Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Top Tips And A Great Monthly Read

I mentioned once before that I LOVE Olive Magazine. It's one of the things that makes me glad to be back in the UK and I look forward to my copy coming through the letterbox every month.
Olive is a monthly foodie publication with brilliant but realistic photographs and recipes that have seasonality, cost conscience and lively flavour at their heart.

My skill and knowledge as a cook have most definitely improved over the year+ that I've been a subscriber because of regular sections like Need to Know, Olive Investigates and Masterclass tips and recipes by Lulu Grimes and John Torode.
Olive is definitely a real cooks' magazine and focuses on from-scratch meals which make the most of what the current season has to offer and what an average (or lower) family budget can afford. Look for the 7 Days for £35 and What To Eat Now sections specifically for ideas for your weekly table. I suppose my only misgiving is that some of the dishes are a little less substantial than my insanely greedy husband and stepson require, but there's no reason you can't add a veg or carb dish to bulk things up a bit.

The Eat Out and Eat Away sections are a brilliant guide to some of the best restaurants both in the UK and abroad and gives honest reviews of popular eateries, both from professionals and Average Joe.

The £3.40 cover price (less if you subscribe, depending on the offer you choose to take) is more than made up for by the money-saving tips you glean from the pages. If you're like me, you'll keep your back copies for future reference and inspiration. I even keep a small notebook which lists some of the recipes I'd like to try, referencing the edition and page number.

Olive will make you a better cook and a more informed shopper and leave you with little nuggets of information that will enhance every aspect of your cookery. This April's edition has a couple of pages called 21 Secrets To Being A Brilliant Cook, with everything from ways to keep your knives sharp, tips for successful baking and little techniques which improve everything you do in small but effective ways.

I've put a few of my own tips and techniques for successful cooking below. I would love to include all 21 of Olive's tips, but apart from being plagiarism, it would be incredibly tedious. If you're able to pick up a copy, these two pages are worth the whole magazine's weight in gold.
I have already done a post about saving money, so I won't include any of that in this post. I would love to get your suggestions or tips you use in your own kitchen, so please leave comments if you can.

1) Don't refrigerate your tomatoes. The cold prevents proper ripening, kills the flavour and turns the texture mealy. Keep them on the vine in a bowl on the counter or on a shelf and eat them before they go soft.

2) Don't wash your mushrooms. They'll absorb water and go mushy when you cook them. Instead, use a mushroom brush or slightly damp paper towel to wipe away any dirt.

3) Use stock instead of water whenever it might benefit the dish. When a savoury recipe requires water, use chicken or veggie stock (not stock cubes though) instead to add flavour as well as moisture. Simmering veg such as carrots, parsnips and mushrooms in chicken stock, until tender and the stock has reduced to a syrupy glaze is about the simplest way to make a simple veggie side dish.

4) Have at least one good quality knife and keep it sharp. Besides being far safer, having a good, sharp knife will give you better precision and slice (pun intended) valuable minutes off your prep time.

5) Make your pastry in a walk-in fridge. Ok, maybe that's a bit extreme, but the best way to get super light, flaky pastry is to keep the fat as cold as possible. Refrigerating the fat, the flour, the bowl and everything else will help achieve this. Keep your hands out as much as possible and make sure to chill the dough for at least half an hour before rolling

6) Roll out dough between two layers of cling film instead of on flour. This doesn't apply to pizza dough, but for cookies or pastry, this is a good tip to follow (Thank you Rachel Allen). By not rolling out on flour, you don't introduce more flour to the mixture and upset the balance of ingredients. This is even more applicable when rolling out cookies which are to be cut out, as often the dough scraps are re-rolled a couple of times.

7) For perfect roast potatoes, use goose or duck fat and get it as hot as possible before tossing your par-boiled potatoes in. Super hot fat and a soft, floury potato surface will give you the crunchiest, most spectacular roast potatoes you could wish for.

8) Brine your meat! Ok, not all recipes will benefit from brining, but a nice long bath in a sweet, salty and aromatic bath before a gentle roasting will give everything from pork loin to whole chickens or ducks and Christmas turkeys a wonderful, fragrant moistness that cannot be achieved any other way.

9) Keep your shrimp/prawn shells. Put them in an airtight container in the freezer then use them to flavour sauces and soups. For instance, if you simmer them in the stock you plan to use to make prawn risotto, you'll impart even more of the natural flavour. This is doubly true if you roast the shells first.

10) Don't use extra virgin olive oil for frying or hot roasting. The strong, fruity flavours will not survive the heat and will turn bitter. Use a lighter olive or other veg oil for cooking, saving your better E.V. olive oils for dressings.

11) Store asparagus, lettuce and celery in water. My Mum taught me this tip years ago and it's still one of the best. When you bring the veggies home from the market, and you have room in your fridge door, slice the very bottom off and put in a mug or jug with a couple of inches of cold water in the bottom. Cover with an upside-down plastic bag and pop in the fridge door. Your veggies will stay crisp and fresh for more than a week when stored this way.

12) Wash your veg right away. When you get home from the shops, wash all your veggies in a sink full of cold water. Not only will this refresh the veg, it will keep your fridge cleaner and will make meal prep so much faster.

13) Keep a few basics in your fridge and cupboard and you'll always be able to whip up something tasty. I always have: Garlic (fresh), ginger root, a chunk of parmesan cheese, crushed red chillies, lemons, limes, a tin of anchovies, soy sauce, capers and a jar each of green and black olives. With this collection of flavour-packed dynamos, you'll be able to turn even the lowliest bits of meat, veggies or pasta into a something truly special. This tip will never be more handy than when you've got an unexpected lunch or dinner guest.

14) Take note of your successes. I can't count the number of times I've made a dish or tried a technique and thought "Wow, that was brilliant, I'll have to remember it for next time!" only to not be able to remember what I'd done that had worked so well. And so, for about a year now, I've kept a small journal to keep note of recipes I've tried that worked, whether my own, from my cookbooks, (Olive) magazines or online.

15) Use an oven thermometer. For £5 you can get a small metal thermometer to hang or stand on your oven shelf as you can't always depend on your oven's settings or thermostat. This is most important when baking or roasting meat for a long time at a low temperature.

That's all I've got for now, but I'll add bits as they come to me. Please do leave your own suggestions and tips, as I value all the help I can get!

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