a butter knife or other long flat utensil, scrape the excess off leaving you with a full, flat measured amount.  This will help a great deal in baking because there you need to be as precise as you can for things to turn out as you plan.

Read First - I have learned the hard way that you need to read through a recipe entirely first before you start putting it together.  I can't tell you how many times I thought I remembered how something was done only to find out halfway through that I was supposed to toast or chill or let rest for several hours or overnight and -then- continue on.  Bah.

You can just trim the ends and then wash the stalks thoroughly, dice it up into about 1 inch sized pieces and freeze it.  I measure mine out by the cups when I freeze the rhubarb so I can grab however much I need and then incorporate it into recipes year round.  You want to let the washed stalks dry a bit so that you are not freezing in a lot of water.  Rhubarb will keep in the freezer easily for 12 months.

Season as you go - add your salt and pepper to each of the steps when making a savory dish instead of waiting til the end to add it.  If you are browning and then adding ingredients after sweating the vegetables, be sure you season each of those steps.  Your final dish will taste far better and it will take less salt to achieve the seasoning level you want.  The only exception to this rule - sauteing mushrooms.  Never salt them until the are fully cooked and the desired color you want.  Mushrooms are full of moisture and if you salt them while cooking they will absorb the salt and exude a lot of moisture, make it very hard to get them to get a nice color and they tend to be a bit slimy.

Shredded Cheese - you can divide up shredded cheese into smaller freezer bags and store it in the freezer for at least 6 months.  Adding sprinkles of shredded cheese to scrambled eggs or into gratin recipes is so much easier.

You can freeze the zest of citrus fruit.  If you only use the juice of a citrus, you can zest it first and freeze it for later use.