Category Archives: Kitchen Basics

Sticky Rice

Easy Fixes for Sticky Pasta and Rice

Cooking pasta should be as easy as, well, boiling water. But alas, it’s more complicated than that. The quantity of cooking water, timing and amount of stirring all play important roles in how things turn out. So what do you do when you get yourself into a sticky situation? Here’s how to unglue sticky pasta and rice, without becoming unglued yourself.

How to Stop Sticky Rice

For Pasta

If your noodles are clumping, your best bet is to dump them into a colander and run cold water over top. They’ll loosen up and then you can rewarm them gently in the sauce. Your other choice is to toss or sauté the pasta with a bit of oil or fat to coat it — slippery noodles will slide apart from one another.

For Rice

If a pot of basmati rice is a sticky mess, it’s usually because, like pasta, it was cooked with too little water. To unstick it, dump the rice into a larger saucepan, add about a 1/2 of water and heat on low. Gently break up the clumps with a fork. Simmer, covered, for a few minutes and the clumps should start to relax. At this point, remove the saucepan from heat and let it stand with the lid on for at least 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Drain, if any water remains in the bottom.

If this doesn’t work, the rice might have either been too far gone, or sticky for a different reason — either because it over-stirred or overcooked. At this point, you can rinse it in cold water, like with pasta, to remove as much excess starch as possible and break up the clumps, but it won’t be perfect. To rewarm, gently sauté in a bit of oil. Better yet, repurpose it into creamy Cinnamon Raisin Rice Pudding.

Looking for recipes? Try these 14 Delicious Pasta Dishes from Giada De Laurentiis.

Mangoes

Is This Fruit Ripe? Tricks to Buying the Sweetest Produce

Although it’s easy to spot which fruit is perfectly ripe at a roadside stand in the peak of summer (hello, juicy peaches and oh-so fragrant strawberries!), during the remaining months it can be challenging to figure out if the fruit you’re purchasing is truly at its peak.

While we have seemingly endless options available at the grocery store year-round, it’s not as simple to tell when some fruits are ripe. Here are some easy tips to make sure you are never disappointed when you crack into a beautiful piece of fruit.

orange

Citrus
Since citrus grows in a separate climate from ours, it’s easy to forget that there actually is a season when they’re at their best. Lucky for us, prime citrus season is in the dead of winter, just as we’re so desperately looking for those bright and sunny flavours.
Indulge in blood oranges, pomelos, grapefruit and Meyer lemons from December to March while they’re super sweet and juicy. Look for citrus with tight skin that doesn’t have a lot of give when pressed. If they’re too soft, they could be passed their prime. Always make sure to give them a good sniff. The ripest citrus will be bursting with the scent of their essential oils.

Pineapple

Pineapple
Choosing a ripe pineapple can seem a bit tricky, but they’re actually one of the easiest fruits to tell if they’re ripe — as long as you know what to look for. Counter intuitively, a pineapple can have some green throughout its body and still be perfectly ripe. So take a step back and look at its overall appearance. Its top leaves should be deeply green and not too wilted or browned. and its skin should be tight and only gives slightly when pressed. Most importantly, a fully ripe pineapple will always have super sweet scent, so pick it up by the top and smell the base. Its aroma should be fruity and delicious.

Melons
Unlike oranges and pineapples, not every variety of melon will give off a scent to gauge its ripeness, but luckily there are other simple ways to find out. Look for melons that have consistently even skin, free of any soft spots, bruising or cracks. Smooth melons, such as watermelon, should have a matte finish and lacy melons, such as cantaloupe, should be vibrant in colour underneath their rough, top layer. Regardless of the melon you’re buying, pick it up. It should feel heavy , then give it a gentle knock; a ripe melon will always sound hollow inside.

Mangoes

Mangoes
The best rule of thumb when it comes to purchasing a mango is pretty simple: a soft mango will always be a ripe one. Once you know this rule, it’s easier to look for indicators to make sure the mango isn’t overripe. The skin should be tight and plump, without any shrivelling or discolouration. Take the time to pick it up and smell it by the stem; it should smell sweet and fresh, not alcoholic or sour.

Avocado

Avocados
If you’re shopping on a Sunday and want to have an avocado towards the end of the week, it’s best to buy ones that are under-ripe so it has a few days to reach perfection. If you want to make a bowl of guacamole tonight, look for avocadoes that are so deeply green, they’re almost black and have a slight give when pressed. Be careful if doesn’t feel too soft, an overripe avocado will have a lot of give and feel squishy inside.

How to Cool Down Spicy Food

3 Ways to Cool Down Spicy Food

Sometimes chili peppers are unpredictable. Jalapeños can range from bell pepper sweet to inferno hot, with subtle variations depending on the climate where they were grown and the ripeness of the fruit when it was picked.

You can make a recipe, finding it perfect the first time and inedible the next. Or maybe you just have a heavy hand with the cayenne. In any case, what do you do when you’ve prepared a meal that’s painfully hot to eat?

How to Cool Too Spicy Food

1. Add Dairy.
Capsaicin, the molecule responsible for the burn, is fat-soluble, so water alone won’t wash it away. Your best bet is to incorporate a rich, creamy dairy product. Casein, a protein found in dairy, has a neutralizing effect on capsaicin, so doctor up your your curry with cream, your chili with sour cream, or offer a cooling cucumber-yogurt salad alongside too-spicy meats.

2. Try Texture.
Another trick, offered by the acclaimed food science writer Harold McGee, is to use a rough-textured food to distract your nerves with a different sensation. Try mixing your dish with rice or quinoa, or serving it alongside a particularly tongue-scratchy food, like dry crackers or toasted baguette.

3. Dilute it.
Lastly, you could follow an approach similar to fixing over-salted food. Dilute the spiciness by cooking more of the same dish and mixing the two batches.

Jennifer Pallian is a Vancouver-based food writer and photographer, who shares vibrant recipes on her blog Foodess.

2 pork chops in a cast iron skillet with herbs

How to Rescue Overcooked Meat

We’ve all been there; the grey pork chop, the expensive steak that’s cooked all the way through and chicken breast that emits a puff of dry air when pierced with a knife.

Whether the result of distraction or fear of undercooking, we’ve all taken a beautiful cut of meat and cooked it to bone-dry oblivion. Unfortunately there’s no undo button, but there are two great strategies to coax deliciousness back into your sad, overdone meat.

2 pork chops in a cast iron skillet with herbs

1. Change your tactics. Switch from a dry cooking method like grilling, roasting or pan-frying, to a moist one like braising or stewing.
Gently simmered at a low temperature for a long period of time, the meat’s collagen will dissolve into gelatin and the muscle fibres will separate, producing the fall-apart tenderness relished in braises and roasts. Watch closely and stop cooking immediately when the meat is easily pulled apart with a fork. Remember: low and slow — don’t let it rise above a simmer or you will dry it out further.

Related: How to Grill Any Cut Of Steak Perfectly

2. Shred it and sauce it. The second option, which is quicker but with less succulent results, is to slice or shred the meat as thinly as possible and warm it in a liquid. The meat itself will still be dry but small pieces have lots of surface area to absorb moisture. Try a barbecue sauce and repurpose the protein into tacos or bathe it in marinara sauce and make a quick ragu for polenta or spaghetti.

Related: How to Cook Chicken Breasts Perfectly Every Time

There’s no way to rewind a steak from well-done back to rare, but you can definitely re-purpose it into a delicious new dinner.

Jennifer Pallian is a Vancouver-based food writer and photographer, who shares vibrant recipes on her blog Foodess.

Tomato-Pizza-feature-image

How to Make the Best Homemade Pizza

Saturday nights are made for pizza parties, but instead of doing the same-old delivery it’s a lot more fun to make one yourself. You don’t need a wood-fired oven or pizza stone to make perfectly crispy, chewy pizza at home. A large, square pan is a perfect base for your custom creation and we have a few tips to help get your pizza party started.

sausage and broccoli pizza

Start with the dough
When it comes to making good pizza, it all starts with the dough. Warm water and a teaspoon of honey will help activate the yeast. Pay attention when measuring your flour; it’s important not to use too much or too little so your pizza has the right texture.

Roll with it
Roll out the dough starting at the centre and work your way out. It doesn’t need to be a perfect circle. To transfer your dough onto the pan, use Giada de Laurentis’ genius trick: gently roll the dough around your rolling pin and unroll it right onto your pan. Easy-peasy!

Get saucy
Purée canned tomatoes, salt and basil for a simple and flavourful pizza sauce. No need to pre-cook it — the sauce will finish cooking in the oven. Have fun adding your favourite pizza toppings. Try pan-fried veggies, cooked chicken and fresh herbs.

Say cheese!
So much about pizza is about the melted cheese! Here’s the time to experiment and up your game by using other cheese varieties, such as smoked scamorza, a soft cheese made with both cow and goat’s milk. It’ll add a strong smoky flavour to your homemade pie. Prefer a traditional pizza? Drop fresh mozzarella on top your pie. For more cheesy flavour, grate a bit of Parmesan overtop.

We’ve chosen Giada de Laurentiis’ pizza dough recipe to help bring a little taste of Italy to your kitchen.

giada's pizza dough

Ingredients
1 tsp honey
1 tsp active dry yeast
2-1/4 cups flour, plus more if needed
1 tsp kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

1. Add the honey and yeast to 1 cup warm water. Stir to dissolve. Let the mixture to sit for 3 minutes to make sure the yeast is alive; it should foam and start to bubble.

2. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast mixture and mix on low speed until the mixture starts to come together. Turn the speed up to medium and mix for 8 minutes. The dough should start to pull away from the sides but still remain soft and slightly sticky at the bottom of the bowl. Add 1 extra tablespoon of flour if needed. Coat your hands in a bit of olive oil and form the dough into a ball. Place the dough in a bowl that is coated in olive oil. Cover with a towel and proof the dough in a warm place until it doubles in size, 1 hour.

3. Knock down the dough and cut into 4 equal pieces if making small pizzas or simply reform into a ball if making one larger pizza and proof the dough for an additional 1 hour.

Ingredient Inspiration
Not sure what to put on your pizza? Find all the inspiration you need in these scrumptious recipes.

All Dressed PizzaAll-Dressed G-Style Pizza

Olives, salami, spinach and two types of cheese make this an indulgent pizza pie!

Cheese pizzaQuebecoise Sausage and Cheese Pizza

Try mixing some traditional sausage with soft brie and hard cheeses for a burst of French flavour.

Tomato PizzaBuffalo Mozzarella and Tomato Pizza

Keep it classic with torn basil and buffalo mozzarella.

Pizza BiancaPizza Bianca
Ditch the tomato sauce and make a simple, cheesy pizza with fresh lemon zest and thyme.

FettucciniAlfredo

Weekend Project: How to Make Fresh Pasta

If you’ve never made fresh pasta, you are in for a treat! Delightfully fresh al-dente noodles are a comforting indulgence on cold winter days and a great way to learn new kitchen skills. Plus, it’s really fun to make! You won’t be able to resist cranking the handle, feeding the dough into the machine and watching those long, squiggly noodles come out the other side. But don’t worry if you don’t have a pasta machine — it’s just as fun rolling the dough by hand!

Fresh pasta cooks in minutes and chances are, you already have all four ingredients. We’ve chosen Michael Smith’s simple pasta recipe to bring the taste of your favourite Italian bistro on to your table.

Fettuccini Alfredo

Ingredients:
4 cups flour
1 tsp ground pepper
6 eggs
1 tsp olive oil

1. Mix flour and pepper, and pour into a tight pile on a flat work surface. Make a well in the centre. Crack five eggs into the well and lightly whisk them together with a fork. Add a splash of olive oil to the eggs. Using your fingers begin stirring the flour into the egg and if it seems like it needs another egg, add it now. The dough should be a little dry, but workable.

2. When the dough has formed into a workable mass, begin kneading it until it is smooth and elastic. Be patient, this will take some time, 15 minutes or so.

3. Flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Let dough rest in the fridge for at least an hour or two, overnight is best. Its elastic structure needs time to relax from the stress of kneading.

4. Set up and use a pasta roller, following manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have a pasta machine, cut your dough into 6 pieces and roll the piece of dough into a thin rectangle approximately . Starting at one end, fold your dough every 5 cm, creating a roll. With a sharp knife, slice the noodles crosswise into thin noodles.

5. Cut the dough into 6 pieces and flatten them into thin rectangles about 6 – 8-inches in length and 2 to 3-inches wide. Feed the rectangles through the pasta machine, gradually adjusting the thinness, until they have gone through the thinnest setting. Lay the sheets out on a baking sheet, sprinkling more flour on them to keep them from sticking together. Run the pasta sheets through the fettuccine cutter and hang to dry on a pasta rack.

6. To cook, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Salt liberally then add the pasta. Cook until the pasta floats to the top, 3 minutes or so. It should be al dente, cooked through but still chewy.

Simply Scrumptious Sauces
What should you serve with your fresh pasta? We’ve got four delicious options perfect for your noodles.

Leek-and-Lobster-Linguine

Leek and Lobster Linguini
If you are going to make homemade pasta, you might as well treat yourself to a luxurious dinner. All your hard work will be worth it when you taste this herb-filled sauce topped with buttery lobster tails.

Chicken-Tetrazzini

Chicken Tetrazzini
Chicken, mushrooms, garlic, herbs and peas mingle in a deliciously rich and chunky sauce. Thick linguine noodles are a perfect fit for this hearty Italian dish.

Fettuccini Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo
If you find your noodles are a little thicker than desired, go for this classic, creamy dish.Top each serving with an extra crack of fresh pepper and grated Parmesan.

winter-squash-fettuccine-with-crispy-pancetta-and-pecorino

Winter Squash Fettuccine with Crispy Pancetta and Pecorino
This perfect winter pasta dish gets its creaminess from winter squash, balanced with salty pancetta and Pecorino.

Whole Wheat Pitas

Weekend Project: How to Make Bread

One of the best aromas in the world is the scent of fresh bread baking in the oven. The smells permeates the kitchen and you can’t wait to take that first bite, so warm and satisfying in your mouth.

Making your own bread sounds like a daunting task with lots of ways for it to go wrong, but it is simpler than you think. If you’re a beginner baker, pita breads are a perfect place to start. You’ll learn all the basics of rolling and kneading, and how yeast reacts with flour and sugar to create light, chewy rounds. In just one afternoon, you can make homemade pita and watch the dough rise, right before your eyes.

Whole Wheat Pitas

Here are a few tips and a simple recipe to get your started.

Focus on Flour

Choosing the right type of flour for your recipe is essential for successful loaves. Each types of flour has different amounts of starch and proteins, which will affect the elasticity of your dough.

Pita bread is best made with a mix of whole wheat flour and bread flour, which has a higher protein content — an important part of yeast breads.

What You Knead

A stand mixer can be your best friend when making bread. Bread dough needs a lot of kneading to develop that soft, fluffy texture and a mixer with a bread hook will do the job perfectly.

If you are feeling tough, you can knead by hand but you’ll need a little extra time and energy.You’ll know the dough is done when it is stretchy and resembles elastic bands. This means the gluten proteins are bonded and the dough is ready to rise.

Shape-up

The key to making perfectly round pitas is to divide your dough into equal pieces and then twirl and fold them into a ball on a lightly floured surface. This will give you soft, round pieces of dough with the signature air pocket in the middle. Don’t worry about being too delicate with your dough. Baking queen, Anna Olson says that anytime you handle, roll or knead your dough it helps develop a richer flavour with better texture.

Anna Olson’s Whole Wheat Pita Bread

Ingredients:
1-3/4 cup warm water (110°F/43 °C)
1-1/2 tsp instant yeast
1-3/4 cup bread flour
1-3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Steps:

1. Place all of the ingredient into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead on low speed for a minute to incorporate the ingredients and then increase the speed one level and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Alternatively, to mix by hand, place all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until too tough to do so and then turn the dough out onto the counter and knead until elastic (try adding as little extra flour as possible while kneading) about 7 minutes. Place the dough into a bowl, cover with plastic and let rise for an hour (the dough will not double in size).

2. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide into six 150 g pieces (using a scale is best for evenly sized pita). Shape the dough pieces into rounds (try to not use flour for dusting), cover with a tea towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

3. With a rolling pin, roll out each piece of dough into a circle about 8-inches (20 cm) across (if the dough springs back when rolling, just set them aside 5 minutes and finish rolling them to the right size). Cover with a tea towel and let rest 20 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 450 °F (235 °C) and place 2 baking trays in the oven to heat. Remove a baking tray from the oven, dust with flour and place 2-3 pita rounds on it. Immediately return this to the oven and repeat with the second tray. Bake the pita for 5-6 minutes (they will puff up like a balloon!) and then carefully remove them (they will let off steam if pressed) from the tray to an open tea towel. Cover the pitas with the towel to deflate them and let them cool (this will soften them so they are tender and the pocket will open easily).

5. While fresh pitas are delicious on their own, we have a few tasty ideas for how you can enjoy them throughout the week.

Greek Pita

Paprika-Spiced Turkey

Give turkey breast a dose of flavour with a flavourful blend of fennel, coriander, paprika and garlic powder.

Chicken and Portobello Mushrooms in a Pita

Make this rich, savoury sauteed mushroom dish while your pita is rising and eat it for lunch all week.

Chicken and Wild Rice Salad Pitas

You’ll love the toothsome, chewy texture of wild rice, especially when paired with fresh chives and leftover chicken.

toasted pita triangles

Ina Garten’s Toasted Pita Chips

Toast up your pita bread into crispy chips, Ina Garten-style and serve with your favourite dip as a quick and wholesome snack.

Ham and Cheese Pita Pizzas

Turn your fresh pitas into instant pizzas on the busiest weeknights.

Anna Olson’s Top 10 Baking Tools

Want to create the most beautiful treats without a hitch? Baking expert Anna Olson shares her list of essential tools that every passionate home baker should have on hand.

Anna-Olson-top-baking-tools.jpg

1. Off-Set Spatula

This great tool is used to lift cookies off of hot trays, loosen cakes delicately from their pans, and frost cakes with precision and panache. The spatula you see me use on Bake with Anna Olson is my own — I’ve had it for about 10 years, and I’d be lost without it!

2. Silicone Spatula

For effective folding and stirring, and for getting every last bit of batter out of a bowl, I favour the curved spatulas in this tool family. And silicone is heat-proof so it can be used to stir pastry creams, sauces and other preparations on the stove.

3. Oven Thermometer

This may sound trivial, but a thermometer placed inside your oven is a valuable and inexpensive tool that can save you frustration. You’d be amazed how many ovens don’t sit at the correct temperature risking underbaked or overbaked goods. Just because your oven displays the temperature you’ve set, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accurate. When using this tool, if you find that your oven temperature is far out of range (10°C or more), you will need to get a repair person to calibrate your oven.

4. Disposable Piping Bags

Gone are the days of fabric piping bags that never quite come clean or are cut so far down that they only fit your largest piping tip. Most cake supply and even craft shops will carry disposable piping bags in an assortment of sizes. They can be reused and are fully recyclable.

5. Ice Cream Scoops

Ice cream scoops aren’t just for scooping ice cream. I rely on an assortment of sizes for a variety of uses, including portioning perfectly consistent cookies and dropping muffin batter into tins without a mess.

6. Candy Thermometer

The world of confectionery and chocolate work requires a precision that only a candy thermometer can offer. The difference between the “thread stage” and the “soft ball stage” of boiling sugar is only a few degrees, and a candy thermometer takes all the guesswork out of it. There are traditional models and also digital probe thermometers — both work equally well. (Note: If you have an induction cooktop, I recommend the traditional model. The magnetic energy of the induction can interfere with the digital reads.)

7. Microplane Rasp

This handy tool is commonly used as a fine grater for garlic and Parmesan, but I value it to finely grate citrus zest, nutmeg, chocolate and to mince ginger without fibres. There are models with larger grates so that you can make chocolate curls, not just shavings.

8. Bar Citrus Juicer

Lemon, lime and orange juice figure prominently in desserts, and I always use freshly squeezed juice. A bar juicer is a fast and convenient way to extract the most juice — and it’s easy to clean.

9. Measuring Tape

This may seem trivial, but a fabric measuring tape is immensely handy in a baker’s kitchen. First, I can verify how thick my doughs are as I roll them. Second, I can measure the circumference of a piece of fondant before I lift it to cover a cake. Lastly, I can ensure that my squares are all cut to the same size.

10. Cake Wheel

If you are getting serious about baking, this will be a tool you’ll want to invest in. A cake wheel spins on its base, making seamless frosting simple, and detailed piping less arduous and hard on your back. Professional cast-iron cake wheels can be pricey, but there are other more affordable options. (Tip: Ikea offers a lazy Susan that functions as a cake wheel.)

Watch all new episodes of Bake with Anna Olson Sundays at 12 pm E/T and online.

8 Ways to Stretch Your Budget with Fridge Staples

We’re curious: how much money can you save on groceries if you really try to use the items lurking around — but still fresh — in your fridge?

Money-saving food tips often focus on pantry staples like pasta and beans, and we would never turn up our noses at a great pasta dish. But if you’re looking for new ideas or your cupboard is lean on beans, these ideas may fall flat after a week or two.

Consider this a refrigerator challenge. Chances are, you have random items in your fridge that don’t seem like meal-makers at the end of a busy day, and they eventually end up in the garbage, which is just as costly as takeout or fast foods that replace them — until now.

888_stretch-budget

1. Condiments

Have you ever found yourself saying, “we have no food” yet the door of your refrigerator is stocked with condiments? Or maybe you over-bought at the beginning of grilling season?

Different varieties of mustard, honey, vinegar, sauces and oils can easily be mixed into a homemade salad dressing: Begin by mixing roughly 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Mustards will emulsify or blend the dressing. Experiment with adding mustards (mustard will “emulsify” or blend and thicken), chopped fresh herbs, jam or marmalade, lemon juice, salt or garlic and adjust for flavour and acidity.

Experiment with condiments. Mixing them creates new and more intense flavours. Tartar sauce can be made with mayonnaise, sweet relish and lemon juice. Ketchup, mayonnaise and sweet relish blend to make a Thousand island-style dressing.

2. Cheese

Good quality cheese will make almost any meal taste great. Use Gorgonzola or feta to stuff chicken breasts before cooking them, or crumble it over salad greens and toss gently with some fresh berries.

Another great combination is crumbled goat cheese served with thickly sliced tomatoes and avocado, topped with your favourite vinaigrette. Or, marinate goat cheese with balsamic dressing and any fresh herbs. Serve with crusty bread or crackers and roasted or fresh veggies.

Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheeses are great refrigerator staples. Sprinkle some on vegetables before or after roasting, or toss into whole wheat pasta with some olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, and watch it disappear.

3. Gourmet Grilled Cheese

You might have the makings of gourmet grilled cheese in your fridge and not even know it. A softer Monterey Jack or Gruyere is perfect for gooey grilled cheese or quesadillas.

Try one of these delicious combinations:

4. Eggs

If you have eggs, you can always make a meal. Cheese and herb omelettes and scrambled eggs with diced veggies are tasty and super easy.

A frittata, like Ina Garten’s Roasted Vegetable Frittata, helps clear out the fridge but involves a lot of chopping and dicing. So if you’re not up for a lot of work, try a big oven-cooked omelette instead.

You can also try poaching eggs and serving them over steamed spinach on toast — if you have smoked salmon on hand, even better.

5. Jams and Marmalades

If we took a collective peek into our refrigerators, spotting a half dozen jams, jellies and marmalades is probably a common thread. If you have raspberry, blueberry apricot or orange flavours on hand, use them to glaze salmon, pork or chicken.

Preserves, like Laura Calder’s Country Apricot Preserves, are also fantastic spread on pancakes or waffles (with maple syrup, of course).

6. Single Vegetables

Don’t let a single vegetable in your refrigerator get lonely — roasting it with some olive oil, salt and pepper is a quick route to a satisfying meal.

Another great tip for those lonely veggies is that you can combine almost any cooked vegetable — carrot, spinach, broccoli, potato, squash — with chicken broth and milk or cream if desired, and puree it into soup.

Try cutting a spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and microwaving it face-down in a dish with about an inch of water for approximately 9 minutes. Run a fork along the squash to create the “spaghetti” and toss with some olive oil, salt, pepper and a heaping spoonful of Parmesan cheese.

Add leftover steak or chicken to greens for a hearty salad, like a variation of Nicoise salad, a composed salad based on Provencal cooking, based on what’s in your fridge.

7. Chicken Broth — Braising

Chicken broth needs to be consumed within a few days after opening. If you’ve used a bit and now have leftovers, use it to braise meat for essential cold weather comfort food.

Braising essentially means slow cooking in liquid, where less expensive meat is actually better. Braising meat in broth makes one of the most tender, succulent meals and looks like it took a lot more effort than people may think.

Tougher cuts like shoulder, shanks, chuck and short ribs will give more flavour and texture. If you have leftover wine, carrots or potatoes, add them to your braising liquid as well. Braises both reheat and freeze beautifully, so try Michael Smith’s Apple Braised Pork or Chicken and Mushroom Stew and we bet your family or guests will sing the praises of your braises.

8. Lemons

A squeeze of lemon can brighten up any dish — and they can be handy in many ways:

– Lemon zest can be grated or shaved into sauces, over fish or chicken and pasta — it often adds more flavour (and colour) than the juice.
– Add both zest and juice to cooked pasta and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh basil if you have it and Parmesan cheese for a delicious (and rather healthy) weeknight meal.
Dress salad greens — some olive oil and lemon juice is all you need.
Don’t forget about dessert — lemon zest can be sprinkled over vanilla ice cream, yogurt or fruity desserts.
Have an avocado? Toast some slices of bread, tortillas or bagels, spread on some mashed avocado and top with lemon juice and a hint of pepper.

We’re interested to find out what you always keep in your fridge — how do you turn it into a simple meal? Let us know in the comments below!

Best Ways to Ripen Avocados

We’ve all been there; schlepping a bag of avocados from the supermarket, thinking of all the delicious guacamole and sandwiches we’ll be making with them. Then BAM — three days later and all five avocados are soft and you have a day to eat them all before they go bad.

There are a few ways to make a bag of avocados last more than a week. In fact, the two avocados in the photo above were from the same bag. The one on the left is ready to eat, while the one on the right still has a few more days to go before it can be eaten.

Here’s how to do it:

Avocados_sized

Finding a Ripe Avocado

Look for a dark exterior as opposed to green (see photo above). You can also (gently!) press down on the stem. If it gives a bit, then it’s ripe. If it’s too hard or too mushy then it’s not ready or starting to rot.

Many online sources suggest flicking off the stem to see if it reveals a pretty green patch, but doing that to a dozen avocados, just to find one or two ripe ones is kind of a jerk move. Without the stem, the blotch will turn dark from air exposure and no one else will be able to tell if it’s ready. Also, resist the urge to squeeze avocados as you can bruise them, and subsequently make other shoppers believe that they’ve got a ripe avocado when they’re actually grasping at a fruit that you tampered with.

Ripening of Avocados

Online help forums tell me to take half of a hard avocado and pop it in the microwave for a few seconds (gross) or force it to soften by mashing it with a mallet. This might help with the texture, but the taste won’t be great compared to an actual ripe avocado.

Another popular tip is to put the whole avocado in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana because those fruits release ethylene gas; an odorless gas that causes other fruit to ripen. In my experience, it doesn’t make that much of a difference from leaving them on the kitchen counter at room temperature for two or three days.

But one thing that really helps is heat. Steve Gonzalez, owner and chef of Latin restaurant Valdez in Toronto, says that when he’s in a pinch he’ll put avocados on his roof top patio. Arturo Anhalt of Toronto’s Milagro Cantinas also says that 30°C is a good temperature to accelerate ripening times. At one of his restaurants, he’ll actually put unripe avocados in the basement’s engine room.

But in the end, if want to eat an avocado as soon as you leave the supermarket, just buy one that’s already mature (sometimes there will be a “ripe” sticker right on the avocado).

Slowing Down the Ripening Process

When you come home with groceries, take out the number of avocados you plan on eating in the next two days or so and put the rest in the fridge where they can last an extra week. The cold will slow down the ripening process, but you’ll have to take them out a few days prior so they can ripen again at room temperature. Ripe avocados will last an additional day or two in the fridge.

The Other Open Half

As you know, avocados should be eaten as soon as they’re cut open because the air will start turning the flesh into a mushy brown-like a banana. But since most people eat just one half of an avocado at a time, Anhalt says to tightly wrap the remaining avocado half in plastic wrap, ensuring minimal air comes into contact with the exposed area. He also suggests that if you’re storing guacamole; make sure the plastic film sticks directly onto the guacamole itself.

Freezing Avocados

Be warned that freezing avocados will negatively affect the taste and texture. Both Anhalt and Gonzalez don’t recommend freezing avocados, though Gonzalez says the only time he’ll freeze them is if he’s making ice cream or a mousse.

But if you must, mash the avocado into a pulp, mix in a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and store in a freezer bag. Flatten the bag out to get rid of any excess air and keep in the freezer for up to three months.

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The Bare-Minimum Guacamole Recipe

Every chef and home cook will swear that their guacamole recipe is the best. We’ll leave that argument to them. In the meantime, here’s a super bare-minimum recipe that will kick things off. Experiment by adding other ingredients like chopped tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, chilies, hot sauce, and even pineapple chunks. I like a chunky guacamole, but if you want a smoother, mousse-like consistency, use a blender or food processor.

Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados, roughly cubed
1 Tablespoon white onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1/2 lime*
Salt, to taste

Directions:

In a bowl, combine avocados, onion, garlic, and lime juice. Using a large serving spoon, mash everything together until you achieve a desired consistency. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

*Some would call this blasphemous but you can substitute in lemon juice if you don’t have a lime. Since lemons are more acidic, add a bit of the juice at a time and taste it so that your guacamole doesn’t turn to lemonade.

734863_10151322355189438_2070375187_n Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.