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>> How To's & Basics

Adding Garlic to Recipes

When a recipe calls for adding oil, garlic , and onions to a pan, always add garlic last. This keeps it from burning and tasting bitter.

Biscuits Tips

Biscuits will be crisp on the outside and flaky in the center if you roll the dough thin and fold it over once before cutting out biscuits. They'll also split open easily when you're ready to butter them.

To re-freshen and heat biscuits, put them in a well-dampened paper bag, twist it closed and put in a 300º oven for several minutes or until warm.

If you want soft-sided biscuits, bake them in a pan with sides and put the biscuits close together.

If you want crusty biscuits, bake them on a cookie sheet and place them apart from each other.

Bread, Crisp Crust

For a slightly browner and crisper crust, brush bread after 20 minutes of baking with a whole egg beaten with a tablespoon of milk.

Bread, Crispy and Shiny Crust

For a crisp, shiny crust, bake the bread for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush with an egg white that has been beaten with a tablespoon of water. Return the bread to the oven tofinish baking.

Bread, Getting a Shiny Crust

For a shiny bread crust, brush the top with a mixture of 1 beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of milk before baking.

Bread, Keeping Fresh Longer

Keep bread fresh longer by placing a rib of celery in the bread bag.

Cake, Keeping Fresh Longer

To keep loaf cakes fresher longer, cut slices from the middle rather than from the end. When you're finished slicing, firmly push the two leftover sections together to reform a loaf. This way, you eliminate leaving an exposed, quick-to-dry-out "end" slice.

Cake, Making Even Slices

Use unflavored dental floss to slice evenly and cleanly through a cake or torte. Simply stretch a length of the floss taut and press down through the cake.

Cake, Slicing into layers

To split a cake into layers, loop a length of waxed dental floss around the outside of the cake at the point you want the cut, then cross the ends and pull gently but firmly. The floss will cut right through the cake.

An easy way to split layers evenly: Measure halfway up side of each layer and insert wooden picks into the cake all around, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart. Rest a long serrated knife on wooden picks, using them as a guide on where to slice. Discard wooden picks before proceeding with the icing.

Cake, Testing For Doneness

When testing a large cake to see if it is done, use a strand of uncooked spaghetti. It reaches where a wooden pick won't.

Cake, Testing For Doneness II

The cake is done when it shrinks slightly from the sides of the pan or if it springs back when touched lightly with the finger.

Canning - Boiling Water Bath

There are two methods of canning fruits and vegetables: boiling water bath or pressure canning. Low acid vegetables (everything except tomatoes) can harbor heat-resistant bacteria, and should be heated to at least 240°F - a temperature that can only be produced by pressure canning. High acid food, which includes tomatoes, pickled vegetables and most fruits, can be processed at boiling water temperature (212°F).

For the Boiling Water Bath method, you will need:

Boiling water bath canner -- This is basically a large, deep pan with a tight fitting lid. It should be large enough to allow 4 or more inches of "headroom" above the jars.
Wire basket or rack to fit inside the pan and hold your jars.
Tongs to lift jars out of boiling water.
Oven mitts to handle hot jars.
Cooling rack, or several towels.
Kitchen timer.

First: Fill canner halfway with hot water and put the jars into it, either inside the basket, or setting on a rack on the bottom of the pan. Add boiling water to 2 inches above the jars. Be careful not to pour boiling water directly onto the jars.

Second: Cover canner tightly and bring water to a rolling boil. Start the timer (use this chart to determine boiling time) and reduce heat just enough to maintain a rapid boil. Add boiling water throughout if needed.

Third: When time is up, remove jars immediately with the tongs. If necessary, tighten the lids. Set the jars on a cooling rack or layer of towels to cool. Leave space between cooling jars.

After canning, label the jars with their contents and the date they were canned. Store jars in a cool, dark place. Light can cause discoloration and loss of nutrients.

Canning - Jars vs. Cans

Generally canning with glass jars is best, simply because you can see the produce. It's easy to check for damage, leaking, and discoloration.Glass jars are also cheaper, easier to use, and you can reuse them over and over again! Tin cans may not break like a glass jar, but if you use tin cans for canning, you'll need to buy a sealing device.

Glass jars commonly used today have either a porcelain-lined cap, which consists of a screw top and rubber ring, or a self-sealing cap, which consists of a flat lid with sealant around the rim and a screw-on band that holds the lid against the lip of the jar. The band can be reused, but you should use a new lid for each process. Old-fashioned clamp-type jars can still be found, but do not use decorative replicas for canning. With this type, the glass lid and rubber ring are held in place with a long clamp during processing, and then a short clamp is snapped down for a tight seal.

Canning - Packing The Ingredients

Wash all produce prior to packing into containers. Vegetables and large fruits can be cut into pieces and pitted if necessary. Smaller fruits such as berries can be left whole. Fruits can be dipped in asorbic acid (vitamin C) and packed in sugar syrup to preserve their color, texture and flavor.

There are two ways to pack the produce into the jars before processing:

Raw Packed
Pack clean produce tightly into containers and pour on boiling juice, water or syrup. Wipe the rim and sealing ring to remove any food particles, then close the jar and proceed with the canning process.

Hot Packed
Steam or heat vegetables or fruits to boiling in juice, water or syrup, then immediately pack them into the jars. If you are using a porcelain-lined cap jar, wet the rubber ring and fit it against the top/shoulder of the jar. Screw the cap on firmly, then back off one quarter turn. After processing, immediately screw the cap tightly again.

If you are using a self-sealing cap jar, tighten band before processing and don't loosen it again.

Canning Basics

Canning is a great way to preserve vegetables and fruits for your own use or for gifts. The basic principal is simple: during the canning process, food is heated to a high enough temperature to stop the decaying action of enzymes and/or bacteria and other microorganisms in the food. The food is then stored in sterile, airtight containers to prevent contamination.

This isn't a process you should treat carelessly. Contaminated food can cause illness, and botulism isn't something you want to mess with. Always remember these things:

Choose only perfect produce. Overripe or damaged fruits and vegetables are more prone to spoilage.

Your jars, lids and sealing rings should be in good condition and sterile (washed and scalded).

Wash your produce thoroughly before processing.

Know your produce. Be sure to use the correct time, temperature and method of processing for the food you will be canning. Methods are described below, and this chart will help you determine processing times.

After canning, check the seal on every jar to make sure they are air tight - when you push down on a self-sealing lid, it should stay down. Test porcelain lids by turning the jars upside down. If you see a stream of tiny air bubbles, the seal is not air tight.

Don't use foods from any jar that has a foamy or discolored appearance. Watch for bulging or misshapen lids and leaking rims. Throw those jars away.

Home canned vegetables should be boiled before they are served (with the exception of tomatoes).

Cookies, Dough Scraps

When you re-roll dough scraps, dust the pastry cloth with a mixture of half flour and half confectioners' sugar. This makes the cookies more tender than if they were rolled on a surface dusted with flour only.

Cookies, Freezing Dough

Cookie dough can be frozen up to three months in an airtight container or refrigerated three to four days.

Cookies, Glaze

For a quick glaze for sugar cookies, beat an egg white until just frothy and brush over the unbaked cookies. Sprinkle with sugar and bake. This will give your cookies a shiny, sweet crust.

Cookies, Keeping Fresh

To keep homemade cookies just-baked fresh, put a slice of white bread in the jar or container.

Cookies, Mailing

When mailing cookies, pack in unbuttered and unsalted popcorn to help keep them from crumbling.

Cookies, Storing

Let cookies cool completely before storing. Store different types of cookies in separate containers so they'll keep their original flavor and texture.

Cookies, Thin Batter

If you flour a cookie sheet after greasing it, cookies made from thin batters will be less likely to spread during baking.

Dried Fruit, Rehydrating

To plump dried fruit for fruitcake, place fruit in a shallow baking dish, sprinkle generously with water, then cover. Place dish in oven while oven is heating for baking cake. In 10 to 15 minutes the fruit will be soft and plump. Cool slightly and add to cake batter.

Flouring Cake Pans

When flouring a cake pan, take into consideration the flavor of the cake. If you plan to serve the cake dusted with powdered sugar, a white ring on the side of a chocolate cake takes away from the appeal. For light cakes, use white flour to flour your pans. When making a dark cake, use powdered cocoa. The cocoa works in the same manner as the flour with regard to release and it doesn't leave a white ring around the edge or on top of the cake.

Grapefruit, How Much Juice

1 medium grapefruit will yield about 2/3 cup of juice.

How To Make Chocolate Curls

Use a vegetable peeler with a long narrow blade and a chunk or bar of chocolate. Warm chocolate and blade slightly. Be sure your peeler is absolutely dry. Draw the peeler along the smooth surface of the chocolate.

How To Store Chocolate

Chocolate should be stored in a cool, dry place at a temperature of about 60F. If the chocolate becomes too warm, the cocoa butter rises to the surface and forms a dusty gray film known as "bloom." This "bloom" is not harmful and, once the chocolate is melted, it returns to its natural rich brown color. If you do store chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer, take in out and let it stand until it returns to room temperature before you use it in a recipe. Chocolate is very sensitive to sudden changes of temperature.


To prevent icing from running off your cake, try dusting the surface lightly with icing sugar or corn starch before using.

Keeping Rolls Warm

Place aluminum foil under the napkin in your roll basket and the rolls will stay hot longer.

Lemons, How Much Juice

One lemon will yield approximately 2-3 tablespoons of juice.

Limes, How Much Juice

1 medium lime will yield approximately 2 tablespoons of juice

Making Pefect coffee

  • Always use fresh, cold water.
  • Use the correct grind for your coffeemaker and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Keep your coffee fresh. Buy only a week's supply at a time. Store ground coffee in a tightly covered container in your refrigerator.
  • Use measuring cups/spoons to measure coffee and water. Do not "guess".
  • Serve the coffee as soon as possible after brewing.
  • Do not reheat coffee or it may taste stale or bitter.
  • Keep your coffeemaker clean.
  • Never reuse coffee filters or grounds.

Marshmallows, Keeping Fresh

To keep marshmallows from turning hard, store them in the freezer. When thawed, they're like fresh.

Melting Chocolate

Chocolate scorches easily, so always melt it over hot - not boiling - water. It is best to use a double boiler, but you can improvise by using a bowl in a small saucepan over very gentle heat. The water must be kept below simmering to prevent steam from curling up and hitting the chocolate. If steam gets into the melted chocolate it will immediately thicken the mixture to a stiff mass. If this does happen, however, you can rescue the chocolate by softening it again.

To do this, add 1-2 tb of vegetable shortening (never use butter as it contains moisture which will cause the chocolate stiffen even more!) to the chocolate and stir vigorously. You can also melt chocolate directly over very low heat in a heavy gauge saucepan, but you must watch the mixture carefully.

Nuts, How To Toast

Toast on a cookie sheet in a preheated 375 F oven to a light golden color, about 6 to 8 minutes.

To ensure all pieces are toasted, do not pack them too tightly on the sheet.For hazelnuts, cool slightly, then place in a towel and rub vigorously. The skins will remain on the towel.

Oranges, How Much Juice

Toast on a cookie sheet in a preheated 375 F oven to a light golden color, about 6 to 8 minutes. To ensure all pieces are toasted, do not pack them too tightly on the sheet. For hazelnuts, cool slightly, then place in a towel and rub vigorously. The skins will remain on the towel.

Rolls, adding a glaze

To glaze the tops of rolls, brush with a mixture of 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup milk before baking.

Serving Cheese

When serving cheese as an appetizer, be sure to take it out of the refrigerator at least 45 minutes before the guests arrive. Not only will it be more sliceable and spreadable, it will also be much more flavorful. Refrigeration retards the cheese's ripeness. This is particularly true for goat cheese, which you should remove from refrigeration at least two hours before serving it.

Soaking Dried Beans

Most recipes calling for dried beans recommend soaking them overnight; lots of us don't have the time or inclination to think that far ahead.

To speed up the process, place washed beans in a large covered bowl with water (they will absorb lots) and microwave until it comes to a full boil. Let sit in the micro for about 1 hour and you have pre-soaked beans; then cook as desired. This works on almost all beans; they are ready to be cooked in your recipe, will be soft and cooked in about one hour.

Soft Bread Crust

For a soft, well-browned but not shiny crust, before baking brush the loaf with a tablespoon of melted butter.

Thawing Frozen Bread Dough

To thaw frozen bread and rolls, place in a brown paper bag and put into a 325ºF oven for 5 minutes to thaw completely.

Wooden Kitchen Items, Keeping Fresh

Sprinkle your wooden salad bowls and cutting boards with salt and then rub them with a lemon to freshen them.

  Copyright © 2009 - Chef Donnell Johnson  


Johnson's Catering provides cooking classes, catering, and ice sculpting (ice carving) in Birmingham, AL and surrounding
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